What Are The Main Sources And Schools of Muslim Law?


Muslim law or shariah was one of the main important legal systems of the medieval world. However, it’s necessary to have a glance at the sources on which Muslim schools find their bedrock on and place their utmost faith and allegiance.


There are four sources of Muslim law:

1. The Quran:

The Quran- the word of God- Purports to manage the whole of a man’s life; it is considered to be the one true word of God revealed to the Prophet through the Angel Gabriel. It’s clear that in the course of Muhammad’s lifetime, it had been employed by him as the basis of a legal settlement. There are 114 chapters or Suras within the Quran and every Sura is split into a varying number of verses or ayat. Out of those, there are about 100 suras which may function as a kind of preamble to a code of conduct and which simply seek to reform the prevailing customary law.

Some scholars acknowledged out about the Quran that the Quran is more a theological and historical text than a legal text. They assert that legal material is little and even that it has by no means been comprehensively or consistently addressed.[1] Joseph Schact has a similar view that the Quran teaching isn’t a teaching of law but it’s more ethical than legal. Mohammad doesn’t lay down legal formula but indicates what is right conduct and what wrong.[2]

2. The Sunna:

The second major formal source of shariah is the Sunna. This word means ‘Practise’, ‘Tradition’ or ‘Precedent’ and derives from stories that relate to the behavior of the Prophet Muhammad and of his companions. It had been accepted that an avant-garde system of law required new standards of behavior. The lives of Muhammad and his Compatriots were seen by later generations as ideal, shaped by Muhammad’s closeness to God. Their behaviour, therefore, served as a guide for that of all Muslims. Within the Quran, the Sunna generally materializes in two connections. Sunnatawwalin and Sunnat Allah. “Muhammad’s sunna in the sense of his words, actions and silent approval are fixed orally and in writing in the Hadis. In theory, the formulation of Sunna and Hadis is disparate but in the application, they frequently overlap.[3]

3. IJMA:

The third source of Islamic law is ‘ijma’ which suggests ‘consensus’. The technical term ‘ijma’ comes from a root jama’a, signifying “the totality”, “everybody”. The verb jama’a means “to bring together” and in the fourth conjugation, jama’a “to agree together”. Thus, ijma means literally ‘unanimous agreement” or “total consensus”. ljma also means concurrence on rules of the law contended to be attained from either the Quran or the Sunna. ljma may manifest into one or two forms which are analytically definite.[4]

 4. QIYAS:

The fourth root of Islamic law is a system of logical reasoning called Qiyas. Although Qiyas came to be called the fourth root only in the classical, post-Shafian period, the term itself is pre-shafian. Qiyas, “deduction by analogy” originally signified the derivation of rules of law by analogy with earlier rulings found in either Quran or the Sunna. The oldest juristic analogies were rather crude. But, later on, analogies became more sophisticated, ergo, the art of Qiyas developed into an intricate system including many other kinds of rhetorical argument besides analogy.


Each school comprised of the conception of a group of disciples who followed their master in giving certain answers to specific questions, practical or speculative.

1. The Hanafi School

The Hanafi school has been named after Imam Abu Hanifa, the patriarch of the ‘Iraqi School. Abu Hanifa has given his own logic regarding wadu (ablution), prayers, reciting Quran, divorce and marriage, social economy and so on. The hanafi school played a very cardinal role in Islamic law and evolved many legal Hanafi texts. Thus, Hanafi school is acclaimed of being the first to bring up questions of fiqh for discussion and solution, and that the school also was the first to record, categorize, and organize cases. According to many people, “Abu Haifa worked on quite new principles and erected a very tolerant system in which he made the greatest concessions to the speculative method of deduction (Qiyas) is quite unfounded… In any case, there is in general no real difference of principle among the different fiqh schools in Islam.”

