Do we need to follow sects (madhabs)? Why? Are there any hadith or verse about this in Quran?

Details of the Question

Is it ok if we don't follow a madhab?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,


In Islam, the religious judgments have two sources: the Book and the Sunnah: qiyas (analogy) and ijma (consensus), which are the next two things to be referred to after them, are essentially based on these two sources. Those four sources are called “four methods, four religious evidences” The four evidences are as follows:

1. the Book:

What is meant by the Book is the Quran. Our glorious book, which is the most essential source, has been preserved in the same form as it was first sent down; not even one letter of it has been changed because God Almighty, the owner of the glorious speech, has undertaken to preserve it and has preserved it. The first source to be referred to regarding a religious question is the Quran.

2. the Sunnah:

What is meant by the Sunnah is the holy words and deeds of the Messenger of Allah and the things that he saw but did not object to. Those acts of the Prophet are also called hadiths. The Companions (Sahaba) memorized thousands of hadiths regarding the details of religious judgments and decrees, preserved them and transferred them to Tabi’in, the generation coming after them. In 101 H, about four thousand hadiths regarding the details of religious judgments and decrees were compiled thanks to the efforts of Umar bin Abdulaziz for the first time. The Sunnah has an essential place in the determination of the religious judgments and decrees after the Quran.

3. Qiyas (Analogy):

It is to make a judgment about an issue through ijtihad based on a similar judgment that is definite. In other words, it is to apply a judgment regarding an issue that is definite by the book, the Sunnah or ijma (consensus) to a similar issue that is based on the same reason and wisdom. Qiyas can be applied only by a scholar who is at the level of ijtihad.   

4. Ijma (Consensus):

It is the unanimous agreement of the Islamic mujtahids living in the same age on a religious judgment about an issue. Accordingly, if there is a unanimous agreement on the judgments made by mujtahids through ijtihad regarding the same issue about which there is not a definite judgment in the Book and Sunnah, it becomes definite through the consensus of the ummah. If there is consensus about an issue, it is regarded to be a definite issue. The following hadiths indicate the issue:

“My ummah does not agree on something wrong.”1
What is regarded good by Muslims is good in the presence of Allah, too.”2


To make efforts in order to make a judgment about worshipping and rules out of religious evidence is called ijtihad. The scholar who makes a judgment out of the religious evidence is called a mujtahid. A mujtahid must have full knowledge in the issues about the Quran, the Sunnah and Islamic law.  
Since the period of our Prophet, Islamic scholars have made ijtihads and acted accordingly when they have not been able to find clear evidence about an issue that they have needed a religious judgment in the Book and the Sunnah. Our Prophet let his Companions do so. As a matter of fact, when the Prophet appointed Muadh bin Jabal, a scholar and faqih from the Companions, as a judge to Yemen, he asked Muadh,   
“How will you judge there? How will you settle the problem when you are asked something or when a plaintiff came to you?”
Muadh: “By the Book of Allah.”
The Messenger of Allah: “If you cannot find it in the Book?”
Muadh: “By the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah”
The Messenger of Allah: “If you cannot find it there, either?”
Muadh: “If I cannot find it there, either, I will judge by my own ijtihad.”
Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah said, “Praise be to Allah, who made the Prophet’s messenger {Muadh} successful in the thing that the prophets consented to.”, expressing his pleasure about the words of Muadh.3

When our Prophet (pbuh) died, the Companions had memorized the Book and the Sunnah. However, among the Companions, those who had religious and legal competence in knowing the Quran and the Sunnah and understanding their decrees and meanings gave fatwas. They were the scholars and faqihs of the Companions. The most famous of them were Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Ali, Abdullah bin Mas’ud, Hazrat Aisha, Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari.

