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Question: Write a note on the schools of Sunnis.
Find the answer only on Legal Bites. [Write a note on the schools of Sunnis.]
Sunni Muslims are the largest sect of Islam. Derived from the word Sunnah, which means the examples or actions of the Prophet, Sunnis are those who follow the Sunnah. They believe in the legitimacy of the four caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Hazrat Ali. The caliphate is collectively called Khulfa-ul-Rashidun (the rightly guided caliphs). The four caliphs were democratically elected. But after the death of Hazrat Ali, the caliphate degenerated into a dynastic rule. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s, the caliphate formally ended.
Sunni Islam is divided into four schools of law or fiqh (religious jurisprudence): Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. There are minor differences among these schools of law.
Hanafi: The Hanafi School is the oldest surviving school of Islamic law and the one with the largest following. Followers of Imam Abu Hanifa, the Hanafis see the Quran, the Sunnah, the ijma (consensus), and qiyas (deduction from analogy) as the sources of law. Hanafis are based mostly in the Indian subcontinent, Iraq, Turkey, and the western world.
As well as using the Quran and the Prophet’s (PBUH) life as sources of guidance, this group also relied heavily on using logical arguments to find answers to social problems that also fitted in with their understanding of Islam.
Maliki: The next school of law in order of time was the one founded by Imam Malik bin Anas (d. 795 A.D.) of Medinah and reflects the views and practices associated with that city. Imam Malik served as a judge in Medinah and compiled all his decisions in a book form called al-Muwatta (the Levelled Path).
Like the jurists of Iraq, Imam Malik preferred to depend more on the Traditions associated with the Companions of the Holy Prophet. The adherents of this school are predominantly in North African countries.
Shafi: The third school was founded by Imam al-Shafi (d. 820 A.D.) who was a disciple of Imam Malik. Imam Shafi placed great importance on the Traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and explicitly formulated the rules for establishing the Islamic law. He was a great thinker and had an unusual grasp of principles and a clear understanding of judicial problems.
This school is strong in Lower Egypt, Syria, India, and Indonesia.
Hanbali: This school was founded by Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 855 A.D.) of Baghdad. Imam Hanbal did not establish a separate school himself; this was rather done by his disciples and followers.
The Hanbaliyya was the most conservative of the four schools. Its rigidity and intolerance eventually caused its decline over the years. In the eighteenth century, however, this school was revived with the rise of Wahhabism and the growing influence of the House of Sa’ud. Today, Hanbaliyya school is followed only in Saudi Arabia.
The Hanbalis insist on the literal injunctions of the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith and are very strict in the observance of religious duties.