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The Schools of

thought in
Sunni Islam

By Wakas Mir
Asalam u alaikum, dear brothers and sisters.

It's a common thing between us Muslims that we follow whatever

our parents follow when it comes to the various schools of
thought, majority of our Muslims friends don't go out and research
and find out what lies out there. The purpose of this information is
to give you a small insight over the various schools of thoughts in
Sunni Islam and what they practice. More information can
obviously be absorbed by your own scholars.

The information is compiled from books, and the internet. Care

has been put in that most information comes from the school of
thought's own books or websites. If any error is found, please
remember, I am only a human being.


Wakas Mir
Table of contents
1. Hanafi (fiqh)
- Barelvi
- Deobandi
2. Maliki (fiqh)
3. Shafi'i (fiqh)
4. Hanbali (fiqh)
5. Famous scholars
6. Last words

1- Hanafi
Named after the Iraqi scholar Abu Hanifa an-Nau'man (699-767 CE). Hanafi school is the eldest legal thought in Islam.
It puts great emphasis on the role of reason and being slightly more liberal than the other three schools.

Sources it derives from are, the Qur'an, authentic narrations of the Prophet, Consensus (ijma) and qiyas which means
analogical reasoning.

Some opinions of Hanafi school

• Beginning of time for asr is later than in the other schools, generally when shadows are twice the length of the
• Bleeding can break one's wudu
• Touching the opposite gender does not break one's wudu
• Hanafi school is flexible on the question if certain elements of a prayer can be recited in other languages than

a – Barelvi
Movement of Sunni Islam orginating from Indian subcontinent. Started in 1880 to defend contemporary
traditionalist Islamic beliefs. Shaped by the writings of Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi (1856-1921)

Known in other words as Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat and claim to be the legitimate form of Sunni Islam.

Regarding Prophet Muhammed PBUH Barelvi school of thought says:-

• He is noor (light) not a human.
• He is present all the time
• He is always nazir and witnesses all that goes around in the world
• He has ilm-e-ghaib meaning he has knowledge of the unknown and unseen
• He is mukhtaar-kul meaning he has authority to do whatever he desires

• Celebration of birthday of Muhammed PBUH
• Asking Muslim saints or Aulia for intercession to God on behalf of the living
• Reciting durood / naat after fajr and jummah (Friday) prayers
• Visiting mazar (tombs) of notable Muslims.

B – Deobandi
This movement was laid on 30 May 1866 in Darul uloom deoband in Deoband, India. Its six notable founders
were Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi, Muhammad Yaqub Nanautawi, Shah Rafi al-Din, Sayyid Muhammad Abid,
Zulfiqar Ali, Fadhl al-Rahman 'Usmani and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi.

At the time of writing this article in 2010, around 600 of 1400 mosques in UK are run by Deobandi scholars.
It's important to mention that Deobandi school of thought see Muhammed PBUH as a bashar (human) not as
noor (light)

Prominent scholars of Deobandi school of thought are : Muhammad Zar Wali Khan, Muhammad Taqi Usmani,
Muhammad Rafi Usmani, Mufti Mahmud, Tariq Jamil, Haji Abdul Wahab.
2- Maliki
The third largest school of fiqh followed by approximately 15% Muslims mainly practiced in North Africa, West Africa,
UAE, Kuwait and some parts of Saudi Arabia. In Maliki fiqh is different due to the sources it derives rulings from. All
four schools use the Qur'an as primary source followed by Sunnah of Muhammed PBUH. In Maliki fiqh the sunnah
includes not only what was recorded in hadiths but also the legal rulings of the four rightly guided caliphs.

In the Maliki madhhab the "living sunnah" of the salaf of Medina substantiates the single reported hadith, not the other
way around. This is probably what distinguishes the Maliki madhab the most from the Shāfi‘ī, Ḥanbalī, and Ḥanafī
madhāhib respectively.

Some opinions of Maliki school

• In Qiyam (The standing position in prayer), the dominant position is to leave the hands to dangle at one's side
during prayer.
• Looking straight ahead at eye-level, literally facing the Kabah
• Not reciting any supplications before the Fatiha, meaning no Bismillah
• Tashahhud - Turning the right-handed fist onto its side so that the smallest finger is touching the thigh, while
right index finger is moved from side to side.
• Taslim – When one ends the salah, only say «al-salamu alaikum warehmat-ullah» once when turning head to
the right, not twice like other fiqhs do.
• Dua Qunut is to be recited only in the morning prayer.

