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Madh'hab (Arabic: مذهب [mæðhæb], pl. مذاهب [mæðæːhıb]; transliterated Urdu: mazhab) is an Islamic 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 Damascusmarker in Syria (often named Awza'iyya), Kufamarker and Basramarker in Iraq, and Medinamarker in Arabia survived as the Maliki madh'hab, while the other Iraqimarker schools were consolidated into the Hanafi madh'hab. The Shafi'i, Hanbali, Zahiri and Jariri schools were established later, though the latter two schools eventually died out.

Established schools

The four mainline schools of Sunni jurisprudence today, named after their founders (sometimes called the A’immah Arba‘a or four Imaams of Fiqh), are not generally seen as distinct sects, as there has been harmony for the most part among their various scholars throughout Islamic history.

  • The Hanafi Madh'hab: Imam Abu Hanifa, who was the 'founder' of the Hanafi school, lived in what is now modern-day Iraqmarker, not long after the prophet Muhammad's death. It is reported that Imam Abu Hanifa studied under many teachers. He also met the "companion" (sahābi) Anas ibn Malik, making Imam Abu Hanifa one of the tābi'ūn, or second generation in oral transmission from Muhammad.


  • The Maliki Madh'hab: Imam Malik was born shortly thereafter in Medina. There are reports that they lived at the same time and, although Malik was much younger, their mutual respect is well-known. In fact, one of Abu Hanifa's main students, on whose teaching a lot of the Hanafi school is based, studied under Imam Malik as well.


  • The Shafi'i Madh'hab: Imam Shafi'i was also taught by both Abu Hanifa's students and Imam Malik, and his respect for both men is also well-documented.


  • The Hanbali Madh'hab: Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal studied under Imam Shafi'i, and consequently there are many similarities between the two madh'habs.


Distribution of the four Sunni madh'hab
The majority of Sunni Muslims believe that all four schools have "correct guidance", and the differences between them lie not in the fundamentals of faith, but in finer judgements and jurisprudence, which are a result of the independent reasoning of the imams and the scholars who followed them. Because their individual methodologies of interpretation and extraction from the primary sources (usul) were different, they came to different judgements on particular matters. For example, there are subtle differences in the methods of prayer among the four schools, yet the differences are not so great as to require separate prayers by the followers of each school. In fact, a follower of any school can usually pray behind an imam of another school without any confusion.

Generally, Sunni Muslims prefer one madh'hab out of the four (normally a regional preference). Some, however, reject the four schools. Others (most notably the Salafi) accept the four madh'habs as legitimate, but also believe that ijtihad must be exercised by the contemporary scholars capable of doing so. Others insist on taqlid, or acceptance of religious rulings on matters of worship and personal affairs from a higher religious authority without necessarily asking for the technical proof as a requirement. This practice is very common amongst Sufis, who follow an Islamic mystical order, tariqah.

Experts and scholars of fiqh follow the usul (principles) of their own native madh'hab, but they also study the usul, evidences, and opinions of other madh'habs.

Shi'a Islam has its own school of law,



Footnotes

  1. Masah on socks



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