During the period of the Four Caliphs and later, Muslims asked those people about the problems they faced and they made judgments based on the Book and the Sunnah; when they could not find the answer in them, they used analogy. Thus, during the period of the Companions, consensus took place in many issues; and the Islamic law, fiqh, started to form.
Meanwhile, the Companions moved to some cities and settled there; they served Islam there through their knowledge. For instance, Hazrat Ali and Abdullah bin Mas’ud in Kufa, Anas bin Malik and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari in Basra, Abdullah bin Umar and Zayd bin Thabit in Madinah trained hundreds of students. The students that the Companions trained are called “Tabiin”. The heritage of the knowledge that the Messenger of Allah left was transferred to that generation. There were many scholars among them that had reached the level of ijtihad. For instance, Ibrahim an-Nahai, Hasan al-Basri, Tawus bin Qaysan are some of them.

Tabiin compiled the hadiths that the Companions narrated and their ijtihads. In addition, they made ijtihads related to the issues that there were no verses, hadiths or ijtihads of the Companions about. They tried to train the students that gathered around them. They guided their students and helped them to establish the foundations of the Islamic law, to examine the new issues thoroughly and to explain the judgments about them. That generation is called “Taba’ at-Tabiin”. Imam Azam, Imam Malik, Imam Shafii, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Sufyan ath-Thawri, Sufyan bin Uyayna are among the famous scholars of that generation. Although some of those people, for instance, Imam Azam saw some of the Companions, they are regarded to be among Taba’ at-Tabiin due to their scholastic nature.  

The formation of fiqh madhhabs took place in that period. The imams of Taba’ at-Tabiin compiled the ijtihads of the Companions and Tabiin. They themselves made ijtihads when it was necessary. They made scholastic studies on thousands of issues that Muslims faced and established certain rules. They lived in different cities and studied in the cities that they lived. On the other hand, the fatwa method of each of them was different. Some of them accepted only the Quran and the Sunnah as reference; some used analogy along with them; some gave fatwas based on their own views in the light of the Quran, the Sunnah and the consensus. Some of them took the customs and traditions of the region where he lived into consideration. Those kinds of ijtihads and fatwas facilitated the religious lives of Muslims.

Those ijtihads of the mujtahids were not about the essentials of Islam; they were about secondary issues. In the course of time, different ijtihads and explanations on the same issue appeared. Muslims accepted the ijtihads of the mujtahids living in their regions and acted accordingly in their worshipping and transactions.

That preference and favoring was replaced by madhab, which meant the way to be followed, in the course of time. That period was a very productive ground in which many Islamic sciences primarily hadith and tafsir were studied. Many scholars at the level of ijtihad were present. Since there were some people who accepted the views and fatwas of each mujtahid, eventually, each imam was regarded as the representative of a madhhab. That situation caused the appearance of hundreds of madhhabs.

In the course of time, most of the scholars that were in the state of madhhab imams followed and entered the madhabs of the other imams that they regarded as more learned than themselves or the madhab of the imams that had made the same ijtihads as themselves in the same issues. Besides, none of the madhhab mujtahids said, “We founded a madhhab; follow us and accept our madhabs; call that madhhabs by our names.” and called people to their madhhabs. They only taught the people who came to their lessons the religious sciences and tried to answer the questions that they were asked. When they were asked about the judgment of the religion about an issue, they would answer it. The students who learned from them, the scholars who accepted their words and ijtihads and the people followed them. Thus, their words and ijtihads became a madhhab.   

Those holy people were always free from subjective thoughts when they made ijtihad. They did not have egoism and conceit in science. They accepted the truth and the good things no matter where they found them. 

The efforts of the students had a great effect on the formation of the madhhabs based on the ijtihads of the mujtahids. Therefore, some students of the mujtahids compiled and classified the ijtihads of their teachers and transformed them into a system; however, many students could not be so successful.

Many madhhabs that formed in the beginning could not continue when their students and followers decreased; they exist in the books, now. Today, four of the Ahl as-Sunnah madhhabs exist. They are Imam Abu Hanifa and Hanafi madhhab, Imam Malik and Maliki madhhab, Imam Shafii and Shafii madhhab, and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal and Hanbali madhhab.

