Q. What's your take on the four major schools of thought? Specifically, what are your thoughts on the Hanafi school? Given that Imam Abu Hanifa didn't rely very heavily on hadith but rather relied more on reason (and the Qur'an of course), I would assume an inclination towards that school of thought without following blindly. Imam Abu Hanifa was the first in the line of the four Imams, followed by Imam Malik, so many feel that the Hanafi school of thought is the weakest due to the fact that it does not rely on hadith nearly as much as the other schools, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in some circles.

A. Actually there were several other schools of thought but roughly eight madhabs that we have today survived. Abu Hanifa was the strongest because it was said of him that he could not be defeated in argument, however, he was accused of Shi'ite leanings. He exercised reason BEFORE the proliferation of hadith and so this idea of him not buying into hadith is an argument NOT against him, but against those who say that the hadith came about early. Abu Hanifa's view was that the companions were men like anyone else and that if a tab'i or follower of a tab'i manifests wise judgment, then he would rather take from the latter based on his intellect rather than from a companion since suhba (companionship with the Prophet) did not by its nature imbue one with superior reasoning powers.

As you alluded to, we should take the best from ijtihad (reasoning) regardless of its origin, and not subscribe blindly to any one school. In fact, a couple of erroneous beliefs among many Muslims is that one must adhere to only one school, and that whatever was passed down to us many centuries ago is sacrosanct and must not be questioned. This is undoubtedly responsible in part for the atrophy and backwardness in much of the Muslim world today. Our view is that even modern day scholars may exhibit better ijtihad than those who followed the Prophet, and we say this solely on the basis of what is available to them in terms of material. To reject this notion would render meaningless the Prophet's statement during his last sermon when he supposedly wished that those who receive the message understand it better than those who delivered it.

Posted September 12, 2011