The Five Schools of Thought in Islam

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Schools of Thought in Islam:

The schools all developed in the same way: A gifted scholar would set out his ideas in his classes and writings; his students would refine these and pass them on to their students, who would in turn do the same. In the early period a number of these schools came into being, but most of them dissolved quickly. The few that survived were named after the men around whom the schools had first formed.

Hanafi School:

The two oldest Sunni legal schools are called Hanafi and Maliki. The former was named after Abu Hanifa (d. 767), a legal scholar who lived and worked in the Iraqi city of Kufah. He acquired a reputation among scholars for his liberal views on the law and for his great intelligence. Abu Hanifa used legal precedents other than those found in the hadith to expand Islamic law and advised that extreme Quranic punishments should be used rarely. Some of the greatest legal scholars of the following generation were his students. The Hanafi school is currently dominant in India, Central Asia, Turkey, and parts of Egypt.

Maliki School:

The Maliki school took its name from Malik ibn Anas (d. 796), a scholar from the city of Medina—the first capital of the Islamic Empire and the center of vigorous work by legal and religious scholars. Malik was one of the most highly respected of these men. The Ummayad caliphs had claimed that laws could be made without reference to the Quran, but Malik ibn Anas overturned this right and once again placed emphasis on the importance of the hadith. He is known to the present day for his dedication to collecting hadith and for writing the al-Muwatta—one of the most influential early books on the law. The Maliki school is currently dominant in North and Central Africa.

Shafii School:

Perhaps the greatest legal scholar in Islamic history was Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafii, who gave his name to the Shafii school of law, which is currently followed in Malaysia, southern Arabia, and East Africa. He was born in Palestine and studied in various parts of the Middle East, including Medina, where he studied under the great Malik ibn Anas. He then taught in Baghdad and later Egypt, where he died in 819. Al-Shafii laid out his ideas on the law in the Risala—one of the most renowned books of the early period of Islam.

In his book al-Shafii argued persuasively that after the Quran the most important source for legal scholars to use in reaching their decisions was the hadith. It was to a great extent because of this argument that the hadith became so highly regarded by all Muslims. With al-Shafii’s work the Muslims in the courtyard of Vakil mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Mosques throughout the Islamic world are used for prayer, study, and contemplation. During the month-long fast of Ramadan it is common for Muslims, usually men, to spend long hours in the mosque reading, praying, and quietly conversing.

Hanbali School:

The last of the Sunni legal schools to emerge was the Hanbali school—named after Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855), who was a younger contemporary of al-Shafii in Baghdad. Early on ibn Hanbal acquired the reputation for being outspoken and very conservative. Frequently he had bitter arguments with other scholars over a variety of religious and legal issues. He even became involved in an angry dispute with the court and at one point was arrested and beaten for his opinions. This helped strengthen his following among students and younger scholars who shared his views. Today the only area where the Hanbali school is dominant is the modern state of Saudi Arabia.

Shia Law—The Jafiri School:

Besides the schools of legal thought in the Sunni Muslim community, there is the Shii law school, which is known as the Jafiri school. It was named after a great Shii scholar who lived and taught in Medina and later in Baghdad: Jafar al-Sadiq. In his early career al-Sadiq lived a quiet life, writing and holding classes for his students. In 750 the Abbasids swept into power, and in a short time the quiet of al-Sadiq’s life was shattered. Al-Sadiq was by that time one of the leading members of the Shia community. This status was not entirely to his liking. The new Abbasid caliphs from the very start of their rule viewed the Shia as political rivals and therefore kept a close eye on al-Sadiq and other Shii leaders. Although al-Sadiq had always been careful to stay out of politics—partly for fear that he would end up beheaded like Shii leader Husayn—the second Abbasid caliph, al- Mansur, ordered al-Sadiq arrested on several occasions. Al-Sadiq died in the year 765 and it was believed by many that he was poisoned on the orders of the caliph. For the Shia, his death would drive one more wedge between the two Muslim communities.

Credit: Islam (World Religion)

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