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After the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Muslim community got divided into two major sects Sunni and Shia. The Sunni sect is further divided into 4 schools of Islamic fiqh namely Hanafi, Malki, Shafi, and Hanbali.
It shall be made very clear that all Islamic schools make use of Quran and Hadith to provide a ruling on an issue. However, there are some issues that have not been clearly defined in the Quran and hadith and it is where these schools differ.
Unlike Sunni and Shia sects which treat each other wrong, All 4 Sunni schools of Islamic Fiqh consider each other correct. You can follow any of these 4 Sunni schools of Islamic Fiqh, and nobody is going to raise a question.
Hanafi school of Islamic Fiqh was founded by Imam Abu Hanifa an-Numan. He was a Merchant and use to spread Islamic knowledge in the city of Kufa, Iraq.
His major contribution to Islam is still alive and is known as Al Fiqh Al Akbar. The Hanafi School is the most famous and widely practiced one. It is followed in countries like Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, and Malaysia.
The Hanafi teachings and applications are the most flexible ones. It has kept things moderate and liberal upon issues that were not found in Quran and Hadith explicitly.
The Maliki school of thought is the second most followed school by Muslims. About 25% of Muslims around the world follow it. It is mostly practiced in countries like North and West Africa, Sudan, Kuwait, Chad, Bahrain, UAE, and northern parts of Saudi Arabia.
The school was founded by Imam Malik Ibn Anas who belonged to the blessed city of Madinah. The 8th-century scholar, Imam Malik, used a different approach from the rest of the schools.
According to him, the primary source of Islamic teachings is the Quran. Then we are to rely on the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH. This sunnah is well visible from the practices of the people of Madinah as that was the place where Prophet Muhammad ﷺ resided and preached Islam.
The Shafii school of thought has been developed and founded by Imam Shafi (767-820). He was a student of Imam Malik ibn Anas, yet he developed his own school of Fiqh later.
He wrote many books but the most notable are the ar-Risalah (‘the message’) and al-Umm (‘the mother’).
Countries like Kurdistan, Egypt, Yemen, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Syria, Brunei, and Malaysia tend to implement and follow Shafi School of Fiqh.
The school differs from others as it relies less on Qiyas (collective consensus).
The Hanbali School was founded by an Iraqi scholar named Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Hanbal was a discipline of Shafii and used the Quran and Hadith to give out rulings.
Today is the least practiced school as it is considered the most conservative. It is followed today in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The school, however, is liberal in commercial matters.