Posted by: Dawud Israel | September 10, 2011

Visual Chart: Understanding the Differences of Madhabs

Why do some people pray differently? Why is what I understand as fardh (compulsory) others see as sunnah (meritorous)? How come Muslims have different approaches and understandings of the how-tos of Islam?

The following is a chart that discusses these differences, the ijtihad and the reasons for them as found by the early mujtahid Imams and Sahabas. The contents is taken from The Difference of the Imams by Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (White Thread Press) who delineated the differences for average Muslim readers clearly giving them a glimpse of how Islam was understood by the Sahabas and early Muslims. There are other books in this genre (mentioned in the chart) but this one is succinct and touches on the main reasons for fiqhi differences without overwhelming the reader.

Much like the Taqwa Rose, I have intended this as a learning tool to aid in understanding. Rather than read through a long essay you can just navigate easily through this chart. I have used only key quotations but for the most part I would say about 90% of the content of the book is condensed into this chart. That said, I recommend one purchase this book and other publications of White Thread Press such as Fiqh al-Imam by Mufti Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf which is similar to this book though meant for the Hanafi madhab specifically. They ground you in how organic Islam is in its structure.

So, as you read through this, contemplate on the methods and the reasoning of the Messenger of Allah (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and his Sahabas how were we in his position how we would behave. Besides having understanding of the deen, reading through this will give you a new appreciation for the religion of Allah and how it left nothing more to be desired.

It is a lengthy document so forgive me for any typos and or mistakes.

Full screen

There are many lessons one can glean from reading this. I will share a few reflections I had.

-Islam is predicated on the lived experience of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and the Sahabas. If they had done something even different, if one Sahaba decided to narrate one or two more hadith or if perhaps a Sahaba had embraced Islam one day later or if a Sahaba had asked one more question or decided even decided to linger a little longer in one place and had another question come to mind…then the religion of Islam would have been radically different. This shows how Islam is divinely decreed and Allah has guided this religion through time and circumstances down to today to guide many more.

-Revelation has reason within its structure and provides an argument against those who claim religion is irrational.

-We should be honoured and be humbled to be inheriting such a rich tradition with its deep understandings and inheriting not just the acts of worship of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) but also the reasoning and brilliance of him (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and his Sahabas and the mujtahid Imams. Through this we can think a little more like how they thought and bring that cautious deliberation into other aspects of our thinking much as they had probably done.

-The comparison to many forms of reasoning is that there are many gates to Jannah. Were it otherwise then there may be a sense in saying one madhab is superior to another but saying so is akin to saying one gate of Paradise should be preferred to the exclusion of all the others. But can we imagine the angels turning us away from one gate of Jannah after Allah has given us permission to enter it and telling us that another gate was better and that we should have sought to enter through that better gate? That is absurd. And the diversity of Jannah is reflected in the diversity of the revealed Law.

-We will be resurrected behind those whom we followed. If I was a Maliki then I’m resurrected behind Imam Malik then this is good, as many of my actions and worship are then similar to Imam Malik’s and he has proof and evidence for his fiqh. I can use the reasoning of Imam Malik to justify my actions who in turn has based his reasoning impeccably on the Sunnah.

-The deen encourages to think about our religion and how we practice it. If perhaps there was no intellectual effort required then Islam would die out like pagan religions that are pure ritual. With intellectual effort in understanding comes attachment and self-ownership of one’s religion– mind is invested into the religion just as much as heart is invested into it.

-The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) dealt with people as individuals, on a one-on-one basis, and this is shows the distinguishing of certain of them has to do with individual attention. This is why it is important not to simply deal with Muslims as one homogenous group or as pan-ummahism, but as individuals with their own idiosyncrasies, abilities, gifts and histories.

-Studying Fiqh prepares one to study their own inner realities and the movements of the heart and the nafs…that if the space and opportunity of studying fiqh, asking questions and wondering about God’s religion, then the basis of religion would have been doubt and there would be no other expression of religion…that through this, one’s concern of religion and concern for Allah and the akhira is given rise to and grows

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illah illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. An excellent effort brother. Visual learning condenses heavy text reading; I have this book and others which were studied for a broader understanding of why our madhabs exist, their interpretations of rulings, why they’re dying out and why they’re important.

    Jazakallah khairan for the charts.

  2. MashaALLAH. This is a wonderful piece of writing and the chart is very useful.

    InshaALLAH alot more people view this.

  3. JazakAllah khair for sharing the document. May the knowledge acquired be of benefit to myself and others, ameen. 🙂

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