1. Ibn Majah, Fitan:8.
2. Musnad, 1:379.
3. Tirmidhi, Ahkam:3; Abu Dawud, Aqdiyya:11; Ibn Majah, Manasik:38.


Q: Which (Islamic) sect (madhhab) is better to follow? Which one is superior to others? The reason of difference of the sects…

A: All of the four sects are righteous and truthful. Thus, it is wrong to say that one sect is superior to others.

There is a unique garment suitable for each season. There is a medicine for each disease. Likewise, the rules may change with respect to change of the centuries; the judgments may change depending on the traditions, lifestyles and abilities of the communities. We know that, different prophets and rules were sent to each nation before Islam.

Before our Prophet (PBUH), the mankind used to live far away from each other, used to have quite different lifestyles; they were mostly like bedouins. Therefore the religious rules that were sent were suitable for their situations. So much so that, different prophets were sent with different religions at the same time.

After the coming of our Prophet (PBUH), the mankind gained a high position of abilities, lifestyle and understanding. There had been many revolutions and changes in the religious and social status of people. So, the mankind was enabled to be taught by one teacher and to have a unique teaching. Therefore, several prophets were no longer necessary. However, since the lifestyles were not suddenly unified, different sects were still necessary.

If the majority of the mankind were at the same level in terms of education, culture and lifestyle like the students of a high school, it could be possible to mention the unification of the sects. However, the current state of the humanity is not appropriate for it.

As for the reason of ramification of the sects, Badiuzzaman exemplifies the issue as follows:

A certain amount of water is evaluated in five different ways for five different patients:

For one of them, it is a medicine, it is medically compulsory to use. For another, it is like a poison, so it is medically forbidden to drink. For another, it is less harmful, so it is just disliked medically. For another, it is good without harming, then, it is a sunnah medically. And for the last one, it is neither good  or bad, so for him, it is simply allowed to drink. As you see here, one piece of truth differs here severally. All of them are true.  Is it possible for you to say: “ Water is merely a medicine, it is compulsory, nothing else.”?

Likewise, the divine rules differ depending on sects and the practitioners through the divine wisdom. It differs rightfully and each way is right and useful.

Muslims living in different regions of the world, follow one of the four sects. A Muslim can follow one of those righteous sects, practice his deeds and worships according to the instructions of that sect. It is not compulsory for a Muslim to abide by one certain sect till death. Therefore, it is allowed to change the sect if desired. For example, a practitioner of the Hanafi sect may choose the Shafii sect afterwards and vice versa.

However, one must know the rules of the new sect he/she follows in order to perform the worships properly. For example, if a Shafii sect member changes to Hanafi, he should at least know the musts of the ablution (wudu), the cases that annul the ablution, the musts of the prayer (salat). Otherwise, he/she might perform these duties with flaws.

It is possible to change the sect; one may use a preference of another sect if he/she may not find a solution in his/her sect. It is permissible. However, it must not stem from a personal urge or the pleasure of imitation. It must be out of a necessity and dire need. A person who uses the rulings of another sect, must consider the following points:

First: If a certain deed is to be imitated in accordance with another sect, then that deed must not be done before. For example, if a practitioner of the Shafii sect remembers that he touched his wife before performing the prayer and still performs the prayer following the Hanafi sect and saying “It is OK in Hanafi” , that worship is not valid.

Second: An imitator should not resort to combining the different applications that ease the conditions in different sects. Such an act called “talfik” which means to do the opposite things in two sects. It is not permissible. For example, one who has ablution according to Hanafi sect is regarded to have ablution even if he does not utter the intention for it. becasue because intention is not a must for ablution in Hanafi. However, the same nam should wipe one fourth of his head according to Hanafi. Hoıwever, less than one fourth is enough in Shafii. If this man wipes less than one fourth of his head abiding by the Shafii, then this ablution is not licit. It is called talflik, which is not permissible.

