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Title: Maddhab  
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Subject: Religion, Religious denomination, Al-Zaidi (surname)
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Part of a series on Islam
Usul al-fiqh

(The Roots of Jurisprudence)

Scholarly titles

Madhhab (Arabic: مذهبmaḏhab, IPA: [ˈmæðhæb], "doctrine"; pl. مذاهب maḏāhib, [mæˈðæːhɪb]; Turkish: mezhep; Urdu: مذہب mezheb) is a Muslim school of law or fiqh (religious jurisprudence). In the first 150 years of Islam, there were many such "schools". In fact, several of the Sahābah, or contemporary "companions" of Muhammad, are credited with founding their own. The prominent Islamic jurisprudence schools of Damascus in Syria (often named Awza'iyya), Kufa and Basra in Iraq, and Medina in Arabia survived as the Maliki madhhab, while the other Iraqi schools were consolidated into the Hanafi madhhab. The Shafi'i, Hanbali, Zahiri and Jariri schools were established later, though the latter school eventually died out.


It is claimed that the schools of thought were developed in the 9th and 10th centuries as a means of excluding dogmatic theologians, government officials and non-Sunni sects from religious discourse.[1] Historians have differed regarding the time at which each of the various schools had emerged. It is said that Sunni Islam was initially split into four schools: the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi'ites and Zahirites.[2] Later, the Hanbalites and Jarirites were included to expand Sunni jurisprudence to six schools before various ruling dynasties later narrowed the number down to five at the exclusion of the Jariri school;[3] eventually, the number was specified at four by the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt creating four independent judicial positions, thus solidifying the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools.[1] The Ottoman Empire later reaffirmed the official status of these four schools as a reaction to the Shi'ite nature of Persia.[4] Conversely, some view that Sunni jurisprudence falls into two groups: Ahl al-Ra'i, or people of opinions, due to their emphasis on scholarly judgment and reason; and Ahl al-Hadith, or people of traditions, due to their emphasis on restricting juristic thought to only what is found in scripture.[5]

Ibn Khaldun, on the other hand, defined the Sunni schools as three: the Hanafi school, the Zahiri school, and a broader, middle school encompassing the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools.[6][7] Shi'ite historian Ibn al-Nadim, on the other hand, divides the Islamic schools of thought into eight groups: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Zahiri, Imami Shi'ite, Ahl al-Hadith, Jariri and Kharijite.[3][8] In the modern era, former Prime Minister of Sudan Sadiq al-Mahdi defined the recognized schools of Muslim jurisprudence as eight as well, though with different schools: Hanafi, Maliki, Ja'fari, Zaidi, Shafi'i, Hanbali, Zahiri and Ibadi.[9]

Historically, schools were often at violent conflict with one another, vying for favor among ruling governments in order to have their representatives appointed to legislative and especially judiciary positions.[4] Geographer and historian Al-Muqaddasi once satirically described the adherents of these schools as possessing contrasting personal qualities: Hanafites, conscious of being hired in official positions, appeared deft, well-informed, devout and prudent; the Malikite dull, obtuse and confining himself to observance of Muslim prophetic tradition; the Shafi'ite shrewd, impatient, understanding and quick-tempered; the Zahirite haughty, irritable, loquacious and well-to-do; the Shi'ite entrenched in his old rancor, intractable and enjoys riches and fame; and the Hanbalite anxious to practice what he preaches, charitable and inspiring.[10] While such descriptions were almost assuredly humorous in nature, ancient differences were less to do with actual doctrinal opinions and more with conflict for adherents and influence.

Established schools

Generally, Sunni Muslims prefer one madhhab out of the four (normally a regional preference) 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.[11][12]

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 madhhabs.

Amman message

Main article: Amman message

The Amman message, a three-point ruling issued by 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries, recognizes the following legal schools of thought:[13]

  1. Hanafi (Sunni)
  2. Maliki (Sunni)
  3. Shafi'i (Sunni)
  4. Hanbali (Sunni)
  5. Ja'fari (Shia)
  6. Zaidi (Shia)
  7. Ibadi (Ibadhi)
  8. Zahiri (Sunni)

See also


Further reading

  • Branon Wheeler, SUNY Press, 1996
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