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Madh-habs (sects) are basically characterized by differences of opinions more than they are characterized by uniformity and agreement

Written by Asim Nazir
Student of Master in Islamic Studies
Islamic University Qatar

I am completely agree with the statement that madh-hab should not be followed blindly. In decision making process opinions are the natural production of the human’s intellect, but these religious recommendations should not be forced or promoted as an only truth like old generation did and formed many different madh-hab. Sahabas (Prophet’s companions) also differed in many issues in the Prophet’s life and even after his death, but the beauty of their faith was that they never fall into factionalism and none of them promoted his ideology. They were so flexible in dropping their differences whenever an authentic narration reached to them. A classic example can be found when a dispute arose among sahabas on the burial of the Prophet’s body, but instantly they dropped their differences when they heard an authentic hadith from Abu Bakar (may Allah be please with him) as he heard from Prophet (peace be upon him) that prophets are buried in the spot where they die . They were always cautious giving their personal opinions on Islamic issues, and they showed this attitude that their deductions were not necessarily as Allah wished, for instance, when Ibn Mas’ood was questioned about the inheritance rights of a woman who had been married without a defined Mahr (dowry), he said, “I am giving my opinion about her, if it is correct, then it is from Allah, but if it is incorrect, then it is from me and Satan .

Later scholars like four Imams also followed their footsteps and they never promoted any specific madh-hab. They all studied under each other without promoting any specific madh-hab/factionalism, and always preferred authentic statements over their rulings. It can clearly be seen in the statement of Imam Ash-Shafi that those scholars never intended to divide Prophet’s religion into many sections, he said, “There isn’t any of us who hasn’t had a saying or action of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) elude him or slip his mind. So, no matter what rulings I have made or fundamental principles I have established, there will be in them things contrary to the way of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him). However, the correct ruling is according to what the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, and that is my true ruling ”.

Definition of Mad-habs         
Madh-hab literally means, leave or departure. It also means doctrine, belief or ideology. It can also be translated as a school of orthodox rite of Fiqh or religious creed . In the particular context madh-habs means the sum total of the scholar’s legal rulings as well as the rulings of his students and that of all the scholars who adhered to their approach .  

After the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), number of major madh-habs appeared like Awzaa’ee madh-hab of Imam al-Awzaa’ee, Thawree madh-hab of Imam Sufyaan Ath-Thawree, madh-hab of Imam Abee Laylaa, madh-hab of Imam Al-Layth ibn Sa’d, but these all soon disappeared leaving main four madh-habs of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Ash-Shafi and Imam Ahmed bin Hambal. Later on these four schools of thought became so prominent and their followers started to promote their individual madh-hab on a large scale and they went to that extent that they named themselves after their respective madh-hab, i.e. Al-Husayn ibn Mas’ood al-Baghawee Ash-Shafi and that’s how taqleed emerged in the ummah (Prophet’s nation) and destroyed the unity.

Main Reasons for Differences
After disappearing the other madh-habs, four main madh-habs (Hanafi, Malikee, Shafi’ee & Hambalee) survived and became wide spread among masses. All four Imams were agreed on the four fundamental principles of Islamic Law (The Quran, Sunnah, Ijma & Qiyas) but differences occurred in the rulings of their madh-habs which still exist. There are several explanations of their conflicts but mainly variations occurred in the interpretation of the words, grammatical constructions, hadith narrations (which includes the conditions for acceptance, their availability and their authenticity).

For instance, the word “Qur” which was used in the Quran, “Divorced women should wait three Quroo (plural of Qur) has more than one explanation and means menses as well as the time of purity between menses. So, difference can be seen clearly in the rulings of the four Imams, where Imam Malik, Imam Shafee & Imam Ahmed ruled that Qur meant the period of purity, whereas Imam Abu Hanifa ruled that Qur meant the actual menses . Similarly they also disputed on the literal meaning of word and on its figurative meaning. For example, the following verse revealed in the context of the causes which break the Wudoo (Ablution), Allah said in the Quran, “….or you touched [Lamastum] women and cannot find water, then make Tayammum from clean earth…… . The word Lams (touch) literally means touching by the hand but figuratively it also means sexual intercourse. So, Ash-Shafee ruled that Lams meant the touch of the hand or body contact, therefore, if a man intentionally or accidently touched a woman skin to skin or vice versa then their Wudoo (ablution) will be invalid. While Imam Malik & Imam Ahmed ruled that if their touching is for gaining sexual pleasure then it will invalidate their Wudoo otherwise it will not because Prophet (peace be upon him) used to touch his wife Aishah’s foot in order to move it out of the way when he was making prostration during his prayer . Whereas Imam Abu Hanifa ruled that Lams word in that particular verse meant sexual intercourse and therefore, touching a woman did not break the Wudoo. His ruling based on the aforesaid hadith and another hadith narrated by Urwah that, “The Prophet kissed some of his wives then left for Salah (prayer) without performing Wudoo .

