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Schools of Law, Muslim

Schools of Law, Muslim (Arab., madhab, pl., madhāhib, ‘direction’). Muslim life is founded on Qurʾān, which itself was first expressed in the lives and words of the Prophet Muḥammad and his Companions. Their words and actions were collected in aḥādith (ḥadīth), and these become exemplary in Muslim life. Even so, not every circumstance was covered, so application of these sources to life became necessary. These eventually issued in (among Sunni Muslims) four major schools of law (sharīʿa), named after their founders: (i) Mālikite (Mālik ibn Anas), which relies on the customary interpretations of Madīna, and puts less reliance on methods of exegesis such as ijmāʿ (consensus) or raʾy (informed opinion); (ii) Hanīfite (Abū Ḥanīfa), seeking consensus, and prepared to use methods of exegesis to make sharīʿa readily applicable; (iii) Shāfiʿite ( Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī), seeking rules to govern the methods of exegesis, which is thus kept under control, the school mediating between innovative and conservative; (iv) Hanbalite ( Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal), conservative and defensive of early patterns of observation. In the Muslim world, (i) is strong in W. Africa and the Arab west, (ii) in the former Ottoman Empire and the Indian subcontinent, (iii) in the far East, (iv) in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Each school regards the others as legitimate, but a Muslim is expected to live within the pattern of one of them: eclecticism (talfiq) is discouraged. There is also a number of Shīʿa schools, though by its nature, Shīʿa Islam is less strongly organized in a centralized sense.

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