Schools of Thought
Development and Evolution

Main Sources for this chapter:

Al‑Saadiq and the Four Madh’habs, Asad Haidar.

Manaaqib Abu Hanifa, Al‑Makki.

Manaaqib Malik, Al‑Sayooti.

Tabaqat Al‑Shafi’iyya.

Mus’nad Ahmad (Ahmad Ibn Hanbal).


No Schools of Thought ever existed in Islam at the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  Neither his exemplary practices nor his Hadith (the Sunnah) were put in writing during his lifetime.  After the death of the Prophet (pbuh) many of the prominent Sahaaba (Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) adhered to Imam Ali’s explanation of the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).  The number of such luminous personalities increased gradually, and came to be known as the Devotees of the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) as passed down by Ali.  They were named Al‑Khaassah, الخاصه meaning the elite, the distinctive, or the special.   In Arabic they were referred to as Al‑Shi’a.  The rest of the Muslims were referred to as Al‑Aammah, العامه  meaning the general public or the common man.

When Mu’awiya became the Khalifa (ruler), he promoted the term Al‑Jama’ah الجماعه (the throng of the society) to gain support for himself among the people.  About 150 years later, the term Jama’ah was modified (by people conforming to Abbasi government policy) in an attempt to fight off Ahlul Bayt’s enormous influence in the society.  Later the term Jama’ah was modified to Al‑Sunnah wal Jama’ah  السنه والجماعه. The term of Sunnah wal Jama’ah was prevalent during the 3rd century H. when the Schools of Thought in Islam المذاهب were in a flux but were more or less consolidating.

Later in the 3rd century H. the term was modified again, and rather than calling it Al‑Sunnah wal Jama’ah, it was abbreviated to Ahlul Sunnah  اهل السنه.  This became a general term for the four Sunni Schools of Thought.

By the year 250H the four Sunni Schools of Thought were popularized and patronized by the Abbasi government, as well as by their own enthusiasts, thus spreading in various areas of the Islamic Ummah at variable speed.  The existing Schools of Thought by this stretch of time were:

  •  Ja’fari, as headed by Imam Al‑Saadiq.
  • Hanafi, as headed by Abu Hanifa, Al‑Na’maan.
  • Maaliki, as headed by Malik Ibn Anas.
  • Shafi’i, as headed by Ibn Idrees Al‑Shafi’i.
  • Hanbali, as headed by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.

Outstanding among the vanished Schools of Thought were:

  • Madh’hab of Al‑Thawri renowned for 2 centuries and could trace its pathway to Imam Al‑Saadiq’s Institute.
  • Madh’hab of Ibn U’yainah, renowned for 3 centuries, and could trace its pathway to Imam Al‑Saadiq’s Institute.
  • Madh’hab of Aw’zaa’i, followed for more than one century.
  • Madh’hab of Dawood Ibn Ali Al‑Dhaahiri, followed for several centuries.


SHI’I:  A Shi’i is a person who is a devotee of only the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as passed down by Ahlul Bayt.  Ahlul Bayt are the direct family of Muhammad (pbuh), and a Shi’i regards their teaching of the Prophet’s Sunnah as the most authentic and accurate.  In brief a Shi’i sees himself as the Devotee of Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and nothing else and the Fiqh laid down by Ahlul Bayt.  A Shi’i believes in Imamah, that the 12 Imams were Divinely Commissioned, and they were specified by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  He also believes in Ismah عصمه (that the Prophets and the Designated Imams are shielded by Allah from: a) Sin, b) Religious Error, and c) Forgetfulness).

SUNNI:  A Sunni is a person who follows mostly the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as passed down by the teachings of Sahaaba and Scholars after the Prophet (pbuh).  Sunnah of some Khulafaa is said to be included in their teachings.  In brief a Sunni sees himself as following the Sunnah as the Sahaaba and certain scholars had specified and the Fiqh as laid by the head of the particular Madh’hab.  A Sunni does not believe in Imamah.

Nowadays: Shi’a in Blue
Nowadays: Sunni in pink

The Shi’a School

For the first 150 years after the Prophet (pbuh) the only evolving School of Thought was the Shi’a school as passed down by Imam Ali, and the chain of narration as the Golden Chain of Narration.[1] At that period the Golden Chain of Narration consisted of Ali, Al‑Hasan, Al‑Husain, Zainul Abideen, Al‑Baaqir, and Al‑Saadiq all of whom are the direct lineage of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This chain narrated Hadith and explained Islam with each Imam referring the narration by way of his father directly up to the Prophet (pbuh). For instance, Imam Al‑Saadiq used to say “My narration is the narration of my father, and his is that of his father and so on, all going up to Ali who narrated directly from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)”[2].

Those who followed this information (called Shi’a) would acknowledge narrations by other sources, as long as those narrations were confirmed by Ahlul Bayt [be they Hadith or examples of the Prophet (pbuh)].

Because of political predicaments with the rulers, and because Ahlul Bayt took the government of the time as invalid (unlawful) from Islamic point of view, there developed a boiling turmoil caused by the direct collision first with the government of Benu Umayya then with that of Benu Abbas. The governments were very eager to seek and enroll the support of Ahlul Bayt, but Ahlul Bayt adamantly refused supporting them, since genuine Islamic teachings and their consciousness of Allah, (Taq’wa) prevented Ahlul Bayt from playing politics with Islam. Because of their refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Khalifa or his government, Ahlul Bayt and their devotees were exposed to tremendous harassment —if not near‑persecution— at the hands of some Khalifas and their administration.

