The four great imams in Islam

It is one thing to have knowledge in a field of Quran and Hadith, it is another to have thorough understanding or ‘Ijtihad’ (exercise of independent judgement). The Holy Quran, Hadith and Ijtihad are the three main sources of Islamic law which serve to guide the different aspects of the life of the Muslim; form of worship, prohibitions, inheritance, marriage, divorce, punishments, conduct of war and administration of the state. In areas where the Holy Quran and Hadith are not explicit, Ijtihad becomes the valid source of Islamic law. The person who is an expert in the science of these laws is called a ‘faqih’. Today, most Muslims accept the ‘ijtihad’ of only four Muslim theologians and jurists who lived in the first three centuries of Islam. Let’s take a look at these four fuqaha.

1.Imam Abu Hanifah al-Nu’man

Born in Iraq, 80 A.H and the founder of Hanafi School. He had the good fortune to have lived during the period when some of the companions of the Prophet (S.A.W) were still alive. He was very intelligent and curious, and a very good business man. He learned from scholars from different places. He had tutored many prominent scholars too, including Abu Yusuf. When Hanifah was 42, he was sent to prison and tortured for his opposition of the then regime. Imam Hanifah died in 150 A.H. Some narrations say he was poisoned in prison. May Allah be pleased with him.
“IF EVER I SAY SOMETHNG THAT CONTRADICTS THE BOOK OF ALLAH AND THE PROPHET (S.A.W) THEN LEAVE MY STATEMENT.”—IMAM ABU HANIFAH
“ADHERE TO THE ATHAAR (NARRATION) AND THE TAREEQAH (WAY) OF THE SALAF (PIOUS PREDECESSORS) AND BEWARE OF NEWLY INVENTED MATTERS FOR ALL OF IT IS INNOVATION”—IMAM ABU HANIFA

2.Imam Malik bin Anas

Born in Medina around 93 A.H, and founder of the Malikiyya School. Malik received his schooling in medina, learning from some of the top scholars at the time. Some of the scholars who taught him are believed to have learned the religion directly from some of the well-known companions of our beloved Prophet (S.A.W). Thus, Imam Malik had acquired knowledge from first or second generation Muslims after Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W). He also grew up in a strong Islamic environment, and both his father and grandfather were well grounded in Hadith, and they imparted this knowledge in him. He is most famous for his book called ‘Al-Muwatta’, a collection of Prophetic Traditions of Hadiths. When it was first published, it contained 10,000 Hadiths, but Imam Malik was so particular about authenticity that in later editions of the book, he mentioned only about 1,720 Hadith. Imam Malik is one of the greatest scholars of fiqh in history.. He died in 179 A.H, at the age of 86. May Allah be pleased with him.

“KNOWLEDGE DOESN’T COME, BUT YOU HAVE TO GO TO IT”—IMAM MALIK.
“THE SUNNAH OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMED (S.A.W) IS LIKE THE ARK OF NOAH (A.S). WHOEVER EMBARKS UPON IT REACHES SALVATION AND WHOEVER REFUSES IS DROWNED.”—IMAM MALIK

3.Imam Al-Madh’hab Al-Shafii

Born in 150 A.H, in the same year that Abu Hanifa died. Shafii lost his father at an early age, and was brought up by his mother. He was a brilliant student, with a charming personality. He learnt Arabic and Fiqh in Mecca, and was well known for his Istin’baat (deductive reasoning) in reaching verdicts. When he was in his thirties, he left for medina, where he studied at the hands of Imam Malik Ibn Anas. He became very close to Malik, who took great care of him until his demise. Al- Shafii opposed the then governor of Yemen, and he encountered several problems because of that. He travelled to other countries such as Egypt, where he stayed for six years and became popular. He founded the Shafii school of thought from his knowledge of Malikii and Hanafi schools. Unfortunately, he was killed because of his love for the Ahlul Bayt (who opposed the government). May Allah be pleased with him.

“IF YOU ARE ON THE PATH TOWARDS ALLAH THEN RUN,IF IT IS HARD FOR YOU, THEN JOG.IF YOU GET TIRED THEN WALK.AND IF YOU CANT THEN CRAWL,BUT NEVER GO BACK OR STOP.”- IMAM SHAFII
“IF A MAN WERE WISE, HIS CONCERN OVER HIS OWN SINS WOULD DISTRACT HIM FROM SEEING THE FAULTS OF OTHERS”—IMAM SHAFII

4. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal

Born in Baghdad in the month of Rabi-ul Awwal 164 A.H. He lost his father at an early age and was brought up by his mother. He was always thirsty for knowledge, and completed his basic education at age 16. Hanbal proceeded to study Ahadith, and he travelled to many different countries in search of Islamic Knowledge. Among his teachers was Imam al- Shafii for whom he had great respect and admiration. Imam Hanbal had a vast knowledge of hadith. He also wrote many books including the famous Kitab-ul- Musnad, Kitab-ul Salaah, Kitab-us Sunnah and Kitab- un Nasikh.He was always dressed humbly, and he was always cautious not to accept gifts from rulers and affluent people. He died on Friday in Rabi ul Awwal, 241 A.H. at the age of 77. It is said that his janazah was attended by more than 800,000 people. May Allah be pleased with him.

Although Imam Hanbal founded the Hanbaliyya School, he did not establish it as a separate school himself. His disciples and followers did and today, Hanbaliyya is followed only in Saudi Arabia.

“DO NOT FOLLOW ME OR MALIK OR SHAFII OR AUZA’I OR THAWRI, BUT TAKE FROM WHERE THEY TOOK (I.E. FROM THE QURAN AND AUTHENTIC SUNNAH) “— IMAM HANBAL
“IF DESTINY WAS PRESENTED TO MAN, HE WOULD CHOOSE THE ONE ALLAH HAS ALREADY CHOSEN FOR HIM.”— IMAM HANBAL

Every true Muslim today must follow at least one of these schools of thought. Although these four great minds do not always agree on subjects that are not clarified by Quran and Traditions, they all followed the fundamentals; Quran and Sunnah of Prophet (Muhammed). We must follow Rasoolulah (SAW), the four rightly guided Caliphs’, and the rightly guided scholars in order that we may preserve our faith. May Allah (s.w.t) guide us all to the right path. Amin.

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