بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: Conclusion to the Madhhabs of Islam

Author: T. A. Andersson MFAS (Director of Studies)

Publication date: 20/04/2013

Presented by: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison FFAS

Lecture 12: Conclusion to The Madhhabs of Islam 

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين

Welcome to the Muslim History Programme of the MFAS. This is last of 12 sessions which make up the The Madhhabs of Islam module. Today’s lecture has been prepared by our Director of Studies, Abdalhakim Andersson, who is currently away studying Arabic in Fez, therefore, it has fallen to me to present it on his behalf. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture.

1. Introduction

In the introduction to this course, we stated:

Our historical approach is characterised by contextualisation and comparison, i.e. we seek to understand the material and the scholarly developments they reflect in relation to their intellectual and socio-political context. Although the primal value of the works of fiqh and ‘aqida, in our lives as Muslims, are the knowledge and guidelines they provide, our focus in this course is to increase our appreciation and application of that knowledge by understanding the historical context in which they were formed and from which they originally derived their meaning. It will thereby improve our understanding of the intellectual history of Islam as well as its present-day significance.1

We also said:

Based on Ibn Khaldun’s notion that sciences and intellectual disciplines are not abstract entities, but crafts (sana’i’) formed as integral parts of the surrounding society, the purpose is to throw a light on the internal and external factors that determined, or at least played some part in, the evolution of the intellectual legacy that remains active and applicable to this day.2 

Based on these guiding principles, we identified ten areas of interest and formulated questions in relation to them. It is our hope that this lecture might provide answers to these questions. As we have experienced throughout this course, however, answers are often by-products of the desire to ask new, more profound questions and to deepen the knowledge already gained. In order not to preempt your own reflections regarding these ten areas of interest, we will take a slightly unexpected turn in this last session, bearing in mind that far from being final, it is nothing more than an opening to further in-depth studies within the Faculty and other places of learning. 

2. At the roots of Islamic education

One fundamental insight derived from this course concerns the dynamics between the regional and the global, from the pre-madhhab situation on the Arabian Peninsula to the post-reform situation in the world-wide Muslim community of today. Because we live within the latter paradigm, it has been essential to understand not only the early formation of the madhhabs, but also the nature of the various reforms that came about at the onset of globalised modernity, in most cases based upon European political and cultural values. But in order to picture what is, and has been, happening to the institution of the madhhabs over recent centuries, certain aspects of the nature of reform have to be re-evaluated and reflected upon. Because we live in what may be described as a post-madhhab era, this concluding lecture will seek to reflect upon this historically unusual situation in relation to the material covered in this course. Therefore, our purpose as stated above, is to, “improve our understanding of the intellectual history of Islam as well as its present-day significance”. 

Our course ended more or less with the reforms at al-Azhar University and since there is not nearly time enough to discuss all of the later developments, we will focus on one particular work, which might prove to be, in Goethe’s words, “an instant worth a thousand, bearing all within.” We have seen in the last couple of lectures that the Muslim community has never been revived politically or in terms of scholarship by universal reform, only by carefully executed regional transformation, which at a later stage may have created phenomena of world-wide significance. This means that intellectual attempts at unity, either by accepting all differences, or by rejecting all differences are, and have historically been, destined to fail. Successful reform movements, such as that of Osman Ghazi, which founded the Osmanli caliphate, or that of ‘Uthman dan Fodio, which founded the Sokoto caliphate, were all characterised by a compromise between these two extremes. This question of effective reform, scholarly and political, will therefore be the main narrative drive of the present lecture.

The book chosen to illustrate these issues is one of the most important, but also misunderstood, books of Islamic revival to appear during the last century: Root Islamic Education (1982) by Shaykh Abdalqadir (as-Sufi) al-Murabit. If we approach it as it was delivered, as a series of spoken discourses, taking its historical context into consideration, a revealing picture of our time emerges. It is not an esoteric reading of an ‘inner meaning, but a careful examination of the actual words and ideas in their historical context, i.e. an educational circle of Muslims living in the West during the post-modernist-reform era. Or, more specifically, in San Antonio, Texas, 1982. Nor is it a definitive interpretation, but rather a way of demonstrating how the knowledge acquired from this course may be used when approaching historical or contemporary material on the topic of the madhhabs of Islam. It will be used as a point of departure and reference, which allows us to reflect upon many of those themes and questions that we indicated in the introduction. 