Another most important factor of their differences was “Narration of Hadith”. In most cases hadith did not reach some of the scholars because in the Ummayad dynasty (661 – 750 CE) companion of the prophet (peace be upon him) dispersed to various locations along with their knowledge of hadith and no major compilation of hadith was available at that time as well. So, many Da’eef (weak narration) and fabricated hadiths became the part of the Imams rulings. For instance, Imam Abu Hanifa & Imam Ahmed held that opinion that Qay (vomiting) breaks one’s Wudoo based on the hadith narrated by Aishah (may Allah be please with her) that Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever is afflicted by Qay Ru’af or Qals (different forms of vomiting) should leave Salah and make Wudoo…. . But Imam Shafee & Imam Malik ruled that Qay does not break Wudoo because the aforesaid hadith is Da’eef and also Qay is not specifically mentioned in any other sources of Islamic law as an act which breaks Wudoo . Difference is also found in the acceptance of the hadiths, as Imam Abu Hanifa accepted only Mashoor (well known) hadith and Imam Malik did not accept which contradicts with the customs of the Madeenites (people of Madina), whereas Imam Ahmed considered Mursal hadith acceptable and Imam Shafee restricted himself to the Mursal hadiths of Sa’eed Ibn al-Mussayib which most hadith scholars felt were highly authentic .
Variances can also be noted when Imams adopted different approaches towards certain principles like method of the Qiyas. For instance, Imam Malik added customs of the Madeenites in the sources of Islamic law, whereas Imam Shafee rejected Istihsan used by Imam Abu Hanifa and Istislah used by Imam Malik and developed Istis-hab based on same principles.

Safest Stance for a Muslim

It can be concluded that every Muslim should recognize that in Islam there is only a one madh-hab which is a madh-hab of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We should avoid Taqleed (Blind following) of any madh-hab and only follow the authentic ruling of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) whether it’s mentioned in any major four madh-habs or any other madh-habs. Promoting any particular madh-hab and claiming that it is the only true madh-hab or making Taqleed of any madh-hab compulsory in Islam is completely unacceptable as it goes against the teaching of Islam which promotes unity and harmony. Every Muslim should understand that neither Sahabas [companions of the prophet (peace be upon him)] nor later scholars like four major Imams supported the idea to make different madh-habs and separate the people. Their differences and conflicts existed only in their discussions and rulings; they never led them to be a source of animosity & separation among each other. As it was mentioned above that they studied under each other and they dropped their disputes whenever they find any authentic narration, which shows their best understanding about Islam. It was later generation who planted the hate and divided the ummah (prophet’s nation) through Taqleed into various groups, which only caused interna

Saifur Rhaman Al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, IOU edition, p.215

Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Evolutoin of Fiqh, Riyadh 2006, P. 57

Collected by al-Haakim, Ibn Asaakir, Taarekkh Dimishq, vol 15, sec 1, p. 3 mentioned in Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Foundation of Islamic Studies, chapter 4 Fiqh (Main reasons for conflicting rulings), P 5.

Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern writing Arabic edit by J Milton Cowan, 3rd edition, p.313

Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Evolutoin of Fiqh, Riyadh 2006, P. 87

The blind following of a Madh-hab

Sura Bara, Ayat No 228 (2:V228)

Abdullah Abdul-Muhsin at-Turki, Asbab Ikhtilaf al-Fuqaha, (Riyadh: matba’ah as-Sa’adah, 1st ed. 1974), p. 190) mentioned in Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Foundation of Islamic Studies, chapter 4 Fiqh (Main reasons for conflicting rulings), P 6.

Purification with clean dust in the absence of water, alternative of ablution.

Sura Ale Imran, Ayat No 43 (4:V43 also 5:V6)

Collected by Bukhari, (Arabic-English Trans), vol 1, p 294-295, hadith no 498 and Abu Dawood, Sunan Abi Dawood, (English Trans), vol 1, p 183-184, hadith no 712 Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Evolutoin of Fiqh, Riyadh 2006, P. 124

Collected by Abu Dawood, Sunan Abi Dawood (English Trans), vol 1, p 43, hadith no 179, Tirmidhi, Nasa’I and Ibn Majah, and authenticated by Shaykh al-Albani in Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood (Beirut, al-Maktab al-Islami 1989), vol 1, p 36, hadith no 165, as well as by Ahmad Shakir in Jami’ as-Saheeh, Beirut, Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmeeyah, 1987, vol 1, p 133-134 (Ibid).

Collected by Ibn Majah from Aishah and rated Da’eef (weak/inaccurate) by Shaykh al-Albani in Da’eef al-Jami as-Sagheer Beirut, al-Maktab al-islami, 1979), vol 5, p 167, hadith no 5434 mentioned in Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Evolution of Fiqh, International Islamic Publishing House Riyadh, 2006, P 128


Hadith reported by one of the followers – students of the Sahabah without mentioning the name of the Sahabi from whom he had heard it. (Ibid)


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