Nonetheless, it is a pious and praised deed to act with respect to harder options of the sects. For example, if a Hanafi sect follower touches his wife, his ablution is still valid but invalid for Shafii. However, if this man renews his ablution through imitating Shafii sect, it is a pious act. Similarly, if a Shafii sect follower renews his ablution when he bleeds, it is a sign of his piety.

Likewise, it is a pious and meritorious act to imitate the practice of other sects about the prayers (dua) and similar supererogatory worships which do not take place in Hanafi sect.

These points must be considered about the issues of ijtihad (the endeavor of a Moslem scholar to derive a rule of divine law from the Koran and Hadith without relying on the views of other scholars) and imitation:

-People are divided into three groups in imitating an Islamic sect:

First group: the scholars that are able to do ijtihad. These scholars may not imitate anyone else.

Second group: Although they are not at the level of absolute ijtihad, they are knowledgeable men that know the method of jurisdiction and by using the same methods, they can put forward different ideas on certain issues. They are divided into two main groups such as: mujtahid in sect and mujtahid in issues. (mujtahid is one who can do ijtihad)
The third group is the populace.

According to the scholars, the populace does not have a sect. Their sect is the fatwa (a religious edict) of the mufti (A Muslim scholar and interpreter of shari'a law, who can deliver a fatwa) because, a true imitation of a sect in only possible through knowing the views of it. It requires a deep knowledge to decide which sect’s view is more appropriate. It is obvious that it is a hard issue. It is true not only for the populace but also so-called scholars like us. (Ravdatu’t-talibîn, 4/115-shamila).

The issue of imitating the sects did not emerge depending on a certain scholar’s view. There is consensus about the rightfulness and appropriateness to sunnah of the four sects of Islam among the Islamic scholars. (See Al-Muflih, al-Furu’, 12/202-shamila) Therefore, we need to live our religious life by a certain rightful sect. Nevertheless, it is allowed to use an easier practice in another sect in case of dire need.

There is no certain ceremony required to change the sect. And there are no certain rules to fulfill to do it. The important point is to learn the rules of the sect and then live by them.


Q: What is the condition of the ones who do not adhere to sects? Can you explain?

A: There is no issue in the true sects in which reason and mind contradict, because their bases are the Quran, Hadiths, unity and agreement of the community, and the proofs of the Sharia-Islamic set of laws- by the mujtahids. These proofs of the Sharia are a sound fortress beyond the power of all human factors to cause any damage. The people outside this fortress are exposed to the dangers and effects of the enemies of the Ahl-i Sunnah-the close followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

I want to point out to this important fact: The people who do not approve of sects, or do not stick to any one of them, or adapt the easier sides of each have deviated from the way of all the Muslims of centuries and have set off on a new way on their own. These kinds of people have their share from the verse, Whoever opposes to the Prophet and deviates from the way of the Believers after the truth has been clear to him, we will leave him in that way and cast him into the hell; what a bad place!

Whoever adheres to an imam of sect must stick to the judgments of his sect and persevere in it. But in case of a hardship he can act in accordance with the judgments of another sect, but on the condition that he should not leave his sect altogether. And this can be done only with the fatwa-the statement of a capable religious person- of a person of knowledge.

Imam Ghazali is of the same opinion:

If an adherent opted for a sect, then he must stick to it.

All in all, if someone changes his sect recklessly, it means he does not take those seriously.

One of the smart knowledgeable people of the last century, Muhammad Kavsari depicts the condition of these people as follows:

They are seen within every group but actually they do not belong to any one of them. There is no one more mischief-making and discordant than the one who puts on the guise of a group when he is with them, and changes it once he is within another.

Kavsari says in the same book that sectlessness is a bridge to disbelief.

Dr Ramazan al-Buti says on the same subject, The entire community of Muslims have agreed upon the fact that the mujtahids who helped us the most in retaining Islam as it is in our lives have been these four Imams (Imam-ı A'zam, Imam-ı Shafi'i, Imam-ı Malik and Imam-ı Hanbal). and adds that it is the biggest bad innovation to leave the ways of these imams and to invite people to sectlessness.