3. The question of change and revision

Shaykh Abdalqadir states in the preface to the book:

Islam is not and can never be, by definition, in crisis or in need of revisionist change. Islam, kitab wa sunna, is immutable in all places until the end of time. It is itself a critique and balance-principle against which all human ventures must be measured and themselves revised and changed.3 

We have seen throughout the course that the scholarly transmission and the historical appearance of Islam, socially and politically, is in fact, an integral part of the final ‘balance-principle' brought by the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Claims of returning to an original situation, which the Shaykh consciously alludes to by the slogan ’kitab wa sunna’, are mythologizations of the early history of Islam which turn it into a superficial ideological projection. We have seen that most failed reform movements have neglected this historical reality of Islam and, because of that, articulated unachievable ideals, often in terms of universal reform by their own revisionist standards. It was the case with the Khawarij in the first century and was the case with post-madhhab movements in the last century. The preface continues:

Today we find that the muslims have been polarised into two camps, in a dialectic that backs the establishment of anti-Islamic regimes on the one hand and forces men into antithetical opposition and subversive resistance on the other. […] We would indicate, therefore, that the cause itself of the false dialectic above is the false dialectic which sets the rules of ‘system technique’ over and against ‘basic technique’ or primitive technology, while aligning Salafi Islam with that world of primitive or basic technique.4 

This dialectic lies at the core of the post-madhhab reform movements, whose ideas in our time no longer appear to be reformist, but standard interpretations in many Muslim societies. The same dialectic underpins the apparent conflict between outward rejections of modernity, such as Wahhabism, and outward compromises with modernity, such as the so called Islamist nation-state parties. By referring to the Khawarij and the Mu’tazila, Shaykh Abdalqadir further notes the historical re-occurrence of reform movements that are “forced to connect with the other in a doomed dialectic.”5 In other words: 

The people who are calling for this new Salafi Islam in which you get a joining of what is apparently strange, but which we will see later is absolutely inevitable, the joining of two apparently totally contradictory movements - the wahhabiyya of the peninsula, and the modernists of Egypt and the subcontinent with Maudoudi.6

The future project of spreading throughout their native countries, that he suggests to his students, who were a growing community of western Muslims, is thus a middle option, going beyond the set-piece dialectic of modern Muslim identity politics. 

4. The nature of madhhab

One of the most challenging points in the book concerns the reality of madhhab. What is a madhhab and what is its historical reality? The Shaykh makes an attempt to recapture the definition of the madhhab from the dialectics set up by the post-madhhab reformers, saying:

The picture of the madhhab changes through the historical periods. But they have been different stages of a process and these are part of it, but we must understand that in it, in these things, the struggle to maintain the Salafi teaching of Islam came up against new cultural events that made it difficult. And so a kind of portmanteau effect began to take place in the learning, in the intellectual approach of the scholars. But my point which we made all though yesterday, was that we do not consider Islam as sustained by scholars – it is sustained by fuqaha’, by people who pass legal judgement, who govern, and who control the social nexus of the Muslims in all aspects of life.7 

This is obviously a critique of those upholding the importance of scholars, but detaching them from the socio-political reality of Muslim societies, which was one effect of the way Muslim societies adopted the system-technique of nation-state politics. He, therefore, states that by claiming that all madhhabs are the same, these reformers are politically dumping the madhhabs, which means, “dumping legal judgement and execution of judgement and Islamic authority and political power.8 Few would disagree. In fact, the 20th century disintegration of  the Muslim world clearly proves the thesis. He states:

And then we saw that in these historical and political changes that took place in the umma, people have been told all the madhhabs are really the same, and we must not make any difference, must not pretend that there is any disharmony, and at the same time, having said that, we found another voice saying, 'there should not be any madhhabs, we must be Salafi and we must get rid of the madhhabs.' And so you have one lot saying, 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' and the other lot saying, 'there are four babies in the bath but they are really one,' so that every way, there is a muddle. This is what has gathered through these historical processes.9

The next point, however, is more controversial:

