What is the reason why madhhabs were formed and what are their benefits for people?

Details of the Question
What is the reason why madhhabs were formed and what are their benefits for people?
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.

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