The Four Fiqh Schools
The regularity with which questions concerning the legality of four Islamic School of Law are asked, by all classes of people, the humble, the sophomore and the elite, sends us wondering whether it is possible that we Muslims, especially in the non-Arab world, are behind the rest of the world in the exercise of simple logic and disciplined reasoning, when it comes to Islam?
We can grant some people’s simplicity as the reason. Yet, we have no words to express our disappointment. For, simplicity does not offer full explanation. Ignorance is the word that suggests itself often. Granted. But why is ignorance dedicated to Islam? While we see people of other faiths defending every uncanny idea of their religion, we cannot help compare them with Muslim who cringe away from every rational notion, and put forth most stupid objections.
Those who seem to be constantly worried about differences in Islamic Fiqh never seem to be worried about differences that prevail among the peoples of the world. In fact, either they do not know, or ignore the lack of unity of other religious communities over everything, except, of course, that Muslims are their enemies. This is the only unity that exists among them, and that is the only unity that Muslims see and assume that it indicates complete unity among them in every affair of life.
That the leading scientific and general Encyclopedias have half a dozen theories about how life originated, does not strike the Muslim as odd. He does not raise the question: Should there be half a dozen theories about a fundamental issue in biology, after all these tremendous developments in science?
Why is it that a Muslim does not ask the scientists: “Fellows! You have 300 years of research behind you, millions of tons of dug-out earth in your account, a million laboratories, and ten million people peering into the microscopes every minute, why can’t you resolve the differences between yourselves and give us a single version of how life originated?”
Or in Cosmology: a simple question. How big is the Universe? There are several answers. The difference between one version and another is several billion light years. No Muslim raises the doubt that the Cosmological science is undependable and all schools of astronomy untrustworthy because they cannot even agree between themselves over how large the Universe is.
Or, in history, no Muslim expresses his doubts concerning the abilities of the historians who do not seem to agree upon what led Hitler’s Germany to believe that all the economic, political and social troubles of Europe were because of the Jews? (A thought most Europeans shared). Why can’t historians agree over the reasons of slaughter? If they cannot agree between themselves over such a simple issue, and a recent one, does it not mean that rest of the history as written by them is not quite trustworthy?
A Muslim asks why there are 4 schools of Law in Islam. Why not one? He never asks why there are 52 compendiums of Law in the USA, each State with its own Law? Nor does a Muslim ask the Christians why they cannot agree on a date of birth of Jesus Christ, indeed, why they cannot agree over the year of his birth? Why does it strike him as odd that Muslims have several schools of Law, but it does not strike him as odd that Christianity has NO school of Law.
Explaining why there are 4 schools of Law, why not more, or why not less, would require a historical study tracing out the developmental course of the Law. It would be a legal history, as difficult to present in this column, as the legal history of any nation’s Law. An additional challenge would be to discuss issues pertaining to Islamic Law in English, while the Law has come down to us from Arabic. The Law itself could be translated into English (e.g. the Fataawaa), but how do you discuss its principles, methodology, derivations, developmental history etc.?
(It is much easier to explain the issue to an Arab, by simply leading him to one of the books on the topic, such as, e.g., Muhammad Abu Zahra’s Ta’rikh al-Madhahib or others. Sadly, life-long confusion seems to remain the share of the non-Arabic knowing Muslim, eager to embrace anything that will free him of the Law, but, perforce, accepting some and rejecting some, both without scholarly reasons. But this is an issue we shall discuss some other time).
Since asking the above question (viz., why only 4?) betrays a plebian mind (no intellectual person will ever raise such a question), we do not address this class when the question is raised, but rather the class which is honest in religion, is simply curious, has confidence in the learned men, knows who they are, and is satisfied with information based on common sense. The answer saves him from falling into the trap laid by those groups (a) who would like to free him from the Mujtahids, to increase their own numbers, and (b) free him from the influences of the plebeians (in religion) who go about planting seeds of doubts that their own minds cannot handle.
It is amazing how some Muslims can ask why there is not a single version of Law, without realizing that there is in fact a single version of Law in Islam. It is in minor details alone, in by-laws, in which the 4 schools differ. Going by the fundamentals, and even some less so, they are a single school of Law.
