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The Evolution of Madhhabs (Schools of Jurisprudence)
With the collections of hadith being introduced and the new challenges facing a civilized society, there appeared a need for established discipline bearing in mind that not everyone can find a solution for problems and someone who can find such a solution has himself to be qualified.
The disagreement over the areas that can be covered by qiyas, the apparent and the non-apparent meanings of texts, what constitutes ‘consensus of the Companions‘, we could find ourselves in an age of the appearance of great Imams who laid the foundation for Islamic schools of thought.
Imam Abu Hanifah An-Numan
Imam Abu Hanifah happened to be the first, as he was born in 80 AH and died 150 AH. Born in Kufa, a big city in Iraq, the Imam found that many issues had not been witnessed before in Arabia because of the simple life the Arabs had compared to the more advanced one he had at his time.
It was because of this that Abu Hanifah’s approach was to look into the objectives, the wisdom, more than the literal understanding of the texts. That is why we read in books speaking about this era that Abu Hanfiah belonged to the school of opinion.
This means that he was searching for the wisdom behind texts in order to be able to provide solutions to the brand new issues in the light of the objective rather than the letter of text that sometimes leads to restrictions which do not suit the main objective of Shariah, that is, to remove hardship and difficulty.
Imam Malik ibn Anas
The second Imam was Malik ibn Anas who was born in Madinah in 93 AH and due to his upbringing, the nature of environment he lived in, and his close contact with the Companions of the Prophet, he was able to access many hadiths.
Imam Malik gets the credit of classifying hadiths in a juristic way as he wrote the well-known volume Al-Muwatta where he implemented this. The simple life in Madinah did not require much ijtihad as the challenges were of another kind.
The third Imam Ash-Shafi was born in 150 AH in Gaza although his lineage is from the tribe of Quraish. Ash-Shafi traveled to Madinah and heard from Imam Malik and traveled to Iraq where he established his school of thought, taking into consideration the environment and the challenges.
In time, Imam Ash-Shafi himself moved to Egypt and there he revisited some of his own views and amended them according to the new environment.
This is an indication to everyone at all times that although the views of scholars are respectful and based on their understanding of the text, still they are not holy or untouchable.
They are also subject to scrutiny within the realm of Shariah by qualified scholars who have the knowledge and the ability to do so. Such a scrutiny and redressing should happen when new situation occurs.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal
The fourth Imam was Ahmad ibn Hanbal who was born in 164 AH and studied under great scholars of hadith, including Sufyan ibn Uyaynah. He became a leading scholar of hadith at his time.
Due to Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s nature of learning, his school of thought he used ijtihad in very limited cases and gave priority to the Quranic text and hadith. In case of no clear indication in the Quran and hadith, he would try the practice of the Companions of the Prophet.
If there are two versions of a text or two texts apparently giving two different opinions, he would accept both and try not to do much towards giving one of them priority if both are authentic.
In fact, there were many more scholars who had their schools of thought but these four were the ones that gained prominence. Through this, we can understand that only qualified scholars can evaluate the views of scholars and study their evidence.
Therefore, it is not for a layman to claim that he himself follows a certain madhhab, nor is it necessary for him to do so; rather, he can simply follow the fatwa (opinion) of his Imam or local scholars.
Although these great scholars held different views regarding certain things, this did not prevent them from respecting each other and appreciating each other’s scholarship.
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