When the government of Benu Umayya became weak, Al‑Saadiq saw a golden opportunity, and he was the first to be able to freely pass down the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as his family had taught him. Thus the basis of the Ja’fari (Shi’i) School of Thought crystallized.

IMAM AL‑SAADIQ: الامام جـعــفـر الصــادق

Head of Ja’fari Madh’hab: 83H‑148H

Imam Ja’far Al‑Saadiq, the sixth descendant in the lineage of the Prophet (pbuh), was a charismatic leader of the highest integrity, whose piousness was acknowledged by both friends and enemies. The knowledge‑seekers rushed in large numbers to Medina to learn at his hands. They left family, homes, businesses, went through the hazards of travel, to live in Medina for variable periods of time as needed, just for the sake of learning firsthand in the Islamic Institute of Ahlul Bayt headed by Al‑Saadiq. Some stayed for two years such as Abu Hanifa, others stayed much longer, while others moved to Medina permanently.

Intellectuals of various levels flocked to him, more so during Ramadhan or Haj times. He was the repository of Islamic knowledge (I’lm) العـلـمthe one sought after by people for Hadith narration, by the Fiqh specialists, the forerunners of intellectuals, as well as by the ordinary seekers of knowledge.

People were spellbound by the depth of Imam Al‑Saadiq’s thinking, and mesmerized by the way he analyzed Fiqh inquiries. He uttered numerous Hadiths, in the thousands, quoting the Prophet (pbuh) very often and in every facet of life. He talked much about Islamic ethics and mannerism, integrity, goodness of character, and acts of worship, among other things. He contested and argued with Ghulaat, Khariji, Murji’ah, Mu’tazila, Jabriah, Qadariyah, and the Zandeeqs (see glossary of this chapter).

Growth of the Institute

During Al‑Saadiq’s time the Institute of learning by Ahlul Bayt grew very large as did the number of its students. It was similar to a university, but the dean, professor, the religions head, and the tutor were one, and that was Imam Al‑Saadiq. He held the discussions at his home, where the students were not only his apprentices but also his guests. Al‑Saadiq’s house was perpetually busy with discussions and consultations, and the household was trained to give the best treatment to its guests.

Discussions were also held in the Grand Mosque of Medina and during Haj time the discussions were conducted near the Ka’ba in Mecca, when seekers of knowledge flocked to him in large numbers for discussions, questioning, and clarification of Islamic inquiries, concepts and beliefs.

The scholars who attended Al‑Saadiq’s school wrote books, taught others, and traveled to distant Islamic territories to spread the Hadiths and other Islamic matters; quoting Al-Saadiq extensively.

Over the years as many as 4,000 scholars graduated at his hand, these were the scholars recorded by name who had quoted him.[3] There were a multitude of others who attended but did not quote him.

To hear at his hands about 1,000 student scholars hailed from Iraq (Kufa and Basrah). A good many hailed from Khurasan of Persia, also attending the Institute, despite the thousands of miles between the two areas. The same was also true of Egypt and Yemen. Even Syria, saw 10 scholars graduate at the hand of the Institute.[4]

As the Institute grew it branched out in other areas such as Kufa, Basrah, Mecca, and Qum.

Al‑Saadiq formed groups for training in the art of argument. Many of his brilliant students became famous, well known for the convincing way they presented their point of view. Prominent among these were Hisham, Al‑Thawri, Ibn U’yainah, and Mu’min Al‑Taaq to name a few.

Subjects discussed consisted of some of the following:

  • Sciences of the Quran and Tafseer, علـوم القـران والتـفــسـيـر foremost on the agenda, and so were Fiqh and Jurisprudence since there were numerous queries and questions that needed Fiqh Ah’kaam (edict).
  • Seerah of the Prophet (pbuh), الســيـره Al‑Saadiq added a great deal of detail about the Prophet’s Sunnah and the manner the Prophet lived, and was always ready to answer any questions in that regard.
  • Hadith, الحديث thousands of Hadiths were quoted and categorized and put into writing. The Hadiths were quoted 1‑2 centuries later in the Books of Sihaah Al‑Sittah as these were authored.
  • Islamic philosophy الفلـســـفه الاسـلامـيه was dealt with long before anyone knew about the Greek philosophy.
  • Science of Kalaam, عـلم الــكلام started by Imam Ali, the art of theological logic was vastly expanded by Imam Al‑Saadiq.
  • Chemistry, الكيمياء and the Sciences of Biology علـوم الطــبـيـعـه began to gain importance and though they were in the embryonic stage, they had their beginning at this time‑period.
  • Arabic Language, اللـغــه الـعــربـيـه Grammar and literary works had their share of studies at this stage too. Added to this was the scholarly discussion of Arabic literature الـفـصــاحـه and poetryالـشــعر .

Al‑Saadiq encouraged his students to write and author books for the benefit of others. Knowing human nature, Imam Al‑Saadiq was afraid the enrollees of the Institute would soon forget, misquote, add to or subtract from what he said, therefore he encouraged them to put things in writing right away. He himself did not have time to write, but his students turned into fluent and prolific writers.

