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The significance and role of theological schools (mazhabs)

four mazhabs

The significance and role of theological schools (mazhabs)

To clarify, the existence of four different schools of law [mazhabs] within the same religion, their use and correctness we consult «Treasury of beneficial knowledge», written by outstanding scholar of our time, Shaykh of Naqshbandi and Shazali tariqahs Said-Afandi al-Chirkawi. Here is how he answers these questions:

"Questions about existence of four different legal schools [mazhabs] within Islam, and possibility of following four separate forms of one religion originate from its enemies. Purpose of similar questions is to disunite Muslims and sow doubts among them concerning Islamic doctrine. Since ignorance in our society has increased to a considerable extend, people who do not comprehend religion think Mazhabs are unnecessary. It is impossible to write in this book about the four Imams, their virtues and the true way to which they adhered. None of them had taken decision which would contradict the Word of The Most High or the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad. There was no and there will be no disagreement between them concerning the five pillars of Islam or the six fundamentals of the belief (Iman). Disagreements exist only concerning those additional elements (furu`) which only promote perfection in performance of those accepted pillars of faith. These four imams and their mazhabs are Allah's great favor for the Ummah.
If one asks, in what way, the following example may be explanatory: suppose, a chief orders his subordinates to construct houses for themselves. He will explain them how to build, and where they may and may not build. For instance, he will tell that they may not build on the mountain or in the ravine. He also will explain that to enter into the house, it is necessary to make a door and for the light to enter the house, a window should be inserted.

And as it was told, they, on command of the chief, have started building houses. If noone of them builds his house neither on a mountain nor in a ravine, as the chief has specified, makes a door and a window, does not grab land more than he is permitted, this person will be considered as constructed the house on the lawful bases. Let us assume that there appeared disagreements among builders concerning the chief’s instructions.
Here come four engineers who are respected by all chief’s subordinates, including other engineers. They began to analyze orders and instructions given to builders by the master of the building and think over how to derive maximum benefits out of his instructions at the same time not overstepping the given bounds. For example, the chief instructed the workers to fix a door, a window and a roof and nothing more.

Now the engineers think about what kind of door, window and roof to put and how to fix them, every one brings his own judgment [ijtihad]. One says that they should put in a big window so that there would be much light in the house. But another one asserts that putting a big window is not desirable as in winter too much cold will penetrate through it and similarly in summer much heat will enter into the house, therefore it would be better to place a not so big window. The same problem is with the door. But all the four of them come to one conclusion concerning the size. Then one of them suggests putting in the windows and the doors facing the Qiblah [1]. Another engineer however, while agreeing with the direction, adds that if it is not possible to do so then one is allowed to fix them where possible. There arises a question also about walls. One of them says suggests building walls out of stones, another maintains that bricks are better, third engineer argues that adobe is better of all. The fourth however, suggests that if building walls of adobe then the corners should be built of stone. However if one cannot get the above materials then he can build walls out of wood or thatch. As for the roof one of them suggests to cover it with a thin layer of soil. Another says that it will be better to cover it with slate. The third says that tile is necessary. But the fourth argues that they may build out of any material which they have at their disposal as long as water does not leak through it. Another question that arises is about what to do if there is no other building site except on the mountain or in the ravine. One of them suggests building having bulldozed the mountain to the ground, another proposes that they might build having filled up the ravine others however, objected the above opinions. There were also disputes with regards to house interior arrangement, each of them offering recommendations according to their own understanding.

And now, dear brothers, can you identify who of these four engineers is wrong if any? Here is an example of the four Imams for you. What a benefit these four engineers bring to the people! What a great benefit they derived from the owner’s instructions regarding construction of the house! What a relief it brought! For instance, what if the chief had ordered to build houses out of stone only and there were no stones available at that place? Appearance of the four engineers was a mercy for the people. They got a chance and right, each to follow any of these four engineers, based on every one’s capabilities. This is exactly the example of the four Imams and the people who follow them. One must remember that all the work done by engineers is in accordance with the will and authority of the master of the building and it is not permitted to violate the bounds outlined by him. Now what would you say if people start criticizing or reproaching those engineers? This could be resembled to the Wahhabies’ rejection of the four Imams.

