Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

The Four Islamic Legal Schools

on November 29, 2022

(Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash)

In the ideal Islamic society, there is no separation between church and state. Laws are made and interpreted according to the Qur’an, the example of the Prophet and his Companions, and collections of the hadith. It took several hundred years to compile and evaluate the validity of the hadith. In the end, they were categorized into three Sunni categories of authenticity: the sahih, the sunan, and the jami (Esposito 74-75).

The sahih includes the authenticated hadith of Muhammad al-Bukhari (810-870) (Esposito 66, 74) and Muslim ibn al-Hijjaj al-Nisaburi (817-875). The Hadith of Gabriel (Hadith Jibril), which is part of the Sahih Muslim, was compiled by Umar ibn al-Khattab (586-644), “a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the second [caliph] of the Muslim community” (Esposito 75). It has been revered as “the defining statement of the Islamic creed (aqidah)” (Esposito 75) even though it is not elevated to the same level as the Qur’an.

The sunan are “collections of precedents” (Esposito 75) and include the books of Abu Daud al-Sijistani (817-888), Ibn Majjah al-Qazwini (822-887), and al-Nasai (830-915). Jami are collections of hadith that may or may not be authentic, such as Jami al-Tirmidhi, compiled by al-Tirmidhi (824-892) (Esposito 75).

Shiites “consider the traditions of their imams . . . to be equal in importance to those of the Prophet himself” (Esposito 75) because they consider the bloodline of Muhammad as something sacred and open to divine revelation.

Four schools of Islamic legal thought survive: the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, and Hanbali. According to Esposito, the Hanafi School “has the largest following of all the surviving schools . . .” The Hanafi School has been influential in the formulation of laws governing personal freedoms, women’s rights, religious practices, and “contract rules for business transactions involving resale for profit and payment for goods for future delivery” (http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e798). Basing laws on “reason, logic, opinion (ray), analogy (qiyas), and preferences (istihsan), the Hanafi School is the most liberal school in Islamic law.

The most conservative of the Islamic schools is the Hanbali School of Law, which is “the official school in Saudi Arabia and Qatar” (http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e799). Laws formulated according to the Hanbali School are based on “the Qur’an, hadith, fatwas of Muhammad’s Companions, sayings of a single Companion, traditions with weaker chains of transmission or lacking the name of a transmitter in the chain, and reasoning by analogy (qiyas) when absolutely necessary” (http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e799).

The Maliki School of Law is called the “School of Medina . . . [and] many doctrines are attributed to early Muslims such as Muhammad’s wives, relatives, and Companions” (http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/articles/opr/t125/e1413). Although the Maliki School relies on personal opinion (ray) and analogy (qiyas), it is best known for basing Islamic law on the examples of Muhammad’s Companions in Medina.

The Shafii School of Law, founded by Muhammad ibn Idris ibn al-Abbas ibn Uthman ibn Shafii in the eighth century, “considers hadith superior to customary doctrines of earlier schools in formulation of Islamic law” (http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com.article/opr/t125/e2148). The Shafii School emphasizes the use of human reason and seeks to find common ground between the different schools.

Shariah Law developed as a means to fight the materialism and greed that were gradually undermining the Islamic Empire. “Because Muhammad was believed to have surrendered perfectly to God, Muslims were to imitate him in their daily lives . . . Islamic Holy Law helped Muslims to live a life that was open to the divine” (Armstrong 160). This ritualized lifestyle was meant to invoke a constant reminder of Allah (dhikr) and to internalize taqwa (God consciousness).

The living example of Muhammad, then, is the key to living a divine life.  And Shariah Law must always trace its roots back to the Prophet and the Qur’an. Having a plurality of schools provokes thought and encourages discourse but undermines the original intent of Shariah law. And when you have Imams claiming divine revelation based on their kinship to the Prophet, this opens the doorway to “innovations,” which are discouraged in Islam.

Internet Sources – incorporated into the body of the post

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993.

Esposito, John L. The Oxford History of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

~

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 7, 2019; November 29, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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6 responses to “The Four Islamic Legal Schools

  1. Bewilded says:

    Very insightful 🙏lovely Dawn. Thank you 🤗🤍

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dawn, this is a clearly written overview of the four Islamic legal schools. Thank you for this information.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. aparna12 says:

    Wow. Very interesting and informative. ♥️♥️♥️😊😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Americaoncoffee says:

    An interesting and impressive share Dawn. Christianity and Islam came to a divide after the Old Testament, and the stories related to the separation, I am are are many. Best Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

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