Skip to main content

Schools of Law, Muslim

Schools of Law, Muslim (Arab., madhab, pl., madhāhib, ‘direction’). Muslim life is founded on Qurʾān, which itself was first expressed in the lives and words of the Prophet Muḥammad and his Companions. Their words and actions were collected in aḥādith (ḥadīth), and these become exemplary in Muslim life. Even so, not every circumstance was covered, so application of these sources to life became necessary. These eventually issued in (among Sunni Muslims) four major schools of law (sharīʿa), named after their founders: (i) Mālikite (Mālik ibn Anas), which relies on the customary interpretations of Madīna, and puts less reliance on methods of exegesis such as ijmāʿ (consensus) or raʾy (informed opinion); (ii) Hanīfite (Abū Ḥanīfa), seeking consensus, and prepared to use methods of exegesis to make sharīʿa readily applicable; (iii) Shāfiʿite ( Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī), seeking rules to govern the methods of exegesis, which is thus kept under control, the school mediating between innovative and conservative; (iv) Hanbalite ( Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal), conservative and defensive of early patterns of observation. In the Muslim world, (i) is strong in W. Africa and the Arab west, (ii) in the former Ottoman Empire and the Indian subcontinent, (iii) in the far East, (iv) in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Each school regards the others as legitimate, but a Muslim is expected to live within the pattern of one of them: eclecticism (talfiq) is discouraged. There is also a number of Shīʿa schools, though by its nature, Shīʿa Islam is less strongly organized in a centralized sense.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Schools of Law, Muslim." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 24 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Schools of Law, Muslim." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . (March 24, 2019).

"Schools of Law, Muslim." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved March 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.