What are the differences between Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali and Maliki in Islam; Should we care?

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Of course, the differences come from the founders of these Madhabs.

The differences between them lie not in the fundamentals of faith, but in finer judgments and jurisprudence, which are a result of the independent reasoning of these imams and the scholars who followed them. Because their individual methodologies of interpretation and extraction from the primary sources (usul) were different, they came to different judgments on particular matters. For example, there are subtle differences in the methods of prayer among the four schools, yet the differences are not so great as to require separate prayers by the followers of each school. In fact, a follower of any school can usually pray behind an imam of another school without any confusion.

If any one starts writing the differences between four madh’hab then it will become a very heavy book. In that there is no doubt. But, you can surely read on these schools of thought and their many differences on this website: The Five Schools of Islamic Thought


The Hanafi school of thought – was the earliest of the 4 mentioned, attributed to a student of a sahabah/companion of the Prophet s.a.a.s. However, it was founded in Iraq (intellectual capital of Islamic world) which was criticised by those living in Madinah (city of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.a.s) as having slightly different practises than the more learned ones in Madinah (those in Madinah claimed to follow traditions of the prophet s.a.a.s practised by thousands narrating from thousands (mutawattir) – rather than following a single/aHad hadith narrated from one person attributed to the prophet.

The Maliki school of thought – is the second earliest of the 4. this was the formalised the practises and interpretations of the learned ones living in Madinah (city of prophet Muhammad s.a.a.s). It draws it sources from widely accepted and practised sunnah of Madinah as a whole, which were shaped by the Prophet s.a.a.s and the sahabah whom lived amongst him (including the first caliphs like Omar r.a. and Ali r.a, etc).

The Shafi school of thought – this school comes next, and attempts to resolve issues regarding small differences in Islamic practises. So the imam collected all the hadith and attempted to categorise them into authentic, strong, weak, etc. Discarding all the weak hadith and keeping the rest: this made up the foundations of this school. (however it was criticised by the other 2 since discarding weak hadith and ignoring sayings of the sahabah – loses valuable information about the details of certain practises).

Non-the-less, this school prompted later scholars, like Bukhari, and some of his students – to do the same thing. Collect as many hadith as possible. then categorise them as authentic, strong, weak, fabricated. However, Bukhari was renowned for his insight and memory and succeeded in collecting a far wider collection of hadith. Some even say that his saheeh collection was taken as his own school of thought.

Hanbali school of thought – this school was by a contemporary of Bukhari, imam Ahmad. He was well renowned for his knowledge of hadith. his school of thought was founded on both authentic, strong and weak hadith (in contrast to some others, which did not accept weak hadith).

However, he was criticised by other well known scholars, like imam al-Tabari (renowned for works like Tabari’s history and Tabari’s Tafsir – more renowned than the infamous tafsir ibn kathir). Tabari stated that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was excellent in his field as a traditionalist (collector of hadith) -yet not very good at being a judge (fiqh) since many held the view that the religion was not as simple as following the Quran and Hadith, but required intricate knowledge and wisdom to know how to apply the two and deal with contradictory hadith, etc. He went on to found his own Jariri school of thought that, like so many others, eventually became extinct (one can assume though – based on his works mentioned above – that it drew upon a more wide range of sources being less concerned about authenticity – hence drawing criticism from Hanbali school – apparently labelling him as an innovator! Tabari’s approach was conciliatory and moderate, seeking harmonious agreement between conflicting opinions).

Salafi – this is the most modern movement (they dont call it a school of thought however) and it is said to be based upon the authentic hadith collected by Bukhari and a few of his students as well as others – which together make up the 6 authentic books of Sunnah (bukhari, ibn majah, etc). The majority of their scholars also do not follow weak hadith (only authentic and strong) – thus holding the same criticisms as other schools who sought to do the same

In terms of the foundational differences of the schools of thought – i.e. what sources and evidence they use to derive Islamic rulings – here is a hierarchical list of sources. Note, not all sources are used by each school – so I have provided brackets to indicate where a school of thought stops taking evidence):

1 – PRIMARY SOURCES = Qur’an (Quranists stop here)

2 – SECONDARY SOURCES = Prophetic opinions+practises/Sunnah (Authentic, Strong, Weak)

3 – TERTIARY SOURCES = Consensus/Ijmaa of the opinions+practises of the 4 Caliphs(Abu Bakr ra, Omar ra, Uthman ra, Ali ra), Companions/Sahabah, People of Madinah, (Hanbalis stop here)

