Schools of Muslim Law (Madhab)

Sunni and Shia are the two main sects in Islam. A minority known as Ibadi, who are neither Sunni nor Shia, are prevalent in some parts of Arabian sub continent.

On matters concerning which no explicit command of Allah nor any authority of the Prophet to be found, when great scholars in different area decided on their own Quiyas, the usual differences of opinion and difference in the interpretation that each of them had their own explanation and reasons, they gave rise to different schools or codes of law. Such differences of opinion sometimes caused conflicting judgments. For example, it is the law according to Qur-an and Sunna that a wife 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 Shaffie 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.

In these circumstances the Muslim world universally accepted all schools as right path and come to the point that to follow any one school as all are in right paths. In all these schools or codes of law there is no error or difference in law as to the meaning of Qur-an and Sunna. There is no difference as to the basic belief of Islam and Islamic way of life. They are not separate sects, parties or casts. One school is not higher or lower than the other and each school is respecting other schools. All are uniting in the matters of faith worship and prayer. It is like to choose one line to travel in four line traffic as we cannot drive through all lines at a time.

There are four important schools of law among Sunni. They are Hanafi, Maliki, Shaffie and Hanbali. The three importance schools of law among Shia are Isna ashari, Ismaili and Zaidy.

1. Hanafi School.

It is the first and most popular school in Muslim law. Earlier it was known as Koofa School. The city of Koofa in Iraq was then the capital Khilafath. Subsequently it become popular in the name Hanafee which derived from the name of Abu Haneefa who was the founder of this school.

As the Prophet himself prohibited writing and preserving of his words and traditions, and on question where Qur-an does not provided explicit commands, the Hanafee method was to relay on customs and precedents of the Muslim community as the tradition of the Prophet. Thus Hanafee School was codifying the precedents which were prevalent among Muslim in that period.

There is no book written by Imam Abu Haneefa, the founder of this school who lived AD 699 to 767 (died in Hijra 150). This school grown through his two disciples Imam Muhammed and Imam Abu Yousuf popularly known as Shaihaini Imam Abu Yousuf was the chief Judge of Iraq and Imam Muhammed al Shaibani was the author of books of importance. They were codifying Ijma’a of that period giving much importance to lsthihsan (Juristic preference) and placing little reliance on Hadis.

By the encouragement from the part of Abbasid Khilafath, this school became the widely spread school among Muslim. Majority of Muslims of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, central Asia, Syria and Turkey are the followers of this School. Above 95% of Indian Muslim are following Hanafi law. Hence in India if litigated as Sunni, the courts will normally decide them according to Hanafi law unless otherwise specifically mentioned in the suit.

The most authoritative Book on Hanafi law is the Hedaya it is written by Burhan–u-dheen, Ali bin Abu Baker al Marghinani. He is said to have spend thirteen years in compiling the Hedaya. He died in Hijra 593 (AD 1196) It contains law on almost all subjects except law of inheritance. In 1770, Lord Warren Hastings, Governor General of India, empowered a number of Muslim scholars to translate the Hedaya from English to Persian and then from Persian to English under the head of Lord Hamilton. Mr.Hamilton’s translation of the Hedaya, published in 1774 is the authoritative text book on Hanafi Code in almost all Universities of the world.

Fatwa-e-Alamgiri is a digest of cases compiled under the order of Emperor Aurangazed Alamgir. Fatwa means judicial decisions and Alamgir is the official name of Mugal Emperor. It has great authority in India. Mr.Neil.B.E.Baillie paraphrased major portion of the Fatwa–e-Alamgiri and published it in London in 1865 in the name Digest of Moohummudan Law part I.

The authoritative book on Hanafi law of inheritance is Sirajiyya written by sheikh Sirajddin. It was first translated to English in 1792 by Sir William Jones and subsequently annotated by Ramsey.

Dur-ul Mukhthar is a commentary on the Thanvir-ul-absar of Sheikh Shamsudin Muhammed bin Abulla Al Ghazzia (AD 1586). It was written by Muhammad Alavudin bin sheikh Ali al Hiskafi in A D 1660. It is a work of great authority and is full of important decisions. Mr.B.M Dayal translated it in to English and published in 1913. I have compiled this work mainly based on the above four books.

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). During this period 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. Shaffie School

This school is known in the name of Muhammad bin Idris Shaffie 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 Shaffie is considered as the greatest jurist of Islam. He is the creator of the classical theory of Islamic Jurisprudence.

Shaffie 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 Shaffie to Muslim law.

The only authoritative book of Islamic jurisprudence is Al-Risala of Imam Shaffie. 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 Shaffie law. I have used these two books, Al-Risala and Minhaj–al-Talibin in compilation of this work.

