13 December 2017

Insight into Islam.

Part 4: ‘School and Diversity in Islam’

As an educated Middle Eastern Muslim, Majed made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth pillar of Islam, at the age of nineteen. But his spiritual journey was to result in a radically different discovery. Through Bible correspondence and meeting with Christians it was finally revealed to him that the ultimate divine truth is not a religious framework, but a divine person, Jesus Christ.

On his becoming a Christian, Majed’s family disowned him and he was forced to leave the country. Now he is living out the consequence of this life-changing revelation.

Majed is currently involved in ministry to Muslims, mainly on Christian literature translation and Bible commentaries. He is also involved in speaking in Churches in N. Ireland and Europe to explain the faith of Islam and the challenges faced by evangelism to Churches. Majed’s full story is written in a book called ‘The Fifth Pillar’, published by Piquant.

This year, Majed graduated from Belfast Bible College after completing a post graduate theological course. The aim was to deepen his understanding of the theological aspects of the Bible and the Christian faith so that he could better approach the Muslim community with an apologetic approach in both dialogue and respect.

Majed is currently based in N. Ireland for another year.

In previous issues, we have tried to address Islam and its core beliefs and articles of faith. In this issue we are going to briefly address the diversity of mainstream Islam (Sunni) and its four main schools.

It is impossible to begin to understand Islam today without some idea of how it has developed since the time of the Prophet. It is important to realise that the initial and fundamental split between Sunnis and Shi’a was over the question of succession. The issue was of a political nature. Today approximately 85% of all Muslims are Sunnis, while 15 % are Shi’a.

The Sunnis – ‘Ahl al-Sunnah’ Who are the Sunnis?

The Sunnis, also known as Ahl al-Sunnah, are those Muslims who believe and live according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Only possessing the faith of the Ahl al-Sunnah enables one to gain the knowledge of faith that will lead one to eternal salvation and knowledge of Allah. In order to abide by the Sunnah, it is necessary to recognise and follow the Prophet’s application of the Qur’an and that of his Companions, who act as a bridge between humankind and the Sunnah.

The schools of truth that have emerged in the sphere of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and theology (ijtihad) do not deviate from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus, they do not represent a new religion, but rather are branches that serve Islam in the fields of belief, religious observances, ethics and instruction. They are the expressions of Islam as it actually is. All emerged as the result of a serious need, and all are based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Believers must reflect on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics just as they do on belief, because each one is a component and complement of the others. Fiqh enables people to know what will (and will not) benefit them in all areas of life. Religion is made up of faith, religious observance, and good manners.

Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam, and Sunni Muslims are also referred to as “Al-Jamā‘ah”. Sunni Islam may be referred to as Orthodox Islam. The word “Sunni” comes from the term Sunnah, which refers to the words and actions or example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The Sunni branch of Islam has four legal schools of thought or madh’hab, which are all accepted among one another. The Sunni branch accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Muhammad and accepts hadiths narrated by the companions.

The four mainstream schools of Sunni teaching today are named after their founders. Generally they are not seen as distinct sects, as there has been harmony for the most part among their various scholars throughout Islamic history.

Generally, Sunni Muslims prefer one madhhab out of the four (normally a regional preference), but also believe that ijtihad must be exercised by the contemporary scholars capable of doing so. Others insist on taqlid, or acceptance of religious rulings on matters of worship and personal affairs from a higher religious authority without necessarily asking for the technical proof as a requirement.


The Hanafi is known to be the school of law. It is named after the Iraqi scholar Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man Ibn Thābit. This is the most prominent among all Sunni Schools with most adherents in the Muslim world.


Founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, this school is considered very strict and conservative, especially regarding questions of dogma and cult. It is mainly common in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian peninsula.


This is the second-largest of the four schools, followed by approximately 25% of Muslims, mostly in North Africa, West Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and in some parts of Saudi Arabia.


The Shāfi‘ī school of thought stipulates authority to four sources of teaching, also known as the Usul alfiqh. In hierarchical order, the usul al-fiqh consist of: the Quran, the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, ijmā’ (“consensus”), and qiyas (“analogy”).

This school also refers to the opinions of Muhammad’s companions. The school, based on Shāfi‘ī’s books ar-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh and Kitāb al-Umm, which emphasises proper separation (derivation of laws) through the rigorous application of legal principles as opposed to speculation or conjecture.

Majed Tinawi