Book Review : “The Four Imams and their Schools” By Gibril Fouad Haddad

I want to first say that this book is a must have book for anyone who is interested in learning a bit about the ‘founders’ of the four surviving schools of Sunni jurisprudence.


This book gives a great over view of the Sunni faction’s four legal schools.  One thing I absolutely love about Sheikh Gibril Fouad Haddad is his meticulous research and annotated notes.  He has amazing attention to detail and he doesn’t simply just take at face value what anyone tells him.

This is true because he finds many ahadith circulated by the Sufis to promote Sufism to be patently untrue or simply false!  For Sheikh Gibril Fouad Haddad to be among the Sufi crowd and do this says a lot about his character and sincerity.

In many cases he has the tendency to wonder off on issues of Aqidah (creed), is unnecessary.

To see that Imam Bukhari himself was questioned by other Muslims, from the same Sunni faction, for not being doctrinally sound, was quite interesting, but probably better suited for another book.

When it first came out I picked this book up. I paid 70SGD for this book last Summer. However, to me it was worth every penny. If your a researcher this is so far the best book in English on the subject.  Although Sheikh Haji Abdus Samad Clarke has a book on the subject that I have yet been graced to read.

I did ask Sheikh Abdus Samad Clarke if his book would treat the issue of the Usul of the respective schools and he said it would not. I was a bit disappointed about this.

It is quite hefty at 473/472 pages! You could literally drop this book of a high building and do some damage! ha ha!

So let me discuss some things about the book I was a bit disappointed with.

As already mentioned with the statement above that I posed to Sheikh Abdus Samad Clarke I was disappointed that this book by Sheikh Giibril Fouad Haddad did not go into the foundational principles of the school!  It did not address their methodological framework, or how they approached the various sources of Islamic law.

I kept thinking to myself after reading the book how on Earth can you write a book called ‘The Four Imams and their schools‘ and not touch upon their methodological frame work?

For example it would have been awesome for Sheikh Gibril to have mentioned how the various Imams of the Sunni faction were trying to bring ‘order out of chaos’. What where their paths they used making a methodological frame work to derive legal rulings.

Insh’Allah he is certainty capable of doing so. Here is hoping that a subsequent book could do the trick.

It is rather sad that at the moment the books that treat this subject in depth happen to be written by orientalist.  So with due respect to the ‘traditonalist’ they have dropped the ball.

I feel there  is a little bit of bias in this book against the Maliki school.

I believe that this is a carry over from the very bitter rivalry that his Sufi Tariqah (The Naqshabandi Haqqani) has had with another Sufi Tariqah (The Shadhilli-Darqawi); in particular the branch known as ‘The Murabitun’.

Take into consideration the following:

Abu Hanifa & the Hanafi school gets a 112 page treatment

Imam Shafi’i & the Shafi’i school gets 115 page treatment

Imam Ahmad & the Hanbali school gets 111 page treatment

Imam Malik & the Maliki school gets a 62 page treatment!

A rather uneventful affair for the Maliki school indeed.

For example take into consideration the following:

On Page 154 It begins with The “Practice of Madina” 

Why the need for the quotation marks? If the Maliki school holds the position of the Amal of Madina as a legitimate source why the quotation marks?  These are what are known as ‘scare quotes’.

Also why the need to publically correct Sheikh Hamza Yusuf in your work when talking about Imam Malik and his school?

“Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson has explained the concept of the Practice of Madina thus:

….’For that reason he would say: “If I found an isolated Hadith, not mutawatir, with one or two chains from the Sahabah, and I find 1,000 of the people of knowledge form the Tabi’in in Madina  doing something else, their actions override the solitary transmission of that hadith”……….

His note of 348 states:

“Imam Malik’s words were, ‘I prefer a thousand (conveying) from a thousand to one (conveying) from one.” Ilyad, Tatrib Al Madarik (1:66), There is no mention of “1000 of the people of knowledge from the Tabi’in.”

