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Title: Madhhab  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of medieval Tunisia, Islamic schools and branches, Sunni Islam, Wahba Zuhayli, Ijtihad
Collection: Fiqh, Madhhab
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A madh'hab (Arabic: مذهبmaḏhab, IPA: , "doctrine"; pl. مذاهب maḏāhib, ; Turkish: mezheb; Urdu: مذہب mazhab) is a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In the first 150 years of Islam, there were numerous madhāhib; several of the companions of Prophet Muhammad are credited with founding their own. As a matter of fact, there were as many mazhabs as there were companions. Over the centuries, mazhabs have variously grown, spread, split, and been absorbed; at one time, there were 130 schools.[1] Most have become obsolete. Traditionally there has been four mazhabs followed by the majority of Muslims throughout Islamic history.[2] As of the Amman Message, eight are officially acknowledged by the leaders of the international Muslim community - five Sunni schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and the reintroduced Zahiri), two Shia schools (Ja'fari, Zaidi), and the Ibadi school.[3]

The theological schools (Kalam) formed at the same time and in the similar way. The main theological schools are three major Sunni schools (Mu'tazili, Ash'ari and Maturidi) and three major Shia schools (Imamiyyah, Ismā'īlī and Zaidi), along with several minor schools.


  • Development 1
  • Ancient schools of law 2
  • Established schools 3
    • Amman Message 3.1
  • See also 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • Further reading 6


It has been asserted that madhhab were consolidated in the 9th and 10th centuries as a means of excluding dogmatic theologians, government officials and non-Sunni sects from religious discourse.[4] Historians have differed regarding the times at which the various schools emerged. One interpretation is that Sunni Islam was initially split into four groups: the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi'ites and Zahirites.[5] Later, the Hanbalites and Jarirites developed two more schools; then various dynasties effected the eventual exclusion of the Jarirites;[6] eventually, the Zahirites were also excluded when the Mamluk Sultanate established a total of four independent judicial positions, thus solidifying the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools.[4] The Ottoman Empire later reaffirmed the official status of these four schools as a reaction to Shi'ite Persia.[7] Some are of the view that Sunni jurisprudence falls into two groups: Ahl al-Ra'i ("people of opinions", emphasizing scholarly judgment and reason) and Ahl al-Hadith ("people of traditions", emphasizing strict interpretation of scripture).[8]

10th century Shi'ite scholar Ibn al-Nadim named eight groups: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Zahiri, Imami Shi'ite, Ahl al-Hadith, Jariri and Kharijite.[6][9] In the 12th century Jariri and Zahiri schools were absorbed by the Shafi'i school.[10] Ibn Khaldun defined only three Sunni madhhahib: Hanafi, Zahiri, and one encompassing the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools as existing initially,[11][12] noting that by the 14th century historian the Zahiri school had become extinct,[13][14] only for it to be revived again in parts of the Muslim world by the mid-20th century.[15][16][17]

Historically, the fiqh schools were often in violent conflict with one another, vying for favor with the ruling government in order to have their representatives appointed to legislative and especially judiciary positions.[7] Geographer and historian Al-Muqaddasi once satirically categorized competing madhhahib with contrasting personal qualities: Hanafites, highly conscious of being hired for official positions, appeared deft, well-informed, devout and prudent; Malikites, dull and obtuse, confined themselves to observance of prophetic tradition; Shafi'ites were shrewd, impatient, understanding and quick-tempered; Zahirites haughty, irritable, loquacious and well-to-do; Shi'ites, entrenched and intractable in old rancor, enjoyed riches and fame; and Hanbalites, anxious to practice what they preached, were charitable and inspiring.[18] While such descriptions were almost assuredly humorous in nature, ancient differences were less to do with actual doctrinal opinions than with maneuvering for adherents and influence.

