Lessons from Studying Madhabs

“Once upon a time… 

The cities of Islam grew, and illiteracy disappeared…

Fiqh was perfected…” 

Knowledge is not our purpose, but our goal in the fear of and pleasing Allah S.W.T

What is Fiqh? Fiqh is simply Islamic jurisprudence, based wholly on the Quran and the Sunnah. Within Islam, this Fiqh, “the master of all Islamic sciences” is broken down into two sciences, a science of main purpose and a science of methodology. Additionally, Fiqh is categorized as one of two; Fard al-Ayn, obligatory upon an individual, and Fard al-Kifayah, obligatory communally. In order to define this code, one has to attain knowledge about the legal and the sciences. However, this is not only a responsibility upon one individual nor should it be approached as a scattered effort. It’s a duty that should be take upon as a whole, to bring harmony within the Muslim Ummah. 

“Then We put you, [O Muhammad], on an ordained way concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” [45:18]. As Muslims, many of us are not only eager to learn and attain knowledge, but more so to be guided towards Sirat-Al-Mustaqim. This Shari’ah (divine revelation obtained from the Quran and the Sunnah) serves as a river of knowledge, the straight path. The Shari’ah is established on the basis of the Tashree’ (legislation) which is subject to divine legislation, the unchangeable criteria, and human legislation, changeable on the basis of popular opinion. 

So what is the evolution of  Fiqh? Well simply, it’s the legal science that studies historical factors behind the formulation of Fiqh, the Shari’ah with the emergence of the Fuquha’ and the different Madhahibs (schools of thought), from the beginning of the revelation till today. In understanding the evolution that came about, the code is broken down into stages of development from the first stage being the Era of Apostleship to our present timem as the seventh stage, the Reformation Era. 

“And whatever the Messenger has given you- take and what he has forbidden you- refrain from.” [59:7]. Beginning with  Stage One, the Era of Apostleship, the foundation (13BH-11H/609CE-632CE), this ayah reveals that whatever the message that is graced upon you, accept it. It established the authority of the Prophet (pbuh). During this time, the predominant Arab community lies within Mecca and Meddinah. These were not only mere opposites in climactic factors with the dry, dead land of Mecca and the lush green of Meddinah, but a different way of life and tribes were adapted. The periods of legislation are known as the Makkan Period (13BH-0H/609CE-622CE), the time before the Hijrah in which the faith (Tawheed) was established, and the Madinan Period (1H-11H/622CE-632CE), the time after the Hijrah, where the establishment of law, political order, and society came about. As one may like to distinguish there periods based on geographic location, the Hijrah is what in fact separates the two. 

The sources of the legislation are based on first, the Quran and second, the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. The Quran verily elaborates on the themes of the Aqeedah (belief), Fiqh (commandments), Seerah (history), and Akhlaq (rules of ethics) and the Sunnah, in essence a revelation revealed, was broken down by the use of linguists, the Fuqaha’ (jurists), the Usoolis (scholars of Usool al-Fiqh),  the Muhaditheen (Scholars of Hadeeth), and by theologians concerning the Aqeedah. The role of the Sunnah with the Quran is to explain meanings based on the text of the Quran, qualifying the unrestricted, and enacting new rules that do not exist in the Quran. However, this brings about three opinions of whether the Quran precedes over the Sunnah, the Sunnah preceding over the Quran, or being equal in authority. This brings about Ijtihad (human reasoning), which is perceived to have its benefits and harm. The Prophet (phuh) practiced the daily human capacities he assigned and taught his companions to practice Ijtihad as well. Noted jurists within this era include Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood, Zayd bin Thabit, and Mu’adh bin Jabal. This period marks the beginning of Fiqh and principle of roots developed by the Prophet (pbuh). 
Stage Two covers the Era of the Righteous Khulafa’, the establishment of the law (11H-40H/632CE-661CE). This begins with the expansion of the Islamic State as population increased within the Arab rule. Within this, the Sahabah formed, which included the four Khulafa, the major Sahabah, the young Sahabah, and the scholars of the Sahabah.  Their methodology in problem solving was very adherent to the text, the words of the Quran and sources of the Sunnah, Ijma’, Ijtihad, and Ra’i or Qiyas (analogy). As the state expanded and the Quranic text was compiled and distributed, the first “civil war” aroused among the Sahabah in which new ideologies emerged.

Stage Three is the Era of the Young Sahabah and the Tabi’een, the narration of the Hadeeth (41H-132H/662CE-753CE) and was characterized by a continuation of geographical expansion of the Ummayyad dynasty within Africa, North Africa, and Europe. This led to the establishment of new urban areas, and serious political turmoil. Factors that significantly affected Fiqh began with the division of the Ummah, forming the Sunnat-e-Jammah, the Shi’a, and the Kharajiat, which followed turbulence, dispersion of the scholars, the establishment of the first Madhahib, the Hijazi and the Iraqi. The Hijazi, geographically located in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was a realistic school based on evidence. It characterizes as very traditional, abiding by the original text, limited Fiqh to the available text, and disliked the use of reason in the presence of text. Well-noted Fuqaha of Ahl-al-Hijaz included Sa’eed Ibn al-Musayab and Salim bin Abdullah bin ‘Umar. On the other hand, the Iraqi school, Ahl al-Iraq believed that the rulings of Shari’ah were based on perceivable and identified reasoning. It encouraged scholars to use the power of reasoning, rationality, and questioning. They developed a system of hypothesis and prediction based on their rulings all through access to multiple resources. Furthermore, other factors during this era included the popularity of the narration of the Hadeeth, the phenomenon of fabrication and the massive non-Arab conversions. This was a time when for the first time, sects came about within Islam, al-Khawarij and ash-Shi’a