Books Written

The recorded books written by the graduates of the Institute were numerous, 400 of them stand out, later they were called the 400 Usool.[5] These books were categorized about numerous subjects of Ah’kaam, basic beliefs, and manner of worship, among other subjects. They existed for many centuries and were quoted by many scholars of various generations. In addition to the above, books in Hadith, Islamic philosophy, science of Al‑Kalaam, Tafseer, Literature, Ethics, etc. were also written by the graduates of Al-Saadiq’s Institute and were sought after and often referred to by later scholars.

Two of the founders of other schools of Fiqh, i.e., the Hanafi and Maaliki, had the privilege of directly acquiring knowledge from Imam Al‑Saadiq. They were proud of their affiliation. The heads of the other two Madh’habs (Shafi’i, and Hanbali) were equally grateful for their affiliation with Al‑Saadiq by way of his students; for they were born after Al‑Saadiq had died.

Finally, Malik Ibn Anas (the head of the Maaliki Madh’hab) described Al‑Saadiq as follows:

“I used to attend discourses given by Ja’far Al‑Saadiq, who most of the time had a cheerful look and serene countenance, but whenever the Prophet’s name was mentioned Al‑Saadiq’s color would immediately become pale [out of awe].

I frequently attended his discourses over a long period of time and often saw him either praying, fasting, or reading the Holy Quran. I never saw him talking about Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) without him being in a state of Wudu.”


The Sunni Schools

Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi

Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi was the product of the Fiqh rules and regulations as taught by Abu Hanifa. As in other Islamic Schools of Thought Abu Hanifa’s Fiqh deals with tawhid, elements of faith, elements of worship (pillars of Islam), the halal and haram, ethics, dealing with other people (Mu’aamalat).

FEATURES of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi

The Al‑Hanafi School of Thought tends to put more emphasis on Qiyas القـيــاس (Analogy) and Raa’y الــرأى (personal opinion) than an emphasis on Hadith choices, and the deductions there from. It does not acknowledge the Imamah of Ahlul Bayt. The Hanafi School of Thought began its popularity in the last quarter of the second century Hijrah.

ABU HANIFA: ابو حنيفه النعمان ابن ثابت 

Head of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi: 80H‑150H

Abu Hanifa was born in 80H, grew up to be brilliant and inquisitive; he was a good business man, in charge of an enterprise dealing in the silk industry. He was the employer of many men, managing his enterprise in Kufa well. Abu Hanifa’s keen interest in researching Islamic sciences led him to Basrah many times.[6] At first both Al‑Hasan Al‑Basri and Abu Hanifa were associated with Murji’ah philosophy but later on Abu Hanifa dissociated himself from the movement. During his youth Abu Hanifa visited Hijaz to have a dialog with Imam Muhammad Al‑Baaqir (the father of Al‑Saadiq).

The brother of Al‑Baaqir, Zaid Ibn Ali, was revered for his Islamic learning. Zaid Ibn Ali revolted against the oppression of Benu Umayya government in 121H, and Abu Hanifa encouraged people to join and support Zaid’s revolt. Once the revolt was put down, the 41 year old Abu Hanifa was put in jail because of his support of Zaid. Shortly after, Abu Hanifa escaped from jail and left for Medina to join Al‑Saadiq’s discourses and teachings at the Institute of Ahlul Bayt.

Abu Hanifa’s experience was unique at the Institute, whereby his tutoring took two years. He referred to those years saying:

لهــلك النـعـمان | لولا الســنـتـان

“Were it not for the two years, Abu Hanifa would have gone astray,”

for such was the Institute’s influence on his views, Fiqh, analogy, and the manner of thinking.[7]

Abu Hanifa was a lover of Ahlul Bayt, and he supported the revolts lead by their devotees. Besides his support of the revolt by Zaid Ibn Ali against Benu Umayya (when as a result Abu Hanifa was put in jail), Abu Hanifa also supported the revolt lead by Muhammad Dhul Nafs Al‑Zakiya محمـد ذو النـفــس الـزكـيه and his brother Ibrahim, against Benu Abbas during the Khilaafah of Al‑Mansoor. Abu Hanifa urged people to join and participate in the revolt saying, “He who is killed fighting on the side of Muhammad Dhul Nafs Al‑Zakiya will be parallel to the one who has fought in Badr Battle against the infidels.” When his writings were later discovered Abu Hanifa became a suspect in the eyes of Khalifa Al‑Mansoor.

At a later time, and in a move to discredit Al‑Saadiq, Khalifa Al‑Mansoor asked Abu Hanifa to quiz Al‑Saadiq with forty Fiqh most complex queries. Though obliging to Al‑Mansoor’s dictates, Abu Hanifa became mesmerized by Imam Al‑Saadiq’s answers to the queries and he acknowledged the uniqueness of the Imam in knowledge. Consequently, Al‑Mansoor’s move to discredit Al‑Saadiq misfired, discrediting himself instead.[8]

Abu Hanifa had tutored 36 students to become scholars in Islam. Particularly famous among them were Ibn Al‑Hudhayl, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad Al‑Sheybani, and Al‑Lu’lu’i.

Though 3 years older than Al‑Saadiq, Abu Hanifa died in 150H two years after Al‑Saadiq’s death. Abu Hanifa is claimed to have died in prison or soon after he was released, because of poisoning by Khalifa Al-Mansoor. It is thought that Khalifa Al‑Mansoor had put the aging Abu Hanifa in jail because of either not agreeing with Al‑Mansoor’s dictates, or that Al‑Mansoor discovered the support Abu Hanifa gave to the revolt by Muhammad Dhul Nafs Al‑Zakiya who was devotee of Ahlul Bayt. If this was true then Abu Hanifa died in support of the cause of Ahlul Bayt against oppression.[9]

HIGHLIGHTS of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi

Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanafi took off after Abu Hanifa died in 150H. Of his close followers some stand out in spreading the Fiqh. The main ones are Abu Yusuf, Muhammad Sheybani, and Al‑Lu’lu’i.

