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Usually it is said that Sunni schools of fiqh are 4 (Hanbali, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanafi).

Is it true that some Sunni scholars like Abubakr, Ahmad and Bayhaqi had a higher level of knowledge than founders of above 4 madhabs but their madhhabs didn't survive?

How many Sunni schools of fiqh are there if they are not limited to 4? And why didn't they survive?

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I do not know much about Abubakr Ahmad Bayhaqi than the fact that he used to collect Hadiths. However, regarding the Sunni schools of fiqh, you should understand few things.

  1. These schools do not exist to exert their opinions as truth to everyone. Rather, they exist to make it easy for a learner to get closer to truth. Be it the Madh'hab of Shafi'i, Malik, Ahmad or Abu Hanifah.

  2. It is true that during the time of these four Imams, there were people who were equally knowledgeable and also greater in knowledge than them. These Imams of the past made efforts to learn and teach and some of them had Madhahibs that remained established.

  3. Why did these four schools survive? Because, they had students who to serve them and take care of the knowledge that the Imams left. They were hardworking who made sure their work and the heritage of knowledge was preserved. However, not all the Imams had similar students. There were Imams more knowledgeable during that time, however they did not have students who took care of the knowledge or tried to preserve it. There were no one to preserve their rulings, views and opinions. Hence, their madhahib did not get established. This is the reason why the four schools remained and became established while others got lost in time.


During the time of Imam Abu Hanifah (Rahimahullah), there were scholars equal to him in knowledge and greater than him in Qur'an and Sunnah and Arabic Language. However, Imam Abu Hanifah had disciples and followers and students dedicated to preserving his heritage such as Zufr, or Abu Yusuf or Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan.

Similarly, in the time of Imam Malik (Rahimahullah), there were scholars equal and greater than him in knowledge and virtue. For example, Layth ibn Saad (rahimahullah), the great scholar of Egypt and people used to say Layth ibn Saad had greater knowledge than Imam Malik. And also, Ibn Abi Dhib (rahimahullah) of Al-Madinah. These scholars had knowledge either equal to Malik or more. However, they did not have students who took care of their heritage of knowledge like Maalik.

Moreover, Scholars say that the intention and sincerity of a scholar to Allah has effect upon how much his knowledge benefits the creation. Allahu A'lam.

I hope that answers your question (at least partly).

My answer is based upon this piece of lecture by Shaykh Saleh al Luhaydaan.

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I do not know if Abubakr Ahmad Bayhaqi had higher knowledge or not, in my opinion it does not mater all the great Imams had knowledge and only Allah knows what they had so we can not judge and we have no right to judge.

There were more than 4 Madhabs, there is the four as many know there is a fifth one called "Zahiri" and they follow the literal expressions of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Now I have heard somewhere that there were more Madhabs but the Kulafa of the time in which the Madhabs came did not allow it so that is possibly how only 4 left.

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I would like to add to @Abdullah and Mujahid's statements the follwoing about al-Bayhaqi:

Al Bayhaqi was a sunni scholar of the Shafi'i school.

Imam abu al -Ma'ali al-Juwayni (a great osoli of the shafi'i school and teacher of al-Ghazaly) said about him: "All of the scholars of the shafi'i school have been given a favor from the Imam Shafi'i except abu Bakr Al-Bayhaqi, which the gave the Shafi'i a favor by standing up for his madhab".

مامن شافعي إلا والشافعي عليه منة إلا أبو بكر البيهقي ، فإن له منة على الشافعي في نصرة مذهبه

Imam ad-Dahabi returned: abu al-Ma'ali was right, he was like that, and if al-Bayhaqi wanted to creat a madhab (a school) on his own to do ijtihad according to it he would be able, because of his much wisdom, his knowledge of differences (between the schools), therefore he used to favor those Questions/Matters where there is a sahih hadith"

أصاب أبو المعالي، هكذا هو، ولو شاء البيهقي أن يعمل لنفسه مذهبا يجتهد فيه لكان قادرا على ذلك، لسعة علومه، ومعرفته بالاختلاف، ولهذا تراه يلوح بنصر مسائل ممايصح فيها الحديث

Taken from the book "syar-a'laam an-nubala' سير أعلام النبلاء" from al-Imam al-Hafid ad-Dahabi الحافظ أبو عبد الله شمس الدين الذهبي

This doesn't mean that Imam al-Bayhaqi was of a higher level then the 4 Imams but doesn't exclude it.

But i guess you will find inside every Madhab some people of this kind.

And we don't have to forget, that ibn Taymiyah and the so called salafi's are also sunni and differ in some opinions to any of these 4 schools. You can find some more datils in my Answer here: Does ijtihad open in Islam (Sunni view)?

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