Book Review: Understanding the Four Madhabs

Understanding the Four Madhabs

Title: Understanding the Four Madhabs: The Facts about Ijtihad and Taqlid
Author: Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad
Publisher: The Muslim Academic Trust (1999, 2012)

This is a small booklet consisting of 30 pages exploring the four madhabs. The back cover states:

Why are there four schools of Islamic Law? Is it necessary for Muslims to follow them, or should we take Islam direct from the Qur’an and the Sunna?

This short work outlines the answer which the great scholars of the Shari’a have given to these questions. Basing itself on the realisation that it is binding on every Muslim to follow the Qur’an and Sunna, it explains the scholars’ view that this is best achieved by following the great Mujtahids, and that amateur efforts to derive the Shari’a from the revealed sources will lead to distortions of the Revelation.

Divided into two sections, one giving the main argument in straightforward terms, and the other providing detailed notes to back up the argument, this book is necessary reading for every Muslim who wishes to follow the Qur’an and the Sunna accurately and completely.

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad explores the issues at hand with surgical precision, and discusses at length the qualifications that a mujtahid would need to possess before embarking on deriving the Shari’a directly from the Qur’an and the Sunna. Towards the end of the booklet, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad delivers this metaphor:

Another metaphor might be added to this, this time borrowed from astronomy. We might compare the Koranic verses and the hadiths to the stars. With the naked eye, we are unable to see many of them clearly; so we need a telescope. If we are foolish, or proud, we may try to build one ourselves. If we are sensible and modest, however, we will be happy to use one built for us by Imam Malik, or Ibn Hanbal, and refined, polished and improved by generations of great astronomers. A madhab is, after all, nothing more than a piece of precision equipment enabling us to the see Islam with the maximum clarity possible. If we use our own devices, our amateurish efforts will inevitable distort our vision.

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad concludes with the potential outcome if each and every Muslim derived their own Shari’a from the primary sources:

With every Muslim now a proud Mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict.

This essay has been reproduced here:

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad also has an excellent series of lectures on the four Imams:

Imam Abu Hanifa: Baghdad’s Auspicious Fortune:
Imam Malik: Sage of the City of Light:
Imam al-Shafi’i: The Worshipping Jurist:
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal: Victor Over Tribulation:

May Allah preserve Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad and allow us to benefit from his works. May Allah bless all those who participated in making this booklet available. Ameen.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Understanding the Four Madhabs

  1. Thank you for the review. This booklet is a very erudite account of the significance of the four madhabs, written by one of the most learned scholars of Britain. I highly recommend it.
    May I make a few recommendations of books you could possibly consider for reviewing?

  2. Jazak’Allahu khairan.

    Purification of the heart: signs, symptoms and cures of the spiritual diseases of the heart, by Hamza Yusuf

    The Book of Assistance, by Imam Abdullah Ibn Alawi Al-Haddad

    Agenda to change our condition, by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir

    Unveiling Islam, by Roger Du Pasquier (trans. T.J. Winter)

    Al-Arba’in: On the Duty of Loving the Noble Family of the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wa’ahlihi wasallam), by Muhammad Ibn Ja’far al Kattani

    Islam, Religion of Life, by Abdul Wadod Shalabi (edited by A .H. Murad)

    Al-Ghazali: The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (trans. T.J. Winter)

    Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources, by Martin Lings

    The Concept of Bid’a in the Islamic Shari’a, by N.H.M. Keller


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