Abu Yusuf ابو يوســف was the Chief Justice appointed during the times of Khalifa Al‑Mahdi, then Khalifa Al‑Haadi, then Khalifa Al‑Rasheed. The last was grateful to Abu Yusuf for he was the main influence in favor of the Al‑Rasheed for the Khilaafah; therefore Abu Yusuf was elevated to be the Supreme Justice. Meanwhile Abu Yusuf, with full support of the powers of the government, appointed to the Justice Department only those who acknowledged the Hanafi Fiqh—all others had either to change their Madh’hab or lose their job. Abu Yusuf had his own interpretation of the Hanafi Fiqh, and he wrote some books about the Madh’hab. His close student was Al‑Sheybani, who had not reached his twenties when Abu Hanifa died.

Al‑Sheybani الشــيـباني was a good writer, and he wrote a good many books about the teachings of Abu Hanifa, thus making the biggest contribution to the Hanafi Madh’hab. Like Abu Yusuf, Al‑Sheybani had his personal views and Fiqh points, and he expressed them when he wrote the Hanafi Fiqh. Al‑Sheybani also studied under Malik Ibn Anas for 3 years and was affected by his methodology, thus he introduced Malik’s method of Hadith selection in the emerging Hanafi Madh’hab.

The promotion of the Hanafi Fiqh by the government powers over an extended period of time popularized the Madh’hab; thus the Hanafi Madh’hab slowly became mainstream. Unlike the Ja’fari Fiqh (which was adamantly independent of the government), the Maaliki and by now the Hanafi Madh’habs were eagerly embraced and espoused by the government in a move as a counterweight to the Ja’fari Fiqh, (that of Ahlul Bayt), because these two conformed to the policies and practices of the government.



Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Maaliki was the product of the Fiqh (rules and regulations) as taught by Malik Ibn Anas. As in other Islamic Schools of Thought Maalik’s Fiqh deals with tawhid, elements of faith, elements of worship (pillars of Islam), the halal and haram, ethics, dealing with other people (Mu’aamalat).

FEATURES of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Maaliki

The Maaliki School of Thought tends to emphasize the authenticity of the Hadith اهل الحديث , the care in its selection, and the deductions there from. It also used some degree of Qiyas (Analogy) and Raa’y (Personal opinion). It does not acknowledge the Imamah of Ahlul Bayt. Malik Ibn Anas was supporter and a proponent of Ahlul Hadith. The Maaliki School of Thought began its popularity in the last quarter of the second century H.

MALIK IBN ANAS: مالك بن انـس

Head of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Maaliki 93‑179H

Born in 93H Malik Ibn Anas grew up at a time when the Fiqh of the Shari’ah was flourishing and Ahlul Bayt had a greater leeway to explain its detail since Benu Umayya’s grip on power was waning. Malik Ibn Anas attended many of the discussion assemblies Imam Al‑Saadiq was giving. Malik Ibn Anas was 10 years younger than Al‑Saadiq, and lived to the ripe age of 86, when he died in 179H. Like Imam Al‑Saadiq, Malik spent all his time in Medina.

It is claimed that Malik Ibn Anas was a firm supporter of Ahlul Bayt and their cause. Malik gave full support to Muhammad Dhul Nafs Al‑Zakiya when he revolted against the oppression of Benu Abbas in 144H. In 146H, because of that support (or because of some disagreement with the government) Malik Ibn Anas was arrested by the governor of Medina and lashed 50 times. That resulted in damaging his left arm which remained crippled the rest of his life.[10]

Malik Ibn Anas lived at a time when forgeries of the Hadith were widespread. Therefore he took great care in selecting authentic Hadiths, as a result his popularity began to increase. Many people started to quote him and study at his hand.

At the same time however, Khalifa Al‑Mansoor was ever anxious to build forces to counteract the profound influence of the school of Ahlul Bayt. In 153H Al‑Mansoor approached the 60 year old Malik Ibn Anas offering him a position to be Supreme Justice over Medina and Hijaz, but with a request for Malik to write a book in Fiqh, so that Al‑Mansoor would enforce it over the whole Ummah. Al‑Mansoor had one more request, however, that the book not mention even once the name of Imam Ali.[11]

Malik Ibn Anas agreed, sensing that his book, as supported by the government, would have immediate success. However, the down‑side to this was not mentioning Ali, but that would be the price to be paid against the advantage of spreading his Islamic knowledge.

The result was the book called Al‑Mu’watta’. The Fiqh in Mu’watta’ was later known as Fiqh of Malik Ibn Anas. It was spread and patronized by many rulers of Benu Abbas, and especially in Andalusia (Spain), North Africa, and some parts of Middle East. Malik Ibn Anas became the official high powered Supreme Judge for a long time. He was sponsored and patronized by Khalifa Al-Mansoor, then Khalifa Al-Mahdi, then Khalifa Al-Haadi, then (and especially so) by Khalifa Al‑Rasheed. This support was done not due to what this Fiqh deserved but mainly as a counterweight against Ahlul Bayt and their enormous influence in the society.

