Being a young Muslim who has met a lot of Muslims of different Islamic backgrounds in the other part of the world I have also constantly been asked a strange question yet common among Muslims. They ask me the madh`hab I follow. Most of the time my answer to them has been that I follow the Madh`hab of the Prophet (SAW) as it was correctly understood by the companions of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the best three generation after the Prophet (SAW) and the Islamic scholars who tried to follow the Sunnah (Way of the Prophet) including Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Imam Al Laith ibn Saad, imam Auzari, Imam Sufyan At-thauri and many more. Most of these people continue bombarding me with questions like, “ why don’t you follow one madh’hab? Are you beter than the imams of the four Madh’habs?. (and i know that some of the readers here have the same questions). Furthermore I have realized that am not the only one who has been bombarded with these questions, rather even my friends have problems when answering these questions. This subject seems to be simple but it may bring confusion both to the one who is asking and being asked i.e. it is controversial.
The word madh’hab is derived from an Arabic word “dhahaba” meaning “to go” or “to take as a way”. Therefore these Imams used to give their rulings based on the way (Madh’hab)of the Prophet which is commonly known as Sunnah, thus Imams too used to follow the Sunnah (Madh’hab) of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW). But the question is, why did these imams differed in some areas? Well, even the Companions of the prophet differed in their understanding. For example, the case of Battle of Khandaq (trench) where the Prophet was told to go and punish the people of Bani Quraidha for their treachery insiding with the pagans who wanted to attack Medina. The Prophet sent an advanced group of Companions ahead to lay siege to the fotress of Bani Quraidha.
He, the prophet gave a command to these Companions that do not pray except at the Quraidha fotress. On their way they noticed that they would not be able to reach the fortress before the sun sets. Some of the Companions said we need to pray Asr and others said the Prophet said don’t pray Asr except at the fortress. Others said what the Prophet meant was to hurry up and get to the fortress. This other group held the position of praying on the way because Allah says “…Verily prayers are enjoined on believers on fixed (stated) times” (Quran 4:103). So some companions prayed on the way while others prayed when they reached. So they differed in the understanding.
But according to the Scholars, lets analyse what the prophet had wanted to mean.The companions told him what happened and the prophet did not say anything to either group because what he said could have been understood in both ways and thus he accepted the idea of trying to understand the intent and applying the law based on your understanding as well as those who aply it based on literal meaning. But we find here that his practice approved the idea of those who prayed on the way since he, the prophet, had also prayed on the way.
The scholars agreed that since the prophet had prayed on the way then the correct idea was of those who prayed on the way. So this shows as that it is normal for people to have differences because of the difference of understanding hence it is impossible to agree on each and every single point. However it is the duty of each and every muslim to strive hard to know the correct ideas by acquiring pure islamic knowledge so that we should achieve the aim of fearing Allah which then will lead us to Paradise. This is so becuase Allah says”… It is only those among His servents who have knowledge who fear Allah” (Quran 35:28).
The vast majority of people – those who have not specialized in study of shar’i sciences or have not reached the level of being able to engage in ijtihaad and being qualified to issue fatwas.Their duty – in both shar’i and natural terms – is to ask the people of knowledge and take from them. We see this in the words of Allaah
“So ask of those who know the Scripture, if you know not”
So the people who are not well versed are obliged to ask the scholars and follow their fatwas, but they are not to follow absolutely in the sense that they regard the one whom they follow as infallible and sacred, with the right to legislate and decide religious issues on the basis of their own ideas– as happened among the Jews, Christians, Raafidis, extreme Sufis and Baatinis – because that is going beyond the bounds of religion and taking rivals and gods besides Allaah, and Allaah says:
“They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allaah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allaah), and (they also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Tawraat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] to worship none but One Ilaah (God — Allaah) Laa ilaaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be to Him (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him) (Quran 9:31)
Even the Siddeeq of this ummah and the best of them after its Prophet (i.e., Abu Bakr) said: “Obey me so long as I obey Allaah, but if I disobey Allaah, then you are not obliged to obey me.”
Even Ash Shafee said to his companions “ if you find an authentic hadith that is my madh’hab”
Even Imam Shafee learned from different Imams. He was a student for Imam Malik for 20 years and did not start teaching till Imam Malik died. He went to Baghdad and studied under Muhammad Shaibaan the student of Imam Abu Haneefa. After studying under the student of Abu Haneefa he changed a number of his opinions and he wrote a book called Al hujja. From there he went to Egypt where he studied under the student of Imam al Laith(Imam Al laith had already died). After studing under this student of Imam al Laith he again changed a bunch of his previous rulings and wrote a new book called Al Ummu. From that point he became the Imam of that area. So we can see here that it is not compulsory for someone to follow one madh’hab.
As for those who do not know much then it has already been discussed in this article above that they should ask the people of knowledge and take from them.
Hence the defining principle is the madh’hab of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW).
Finally, we should keep in mind that Allah knows best in all what we have discussed.
May Allah guide each and every one of us to the right path.