Why are the madhabs? What are the reasons for the emergence of madhab? Here’s answer…

  1. With the expansion of the Muslim lands and the addition of different cultures to the Muslim world, new problems and issues arose. Political issues and scholarly disputes that emerged after the death of the Prophet also triggered the differences of views in scholarly fields.
  2. Differing ways of evaluating the verses and sayings of the Prophet related to the same issue led to divergence of interpretations.

The science of fiqh is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet as sources. Different interpretations of the statements mentioned in these sources affected the emergence of madhahib. For example, it is stated in the following verse,

  • “O you who believe! When you intend to offer the prayer, wash your faces and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to ankles…”[1] The jurists from Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki and Hanbali madhhabs who read the phrase “your feet” mentioned in this verse “وَامْسَحُواْ بِرُؤُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَينِ…” in the accusative form as “wa-arjulakum” and referred it to the verb “wash”, ruled that it was obligatory “to wash the feet” during ablution; whereas jurists from Shite Ja’fari madhhab who read it in  the genitive case as “wa-arjulikum” and referred it to the verb “rub”, ruled that the feet must be rubbed by passing wet hands over them during the ablution.
  • The word quru’ in the following verse, “And the divorced women shall undergo, without remarrying, a waiting-period of three monthly courses (quru’)…” (al-Baqara, 2: 228) was interpreted differently by Muslim jurists. This word has two opposite meanings. There are evidences from Arabic language that this word refers to both the menstrual period as well as the period of cleanliness between menses. Hanafi jurists took it to mean the menstrual period, whereas Shafii jurists understood it as the period of cleanliness after menses and based their rulings on such interpretation.
  • The word lams (touching) mentioned in the 6th verse of Sura al-Maida “aw Iamastum al-nisa” meaning “you have been in contact with women ” (al-Maida, 5: 6) was interpreted by Shafii jurists based on its literal meaning, while Hanafi scholars interpreted it based on its figurative meaning. This is why those who follow the Shafii madhhab accept that touching the bare skin of a person from the opposite gender nullifies minor ablution, whereas Hanafis argue that the word lams in this verse denotes having sexual intercourse, therefore minor ablution is not nullified by just touching the bare skin of the opposite gender, rather it is nullified either by having sexual intercourse or by touching the bare genitals of the opposite gender.

These and other similar issues have been discussed among Muslim jurists. The main reasons for differing views of Muslims jurists in understanding the Qur’an are as follows:

  • Which one of the meanings of a word stated in a verse should be taken into consideration in the interpretation.
  • Whether the meaning of the verse is general or specific.
  • The question of whether the verse was abrogated or not .
  • Differing views about the order of the revelation of the verses related to a certain case, in other words the debate about which one was revealed earlier.

The following are some of the main reasons for the disagreement regarding the interpretation of the Sunnah:

  • The transmission of some of the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) were not necessarily in their exact words but by their meaning, which caused variations in the wording of the narrations from the Prophet.
  • The fact that a hadith might carry different meanings.
  • Sometimes the meaning intended in a hadith might not be fully comprehended.
  • The fact that some actions of the Prophet (pbuh) were understood differently.
  • The existence of varying hadīths regarding the same matter.
  • Differing knowledge of Muslim jurists on hadīth.
  • Differing methods of establishing the authenticity of a hadīth.
  • Whether it is acceptable to rule and act based upon khabar wahid (a single report) or not.
  • Whether it is acceptable to rule and act based upon weak hadīths and whether or not it is a general principle of Islamic law in case of conflict to base a ruling on a weak hadīth.

It should not be forgotten that these differences are about the issues of furu’u (i.e. the matters related to the application of religion in daily life), whereas there is no disagreement about the essential principles of religion. All Muslim jurists are praised by the Muslim community because their religious beliefs and lives are in agreement about all essential issues, such as obligation of performing ritual prayer five times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan and paying zakat etc.

  1. The different educational background and the environment in which they were trained as well as the varying methods they used led Muslim jurists to have different views and this also led to the emergence of different schools of law. The factors of customary practices, environment, and surroundings prepared a suitable ground for Muslim jurists to issue varying views.

While some mujtahids regarded the views of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) as an absolute source (dalil) for their rulings, others argued otherwise and regarded only some Companions’ views as acceptable proofs for their rulings.

The Maliki school regards the traditions and practices of the people of Medina as a binding source of Islamic law. Other schools instead view not only the customary practices of the people of Medina but also the customary practices of other regions of the Muslim land as a source, but only under certain circumstances.

  1. Mujtahids’ varying characters, personalities, tendencies, and their teachers’ approaches to incidents were also among the factors that affected their views.

People’s understandings, talents, skills, values of Judgement, and mentalities present differences. Moreover, the environment where a person has been raised, his past experiences, manners, knowledge and skills differ from those of the other people. So it is inevitable that people with such differences will articulate different views.

The differences among the sources and methodology employed by Muslim jurists in their approaches to solve new legal issues were also effective in their varying judgments.

  1. Mujtahids in earlier periods did not issue their independent judgments in every subject of fiqh. Whereas in this period, mujtahids issued their personal judgments for the emerging questions by regularly applying the process of ijtihad. Either they themselves or their students collected their judgments (ahkam) and the methodology they employed in issuing their judgments in books under appropriate titles. Other jurists who easily accessed, studied and benefited from these books began to adopt certain views, and thus, madhahib were formed.
  2. Compilation of the Mujtahids’ views in books played a major role on the systemization of the schools of Islamic law. The fact that the prominent students of the Mujtahid imams were appointed to important positions, and that they returned to their hometowns and spread their teachers’ views over different geographies had a significant effect in the spread of the schools of Islamic law.

[1] Al-Ma’ida, 5: 6.

Source: Fiqh1 (According To The Shafi’i School Of Islamic Law), Erkam Publications