Many Books were published as commentaries about Al‑Mu’watta’ and the school of Maaliki became one of the survivors of the many Islamic Schools of Thought at the time. What was crucial to its survival (besides its dynamism) was the official support and encouragement of the Abbasi government to spread it as far as possible.

Historically during this period there were many Schools of Thought of greater depth than the Maaliki, which even continued for a century or two but eventually died out because they insisted to be independent of government influence, therefore the government did not support them, thus leading to their demise.



Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Shafi’i was the product of the Fiqh (rules and regulations) as taught by Ibn Idrees Al‑Shafi’i. As in other Islamic Schools of Thought Al‑Shafi’i’s Fiqh deals with tawhid, elements of faith, elements of worship (pillars of Islam), halal and haram, ethics, dealing with other people (Mu’aamalat).

FEATURES of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Shafi’i

Al‑Shafi’i School of Thought stands in‑between the Maaliki and Hanafi Madh’habs in that it uses some of the ways of Al‑Maaliki Madh’hab and some of the Hanafi, i.e. less in the way of Qiyas (Analogy) and Raa’y (personal opinion). It excels in the technique of Istin’baat الإستنباط (deductive reasoning) for reaching a Fiqh verdict. Like other Sunni Madh’habs, Al‑Shafi’i’s do not acknowledge the Imamah of Ahlul Bayt, though all of them were supportive of Ahlul Bayt. The Al‑Shafi’i School of Thought began its popularity around 190H and picked up steam in the century that followed.

IBN IDREES AL‑SHAFI’I: ابن ادريــس الشـــافـعى 

Head of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Shafi’i: 150H‑204H

Al‑Shafi’i was born in 150H, the same year in which Abu Hanifa died. He was from Quraish, a bright student with a dazzling personality. An orphan, Al‑Shafi’i was cared for by his mother who brought him to Mecca when 10 years old. He joined Hudhayl tribe for 17 years (in the desert) to learn the flawless command of Arabic, literary or expression. In his late twenties by now, Al‑Shafi’i settled in Mecca where Al‑Shafi’i was enticed by friends to study Fiqh. Thus he joined Al‑Zinji, learning at his and other scholars’ hands. In his thirties Al‑Shafi’i left for Medina to study at the hands of the aging Malik Ibn Anas, where he became very close to him. Malik even took care of the living expenses of Al‑Shafi’i for 4 years until Malik died. Al‑Shafi’i also studied at the hands of several of Imam Al‑Saadiq’s disciples such as a) Ibn U’yainah, 2) Abu Ishaaq Al‑Madani, 3) Al‑Zuhri, and 4) Ibn Al‑Silt Al‑Basri.

When Malik died, Al‑Shafi’i had to work in Yemen to support himself financially. He was vocal against the harsh rule of the governor of Yemen. It is said that in a move to get rid of him, the governor wrote mischievous accusation about Al‑Shafi’i to Khalifa Al‑Rasheed. As a result, in 184H and along with 8 other people, Al‑Shafi’i was taken to Baghdad chained and bound in fetters. He was closely questioned by the enraged Al‑Rasheed, but Al‑Shafi’i’s eloquence and convincing manners were such that Al‑Rasheed forgave him and set him free. The other 8 were not so lucky, for they could not defend their innocence that well, and were decapitated as per orders of the irrational Khalifa. (The Shafi’i was accused of loving Ahlul Bayt, since loving Ahlul Bayt was in opposition to the Khalifa policy or other Abbasi rulers, who posed as enemy No. 1 to Ahlul Bayt.)[12]

Al‑Shafi’i stayed in Baghdad where he joined the circle discussion headed by Al‑Sheybani (who was a student of Abu Yusuf and Abu Hanifa). Al‑Shafi’i contested and debated with Al‑Sheybani in his circle discussions, then began his own discussion assembly, giving If’taa’ (Fiqh edicts). Both he and Al‑Sheybani were active in writing books at the same time, though the Maaliki scholars at the time paid little attention to either of them. It is said that Al‑Shafi’i studied under a total of 19 scholars.

Al‑Shafi’i became quite popular in Baghdad, but he visited Egypt, which was the Maaliki strong hold at the time. In 198H, the 48 year old Al‑Shafi’i left Baghdad again, for good, with an endorsement from the Khalifa. He was accompanied by the new governor to Egypt, and stayed as a guest with an eminent family in Egypt, whereby he started his own circle discussion and gave If’taa’. This time he stayed in Egypt for about 6 years.

Al‑Shafi’i is said to have written several books, and the book of Al‑Umm in 6 volumes is contributed to him, though after probing and research it was claimed to have been written by his disciples (Al‑Bu’waiti and Al‑Rabii).[13] As Al‑Shafi’i became popular in Egypt, his discussion assembly attracted more and more students. He differed with Al‑Maaliki and Hanafi in many points, and his teachings began to have a distinct flavor. Just as his popularity was on the increase, he was beset with a long illness. At the age of 54, there came about hotly discussed difference between him and Maaliki adherents, especially after he criticized some Maaliki doctrines or beliefs. The matter was taken to the governor. Because of that, Al‑Shafi’i was brutally attacked by the discontented Maaliki adherents, and he was hit on the head with a big iron rod (iron‑key). Al‑Shafi’i lost consciousness as a consequence, probably from fractured skull, and he died shortly after.[14]

Al‑Shafi’i had a charming personality, a very attractive way of expression in pure Arabic, good poetry, and deep knowledge of the techniques of the various schools of thought at the time. He excelled in the criteria he put forth about Istin’baat (deductive reasoning) in reaching verdicts. Al‑Shafi’i was a devotee of Ahlul Bayt to a great extent notwithstanding the government jaundiced eyes about anyone who declared any faith in them. The government took Ahlul Bayt as the enemy No. 1 solely because Ahlul Bayt rejected acknowledging the legitimacy of the rulers (Khalifa) as representing Islam. Ahlul Bayt never conformed to the policies of the rulers or their rule, thus the enmity and the collision.