And what has been presented to us is that there are different madhhabs as if between the madhhabs there was, as it were, a fine legal point of difference. As if the difference between the Hanifiyya and the Shafi'iyya is over certain particular points of law - laws of 'waqf', laws of trading, laws of divorce, and so on. This is the first picture of madhhab which suggests therefore some unity of madhhabs with peripheral, tertiary differences. Now that is the official, modernist viewpoint. What you find that the modernists say is, "All the madhhabs are the same really, and we do not argue among ourselves about the madhhabs." And they say this as if it was the most wonderful objectivity, that they had achieved some marvellous objectivity - an objectivity nowhere demanded in this primal order to follow Kitab wa Sunna. On the contrary what is demanded is a meticulous commitment to a particular way, and not to allow anything to get in its way. So there cannot be from that point of view, four ways. There is one, primal Salafi way!10

At a first glance, it appears to be an expression of another universalist ideology, that the Maliki madhhab is the only way forward. If the uniting factor among the post-madhhab modernists has been the claim to provide universal solutions based on their ‘true’ Islam, the statement seems remarkably similar, if not identical, to the ‘back-to-the-sources’ ideology of the post-madhhab reformers. Indeed, that is probably how most people would interpret the book today. But what if we read it as an expression of the opposite; as a strategic manoeuvre to educate a new generation of western Muslims about to spread across the lands of Europe and America? What if we read it, not as a universal reform, but as a regional attempt to provide an Islamic education, rooted in traditional scholarship, that could hold the increasing community together and sustain its intellectual, social and political extension? A completely different picture emerges.

It can, in fact, be read as a defence against the post-madhhab idea that, “all the madhhabs are really the same, that there are just peripheral differences […] of a ridiculous, divisive nature.”11 As we know from history, this relativist view is a modern phenomenon. It is not comparable to the mutual acceptance of different opinions and schools in the classical times, expressed, for instance, in Imam al-Ghazali’s Faysal at-Tafriqa (“Arbitrator of the Division”). The effect, as Shaykh Abdalqadir puts it, is that “the word 'madhhab' has been reduced and taken out of the political sphere and redefined as a matter of legalities and details of 'ibada.”12 The solution proposed is, again, a return to a prior understanding of what a madhhab is, which he expresses by reference to the “primal community” of Madina.13 Thus, the next theme we must examine is the articulation of the return to the original sources.

5. Returning to the sources

After criticising idealistic concepts of an ‘Islamic state’, none of which has historically existed, Shaykh Abdalqadir states that the only way is the way of Madina, adding:

We are not utopians who long that one day the chains of man's suffering will be broken. We are realists who have seen demonstrated by the second great miracle of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and give him peace, which is the transformation of his desert people, his Ansar and Muhajirun, into an illuminated city…14 

It may be obvious that, unlike the idea of the Islamic state, the city of Madina was an actual historical reality. But what makes this claim to return to the primal sources, articulated with reference to Madina, different from the claim of the post-madhhab movements of (paradoxically) returning to a pre-madhhab situation? 

He states, for instance, that, “we are not talking any more, when we say Maliki, of madhhab in the sense we have been taught. What I am saying is not ‘Maliki’ of now - ‘Maliki’ of then was Islam itself, without one single piece of unclean matter on it.”15 As we have seen from this course, claims of returning to a pure pre-madhhab Islam by going beyond the centuries of scholarship have rather led to the abolishment of the actual transmission that connects contemporary Muslims with the earlier periods. The authenticity of the transmission rests upon human involvement. Attempts to pass over centuries of transmission by ideological constructs and an abstract ‘return-to-the-sources’ are, as we have seen, the characteristic of post-madhhab reformism. Most successful reform movements have been characterised by socio-political, rather than religious, reform by re-activating traditional scholarship in relation to particular circumstances in actual communities. 

