There are now several school of thoughts (madh-habs) in Islam. They are following different Imams and the method of practicing the religion is slightly different. Basically the question is how people select their Imam and choose to follow him?

In Shia perspective for example, they follow the most knowledgeable, pious people after the Prophet (according to Shia of course) which is the holy household of the Prophet (12 Imams). They believe that the 12 Imams have said the same thing, one confirming the other and all confirm the true Sunnah of the Prophet. Shia people follow them because they think that these Imams are the most knowledgeable people on earth and give them the right guidance.

For Sunni people, there are 4 major schools of thoughts following 4 distinct Imams. Wahabism is sth new. All of them slightly different in Fiqh (how they practice Islam). For more information about their Imams rejecting each other see here, and here for example. Unfortunately in Persian (Farsi) or Arabic. I translate one: In helliatul Ulia: Imam Shafei says:

I looked at the Abu Hunaife book. It had 120 or 130 pages. 80 pages were about the prayer or ablution. These were either in contrary to Quran, Sunnah, different sayings, paradox or Qiyas.

You can also refer to Tarikh Khatib Baqdadi a Sunni scholor where he talks about Ahmad hanbal and Abu hunaifah.

Please explain to me, firstly, what is the method (criteria ) that people have chosen these 4 person in Sunnism? like knowledge, etc. Secondly, do Sunni people think that there is no body on earth more worthy of having those criteria? Because then that person is more worthy to be followed.

I hope the question is clear enough. I am more looking for Sunni answer, but Shia viewpoint on Shism and Sunnism is also encouraged.

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    all four schools of thought do have error in them for some reasons, one of them is that there wasn't many authentic Ahadith then there, so because now we have them collected in books we can see these errors clearly. I would recommend not to follow a Madhab and just go straightly by the Quran and Sunnah with the understanding of the Sahaba the the Tabi'een and Tab'utabi'een which includes the four Imams. As for who you learn from that is another question, this is not to be an answer rather it is a comment.
    – مجاهد
    Dec 23, 2012 at 14:40
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    @AlUmmat, Thanks for your comments. The question is updated to show how the Imams reject each other. The evidences are more than enough really. Also, the number of authentic ahadeeth were more back then. There had been many books then that we don't have them any more.
    – rowman
    Dec 23, 2012 at 17:23
  • no, there may have been many many hadeeths back then compared to now, but, the analyses of these hadiths whether they were sahih or da'eef weren't being done, the imams themselves did what they could, but scholars came after were more knowledgeable and specialized in analyzing them
    – مجاهد
    Jan 1, 2013 at 0:46
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    @rowman, I would want to differ in your understanding of the schools of fiqh. 1) There is no "Wahhabi" school of thought; this name has been given by orientalists to those Muslims who prefer going to the original sources and have formally been known as Ahl-ul-Hadith (or nowadays Salafi). 2) The Ahl-ul-Hadith are the oldest and most original of the lot since they were vehemently opposed to following opinions (as the Ahl-ul-Ray did) and preferred instead to follow the same maddhab of the Salaf-us-Saliheen, that is Qur'an and Hadeeth. Short space, so cannot go into too many details.
    – Najeeb
    Jun 21, 2013 at 9:25

1 Answer 1


Let me first correct some of the assumptions in your question before answering it.

There are four major schools of thought today, correct. This is in jurisprudence (fiqh). Wahhabism is not a school of fiqh. These schools of fiqh do not reject one another - in fact they acknowledge and respect one another.

Secondly, it is important to distinguish the founder of the madh-hab from the madh-hab itself. The madh-hab is an institution; its present status and situation is as much due to the founder as it is the thousands of scholars who came after the founders and researched his methods and rulings and tweaked them and solidified the whole institution. The popularity and spread of four madhahib today is purely a circumstance of history. To say that there are four imams is not to diminish the greatness and genius of other imams like Imams al-Awza'i, Laith b. Sa'd, Sufyan ath-Thawri, and many many more, may Allah SWT have mercy upon them all. It is a circumstance of history that their students did not spread their ideas and teachings as well as the students of the founders of the four madhahib that did survive. As a result, the books and teachings of the other imams did not undergo the same amount of scrutiny and patching up to become a full-fledged madh-hab.

Thirdly, fiqh is not belief or creed. Differences in fiqh are acceptable as long as they have a textual basis (and, in our times, historical precedent) and they are not a reason to declare someone's unorthodoxy or to reject someone else's faith.

Now, coming to your question, all madhahib acknowledge each other's legitimacy. Most Sunnis follow the madh-hab that is most prevalent in their land because it is likely that it has the most developed institutions and it makes it slightly easier to interface with the rest of society. Other people choose a madh-hab based upon their access to a teacher or scholar who they trust. Yet others choose it based on their affinity with the principles underlying the methods of a madh-hab.

  • Thanks for your answer. By rejecting I did not mean fiqh, I meant the imams rejecting each other. The question is updated.
    – rowman
    Dec 23, 2012 at 18:40
  • who came after the founders and researched his methods and ruling... Are the methods invented by the founder or others can also modify it? Can the rules and methods change overtime?
    – rowman
    Dec 23, 2012 at 18:48
  • The imams don't reject one another - in fact they studied under one another. For the most part, the methods were derived after the founders based on their rulings. There is not always a consensus on the rules and methods and there is always a discussion on them.
    – Ansari
    Dec 23, 2012 at 18:51
  • I would like to also add that a layman (which majority of the muslims are like myself) have no madh-hab and are not obliged to follow a madh-hab. One should understand the purpose of the four madh-hab. When a beginner student of knowledge wants to learn fiqh, it is easier for him to learn the usool and process of deriving rulings from nass (evidences) by following one particular already established schools (the four ones). As for a layman, since he is not a mujtahid, and he has to know fiqh rulings to carry out religious obligations, he can just find a mujtahid that he trusts contd.
    – Abdullah
    Dec 23, 2012 at 23:03
  • contd. in piety and follow his rulings. This is completely permissible. This is because Allah says, " Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear," As for aqeedah (90%) of it, there is no following any madh-hab or individual in that. Also, one of the benefits of having a madh-hab is that when a mujtahid finds himself in a situation he is not aware of or new to him that he is not able to make ijtihaad, he can follow the ruling of the madh-hab he studied in.
    – Abdullah
    Dec 23, 2012 at 23:03

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