Schools of Muslim Law

The Muslim Law is based on the teachings of the Quran and Prophet Mohammad. In all the
circumstances where the explicit command is provided, it is faithfully provided but there have
been many areas which are not covered by these sources and as a result, the great scholars had
themselves devised their interpretation of what should be done in such a situation. As these
scholars provided their interpretations (Qiyas) regarding the Muslim Law, it led to various
opinions among many of them and out such difference, different schools of Muslim Law
originated. Each school has its own explanation and reasons for their interpretation and it often
leads to conflict in judgments. In the absence of express rules, it cannot be said that one school is
better or higher positioned than other school and thus all the schools have been accepted as valid
and if a person follows any of these schools, he is considered to be on the right path.
Following are the two types of Schools —
a. Ancient Schools
b. Modern Schools
a. Ancient Schools : During the period of Umadayyas, the important step of appointing Kadis was
taken. The pre-Islamic institution of arbitrators no longer remained adequate to needs of new arab
society and therefore it became imperative to supplant Arab Hakim by Kadis i.e. judges, who
tendering decisions in cases, coming before them exercised a very wide discretion. Thus Kadis
laid foundation of Muslim law. They worked on custom, practice, administrative regulations and
the Koranic norms. Till 1800, Kadis became highly specialists in law and practice of appointing
specialists in law was started. Kadis were also called as Muftis of Islam. This ancient School
was developed in Kufa and Basrain, Iran , at Mecca and Madina and Syria. There arose differences
between Kadis because of different geographical factors, social conditions, customs, and practices.
They use to make rules from the religious and ethical body of the Koran. Two opposite tendencies
developed viz— i. islamicising law and ii. rationalizing and systematizing the law. Gradually rules
developed, settled but freedom enjoyed by the jurists was suppressed and fanaticism started.
b. Modern Schools: In the modern period, in Islam, the people have been divided into two sects
having different views regarding certain aspects of Islam. Thus, the schools of Muslim law can be
broadly classified into two categories:
1.Sunni Schools and 2. Shia Schools
1. Sunni Schools :
In Sunni sect, there are four major schools of Muslim law which are as follows:
A. Hanafi School – Hanafi School is the first and the most popular schools in Muslim law. Before
being named Hanafi, this school was known as Koofa School which was based on the name of the
city of Koofa in Iraq. Later, this school was renamed as Hanafi School based on the name of its
founder Abu Hanafee. The Prophet had not allowed his words and traditions from being written,
the Hanafi School relied on the customs and decisions of the Muslim community. Thus, Hanafi
School codified the precedent which in prevalence during that time among the Muslim community.
The founder of this school Abu Hanafee had not written any book for laying down the rules of this
school and therefore this school had grown through his two disciples- Imam Muhammed and
Imam Abu Yousuf. Both of them gave to the Juristic preference (Isthi Hasan) and codified the
Ijma’s of that period.
This school became widely spread in various territories, as a result, the majority of
Muslims in countries such as India, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey belong to Hanafi School. In India,
since the majority of Muslims are from Hanafi School, the Courts decide the case of a Sunni
Muslim as per the Hanafi School unless it is specified that they belong to other schools. In Hanafi
School, Hedaya is the most important and authoritative book which was created over a period of
13 years by Ali bin Abu Baker al Marghinani. This book provides laws on various aspects except
for the law of inheritance. Lord Warren Hastings tries to translate the Hedaya to English. He
appointed many Muslim Scholars to translate the book. But the Sirajiyya is considered as the
authoritative book of the Hanafi Law of Inheritance. The book is written by Sheikh Sirajddin,
and the first English translation is written by Sir William Jones.
B. Maliki School – This school gets its name from Malik-bin-Anas, he was the Mufti of Madeena.
During his period the Khoofa was considered as the capital of Muslim Khaleefa where Imam Abu
Haneefa and his disciples flourished with Hanafi Schools. He discovered about 8000 traditions of
Prophet but complied only about 2000 of them. When the disciples of Imam Abu Haneefa codified
their law based on Ijma’a and Isthihsan. The maliki school gives importance to the Sunna and
Hadis whereas the Hanafi school gives importance to the people and Isthihsan. As per Maliki
School and Law, they rarely accept the Ijma’a. As per the Law, the person gave Fatwa challenging
the sovereign authority of Khaleefa, he faced enmity and of lack of support from Muslim
governments. Thus, this Maliki school did not get much popularity.
In India, there are no followers of this school but when the Dissolution of Muslim marriage
act 1939 came in the picture, some of the laws and provision of this school was taken in account as
they are giving more rights to the women than any other school. In Hanafi School, if the woman
not get any news of her husband, she has to wait till 7 years for the Dissolution of the marriage,
whereas in Maliki School the women have to wait 2 years for the Dissolution of the Marriage. Muatha
of Imam Malik is considered as the most authoritative book of the Maliki School. This book is
also the first book written on the Hadis in Islam and this book is considered as the authority over
all Muslims in the World.
C. Shafi School – The Shafi School gets its name on the name of Muhammad bin Idris Shaffie, his
period was between 767 AD to 820 AD. He was the student of Imam Malik of Madeena. Then he
started working with the disciples of Imam Abu Haneefa and went to Khoofa. He conclude the
idea’s and the theories of Hanafi School and Maliki School in a friendly manner. The Imam
Shaffie was considered as one of the greatest jurist of Islam. He created the classical theory of the
Shaffie Islamic Jurisprudence. According to this school, they considered Ijma’a as the important
source of the Muslim law and provide validity to the customs of the Islamic people and follows
more methods of Hanafi School. the main contribution of Shaffie School is the Quiyas or Analogy.
