Which Islamic sect (madhhab) is better to follow? Which one is superior to others?

The Details of the Question

-  What is the wisdom behind the differences among madhhabs? Why did they make different ijtihads related to the same issue?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

All of the four Ahl as-Sunnah sects (madhhabs) are right and true. Thus, it is wrong to think that one sect is superior to others.

Different clothes are worn for each season. There is a different medicine for each disease. Likewise, shari’ahs may change with respect to centuries; decrees may change depending on the traditions, lifestyles and abilities of the communities. As a matter of fact, different prophets and shari’ahs were sent to each nation before Islam.

Before our Prophet (PBUH), humans used to live far away from each other and their lifestyles and abilities were mostly like bedouins (nomadic people living in the desert). Therefore, the shari’ahs that were sent were different and were suitable for their states. Different shari’ahs and different prophets were sometimes sent to the people living in the same region and in the same age.

After the advent of our Prophet (PBUH), humans reached a high position in terms of abilities, lifestyle and understanding. Many revolutions and changes occurred in the religious and social life. So, humans reached a state in which they could be taught by one teacher and to act based on a single shari’ah. Therefore, several shari’ahs and prophets were no longer necessary. However, since the lifestyles, traditions and customs of people were not at the same level, 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 university, 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 wisdom behind the multitude of sects, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi exemplifies the issue as follows:

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

“The same water governs in five different ways in five ill people of different disposition, thus: for one, the water is a cure for his illness, and according to medicine, necessary. For another, it is like poison for his sickness and harmful, and medically prohibited. For another, it causes a small amount of harm, and is reprehensible medically. For another the water is beneficial and without harm; according to medicine that is sunna for him. And for yet another it is neither harmful nor beneficial; he can drink it with good health, and for him it is medically permissible. Thus, here the truth has become numerous; all five are true. Are you able to say: “The water is only a cure, only necessary, and it governs in no other way?”

“Similarly, impelled by Divine wisdom, the Divine ordinances change according to the schools of law and those who follow them, and they change as truth, and all are true and right.”1

Muslims living in different regions of the world, follow one of the four sects. A Muslim follows one of those true sects, and can practice his deeds and worship according to the ijtihads of that sect. It is not compulsory for a Muslim who follows a sect related to his Islamic life to abide by one certain sect till death. Therefore, he is allowed to change the sect if he wishes. For example, a practitioner of the Hanafi sect may choose the Shafii sect afterwards and vice versa.

However, a person who leaves one sect and takes up another must know the rules of the new sect he/she follows in order to perform the worship and deeds properly. For example, if a Shafii sect member changes to Hanafi, he should at least know the musts of the ablutions (wudu), the cases that annul ablutions, the musts of the prayer (salah). Otherwise, he/she might perform these duties with flaws and make mistakes.

It is possible to change one’s sect completely; it is also possible for a person to act in accordance with another sect related to a certain issue if he/she cannot find a solution in his/her sect. It is permissible. However, this imitation must not stem from an arbitrary desire of the soul. It must be due to a necessity and dire need.

A person who imitates another sect related to a certain issue must consider the following points:

Firstly: If a certain worship or deed is to be imitated in accordance with another sect, that worship or deed must not have been done before. For example, if a practitioner of the Shafii sect remembers after finishing a prayer that he touched his wife before starting that prayer and completes the prayer following the Hanafi sect and saying “My wudu is valid according to Hanafi sect”, that prayer is not valid.

Secondly: An imitator should not resort to combining the different applications that are easy from different sects and act accordingly. Such an act is called “talfik”, which means to do opposite things according to two sects in one issue. Talfik is not permissible. For example, one who makes wudu according to Hanafi sect is regarded to have wudu even if he does not utter the intention for it because intention is not a must for ablution in Hanafi. However, the same person should wipe one fourth of his head according to Hanafi. If this man wipes less than one fourth of his head abiding by the Shafii, this ablution is not valid. It is called talfik, which is not permissible.2

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 wudu is still valid but it is invalid according to Shafii sect. However, if this man renews his wudu by imitating Shafii sect, it is azimah, a pious act. Similarly, if a Shafii sect follower renews his wudu when blood comes from any part of his body, it is also azimah.

Likewise, it is azimah, a pious and meritorious act to imitate the view of other sects about sunnah prayers (duas) and similar supererogatory worship which do not exist in Hanafi sect.

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

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

First group: The scholars that have reached the level of ijtihad. It is not permissible for those scholars to 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 as mujtahid in sect and mujtahid in issues though they have different levels.

The third group is the ordinary people.

- According to the scholars, ordinary people do not have a sect. Their sect is the fatwa (a religious edict) of the mufti (A Muslim scholar and interpreter of shari'ah 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 that a sect’s view is more appropriate. It is obvious that it is a hard issue. It is true not only for ordinary people but also so-called scholars like us. (Ravdatut-Talibin, 4/115-Shamila). -

- The issue of imitating sects did not emerge depending on a certain scholar’s view. Islamic scholars say that there is consensus about the appropriateness of the views of four madhhabs to Ahl as-Sunnah. (See al-Muflih, al-Furu’, 12/202-Shamila) Therefore, it is necessary to practice our religion based on a certain true sect. Nevertheless, it is possible to act based on th view of another true sect in case of a dire need.

- There is no certain ceremony required in order to change one’s sect. And there are no certain rules to fulfill to do it. What matters is to learn the rules of the sect one follows and act in accordance with them.

According to some scholars, there are some conditions for imitating a sect:

1. The sect that is imitated must be a true sect with a set of settled rules and resources.

2. The imitator should know the scientific/scholarly conditions and methods of the issue in question.

3. The issue that is imitated must not be an issue annulled by an official court or mufti.

4. It must not bring together rukhsahs (permissions) from all sects.

5. About the same issue, there must not be a practice opposing to it, while abiding by the same rule another time.

6. The different rules of the sects must not be united. That is to say, one who does not renew his wudu when he touches a lady based on Hanafi sect and does not renew it when blood comes out of his body based on Shafii sect has no valid wudu according to both sects: Hanafi and Shafi.

Those conditions show that the sect of ordinary people is the fatwa of the scholars because all of these conditions require a scientific background.


1) Badiuzzaman Said Nursi. Words  (Istanbul: Sözler Publications, 1987), p. 454-455.
2) Ibn Abidin, Raddul-Muhtar. (Beirut: Ihyaut-Turathil-Arabi) 1:51; as-Sayyid Abi Bakr. Ianatut-Talibin. (Beirut: Ihyaut-Turathil -Arabi) 4:219; Mehmed Paksu İbadet Hayatımız (Our Worshipping Life)

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