Status of Maẓāhib

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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.

M.G.

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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 Maahib differ? Be that as it may, I’ll mention certain points which might be of benefit.

Mujtahid Mulaq

There is no specific adīth 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.

[al-Ambiyā: 7]

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 Mazab. Those were ‘Ulamā’ who can never be equalled today. The entire Muslim world reads the Tafsīr of al-Ḥāfi Ismāīl Ibn Kathīr and acknowledges the works of the Muaddith al-afi Ibn ajar 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 Aadīth?

Those who were qualified in all of the above and much more, felt compelled to follow a Mahab. 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

[Luqmān: 15]

Tabaqāt

The abaqāt books list the great ‘Ulamā’ of the past according the Mahab 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 ajar – Fatul Bārī

3.       The Fiqh of al-Imām an-Nawawīal-Majmū‘ Sharul 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 aḥābah رضى الله عنهم

There were several aḥābah رضى الله عنهمwho distinguished themselves above the rest in terms of their knowledge. Other aḥābah referred to them to the extent that when the people of al-Madīnah were told a ajj 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 ‘Ar except at Banū Qurayzhah!

One group of Muslims took long to reach Qurayzhah. It was nearing sunset, and they had not yet prayed ‘Ar. 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 ‘Ar 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.

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2 responses

  1. Riaad Akhalwaya | Reply

    Shukran for that response to the question, Shaykh.

    Just to add another dimension to the question:
    Some ‘salafis’ are saying that the Madhhab may be followed unless it is seen to contradict a clear and authentic hadith. What is the best answer to this kind of attack on traditional Islam?

    JzkAllah was Salaam
    Riaad

    1. Can a Muslim contradict Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam?
      “Contradictions” arise due to different rulings of different circumstances or it may merely seem to be a contradiction due to lack of knowledge. Thus there may be differrent narrations in the same book of Hadith or seemingly different meanings between two aayaat. It is the A’immah who have drawn up comprehensive systems for reconciling differences and extracting a ruling.
      It also be remembered that the A’immah who not “mere” jurists, but master Muhaddithun in their own right long before the celebrated 6 Muhaddithun. If a Mujtahid received a Hadith with an authentic chain it is naive to reject it simply because generations later a weak narrator appeared in the chain. Would that not be the real contradicting of Hadith? Taken to its logical conclusion, there are no authentic Hadith, only weak. How is this? Books are not narrations of Hadith, people are. Imaam Bukhari is a narrator. Thats why we say, “narrated by al Bukhari.” Just as he narrated from others, the science of Hadith continued by having his chain continued by the likes of Ibn Hajar, Abu Tahir al-Kurdi etc. Are there any narrators alive today who would meet the qualifications of al-Bukhari? Thus those who seek to discredit the Ahadith of the Fuqaha in reality hack at the foundation of Islam.
      As a final note, the Ulama of the Mazhab do revise rulings. Many matters need to be considered and it is not a light decision. e.g. Imaam Shaafi ruled that the duration of Maghrib is only as long as it takes for purification, call to prayer and the Salaah. There is then a void period until Isha. This is no longer the ruling

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