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Schools of Jurisprudence / Role of the four Imams in serving Islam

Q: A question on the Four Leading Jurists: Al-Shafi`y, Abu Hanifah, Malik, and Ibn Hanbal.

First: What is the position of those scholars? Are they scholars or Imams?
Second: What is the role they played to serve the teachings of Islam?
Third: Are they worthy of respect for their broad knowledge on the Islamic Creed?
Fourth: If a person follows any of them as regards their deeds or views, shall he be deviating from the Straight Path.
Fifth:They sometimes have different views on some issues, what does this mean?
Sixth: What do you say about a person who curses them and their views?

A: All Praise is due to Allah Alone and peace and blessings be upon His Messenegr, his family, and Companions.

To commence:

First: As for Abu Hanifah (80-150 A.H.), his full name is Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit Al-Taymi. He was a freed slave of Banu Taym-ullah ibn Tha`labah.

As for Malik (93-179 A.H), his full name is Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Abu `Amer Al-Himyary Al-Asbahy.

As for Al-Shafi`y (150-204 A.H.), his full name is Muhammad ibn Idris ibn Al-`Abas ibn `Uthman ibn Shafi` Al-Qurashy Al-Muttaliby.

As for Ibn Hanbal (164-241 A.H.), his full name is Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal ibn Hilal ibn Asad Al-Shaybany, Abu Abdullah, Al-Mirwazy, Al-Baghdady.

Those noble figures were born in Muslim lands and lived during the best generations, namely, the first three good generations described by the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the best generations. They acquired religious knowledge  early in their lives studying the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the biographies of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the rest of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them).

Similarly, they studied the history of the pious ancestors whether those living during their time or those who preceded them. They were the students of the great early scholars doing their utmost effort to acquire knowledge until they became prominent scholars occupying the position of the inheritors of prophets in terms of knowledge and call to Islam. They were grand Imams who guided and advised Muslims enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.

Second: It is then apparent that they have done Islam a good service through their study of religious sciences and through their understanding of religious judgments in basic ruling principles and detailed issues inferring legal decision out of the pure sources of the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Thus, the whole Muslims availed of the illuminating teachings they left in religious and worldly issues. The Muslims at their times could achieve aspects of renaissance in cultural, scientific, and moral aspects and then life prospered. They were truly good examples of the best people to be raised up for mankind.

They were faithful believers who enjoined the right and forbade the wrong through their wisdom, good instruction, and best argument. May Allah have Mercy on their souls and reward them best for their service of Islam and Muslims.

Third: Allah granted them knowledge and guidance for all people, citizens or rulers. They offered advice and guidance for all. Therefore, they deserve to be held in veneration and respect. They should be placed in the high ranks which Allah conferred on them.

They should have their due honor and get their credit. Whoever is not grateful for them is not in fact grateful to Allah. We hope Allah will have even more rewards for them in store. We invoke Allah to reward them best  for serving Muslims through explaining the correct issues of `Aqidah (Creed) and rulings and for the great legacy and useful knowledge they left behind.

Fourth: Those great jurists and other guiding Imams of vast knowledge, good understanding, deep insight, and full awareness on the objectives of Shari`ah, were not infallible. In fact, they are humans and their opinions may be right or wrong; they themselves admitted this and did not abstain from declaring it openly to people.

They used to explain to people that their views are human; may be accepted or rejected. They told them that only the Qur'an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should be taken for granted. They thus declared the Truth and established justice .

Consequently, other people than the four jurists, in the past or present, who are blessed with clear-sightedness, vast knowledge of evidence of Shari`ah, aware of the objectives of Shari`ah, and capable of inferring rulings from evidence, have to exercise Ijtihad to infer the legal judgments from the legal evidence. Then, it will be incumbent upon them to act upon the decisions they reach through inference and it will also be impermissible for them to practice Taqlid (following the opinion of another person).

Rather they may depend on the jurisprudential legacy and useful knowledge of the four grand Imams, hoping that Allah will guide them to the Truth and right views. As for the person who cannot do so, he may act upon the views of any of the four grand Imams and the likes without bias.

We have issued a Fatwa on this regard that reads: "Whoever is qualified enough to infer rulings from the Qur'an and Sunnah even with the help of the juristic legacy of the early Muslim jurists, he may do so and act upon the rulings he reaches through inference and settle disputes and give Fatwas accordingly.

But whoever is not qualified enough to do so may ask the trustworthy scholars or read the religious books written by trustworthy scholars to know the rulings and act upon them without confining himself to asking or referring to a specific jurist of the four grand Imams.

Most people usually refer to those four Imams for their fame and for the widespread circulation and simplicity of their books. Whoever forces a learner to follow the views of a specific jurist of the four jurists is wrongful; he thus does not trust the faculties of learners and restricts the broad scope of freedom with no evidence.

An ordinary person does not busy himself with the difference of views among the four grand Imams or other jurists like Al-Layth ibn Sa`d, Al-Awza`y, and other jurists.

Fifth: Peoples' physical minds and senses are limited and their instincts, interests, readiness, and intellectual faculties are diverse.

Therefore, Allah (Exalted be He) sent prophets (peace be upon them) to guide people, give them glad tidings, and warn them. Allah thus excludes all potential excuses after sending prophets. However, difference of views on religious issues may occur among religious scholars either because some scholars know the evidence of the Qur'an and Sunnah while others do not.

Difference of views among scholars may also be attributed to their difference in understanding the evidence. It may also rise due to the conflict of evidence in the sight of scholars, or due to their difference in giving priority to a specific evidence over the other, or due to some other reasons.

This realm of study has been widely discussed in voluminous works on  the causes of Juristic difference. Among the great scholars who studied this issue Imam Ahmad ibn `Abdul-Halim ibn Taymiyyah in his book, Raf` Al-Malam `An Al-A'imah Al-A`lam.

For further explanation on this issue, refer to it and to other books written on Juristic difference in the present and past.

Sixth: After knowing the great favor, high rank, and the sincere efforts those four grand Imams did to serve Islam and the entire Muslim nation, we have to remember that no great figure escapes criticism.

Even prophets and messengers, regardless of their sincerity of faith, high ranks, uprightness, and mercy, they could not escape the harm afflicted upon them from their own peoples, as the Arab saying tells: 'Torrents destruct high places first'.

Whoever offends the four grand Imams, is indeed offending and wronging himself exposing it to punishment, sooner or later. Allah is always there to punish aggressors. All Might and Power are Allah's Alone.

May Allah grant us success! May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions!

Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta'

Member     Member     Deputy Chairman     Chairman
`Abdullah ibn Qa`ud     `Abdullah ibn Ghudayyan     `Abdul-Razzaq `Afify     `Abdul-`Aziz ibn `Abdullah ibn Baz

Permanent Committee Fatwas>Group 1>Volume 5: (Fiqh>Taharah)>Usul-ul-Fiqh>Issuing Fatwas>Schools of Jurisprudence>Role of the four Imams in serving Islam / Fatwa no. 7595