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Madh'hab (Arabic) refers to the schools of Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence). Sunni Islam has four such schools. Shia has a single Jafari school. In Sunni Islam at least, adherents of each school are also aware of variant rulings of other schools and respect them. Historically, there were additional schools that have become extinct. Distribution of adherence to the schools depends to a large extent on geographical location. The Madh'hab are:

Hanafi: Imam Abu Hanifa, who was the 'founder' of the Hanafi school, lived in Mesopotamia (Iraq), not long after the prophet Muhammad's death. He also met the "companion" (sahābi) Anas ibn Malik, making Imam Abu Hanifa one of the tābi'ūn, or second generation in oral transmission from Muhammad. The Hanafi Madh'hab is followed throughout most of the Sunni middle east.

Maliki: The Imam Malik was born some time after Hanafi in Medina. They may have overlapped, and the schools are very close. One of Abu Hanifa's principle students, a noted elaborator of the Hanafi Madh'had, studied under Imam Malik as well. The Maliki Madh'hab is followed by a majority in North African countries.

Shafi'i: Imam Shafi'i was taught by both Abu Hanifa's students and Imam Malik. This school has a majority of followers in Yemen. 

Hanbali: Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal studied under Imam Shafi'i, and Hanbali jurisprudence is similar to Shafi'i. Hanbali Islam is followed by Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia. 


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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