A. The Shiah School
During their life time the Imaams remained the chief exponents of the shariah, the Islamic law. Many of the Imaams, when the political atmosphere permitted, held theological classes and also taught other sciences.
Since the major occultation of the twelfth Imaam the Shias have, as commanded not only by him but also most of the preceding Imaams, sought guidance from mujtahids and followed the institution of taqleed.
Taqleed literally means to follow or to imitate someone. In Islamic jurisprudence it means to follow a mujtahid in matters pertaining to law. (XXI:7 and IX:124)
Taqleed applies only to matters of shariah. There is no taqleed in matters of beliefs (the articles of faith). A Muslim must seek to attain conviction of their truth through reflection and rational examination.
A mujtahid must be a person learned in all the Islamic sciences. At any given time there would normally be a number of persons qualified as mujtahids and it is not uncommon to have two members of the same family in taqleed of two different mujtahids.
Any muslim can address any question of law to any mujtahid, whether or not he is in the taqleed of that mujtahid and the mujtahid would issue a fatwaa giving his opinion on that subject. This would invariably be by way of a statement of the law which in the opinion of the mujtahid is the correct legal position. The fatwaa would be binding on all the persons in the taqleed of that mujtahid.
A mujtahid is so called because he does ijtehaad which term means to strive for deriving the laws of the shariah from its sources which are:
B. The Sunni School
The ruling khalifah invariably assumed the mantle of the chief exponent of the shariah.
For nearly a hundred years following the death of the Prophet the State retained absolute control over authentication, collection and publication of the sayings (ahadees) of the Prophet. A few unscrupulous khalifahs did not hesitate to use this power to legitimise their misdeeds by arranging to have apocryphal ahadees produced.
After the Banu Abbas came into power in 132 A.H. (750 A.D.), the formation of the Sunni community was formalised.
Although there are many sects and sub-sects in the sunni school of thought, the four main sects are-
Although there are many irreconcilable differences in the four Sunni schools, in the main, however, they agree on the fundamental bases of their doctrines and laws. Each claims to have derived them from the following four sources:
The extent of the acceptance of the theological and legal doctrines of any of the above four sunni schools depended largely on the inclination of the ruler of the time. For example, although Abu Hanifa himself did not gain great popularity with the khalifah, his successor Abu Yusuf became a powerful figure in the court and held office of the Chief Kadhi.
The khalifah, however, always continued to remain the final arbiter in the exposition of the law and the jurists were relegated to an advisory role.
Since the abolition of the institution of khilafah following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the sunni schools have not developed as fast as they need to so as to keep pace with the social, economic, political and scientific development. Some Sunni sects have recognized the need for ijtehaad, a few appear to concentrate on ijmaa as the main instrument for reform.
In addition to their differences in jurisprudence, the Sunnis and the Shiahs hold divergent theological views on various aspects of the articles of beliefs e.g. human freedom of action and the Justice of God (both discussed above), whether God has a corporeal form. Some sunni sects believe in anthropomorphism.
The Shiahs and the Sunnis, however, agree on the following fundamental beliefs: