Schools of Muslim Law

By | January 27, 2020
Schools of Muslim law

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This article shall be dealing with Schools of Muslim law. Basically, highlighting the source or the roots of Muslim law and understanding of various Muslim scholars divided into different Schools. The Schools of Muslim law can be broadly divided into two categories.


To understand the division of Schools of Muslim law, it is essential to delve into the fathoms of Islamic history. Muslims are headed by a Prophet. He is the guider and ultimate interpreter of the Muslim law. He holds the power that the Supreme Court of India has while interpretation of the Constitution is required. Thereby being the supreme authority to understand and guide Muslims in the understanding of the Quran.

The problem found its roots when it came to figuring out the successor to Prophet Mohammed. Prophet Mohammed in sued great command and dominance over the Muslim people and therefore, required a person who could fill the same shoes.

The third wife of Prophet Mohammed was Ayesha Begum. While she envisioned the election of a successor. Thereby opted for a just manner to choose another leader and successor. And since, this was what the people also wanted.

In Urdu, the word ‘sunnah’ meant tradition and when the prophet suggested something it was called the sunnah. The prophet willed an election as well. As a result of the election Abu Bakr was elected and he became the first caliph and successor to Prophet Mohammed. He was also father to the third wife of prophet Mohammed i.e. Ayesha Begum.

Hence, this Sect or group of Muslims was called Sunnis also called the Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jammat.

On the other hand, the minority group of Muslims believed that the successor or the prophet can only be succeeded by a person who is related to the prophet by his bloodline. The reason behind this belief was that, that a person can hold such a holy and sacred position only if he is related to the prophet by bloodline.

And therefore, this Sect of people was first led by Fatima the daughter of Prophet Mohammed and later, her husband, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed, Ali who was also her cousin. Thereby this Sect discarded the idea of voting and strongly believed that organizational power was not of more importance than the divine ship. Thereby did not adhere to the idea of voting but to the bloodline. And hence, this Sect resorted to their idea and then the first Imam of Muslim law and this group constituted a separate Sect called the Shia Muslims.

Schools of Muslim Law

There are further four sub-Sects to the Sunni Muslims i.e., The Hanafis, the Malikis, the Shaefi, and the Hanbalis, these were the four Schools.

I. The Hanafi School

The founder of this School was Abu Hanafi. This man was of principle and was well known for his deduction skills. He did not blindly follow all the customs by the virtue of the majority following them. He strongly relied upon his deductions from the Quran. His judgments were clear and straight analogical subtractions of the Quran. His deductions were not a result of unsighted reliance on customs. He further understood the vitality of tradition and gave it the status quo of law.

His contribution also was in the areas of Ijma and Ithesan and hence he was very well reputed and beloved. Thereby there was an immense number of followers of this School. This School found its emergence in Iraq and was later also followed in India, Pakistan, and Egypt.

 II. The Maliki School       

This School was prevalent in areas like Spain and North Africa. The founder of this School was Imam Anas Bin Malik. He was a strong believer in traditions when it came to the judgment of modern rules or rules suitable for the time period he believed Quiyas and Ijmas were sources to be resorted to as last resort. More so, he had a very different and unprecedented view of a matrimonial home. Maliki fiqh also considers the also considers the consensus of the people of Medina to be a valid source of Islamic Law.

He believed that in a marriage a wife was incapable of owning and maintaining her personal properties and therefore, according to him all the property of the wife in the marriage should be owned and maintained by her husband due to this disability. This School had a very different and unique view with regards to the property and no other Schools had such an outlook.

III. The Shaefi School

This School is followed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The founder of this School was Mohammed Ibn Idris Al-Shaefi. He strongly believed that all the issues and disputes have their answer in the Quran. He also placed reliance on Quiyas however, it came after Quran seconded by traditions and Ijmas. He was a devotee of the Quran and believed that the Quran had all the answers either directly in the words or through analogical deductions from the words of the Quran. But ultimately, the Quran was his roots and solutions to all things.

