Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Legacy of Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Hanafi school is one of the four schools of jurisprudence, a madzhab of fiqh.  The Hanafi madzhab is named after Imam Abu Hanifah Nu‘man ibn Tsabit (r.a.) who lived from 767 CE / 80 AH to 699 CE / 148 AH.  He was a tabi‘i, of the generation after the swahabah. His legal views were preserved primarily by his two most important disciples, Shaykh Yaqub ibn Ibrahim al-Answari, better known as Qadhi Abu Yusuf (r.a.) and Imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani (r.a.).  This is the most prominent among all Sunni Schools and it has the most adherents in the Muslim world.

Among the four established Sunni madzhab, the Hanafi madzhab is one of the oldest and by far, the largest in parts of the world.  It has a reputation for putting greater emphasis on the role of reason, ‘ijtihad and being more liberal than the other three main schools.  The Hanafi madzhab has much influence amongst the four major Sunni schools.  This is largely to its being adopted as the official madzab of the Abbasid Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire and the Mughal Empire.  The influence of the Hanafi madzhab is still widespread in the former lands of these empires.  The Hanafi madzhab is predominant in South Asia, China, the lands of the Indian Ocean, Asia Minor, the Balkans, Central Asia, Southern Russia and Eastern Europe.  It is also practiced in large numbers in many other parts of Muslim world, particularly in parts of the Levant, Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

Basis of Hanafi Jurisprudence

The sources from which the law is derived, in order of importance and preference, are as follows:

1.         Qur'an,
2.         HaditsSunnah
3.         Ijma’ (consensus of the scholars)
4.         ‘Urf (cultural practices)
5.         Qiyas (analogical reasoning)
6.         Ijtihad (deduction)
7.         Istihsan (juristic preference or discretion)
8.         Ra'yy (reasoned opinion)

The Qur’an and hadits are paramount sources of shari’ah in that order of preference.  As Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) had transferred the Caliphate capital to Kufa, and many of the swahabah had settled there, the Hanafi madzhab based many of its rulings on hadits transmitted by swahabah residing in Iraq.  It came to be known as the Kufan or Iraqi school in earlier times.  Hadits transmitted by Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) and 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (r.a.) formed much of the base of the school.  It was also heavily influenced by other personalities from the household of the Prophet (s.a.w.) with whom Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) had studied such under, such as Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (q.s.), Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq (q.s.), and Imam Zayd ibn 'Ali (q.s.).  Many jurists and hadits masters had lived in Kufa including one of Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) main teachers, Shaykh Hammad ibn Sulayman (r.a.).

Ijma’ refers to the consensus of the Muslim community.  The hadits which states, "My ummah will never agree upon an error" is cited as support for the validity of ijma'. It is regarded as the third fundamental source of shari’ah after the Qur'an and the hadits.  There are two main types of ijma’: the consensus of the entire ummah, ijma’ al-ummah; or the consensus of the religiously learned, the ‘ulama, ijma’ al-a’immah.  The Hanafi madzhab generally consider ijma’ to only include the swahabah of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), excluding all generations which followed them, even in Madina.

‘Urf is an Arabic term referring to the custom, or 'knowledge', of a given society.  It was first recognised as a source of ruling by Imam Abu Yusuf (r.a.) but as part of sunnah since both he and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) were tabi’in‘Urf must be compatible with the Qur’an and hadits`Urf is a source of rulings when there are not explicit primary texts of the Qur'an and hadits specifying the ruling.  `Urf may also specify something generally established in the primary texts.  For the application of ‘urf, custom that is accepted into law should be commonly prevalent in the region, not merely in an isolated locality.  If it is in absolute opposition to Islamic texts, ‘urf is disregarded.  However, if it is in opposition to qiyas, ‘urf is given preference.  Jurists also tend to, with caution, give precedence to ‘urf over ijtihad.

Qiyas is only applied if direct material cannot be found in the Qur'an or haditsQiyas is the process of deductive analogy in which the hadits are compared and contrasted with those of the Qur'an, in order to apply a known injunction, nasw to a new circumstance and create a new injunction.  The prior ruling of the Sunnah and the Qur'an may be used as a means to solve or provide a response to a new problem that may arise.  The Hanafi methodology involved examining the Qur’an and all available knowledge of the hadits and Sunnah first and then finding an example in them analogous to the particular case under review that could be properly applied in the new situation.  It entailed the use of reason in the examination of the Qur’an and Sunnah so as to extrapolate the judgments necessary for the implementation of Islam in a new environment.