3- Shafi'i
The school of fiqh is named after Imam ash-Shafi'i. Their thought stipulates authority to four sources of jurisprudence
also known as Usul al-fiqh. The Quran, The Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed PBUH, Ijma (consensus) and Qiyas

The Shāfi‘ī school also refers to the opinions of Muhammad's companions (primarily Al-Khulafa ar-Rashidun). The
school, based on Shāfi‘ī's books ar-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh and Kitāb al-Umm, which emphasizes proper istinbaat
(derivation of laws) through the rigorous application of legal principles as opposed to speculation or conjecture.

Imam Shāfi‘ī approached the imperatives of the Islamic Shariah (Canon Law) distinctly in his own systematic
methodology. Imam Shāfi‘ī, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal almost entirely exclude the exercise of private
judgment in the exposition of legal principles. They are wholly governed by the force of precedents, adhering to the
Scripture and Traditions; they also do not admit the validity of a recourse to analogical deduction of such an
interpretation of the Law whereby its spirit is adopted to the circumstances of any special case.

Shāfi‘ī is also known as the "First Among Equals" for his exhaustive knowledge and systematic methodology to
religious science.

Some opinions of Shafi'i school

• Al-Qayyam - The folding of the arms are above the naval, whereas Hanafi's for example put it below the naval
• Amin - Shafi`i's say Amin loudly after the imam finishes reciting Surah Al-Fatihah, whereas Hanafi's say it
• Ruku - The hands are raised to the shoulder level before going to Ruku, and this action is repeated when rising
up from Ruku (known as Rafa al-Yadayn)
• Tashahhud - Shafi`i's raise the index finger at the point when the shahadah is read and is kept pointed until the

The Shāfi‘ī school is followed throughout the Ummah and is the official madhab of most traditional scholars and
leading Sunni authorities. It is also recognized as the official madhab by the governments of Brunei Darussalam and
Malaysia. In addition, the government of Indonesia uses this madhab for the Indonesian compilation of sharia law.

It is the dominant madhab of Syria, Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Chechnya, Kurdistan,
Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia.
It is also practised by large communities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (in the Hejaz and Asir), Israel, the Swahili Coast,
Mauritius, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan (by
Chechens), and in the Indian States of Kerala, Karnataka (Bhatkal, Mangalore and Coorg districts) , Maharashtra (by
Konkani Muslims) and Tamil Nadu.
4- Hanbali
The school of fiqh is the smallest of the four schools within Sunni Islam. It traces back to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal
d.855. Besides the Quran and Sunnah the Ibn Hanbal also granted an important status to the consent of the Muslim
community, the Umma as they call it.It is prevalent in Saudia Arabia although students of Islam throughout the world
study and may choose to observe its conclusions about Islamic pratice. Even though its followed by only five percent of
Sunni Muslims it still has great influence on Muslims all over the world as the official fiqh of Saudi Arabia.

5- Famous scholars
Famous Hanafi scholars
Imam Ibn Abidin (d. 1252/1836; al-A'lam, 6.42 [viii,15,22]), Hafiz Ibn al-Humam (d. 861/1457; al-A'lam, 6.255
[viii,22,32]), Imam Ibn al-Shahnah al-Kabeer [viii], Imam Zufar (d. 158 AH [viii]), Imam AbuYusoof (d. 182/798; al-
A'lam, 8.193 [viii,14]), Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 189/804; al-A'lam, 6.80 [ix,14]), Imam al-Tahawi (d. 321AH,
[5]), Imam ibn Abi al-Izz al-Hanafi [17], Imam ibn Nujaim al-Misri (d. 970 AH [34]), Shaykh Ali al-Qari (d.
1014/1606; al-A'lam,5.12 [35]), Shaykh Abd al-Haqq Dehlawi (d. 1052 AH [36]), AllamahAbdal Hayy al-Lucknawi (d.
1304 AH; also known as Abul Hasanat[ix]), Shaykh Abul Hasan as-Sindee al-Hanafi [5], Shaykh Aafiyyahibn Yazeed

Famous Maliki scholars

Hafiz Ibn Abd al-Barr (d. 463/1071; al-A'lam, 8.240 [x,5]), Imam Ibn Wahb (d. 197/812 [x]), Imam Abdullah ibn Abee
Zaid al-Qairwanee al-Maliki (d. 389 AH [16]).

