"And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers."
(Al-Quran 51:55)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ijtihad and the Four Schools of Thought

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu!

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

For 23 years, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) ruled with justice and spread peace, love and harmony. After he passed away, his companions came into succession, and conquered many countries around the world.

Great and noble companions were sent out to govern these lands. As governors, they came across many issues in their day to day lives for which the public needed answers. 

So, these pious rulers would carry out the process of Ijtihad, which was also done by the companions of the Prophet (saw) during his lifetime.

What is Ijtihad?
Ijtihad is the reasoning process through which Islamic laws are deduced after thorough research from the Quran and Ahadith.
Ijtihad is only carried out in debatable texts of the Quran and Ahadith.
If the verse or Hadith was too brief to understand, if they contained more than one meaning or other text from the Quran or Ahadith seemed to contradict it, then the process of Ijtihad was applied.

As many years passed by, these rulers lived and then departed from this world. During this time, the process of Ijtihad was still fully established.

The answers to the many questions posed by the people would be brought together and would be recorded along with the answers.

Then, on 5th September 699 CE or 80 Hijri, a boy named Nu'maan bin Thabit was born. He lived in the city of Kufa in Iraq. This boy grew up to become a great scholar of Islam - Imam Abu Hanifa (ra)He became a leader and also applied the process of Ijtihad. 

One day, this wise Imam decided to compile all the Islamic law (Fiqh) together for others to benefit from and to share his knowledge. He also wished to eradicate all those governors and judges who were taking advantage of different opinions and principles in the process of Ijtihad and using them in the wrong way.

Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) chose 40 of his most intellectual students. These pupils had such intellect that each one was a Mujtihad (he carried out Ijtihad) within himself. Some of these illustrious souls were Imam Muhammad (ra), Imam Abu Yusuf (ra) and Imam Zufar (ra).

They were posed with hypothetical issues (issues that had not yet occurred) to tackle. People disapproved and said, "Why tackle issues that have not yet happened?" But Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) answered, "A scholar should always be prepared in advance".

The students were given questions to investigate. They did the research by using sources such as the Quran, the Sunnah, general and individual opinions of the Sahabah (ra), analogical deductions, preferences as well as local customs. 

Through this process the Islamic law (fiqh) of Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) was formed.

Many years passed, and another scholar was born in the city of Madinah. His name was Imam Malik bin Anas (ra) and he was born in 711 CE or 93 years after the Hijrah. He was alive in the time of Imam Abu Hanifa (ra), and he also applied the process of Ijtihad. 

The question may come that why was the rulings and the Ijtihad of these two Imams different although they lived during the same time period? The answer is simple. It is because of the different situations in the cities in which these respected Imams lived. In Madinah, there was less corruption when compared to Kufa, as this was the core of the eruption of the different sects of Islam.

Years later, the third legendary scholar was born. His name was Imam Muhammad bin Idrees As-Shafi (ra). He was born in 767 CE or 150 Hijri. He gained his knowledge from teachers such as Imam Malik (ra) and the students of Imam Abu Hanifa (ra), as Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) had passed away. After acquiring his knowledge, Imam Shafi (ra) used the method of Ijtihad, in accordance to his principles and formed his own set of rulings.

The fourth and final noble Imam was Imam Ahmad bin Hambal (ra). He was born in 780 CE or 161 Hijri. He gained his knowledge direct from Imam Shafi (ra), and the students of Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) and Imam Malik (ra). Imam Ahmad (ra) also carried out rulings regarding the issues in accordance with the situation at the time. However, his book was not compiled by him but rather by his son. 

All of these four Imams progressed and benefited Islam greatly. The coming of the new centuries brought the biggest changes to the Islamic law - Fiqh, leaving the great works of Ijtihad behind. This happened gradually as the new generation of students studied the Quran and the Ahadith.

However, instead of applying Ijtihad, they began to study the books of the previous great scholars in detail and the methods that the scholars used to derive these laws. 

They realised that these gifted and wise scholars had answered all the questions in the best possible manner, and it was pointless for them to go back and unravel them again. 

The four illustrious Imams had never thought that such a day would come when people would be fully dependant on them and other scholars. 

However, as time passed, this is exactly what happened. Within 150 years, the Islamic law (Fiqh) of these four Imams became famous, and spread across the world shaping the Four Schools of Thought that are known today as - Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hambali.


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