Dr. Susmit Kumar

Madhahib, Islamic schools of thought (sing. madhhab), wrote the sunnah (Muhammad’s way of life) for followers to emulate. There are four madhahib: Hanafite, Malikite, Shafi’i and Hanbalite.

(1) Hanafite:  This is the oldest and the most liberal of the four Sunni schools of legal thought. It was developed in Iraq by Abu Hanifah (699-767) and put more emphasis on ra’y—private opinion or human reason. It is dominant in Turkey, Albania, Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Indian subcontinent, and Iraq.

(2) Malikite: This school is based on the works of a judge of Medina, Malik ibn Anas (715-795). Apart from the hadith and ijma (consensus of the scholars), it used citizens of Medina as a source also. It is dominant in North and West Africa.

(3) Shafi’i: The third important school was that founded by Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (767-820), who was a disciple of Malik. It is more conservative than the Hanafite and Malikite schools. Although it accepts the authority of four sources of jurisprudence (the Quran, hadith, ijma, and qiyas, or analogy), it downgraded provisions for ra’y, private judgment.  It is dominant in Egypt, some parts of India, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Malaysia.

(4) Hanbalite: This school, founded by Ahmad ibn-Hanbal (780-855), is the most conservative of the four. It accepts only those traditions that are in accordance with the Quran and hadith, and insists on following religious duties and responsibilities as defined by the Sharia. It was dominant in Iraq and Syria in the 14th century, and was revived again in the 18th century with the rise of Wahhabism in Arabia.

Wahhabism, founded by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703–1792), is based on the teachings of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbalite school, and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). He advocated observing the original teachings of the Quran and hadith, and was against any innovations. Because of his views, he was forced out of his birthplace, the ancient oasis town of Uyaynah, now part of Saudi Arabia. He then settled in Dir’iyah, capital of Najd (present-day Saudi Arabia), ruled by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, who converted to Wahhabism. Ibn Hanbal opposed worshipping saints and the construction of shrines and mausoleums, and considered these acts worthy of the death penalty.

As part of the evolution of Islam, special schools, called madrassas in Arabic, began to be established in the 11th century to teach legal studies or a particular madhhab. A madrassa usually consisted of a building for study, residences for teachers and students, and a library. The Quran and hadith were common subjects in all madrassas. Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (780-850 AD), the father of Algebra, studied and taught at the madrasas at Bukhara and Khiva in Central Asia, and was also a member of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during the rule of Caliph al-Ma’mun. His book Al-Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala provided symbolic operations for the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. The word ‘algebra’ is derived from al-Jabr. The Latin translation of his book on the Indian numerals introduced the decimal and zero to the Western world in the 12th century. The word ‘algorithm’ (a definite list of well-defined instructions for completing a task) is a corrupted form of his name, which is derived from algoritmi, the Latinization of his name.

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