The Question of Madhabs is a very deep question, so before answering this question we should know the Meaning of Madhab.
Meaning A Madhab is a human attempt to arrive at the Shariah of Allah Subhaah-Wa-Tala, an attempt by the great Ulama like Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad and more Imams.
There were more than four Madhabs, there were over forty Madhabs at one point in time, these were efforts by great scholars to try to quantify the Shariah, to try to make it structured, to try to put parameter and over time certain Madhabs flourished twinkled.
Currently, there are typically four large Sunni Madhabs, but there are small Madhabs as well.
Recently there is a small moment, basically, to not follow any Madhab and go back directly to the Quran and Sunnah. The people who want to go back to the Quran and Sunnah, which is a good slogan, but in reality, the Madhabs themselves are attempting to go back to the Quran and Sunnah, it’s not as if the Madhabs are not going back to the Quran and Sunnah.
What happens When you say that we are not gonna follow the Madhabs and we are gonna go back directly to the Quran and Sunnah?
The answer is that you actually end up creating another Madhab, so not much is accomplished.
We need to understand that vast majority of questions anybody asks any Shaykh by just opening a book of Hadith and getting it from there, it doesn’t work like that way.
What the Madhab means is a set of parameters, in English we call it as the paradigm, in Arabic we call it as Usool.
- How does one approach the texts?
- What do you do when texts appear to conflict with one another?
- How do you interpret the same text?
All the above question along with others are answered by the Madhab, we cannot simply open a book of Hadith and derive an Islamic law. Even the most basic Islamic questions of Islamic laws, we need some type of systematic framework.
A simple example which that will make clear this issue is that of doing Wudu.
Must you do the Wudu in the order as per the verses of Surah Al-Maida that Allah says in the Quran;
Oh, you who believe stand up and pray, Wash your face and hand, wipe your head and then you wash your feet.
These are the four things that are mentioned in the Quran.
So, a simple question that arises here is;
What if you miss up and you do number three (i.e wipe your head) instead of number two (i.e wash your hand). So, in this case, you swipe up between the two.
Is your Wudu valid or not?
Which Hadith you are gonna go in this case to validate or revalidate?
The answer is that you will not find any Hadith. So within the Madhabs, you find the two Madhabs that say;
You must follow the same order (i.e Tarteeb) because Allah said it, so we must follow it.
And two Madhabs say that this order (i.e Tarteeb) is Sunnah, but it’s not Wajib.
Another simplified example is that;
A mother tells her son to warm the dinner and make tea for her.
What if the son makes the tea and warms the dinner?
The job that the mother asked her son is done.
Similarly, what Allah has said in case of Wudu, you have done it even if have flipped it around.
How will you solve this question, there is no easy answer?
That’s where the Madhab comes in to answer this question.
Another simple question of Wudu.
What if you delayed between Wudu?
You are doing the Wudu and your cell phone rings and your feet were not washed, you answer the cell phone and you walk around for 20 minutes talking to somebody, now you come back.
What would you do?
Can you continue your Wudu where you left off?
This is called مَوَالِي.
Must you go to the beginning to do the Wudu again?
There is not even a single Hadith that will answer and solve this problem, so this is where the Madhab comes in. It is a framework, it is an Usool, it is a Paradigm.
Therefore by default, historically, from the last fourteen and a half centuries, the bulk of the ummah has followed a systematic methodology, call it a Madhab, it makes life easier.
However it is not Wajib, because Wajib is a big term, Wajib means Allah requires you to follow, Wajib means it is an obligation that’s a big thing, so it is not Wajib to follow a Madhab, but it makes life easier and this is the historical norm that people typically follow a Madhab.
So the bottom line in this issue is that you have two choices you may follow any one of the two.
Either stick to your Madhab.
It is allowed to ask a learned person and get the answer from the learned person without wondering which Madhab is there because Allah says in the Quran;
“Ask the people of knowledge if you don’t know”.
So if an issue comes up and you ask a Shaykh and then another three days later another issue comes up and you ask another respected Shaykh, no problem, that is also allowed because at the end of the day, even if someone were to tell you that it the Hanafi Madhab, you have no way to ascertain it any way. You are following a learned authority.
A simplified example of the above-mentioned paragraph is;
When a common person is having a medical issue what will he do?
He will do to the medical expert. and How does that man knows that the expert is the expert?
The degree, the perception, the credibility that people know. So there is something called PR, something called credibility, the certification and these things are known.
So a person goes to the doctor and explains him his problems, once the doctor prescribes a prescription, Is that person in a position to question the doctor that where did you get that from, what’s your evidence.
No, that person cannot question the doctor because he didn’t go to a medical college.