The question then arises why choose an imam from only the four although there have been many mujtahids? There were: Sufyan Thawri, Awz’ai, Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Ishaq ibn Rahuyah, Imam Bukhari, Ibn Abu Layla, Ibn Shabramah, Hasan ibn Salih, and scores of others.
The reason is that their juristic teachings are not compiled together. If they had been arranged as the teachings of others are then surely their taqleed would have been allowed too. Neither we have their rulings in book form nor are there ulama representing them. Allamah Abdur Rauf Munadi cites Hafiz Zahabi as saying:
“It is wajib for us to believe that the four imams, Sufyan Thawri, Sufyan ibn Uyaynah, Awza’i, Dawood Zahiri, Ishaq ibn Rahuyah, and all imams were guided…… and one who is not a mujtahid is not bound to follow a specified mazhab…… but, according to the imam of the Harmayn, taqleed of the Sahabah, tabi’een and these people is not proper, for their teachings are not compiled. Hence, taqleed of none but the four imams is proper because their mazhabs are compiled and well circulated, and they have devoloped a terminology. In contrast, the other mazhabs have varnished. Imam Razi has said that the scholars agree that the masses should be stopped from making taqleed of the well-known Sahabah and other religious leaders.” (Fayd ul Qadeer v1 p210)
Allamah Nawawi has explained it thus:
“Although the Sahabah and the elders of the first generation were superior to later day jurists and mujtahids, yet they did not get an opportunity to compile and arrange their knowledge and its principles and branches. So, it is not proper to make taqleed of them because none of their teachings can be pinpointed for sure. Compilation began later on by the imams who had benefitted from the mazhab of the Sahabah and tabi’een. They compiled their commands and explained their own basic principles and branches, like Imam Maalik and Imam Abu Hanifah.” (Al-Majmoo’ v1 p91)
There are many other ulama who have explained this subject, but we will let it suffice with two quotations of Ibn Taymiyah and Shah Waliullah both of whom are recognized by even those who do not subscribe to taqleed.
Allamah Ibn Taymiyah writes:
“From the point of view of the Book and sunnah, there is no difference among the mujtahid imams. So, Imam Maalik, Layth ibn Sa’d, Imam Awza’ee, Sufyan Thawri were all imams of their times and the same command applies in each case for taqleed.
No Muslim argues that taqleed of any of them is disallowed. But if anyone has forbidden taqleed of anyone then he has done that for one of the two reasons:
(1) There are no more men surviving who might be fully aware of the mazhab of any of them. There is bound to be differences in taqleed of a dead imam. While those who allow taqleed of a dead imam permit it only if any of the living ulama possess knowledge of the dead imam’s mazhab. (Since none of them survives, it is not proper to make taqleed of those imams).
(2) There is a consensus against the teachings (of those whose mazhab is extinct) But, if any of their sayings is available which is according to the surviving mujtahid’s sayings, then their sayings would be seconded and thus strengthened.” (Al-Fatawh al-Kubra v2 p446)
The other scholar is Shah Waliullah. He has created a full chapter in his book Aqd al-Jeed for this subject, entitled:
Chapter Third & Fourth. Concerning the emphasis on choosing the Four Mazhab and on Strict Prohibition of Leaving them and coming out of them.
“There is a great wisdom in choosing the four schools of thought and in turning away from all of them there is great mischief. We explain it through much reasoning…” (Aqd al-Jeed p31)
Here, he has mentioned the reasons in detail. We present them in brief.
1. In order to understand Shari’ah, it is imperative that we must rely on the predecessors. But that can be done if we have learnt of them with a correct chain of transmission or find them recorded in well-known books, and the latter day ulama must have written explanations on them, and determined the meaning applicable if their sayings are open to many meanings. Besides, sometimes, a mujtahid’s sayings may seem general but they refer to particular and specific conditions, so, it is necessary, that scholars of that school of thought have explained that. The causes of the commands, too, must be explained. So, till these things are done, the mujtahid’s sayings cannot be relied upon. In our times, these conditons are met only in the case of the four schools of thought, only the Imamiyah and the Zaydiyah are excepted, but they are innovators (Rawafid) and thus not relied upon.
2. The Prophet SAWS said:
“Follow the Sawad A’zam”
So, when the Sawad a’zam of all the mazhabs, except the four, are extinct, the following of the four mazhabs is the following of the Sawad a ‘zam. And to stay out of them is to oppose them.
3. If we permit reasoning on the sayings of a mujtahid outside these four mazhab the evil ulama will, in obedience to their base desires, issue edicts and ascribe them an ancient mujtahid. Therefore, there is no risk in following the mazhab of an imam whose sayings have been explained by a large number of ulama, otherwise there is risk (of an occasional mujtahid’s sayings being misinterpreted). (Aqd ul-Jeed p31-33)