Famous Shafi'i scholars

Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458/1066; al-A'lam, 1.116 [xi,6]), Shaykh Abu Yusoof al-Buweeti [xii], Shaykh Abul Qasim ad-
Daariki [xii], Hafiz Ibnas-Salah (d. 643/1245; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 8.326 [xii]), Imam Taqi ad-Deen al-Subki (d.
756/1355; al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya, 114 [xii,14]),Imam Abu Nu'aym (d. 430/1038; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 4.18 [xii,52]),
Imam al-Bukhari (d. 256/870; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 2.212-14 [6]), ImamMuslim (d. 261/875; Siyar a'lam al-nubala,
12.557-61 [6]), Imam Abu Dawood (d. 275/889; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 2.293 [xiii,14]), Imam Nisai(d. 309/915; Tabaqat
al-Shafi'iya, 3.14-16 [6]), Imam Tirmidhi (d. 279/892; Siyar a'lam, 13.270-73 [6]), Imam ibn Majah (d. 209/824; al-
A'lam, 7.144 [6]), Imam al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505; al-A'lam, 3.301-2 [5]), Hafiz Ibn Khuzaymah (d. 311/924; Tabaqat al-
Shafi'iya, 3.109 [16]),Imam ash-Sha'rani (d. 973/1565; al-A'lam, 4.180-1 [viii,35]), Imam Hakim (d. 405/1014; Tabaqat
al-Shafi'iya, 4.155 [xi,39]), Imam ibnAsakir (d. 571 AH [xi]), Hafiz Khateeb al-Baghdadi (d. 463/1072; Tabaqat al-
Shafi'iya, 4.29 [xi,52]), Hafiz al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1348;Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 9.100 [18]), Hafiz al-Iraqi (d. 806/1404; al-
A'lam, 3.344 [18]), Imam al-Tabarani (d. 360/971; Siyar a'lam, 16.119-23 [18]),Imam al-Izz ibn Abdas Salam (d.
660/1262; al-A'lam, 4.21 [27]), Imam ibn Hibban (d. 354/965; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 3.131 [39]), Hafiz IbnHajar al-
Asqalani (d. 852/1449; al-A'lam, 1.178 [39]), Hafiz al-Haythami (d. 807/1405; al-A'lam, 4.266 [40]), Imam al-
Haramayn (d.478/1085; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 5.165 [41]), Imam Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072; Tabaqat al-
Shafi'iya, 5.153 [50]), Imam al-Razi(d. 606/1210; Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya, 8.81-89 [59]), Imam al-Baghawi (d. 510/1117;
al-A'lam, 2.259 [59]), Imam Abu Shamah (d. 665 AH [78]),Imam al-Nawawi (d. 676/1277; al-A'lam, 8.149 [xi,15]).

Famous Hanbali scholars

Hafiz ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328; al-A'lam, 1.144 [30]), Hafiz ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d. 751/1350; Siyar a'lam,
7.202 [xiii,42]), Hafiz ibn al-Jawzi (d. 508/1114; al-A'lam, 3.316 [xii,53]), Hafiz ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393,

The contents in the brackets (after the names of the above scholars), stand for the following abbreviations:-(i) 'd.'- the year of the scholars death, usually in Hijri and
Christian dates.(ii) 'al-A'lam'- This is a well known biographical dictionary by Khayr al-Deen al-Zirikly (see bibliography for full details).(iii) 'Tabaqat al-Shafi'iya'- This is
a very well known dictionary listing all the famous Shafi'i scholars uptill the death of its author-Imam Taj al-Deen al-Subki (rahimahullah).(iv) 'Siyar a'lam al-nubala'- This
is a biographical dictionary by the famous scholar of Hadith-al-Hafiz Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Dhahabi (rahimahullah).(v) 'al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya'- This is a well
known collection by the great scholar of Islam-Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (rahimahullah).

6- Last words
The journey to learn more and more about the beauty of Islam has made it quite obvious that we are not in this world to
stay. When we are to fly abroad to a new place we make sure that we have everything where it should be, that the
journey abroad is peaceful and we don't go through any painful experience. But my brothers and sisters, how many of
us really are equipped with the luggage that will be helping us in the hereafter? Do research and may Allah show you
the right path, Ameen.

Yours truly,
Wakas Mir