4 – LOGICAL REASONING = Analogy/Qiyas (Shafiis stop here),

Abstraction-Deduction-Induction/Ijtihad (Malikis and Hanafis stop here)

5 – OTHER = Wisdom/Hikmah (Sufiis stop here)

In terms of differences of practise – they are largely on small details. For example:

In prayer, when sitting and reciting duaa:

Hanafi – only stick out the forefinger when saying the shahadah (la ilaha illallah…)

Maliki – make a fist and stick out the forefinger and wave it back and forth

Shafii – stick out the forefinger only when saying the name of God (ill..allah)

Hanbali – stick out the forefinger throughout the sitting – but do not move it back and forth

(Salafi – stick out forefinger and move it back and forth – similar to maliki)


Dr. Zia H Shah, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

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20 replies

  1. Dear Rafīq. I find your article intriguing and informative however I myself being upon the salafist methodology, have had to make some clear corrections.

    The salafi methodology is not a school of jurisprudence like how the 4 known madhāhib are. It is a school of creed and methodology. One can be a salafi and a shafi’i like Ibn Kathīr [رحمه اللّٰه] or a salafi and a māliki like Muhammad Al-Māliki. One could be an ash’ari and a hanbali like Ibnul-Jawzī. And how many athari (salafi) hanbalis and mālikis do we have in the Hijāz. One cannot be a salafi and an ash’ari at the same time nor a hanbali and a hanafi. When talking about salafīyah, it is clearly a school of creed and methodology dating back to Ibn Taymīyah, Ibn Khuzaymah and The Prophet [صلى اللّٰه عليه و سلم]. Just like how Shiism, Ash’ariyah, Maturidiyah, Ikhwānīyah (better known as ikhwān al-muslimīn) and aspects of Sufiya are schools of creed and methodology, so is salafīyah.

    • Thanks for your explanation. I think from my experience now-a-days I think many Muslims are not really aware exactly which school of jurisprudence they are following. They seem to take something from here and something from there (especially those living in Western countries). Any one can contribute to this thought?

    • Imam Ibn Al Jawzi was Hanbali in fiqh but he was not an ashari as he opposed their beliefs in some aspects of theology.

      Yes Ibn Al Jawzi differed in some aspects with the Athari ulama, however his beliefs were closer to athari creed and he rebuked the ashari creed in some aspects, such as their belief that there is none above the Throne, kalam nafsi and the use of ilm ul kalam.

    Yes we appreciate all Imam teaching, but do not follow them blindly Each imam has his own interpretation and he cound mislead you!!

    Allah’s warning; do not put your trust on a man or Imam BLINDLY you will be deceived, and fall into Syrick, then bring disaster ON you.

    Do not trust in human leaders; no human being can save you. When they die,they return to the dust; on that day all their plans come to the end.Psalm 146:3

    There is no one in this earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake.Ecc.7:20

    t is better to trust in God,than depend on man.
    It is better to trust in God,than depend on human leaders.Psalm 118:8

    They have taken their priests and their scholars for their Lords besides God . Q. 9:31

    You shall not set up idols besides Him 6;115

    This is some of the wisdom inspired to you by your Lord. You shall not set up another god beside GOD, lest you end up in Gehenna, blamed and defeated. [Q.17:39].

    O humankind, follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord, and do not follow any masters ( i.e; the ancient scholars such as (Imam Muslim, Imam Bukhari, Hurrairah, other narrators), Osma bin Laden, ISIS’s leader blindly etc.) other than Him.( al Quran ) . Little you heed to advice! (How many a town We have destroyed! Our punishment came upon them at night or when they were having a nap at midday.Q. 7;3-4.

    Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.Q. 4:36

    If you believe in human, scholars, or imam you will be deceived and you will fall into sinful Syrik.
    I watch many his video, Youtube, I found that Dr Zakir Naik has made many mistakes and mislead people. He is the extremist ideology like ISIS and Taliban etc
    Surely, Allah loves those who place their trust in Him. (Q. 3;159). If you really love Allah, folow Me! Allah will forgive your sin.Q. 3:31.
    What do you think about God’s warning above?
    My conclusion,
    Do not trust on Imams Maliki, Hambali, Safie, Hanafi and Jafari etc BLINDLY. Every one has to seek the truth by our self. If we make a mistake, we have tried, Allah will forgive us. Therefore I urge young Muslim to seek the truth and investigate all Imam’s teaching and Bible teaching too and then you will decide it what is right INTERPRETATION for you.
    Was Salam With ❤️

    • Every one contributes to knowledge, but yes, we do not need to follow blindly. Ahmadi-Muslims belief that our Khalifa is guided by Allah. Even then during Baiat we promise to follow him and obey him ‘in everything good’, that is to say not ‘blindly’. But, yes, we trust him more than Somi it seems.

