(Arabic, literally, “way to act”), a religious and juridical doctrine (school) of Muslim Sunni law.
The madhab (plural, madhahib) arose in the eighth and ninth centuries. Among numerous madhahib, four have been preserved: the Hanifite, Malikite, Shafiyite, and Hanbalite (named for their founders, Abu Hanifah, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafiya, and Ibn Hanbal). They are accepted as incontrovertible and final authorities in the interpretation of Muslim law. All these doctrines are true to the fundamental tenets of Sunnism, although they differ in numerous details, some of which are significant. For example, Hanifism is more tolerant as to the possibility of using certain components of common law, or adata, and recognizes the administrative regulations of governmental authority. Malikism adheres more zealously to the letter of sacred tradition, or sunna. Shafiyism is a compromise between Hanifism and Malikism. Hanbalism is even more intolerant of the new than is Malikism, accentuating maximum strictness in observing all the norms of sharia.
Hanifism prevails among Muslims in countries populated by Turkic-speaking peoples (including the Soviet Union, except Azerbaijan) and among Chinese, Indian, and Syrian Muslims. Malikism prevails in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, West Africa, the Sudan, and parts of Egypt. Shafiyism predominates in Egypt, East Africa, and Indonesia; Hanbalism is followed almost exclusively in Saudi Arabia.