HIGHLIGHTS of Shafi’i Madh’hab

The popularity of Al‑Shafi’i Madh’hab was mainly due to the consistent and hard work of the students of Al‑Shafi’i, famous among them were Al‑Bu’waiti ألبـويـطي and Al‑Muzni ألمـزني , and Ibn Abd Al‑A’laإبن عـبد ألأعلى . As Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Shafi’i took roots, it gradually replaced the Maaliki Madh’hab in Egypt, then spread in Palestine and Syria, completely replacing that of Aw’zaa’i. It also spread in Iran and neighboring areas at the time. This Madh’hab was also endorsed by the governments of the time, especially that of Ayyubi.




Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanbali was the product of the Fiqh (rules and regulations) as taught by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. As in other Islamic Schools of Thought Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s Fiqh deals with tawhid, elements of faith, elements of worship (pillars of Islam), halal and haram, ethics, dealing with other people (Mu’aamalat).

FEATURES of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanbali 

Unlike other Sunni Madh’habs, Al‑Hanbali’s School of Thought has almost no use for Qiyas (Analogy) or Raa’y (personal opinion), to such an extent that they even prefer narration of weak Hadith over Qiyas or Raa’y. It emphasizes taking the Hadith literally (blindly) to such an extent that they were called As’haab Al‑Hadith اصحـــاب الحــديت. Ahlul Hadith were known long time before, but As’haab Al‑Hadith was the result of its evolution.

Also like other Sunni Madh’habs, Al‑Hanbalis do not acknowledge the Imamah of Ahlul Bayt, though Ibn Hanbal was very supportive of Ahlul Bayt. Al‑Hanbali School of Thought began its ascendancy with the full patronage of Khalifa Al‑Mutawak’kil around 235H, but it never became widely spread.

IBN HANBAL: ابن حـنـبــــل 

Head of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanbali: 164H‑241H

Ibn Hanbal was born in 164H in Baghdad at the height of expansion of the Islamic sciences and the glory of its culture. He was an astute and highly intellectual person with distinguished reputation. Ibn Hanbal grew up as an orphan, began his quest for Islamic learning at the age of 15, he learned at the hands of Abu Yusuf for a while, then Al‑Shafi’i. In 186H the 22 year old Ibn Hanbal traveled to Hijaz, Basrah, Kufa, and Yemen in quest of learning though he was in poor financial straits. He learned at the hands of, a) Ibn U’yainah, b) Al‑Zuhri, and c) Jarir Ibn Abdul Hamid among other outstanding scholar students of Imam Al‑Saadiq.

By the age of 50 Ibn Hanbal witnessed severe crushing measures by the Mu’tazila toward those who did not agree with their views that the Quran was Makhlooq (created piecemeal by Allah) according to the need of the time. As’haab Al‑Hadith believed the opposite, that the Quran was whole and part and parcel of Allah. As a result, suppression by the Mu’tazila fully supported by the Khalifas (Al‑Ma’Moon, Al‑Mu’tasim, and Al‑Waathiq) continued for about 20 years. It was a brutal suppression of any intellectual who did not agree with their view, and As’haab Al‑Hadith became the culprit for decades.

In 218H along with many others, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was arrested and was to be executed by Khalifa Al‑Ma’Moon because he stuck to his own conviction and did not agree with the Mu’tazila point of view. It so happened that Al‑Ma’Moon died on an expedition just before he was to give the verdict for the execution of Ibn Hanbal. The following Khalifa, Al-Mu’tasim, had Ibn Hanbal in jail, interrogated him about his conviction, lashed him 38 times, but somehow he released him later from jail. The Khalifa became lenient with Ibn Hanbal since it is said that Ibn Hanbal was able to circumvent direct confrontation (though others say he was adamant in his views).

As a result Ibn Hanbal’s reputation skyrocketed with As’haab Al‑Hadith who shared his views. He became famous later on when Khalifa Al‑Mutawak’kil around 234H took up the cause of As’haab Al‑Hadith against the Mu’tazila, in a move to lure the general public to his side.[15] Ibn Hanbal became the symbol of As’haab Al‑Hadith resistance to Mu’tazila orthodoxy.

