Which (Islamic) sect (madhhab) is better to follow? Which one is superior to others? What is the reason of difference of the sects?

Details of the Question
Which (Islamic) sect (madhhab) is better to follow? Which one is superior to others? What is the reason of difference of the sects?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

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, Bediuzzaman 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.1

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.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 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.

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

1. The imitated sect must be a righteous one which has a set of settled rules with true resources.

2. The imitator should know the scientific roots and methods of the considered issue.

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

4. Talfik (combining the easing rules of the sects) must be strictly avoided.

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

6. The different rules of the sects must not be united. That is to say, one who does not renew his ablution when he touches a lady and when he bleeds, has no valid ablution according to both sects: Hanafi or Shafi.

Those conditions show that the sect of the populace is the fatwa of the scholars. Because all of these conditions require a scientific background.

References: 1) Badiuzzaman Said Nursi. Words  (Istanbul: Sözler Publications, 1987), p. 454-455.
2) Ibn Abidin, Raddu’l-Mukhtar. (Beirut: Ihyau’t-Turathi’l-Arabi) 1:51;
3) as-Sayyid Abi Bakr. Ianatu’t-Talibin. (Beirut: Ihyau’t-Turathi’l -Arabi) 4:219;
4) Mehmed Paksu İbadet Hayatımız (Our Worshipping Life)

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