Ijtihad is the deductive process of making of a decision in shari’ah by personal effort or jihad, independently of any madzhab of fiqh.  It is the opposite of taqlid, which is following a prior decision.  To be valid and accepted, it has to be rooted in the Qur'an and hadits and it is required that no established doctrine has already ruled on the case.  Only a mujtahid is qualified to interpret shari’ah by ijtihad.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) developed a new source, istihsan, or juristic preference, as a form of qiyasIstihsan is defined as a means to seek ease and convenience, to adopt tolerance and moderation, and to overrule qiyas, if necessary.  This doctrine was useful in the Islamic world outside the Middle East where the Muslims encountered environments and challenges they had been unfamiliar with in Arabia.  One example of isthisan would be as follows: If a well is contaminated it may not be used for wudhu.  Istihsan suggests that withdrawing a certain number of buckets of water from the well will remove the impurities.  Qiyas would say that despite removing some of the water, a small concentration of contaminants will always remain in the well or the well walls, rendering the well impure.  The application of qiyas means the public may not use the well, and therefore causes hardship.  Thus the principle of istihsan is applied, and the public may use the well for ritual purification.

Rayy is reasoned opinion.  It may only be done in instances where any of the above does not apply or if there is no analogical basis.  It can never contradict the Qur’an and haditsRayy is used with ijtihad and ‘urf.  It is especially important when employed on the basis of the individual.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.)

Nu’man ibn Tsabit (r.a.) is better known as Imam Abu Hanifah.  He was born in 699 CE / 80 AH and passed away on 767 CE / 148 AH.  He was the founder of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, the Hanafi madzhab.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) was one of the tabi‘in, the generation after the swahabah.  He transmitted hadits from Anas ibn Malik (r.a.) and other swahabah.  He learnt hadits from other tabi'in including Shaykh Ibrahim an-Nakha'i (r.a.).

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) was born in Kufa, Iraq, during the reign of the Umayyad caliph, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.  Nu’man ibn Tsabit (r.a.) was better known by his kunya, Abu Hanifah (r.a.).  None of his sons or daughters was reported as having the name ‘Hanifah,’ so it was an honorific epithetical name meaning ‘pure in monotheistic belief.’

His father, Tsabit bin Zuta, was a trader from Kabul, Afghanistan.  He was 40 years old at the time of Ima Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) birth.  His ancestry is generally accepted as being of ‘ajami, non-Arab in origin as suggested by the etymology of the names of his grandfather, Zuta and great-grandfather, Marzuban.  The historian, al-Khathib al-Baghdadi, records a statement from Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) grandson, Ismail ibn Hammad, who gave Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) lineage as Tsabit ibn Numan ibn Marzban and claiming to be of Persian origin.  The discrepancy in the names, as given by Ismail of Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) grandfather and great-grandfather are thought to be due to Zuta's adoption of the Arabic name, Nu’man, upon his acceptance of Islam and that ‘Mah’ and ‘Marzban’ were titles or official designations in Persia.  ‘Marzaban’ means a margrave of the Sassanian Persian Empire.   Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) family was likely, originally margraves of Kabul in the Sasanian Empire.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) was born 67 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), but during the time of the swahabah, some of whom lived on until Imam Abu Hanifah's (r.a.) youth.  Anas ibn Malik (r.a.) passed away in 93 AH and another swahaba, Abu Tufayl ‘Amir ibn Wathilah, died in 100 AH, when Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) was 20 years old.  However the author of al-Khayrah al-Hisan collected information from books of biographies and cited the names of swahabah whom it is reported that the Imam has transmitted hadits from.  He counted them as sixteen.  They are: Anas ibn Malik (r.a.), ‘Abdullah ibn Anis al-Juhani (r.a.), ‘Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Juz’ az-Zabidi (r.a.), Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah (r.a.), ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa (r.a.), Wa’ila ibn al-Asqa` (r.a.), Ma`qal ibn Yasar (r.a.), Abu Tufayl `Amir ibn Wa’ila (r.a.), `Aishah bint Hajrad (r.a.), Sahl ibn Sa`d (r.a.), ath-Tha’ib ibn Khallad ibn Suwaid (r.a.), ath-Tha’ib ibn Yazid ibn Sa`id (r.a.), ‘Abdullah ibn Samra (r.a.), Mahmud ibn ar-Rabi’ (r.a.)`, ‘Abdullah ibn Ja`far (r.a.), and Abu Umama (r.a.).

