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Development of the Five Islamic Schools of Law - Essay Example

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Development of the Five Islamic Schools of Law

Medina was the location that Muhammad and his followers settled in after traveling to it in 622. (Kahn 2001). Other Arab tribes as well as Jews were already living there, so Muhammad made a series of agreements with them in order to maintain an organized, peaceful relationship, as well as lawful order. These formal agreements have come to be known as the Constitution of Medina; it involved the rights, duties and methods of solving disputes among members of various classes. (Al-Muhajabah, 2003). The agreements also gave the prophet Muhammad jurisdiction over all of the people living there. His actions, including his jurisdiction, were based on his interpretation of and strict adherence to the Qu'ran. (Kahn, 2001). "In simple terms, the first Islamic state established in Medina was based on a social contract, was constitutional in character and the ruler ruled with the explicit written consent of all the citizens of the state." (Kahn, 2001).
The constitution of Medina established a pluralistic state -- a community of communities. It promised equal security to all and all were equal in the eyes of the law. (Kahn, 2001). Each tribe had its own laws, and they all had to agree on them for them to be held as laws. "To the tribe as a whole belonged the power to determine the standards by which its members should live." (Coulson, 1994). The pluralism set forth by the community of Medina set the stage for the pluralism found of the separation of Islamic law into five distinct schools. The first school of law to be discussed is the Maliki school.
The school of Islamic law referred to as Maliki was founded by Anas ibn Malik. This is the school that was formerly the ancient school of Medina. Thus it continued to accentuate the practices that were encompassed by the Medinese community. While the three other schools or jurisprudence adhered to using the Qu'ran as their primary source for law formulation, the Maliki school was the only one to use the practice of the people of Medina as not only a source but often the primary source (rather than the Qu'ran). Malik felt that utilizing the practices of the people of Medina was a good source because both Muhammad and his companions lived their for most of their lives. Malik considered the people of Medina to be "living Sunnah." (Wikipedia 2008). Although some reliance on "Hadith (traditions concerning the Prophet's life and utterances)" was still evident, the Malikites preferred traditional opinions and analogical reasoning. (Encyclopedia Britannica 2008).
The Maliki school believed that their laws did not need to be based on the Qu'ran and could instead be based on Muhammad's companions, for he gave them a "distinction and knowledge" that God had given to him. There were no records of God's words save those in the knowledge shared by Muhammad. (Brockopp from Weiss 2002).
"The Great Shaykh theory makes explicit what is implied in these texts: that individuals, such as Imams and teachers, are invested with such religious authority that their words can generate law. Ascribing religious authority to great individuals quickly became endemic in Islamic culture great men and women, while no longer prophets, were still thought to embody certain ideals of truth and justice which emanated from the divine realm." (Brockopp from W ...Show more


Law is central to Islamic thought. (Shamsy 2007). The five major schools of Islamic law during the Abbasid period of 758 to 1258 were the Maliki, Hanifi, Shafi'I, Hanbali and Jafari schools of thought. It is both fascinating and useful to explore the creation and development of these five, distinct schools of Islamic law.
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