Ramazan al-Buti points out that those who argue sectlessness are trying to undermine the pillars of Islam instead of trying to solve new problems, and he says,

I have never seen these sectless searches for the answers of the issues about which the public ask all the time. All their efforts are directed to undermining the right sects which are guides to the public to security through adherence, and whose construction is well completed and rules established.

Dr. Ramazan el-Buti asks these sectless these two questions:

What if you invite people not to comply with engineers in the field of construction? What if you ask people not to apply to doctors in issues that demand diagnosis and medical treatment?

He himself answers these questions,

Surely this will cause people to damage their own houses while trying to repair them; and to end their own lives trying to heal themselves.

The biggest cause that brings the sectless to the abyss of danger and that hinders them from adhering to mujtahids is that they see their opinions and views equal and even superior to those of the mujtahids.

Imam-ı Sharani says,

Perform all of what the mujtahids decreed Sunnah-what is approved of by Prophet Muhammad; and abstain from the ones they decreed abominable. Do not endeavor to ask of them any proof, because you are well below them in rank. Unless you rise to their degree and embrace the Book and the Sunnah-the way Prophet Mohammad lived- directly, it is not possible for you to surpass them and to benefit from the same source that they do.

All the sects, I think, are adjacent to the Sharia, the way the fingers are so to the palm, and the shadow to its material.

Here I want to mention that point: It is a big example of pride to depend upon ones own opinion and not upon that of the mujtahids. And this brings about the spiritual breakdown of the person. Bediüzzaman makes this statement about the condition of these people:

With pride man is deprived of both material and spiritual excellences and virtues. If with the drive of pride, he does not appreciate the virtues of others and sees his virtues enough and superior, then this person is lacking. These kinds of people see their knowledge and virtues as superior to others, and by this way become deprived of the virtues and knowledge of the great people of knowledge. And exposed to anxieties and apprehensions, they more and more deviate from the right path. (Mesnevi-i Nuriye, Katre, 58)


Q: What is the wisdom of the difference of sects in Islam?

A: One of the issues, which attract much argument, is that of the sects. As well as trying to show it as a cause of separation, some people aim at blundering minds with demagogy. When looked into attentively, it will be seen that the sects emerged out of necessity and have never been a cause of separation.

Islam, which is composed of faith and practice, the sects in it deal with the realm of practice. That more than one sect emerged stems from the fact that the imams of sects understood the outer principles differently. (Risale-i Nur, Mektubat, 449)

For example, while Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was praying, his forehead bled because of stones on the ground. Hazrath Aisha (may God be pleased with her) took the stone from his forehead. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) got his ritual ablution again and continued praying. The Imam of the sect Hanafi Imam Azam, and that of the sect Shafii Imam Şafii handle this issue in two different ways: Imam Azam concludes that because the forehead of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) bled because of the stone, he renewed his ablution; while Imam Shafii says that it was because Hazrath Aisha touched his forehead that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) got his ablution. Thus, in the sect Hanafi it was accepted that even a little drop of blood takes away ablution; while in the sect Shafii the touch of women takes it away. As is seen, both views are correct and have sound evidence of their own.

The advent of sects

Until our Prophet (pbuh), the Sharia-the set of Islamic laws- concerning secondary details have been revealed differently, while the essentials and basics of it stayed the same; moreover, even in the same century different people were given different Sharia. But with the coming of our Prophet (pbuh) there was no need for different Sharia and the religion he issued sufficed all the centuries long. But in the issues that are secondary and pertaining to details there have been a need for the sects. The imams of the right sects fulfilled this duty and solved the problems of the humanity. As a miracle, our Prophet (pbuh) prophesized that these imams would come and would accomplish a big responsibility, and they verified him with the work and service they have performed.