Thus, the message of the book depends on whether one reads it as a statement of all-encompassing religious reform, in line with the post-madhhab reformers, or as a statement of socio-political reform, in line with earlier movements such as those of Shah Wali Allah and ‘Uthman don Fodio, among others. If read as the latter, the proposed reform appears as an individual and social modelling of communities upon the Madinan pattern. From the point of regional reform, more specifically activation of Islam among growing communities in the West, the thesis about returning to a Madinan way seems effective. As the Shaykh states, “This pattern can go from a city, from a country - it can shrink down to a group. It can be nomadic, it can be a civilisation. It is a totally functional, social reality the minute two people are there and not one - which is what Islam is.”16

The argument is based on the notion that, “each madhhab produces a political phenomenon,”17 in relation to which the Shaykh regards the Maliki way as the most suitable for his context, rather than what he describes as the imperial and institutionalised character of the Hanafi way. Throughout this course, we have observed the mutual relation of each madhhab being a producer, as well as a product, of wider socio-political phenomena, thereby inevitably tied to power and authority. Whether we agree with the thesis regarding the Hanafi madhhab or not, the idea of the different political characters and impacts of the madhhabs is rooted in classical scholarship. Earlier in the course, we mentioned Ibn Khaldun’s view that the Maliki madhhab among the western people, “retained its simplicity and was not affected by the refinement and improvement of sedentary culture that took effect in other schools”.18 Although it is obvious that the Maliki madhhab also functioned in societies of imperial rule and adopted its character, Ibn Khaldun’s statement illustrates the fact that all traditional scholars viewed their own madhhab as the most sound and suitable for themselves as well as for their social context. The same applies to Qadi ‘Iyad, whose work Tartib al-Madarik is the  main source of the ideas presented in Root Islamic Education. Perhaps, one could say, the main controversy of the book stems from the usage of classical material and its (particular) modes of reasoning in a modern discourse of (universal) ideas about Muslim identity?

It is only if one reads the book as a universal statement – i.e. that the only solution to the problems in the Muslim world is that everyone become Malikis – that it appears to be an expression of post-madhhab modernism. Because most readers are used to these types of universal ideologies, underpinned by modern technology and global identity politics, such ideas are easily projected onto the book. As the Shaykh himself explains:

I am not presenting you new material. The assembled material I have, as I say, has been assembled a thousand years ago. And it is a record of 500 years completely in accordance with the social pattern I have described to you, the social rhythm, and change that I have described to you. Now after that first 500 years then the same pattern repeats itself again and again among the people who followed this teaching of the 'amal of Madinah. And it is to be found in the Fulani jihad of 'Uthman dan Fodio in Northern Nigeria. It is to be found again and again in North Africa.19

Firstly, we note that the concept of ‘amal, in this context, does not primarily refer to one of the legal sources (usul), but ’amal as transmission and activation of the Madinan pattern. In situations where a madhhab is historically rooted, revivals of this kind naturally take on a different character and might even be sources of dissent, rather than restoration. It is not in relation to these societies that the Shaykh is writing, but in relation to the future of Islam in the West and, one may add, similar societies where the traditional madhhab situation has been lost or has not yet been discovered. 

The reference to the movement of ‘Uthman dan Fodio in West Africa is also important. There are many similarities in the initiatives of the two shaykhs, although their strategy of revival have resulted in quite divergent expressions due to the different contexts. They were addressing completely different types of people, but formulated their views on reform based on what would hold the community together and enable it to impact upon the surrounding society. Thus, we inevitably touch on another aspect, which we have given comparatively little attention to in this course: the relationship of the madhhab to Muslim identity and community life, beyond scholarly circles. 

6. Madhhab and identity

The Shaykh states:

Another myth about madhhab is that they are geographical, the Shafi'is are there, the Hanafis are there, the Malikis are there and the people of Ahmad ibn Hanbal are there, as if it was some kind of dispensation based on four people being in four points of the umma at a certain time to fulfil this function - the idea that it is geographical, based on someone being there and that one leader is there, another is there, and that they are all working harmoniously. But then alongside that myth there is another myth which is the most pernicious and remarkably deep-rooted, which is the family inheritance aspect of it - as if you inherited it along with the parental house and a piece of land so that you have someone say 'I am Maliki' or 'I am Hanafi, because my father was! and my grandfather was!'20

The idea of every single Muslim consciously choosing which madhhab to follow, independent of families and communities, appears to be a ‘back-to-the-sources’ argument applied to the institution of the madhhabs. As such, it would be a call for every person to re-evaluate their religion in order to produce better-informed Muslims, who may uncover the original way; in this case represented by one of the madhhabs. Such a situation has, obviously, never existed in history. It would, if realised, most likely produce a similar source of division in the Muslim community as the ijtihad doctrine of the circle around al-Afghani, ‘Abduh and Rashid Rida. As we noted in the lecture on 19th-20th century reformers:

