Do other Muslims have the concept of Marja’iyya? How are their systems similar or different from the Shia Ithna-Asheri way?

The school of Marja’iyyah was established to deduce laws of Shariah from authentic sources. It establishes the principle of jurisprudence and derives laws of practical obligations from sources such as the Quran and Hadith. In the lifetime of the Prophet (s) there was no need for Marja’iyyah as the Prophet (s) would solve issues and answer questions. After the death of the Prophet (s) and the expansion of Islamic territories, the need arose for answers to new questions that came up. For the Shias the need was not so strong as they had the guidance of the infallible Imams. The Imams, especially Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) played an important role in the formation of jurisprudential laws. Some of their companions wrote books on it and the practice continued until the ghaybah (occultation) of Imam al-Mahdi (a). That was when Marja’iyyah was formally established to deal with the needs of the community.

The Sunni scholars needed to deduce the laws themselves as they did not follow the guidance of the Ahlul Bayt (a).  The first scholar to write a book on laws – al-Rislaah – was Muhammad al-Shafi’i who died in 204 AH. Sunni Muslims give the right of deriving jurisprudential rules to four Muslim theologians and jurists who lived in the first three centuries of Islam. These four jurists are:

Imam Abu Hanifa of Kufa
Imam Malik bin Anas of Medinah
Imam Muhammad al-Shafi’i of Madinah
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad

These  jurists tried to systemize the Islamic law into a comprehensive rational system which covered all possible legal situations. The four schools of Sunni Islamic law are named after their founders and are called the Hanafiyya, the Malikiyya, the Shafiyya, and the Hanbaliyya schools of religious law.

To cope with new questions that come up from time to time, Sunni Muslims ask specialists in the field of Islamic law to give their decisions using the traditional tools of legal science. Such a decision is called a fatwa and the religious scholar who gives this decision is called a mufti.


The Four Schools of Law in Islam [Web log post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from islam.html

Usul al-Fiqh [Web log post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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