Question sent via text message:
Salaam, what is the hadeeth regarding the different imams. I got 1 cake idiot arguing that theys [sic] no sects like hanafi shafi… n nabi saw neva [sic] talk of that.
It’s difficult to answer this question without knowing exactly what the person is objecting to. Is he objecting to following an Imām, or the fact that Maẓahib differ? Be that as it may, I’ll mention certain points which might be of benefit.
There is no specific Ḥadīth mentioning following the Four A’immah (Imāms). Allāh however says:
فاسألوا أهل الذكر إن كنتم لا تعلمون
Ask those of knowledge if you do not know.
Thus there are two groups amongst the Ummah – those who have dedicated themselves to knowledge and those who should refer to the knowledgeable if they do not know. Of course, nothing prevents the second group from attaining further knowledge and becoming the learned themselves.
Now, let alone the common people, great giants amongst the ‘Ulama, felt the need to follow a Mazḥab. Those were ‘Ulamā’ who can never be equalled today. The entire Muslim world reads the Tafsīr of al-Ḥāfiẓ Ismā‘īl Ibn Kathīr and acknowledges the works of the Muḥaddith al-Ḥafiẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī. Both these titans were Shāfi‘ī. Almost every great scholar for over a thousand years followed one Maẓhab or the other.
The Ḥadīth refers to one who has memorised the Qurān as, “Ḥāmilul Qurān,” not, “Ḥāfiẓ.” Ḥāfiz meant someone who memorised at least 100,000 Aḥādīth – text and chain of narrators. You will note that both personalities mentioned here are titled, “al-Ḥāfiẓ,” in the original sense of the word. Yet neither felt qualified enough to proclaim himself Mujtahid Muṭlaq, one qualified in all Islāmic sciences and able to issue his own rulings without referring to the ruling of an Imām.
If one possesses the qualifications to be a Mujtahid Muṭlaq, then by all means proceed, nobody is forcing such a luminary to follow a Maẓhab.
Let’s list a few basic sciences required to be a Mujtahid Muṭlaq, not daring to approach the myriad fields actually required:
- Is your friend a proficient Arabic speaker?
- Is he qualified to give tafsīr of the entire Qurān?Is he an expert in the biography of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه وسلم and hence capable of contextualising various Aḥādīth
- Can he understand any Hadīth in Arabic, let alone memorise 100,000 Aḥadīth?
Those who were qualified in all of the above and much more, felt compelled to follow a Maẓhab. My knowledge is not a speck compared to theirs. How can I have the audacity to follow my own way instead of obeying…
واتبع سبيل من اناب الي
Follow the path of those who turn to Me
The Ṭabaqāt books list the great ‘Ulamā’ of the past according the Maẓhab they followed. This encompasses almost all the ‘Ulamā’ of the past. Even those who reject Maẓāhib intently study the books of these ‘Ulamā’ who followed Maẓhabs. How is it possible to try and obtain the knowledge of these ‘Ulamā when the foundation of their knowledge was some Maẓhab, but the student denies Maẓāhib? The following are standard books in the land of the Ḥaramayn amongst those who reject Maẓāhib:
1. The Tafsīr of Ibn Kathīr – Tafsīr al-Qurān al-‘Azhīm.
2. The commentary on Bukhārī by Ibn Ḥajar – Fatḥul Bārī
3. The Fiqh of al-Imām an-Nawawī – al-Majmū‘ Sharḥul Muhaẓẓab
All three were followers of al-Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī. They followed the path of one who turned to Allāh despite their own lofty status.
Maẓāhib existed amongst the Ṣaḥābah رضى الله عنهم
There were several Ṣaḥābah رضى الله عنهمwho distinguished themselves above the rest in terms of their knowledge. Other Ṣaḥābah referred to them to the extent that when the people of al-Madīnah were told a Ḥajj ruling by the ‘Ulamā’ of Makkah, they politely declined until referring the matter to Zayd bin Thābit رضى الله عنه, the Muftī of al-Madīnah. Thus they accepted him as their Imām, without disrespect to other ‘Ulamā’.
If Maẓāhib are true, why do they differ?
This is a common objection made by people who do not understand differences of opinion in Islām. For a detailed discussion on this topic, please refer to my article, Differences of opinion in Islām. The following incident however can be mentioned:
During the siege of al-Madinah during the Battle of Khandaq (5 Hijrī) the Jews of Banu Qurayzhah who were bound by treaty to the Muslims, betrayed the Muslims. After the siege was lifted, Jibreel alayhis salaam ordered Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه وسلم to punish the traitors.
Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه وسلم therefore announced:
لا يصلين أحدكم العصر إلا فى بنى قريظة
None of you should pray ‘Aṣr except at Banū Qurayzhah!
One group of Muslims took long to reach Qurayzhah. It was nearing sunset, and they had not yet prayed ‘Aṣr. Some insisted on following the command literally, even it meant praying Asr at Qurayzhah only when the stars had appeared. Others opined that the command meant to hurry, but ‘Aṣr had to be prayed before sunset, which meant not at Qurayzhah in their case.
Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه وسلم did not rebuke either group, even though their actions were opposite.
This is but a brief discussion, but inshāallāh it may assist in answering your question.