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Question: Please provide me the information on the differences between the four Ahl e sunnah Madhhabs. What are the differences and similarities between the four? I will appreciate your time and reply.

The four schools of jurisprudence were based on the teachings of the four great imams. They all agree on all the creedal points of aqeedah (beliefs of Islam);  they also agree on accepting the authority of the basic sources. They only differed in regard to deriving rules for issues, which are not decisively settled by the clear texts. The differences among the imams, in other words, are mostly related to the derivatives (furu') of fiqh (jurisprudence) and not related to the essential principles.  Before proceeding, let me introduce them in few words:

Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 767) was the most famous jurist of Iraq in his time. He studied under various scholars, specializing under Hammad whose lineage in knowledge is traced to the Prophet's companion Abd Abdullah b. Masud. Abu Hanifah was one of the pioneers in developing the Islamic jurisprudence.

Imam Malik (d.795) was the most reputed jurist/scholar of Madinah in his time. He was the author of al-muwatta, one of the earliest extant works of hadith. He studied under great scholars of Madinah, and inherited the legacy of the jurists of Madinah, again going back to the Prophet, through his companions;

Imam Shafi ( d.819)was the famous author of al-risalah (the first treatise in usul al-fiqh) and kitab al-umm, the encyclopedic work of comparative jurisprudence. After having studied under the great scholars of Makkah, he went to Madinah to study under Malik. He also familiarized himself with the fiqh of Abu Hanifah from Muahmmad b. al-Hasan, the companion of Abu Hanifa.

Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 855), was the disciple of Imam Shafi, and the author of the encyclopaedic collection of hadith al-musnad; his mastery of traditions was unsurpassed. His lineage in knowledge, like three imams, also is traced to the eminent companions of the Prophet, via his teachers and masters.

All the four imams were exemplary in their piety, fidelity to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet and their sincerity in serving the cause of Allah; hence the Muslim Ummah looked up to them as great role models.

All the four agree on the fundamentals of Islamic beliefs, as well on the basic methodology of fiqh: they accept the authority of the Book, the sunnah, the ijma. They also accept, in principle, the rationality of the shari'ah and the extension of rules through the process of al-qiays (analogical reasoning). They, however, often differed from one another in the manner, they derived the rules from the sources as well as the results. The differences among them were due to various factors such as  differences in interpreting the textual evidences, or  because of differences in evaluating evidences, or failure to know an evidence which another had known, or because of changing circumstances, etc.

For further details on the above imams, their lives, methodologies, and reasons for their divergences in fiqh, please consult the excellent work of the late Shaikh Muhammad Abu Zahrah The Four Imams:  Their Lives, Works and their Schools of Thought.

You may also access my previous answer on Imam Abu Hanifah under the following link.

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