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) grew up in a period of oppression during the caliphates of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and his son al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik.  The governorship of Iraq was under the control of the tyrant, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf.  During his governorship leaders in religion and learning were especially targeted by Hajjaj as they proved an obstacle to ‘Abd al-Malik's establishment of his rule across Arabia and Iraq.  Consequently, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) had neither interest nor opportunity to acquire any education in his early childhood.  He was simply content with following in the footsteps of his father as a silk merchant.

He set up a silk weaving business where he showed scrupulous honesty and fairness.  Once his agent in another country sold some silk cloth on his behalf but forgot to point out a slight defect to the purchasers.  When Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) learned this, he was greatly distressed as he had no means of refunding their money.  He immediately ordered the entire proceeds of the sale of the consignment of silk to be distributed to the poor.

Following the deaths of Hajjaj in 95 AH and Walid in 96 AH, justice and good administration made a comeback with the caliphates of Sulayman bin ‘Abd al-Malik and thereafter the saintly ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz (r.a.).  ‘Umar (r.a.) encouraged education to such an extent that every home became a madrasah.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) began to take an interest in education which was heightened further by the unexpected advice of Shaykh ash-Sha'bi (d. 722), one of Kufa's most well-known scholars.

While running an errand for his mother, he happened to pass the home of Shaykh ash-Sha'bi (r.a.).  Shaykh ash-Sha'bi (r.a.), mistaking him for a student, asked him whose classes he attended.  When Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) responded that he did not attend any classes, Shaykh ash-Sha'bi (r.a.) said, "I see signs of intelligence in you.  You should sit in the company of learned men."  Taking Shaykh ash-Sha'bi’s (r.a.) advice, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) embarked on a prolific quest for knowledge that would in due course have a profound impact on the Ummah.  His early education was achieved through madaris and it is here that he learned the Qur'an and hadits, doing exceptionally well in his studies.  He spent a great deal of time in the tutelage of Shaykh Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (q.s.), the great jurist of Kufa.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) had a dream.  He dreamt that he went to the grave of the Blessed Prophet (s.a.w.) with the intention of pillaging it.  He woke up greatly disturbed and told his shaykh about it.

His shaykh, Shaykh Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (q.s.) said to him, “My boy, if your dream is true, you will follow the tracks of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), and you will ‘pillage’ his Revealed Shari’ah.”

Khathib al-Baghdadi (r.a.) narrated in his Tarikh (15:456-7): al-Khallal informed them; al-Hariri (r.a.) reported to them that an-Nakha‘i (r.a.) narrated to them; Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Hazim (r.a.) narrated to him; al-Walid ibn Hammad (r.a.) narrated to them from al-Hasan ibn Ziyad (r.a.) from Zufar ibn al-Hudzayl (r.a.): He said; I heard Abu Hanifah say, “I would examine kalam until I reached therein a degree in which I could be pointed to with the fingers.  We would sit close to the circle of Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman and a woman came to me one day and said to me; ‘A man has a slave-girl as a wife whom he wishes to divorce by the Sunnah.  How many times does he pronounce divorce on her?’

I did not know what to say so I instructed her to ask Hammad and then return and inform me.  She asked Hammad and he said; ‘He issues one divorce to her when she is pure from menstruation and [in a period in which there was no] intercourse, and then leaves her until she experiences two periods of menstruation.  When she bathes, she is lawful for potential husbands.’  Then she returned and informed me.  Thereupon, I realised I have no need for dialectical theology.

I took my shoes and sat next to Hammad and I would listen to his juristic opinions and memorise his speech.  Then he repeated it the next day and I had it memorised, while his other companions erred.  So he said; ‘None is to sit at the head of the circle next to me besides Abu Hanifah.’  Thereafter, I accompanied him for ten years.  Then my soul incited me to seek leadership, so I wished to separate from him and sit in my own circle.  I left one day in the evening with resolve to do this and then when I went to the mosque and saw him, my soul did not find it pleasing to separate from him so I came and sat with him.  There came to him that night the news of the death of a relative of his who died in Basra who left behind some wealth and had no heir besides him.  He ordered me to sit in his place.  As soon as he left, questions came to me, the answers to which I had not heard from him, so I would answer and write my answers.  He was away for two months.  When he returned, I showed him the answers and they were around sixty verdicts.  He agreed with me in forty and disagreed with me in twenty.  Then I insisted to my soul that I will not part from him until he dies, so I did not part from him until he died.”

