This question relates to Is Islam Easy to Understand or Not?: Salafis, the Democratization of Interpretation and the Need for the Ulema, Jonathan A. C. Brown, Journal of Islamic Studies (2015) 26 (2): 117-144.

In this paper, the author claims the following is "stated with marked frequency in Hanafi and Shafi'i legal texts":

The regnant principle amongst the ulema was that 'the layperson ('ammi) has no madhhab' or 'the madhhab of the 'ammi is the madhhab of his mufti'. In other words, he follows whatever madhhab his local scholar or mufti follows.

Question: In what way does a layperson have no legal school?

I'm struggling to make sense of this. It assumes that 1. a layperson has a mufti they follow, 2. a layperson accesses information from only one mufti, and 3. the mufti themself has a madhhab.

It seems to me that 1 and 2 can easily be untrue, and 3 might also be untrue (even if rarely).

  • As far as I know, the obligation of taqlid (which I understand to mean "following a scholar in matters where you are not qualified to derive rulings yourself") for the layperson and the expected habits in doing so are widely accepted in all schools of law. The idea is that even if the scholar gets it wrong, he reasonably comprehensively and faithfully applied accepted methods to the available sources, basically due diligence. The layperson isn't equipped to do that, so he is expected to outsource it.
    – G. Bach
    Feb 17 '17 at 12:19

First of all, legal schools represent the difference between scholars in Fiqh issues, not theological issues.

Normally, in Muslim majority countries, there is almost always a Mufti of the state, or a person in such position, who heads a religious ministry or so. This ministry will then help common people in their questions and Fiqh issues, and will then issue regular Fatwa publishing on common matters.

These Fatwas and guidelines are usually based on a certain Madhab that is followed by the majority of scholars in that particular country or state, and will define what Madhab is followed there. Even in Muslim minority places, there will be usually a community with distinguished scholars that define the general Madhab that is followed.

Now, is it required from a scholar to follow a Madhab? It is not required per se, but usually is, and that does not mean they cannot follow other Madhabs, or in some situations, voice their own opinions, when they reach certain level of knowledge, and that it is discussed with other peers. (source)

A layperson is considered not literate and quipped enough to voice their own opinions on matters, and is required to follow a scholar they trust of knowledge and religion. This is just like when a scholar of science is not recognized if they don't have enough knowledge, and when they don't follow an established methodology approved by other peers on the same field. (source)

So coming back to your points:

  1. Yes, almost always a layperson has or follow a main Mufti or a scholar. Or other scholars who follow the Madhab of their main scholar.
  2. Not really only from one, but usually is. Grand Muftis or Mufti of the state usually will define what is acceptable in that specified place, but people can still hear and look up to other scholars.
  3. As discussed earlier, yes they usuualy have a certain Madhab they follow, but it doesn't mean they can't follow other opinions or make Ijtihad to derive other answers for their own contexts.

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