The four Madh-habs (juristic schools)
Q 9: Are the “four methodologies”: Al-Ahmadiyyah, Al-Shafi`iyyah, Al-Malikiyyah and Al-Hanafiyyah, legitimate? When were they founded?
A: It’s better to call them the four Madh-habs. Al-Ahmadiyyah are the followers of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah be merciful with him); Al-Shafi`iyyah are the followers of Muhammad ibn idris Al-Shafi`y (may Allah be merciful with him); Al-Malikiyyah are the followers of Malik ibn Anas (may Allah be merciful with him); and Al-Hanafiyyah are the followers of Abu Hanifah Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit (may Allah be merciful with him). These Madh-habs are well-known among people of knowledge. The Madh-habs of Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik were known in the second century A.H.
As for the Madh-habs of Al-Shafi`y and Ahmad, they became known later in the third century A.H. All of them indeed were rightly guided scholars, but it is not permissible to say that anyone
of them was infallable. All of them erred on some issues, for no one can be expected to totally grasp the profound Book of Allah. They may have also been unaware of some aspect of the Sunnah (whatever is reported from the Prophet). This was common among them and others, such as Al-Awza`i, Is-haq ibn Rahawayh, Sufyan Al-Thawriy, Sufyan ibn `Uyaynah, Waki` ibn Al-Jarrah and other renowned Imams (Muslim scholars).
Every one of them was unaware of some details, because no one can grasp all of the Sunnah and Islamic sciences. However, they are considered leaders of guidance whose followers organized their Madh-habs and compiled their Fatwas (legal opinions), until these Madh-habs spread, as a result of their efforts. Some of them may have erred in their opinions due to a lack of knowledge in some aspect of the Sunnah, so they gave Fatwas according to their own Ijtihad (juristic effort to infer expert legal rulings). Those amongst them who knew specific Hadiths on an issue were able to give the correct Fatwa. This was the case with all of them (may Allah be merciful with them) on a number of issues. That is why Malik (may Allah be merciful with him) said, “Everyone of us can refute and can also be refuted, except he who occupies this grave” (referring to the grave of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him).
Following a particular Madh-hab by Shari`ah (Islamic law) students is not desirable; they should not imitate anyone. However, if they adhere to a particular Madh-hab because they feel its rulings suit them there is no problem provided that they do not blindly follow any of these Madh-habs; be they those of Al-Shafi`y, Ahmad, Malik, Abu Hanifah or others. They should examine the evidence of the Shari`ah as did the Imams of Madh-habs themselves. Solid evidence should always prevail, especially in controversial issues. As for issues upon which scholars are unanimous there must be no difference of opinion, as
the scholars [of this Ummah (nation)] never agree upon something false. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, A group of people from my Ummah will remain victorious (and on the right path)… to the end of the Hadith. If they unanimously agree upon something, this group is among them.
In controversial issues a scholar should examine evidences. If the strongest evidence was given by Abu Hanifah, he should follow him. If it was given by Malik, he should follow him. If it was given by Al-Shafi`y, he should follow him. If it was given by Ahmad, he should follow him. If it is given by Al-Awza`y, Is-haq ibn Rahawayh or others, he should in turn follow them.
One must follow the evidence and leave what contradicts with it, as Allah the Exalted says,Surah Al-Nisa’, 4: 59 And if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination. (Al-Nisa’ 4: 59)andSurah Al-Shura, 42: 10 And in whatsoever you differ, the decision thereof is with Allah (He is the ruling Judge). (Al-Shura 42: 10).
Scholars are obliged to review controversial issues in light of the Shari`ah and rule on the basis of the strongest textual evidence.
As for the common people, they should consult our contemporary scholars. They should consult pious, knowledgeable scholars (be they of their own country or elsewhere) known for following in the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and follow them. They should be known for their scholorship, honor, following of the Truth, observing Salah (prayer), adherence to Sunnah; such as growing the beard and not trailing their garments, avoiding suspicious situations, and other evidences of their integrity. If someone finds a scholar who is distinctly pious and knowledgeable, they may ask his opinion regarding any issue. Praise be to Allah, who stated:Surah Al-Taghabun, 64: 16 So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can (Al-Taghabun 64: 16)andSurah Al-Anbiya’, 21: 7 So ask of those who know the Scripture if you know not. (Al-Anbiya’ 21: 7).