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Introduction

Islam has two big sects since time immemorial, sunni and shia. Both the
sections drew their practice and faith from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet
Muhammad and at the same time agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam.
But, the differences between the two sects resulted in the history of divide
between the two. The first and central difference emerged after the death of
Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. The issue was who would be caliph (the
deputy of God) in the absence of the prophet. The majority there chose Abu
Bakr, whereas one of the closest companions of the prophet, a minority opted
for his son-in-law and cousin – Ali. Subsequently, the ones who sided with Abu
Bakr came to be called Sunni (“those who follow the Sunna”) and those who
chose Ali came to be called as Shia (“partisans of Ali”). Later, Abu Bakr
became the first caliph and Ali became the fourth caliph. A minority known as
Ibadi, who are neither Sunni nor Shia, are prevalent in some parts of Arabian
sub-continent.

The Sunnis are the largest branch of the Muslim Community, at least 85% of
the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. The name is derived from the Sunnah, the
exemplary behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad. All Muslims are guided by
the Sunnah, but Sunnis stress it, as well as consensus (ijma; the full name of
Sunnis is Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Ijma, people of the Sunnah and consensus).1

1
Sunni Islam, available at: http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e2280 (Visited
on October 27, 2018)
Sunnis have always been guided by four schools of legal thought- Hanafi,
Maliki, Shafii, and Hanbali- each of which strives to develop practical
applications of revelation and the Prophet's example.

Although Sunni Islam comprises a variety of theological and legal schools,


attitudes, and outlooks conditioned by historical setting, locale, and culture,
Sunnis around the world share some common points: acceptance of the
legitimacy of the first four successors of Muhammad (Abu Bakr, Umar,
Uthman, and Ali), and the belief that other Islamic sects have introduced
innovations (bidah), departing from majority belief.

Sunni Islamic institutions developed out of struggles in early Islam over


leadership of the Muslim community. Political and religious positions,
articulated by scholars, arose out of disputes over the definition of “true” belief,
the status of those who profess Islam but commit a great sin, freedom, and
determinism. Sunnis tend to reject excessive rationalism or intellectualism,
focusing instead on the spirit and intent of the Quran.

Reform movements within Sunni Islam began to appear during the eighteenth
century in the works of scholars seeking to revive the dynamism of Islamic
thought and life in order to meet the demands of the modern world. These
movements gained momentum with the imposition of European colonial
control throughout the Muslim world. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries
witnessed the revival of Quranic studies as well as renewed commitment to
science and education as the path to independence and development within the
context of Islamic values and identity. Sunni thought of the eighteenth through
twentieth centuries has also re-examined traditional Islamic law. Many modern
reformers believe that fiqh (jurisprudence), as a human interpretation of divine
law, should be open to reinterpretation in accordance with present
circumstances and community needs. Almost all twentieth-century Muslim
countries are debating the role of Islamic law and civil codes in modern society
and the implications for constitutional law and the organization of the state.
Many Islamic thinkers reject the notion that Islam requires a particular form of
state and government, looking instead to Quranic principles such as shura
(consultation) for guidance. Some believe that religion and the state are
intended to be separate entities, while others, such as the Muslim Brotherhood
and Jamaat-i Islami, believe that an Islamic state is necessary to the
development of an Islamic social order. Many thinkers have studied in the West
and are open to dialogue with the West and commitment to a common struggle
for the causes of humanity. They have examined the impact of European
imperialism, Western neo-colonialism, exploitation by socialist-bloc countries,
the Cold War, the displacement of Palestinians, the lack of democracy in the
Muslim world, and other crisis factors. Most Muslim thinkers today stress the
importance of justice, especially social justice, in Islam. A Universal Islamic
Declaration of Human Rights has been propounded, next to that of the United
Nations. Increasing attention is also being given to subjects such as women and
gender, the family, religious freedom, pluralism, the status of minorities, and
religious tolerance. Islam is increasingly emphasized as a total way of life,
encompassing both religious and worldly issues. Human beings are seen as
God's stewards on earth, and the Muslim community is intended to reflect God's
will. In this view, secularism is often rejected as being antithetical to religious
values. Instead, Islam is presented as perfectly suited for human society,
individually and collectively.
Sunni Schools of Law