The Imam went to Madina in 102 AH in pursuit of knowledge and attended the lessons of seven top theologians.  The celebrated Imam Musa al-Kazhim (q.s.) and his illustrious father, Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) the descendants of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), were the greatest authorities in Islamic learning of their time and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) took full advantage of their association in Madina.  He was highly impressed with the erudition of Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) whom he acknowledged as the most learned man in the world of Islam.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) also attended the classes of Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.) who was thirteen years younger than he.  It was his good fortune that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz (r.a.) had organised the study and recording of hadits on a sounder footing.  Before the Caliphate of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz (r.a.), the record of hadits was confined to the memory of the people.  In a letter addressed to the learned men of Madina in 101 AH, he requested them to preserve in writing the record of hadits. Imam az-Zuhri (r.a.) furnished the first collection of hadits.  The teaching of hadits, too, had undergone a revolutionary change.  From his pulpit, the shaykh discoursed on the subject and the students assembled around him with pen and paper and carefully took down the notes.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) learnt ahadits from more than four thousand persons.

In 763 CE, al-Manswur, the Abbasid caliph offered Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) the post of Chief Qadhi of the State, but he declined to accept the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Yaqub ibn Ibrahim al-Ansari (r.a.), better known as Abu Yusuf (r.a.) was appointed Qadhi al-Qadhat instead of himself.

In his reply to al-Manswur, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) excused himself by saying that he did not regard himself fit for the post.  al-Manswur, lost his temper and accused Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) of lying.  "If I am lying," Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) replied, "then my statement is doubly correct.  How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qadhi?"

Incensed by this reply, the ruler had Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) arrested, locked in prison and tortured.  He was never fed nor cared for.  But even there, the indomitable jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him.  In 767 CE, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) passed away in prison.  The reason of his death is unclear.  It was said that so many people attended his janazah that the funeral service was repeated six times for the more than 50,000 people who had amassed before he was actually buried.  On the authority of al-Khathib al-Baghdadi, it was said that for full twenty days people went on performing janazah for him.  Later, after many years, a mosque, the Abu Hanifah Mosque was built in the Adhamiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad.

His Works & Legacy

1.         Kitab al-Atsar narrated by Imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani (r.a.), compiled from a total of 70,000 hadits.
2.         Kitab al-Atsar narrated by Imam Abu Yusuf (r.a.)
3.         ‘Alim wa al-Muta‘allim
4.         Fiqh al-Akbar
5.         Musnad Imam al-A‘azham
6.         Kitab ar-Radd ‘ala al-Qayriyyah
It testifies to the greatness of Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) that he left behind so many muridun who went on to become great ‘ulama in their own right, including Qadhi Abu Yusuf (r.a.) who rose to be the Grand Qadhi of the Abbasid Caliphate during the reign of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, Imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani (r.a.), Shaykh ‘Abd ar-Razzaq, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (r.a.), Abu Na’im Faza (r.a.), and Abu ‘Asim (r.a.) who all acquired great fame in their day.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) had a council of 40 students who lived and studied in his academy.  He has reportedly spoken on 83,000 juristic issues.  Whenever an issue came to the attention of Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) council they used to discuss the matter for months and reach a conclusion based on the consensus.  The council used to resolve the problems of the community.  They used to speculate and imagine scenarios and then passed fatawa on them.

The fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) is compatible and applicable to modern times.  28 of Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) students became judges in different towns, cities and provinces and 8 became mujtahid, capable of passing legal rulings according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

The 40 Students of Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.); the ‘Ulama of the Hanafi Madzhab