Consider the following few: every school is united in that there is a God; that He is not the God of Muslims but the God of all; that He is One, that He is indivisible, that he has no consort, no child, no partner, that the Qur’an is the Book of His Revelation, that it has 114 chapters, that the chapters contain 6,616 verses, that the Qur’an is inimitable, that it is now, as it was at any time, that Muhammad was Allah’s Messenger, that he was a human being, that none of his Companions were liars, that their consensus is a rule of Law, that there have been Prophets throughout human history such as `Isa, Musa, Ibrahim, Nuh, and others, that there will be no more Messengers after Muhammad, that there are angels in existence who are invisible to human eye and bring messages to humans chosen by Allah, and perform various other tasks assigned to them, that there will be a second coming of Jesus, that he will destroy Dajjal, that the world will end, that there is going to be Resurrection and Reckoning, that the good will enter Paradise and evil the Fire; that Heaven and Hell are real things; that there are several canonical works of Hadith; that there are four approved schools of Fiqh; that following any one of them is enough for a non-specialist; that Salah offered behind any of the four Madh-habs is valid; that Muslims should face Makkah as Qiblah during Prayers; that Iman (belief) has six branches, that Islam is based on five pillars, that five daily Prayers are prescribed by Islam, that the time for them is fixed, that the prayers are 2+4+4+3+4 = 17 cycles (raka`ah) a day, that congregational prayers are obligatory on the males, that women need not pray when in their cycle, that mosques should not have pictures or statues, or scenic photographs, the congregational prayers in mosques are to be led by an Imam, that the Imam has to be a male, that during morning, evening and night prayers recitation of the Qur’an should be aloud, that Friday prayer should be preceded be a sermon, that it is a two-rak`ah prayer, that ablution is a condition for Salah, that any passage from the two orifices annuls the ablution, that bath is necessary after ejection due to sexual congress, that the whole body has to be washed, that the clothes and place of Prayer have to be clean, that the worshipper must cover himself from the naval to the knee, that Zakah is 2.5% beyond a certain range of savings once a year, that Zakah on land-produce is either one-fifth or one-tenth, that the Zakah on animals is one goat over every forty, that Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, that every adult is required to fast a month; that women need not fast if in their cycle but must repeat after Ramadan, that Hajj is performed in Makkah; that `Umrah can be performed at Makkah anytime during the year, that there are only two `Eids in Islam, that each `Eid prayer is 2 rak`ah, that they should be followed by a sermon, that women should inherit in the ratio of 1:2 against males, that usury, wine, pork, gambling are prohibited, that women have the right of mahr, food, clothing, medicine, housing; that a woman is not required to work for herself or others, that divorce by the male means he loses everything he gave to the woman since marriage, that the children are the complete responsibility of the father; that a man can have four wives, that a woman can seek separation from her husband through khul`, that both male and female children have right of inheritance, that a man cannot bequeath through will more than one-third of what he leaves behind him, that he cannot leave a will in favor of an inheritor, that the punishment for adultery is death, that the punishment for intoxication is flogging, that the punishment for theft is severing of the hand, that in case of violence the punishment is life for life, tooth for tooth; that nakedness is prohibited; that anything sacrificed in the name of other than Allah is prohibited, that women should observe the rules of Hijab when stepping out of their homes, that the dead must be buried, that funeral prayers must be arranged before burial, that the said Prayer has no ruku` or sujud, that the Prayers must be shortened during journey, that punishment for apostasy is death .. on and on … one can go on listing the issues over which the 4 schools of Law are united.
Thus far we have mentioned only some of those obligations (fara’id wa wajibat) over which there is no difference in opinion between the 4 schools of Law. We have not mentioned all of them. If we attempt it, adding the Sunan over which they agree, we will need a voluminous book to list.
A little exercise at this point, on the part of those who bemoan differences between the 4 schools of Law, will go some way in opening their minds – and may be even hearts (where lies the problem – truly). The few agreements above occupy a page. Let them write down agreements between the Christians, starting with, of course God. (E.g., is He one or three? Does He have children, or does He not? and so on). Is Bible the word of God? How many books are there in the Bible? Are there two Gospels that agree with each other? Etc.
But there is nothing specific or special about Christian differences. Any other religion will do for comparison. And if the inquirer can list issues of consensus that need half a page to list, he should consider himself rewarded for the exercise.
The talk of differences between the 4 schools of Fiqh is a myth. It is a trick to hook the common Muslims off the straight path. Consider the obligations, and you find that they agree more on issues than they disagree. Yes, they do disagree; but it is on minor points; the reasons for which will be discussed in this column, some time in future, Allah willing.