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Traditionally four main sources are analysed along with a number of secondary sources and principles.
The main subject areas of discussion comprise:
- General evidences and principles (adillah ijmalliya wa al-qawaid)
- Resolution of conflict and discrepancy (ta'adal wa tarjeeh)
- Determination of rules and adoption/emulation of rules (ijtihad wa taqlid)
- Islamic Law (hukm shari)
Usool al-fiqh comprises the conjunction of two Arabic terms, usool and fiqh. Usool is derived from the root letters hamza, sad and lam which refers to basis. Fiqh linguistically refers to knowledge, deep understanding or comprehension.
Technically the term is used to refer to the body of evidences and principles that Islamic jurists utilise to provide solutions to problems.
This has been supplemented by further revelation termed sunnah. It comprises explanations from the Prophet Mohammed in terms of his speech, actions and silences which have been historically compiled and verified through chains of narrations called hadiths. Sunnah is referred to for elaboration of the Quran or for clarification of a matter that is not mentioned in the Quran and is second in prioritisation to Quran.
The Muslim jurists have found that some revelation has been captured through collective agreements expressed after the death of the Prophet through consensus of his companions which were transmitted over the ages. These are compiled as instances of consensus of the companions (ijma al-sahaba).
Only when these failed to provide the authority sought did jurists resort to interpretation ijtihad.
In the very early days of Islam Muslim authorities tended to rely on their own opinions to establish their interpretation of what a prescribed law should be for any given situation not founded on the Qur'an, a practice known as ra'y.
The jurist ash-Shafi'i, however, preferred to rely solely on traditions from the prophet and thereafter on the method known as qiyas (analogy) where interpretations were to be derived from comparisons with relative subjects dealt with in the Qur'an or the traditions.
It is now the scholarly consensus, amongst both orientalist and traditional scholarship, that the following is a myth: "Once Shafi'i's school of law was fully established together with the other schools founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa and Malik, the "door" of ijtihad was closed and it was considered that ijma had been reached on all necessary points of law (though the schools differ in many matters to this day but mostly on minor points of interpretation). Accordingly, Islamic jurisprudence has changed little for centuries and is based fundamentally on the four sources mentioned above. There is much debate and critique as to whether closing the gates of ijtihad was acceptable and whether it contributed to the intellectual and civislisational decline of the Muslims." Wael Hallaq is widely credited for decisively discrediting this myth in the western world, whereas others such as Qasim Zaman continue to show how the Ulema continued to actively engage in Ijtihad. However, there is a valid debate over the degree to which the Ulema remained active in such endeavours ever since colonialism and modernity intruded Muslim lands. In fact, faced with such drastic change, there are certain cases that do show the Ulema to be initially dismissive of sociopolitical realities and hence lagging in their response- Nevertheless eventually finding legal stratagems to solve dilemmas. A case in point is the issue of women's divorce in the time of Ashraf Ali Thanvi.
In the Shi'a schools, they have continued with ijtihad to the present day. They however disputed the methodology of compilation of narrations of sunnah and also limited consensus of the companions to consensus of the family of the Prophet (ijma ahl al-bayt)
- Masali Mursala
- Ihsaan (spiritual excellence, virtue)
- Urf (local custom or pre-existing law)
- Aql (reason or intellect)
- Sadd al-dharai
- Shara man qablana
- Ijma al-ummah (consensus of the worldwide Muslim community)
- Ijma khulafah al-rashideen (consensus of the first four caliphs)
- Ijma ahl al-medina (consensus of the Muslims of Medina, as reflected in early hadith collections, e. g. the Muwatta of Anas bin Malik)
- Ijma al-ullama (consensus of scholars of Islamic law)
- Ijma ahl al-hali wa al-aqd
- That which is necessary to achieve an obligation is obligatory
- That which leads to haram is haram
- Lesser of the two evils
- The doubt does not remove the certainty
The schools of Thought
- Hanafi (Turkey, the Balkans, Central Asia, Indian subcontinent, China and Egypt)
- Maliki (North Africa, West Africa and several of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf)
- Shafi'i (Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, East Africa, Yemen and southern parts of India)
- Hanbali (Arabia).
- Zahiri (minority communities in Morocco and Pakistan)
- Qurtubi No longer exists
- Laythi No longer exists
The Shiite schools comprise:
Famous Classical Muslim Jurists (Usoolis)
- Nouman bin Thabit Abu Hanifa
- Mohammed Idris al-Shafii
- Malik bin Anas
- Ahmad bin Hanbal
- Abu Yusuf
- Imam Qurtibi
- Layth bin Sa'ad
- Sufian bin 'Uyayna
- Ja'far al-Sadiq
Famous Contemporary Muslim Jurists (Usoolis)
- Molana Ashraf Ali Thanwi