1.         Imam Zufar (r.a.) (Passed away 158 AH)
2.         Imam Malik ibn Mughawwal (r.a.) (Passed away 159 AH)
3.         Imam Dawud ath-Tha'i (r.a.) (Passed away 160 AH)
4.         Imam Mandil ibn ‘Ali (r.a.) (Passed away 168 AH)
5.         Imam Nadzar ibn ‘Abd al-Karim (r.a.) (Passed away 169 AH)
6.         Imam ‘Amr ibn Maymun (r.a.) (Passed away 171 AH)
7.         Imam Hiban ibn ‘Ali (r.a.) (Passed away 173 AH)
8.         Imam Abu ‘Ismah (r.a.) (Passed away 173 AH)
9.         Imam Zuhayr ibn Mu'awiyyah (r.a.) (Passed away 173 AH)
10.       Imam Qasim ibn Ma'n (r.a.) (Passed away 175 AH)
11.       Imam Hammad ibn Abu Hanifah (r.a.) (Passed away 176 AH)
12.       Imam Hayyaj ibn Bistam (r.a.) (Passed away 177 AH)
13.       Imam Sharik ibn ‘Abdullah (r.a.) (Passed away 178 AH)
14.       Imam ‘Afiyyah ibn Yazid (r.a.) (Passed away 180 AH)
15.       Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak (r.a.) (Passed away 181 AH)
16.       Imam Abu Yusuf (r.a.) (Passed way 182 AH)
17.       Imam Muhammad ibn Nuh (r.a.) (Passed away 182 AH)
18.       Imam Hushaym ibn Bashir Sulami (r.a.) (Passed away 183 AH)
19.       Imam Abu Sa'id Yahya ibn Zakariyyah (r.a.) (Passed away 184 AH)
20.       Imam Fadhl ibn Ayyadh (r.a.) (Passed away 187 AH)
21.       Imam Asad ibn ‘Amr (r.a.) (Passed away 188 AH)
22.       Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan ash-Shaybani (r.a.) (Passed away 189 AH)
23.       Imam ‘Ali ibn Mis'ar (r.a.) (Passed away 189 AH)
24.       Imam Yusuf ibn Khalid (r.a.) (Passed away 189 AH)
25.       Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Idris (r.a.) (Passed away 192 AH)
26.       Imam Fadhl ibn Musa (r.a.) (Passed away 192 AH)
27.       Imam ‘Ali ibn Tibyaan (r.a.) (Passed away 192 AH)
28.       Imam Hafs ibn Ghayyath (r.a.) (Passed away 194 AH)
29.       Imam Wakii ibn Jarrah (r.a.) (Passed away 197 AH)
30.       Imam Hisham ibn Yusuf (r.a.) (Passed away 197 AH)
31.       Imam Yahya ibn Sa'id al-Qattan (r.a.) (Passed away 198 AH)
32.       Imam Shu'ayb ibn Ishaq (r.a.) (Passed away 198 AH)
33.       Imam Abu Muthi’ Balkhi (r.a.) (Passed away 199 AH)
34.       Imam Abu Hafs ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.) (Passed away 199 AH)
35.       Imam Khalid ibn Sulayman (r.a.) (Passed away 199 AH)
36.       Imam ‘Abd al-Hamid (r.a.) (PAssed away 203 AH)
37.       Imam Hasan ibn Ziyad (r.a.) (Passed away 204 AH)
38.       Imam Abu ‘Asim Nabil (r.a.) (Passed away 212 AH)
39.       Imam Makki ibn Ibrahim (r.a.) (Passed away 215 AH)
40.       Imam Hammad ibn Dalil (r.a.) (Passed away 215 AH)

Silsilah of Knowledge

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) learned from both Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) and Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.).  Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) taught both Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) and Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.).  Each of them was a mujtahid who founded his own madzhab.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) taught Imam Sufyan ibn Said ats-Tsawri (r.a.), who founded the Tsawri madzhab.  Imam Sufyan ibn Said ats-Tsawri (r.a.) was one of the teachers of Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi‘i (r.a.) who founded the Shafi’i madzhab.  Imam ash-Shafi‘i (r.a.) was the teacher of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) who founded the Hanbali madzhab.


  1. Slm Brothers, I am fascinated that he considered Jafar as-Sadiq as the most learned scholar in the world at the time, yet he only spent 2 years with him versus several decades with others. Also please tell me if Jafar had his own madhab and if yes, what happened to it?

    1. Wa as-Salaam,

      The scholars of that time considered Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq amongst the most learned. So did Imam Malik (r.a.), who was his student. The reason he spent such a short time was likely because the teacher passed on. The Ja'afari madzhab which is considered Shi'a still exists today. It evolved from the teachings of Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq. However, considering all the madzahib borrowed from each other, the Maliki and Hanafi madzahib still preserves the principles and teachings of the madzhab of their teacher.


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