While Khalifa Al‑Mutawak’kil was the nemesis of Mu’tazila, he included the devotees of Ahlul Bayt as archenemy too. A period of unparalleled persecution and killing began to take place, as a result of which the Mu’tazila intellectuals all but vanished. With the cooperation of As’haab Al‑Hadith a new phase of bloodshed began to take shape against any members or sympathizers of Ahlul Bayt too. Al‑Mutawak’kil took them as a grave threat to his rulership, and he unleashed brutal and very harsh measures to anyone suspected of being loyal to Ahlul Bayt. These measures were to such an extent, that against the Shi’a there unfolded the Naasibi, النواصب (people who earned their living by making perverted stories and pernicious poems in denouncing and damning the Shi’a). Despite this, Ibn Hanbal was brave and outspoken in support of Ahlul Bayt. He was fearless and undaunted by the attitude of the Khalifa or the people around.[16] He even narrated more Hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh) on behalf of Ahlul Bayt than most of the Sihaah Al‑Sittah, for such were his courage, virtue and nobility. And despite the fact that Al‑Mutawak’kil was supporting him with 4,000 dirham every month and the auspicious attention he was giving him, Ibn Hanbal was uncomfortable of the association with the Khalifa, to the extent that he evaded and refrained from the bond.[17] Ibn Hanbal would accept the gifts from the Khalifa but would distribute them secretly to the poor.

Ibn Hanbal was a highly learned scholar in Hadith. He wrote the books of Manasik, (the major and the minor), but his distinction goes more toward the Mus’nad of Ibn Hanbal This book was not quite finished when Ibn Hanbal died at the age of 77, and the task of editing, reviewing, and completing it fell in the hands of his son Abdullah. Mus’nad Ibn Hanbal contained 40,000 Hadiths, of which 10,000 were repetitions, and a good many others were weak. It also contained many fabricated Hadiths that Ibn Hanbal did not put originally.[18] Ibn Hanbal claimed that he selected the Hadiths from among 750,000 circulating Hadiths at his time, the overwhelming majority of which were fake.

As’haab Al‑Hadith took any Hadith literally [blindly] without giving due regard to the circumstances in which it was said nor its inner meaning. Unfortunately As’haab Al‑Hadith abused much of the power at their hands and the destruction of life or property caused by them was instrumental in enraging the general public for a long time, becoming one of the reasons of the limited spread of this school of thought.

HIGHLIGHTS of Al‑Madh’hab Al‑Hanbali 

Under Ibn Hanbal many students learned his Fiqh and became famous later on. Chiefly they were Al‑Athram, Al‑Maroozi, Al‑Harbi, Abdullah Ibn Hanbal, and Salih Ibn Hanbal. They were very active in teaching the Hanbali Madh’hab afterwards though this school of thought never spread extensively.



The Basic Elements of each Fiqh depended in descending order of importance on the following essentials:


  1. Quran,
  2. Sunnah,
  3. Al-Aql (sound reasoning or perception of the Ja’fari Fiqh Specialists),
  4. Ij’maa (consensus of the religious scholars, not to be exclusive of the Imams’ teachings).


  1. Quran,
  2. Sunnah,
  3. Ij’maa (consensus of the religious scholars),
  4. Qiyas (analogy of decision), through the following steps:
    a. Istih’san (equity),
    b. Urf (common knowledge),
  5. Raa’y (personal opinion).


  1. Quran,
  2. Sunnah,
  3. Ij’maa (consensus of the religious scholars)
  4. Qiyas (analogy), through the following steps:
    a. Istih’san (equity),
    b. Urf (common knowledge),
    c. Consensus of Medina U’lamaa,
    d. Massaa’lih Mursala (public interest),
    e. Sad al-Dhari’ah.


  1. Quran,
  2. Sunnah,
  3. Ij’maa’ (consensus of the religious scholars)
  4. Qiyas (analogy of decision).


  1. Quran,
  2. Sunnah,
  3. If’taa of Sahaaba (Companions),
  4. Preference of weak Hadith over Qiyas (analogy),
    a. Qiyas (analogy of decision), through the following steps:
    b. Istis’haab, (association),
    c. Massaa’lih Mursala (public interest),
    d. al-Dharaa’i.