Ancient schools of law

It is usually assumed that no regional school developed in Egypt (unlike in Syria, Iraq and the Hijaz). Joseph Schacht states that the legal milieu of Fustat (ancient Cairo) was a branch of the Medinan school of law.[19] Regarding judicial practices, the qadis (judges) of Fustat resorted to the procedure called "al-yamin ma'a l-shahid", that is, the ability of the judge to base his verdict on one single witness and the oath of the claimant, instead of two witnesses as was usually required. Such a procedure was quite common under the early Umayyads, but by the early Abbasid period it had disappeared in Iraq and it was now regarded as the ‍ '​amal ("good practice") of Medina. Up until the end of the 8th century, the qadis of Fustat were still using this "Medinan" procedure and differentiated themselves from Iraqi practices. From a doctrinal point of view, however, the legal affiliation of Egypt could be more complex. The principal Egyptian jurist in the second half of the 8th century is al-Layth b. Sa'd.[20] The only writing of his that has survived is a letter he wrote to Malik b. Anas, which has been preserved by Yahya b. Ma'in and al-Fasawi. In this letter, he proclaims his theoretical affiliation to the Medinan methodology and recognizes the value of the ‍ '​amal. Nevertheless, he distances himself from the Medinan School by opposing a series of Medinan legal views. He maintains that the common practice in other cities is also valuable, and thus implicitly defends the Egyptians’ adherence to their own local tradition. Thus it is possible that, even though it did not develop into a formal school of law, a specific Egyptian legal milieu was distinct of the Medinan School in the 8th century.[21]

Established schools

Some regions have a dominant or official madh'hab; others recognize a variety.

Generally, Sunnis have a single preferred madhhab from region to region, but also believe that ijtihad must be exercised by the contemporary scholars capable of doing so. Most rely on taqlid, or acceptance of religious rulings and epistemology from a higher religious authority in deferring meanings of analysis and derivation of legal practices instead of relying on subjective readings.[22][23]

Experts and scholars of fiqh follow the usul (principles) of their own native madhhab, but they also study the usul, evidences, and opinions of other madhhahib.

Amman Message

In the modern era, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of Sudan, defined the recognized schools of Muslim jurisprudence as eight specific schools.[24] The Amman Message, a three-point ruling issued by 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries, officially recognizes those eight legal schools of thought.[25]

  1. Hanafi (Sunni)
  2. Maliki (Sunni)
  3. Shafi'i (Sunni)
  4. Hanbali (Sunni)
  5. Ja'fari (including Mustaali-Taiyabi Ismaili) (Shia)
  6. Zaidi (Shia)
  7. Ibadi (Khawarij)
  8. Zahiri (Sunni)

See also


  1. ^ Abou El Fadl, Khaled (22 March 2011). "What is Shari'a?". ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "Amman Message". 
  4. ^ a b "Law, Islamic".  
  5. ^ Mohammad Sharif Khan and Mohammad Anwar Saleem, Muslim Philosophy And Philosophers, pg. 34. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1994.
  6. ^ a b Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 178. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  7. ^ a b Chibli Mallat, Introduction to Middle Eastern Law, pg. 116. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-923049-5
  8. ^ Murtada Mutahhari, The Role of Ijtihad in Legislation, Al-Tawhid volume IV, No.2, Publisher: Islamic Thought Foundation
  9. ^ Devin J. Stewart, THE STRUCTURE OF THE FIHRIST: IBN AL-NADIM AS HISTORIAN OF ISLAMIC LEGAL AND THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS, International Journal of Middle East Studies, v.39, pg.369-387, Cambridge University Press, 2007
  10. ^ Crone, Patricia (2013). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. p. 498. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  11. ^ Ignác Goldziher, The Zahiris, pg. 5. Trns. Wolfgang Behn, intro. Camilla Adang. Volume three of Brill Classics in Islam. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2008. ISBN 9789004162419
  12. ^ Meinhaj Hussain, A New Medina, The Legal System, Grande Strategy, January 5th, 2012
  13. ^ Wolfgang, Behn (1999). The Zahiris. BRILL. p. 178. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Berkey, Jonathon (2003). The Formation of Islam. Cambrdige University Press. p. 216. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pgs. 28 and 32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947
  16. ^ M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  17. ^ Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, "An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Madhi's Islamic Discourse." Taken from The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, pg. 172. Ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN 9781405178488
  18. ^ Louis Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam. Trans. Herbert W. Mason. Pg. 130. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  19. ^ J. Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), p. 9
  20. ^ R.G. Khoury, "Al-Layth Ibn Sa'd (94/713-175/791), grand maître et mécène de l’Egypte, vu à travers quelques documents islamiques anciens", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 40, 1981, p. 189–202
  21. ^ Mathieu Tillier, "Les “premiers” cadis de Fusṭāṭ et les dynamiques régionales de l’innovation judiciaire (750-833)", Annales Islamologiques, 45 (2011), p. 214–218
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^ On Islam, Muslims and the 500 most influential figures
  24. ^ Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, "An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Madhi's Islamic Discourse." Taken from The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, p. 172. Ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4051-7848-8
  25. ^ The Three Points of The Amman Message V.1

Further reading

  • Branon Wheeler, Applying the Canon in Islam: The Authorization and Maintenance of Interpretive Reasoning in Ḥanafī Scholarship, SUNY Press, 1996.
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