2. The Shaffi School

The founder of this school or Mazhab was Mohammad bin al-shafii. He was a Hashimite and belonged to the tribe of the Quraish and was thus remotely connected with the prophet. It was normally believed that al-shafii laid down for the first time the theory of law in a systematic form. Al-shafii, who studied the Quran deeply, says that it was the foundation of all legal knowledge. Al-Shafii codified the Quranic statements into two: general (amm)and particular (khass). He said that there were particular statements which were thoroughly general, and intended to be general; there were others which were general and were intended to be so’ yet refer to certain particulars as well. There were three salient features in Shafii’s treatment of Qiyas. These were his rankings of Qiyas below the other three sources of law; his promotion of qiyas overruled as the better form of legal reasoning; and his introduction of several ‘novel’ types of argument under the dictate of Qiyas.

3. The Maliki School

Maliki school was named after Malik bin Anas. His fame rested chiefly on his Muwatta, which experienced an astounding success. One of the principal aims in his juristic thought that comes across in ‘Muwatta’ is the suffusion of the whole legal life by godly and righteous intention. This work documented the established concord of opinion in Medina and became commanding as the expression of making concessions and coming to an understanding. ‘Muwatta’ was his key accomplishment. It can be considered as confirmation of the stage arrived in, in the general development of Muslim law of the said time.

4. The Hanabali School

The Hanbali school was named after Ahmad bin Mohammad bin Hanbal, the recognized Islamic theologian. Majid khadduni says that Hanbalites opposed not the only ijtihad, but also dismissed all forms of Qiyas and sought to find all the solutions to their difficulties in the Hadith. Even the ijma, which had been accepted as an unerring proposition, ranked in their eyes inferior to weak Hadith. The Hanbalites observed the severity and strict life which was inconsistent with the Hanafi and Shafii. The Hanbalitis were at odds with state gift or any post.

The Shia discard not only the jurists but also all the heritage not handed down by Ali or his very next successors. The dominant schools of law among Shia are:

1. The Ithna-Asharis School

This school is also known as Imamia School Majority of Shias are Ithna Asharia. The supporters of this school believe that starting from Ali there were twelve Imams who held transcendental powers. Everything that flows from the Imam is taken to be a law. It is maintained that the twelfth Imam, who vanished when he was still a child, would reappear in the future. A characteristic aspect of Ithna Asharia School is that this is the only school in the Muslim world that recognizes “Muta” or temporary marriage. This school is further divided into two sub-sects, (1) Akhbari and the (2) Usuli. Akhbaris are very conservative because they follow rigidly the customs of Imams. Usulis, to the contrary, interpret and expound the texts of the Quran in relation to the real problems of day to day life. Shari-ul- Islam is a well-founded book of this school.

2. The Zyadis School

The founder of this school was Zyad, one of the sons of the fourth Imam. The Zyadis were the first to defect from the general body of Shia Muslims. One of the unique facets of this school is that its tenets integrate some of the Sunni philosophies as well. The followers of this school are mostly in Yemen.

3. The Motazila School

This school was started by Ata-al-Ghazzal during the reign of Mamun. Even though they don’t associate themselves with any of the two prevalent sects yet, it is said that they were renegades from the Shia community. The worshippers of this school believe that Quran is the only backbone for their doctrines. Most of the customary principles have been rejected by the Motazilas. One of the marked traits of the Motazilas is that this is the only school in Islam that practices strict monogamy.

These were the Muslim Schools of law and their sources to which they place their faith and utmost allegiance to. The practices might vary a bit among them, but the intent behind remains the same: Belief in one true God and his teachings.

[1] Edge, Ian, Islamic law and legal History, op.cit, p.xvii.

[2] Schacht, Joseph, Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence, p,384.

[3] Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, pp.273-75.

[4] Wegner, Judith Romney, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The four Roots of Islamic law and Their Talmudic Counterparts”, The American Journal of Legal History, Vol.xxvi, 1982, pp.39-40.

This Article is Authored by Siddhi P. Nagwekar, First Year, B.A. LL.B., (Hon’s) Student at Karnataka State Law University’s Law School.

Also Read – Define Marriage And Muta Marriage And Its Essentials Under Muslim Law

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