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How can one follow a school of thought such as the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi schools and still follow the Quran and Sunnah?


Is it permissible to follow a school of thought such as the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi schools or is this contrary to following the Quran and Sunnah?


الجواب حامداً و مصلياً

In brief, it should be clear that to follow recognised Islamic scholarship is not only permissible but necessary for the one who is not a scholar. As a lay person i.e. the one who has not studied the Islamic sciences of Tafsir, Hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, Arabic language and grammar etc. they must follow the views of the jurists who possess such knowledge, as per the Quranic injunction:

      "Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know ”       

      [Surah al-Anbiyah verse 7 and Surah al-Nahl verse 43].

To follow the Quran and Sunnah is the duty of every Muslim; however, if one is not sufficiently knowledgeable in the Quran and Sunnah, for example one cannot even understand the Quran and Sunnah in its original Arabic language - one should try and study the texts of Islam under qualified scholars, so one may become knowledgeable.

Until such a comprehensive knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah is not attained, one must act on the above Quranic verse and refer to the recognised scholars of the Muslims regarding the rulings of the Quran and Sunnah.

The scholars have warned about interpreting the Quran and Sunnah without having sufficient knowledge, as it is a potential source of deviation and can threaten one's Islam and Iman. Sadly, many young people have fallen into this grave mistake today and are going astray and leading others astray by not following classical and authoritative Islamic scholarship.

This vital importance of consulting qualified scholars for Islamic knowledge and not relying upon one’s own lay understanding of the Quran and Sunnah or upon someone else who is not a recognised jurist, can be understood from the following Hadith:

It is stated on the authority of Amr ibn al-Ass, he said I heard the Prophet peace be upon him say:

Indeed Allah does not take away the knowledge by extracting it from the (hearts of) people, however, He will lift the knowledge away by the death of Ulema (Islamic scholars), until there is no scholar left and the people will take as their leaders ignorant people, who when consulted will give rulings without knowledge. Thus they will go astray themselves and lead others astray.”

[Sahih Al-Bukhari- The Book of Knowledge: Hadith No. 100]

Thus, based on the above Quranic injunction and Sahih Hadith, it is an obligation to follow the jurists when one is not a jurist himself- otherwise the Hadith warns explicitly that one will go astray.

It is also worth noting that in this Sahih Hadith, the cause of people going astray is not the absence of the texts of the Quran and Sunnah, or that people did not refer to the texts of the Quran and Sunnah, rather it is the loss of those Islamic scholars who need to be consulted regarding the correct interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah.

This principle of seeking knowledge from experts, is similarly also found in other everyday fields of knowledge, for example, one follows the instructions of the physician if one is not a physician.

The danger of trying to understand medicine from text books, when one has not trained under qualified and recognised experts is far less dangerous than trying to understand the Quran and Sunnah by oneself or from others who are not recogised jurists. The mistakes of an unqualified doctor at most will threaten a person’s life, whereas the mistakes of an unqualified scholar are a danger to one’s life and the life of others in this world and in the hereafter.

In general, it should also be clear that the following one of the four schools of Islamic law is not only permissible but also necessary for the lay person, as these schools of Islamic law represent the most authoritative sources of authentic Islamic scholarship, upon which the world wide Muslim community has relied on for a period of approaching a thousand years.

Although other reputable scholars exist outside the four schools of thought, such as Imam Layth ibn Sad, Imam al-Tabari and the like, none of these recognised Imams whoever they may be, can come close to claiming such a comprehensive scholarship and widespread acceptance throughout the history of Islam until today, as found in the four schools of thought. Thus, we find great Islamic scholars such as Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, the author of an Arabic commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, state unequivocally that the lay person is to only follow one of the four schools of thought in his book entitled: "Ar-Radd ala Man Ittaba Ghayr al-Madhahib al-Arba".

Similarly Imam al-Nawawi, one of the most senior and relied upon commentators of Sahih Muslim, explains the wisdom behind following one of these schools by stating:

"The reasoning for this ruling is that if it was permitted to follow any school one wished, it would lead to hand picking the dispensations of the schools and following one's desires. He would be choosing between Halal and Haram and obligatory and permissible.

This is not the same as during the first generations, for the schools were not codified or widespread (in that era). Thus on this basis it is necessary for a (lay) person to strive in choosing a school which alone he follows." [Majmu' Sharh Al-Muhadh'dhab vol. 1 pg 499].

On the other hand, it should also be clear, for those rare individuals who have studied with qualified and reputable Islamic scholars the requisite Islamic knowledge mentioned above and have attained the level of a jurist, as attested by other scholars, they are not bound to follow a school of thought, as they are regarded as scholars in their own right.

In summary, a person who is not a jurist, can follow one of these four schools of thought and the expert Islamic scholarship of its Ulema, which has stood the test of time spanning a millennium, to reliably and correctly understand the rulings of the Quran and Sunnah, in accordance with the rulings of the above Quranic verse and Sahih Hadith.

Thus, following a school of thought as described, is self-evidently in adherence to the Quran and Sunnah, whereas not referring to Islamic scholars to understand the rulings of the Quran and Sunnah, by those who are not themselves scholars, is however, clearly contrary to the said Quranic verse and Sahih Hadith.

And Allah knows best

Answered by FCB Fatwa Department