The four Imam's - Imam
Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmed bin
Hanbal and Imam Shafi - are the figures who's interpretation of the
Hadith and Quran are followed by the majority of Sunni Muslims
Worldwide. They are therefore of immense importance to the correct
practice of Islam. These brief biographies do not do justice to the
long and splendid lives of the Imams, but serve as a starting point
in recognizing their importance. I urge you to learn more about
them. Let us not forget that they were Tabieens - they had met some
Sahabas and could directly relate Ahadith - and also that the great
scholar Imam Bukhari was a follower of Imam Shafi's school of
IMAN AHMED BIN HANBAL
IMAM MALIK FAQIH
ABU ABDULLAH, Malik bin Anas, was born in Medina in the year 715
AD. His ancestral home was in Yemen, but his grandfather settled in
Medina after embracing Islam. He received his education in Medina,
which was the most important seat of Islamic learning, and where the
immediate descendants of the Companions of the Holy Prophet lived.
Imam Malik was highly attracted to the study of law, and devoted his
entire interest to the study of Fiqh. It is said that he sought out
over three hundred Sahaba (those who saw the Companions of the Holy
Prophet). From them he acquired the knowledge of the Holy Prophet's
sayings, Hadith, (plural Ahadith) - and the Holy Prophet's Deeds, -
Sunnah. Imam Malik studied Fiqh under the guidance of nearly one
hundred learned Shaikhs who were residing in the city of the Prophet
at the time. Among Imam Malik's writings is the great work entitled
Kitab-al-Muwatta, which is the earliest surviving book of Islamic
law and Hadith. It quotes Sayings as well as the practices according
to the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet as observed by Muslims in Medina.
Although Imam Malik wrote many treatises dealing with religion
and ethics, Kitab-al-Muwatta is acknowledged as the most important
among his writings. It is said that Imam Malik had originally
recorded ten thousand Ahadith in this book, but in a revised edition
the Imam reduced the number to only one hundred and seventy-two.
Imam Malik was famous for his piety and integrity and courageously
stood up, and was prepared to suffer, for his convictions. For
example, when the governor of Medina demanded and forced people to
take the oath of allegiance to Khalifa al-Mansour, Imam Malik issued
a Fatwa that such an
oath was not binding, because it was given under duress. This
resulted in many people finding courage to express their opposition,
but the Imam was arrested, found guilty of defiance and publicly
When al-Mansour, learnt of this outrage, he apologized to the
Imam and dismissed the governor. Sometime later the Khalifa sent him
three thousand Dinars for his travelling expenses and invited him to
come and reside in Baghdad. Imam Malik refused the offer and
indicated that he preferred to continue his residence in Medina
where the Holy Prophet was buried.
When the Khalifa Haroun-al-Rasheed visited Medina when he came to
perform Hajj, he summoned Imam Malik to visit him and deliver a
lecture. The Imam politely refused to go to the ruler but invited
him to attend the class of students to whom he delivered regular
lectures. The Khalifa, accompanied by his two sons, accepted the
invitation and sat among the students to hear the Imam's lecture.
Imam Malik died in the year 795 AD at Medina and is buried in the
famous al-Baqie cemetery in the city of the Prophet.
Imam Malik's followers and disciples developed a Fiqh school
based on his books which came to be known as the Maliki Madhhab.
Malikis are mostly found in North and West Africa, - Tunis, Algeria,
Morocco and Egypt.
IMAM AHMED BIN MUHAMMAD HANBAL
Ahmed bin Muhammad Hanbal known as ibn Hanbal was born in the
city of Baghdad in the year 780 AD. He studied various subjects in
his hometown and traveled extensively in quest of
knowledge. He was chiefly interested in acquiring knowledge of
Ahadith- traditions of the Holy Prophet - and traveled extensively
through Iraq, Syria, Arabia and other countries of the Middle East
studying religion and collecting traditions of the Holy Prophet
Returning home from his travels which occupied several years of
his early life, he took lessons from Imam Shafiee in the subject of
Islamic law (Fiqh). He was deeply devoted to the traditional views
on religious subjects and opposed innovation of any kind.
