The Ruling on Following Madhāhib (Schools of Thought)

Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah

A discussion on the oft-repeated claim that it is an obligation to follow one of the four famous madhāhib.
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Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah was asked:1 What is the saying of the leading scholars and Imams of the religion—may Allāh be pleased with them—concerning a man who was asked:

“What is your madh`hab?”

The man replied stating: “Muḥammadī (i.e., I am a follower of the Prophet Muḥammad (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)). I follow the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).”

It was then said to him: “Every believer should follow a madh`hab, for whomsoever does not ascribe himself to a madh`hab, then he is a devil.”

The man replied to this saying: “What was the madh`hab of Abū Bakr al-Siddīq and the Khulafāʾ who came after him (may Allah be pleased with all of them)?”

The other individual replied to him: “It is inappropriate for the likes of you [a layman] except to follow a madh`hab from the madhāhib.’

[The question was then posed]: “Which of these two men is correct?”

Issue us a verdict, may you be rewarded.

Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah replied: “All praise be to Allāh. It is only obligatory upon mankind to obey Allah and His Messenger. As for the individuals (i.e. the scholars), they are from among those who have been given authority. Allah has commanded obedience to them in His statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ ‎﴿٥٩﴾‏

“Obey Allāh and obey the Messenger and those in authority over you.”
[al-Nisā 4:59]

Obedience to them follows on from obedience to Allāh and His Messenger and is not obligatory in isolation.

Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah

Allāh says:

فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا ‎﴿٥٩﴾‏

“And if you disagree among yourselves over anything then refer it back to Allāh and the Messenger if you truly believe in Allāh and the Last Day. That is better (conduct) and (leads to) the most excellent outcome.”
[al-Nisā 4:59]

And if some matter should befall a believer, he should seek counsel from an individual he believes will clarify the legislations of Allāh and His Messenger for him, regardless of their madh`hab. It is not obligatory upon any Muslim to imitate one of the scholars in every opinion that they hold. It is also not obligatory for any Muslim to subscribe to one madh`hab in all his actions or sayings, except if that madh`hab be that of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Some of the opinions held by man are accepted, while others are abandoned, except for that which comes from the Messenger of Allāh (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Following the madh`hab of a particular scholar has been made permissible provided one lacks the ability to understand Islamic legislation. However, this is not required should he have the ability to follow Islamic legislation through other means.2 Every individual should fear Allāh as much as possible, seeking to know the commandments of Allāh and His Messenger so that he can fulfil the commandments and abstain from the prohibited.

And Allāh knows best.’

Endnotes:

  1. Source: Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá 10:28
  2. The ‘other means’ referred to here has been alluded to in the text: ‘he should seek counsel from an individual he believes will clarify the legislations of Allāh and His Messenger for him, regardless of their madh`hab.’ Means of seeking clarity in matters of Islamic jurisprudence falls in this vein and can take the form of reading simple comparative books on Islamic jurisprudence written by Salafī scholars, listening to lectures from the Salafī mashāyikh especially the question-answer sessions with them, as well as coming to them to seek clarity on issues that remain vague or obscure to the layman. Thus, a person bases his action on authentic ahādīth rather than blind imitation. See also: Introduction to Shaykh Albani’s Sifat al-Salāt al-Nabī.

Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: January 22, 2022
Edited: January 22, 2022

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