(source: pg 154 The Four Imams and their Schools by Gibril Fouad Haddad)

I wonder if this barb goes all the way back to 1999.

The teacher of  Sheikh Gibrill a man by the name of  Sheikh Hisham Kabbani addressed the United States congress making a staggering claim that “80% of the Mosque in the United States were under extremist influence.”

Hisham Kabbani and his Sufi group were boycotted by quite a number, if not all Muslim organizations in the United States.  Hamza Yusuf had either signed the document in condemnation, or one of his staff signed on his behalf. So there was some bad blood between these Sufi parties for a while.

You can learn more about that here from Hisham Kabbani’s view point:

You can see a barb from Sheikh Hisham Kabbani directed towards Hamza Yusuf here:

Shaykh Hisham Kabbani Says :

”Dante Needs to be criticized ; Dante you criticize as much as you want I’m so surprised that one of considered an Islamic scholar (Hamza Yusuf)  , Im not mentioning his name but Many people know him , he goes around and he has a university In Berkley ( Zaytuna University) he was defending Dante ; the one who took the Isra Wal Miraj and turned it into a story ”

Also Sheikh Gibril Fouad Haddad made this nasty swipe at Sheikh Abdul Qadir As Sufi Al Murabit: a member of a rival Sufi Tariqah here:

“As do the pseudo-Sufi mudhabdhabun who are alternatively traditional and anti traditional depending upon convenience but positively adore the West and bow to the darkest sides of its ethos, such as the Scottish Hitler-eulogizing ex-actor who calls himself “Shaykh Dr. ‘Abd al-Qadir al Murabit”   (Source: pg 58 Sunna Notes volume 1 by Gibril Fouad Haddad)

So it is important for you to understand this history of Gibril Fouad Haddad, his Sufi Tariqa, and their bitter and hate filled rivalry with other Sufi Tariqahs, to understand that a lot of this stuff unnecessarily bleeds over into an otherwise scholarly enterprise.


Picture of Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad (2nd from the left in the  ‘Sacred Path of Love’ conference held at Sultan Mosque 2012)

His a third example.

On page 158 he says and I quote,

” The fatwa of Imam Malika and the “current” (mashhur) position of the later Maliki School concerning the position of the hands during the obligatory prayer is that they hang loose by the sides (sadl).”

The fact that once again he uses scare quotes “current” position is really not is domain. Again the fact that he focuses a pargaraph on this practice of all the practices in the Maliki school is a carry over of the long standing dispute that his Sufi tariqah (Naqshabandi Haqqani) have with the rival Sufi tariqah (Shadhili-Daraqawi). It is traceable back to some of the stuff mentioned above.

So yeah my critique can be summed as the following.

1) Due to past encounters with Sheikh Umar Vadillo, (whom is of the Maliki school and follower of the Shadhili Daraqawi Sufi Tariqa)  who wrote a book ‘Essays on Esoteric Deviation in Islam’  which criticized the Naqshabandi Sufi Tariqah  & due to the fact that  Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (a follower of the Maliki school) whom distanced himself from Kabannis remarks before the United States Congress,  leaves us with a Gibril Fouad Haddad whom I think starts to show some slight disdain for the Maliki madhab unfortunately.

This in turn does not allow him to give justice to the school in his book. These personal rivalries have a tendency to bleed over into his works which is rather unfortunate.

2) The fact that he deals with controversial and delicate subjects not meant for laymen such as  myself.  For example Imam Malik’s criticism of Ibn Ishaq.  Imam Bukhari’s aqidah (creed) being taken into serious question by fellow members of the Hanbali school.   Rather or not the Blessed Messenger (saw) parents’ are in hell fire or not.

All of these kind of subjects and materials would probably best be dealt with in a book on matters of creed and/or hadith in the case of Ibn Ishaq and Malik.

3) The very fact that a book written about the four Imams and their schools does not even tell us anything about their methodological frame work was a huge let down.

O.K maybe while making a barb at the Maliki school and correcting Hamza Yusuf he did educate us on a principle that Imam Malik used; namely the ‘Amal of Madina’.  Yet other than this he gave us absolutely zilch!

