How Can I Educate My Friend about the Importance of Following a Madhab?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question

A friend of mine is a Salafi In England; she has grown up her whole life following their way and being taught according to their Madrasahs. She respects all four madhhabs but believes you should “not follow one blindly.”

I’ve tried to educate her on the importance of following a madhhab through various lectures and writings and that Salafism is not the route she should follow.

She asks questions and statements like this :

  1. The Sahaba (Allah be pleased with them) did not follow a madhhab, so it is unnecessary.
  2. Will I go to Jahannam if I don’t follow a madhhab?
  3. Nowhere in the Quran does it state that I must follow a madhhab.

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

There is no way that a Muslim can avoid blind following (taqlid) completely. It is an obligation upon every Muslim to base their choices and actions on knowledge of the Sacred Law, and that knowledge must come from someone who possesses it. Allah Most High says, “Ask the people of remembrance (knowledge) if you do not know…[Quran, 16:43]

Blind Following (Taqlid): An Islamic Norm

Thus, anyone who claims not to commit any blind following is incorrect. The following are examples of blind following that all Muslims are engaged in, and there is no wrong with it:

  1. Reciting the Quran: the most common recitation in the world is that of Imam Hafs from ‘Asim. Anyone who hasn’t taken the Quran directly from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) is following. And there are few in the world, if any, who know all the proofs and sources for the recitation styles and rules of Imam Hafs.
  2. The Arabic language itself: the Arabic language is how we understand the source texts: the Quran and Hadith. However, many people who claim to follow only the Quran and the Hadith blindly follow the great scholars of Arabic Grammar, Morphology, Rhetoric, Logic, etc., to understand the Quran and Hadith. This is hypocritical.
  3. The Prophetic Narrations (Hadith): Another contradiction is the claim of following the authentic hadith (sahih) and blindly following the classifications of authentic or weak of a specific Imam/scholar in the science. ‘I only follow authentic hadith; I don’t blindly follow any scholar.’ one hears such statements. ‘Well, how do you know it is authentic?’ one may ask in reply. ‘Because Imam al-Bukhari said it is.’

And many more examples can be applied to this principle.

Where Do the Schools of Thought Come In

Not all of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) were People of Legal Verdicts (Ahl al-Fatwa). Because of this, many Companions followed the opinions of other companions, sometimes without questioning their verdict or knowing their proofs.

Many companions followed a specific companion and turned away from following the opinions of other companions who differed with the former’s opinion. All of this was accepted and normal during that time.

The four Sunni schools of thought are but an extension of that practice. Arguably, the four schools facilitated, in a major way, the preservation and the consistent practice of the Muslim Umma as a whole.

Following One School

It is obligatory to follow scholarship in Islam. To generally follow one specific school is highly encouraged by the scholars of Islam; however, not obligatory. In fact, the opinions of the others schools are useful, especially when someone is in difficulty or has extenuating circumstances.

Thus the famous statement: “The difference of opinion of my Nation is a mercy.”

In a treatise of his, Imam Bayhaqi narrates this as a Prophetic statement, though many considered it the statement of a Companion. Imam al-Suyuti (Allah have mercy on him) says, “Imam al-Bayhaqi narrates it without a chain of transmission. Halimi, Qadi Husain, the Imam of the two sanctuaries (Imam al-Juwayni), and others also narrate it. Perhaps it was transmitted in some books of the Hadith masters (Huffaz) which hasn’t reached us.” [Suyuti, Al-Jami al-Saghir]

The Other Extreme

To refuse to follow a school of thought or any scholarship without individual knowledge of the rulings is absurd. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that every Muslim commits themselves to full-time study to be able to extract rulings directly from the Quran and Hadith.

However, many people turn to the above ideology, as a reaction to another extreme, which is as follows:

Some people feel that it is prohibited to not follow a school of thought. Some even say it is prohibited to follow any school other than theirs. Both of these approaches are incorrect. What is obligatory is to follow scholarship. It is not a requirement that one knows the proofs of that scholar, as long as one trusts their scholarship and religious practice.

Some Further Readings

UNDERSTANDING THE FOUR MADHHABS: The Problem with Anti-madhhabism
A Reader on Following Schools of Thought (Madhabs)

Hope this helps

Allah knows best

[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.