The four sunni schools of law derive their base from the Quran and the Sunnah
as the primary sources, and ijma (consensus of opinion) and qiyas (analogical
deduction) as the secondary sources. Differences of opinion among the people
sometimes caused conflicting judgments. For example, it is the law according
to Quran and Sunna that a wife is entitled to maintenance from her husband.
But whether a decree can be passed for recovery of past maintenance, the Hanafi
School says that it is wrong to decree past maintenance which is lapsed by not
claiming in time. But according to Shafii School, a wife is entitled to recover
past maintenance as dues from husband and his property. Both schools have
their own reasons and arguments for their opinion.

The four important schools of law are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali.

1. Hanafi School

Although the foundation of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence was laid down in the
epoch making period of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), the systematic work of
codification of Islamic law was only commenced by Imam Abu Hanifa in the
2nd century of Islamic era of Kufa, the famous city of learning. The city of Kufa
was founded by the order of the 2nd Caliph Hazrat Umar. He appointed Abdullah
Ibn Masud as Deputy, Instructor and Mufti of the city. He lived in Kufa for ten
years and gave important discourses in law and religion.
Caliph Ali, who was himself a great jurist and a scholar of holy Quran made
Kufa his capital in 35 A.H. About 1500 companions of the Prophet took
permanent settlement in Kufa. In this way Kufa grew as a seat of learning under
the above patronage and guidance of Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam and
Abdullah Ibn Masud.

The legal learning from Hazrat Ali and Ibn Masud reached to Alqamah Aswad,
Shuriah and Shabi, the Tabin and pupils of aforesaid companions of the
Prophet. After these scholars their disciples Ibrahim Nakhai, Shabi Hasan Basri
and others also studied law on the same line and from these scholars Islamic
learning reached to Hammad Abi Sulaiman, who further developed Islamic
legal learning. He was teacher of Imam Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi
school of Islamic jurisprudence. The legal learning from Hammad reached to
Abu Hanifa, whose opinions were collected and preserved in writing by his
disciples and companions Abu Yusuf and Imam Mohammed. From here the
legal learning in Kufa entered into the glorious period of Islamic jurisprudence.
From Kufa this school spread throughout Arabia and other countries of the
world. Today majority of the Muslim population is following this school.

Salient Features:

The expansion of Islam beyond the borders of Arabia, the foundation and
organisation of the Caliphate, the extension of Islamic State and accession of
new lands into it, resulted into contract of different cultures and races. The
simple Islamic society had to face various political, social and legal problems.
It was Imam Abu Hanifa, who felt the need of time and with a sacred goal to
preserve the divine law of Islam as ordained by God in Quran in the light of the
precepts of the Prophet (PBUH), he started systematic study of Islamic
jurisprudence and began the codification of Islamic law. In this work he was
assisted by his learned disciples like Imam Abu Yusuf, Zafar Imam
Muhammad, who were experts in various disciplines.

The Hanafi Madhhab draws a clear distinction between the fard and wajib.
Although majority of the jurists consider the two as synonymous to each other,
followers of the Hanafi school of thought must regard them otherwise. This is
because in the Hanafi Madhhab, Fard is communicated by a clear definite text
with no ambiguity or speculation while Wajib is written by a speculative text.
As a consequence, the obligation emanating from a fard is of a far greater degree
than that from an obligation emanating from a wajib. The omission of a fard
invalidates the act, such as the unanimous view of the jurists that the omission
of the stay at `Arafa, which is a fard act, renders one’s hajj null and void. Whilst
the omission of sa`i (pacing) between al-Saffa and al-Marwa, which is
communicated by a speculative authority will not invalidate the hajj. Another
distinction is that one who refuses to believe in a fard such as salah orzakah is
rendered an unbeliever. However, the denial of believing in an obligation
established by a speculative authority will not make one an unbeliever.

2. Maliki School

This school derived it name from Malik–bin- Anas who was the Mufthi of
Madeena. His period was from AD 713 to 795 (Hijra 179). Originally referred
to as the School of Hejaz or the School of Medina. Predominant in North Africa
and significantly present in Upper Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, United Arab
Emirates, and Kuwait. Characterized by strong emphasis on hadith; many
doctrines are attributed to early Muslims such as Muhammad 's wives, relatives,
and Companions. A distinguishing feature of the Maliki school is its reliance
on the practice of the Companions in Medina as a source of law. Additionally,
Malik was known to have used ray (personal opinion) and qiyas (analogy).