Modernists gave ijtihad a social definition and enlarged its franchise by encouraging laymen to proceed directly to the primary sacred texts of their religion for guidance. Modernists believed, in a positivistic sense, that Muslims would uncover in those texts the true, objective meaning of Islam, which to them had been covered up by centuries of juristic explanation and obfuscation.21 

As we know, the effect turned out to be quite the opposite. But returning to Root Islamic Education, we must remind ourselves about the context in which it was presented. It was a series of discourses delivered to dedicated seekers of knowledge, who in turn represented a growing community of Muslims, born outside of the Muslim lands and thereby born without the heritage referred to above. On the one hand, the Shaykh encourages the small group of seekers to re-evaluate their path and, on the other hand, he offers a possible way of consolidating this particular community of Muslims living in the West. He continues:

I do not want you to think that the point I am taking you to is that the Maliki madhhab is the only one and the others are no good! I am taking you to a point, insha'Allah, by argument, which is that there is a Salafi way, that is Sirat al-Mustaqim, which Malik indicated and which his madhhab, while it follows certain inexorable laws, is on, but is not on if it does not follow them, and the other three madhhabs are not, and have not been on, ever! That is not the same thing! So it is a very far-reaching concept. It is a clean-up. It is a renewal. It is zero point we want to reach. To do this we must be firmly established in the assessment and the significance of Madina.22 

Thus, he declares that there is no other, or at least no better, way of building a Muslim community in the West than to lay its foundations upon the well-trodden path presented by Imam Malik. That is not to say that statements about ‘clean up’, ‘renewal’ and ‘zero-point’, alongside degradations of the other madhhabs, are unproblematic. But the fact that these discourses were articulated at a time when post-madhhab modernism were deciding the agenda all over the Muslim community, indicates a critical awareness and an attempt to set off a quite different development. As we know, the work has influenced adherents of other madhhabs to re-evaluate their legacy and, within the same madhhab, deepen their knowledge and seek new ways of activating it in the modern age. However, in order to understand the significance of the work as a producer of identity for new Muslim scholars as well as communities, we will turn to a later work reflecting its importance.

7. Living transmission

When reflecting on the transmission that Shaykh Abdalqadir and the people around him received from Morocco, Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley notes [we], “simply absorbed and took on the form of the Islam being practised all round us by the people we loved and respected and learned from and brought it back with us when we returned to England.”23 He continues:

We were aware of being Malikis although the full implications of what that meant in terms of being inheritors of the ‘amal of Madinah were not brought home to us until Shaykh Abdalqadir’s Root Islamic Education talks in San Antonio several years later. The point is that we in fact took on the ‘amal in a natural and organic way from people who were themselves part of the great river of transmission whose source had been the first community in Madinah and which had been flowing continuously along the North African littoral ever since.24

He continues:

At a certain point Shaykh Abdalqadir, confronted by so many groups and movements all claiming to espouse the true version of Islam, resolved to determine for himself where the purest form of Allah’s din was in fact to be found and applied his not inconsiderable intellect wholeheartedly to that task. As we know, after surveying all the possibilities, he chose the way of the ‘amal of the people of Madinah […] What is interesting, however, in the context of this discussion is that the fundamental position of the community was totally confirmed, shown by the fact that our basic practices remained almost completely unaltered by this vigorous and conscious adoption of the madhhab we had hitherto only adhered to by spontaneous taqlid.25

Here, ‘amal refers to transmitted practice in general and not the source of legal derivation in the Maliki madhhab, although based on the same principle. As Shaykh Abdalhaqq explains:

Thus the ‘amal of the People of Madinah in this understanding refers to a body of  APPLIED knowledge which has been passed down, more or less intact, through the centuries, protected by the practice and words of successive generations of committed, learned men of taqwa who have devoted their lives to that purpose. There have been peripheral changes and extensions according to the specific demands of particular times and places but there is no doubt that the basic corpus has remained essentially the same down to the time we ourselves received it and put it into practice according to the best of our ability…26

He continues:

The ‘amal of Madinah has, therefore, never really been for us ‘a technical term in fiqh’ and we have never in fact seen it as ‘a static corpus of material’; rather, I would maintain, that in as far as it is possible at this remove in time, we have retained, by the way we took on the din, an ontologically direct relationship with the primary phenomenon, the Islam of the Prophet and his Companions and the first generations.27