This School further stated that the wife in the matrimony was not a free tool or device. However, in cases of marriage and all even if she is an adult she needs to take the permission of her parent or guardian to guide her in such matters.

IV. Hanbali School

This School is the most recent and has the least followers. Mainly the followers of this School are in Katar and Saudi Arabia.  The founder of this School was Ibn Hanbali. He was also known to be strictly adhering to the customs laid down by the prophet, commonly known to be very conservative. He hardly placed any of his judgments and interpretations to the other sources of Muslim law. Rather, only Ijmas were followed in very small cases as a supplement to the teachings of the Prophet. Sources like the traditions and Quiyas were not much relied upon.

After the Sunni Sect comes to the Shia Sect which was similarly divided into Imamiyah School, Ismailiya School, and the  Zaidiyah School.

 I. Imamiyah School

The followers of this School can be found in India, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. This School was also called the School of Ithna Ashriyah. Unlike, other Schools this School was very unique. This School believed in a Muta. The word ‘Muta’ means ‘temporary marriage’.

This School further subdivided itself into two sects:

  • Akbaris Sect They follow a modern form of legal deductions and reasoning when there requires an interpretation. The traditions of the Imams hold vital importance while following this Sect. This Sect as the name suggests come from the word Akhbari which is derived from the word news and newspaper.

On the other hand,

  • Usuli Sect – Which is quite a dominance as compared to the Akbaris. This School believed in the true sources of Muslim Law. The Quran, the hadiths, and the Ijmas. The word Usuli essentially means theory of jurisprudence. Meaning that the School relies on jurisprudential principles.

II. Ismailiya School

The followers of this School can be found in Pakistans, India, and Syria. The School refers to the Nizaris who acknowledged Aga Khan the fourth as a true Imam. However, there was a division in this Sect since the ‘Khojas’ who were actually Hindus and ‘Bohras’ the other sub-sub Sect believed that the true Imam was different from the two Sects. The issue arose when Jafar inherited his eldest son and therefore did not believe him to be the true and divine Imam.

This Sect as a whole believed that God is one and the teachings of the prophet were vital and followed the same as well.

III. Zaidiyah School

The followers of this School are majorly found in Yemen only. The name of this School is from Zayd Ibn Ali who was the son of the fourth Imam. The name of the fourth Imam was Ali Ibn Husain. This School believed in responsibility and political uprise. It was believed that untrue and un-divine leaders should be revolted against.

This School is very similar to the teachings of the Sunni Muslims. Also, they believed that the Muslims should follow the true successor of the Prophet Mohammed and since Faithma was the surviving daughter only her sons should be true Imams of Muslim community. 

Motazila School

The followers of this School are in minority and can be found in Iran. This School arose out of a different Sect. It does not co-relate itself to either of the two Sect either Sunni Sect or the Shia sect. These Muslims were although defectors of the Shia sect. This Sect was founded by Al-Gazzal.

The followers of this Sect believed in true divine justice and unity and believed that evil could be overpowered by the good and that the Quran itself can only be the truest and divine source to overcome evil from the society 


From the above article, we can see the gradual development in the different schools of Muslim law. From Sunni Sect to Shia Sect which was further divided into Sub Sects and further subdivided. And lastly, an emergence of an entirely new Sect that did not wish to relate to either the Sunnis or the Shia during the Ninth A.D.


  • Tahir Mehmood, Muslim law of India, 2nd edition, 2016
  • Saif Mehmood and Tahir Mehmood, Introduction to Muslim Law, 2nd edition, 2017

  1. Sources of Muslim Law in India
  2. Historical Development of Muslim Law
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4 thoughts on “Schools of Muslim Law

  1. Jarin

    this article has really helped me with my assignment in college, thanking the author for the efforts put in.

  2. Vivaan

    First wife of the prophet is Khadija. Ayesha is one of the youngest wife of the prophet. She is the reason for the dispute between Shias and Sunnis.

  3. Pooja

    Shia school and Sunni school under muslim law a critical comparison ?


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