  3. Dear Somi. Knowledge is POWER. We have to study and understand Imams with reference to Quran. Every one will agree that ” Do not follow and believe blindly” means without learning. Now learning needs A TEACHER—which teacher? One has to select. What do you advise on selection of a teacher?

    • Sami—It is an excellent question must came from a intelligent person. Thank you.
      Wisdom of God.
      A intelligent person want to learn more- but a fool feel a smart ( stop to learn). A wise person is grateful to remind him, but a fool is angry.

      I am here to remind others with God’s word.
      And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers. Q.51:55.

      As we know that there are thousand teachers or clerics or syiekh, each cleric / Imam has his own interpretation of God’ s verse. Why? Because a verse has more that ONE interpretation. The law must be one meaning. If more than one— the law should be changed or corrected. Right?

      I urge young Muslim to learn Islam from many teachers or clerics,— do not learn Islam from One or two clerics but learn as many as possible with different sects —and then you take Al Quran and Hadith learn it in depth. ( the way I did).
      After that you find some different interpretation from different clerics— you decide it which one you feel true.

      Your question : What do you advice on selection a teacher or cleric?

      God has given a guidance how to select a true cleric or teacher.
      How do we know the right/ true Ulama’, Clerics or Priest?

      To have a good fruit you must have a healthy tree.
      If you have a bad tree, you will have a bad fruit.
      A tree has known by the kind of fruit it bears.
      Matthew, 12: 33.

      A good person brings good things, out of his treasure of good things.
      A bad person brings bad things out of his treasure of bad things.Matthew 12;35

      It means that do not look at person from outside but look at what he has done to communities. On other word, do not look at what he says but look at what his deeds or works for community. Many clerics know how to preach, but they cannot carry out God’s laws completely.

      Prophet Muhammad pbuh was a good example as role model—he was a rich prophet and excellent heart. Most clerics do not follow the sunnah how to earn money for living. Right?
      He must live in Heaven on earth and then The Next Heaven.

      Be careful with false Clerics: teacher!
      Be on your guard against false Scholars, cleric, Syeikh, they come to you looking like sheep on the out side, but on the inside they are like wild wolves.You know them by they do.Proverb. ( Look at the extremist clerics, lesders, they kill innocent people in the name of God or Islam)

      Do not trust a cleric or preacher who receive money from Goverment, TV,’s sponsor, political leader, etc
      He cannot tell the truth because of money.

      Why does Allah forbid a Cleric / preacher to receive money from sponsor?
      Because if he receive some money from a sponsor, he can not tell the truth of Islam, he will be influenced by his sponsor who give money for him.

      If a cleric receive some money from a sponsor he sell Allah’s word with cheap price, Allah will condemn and curse this cleric severely. This Clerics are very dangerous and deceive people from the right path of Islam. He destroy Islam from inside he sell Islam with cheap price Q.2 ;41.

      Many leaders, Clerics or Imam preach Islamic teaching but he mixes with evil-teaching that come from his mind and then create violence and conflict as we see in Middle East. Millions innocent people have been suffering, displacing and killed because of his leaders or clerics.

      These are messages that we must give the children and the next generation.
      May Allah guide all my brothers & Sisters to the right path.Amen

      Yaa Allah, guide all Muslim around the world to the true Islam and protect them from sinful Syrick. Please forgive us from our mistakes that we have done. Amen.

      If you are still unsatisfied my respond, don’t feel hesitate to ask me again.Thank you for a nice question.


  4. Quote —eptember 26, 2018 at 11:06 am
    right, the ‘differences’ are so small that they do not really count …“

    Rafiq— Even one false fatwa or advise will mislead million Muslim go astray—

    That is what we see to day in Islamic countries—extremist Muslim still persecute Ahmadiyyah, Syate and Christian vase on a false fatwa or Hadith or wrong interpretation of a Verse.

    Do not see a Imam from his a huge followers , from his speech — but a Imam from what he has done to make people life better. Better of spirituality and prosperity.

    Check out the ISMAILI ISLAM.

    All love ❤️

  5. Hello

    I have written a couple of articles on CBD from multiple angles and would love to contribute these articles to your blog.

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