A madhab is an Islamic “School of Thought” on fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) named after the founder (imam). This jurisprudence, which broadly covers almost all walks of life, is exclusively based on the life model (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammadﷺ. For this reason, it can be considered as a “religious constitution” codified by each of these imams. Imams claimed that they were only following the model of the Prophetﷺ to the best of their knowledge and belief, never claimed infallibility for themselves and insisted that one should always prefer better knowledge over their own if any. Hence, it is important to observe that the Madahib do not represent sects, rather “schools of thought.”

Campo, J. E. (Copyright 2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. NY: Facts On File

Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH) said,

“The difference found in the four schools of Islamic law (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali) in this nation is a huge blessing and an enormous virtue. It has a subtle hidden wisdom the intelligent are able to grasp, but the ignorant are blind of it. I have even heard some of them say, ‘The Prophet ﷺ came with one law, so where did the four schools come from?”

(Jazil al-Mawahib, p.4)

The Hanbali scholar Imam ‘Ala al-Din al-Mardawi in his major juristic compendium Al-Insaf, cites the statement of the famous scholar Imam al-Wazir bin Hubayra (d. 560 AH),

“Consensus has been established upon taqlid of every one of the four schools and that the truth does not lie outside of them.”

(Vol.11 p.169)

Imam Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi states in al-Bahr al-Muhit,

“There has been established a consensus amongst the Muslims that the truth is restricted to these (four) schools. This being the case it is not permitted to act upon an opinion from other than them, nor is it permitted for ijtihad to occur except within them (i.e. employing their principles that is the tools of interpretation).”

(Vol.6 p.209)