The Al-Risala of Imam Shaffie was considered as the only authoritative book of Islamic
Jurisprudence. In that book, they discuss and interpret the Ijma’a (Consensus), Quiyas (Analogy),
Ijtihad (Personal reasoning) Isthihsan (Juristic preference) and Ikhthilaf (Disagreement) in
a separate chapters in his book Risala. His other book Al-Umm is the authority on Fiqh (the science of
way of life). The followers of Shafi School are spread in Egypt, Southern Arabia, South East Asia,
Indonesia and Malaysia.
D. Hanbal School – Ahmad bin Hanbal is the founder of the Hanbali School. He found the
Hanbali school in 241 (AD 855). He is the disciple of Imam Shaffie and supports Hadis. He
strongly opposed the Ijtihad methods. He introduced the theory of tracing the root of Sunna and
Hadis and try to get the answer all his questions. His theory was to return to the Sunna of the
Prophet. When the Imam Shafie left for Baghdad, he declared that Ahmad bin Hanbal was the
only one after him who is the better jurist after him. The followers of Hanbali school found in
Syria, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
2. Shia Schools :
As per Shia Sect, there are three schools of law. Shia Sect is considered as the minority in
the Muslim world. They enjoy the political power only in Iran though they don’t have the majority
in that state also. Following are the Schools under Shia sect-
A. Ithna-Asharis – These schools are based on the following of Ithna-Ashari laws. The followers of
these schools are mostly found in Iraq and Iran. In India also there is the majority of the Shia
muslim who follows the principles of the Ithna-Asharis School. They are considered political
quietists. This school is considered as the most dominant school of the Shia Muslims. the ja’fari
fiqh of the Shias in most cases indistinguishable from one or more of the four Sunni madhahib,
except mutah is considered as the lawful marriage. The people who follow the Ithna Asharis
school believe that the last of the Imams disappeared and to be returning as Mehdi(Messiah).
B. The Ismailis – According to Ismailis school, in India, there are two groups, the Khojas or
Western Ismailis represents the followers of the present Aga Khan, who they considered as the
49th Imam in this line of Prophet, and the Bohras i.e. the Western Ismailis are divided into
Daudis and Sulaymanis. The Bohras and Khojas of Mumbai are considered the followers of
this school. It is considered that the follower of these schools has special knowledge of religious
C. Zaidys – The followers of this school are not found in India but are maximum in number in
South Arabia. This sect. of the Shia, school is the most dominant among all in Yemen. The
followers of these schools are considered as political activism. They often reject the Twelver Shia
school philosophies.
Other schools: Besides the schools under Shia and Sunni sects, there are some other schools which
are also present which are:
1. Ibadi School – Ibadi is a school that belongs neither to the Shia nor Sunni sect and this school
claim that its history traces back to the times of 4th Khaleefa Ali. The Ibadi school gives more
preference to the Quran and they do not give the Sunna much importance. This school has its
followers in Oman. One of the most important points about this school is that besides the Quran, it
has provided principal consideration to Ijtihad (personal reasoning) which has been partially
accepted by the Sunnis and has been completely rejected by the Shias.
2. Ahmadiya School – The followers of the Ahmadiya school claim to be Muslims but they do not
follow Prophet Muhammed. This school has a recent origin and they are followers of one Ahmed
who was alive in the 19th century. This school is said to have a British-Indian origin and Mirza
Ghulam Khadiani is the founder of this school, who served the British Government. Even though
this school claims to be a follower of Islam, none of the Muslim Government has accepted them as
Muslims because they believe this school’s faith is completely against the faith of Muslims. The
Khadiyan village which is situated in Punjab in India is said to be the birthplace of Ahmed and
thus it is their holy place and the followers are also known as Kadhiyani. There is no authoritative
book of this school and because its origin is also recent, it has no recognition by the other
authoritative books of Islam. There are many differences between the Ahmadiya School and
Muslims therefore, are not regarded as part of Islam. The major points of difference between
them are as follows:
1. The Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammad was the Messenger of God on Earth and he was
the last Prophet who had spoken with God. Thus, his teachings are an important part of the lives of
Muslims but the Ahmadiyas believe that God still communicates with his holy servants even after
Prophet Mohammad.
2. The Ahmadiyans claim that the list of Prophets before Mohammad includes Buddha, Krishna,
Zoroaster and Ramchandra and claim it is according to the Quran but the non-Ahmadiyans do
not accept such claims and refuse to acknowledge them as Prophets.
3. Unlike the Muslims, the Ahmadiyans do not accept the claim of the Sultan of Turkey as the
Caliphate and they claim that every Muslim person should remain loyal to the Government of their
4. While Muslims believe that Mahdi will have a holy war or Jihad and Islam will be spread by the
sword, the Ahmadiyas believe that it will be spread by arguments and heavenly signs and not
through violence.
The Muslim law is governed by the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad.
There have been many different schools that follow their own interpretations of these teachings
on points on which the Quran is silent. While the major schools of Muslims can be divided under
the two sects of Shia schools and Sunni schools, even the schools under these sects have been
further divided into various schools. Each school has its own beliefs and practices and because is
no set rule regarding the matters on which the Quran is silent, one school cannot be said to be
better positioned than the other schools and thus even though there are many schools in Muslim
law, they all lead to one path. Thus, the teachings of these schools can be compared to different
paths which all lead to the same destination.

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