What are the Different Schools of Muhammadan Law?

The Sunnis base their doctrine on the entirety of the traditions, and regard the concordant decisions of the successive Imams and of the general body of jurists as supplementing the Koranic rules and as equal in authority to them. The Shias, on the other hand, reject, not only the decisions of the jurists, but also all traditions not handed down by Ali or his immediate descendants i.e. those who had seen the Prophet and held discourses with him.

Sunni Sub-Schools:

There are four sub-schools in Sunni Law, as follows:

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(1) The Hanafi School, named after its founder, Imam Abu Hanifa (A.H. 80-150). The majority of Sunnis in India are followers of this school. This school places great reliance on the principles of “qiyas” (analogical deductions).

Imam Abu Hanifa leaned heavily on qiyas, because the doctrine of hadith had not fully developed in his time. Nor were there any recognised collections of the hadith. The two celebrated authoritative texts of this school are the Fatava Alamgiri and the Hidaya.

(2) The Maliki School, founded by Imam Malik Ibn Anas (A.H. 95- 175). This school does not differ materially from the Hanafi School. Imam Malik, however, placed greater reliance on systematic reasoning.

(3) The Shaafi School, founded by Imam Shaafi (A.H. 150-204), who perfected the doctrine of ’Ijma’ (or consensus of the learned).

(4) The Hanbali School, whose founder was Imam Hanbal (A.H. 164- 241), who advocated the principle of adhering to the hadith literally. (It is believed that the followers of Imam Hanbal are almost extinct today.)

Though these schools differ in detail, their basic doctrines are essentially the same.


Unless the contrary is shown, it is to be presumed that parties to a suit or proceeding are Sunnis of the Hanafi School.

The Calcutta High Court has observed that, in India, “there is a presumption that the parties are Sunnis, to which a great majority of the Mahommedans of this country belong.” (Bafatun v. Bilaiti Khanun, (1903 30 Cat. 683)