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Schools of Islamic Legal Thought also Known as Madhahib in Arabic, emerged due to the independent interpretation of the general principles of the Quran and sunnah by various prominent scholars over the centuries. Each school was designated under the name of its founding scholar. All these schools were established very early in Islamic history. The purpose of each school was basically to interpret the general principles of the Quran and sunnah concerning specific cases and this was done by the eminent scholars. Many of them were under each school of Islamic thought and contributed largely in forms of writings and books in which they in a different way interpreted the Quran and sunnah and attributed their writings to sharia.

The purpose of introducing Madhahib is because even today Muslims around the world follow different traditions as per their understanding and learning of various schools. Distinct variations in forms of practices within Islam exist in which each school of thought is associated in its way.

There are three main schools of thought under which various new schools developed over centuries:

  1. Sunni

  2. Shia


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.

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 the importance to the Sunna and Hadis whereas the Hanafi school gives the 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.

C. Shaffie School

The Shaffie 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 concludes the ideas and the theories of Hanafi School and Maliki School in a friendly manner. The Imam Shaffie was considered as one of the greatest jurists 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.

D. Hanbali School

The 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 Ijthihad methods. He introduced the theory of tracing the root of Sunna and Hadis and try to get the answer all his question. His theory was to return to the Sunna of the Prophet. When the Imam Shafie left for Baghdad, he declared that the Ahmad bin Hanbal was the only one after him who is the better jurist after him. The followers of Hanbali school found in Syria, Phalastine and Saudi Arabia.


  1. Ithna Asharia School 

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).

  1. 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 Bohoras i.e., the Western Ismailis are divided into Daudis and Sulaymanis.

The Bohoras and Khojas of Mumbai are considered as the followers of this school. It is considered that the follower of these schools has special knowledge of religious doctrine.

  1. Zaidy

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.


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