The strength of his views was tested when under Khalifa al-Mamun
and Khalifa al-Mu’tasim, a kind of 'inquisition court' was created
to deal with people - among whom were many acknowledged theologians
- who would not for instance profess the doctrine of "the
creation of the Qur’an".
Imam ibn Hanbal, too, suffered as a result when he was arrested
and brought in chains before the court. But he patiently submitted
to corporal punishment and imprisonment and resolutely refused to
deviate from his beliefs.
Under the rule of Khalifa Mutawakkil however, the policy of the
government changed and Imam ibn Hanbal's trials came to an end. From
then onwards the Imam was accorded honor befitting his greatness and
on several occasions he was invited to the Court and granted a
Imam ibn Hanbal's fame spread far and wide. His learning, piety
and unswerving faithfulness to traditions gathered a host of
disciples and admirers around him.
He died in Baghdad in the year 855 (241 A.H.) at the age of 75
Among the works of Imam ibn Hanbal is the great encyclopaedia of
Traditions called Musnad, compiled by his son from his lectures and
amplified by supplements - containing over twenty eight thousand
traditions. His other works include Kitab-us-Salaat, on the
Discipline of Prayer and Kitab-us-Sunnah, on the Traditions of the
Prophet. The above books form in the main, the Hanbali school of
law, although Imam ibn Hanbal too, did not establish a Fiqh system
of his own. His decisions were so highly regarded by his disciples
that they began to systematize his legal teachings during his
lifetime and his ideas gained recognition by the Sunni sect as one
of the four authoritative Madhahb the Hanbali.
In the world of Islam, the Hanbalites to-day represent the
smallest group of the four Sunni Madhahb, mostly confined to the
Middle East countries.
In the 18th century Christian-era, the Hanbali system received a
vigorous support from the Wahhabi movement founded by Muhammad bin
Abdul Wahab (1703-1787 AD) who followed the Hanbali school of
thought. The leadership of the Wahhabi movement today is in the
hands of the Saudi dynasty who are the autocratic rulers of Hijaz,
in the Arabian Peninsula.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Idris descends from the Hashimi family
of the Quaraish tribe to which Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) belongs. He
was born in Gaza, Syria in 767 and became famous as Imam Shafi-ee.
He lost his father early in life and was brought up by his mother in
abject poverty in the city of Mecca. He spent much time among the
Bedouins and acquired very great knowledge of Arabic poetry.
At the age of twenty, he went to Medina and remained there as a
student of Imam Malik till the later’s death in 796. He also came
into contact with other learned men from whom he acquired knowledge
of the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet
Imam Shafi-ee possessed a very sharp memory and knew the whole of
Imam Malik's Muwatta by heart.
In 804 he visited Syria and from there proceeded to Egypt where
he settled down. As a pupil of Imam Malik he was received with great
honor and respect by the Egyptians. In 810 he went to Baghdad and
there he was surrounded by a large number of students who were eager
to acquire knowledge of the faith and practice of Islam from him.
The Shafi-ee school of law emerged from these students who
practiced and propagated the views and rulings of Imam Shafi-ee
through their writings and preaching.
Imam Shafi-ee wrote several books, the most well-known of which
is called Kitab-al-Umm, which is a collection of writings and
lectures of the Imam. A number of his students have also collected
his writings, lectures and rulings in the form of books, or quoted
him in their books.
Baghdad in Iraq and Cairo in Egypt were the chief centers of Imam
Shafiee's activities. It is from these two cities that teachings of
the Shafi-ee school spread in the 9th century of the Christian era.
During the time of Sultan Salahuddeen (Saladin), the Shafi-ee
doctrine was the most prominent in Egypt, and to this day the Imam
of the Al-Azhar Musjid is always a Shafi-ee and the Shafi-ee Madhhab
is industriously studied along with that of the other three schools
of the Sunnis.
During his life Imam Shafi-ee also suffered from political
intrigues. For instance, after studying under Imam Malik in Medina
he was sent to fill an office in Yemen, where he was accused of
political involvement which resulted in his arrest. He was taken as
prisoner to Haroun al-Rasheed. The Khalifa however found him
innocent and the Imam was honorably released.
Imam Shafiee died in the year 820 in Egypt.