The four Imams are the grace of Allah for the Ummah of Muhammad. For instance, according to the school of Imam Shafi’i if a man touches a woman’s hand, his ablution is spoiled, no matter in what way it was touched. According to Abu Hanifa, however, the ablution is spoiled only in that case when a man touches a woman with lust. If a man touches her by chance or intentionally but without lust his ablution is still considered valid. Now let us see what grace and relief for us in such occasions which happen frequently. For example, a man travels by bus or by train. By accident he has touched a woman by his hand. According to Shafi’i his ablution is spoiled. Now in order to perform a prayer he has to renew his ablution. What to do if water is not available and he waits till arriving at a place of water, the time of prayer will expire? In this situation he has a right to perform prayer following Abu Hanifah and does not need to compensate that prayer. But if it is possible to get to a place where ablution may be renewed Shafi`ite may not follow Abu Hanifa, he must follow his own mazhab. Similarly there are many other examples from which we may benefit. Sometimes there are even such situations when it is impossible to do something without benefiting from another mazhab.

We offer sacrifice on the holiday of ‘Id ul-Adha, however it may be said that almost no one makes in accordance with our Mazhab. Why? Because according to our mazhab an ear of sacrificial cattle may not be short of its one-third fraction. And how many animals are there with more than one-third fractions absent after notching of both their ears! This is the reason why many of Shafi`ites sacrifice cattle following Mazhab of Imam Abu Hanifa. However, not everyone offers sacrifice. There are people who can afford it but still do not do it. The one who does not slaughter cattle does not fall into a sin for according to our mazhab sacrifice is Sunnah. On the other hand, following to mazhab of Abu Hanifa sacrificial offering is close to obligatory (wajib). Among those who follow his mazhab might be somebody who does not sacrifice being unaware that it was wajib or simply disregarding it. In this situation this man falls into a minor sin than he would have fallen into had he ignored anything which was made obligatory by all the four Imams. Why? Because even if Abu Hanifa says that slaughtering animal is obligatory, Imam Shafi’i maintains that sacrificial offering is a Sunnah. However the man who did not follow his mazhab [i.e. Abu Hanifa] and did not offer sacrifice is from a group of people with weak belief. To avoid disagreements, there are people who follow Shafi`i and still sacrifice every year. This is even better because such people are considered among those who meticulously adhere to Islamic canons, and are very strong in their belief. See what a mercy there is for us in these Imams!

One more example. According to mazhab of Shafi’i if something unclean, a drop of blood, for example, has got into water which does not amount to 216 litres (Qullatain)[2] this water is forbidden to be used for ablution, regardless whether colour, smell or taste of the water has been changed or not. However Imam Malik permits using such water for ablution if its colour, smell and taste have not been changed. The size of Qullatain equals that of a well the length, width and height of which is half a meter each. Now see, how many people following Imam Shafi`i can maintain such purity of water? Mazhabs are needed for those who cannot observe everything with such scrupulosity and in order to resort to them in case of need.

If anything done by a man even through his ignorance corresponds to one of the four mazhabs he will be seen as rightful and it will be regarded as his right way. I do not know anything more joyful for a Muslim than this. Think over why such great scholars of Islam as Imam Al-Ghazali, Ibn Hajar and others who lived in the time of these Imams and after them adhered to one of these mazhabs. Why did not each of them invent a mazhab for himself? Because they saw the knowledge which these Imams derived from The Qur’an and Hadiths, saw that they were selected few and understood that they had nothing to add to their works. They were not envious and therefore chose the mazhab which they liked and started working over its strengthening, broadening and clarifying more for the people. Ibn Hajar said to the effect that, “We are not scholars; the scholars are those Mujtahids (scholars who have reached the level by which they are able to draw decisions on the basis of The Qur’an and Hadiths). We are only those who hand down their knowledge and their deeds to people”. The greatest confirmation of the fact that a man is on the true path is his deeds performed in accordance to one of the mazhabs, with his love and respect for these four Imams, and with the joy of their existence. Those however, who do not follow mazhabs resemble sheep stray from the herd."

[1] Qibla - the direction of prayer towards the Ka'ba in Mecca.
[2] Qullah – Arabic, liqid measurement (Kullatain indicates a double amount of this measure).

Taken from "Treasury of beneficial knowledge", written by Shaykh of Naqshbandi and Shazali Tariqahs Said-Afandi from Chirkey. Pp 314-8