Islam is one of the oldest and most followed major religions of the world. Although it originates from Arabia, its followers today reside in almost all countries. It is because of this diversity and differences of opinions of jurists that various schools of Muslim law exist. As a result, it becomes pertinent to consider every major school individually to understand Muslim personal laws.
Schools of Muslim Law
The major sources of Muslim law include the Quran, Sunna, Hadis, Ijma as well as Qiya. Qiya refers to interpretations of Muslim jurists on matters that neither the Quran nor Sunna explains.
Since it was inevitable for jurists to interpret all sources differently, conflicting interpretations often emerged. Consequently, these differences of opinions led to the creation of various schools of law.
Sunnis and Shias are the two main sects of Islam and both of these sects have their own schools. Although there are differences of opinions amongst these schools, the Muslim world considers all of them to be correct. Thus, no school has more prominence over another.
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The following are some of the major schools of Muslim law:
1. Hanafi School
The Hanafi school, which is the most popular one amongst Muslims, derives its name from its founder, Abu Hanafi. This school basically relies on customs and precedents of the Muslim community as the traditions of Prophet Mohammed.
This is because the Prophet had disallowed codification of his words and sayings. Hence, whenever the Quran did not explain something, this school relied on the Prophet’s traditions.
The Hedaya is the most authoritative book of this school. It covers topics like inheritance as well as succession amongst followers of this school. Sirajiyya is also an important work in this regard.
The Hanafi school is the most followed school amongst all schools of Muslim law and the Muslims in India. Thus, whenever courts have to interpret Islamic law principles, they generally rely first on this school.
2. Maliki School
This school derives its name from its founder Imam Malik-bin-Anas. It originates almost to the same period as the Hanafi school but it flourished first in the city of Madina.
While the Hanafi school relies on Ijma (interpretations of jurists), the Maliki school originates from Sunna and Hadis. These two important sources give importance to the sayings, teachings, customs and traditions of Prophet Mohammed.
Imam Malik had personally collected information on thousands of recorded traditions of the Prophet. Then he codified most of them in a book, which is the most prominent Hadis today. Although there are very few followers of this school, Indian laws have derived and codified some of their provisions.
3. Shafi School
This school originates from Muhammed bin Irdis Shafi, who was a student of both Imam Malik and Imam Hanafi. The Muslim world considers him to be one of his most important jurists.
The Shafi school is basically a combination of the Maliki school and the Hanafi school. Ijma, i.e. the interpretations of jurists is the most important source of law in the Shafi school. It also relies on the customs of the Muslim people. The Qiya source of law, which depends on analogical interpretations by people, originates from this school.
The Shafi school is largely prevalent in Egypt and some south-east Asian countries. In India, Muslims from the Malabar region of Kerala generally follow this school.
4. Hanbali School
Ahmed bin Hanbal, a disciple of Imam Shafi, was the creator of this school. His theory rejected the Shafi school for relying on Qiya, i.e. the personal analogical reasonings and interpretations of the people.
Instead, he insisted on going back to Sunna and Hadis to interpret the Quran and other laws. This was because in his opinion the teachings and traditions of Prophet Mohammed matter more than peoples’ interpretations.
As a result, Imam Hanbal collected thousands of Hadis and codified them in his book, Musnath. People of Saudi Arabia, Syria and the surrounding regions generally follow the Hanbali school.
Examples on Schools of Muslim Law
Question: Read the following characteristics and state which schools of Muslim law they belong to.
(a) This school only relies on the customs and traditions of Prophet Mohammed.
(b) Imam Malik-bin-Anas established this school.
(c) This school rejected the importance of Qiya and re-emphasised on Sunna and Hadis.
(d) The Qiya source of law originates from this school.
Answers: (a) Hanafi School (b) Maliki School (c) Hanbali School (d) Shafi School