The Legality of the Four Schools of Fiqh

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from “The Legality of the Four Schools of Fiqh” by Shaykh ‘Ali Juma’ah.

If following a certain legal school of jurisprudence is not mandatory then what is the Divine Wisdom behind having four different legal schools of jurisprudence with so many various juristic opinions?  Why the scholars do not agree on one juristic opinion and base their opinions only on definite authentic legal evidence?

The issues of the shari’ah are divided into two categories.  The first category has to do with issues that reached the Muslims’ consensus such as the number of the obligatory prayers, specifying the month of fasting, destination of prayer, location of pilgrimage, prohibition of intoxicants, adultery and usury and other matters which formulate the Islamic identity.  These matters are not subjected to dispute as the legal evidences of these matters were definite.

The second category has to do with issues which the scholars differed about.  The reason for their different opinion is related to the fact that Allah (s.w.t.) made the supporting legal evidences for these issues speculative and not definite which means that the evidence bears the possibility of multiple ways of understanding it.  The shari’ah could have been formed of only the first category which refers to matters of consensus with no disputes among scholars.  But the fact is that Allah (s.w.t.) Decided for this religion to be the final Divine Word from heaven to earth and it is Last Testament from Allah (s.w.t.) to the whole of Creation.  Therefore, the second category was solid evidence and an eye witness to testify to the flexibility of the shari’ah and its applicability in different times, various geographical locations, all circumstances and diverse people.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) conferred the validity of differences in understanding the possible legal evidence when he said to his companions, “No one among you prays the afternoon prayer until you reach the tribe of Banu Qurayzah.”  Some of the Prophet’s companions abided by the literal understanding of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) words and refused to pray the afternoon prayer until they reached the tribe of Banu Qurayzah which was after the sunset prayer.  Other companions understood the embedded meanings behind the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) words which was some sort of encouragement and stimulation not to be late in arriving in Banu Qurayzah so they prayed the afternoon prayer on their way to Banu Qurayzah before the sunset prayer was due in accordance with following the spirit of the text and not it is literal meaning.  These two different opinions resemble the two different intrinsic natures of human beings; abiding by the literal meaning of the text and between embracing the spirit of the text.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) did not deny the opinion of any of the two parties which indicates the legality and permissibility of differences in understanding and opinions as this kind of differences falls under variation and not contradiction.  Therefore it was said, “Differences among my ummah is a Mercy,” and if the legal evidences on these matters were definite, there would be no room for scholarly debate.  It was according to Allah’s (s.w.t.) Divine Wisdom that the legal evidences on these matters were speculative and probable to make it easier on people so this is one of the beauties of religion.

Confrontations and disputes only occurred among some Muslims who did not understand these prominent meanings of the concept of ‘difference’ in the philosophy of the shari’ah.  They, unfortunately, dealt with speculative issues with the mindset of one exclusive opinion that does not bear the possibility of change or alteration and at the same time they deem their opponents as wrong or innovator in religion and this attitude is prohibited and not allowed.


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