It is incumbent upon every Muslim to navigate through life and daily obligations in accordance with Sacred Law. So how does the average Muslim who hasn’t passed through years of extensive training and study access guidance in relation to such a wide array of obligations, rituals and ever-unfolding matters? This leads us to answer the question what is a Madhab?
A Brief History
Even in the time of The Prophet ﷺ not all of the companions had direct access to The Prophet ﷺ and in-depth observation about he ﷺ went about his day and other matters (consider those who converted at a geographical distance). These companions, may Allah be pleased with them, would go to other Companions and seek their guidance and knowledge in regards to how to worship Allah Most High. They would follow their advice without continuously demand proofs, due to understanding their rank and integrity that they would advise their communities to only follow that which is valid.
Many companions were advised to follow one specific companion and to seek their advise over other companions, this was accepted in the time of The Prophet ﷺ. From this developed 4 distinct Schools of Law, known as Madhabs.
Islam is not a religion which permits a person to follow their own way but rather, they must follow the way of Scholarship which is the preservation of Sacred Law. A Muslim will generally select 1 School of Law or Madhab to follow, whilst accepting that the opinions which exist amongst the other Schools of Law are also valid. Whereby it would be difficult for a person to follow a certain opinion of the Madhab they are following, it is permissible to adopt the opinion from another Madhab with a more merciful way to follow (which would be under the guidance of a qualified Scholar).
The 4 Imams
From companions who would advise their communities on the ways of worship, Fatwa were sought in regards to matters where seemingly contradictory advice had been heard. These fatwa ensured that the rulings given remain within the fold of Islam whereby a scenario had occurred which was not strictly falling into an example outlined by The Prophet ﷺ. In order to deliver Fatwa, one must undergo rigorous training and study in the study of Qur’an, Hadith and previous Fatwa given before from a chain of authentic scholarship. This is to protect Islam from falling victim to the fate of previous revelations in which the followers eventually begin to follow their own way. corrupting the religion in order to satisfy one’s own needs. Therefore Madhab ensures we are operating purely within the parameters of what was revealed to The Prophet ﷺ.
4 Major Schools of thought thus emerged from the organisation of the Scholarly chain of Sacred Law:
- Imam Abu Hanifa 150AH
- Imam Malek Ibn Anas
- Imam Mohammed Ben Idris El-Shafai
- Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal
Teachings of the 4 Imams may Allah be pleased with them all, laid down the foundations of the very Fiqh or Islamic Jurisprudence we follow to this day and protect Muslims in an age where authentic extensive knowledge on matters is not readily available, from falling astray.
Please note – This article is an introduction to Madhab and is not exhaustive of the topic. To better understand navigating Islam in modern times, enrol onto the Holistic Islamic Studies Diploma! CLICK HERE to find out more.