During the eighth century, the capital of Muslim Khaleefa was at Koofa where
Imam Abu Hanifa and his disciples flourished with Hanafi School. When the
disciples of Imam of Abu Haneefa codified their law based on Ijma’a and
lsthihsan, Imam Malik at Madeena, the city of the Prophet codified Sunna and
Hadis on the permission given by Khaleefa Umer-bin Abul Aziz. Imam Malik
collected about 8000 traditions of the Prophet. He testified and compiled only
about 2000 out of these traditions. He codified it in subject wise in his Book
Mu-atha which was the first and most authoritative book of Hadis

When Hanafi School gave importance to Ijma’a of the people and lsthihsan
(Juristic preference) the Maliki School was giving importance to Sunna and
Hadis. Maliki law is based on Sunna. They accept Ijma’a only in rare cases and
they will accept Ijma’a of the scholars of Madeena alone. As he gave Fatwa
challenging the sovereign authority of Khaleefa, he faced enmity and of lack of
support from Muslim governments. Thus, this school did not get much
popularity and now they predominate only in North and West Africa.

Though there are no followers of Maliki School in India, when Dissolution of


Muslim Marriages Act 1939 was enacted, some provisions for it were taken
from Maliki law because it was giving more rights and freedom for women in
the law marriage and divorce. In Hanafi law, a woman has to wait seven years
to dissolve her marriage if whereabouts of husband is not known. But the period
is only two years in Maliki law thus in Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act,
this Maliki Provision accepted as the law.

The most authoritative Book on Maliki School is Mu-atha of Imam Malik which
is the first book on Hadis in Islam. Thus, it is accepted as authority by the whole
Muslim world. I have seldom quoted from Mu-watha in this work.
3. Shafii School

This school is known in the name of Muhammad bin Idris Shafii whose period
was from AD 767 to 820. He was a student of Imam Malik at Madeena and later
he went to Koofa and worked with the disciples of Imam Abu Haneefa.

His conceived the idea of harmonizing the two schools Hanafi and Maliki on a
friendly manner. Imam Shafii is considered as the greatest jurist of Islam. He is
the creator of the classical theory of Islamic Jurisprudence.

Shafii established Ijma‘a as an important source of Muslim law and gave


validity to custom of the people of Islam following more to the method of
Hanafi school. Quiyas or analogy is the contribution of Imam Shafii to Muslim
law.

Prominent in Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan with a significant number of


followers in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Hejaz, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia and
among Sunnis in Iran and Yemen. Official school for Ayyubid dynasty in
Egypt, and prominent during the Mamluk regime that followed. Displaced by
the Hanafi school there when the Ottomans occupied Egypt in 1517 . Combined
knowledge of fiqh as practiced in Iraq with that of Hejaz. Considers hadith
superior to customary doctrines of earlier schools in formulation of Islamic law.
Denies preference (istishan) as source of law.

The only authoritative book of Islamic jurisprudence is Al-Risala of Imam


Shafii. He discussed the science of Islamic law and interpretation such as Ijma’a
(Consensus), Quiyas (Analogy), Ijthihad (Personal reasoning) Isthihsan
(Juristic preference) and Ikhthilaf (Disagreement) in separate chapter in his
book Risala. His other book Al-Umm is the authority on Fiqh (science of way
of life).

Minhaj–al–Talibin of Imam Navavi is the authority on Shafii law. I have used


these two books, Al-Risala and Minhaj–al-Talibin in compilation of this work.

There are followers of Shafii School in Egypt, Southern Arabia, South East
Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Muslims of Malabar (west coast of Indian
peninsula) are followers of Shafii School.