There is thus a difference between ‘amal as a legal source and ’amal as an on-going means of transmission, the latter of which, arguably, would exist to various degrees in all Muslim communities, regardless of madhhab. It is, in fact, the very nature of human transmission of knowledge, as we examined in relation to Ibn Khaldun’s views on scientific transmission in the second lecture of this module. We recall Ibn Khaldun’s words:

It should be known that a craft is the habit [malaka] of something concerned with action and thought. Inasmuch as it is concerned with action, it is something corporeal and perceptible to the senses. Things that are corporeal and perceptible to the senses are transmitted through direct practice more comprehensively and more perfectly (than otherwise), because direct practice is more useful with regard to them. 

A habit is a firmly rooted quality acquired by doing a certain action and repeating it time after time until the form of (that action) is firmly fixed. A habit corresponds to the original (action after which it was formed). The transmission of things one has observed with one’s own eyes is something more comprehensive and complete than the transmission of information of things one has learned about. A habit that is the result of (personal observation) is more perfect and more firmly rooted than a habit that is the result of information. The skill the student acquires in a craft, and the habit he attains, correspond to the quality of instruction and the habit of the teacher.28

The function of the discourses that Shaykh Abdalqadir delivered in San Antonio may thus be described as twofold: on the one hand, an encouragement for seekers of knowledge to take on the Maliki madhhab as a method of making sense of traditional Islamic scholarship in the modern age; and, on the other hand, a strengthening of social identity and collaboration in local communities by an emphasis on transmission by living practice (‘amal). Moreover, it became an encouragement for other communities of Muslims to reclaim their heritage, within their particular madhhab, and to shape the future of Islam beyond the classical Muslim lands. Regarding the importance of existential transmission, here termed ’amal, Shaykh Abdalhaqq also observes:

This, of course, only applies to those aspects of the din which have remained part of the ongoing tradition – a surprising amount in fact – but clearly does not comprise those areas where direct transmission has been cut off – most vitally, from our point of view, the significant areas of zakat, awqaf, and economic and business transactions in general. To find out about these we have had no recourse other than to return to the texts and try to work out from them the exact nature of the practice concerned – in other words we have had to apply the Shafi‘i methodology to the matter in hand.29

As we have seen towards the end of this course, the modern age and the responses to it brought about unusual circumstances in the Muslim lands. These circumstances were, however, not the same in all places. One may argue that the idea of a singular problem and a singular solution was one of the main factors that prevented considered responses. Another of these unusual circumstances was also the increasing presence of Muslims in historically non-Muslim territories. This new presence demanded, and still demands, new responses and modes of activating the political, social and spiritual reality of Islam. In 1982 a suggestion was proposed in San Antonio, Texas. It was, and is, far from the only suggestion, but nevertheless one of the few that actually proved to work. 

While the failure of the later reform movements of 19th-20th centuries were often driven by universalist ideologies, formed within the framework of modern thought and technology, the success of the small number of movements in the same epoch has almost always been accompanied by regional reform, beyond the discourses of secular modernity. What characterised the successful reforms of the 17th-18th centuries were their responses to:

political and intellectual challenges by self-confident revivals of scholarship in the socio-political arena. Although they impacted on the developments in their particular regions, none of them initially shared the modernist claim of universal reform. In other words, they did not invalidate other interpretations of the traditional body of scholarship, but upheld to a larger degree the richness and diversity of the scholarly transmission since the first generations of Muslims.30 

Although the project of Shaykh Abdalqadir may have appeared to be a claim to ‘universal reform’, the actual impact of the project was the creation of numerous Muslim communities in previously non-Muslim lands, where the Maliki madhhab provided a social unity among the people involved and an activated frame of reference for the seekers of knowledge. It is not to say that he has not been concerned with global affairs, but even in relation to apparently global problems such as financial collapses, the emphasis has remained on the necessity for local communities in which change actually makes a difference.

