The practical consequences of the six fundamentals of Islam include both worship, as outlined under the five Pillars of Islam, and dealings, or the responsibilities of Muslims in their everyday life. These practical consequences, the particular requirements of religion, have been codified in the four schools of law which exist amicably side by side in the Muslim world. The Maliki school which was founded during the second century after Muhammad shows preference for the Traditions and practices of Medina where the Prophet lived for thirteen years; it is found today chiefly in North Africa, some parts of Egypt, and in the Sudan. Also in the second century there lived in Baghdad a silk merchant named Abu Hanifah, a rationalist who based his teachings concerning the consequences of religion on the Qur’an and the Traditions. He wrote no book himself, but his disciples spread his liberal teachings and founded the Hanaifi school of jurisprudence which is found in Turkey , Afghanistan , Central Asia, Pakistan , India , and Egypt . Another of Abu Hanifah’s disciples, Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i, founded the Shafi’i school in the third century; he was a great systematic jurist who took an Intermediate position between extreme legalism and traditionalism. The school of Shafi’i interpretation is predominant in South Arabia, South India, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The fourth school of law was also founded in the third century after the Prophet by Ahmad Hanbal, a resident in Baghdad; he stressed the Traditions and distrusted the use of reason. The Hanbalis arc found in Central Arabia, Syria, and some parts of Africa.

These four schools of law, covering the four divisions of rites, contracts, matrimonial law, the penal codes , were worked out so completely by their founders over a thousand years ago that those who came after them found fully adequate systems of law which met all the requirements of their times. A Muslim was free to choose any one of the four systems for his personal guidance, but the prevailing practice was to choose the school of law which was followed in the place of a man’s birth. Thus a man born in Indonesia is usually a follower of Shafi’i law, while a man born in Turkey will be a Hanafite.

The influence of birth was so great that many Muslims later became convinced that one did not need to look back to the original sources of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, for they believed wrongly that no one in these Later days has a capacity for reasoning equal to that of the founders of the schools of law. They became imitators of their predecessors on the basis of a belief that every period since the time of the Prophet has been inferior to the earlier days. While it might be true that those who lived in the time of the Prophet could understand religion better than the people of today who must study Islam by means of documents only, we cannot ignore the considerable change in the social situation and world conditions during the past fourteen centuries. The insistence on imitating the predecessors reflects a loss of self-confidence which was at one time widespread in Islamic communities. The texts of the Qur’an are still and will always be valid, but we should understand them in the light of present knowledge. One of the great tasks facing religious scholars in our time is the re-examination of the jurisprudence of Islam in the light of reason and modern knowledge. Since Islam does not make a distinction between the secular and the religious, and since a large part of the Muslim world has but recently attained political independence and is now playing a significant role in world affairs, this re-examination of Islamic law is all the more urgently needed.

Mohammad Rasjidi , in K.W. Morgan, ed.,
Islam: the Straight Path,
New York, Ronald Press, 1958

Copyright 2015
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