The Islamic sects have never allowed internal clash and disorder-except for some small instances- and the imams of these sects have always been respectful to each other and never denied one another, and did not claim assertively that they intended to establish a sect, and they expressed their views and ijtihads- deducing secondary judgments from the Quran and Hadiths, which were later gathered together to form a sect, only when there was need for it.

For example, when Imam Azam (80-150, of the Hegira) expressed his ijtihad about an issue, he would say: This is the view of Numan bin Sabit (Imam Azam). This is the best of the views we could deduce. Whoever expresses a better view than this, he is the one closer to the truth.

Imam Malik (the founder of the sect Maliki, 93-179 of the Hegira) said, I am human. Sometimes I err, and sometimes say just the right thing. For this reason, examine my views and ijtihad. If you find them suitable for the Book and the Sunnah-the way Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived, accept them; and if not, deny. (Hayreddin Karaman, Fıkıh Usulü,33)

Also the founder of the sect Hanbali, Imam Hanbali (164-241, of the Hegira), and that of the sect Shafii, Imam Shafii (150 – 204, of the Hegira), never asserted themselves and did not speak impolitely and did not offend their colleagues. Later on, the views and ijtihads of these knowledgeable people were gathered together by their pupils and other knowledgeable people and presented to the benefit of the community, in order for them to pray in peace.

Is it possible that the truth be more than one?

There is a question which was asked fervently and challengingly in the newspaper articles against Muslims, and which is still repeated much: The truth is only one; how come the different and even contrary views of the four sects are the truth at the same time?

Bediüzzaman answers this question, A glass of water has five effects upon five different patients: For the first one it is a must because for his illness it has a healing effect. For another it is as dangerous as poison because of his illness; it is medically forbidden for him. For another the water is a little dangerous; so it is reprehensible. For another it is good and without harm; so it is Sunnah for him. For the last one it is neither hazardous nor beneficial; medically it is permissible for him. And here the truth has become many. All the five are correct. Can you say that the water is just a remedy, and so obligatory, and that there is no other truth other than it.

Just like this example, divine judgments vary according to the adherents of the sects. And they change truthfully and each one becomes the truth itself.

Whichever of the secondary issues, which seem different in each sect, we look into, we can see that the basis and grounds upon which they are put are each right and correct. About this issue, Imam Sharani wrote a book and put forth how the imams of sects understood issues by making a comparison between them.

An example:

The imams of sects differed not in Islamic issues, but in the way of practice and with suitable reasons for them. All the imams, for example, have agreed upon the wiping of the head in performing ablution, but differed in its style and amount.

The decree of God, who made it a must on us to get ablution, Wipe your heads, has come with the verse bi ruusikum. One of the richest of the languages, in Arabic, the letter b comes to the beginning of words to mean sometimes to beautify, sometimes some, and sometimes to join. The imams of sects have understood differently the meaning of b in the beginning of the verse of ablution; and this caused different practices.

For this reason, Imam Malik says, When wiping the head, the entire head must be wiped, because the b here is used to beautify the word. It doesnt have separate a meaning.

Imam Abu Hanifa, however, says, This b is the b which has the meaning of some. So it is enough to wipe just a part of the head.

And Imam Shafii says, This b is the b that means to join. So, if the hand touches the head, and just some hairs, it is enough. This being the case, it is evident that all the imams of sects are on the right path and that the judgments that seem contradictory in secondary issues are not a cause of separation, and that the claims of the people with bad intentions are baseless.


Q: The truth is one. We accept 4 madhhabs as true. How is it possible?

A: A liquid (water) is given 5 different judgments based on 5 different patients. For instance, it is medicine for the disease of a person. Then, it becomes obligatory (wajib) for him medically. It is harmful like a poison for another. It is forbidden (haram) for him medically. It is a little harmful for another. It is makrooh (abominable) for him medically. It is useful for another. It is sunnah for him medically. It is neither harmful nor useful for another. It is mubah (permissible). 5 of them are true depending on the patients. One cannot say it is only wajib.

As it is seen in the example, the judgments can change based on the situations of the people who follow those madhhabs. They are different for different situations.

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