4. Hanbali School

This is the last formed school of Sunni Muslim law. Ahmad bin Hanbal died in
Hijra 241 (A D 855) was the founder of this school. He was a disciple of Imam
Shafii and strong supporter of Hadis. He opposed the method of Ijthihad
(personal reasoning) explained by Imam Shafii. And instead he formed a theory
of tracing root (usool) of Sunna or Hadis to get the answer. His theory was to
return to the Sunna of the Prophet. So, he collected about 80,000 Hadis and
codified them in his Book ‘Musnath’. It is said that when Imamm Shafii left
Baghdad, he declared that he had not left behind him a better jurist and pious
man than Ahmad bin Hanbal. The followers of Hanbali school found in Syria,
Phalastine and Saudi Arabia. When religious reforms were made in Saudi
Arabia in 18th century on the inspiration of Abdul Wahab, they accepted
Hanbali school and now in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Mamlukiyathu ssuoodi
al Arabiyya) where two Harams, Makka and Madeena situate, they are
generally following Hanbali school of law.
The Hanbali was the most conservative of the four schools. Its rigidity and
intolerance eventually caused its decline over the years. In the eighteenth
century, however, this school was revived with the rise of Wahhabism and the
growing influence of the House of Sa’ud. Today, Hanbali school is followed
only in Saudi Arabia.

The Hanbalis insist on the literal injunctions of the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith
and are very strict in the observance of religious duties.

Although the Muslims generally apply the Islamic law according to the
principles and details laid down by the four ancient jurists, legal situations keep
arising from time to time for which there are no clear answers in these early
schools of law. To cope with this changing aspect of Islamic society,
particularly in the light of new facts, specialists in the field of Islamic law are
asked to give their decisions using the traditional tools of legal science. Such a
decision is called a fatwa and the religious scholar who gives this decision is
called a mufti.

Significance of the Sunni


Schools of Law

The process of sunni schools of law proceeded from personal legal opinion
(fatwa), arrived at through personal reasoning (ijtihad), and from there to
disagreement (khilaf), and eventually to consensus (ijma), through the
instrumentality of the disputation (munazara). This process is amply
documented in the history of Muslim education. It is a process that cuts across
the schools of law (madhahib), involving individual jurisconsults of any and all
Sunni schools. It worked this way at the very beginning, in the first Islamic
century, when there were no recognizable schools of law; it worked this way in
the following century when the schools emerged designated geographically; it
continued to work this way when they became personal schools, and later still
when the personal schools proliferated so that their number was said to have
multiplied into the hundreds; and the process remained the same when the Sunni
schools finally dwindled to four. In short, the process was same before the
advent of the schools of law as we know them, and it remained the same
afterward throughout their development. The reason for this is that the process
involved, not the schools as such, but rather the individual jurisconsult.
Conclusion
The religion of Islam remains as one. The practices of a Muslim believer is
based on whatever Allah the Almighty has given to us, completed onto the
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the form of the Quran and the
Hadith. The following hadith says thus: Verily We: it is We, who have sent
down the Dhikr and surely, we will guard it from corruption (Al-Hijr 9). Hence,
the religion of Islam is intact and obviously the Quran and the Hadith must be
the only form of the faith that we must follow. The death of the Prophet (peace
be upon him) left a legacy of a new wave of the Islamic Ummah, faced with
unprecedented issues and new dilemmas that require the right judgement and
proper solutions. Hence, many brilliant scholars must use their rational power
and reasonable judgement to derive possible solutions from the Quran and the
Sunnah itself (Ibrahim IS, 2008). Each of the scholars who have found the four
most important Sunni Madhhaheb has not added anything to the religion of
Islam. Neither do they claim to be followed. The schools they have established
was a result of their pursuit of knowledge in relation to their faith in
Islam. Hence, this explains the differences among the school of thoughts. Each
great scholar has learned the Quran properly, and this provided them with the
intelligence necessary in understanding the Islamic faith. However, what
defined each scholar from another is their methods of deducing and constructing
new bases and verdicts from their knowledge and understanding of the Hadith.

This concludes that each of the Islamic school of thoughts have existed only for
the benefit of the Islamic Ummah. Their difference in deeds, ethics and
character, if in contradiction to the Quran and the Sunnah, must be rejected
because as stated in the Quran:
‘For you the best ideal is Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Therefore, the path that
can lead a Muslim to paradise is the one which is prescribed and adopted by
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) himself and his companions. One who will adopt
that way would get salvation otherwise shall be doomed and death (Halakat)
would be his fate.’