Glossary for Chapter 1

Abu Yusuf Al‑Qadhi Student of Abu Hanifa, later appointed as Supreme Justice by Khalifas Mahdi, Haadi, and Al‑Rasheed.  He appointed only Justices subscribing to the emerging Hanafi school of thought.
Ahlul Bayt: Fatima and the designated twelve Imams from Ali to Al‑Mahdi, who safeguarded the teaching of Islam and conferred it to the Ummah as Muham­mad (pbuh) had taught it.
Ahlul Hadith: Those who emphasized the importance of Hadith selection and the Seerah in their jurisprudence; usually Malik’s school, and probably Ahlul Bayt’s.
Al‑Aammah: General term used to refer to the common people or the general public.
Al‑Ah’kaam: The detailed rules and regulations of the Shari’ah, according to the Ij’tihaad of the Jurist.
Al‑Khaassah: The term used for the Shi’a to mean:  The Special, The Distinct, or The Elite; generally referred to the devotees of Ahlul Bayt.
Al‑Mansoor: The second ruler (Khalifa) of Benu Abbas and the effective establisher of their rule.
Al‑Nafs Al‑Zakiyah: A great leader who revolted against the oppressive rule of Khalifa Al‑Mansoor.  Abu Hanifa supported his and his brother’s revolts and probably for this support Abu Hanifa was imprisoned by Al‑Mansoor, and died in prison or shortly after leaving prison of poisoning.
Al‑Qiyas (The analogy): Methodology of thought more often referred to by Hanafi school of thought.
Al‑Raa’y (The Opinionated): Methodology of thought often referred to by Hanafi and other schools of thought.
Al‑Sheybani: Like Abu Yusuf, Al‑Sheybani was instrumental in establishing the Hanafi school of thought.
As’haab Al‑Hadith: Those who took the Hadith blindly, then identified themselves with Ibn Hanbal’s Fiqh.
Baghdad: The town built by Al‑Mansoor to be the capital for the Abbasi regime.
Basrah: A town in Iraq used to be an intellectual center for 2‑3 centuries.
Benu Abbas: Descendants of Ibn Abbas (who was a highly scholarly person tutored by Imam Ali).  Benu Abbas established their rule after toppling Benu Umayya.
Benu Umayya: A clan in Mecca who were the adversaries of Muhammad (pbuh), then accepted Islam. Afterwards they became the rulers of the Islamic nation.  They consisted of Benu Sufyan and Benu Marwan.
Books of Usool: The famous 400 basic books written by the alumni of the Institute of Ahlul Bayt and were used as references afterwards.
Bukhari: The famous person who collected the Hadiths after a high degree of scrutiny.  His book is one of Al‑Sihaah Al‑Sittah.  He died in the year 256H.
Fiqh: Rules and regulations of Islam.
Ghulaat: The exaggerationists who falsely attributed un‑Islamic attributes to some Imams.
Golden Chain of Narration: The narration of Hadith and other Islamic matters by the persons of Ahlul Bayt.
H: Hijrah calendar.
Halal: What is ritually permissible in Islam.
Haram: What is Islamicly unlawful and not allowed, and is punishable.
Hijaz: The province including Medina and Mecca, was an intellectual center for about two centuries.
I’lm: Knowledge of the ways of Muhammad (pbuh), Sunnah, Hadith, Tafseer of the Holy Quran, Fiqh as well as the Prophet’s Traditions.
Imamah: A fundamental component of faith in Islam according to the Imamiyah‑Shi’a.
Ismah: Means that Allah has safeguarded all the Prophets and the Specified Imams who followed Prophet  Muhammad (pbuh) from, a) religious error, b) sin, and c) forgetfulness.
Jabriah: Believers in absolute predestination.
Khalifa: The head of Islamdom who during Benu Umayya and Benu Abbas were usurpers of power in the form of monarchs.
Khariji: Outsiders, a movement detrimental to Islam, which lasted for 4‑5 centuries.
Khilaafah: Rulership of the Islamic Ummah, supposed to be representing Muhammad (pbuh) after him.  However, with the advent of Benu Umayya the Khilaafah became as a mundane rulership no longer based on Taq’wa.
Kufa: Kufa was the new capital of the Islamic Ummah during the times of Imam Ali, and it became an intellectual center for 2‑3 centuries.
Madh’hab: Fiqh School of Thought in Islam.
Ma’soom: See Ismah, a person whom Allah safeguards from religious error, sin, and forgetfulness.
Murji’ah: An ideology encouraged by Benu Umayya since it held to the notion that Benu Umayya’s rule was legitimate from Shari’ah viewpoint.
Qadariyah: Believers in unlimited free will.
Qum: Seat of learning in Persia, an intellectual center.
Shari’ah: Islamic Constitution in the Quran.
Shi’a: Believers in the teachings of Muhammad (pbuh) as passed down by Ahlul Bayt, and that Imamah is an indispensable part of the Islamic faith.
Taq’wa: Absolute consciousness of the creator, the perfection of execution of the Islamic injunction.
Ummah: Islamic society.
Zaid Ibn Ali: A highly respected person who revolted against the tyranny of Benu Umayya.  He was the brother of Imam Al‑Baaqir.  He was supported by Abu Hanifa.
Zandeeqs: Agnostic or atheist.


[1] Ma’rifat Uloom Al-Hadith, Al-Neisaaboori, Page 55.

[2] Al-Rowdhah, Ibn Ali Al-Neisaaboori, Page 275.

[3]Abu Al‑Abbas Ibn Uq’dah. Also in Mu’tabar, by Najm Al-Deen. Also Al‑Mufeed. Al‑Tibrisi, in A’laam Al‑Wara, Section 3.

[4]Manaaqib, Shahr Ashoob. Also Al-Saadiq and the four Madh’habs, Asad Haidar, Vol. 1, Page 67.

[5] Al-Dhari’ah, Buzurg, Vol. 6 Page 301-374.

[6] Manaaqib Abu Hanifa, Al-Makki, Vol. 2, Page 59.

[7] Al-Tuh’fa, Al-Aaloosi, Page 8.

[8] Manaaqib Abu Hanifa, Al-Mowaffaq, Vol. 1, Page 173.

[9] Maqaatil Al-Talbiyyin, Abu Al-Faraj, Page 247.

[10] Al-Intiqaa’, Ibn Abd Al-Barr, Page 43-44.

[11] Al-Imamah wal Siyasah, Vol. 2 Page 195.

[12] Al-Intiqaa’, Ibn Abd Al-Barr, Page 96.

[13] Dhu’ha Al-Islam, Ahmad Amin, Vol. 2, Page 231.

[14] Tawaali Al-Ta’sees, Ibn Hajar, Page 86.

[15] Dhuhr Al-Islam, Ahmad Amin, Vol. 4, Page 8.

[16] Tabaqat Al-Hanaabilah, Ibn Abi Ya’la, Vol. 2, Page 120.

[17] Taareekh Ibn Katheer, Vol. 10, Page 239.

[18] Min’haaj Al-Sunnah, Vol. 4, Page 27. Also Adhwaa’ Ala Al-Sunnah Al-Muhammadiyya, Page 293.