Schools of Islamic Shariah: The Origin of Different Cultural Outlooks in Islamic World

  August 01, 2021   Read time 3 min
Schools of Islamic Shariah: The Origin of Different Cultural Outlooks in Islamic World
The Shariah divides all acts into five categories: those that are obligatory (wajib); those that are recommended (mandub); acts toward which the Divine Law is indifferent (mubah); acts that are reprehensible or abominable (makruh); and those that are forbidden (haram).

An example of the first would be the daily prayers (salah); of the second, giving money to the poor; of the third, the kind of vegetables one eats or exercise one performs; the fourth, divorce; and the fifth, murder, adultery, and theft as well as certain dietary prohibitions such as the consumption of pork and its derivatives or alcoholic beverages. Muslims live a life woven of actions whose evaluation is known to them on the basis of the Shariah. That does not mean that Muslims have no freedom, for freedom is defined in Islam not simply as individual rebellion against all authority, but participation in that freedom that in its fullness belongs to God alone. Muslims gain freedom, not confinement, by conforming to the Divine Law, because the very boundaries of their being are expanded through such conformity. By surrendering to the Will of God, Muslims are able to transcend the imprisonment of their own egos and the stifling confinement of their passionate selves.

The roots of the Shariah are found in the Quran, and God is considered the ultimate legislator (al-Shari‘). The Had th and Sunnah, however, complement the Quran as the second major source of the Shariah, for the Prophet was the interpreter par excellence of the meaning of God’s Word. From the very beginning, even in Mecca, but especially in the Medinan community, the Shar ‘ah began to be promulgated through the actual practices of the Prophet and the nascent Islamic community and the pronouncements handed down by the Prophet as the judge of the newly founded Islamic society.
On the basis of this early practice and the twin sources of the Quran and Sunnah (which includes the Hadith)—and also the use of such principles as ijma‘, or consensus of the community, and qiyas, or analogy—later generations continued to apply and codify the Law until the second/eighth and third/ninth centuries, when the founders of the great schools of Law (al-madh hib), which have continued to this day, appeared on the scene. In the Sunni world these include Imam Malik ibn Anas, Imam Ab Hanifah, Imam Muhammad al-Shafi‘ , and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after whom, respectively, the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi‘ , and Hanbal schools are named. Among these figures, Im m Shafi‘ is especially remembered for developing the method of jurisprudence related to the major principles of the Quran, Sunnah, ijma‘, and qiyas as well as others, not all of which are accepted by all the schools of Law.
Today the vast majority of Sunnis continue to follow these schools: the North and West Africans are almost completely Maliki; the Egyptians, Malays, and Indonesians almost all Shafi‘; the Turks and the Turkic people as well as the Sunnis of the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent mostly Hanaf ; and the Saudis and many Syrians Hanbali. The school of Law of Twelve-Im m Shiism is called Ja‘fari, named after Im m Ja‘far al-Sadiq, who was the sixth Sh ‘ite Im m and also the teacher of Imam Abu Hanifah. Together these five schools compose the major madh hib of the Shariah. There are, however, a few smaller schools, such as that of the Zaydis, the Ismaili Shiites, and the ‘Ibad s of Oman and southern Algeria. There were also other schools of Sunni Law that gradually died out and have no followers today.

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