Stage Four, the Era of the Great Imams of Fiqh, the building and flowering (132H-339H/753CE-960CE), was better known as the Golden Age of the Islamic civilization as the Abbasid dynasty comes about. Mohammad ibn Ali ibn Abbas was the founder and the Abbassid dynasty were in power when the center of Iraq, at the heart of the world at this point, Baghdad, was flourishing. The credit was given to the Abbasids being renown as intellectual individuals and brilliant politicians. The Abbasid dynasty was centralized in the beginning of its rule, very strong and under control of jurisdiction of one Kaliphah. Later, the decentralization of the state occurred during the medieval period, a semi-independence that appeared as a weaker form because of smaller controls. They remained in power till the Mongols took over and beseeched Baghdad pronouncing the end of the Abbasid dynasty.  This was also a period when disputes rose over Usool-al-Fiqh, the emergence of the juristic code and the development of the four Madhahibs. This led to the creation of principles of fiqh and academic science and people developed their own understanding as the Muslim society grew more modern and civilized. Also, compilations of different Islamic sciences and the mere absence of factionalism were other characteristics of this stage. This went on to affect fiqh with a growing financial and environment support that encouraged the building of schools, libraries, and organized debates and ilm 

Among the Madhabs, Khilaf (disagreement) and Ikhtilaf (difference) followed, however the Imams left a manner to follow. To elaborate, the catergories of Khilaf were the acceptable vs. the unacceptable, the permissible vs. the blameworthy, and the contradictory vs. the diverse, and they agreed that any Ikhtalaf that causes hatred or division is not of Islam. The differences that initiated were because of natural and political matters, differences over the Hadeeth and juristic methods, and linguistic causes.

The Fifth stage was the Era of the Four Madhahib. Madhab Rivalry (339H-656/960CE-1258CE). This was the time of the invasion of the Crusaders, the decline of the ‘Abbasids Khilafah, and the Mongols taking over Baghdad and was overtly a time of preoccupation with external evasions of land and a time in which a great reduction of the Madhahib came about and the final form of systemization and organization of the Madhahib. Factors that affected Fiqh were in promoting the individual schools of thought and invented scenarios based on principles, to sharpen knowledge, as a form of test, all while Fiqh was organized and scholars advocating and studying their own school of thought. As Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Do not speak of a matter if the matter isn’t yours, until you find therein a place of your words.” Because the schools were of diverging thoughts, backgrounds, this was principal time in which the golden rules, ethics, and tips of disagreement came about. 

Stage Six, the Era of Taqleed (blind following), Stagnation and Decline (339H-656H/960CE-1258CE) was divided into three periods. The first period was from the dismissal of Baghdad until the fall of Muslim Spain (656-897H/1258CE-1491CE) in which the state decentralized and any domestic wars and political disorder broke out. The second period was from the conquest of Constantinople until the start of the European invasion (857H-1214H/1453CE) was the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Mamluk state of Egypt, and the beginning of European Expeditions. The third period was from the beginning of European Colonialism until the final fall of the Islamic Khalifah (1214H-1342H/1800CE-1924CE), including the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the first world. This was a stage of the emergence of Taqleed (trend) and Madhab Sectarianism, the conversion of Mongols, and the loss of Islamic territories to the Europeans as the clashes with Christendom rose. This led to the loss of great resources of knowledge, the cancellation of Ijtihad and primacy of the spirit of Taqleed and emerging attempts at reforming Fiqh. One of the early reformists of this time was Shaykh al-Islam, having great knowledge of the encyclopedia, being of great contribution to Fiqh.

The final phase is Stage Seven, The Reformation Era, Islamic Fiqh Wakefulness (1342H-Today/1924CE-Today). There are 7-9 million Muslims in the U.S, over 1.2 billion Muslims in the world’s population (subhanAllah), and 18% of all Muslims are of the Middle Eastern region. In this period, organizations of Islamic conference form, nation states rise, and Muslims can be clearly seen as clusters in parts of the world as the Sunni and the Shi’a, with an absence of a central Islamic government. It’s a time of a globalized era, technological advances and the establishment of Muslim minorities in the West, leading to military conflicts throughout the Muslim world. Fiqh is affected as Islamic Universities form, publication and literacy rise, along with the politicization of Fiqh and the Fatwa. Contemporary schools of thought were also formed, Al-Azhar (school of Fiqh) and The Hijazi (school of Hadeeth) and tolerance among the Madhabs also improved within society. 

“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge.” [35:28]

(The context behind this article is wholly based on the seminar the Code Evolved: Evolution of Fiqh taught by Shaykh Yaser Birjas, and any fault may be present on a misunderstanding on my behalf. May Allah protect us from all forms of Al-asabiyyah, forgive us for our mistakes, and guide us towards Sirat-Al-Mustaqim [Ameen]