There are followers of Shafie School in Egypt, Southern Arabia, South East Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Muslims of Malabar (west coast of Indian peninsula) are followers of Shaffie 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 Shaffie and strong supporter of Hadis. He opposed the method of Ijthihad (personal reasoning) explained by Imam Shaffie. 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 Shafie 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.

Shia Schools

Among Shia sect, there are three important schools of law. They are Isna Ashari or Ja-afari, Ismaili and Zayadi. Shia sect is a minority in the Muslim world. They have political power only in Iran though they were not a majority in that state also. In India, they are microscopic minority.

As this compilation is only Sunni law, I have omitted detailed introductory disclosure on various schools of Shia law.


Ibadi is a school which neither come under Sunni nor Shia sect. They claims history from the time of the 4th Khaleefa Ali. Their method is giving more importance to Qur-an and least consideration to Sunna. They are giving principal importance to Ijthihad or personal reasoning which are partially admitted by Sunni’s and totally rejected by Shia. The followers of this school found mainly in Oman.


Ahmadiya is a recently originated religion claiming to be Muslim but not the true followers of Prophet Muhammed and thus they are not Mohammedan, but Ahmadiya as the follower one Ahmed who lived in the 19th century A.D.

This is the most recent sect of Muslims. The founder of this religion was a certain Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Khadiani who died in 1908. This religion is said to be a British Indian origin. The said Ghulam Ahmed was a servant of the British Government. Though they are claiming as Muslims, none of the Muslim governments are accepting them as Muslim because their faith is totally against Muhammedan belief.

The said Ghulam Ahmed is claming on the same time as a Prophet after Prophet Muhammed, the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and the predicted Mahadi of Muslim belief. The village Khadiyan of Punjab in India, the birth place of the said Ahmed is their holy place and thus they are also called as Khadiyani.

As these religion is of recent origin the authoritative books of Islam has no mention about them.

But they are also claiming as Muslim and hence the matter came before the consideration of our courts. They first quoted by the High Court of Madras in 1923. In its judgment, the court differentiated Ahmadiya from Muslims in six points which are stated as follows.

1. While both parties believe that God has been speaking to his Prophets in the past, the non Ahmadiya hold that Mohammad was the last Prophet with whom God spoke and since then he has not spoken to and will not speak to any until the end of time. The Ahmadiyas on the other hand believe that God continues to hold communication with his holy servants now as in the past

2. While both sides accept that Mohammed was ‘Khatmun Nabiyyin’ (the seal of the Prophethood) they differ as to interpretation. Ahmadiyas say that it means that no new Prophet can arise except as a follower of Muhammed and bearing his seal and not that no new Prophet can arise at all as the Non Ahmadiyas hold.

3.Ahmadiyas admit into the list of Prophet before Mohammed world teachers such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna and Ramachandra and this they say is according to the Qur-an. But Non Ahmadiyas refuse to acknowledge them as the Prophet. Off course Ahmadiyas hold that Ahmed was himself a Prophet of God but, unlike the earlier Prophets, he got his Prophethood through Muhammed who was made a Prophet-maker by God.

4. Ahmadiyas believe that Jesus Christ was actually crucified, but he did not die on the cross. He came out alive and went to Kashmir and died and is buried there. Where as the Non Ahmadiyas hold that Jesus Christ was bodily carried away to heaven by God before crucification. The Ahmadiyas think that the prophecy of the second advent of Jesus Christ is to be fulfilled not by Jesus coming back in person but by his spirit entering another man and they believe this has been fulfilled by the advent of Ahmed himself.

5. While the Non Ahmadiyas believe that the predicted Mahdi will carry on a holy war or Jihad and spread Islam by the sword. Ahmadiyas repudiate this doctrine and holed the promised Mahdi and the Messiah are the same and that he will spread Islam by argument and heavenly signs and not by violence. They accept Ahmed as that Messiah.

6. Ahmadiyas deny the claim of the sultan of Turkey to the Caliphate and hold that every Muslim is bound to remain loyal to the Government under which he believes and which protects him.

If the above said are the difference between Ahmadiya and other Muslim, then it is evident that they will not come under the class of Muslim merely because of their faith in unity of God.

It was the irony that the followers of Ahmediya who discarded Islamic Khilafath in loyalty towards British Government later established Ahmadiya khilafath in London under the shadow of British Government and celebrated its centenary in 2008.

The whole Muslim community in the world treated Ahmediya as non Muslim. But the Ahmadiyas are treated in India as a separate sect among Muslims. There is a ruling of the Kerala High Court by Justice V.R Krishnayyar in Shihabudin Imbichi Koya Vs Ahmed Koya that, a person cannot be considered as apostate of Islam by accepting the faith of Ahmadiya.

The Ahmadiya have millions of followers in India, Pakisthan, South East Asia, and in some part of Africa. They have thousands of followers and a number of places of worship in Kerala also.