Despite this I’m going to give the book 9 stars out of 10!! I have to, because the writing style is superb.  He gives references and source material to everything he quotes. I am greatly appreciative of this. Also the fact that Gibril Fouad Haddad is honest.  He may have quips, barbs and some nasty things to say at times.  However, he doesn’t water anything down and he tells it as it is.

For example take this entry here:

Gibril Fouad Haddad took Hisham Kamali to takes for not quoting his sources correctly and for misquoting sources.  The fact that Sheikh Timothy Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad) whom holds a teaching position at Cambridge University did not double check Hisham Kamali’s sources, but Gibril Fouad Haddad shows me just how tenacious and careful he is as a researcher.

It is also an important lesson to me about ‘not just taking someone’s word for it’.  Hopefully Sheikh Gibril will reflect upon that when it comes to the matter of taqlid.

Here is another example of where Sheikh Gibril Fouad Haddad and his scholarship and tenacity shines through in this work.

On pg 179 of his book we find:

‘On The Priority of Fiqh Over Tassawuf’

“Reported from Malik without a chain: “He who practices tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith (tazandaqa), while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing tasaswuf corrupts himself (tafassaqa). Only he who combines the two proves true (tahaqqaqa)” 429

note 429 “cited without chain of transmission by Al -Qari (d. 1014) in Sharh ‘Ayn al-Din (1989 edition 1:33)

Thank you Sheikh Gibril Fouad Haddad!  May Allah (swt) bless you!   You know I myself am practicing the Maliki school and was attending various Sufi gatherings. I always wondered though how did the Malikis whom practice Sufism reconcile the practice of group dhikr with the Maliki stance on bid’ah – or innovation.

I asked Haji AbdusSamad Clarke he simply told me Sidi Ahmed Zarruq quotes it. But he didn’t seem to know from where.

I asked Ustaz Abdullah Hamid Bin Ali from lamppostproductions.  Mash’Allah! He told me there is no such narration in any of the relied upon works. It has no authentic chain.

I asked Ahmed Tijani from Ghana he quoted the above statement as proof.

I asked Imam AbulLatif Finch who was visiting Singapore from the bay area; and he was a arrogant about it.  In fact he was the first person I asked concerning it.  His response to me was arrogant and disheartening.

We are told as followers of the Sunni faction that when we don’t know ask the learned.

The fact that prominent speakers who follow the Maliki school of jurisprudence didn’t even bother to check this chain of narration was/is proof enough that the Sunni faction is a sinking ship!

Ustaz Abdullah Hamid Bin Ali. He knows his stuff. You are in capable hands with him!

Imam Abdul Latif Finch.  I get the feeling he sits around thinking about what kind of creative meme he can create for the day, to post on Twitter and Facebook.

Sheikh Ahmed Tijani. Well he wasn’t guided to the facts about this particular matter.

Haji Abussaamad Clarke. A man whom answered my question patiently, and politely, he simply deferred to those more learned than him, whom did quote the narration.

What does this tell me about the Sunni faction?   It is a fast sinking ship.

We get told about how the tradition is given to us in an ‘unbroken chain’ and the famous narration ‘without the chain of narrators anyone can say anything they like’.

Yet, we get a popular saying attributed to Imam Malik in Sufi culture and people don’t investigate this stuff?  This is how they handle their scholars?  It is not me who does this stuff. I questioned that narration purely on grounds of what limited knowledge I had of Imam Malik (May Allah be pleased with him) and his approach to bid’ah.

I was genuinely curious as I was (still am) practicing the Maliki school and was (still am) attend Sufi dhikr circles. It was to give me peace of mind that is all.

Apologies to the readers for my digression.  So coming back to the book. It is THE best book in English you can get on the subject.  I have spent quite a bit of time with my critique of the book. Some of has substance and some of it is simply my own rant.

In the end I say 9/10!  Definitely going to the resource page insh’allah.  Pick it up!

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