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Must Muslims Follow Only One School of Thought?



Reply Date

Jul 23, 2017


Salam Alaykum dear scholar. What makes Islam unique in comparison to all other religions is that chain of narrations, so called Isnad. Via this chain we can authenticate any report and tell the truth from false. My question is that today I meet many young people who carry Bukhari in their hands and memorize it, then apply what they have learned and instead of following one of the 4 schools of though (madhab), they do their own ijtihad. In our tradition this was never the case until very recently, do you think it is important to follow authentic school of though or should we all get Bukhari and derive rulings ourselves? Jazak Allah Khair, Mehti



follow madhab

Wa Alaikum Assalam Dear Mehti,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The answer is: Neither.

I think that it is wrong for non-specialists in Islamic law to derive rulings themselves from the texts.

However, I also think that it is wrong to strictly follow one of those four schools of thought that you called ‘authentic’.

First, specialists in the Islamic law know that a single piece of ‘evidence’ (i.e., hadith or verse) is not enough for the derivation of a ruling as lawful or forbidden.

This process requires an expert or a specialist in Islamic law.

Every discipline, including the Islamic law, has its specialized people who are capable of dealing with it professionally.

Why Specialists?

To give you a hint on why it is wrong for non-specialized people to derive rules from a single piece of ‘evidence’ (verse or hadith), I will refer to the fundamentals of law book by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, where he summarized the different reasons on why it is a complex process to derive a ruling from ‘a single linguistic evidence’ (dalīlu khiṭāb).

The following is a summary of these reasons:

Perhaps the ruling that one concludes from the single piece of evidence has been restricted to certain circumstances, without one’s knowledge.

There is a possibility that the expression of the single piece of evidence is metaphoric.

Our reference in language is linguists, which are people who could err.

Arabic grammar is conveyed to us via ancient Arabic poetry, which was narrated through individuals’ narrations (riwayāt āḥād). These narrations are not certain and the original poets themselves could have made grammatical mistakes.

Perhaps one or more of the words of this single piece of evidence have multiple meanings.

There is a possibility that one or more of the words of the single piece of evidence have been altered, over time, in a way that alters the original meaning.

Maybe the expression has a hidden (khafī) meaning that we do not understand.

There is a possibility that the ruling that we conclude from the single piece of evidence has been abrogated.

There is a possibility that a ruling that we conclude from a single piece of evidence is at odds with ‘reason.’ In such case (al-Razi says), if both reason and narration are confirmed, then one of them is wrong.

Moreover, reason is our means to confirm the validity of narration itself. Therefore, reason has precedence over narrations. Thus, we should follow reason, and not the linguistic evidence of the narration.

Even More Possibilities

Furthermore, I would add the following possibilities to the above nine:

It could be that a single piece of evidence could imply a meaning that (apparently) ‘contradicts’ other single pieces of evidence. This is not a real contradiction but a lack of understanding of the context on our behalf. This is studied as the standalone subject of ‘opposing scripts’ (al-muta˒āriḍ).

There is a range of possibilities of error in conveying aḥād hadith narrations themselves, even if they were ‘authentic’. Specialists know that a few (only a few) narrations –even in Bukhari and Muslim- are ‘weak’.

There is a range of possibilities for the ‘interpretation’ of any single evidence, which affects the way we conceive its meanings and implications.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the process of derivation of a ruling from a single piece of evidence would be done properly by a non-specialist in the field.

One Need Not Follow Only One School

Finally, it is not necessary that you follow one specific school of law.

And by the way, there are many of them, not just the famous and most popular four.

You probably will start learning about the law proper by learning about one school in detail, and then expand your learning into a comparative study.

However, in terms of fatwa (religious rulings), there is no need to stick to one of the schools, and in fact, it is an error to do so.

They are all valid, as long as they are based on sound evidence. Ultimately, we should choose from all opinions what achieves the best interest and best fulfills the higher purposes of the Shariah.

Again, this is a matter that should be left for a specialist to judge.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Editor’s note: This piece is from AboutIslam’s archives and was originally published in 2016

Satisfy your curiosity and check out these other helpful links:

Why Follow a Madhab if we Have the Sunnah?


Should I Be Salafi or Hanafi?


Who Deduces Islamic Rulings and How?


Who Were The Four Imams? Part 1


Who Were The Four Imams? Part 2



About Dr. Jasser Auda

Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.

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