8. Conclusion

The substance of today’s lecture has probably come as something of a surprise. It has been, as we stated earlier, “a way of demonstrating how the knowledge acquired form this course may be used when approaching historical or contemporary material on the topic of the madhhabs of Islam.” Almost any material could have been chosen, but for obvious reasons –particularly the local significance of this work in these lands – Root Islamic Education was a natural point of departure. It is but one reading of the book and as we have repeatedly indicated, different perceptions are possible. But hopefully, we have exemplified the types of reflections that are necessary in order to make sense of the history of the madhhabs in our time and to make sense of our time in the history of the madhhabs. Now it is up to you, as seekers of knowledge, to apply the knowledge acquired from this course and put it into practice in your approach to one of the suggested essay topics that accompany the notes to this lecture. 

That brings us to the end of the The Madhhabs of Islam module. Next term, starting in September, we will return to the origin of what we have discussed today: the political, social  and economic history of the early Madinan community. The course is entitled The History of Early Madina. We look forward to having you with us and continuing the vital work we have embarked upon in this course. Thank you for your attention.


Andersson, T. A. 2013a. Introduction to the Madhhabs of Islam. Lecture delivered at The Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies, Norwich.

Andersson, T. A. 2013b. Reform 17th-18th Century. Lecture delivered at The Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies, Norwich.

Bewley, Abdalhaqq 2012. The Four Madhhabs of Islam. Norwich: Diwan Press.

Gesink, Inidira Falk 2009. Islamic Reformism and Conservatism: Al-Azhar and the Evolution of Modern Sunni Islam. London. I.B. Tauris.

Ibn Khaldun 1980. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Vol 1-3. Trans. Franz Rosenthal. New York: Princeton University.

al-Murabit, Abdalqadir 1993. Root Islamic Education. (2 ed.) London: Madinah Press.

Essay topics

Chose one of the following topics and write a short essay of around 750-1000 words.

1. Politics. Taking one madhhab as an example, examine the effect of the politics of power on the origins of the madhhabs and the impact of the latter on the politics of the time.

2. Geography. How did the new urban culture affect the early scholarly development of the madhhabs? What were the roles of the old cities and the new garrison cities?

3. Demography and culture. What was the scholarly significance of the new peoples that were incorporated into the caliphate? For instance, what part did the mawali and early non-Arabs play in the development of the madhhabs?

4. Institutions. What was, or is, the role of the madhhabs for establishing scholarly standards and authoritative practices among Muslims in general? 

5. People of the madhhabs. What was the nature of the student-teacher relationship, and how did it contribute to the development of the madhhabs as guilds of law? 

6. Scholasticism. Compare and contrast any two of the principal imams with respect to their relationships to politics and power.

7. Methods and practices. What was the meaning of ahl ar-ra’y (people of opinion) and ahl al-hadith (people of hadith)? Why is the distinction problematic from a historical perspective?

8. Intellectual challenges. What had preceded the schools of ‘aqida and what were the intellectual as well as political challenges that made the scholars of the credal sciences respond in the way they did? 

9. Pre-modern schools in the modern age. What were the main differences between the early (17-18th century) and later phases (19-20th century) of Islamic reform? What were the reasons for the differences?

10. Connection to the present. Examine the role of the madhhabs in one or more Muslim societies today by comparison with the historical situations examined in the course.

1 Andersson 2013a: 10.

2 Andersson 2013a: 3.

3 al-Murabit 1993: 3. 

4 al-Murabit 1993: 4. 

5 al-Murabit 1993: 7. 

6 al-Murabit 1993: 30. 

7 al-Murabit 1993: 28.

8 al-Murabit 1993: 29.

9 al-Murabit 1993: 50.

10 al-Murabit 1993: 29.

11 al-Murabit 1993: 30.

12 al-Murabit 1993: 31.

13 al-Murabit 1993: 31.

14 al-Murabit 1993: 31-2.

15 al-Murabit 1993: 40.

16 al-Murabit 1993: 34.

17 al-Murabit 1993: 32.

18 Ibn Khaldun 3: 12-13.

19 al-Murabit 1993: 34-5.

20 al-Murabit 1993: 50-1.

21 Gesink 2009: 232-3.

22 al-Murabit 1993: 51-2.

23 Bewley 2012: 76.

24 Bewley 2012: 76.

25 Bewley 2012: 77.

26 Bewley 2012: 78-9.

27 Bewley 2012: 79.

28 Ibn Khaldun 2:346.

29 Bewley 2012: 79.

30 Andersson 2013b: 13.