Travelers on the Path of Knowledge

Knowledge is an ocean and a few drops just aren’t enough. -Unknown

Madahib February 10, 2007

Filed under: Islam — musaafir @ 1:03 pm

So on January 29th, I believe, we had Mufti Abdur Rehman ibn Yusuf Mangera come to Stony Brook University for an event on the History of Madahib. I know it’s a slightly touchy topic at our university, but may of us felt that it needed to be addressed. The event wasn’t supposed to be a lecture about the necessity of following a madhab or anything, it was just about the fact that four schools of jurisprudence exist.. something that cannot be denied. Mufti Abdur Rehman did a good job, I don’t think he was there to alienate anyone, just to expound on common misconceptions and how the schools came to be.

Last school year, I had written an article for the Minaret (our MSA newsletter) with the help of my brother Asif 🙂 and the article didn’t get published but we’ll see if I end up resubmitting it.

Anyhow, here it is (I haven’t read it in a while so forgive mistakes you may see):

Muslims and Madhabs: The Real Story


Frequently, in mosques, houses, MSAs and so on, Muslims debate over the issue of following a madhab. This article aims to shed some light on this issue. Before engaging this topic we would like to ask Allah, Mighty and Majestic, to grant us tawfiq in drawing closer to Him through positive knowledge and practice, and we implore Him to turn towards us out of His Infinite Bounty.

Allah out of His Infinite Wisdom sent guidance into this world. This guidance is meant to provide a practical guide for creation to draw closer to Him. For Muslims, this guidance is embodied in the Majestic Quran and the tradition of the beloved Prophet of Allah, Muhammad, may Allah shower peace and blessings upon him. During the life of the Prophet* the companions consulted him about all their affairs, such as how to pray, dress, perform dhikr, etcetera, but the situation is quite different for Muslims living after the death of the Prophet.

Since the Prophet* is no longer with us, we are presented with the problem on how we an ascertain what Allah desires from us. The answer is quite clear in the majestic Quran.

Ask those who know well, if you know not “(16:43).

In other words, the Quran is telling people to ask those with knowledge if we do not know about a subject. We do this everyday in our lives. For example, we consult a doctor when we are sick; we consult a mechanic when our car breaks down, and likewise we consult scholars when we have questions regarding our deen. The companions did likewise after the death of the Prophet.* Certain companions were considered more knowledgeable about the deen and therefore those who considered themselves less knowledgeable deferred to the positions of scholars such as Abu Bakr, may Allah raise his rank.

This principle of deferring to people of more knowledge is borne out by the Quran, prophetic practice, the practice of the companions, and logic. Now how do we apply this principle in our lives and how is this related to the practice of following a madhab or a school of Islamic law? Let us first set out some facts to be considered.

1.       The majority of scholars for the majority of Islam have followed one of the four schools of Islamic Law; Hanafi, Maliki, Shaf’i, and Hanbali. Imams Bukhari and Muslim were Shaf’i, Imam Nawawi was a Shaf’i, Imam Ghazali was a Shaf’i, Imam Dardir was a Maliki, Ibn Abidin was a Hanafi, Mufti Taqi Usmani is a Hanafi, Shaykh Ali al-Juma is a Shafi, Shaykh Ramadan Buti is a Shafi, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a Maliki, Imam Zaid is a Shaf’i, Shaykh Muhammd Yaqoubi is a Hanafi, just to name a handful of late and contemporary scholars.

2.       Not everyone is capable of analyzing the Quran and Hadith literature within its context. The reasons for this are many including the inability to comprehend classical Arabic, not understanding the historical context of a particular verse or Hadith, not knowing all the Hadith(Imam Ahmed is known to have memorized somewhere between 700,000 and a 1,000,000 Hadith).

3.       Not everyone has the time required to properly analyze the Islamic text. Most of us have little time to learn basic Arabic let alone all the sciences related to the Quran.

For the purpose of time and space I will limit myself to these facts.

                Let us now return to the question at hand what does any of this have to do with following a madhab. Allah, the Prophet*, the companions, and our righteous scholars all understood that there is a need to follow knowledgeable people in deen, scholars. Historically, this manifested itself in the creation of madhabs. A madhab is a school of Islamic Law, four Sunni schools exist: Hanafi, Maliki, Shaf’i, and Hanbali, though these schools bear the name of their founders, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shaf’i, and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal, this does not mean that one is following the sole opinion of these scholars. Rather when one follows the opinion of the Hanafi School of law, one is following an opinion that has been analyzed by thousands of scholars. In other words, when Imam Abu Hanifa issued a juristic ruling his students examined it, and then their students examined it, and so on until modern times and till this day scholars examine the opinions of earlier scholars to make sure they are in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. In essence, one should realize that a person following a madhab is following the opinion that has been transmitted, examined, and then reexamined by top notch scholars who are pillars of knowledge and practice.

                Let us reflect on the following Hadiths.  The first Hadith relates that Allah removes knowledge by removing the scholars of this Ummah. If we look at our present day reality, the number of scholars have decreased, the result of which is that people now turn to ignorant people for answers. The Hadith then relates that that those misinformed or ignorant scholars are misguided and misguide. We only need to look online to see the absurd fatwas being tossed around. The second Hadith goes on to warn that those who speak out of ignorance are sinful for what they are doing. So, let us reflect about the importance of sound knowledge and the need to follow the rightly guided scholars.

Abdullah ibn Amr narrated that the Prophet* said:

“Allah will not snatch away knowledge abruptly from people but rather He will snatch knowledge by removing scholars.  This will happen to the extent that when no scholar remains, people will take ignorant leaders as their guides. These leaders will be asked and they will give opinions (fatwas) without knowledge.  So they will be misguided and they will misguide.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Abu Hurayrah said that they Prophet* said:

“Whoever gives a fatwa (legal opnion) without knowledge, the sin will be on the one who gives the fatwa” (Abu Dawood).


This being said, it should be easy to understand why Muslims all over the world follow a madhab. It is much easier upon a Muslim to take his knowledge of the deen from scholars as opposed to ignorantly learning and teaching Islam. Madhabs are the practical way for Muslims to link Islam back to the Prophet* and Allah’s commands. Some people are adamantly opposed to following a madhab because to them it is seen as “blind following” and placing scholars at the rank of the Prophet*, yet as can be seen there is much more to madhabs than following the opinion of one scholar. These ways of learning and implementing fiqh into the common Muslim’s lives have been refined and upheld by the most knowledgeable of the ulema. It is important to remember that no madhab is superior to another, nor is any Muslim so we should not judge one another, but maintain the highest standards of respect towards each other.


*May peace and blessings be bestowed upon him.



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