Imam Malik (r.a.) & Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) on Hypothetical Situations

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Before Imam Malik (r.a.) and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) encountered each other, Imam Malik (r.a.) used to say, “Beware of the people of opinion.”  Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) madzhab was called the “school of opinion.”  Before their meeting, there was a lot of talk and exchange of letters but they only met during the rituals of the hajj.

When they finally met, they chose to address three issues which were viewed differently by each party.  The first jurisprudential issue was about how to address hypothetical questions; things that had not taken place yet.  In Imam Malik’s (r.a.) madzhab, one should not imagine situations and ask about things that have not happened as this distracts people from already existing issues and could lead to controversy.  Imam Malik (r.a.) brought his evidence from various ayat and ahadits.  He stated the ayah where Allah (s.w.t.) Mentions regarding them asking about a certain phenomenon and how they understood it to mean such questions were meaningless.

They ask thee concerning the new moons.  Say: they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for pilgrimage... (Surah al-Baqarah:189)

His other evidence was that ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) scolded the ones who asked about situations that have not happened and used to say, “Do not engage us with things that have not happened; keep people busy with the truth instead.”

People used to come to Imam Malik (r.a.) and ask him hypothetical questions and he used to get angry and tell them not to ask about things that have not happened yet.  Those people were usually from Iraq where Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) was, who supported these kind of questions.  As for Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.), his approach was based on hypothesizing situations that could happen.  He thought up 60, 000 such situations.

In their meeting, Imam Malik (r.a.) disapproved Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) view.  Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied that the circumstances in Iraq are different from Madina.  Iraq was the capital of the Caliphate and everyday there are new things being introduced and they had to be prepared, while in Madina, problems are fixed and limited.

Then, he gave an example when he discussed with his students a situation of a woman whose husband travelled and was absent for so long that she thought he was dead and hence she married another man.  Suddenly, the man returned.  What should be done then?  Imam Malik (r.a.) wondered why they would ask about things that have not happened, but Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied that in Iraq, when soldiers went on campaigns, this could occur and they had to be ready for such a situation.  Imam Malik (r.a.) was silent.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) reminded him of what the Prophet (s.a.w.) said when a man came to him saying, “Imagine if a man comes to take my money, what shall I do?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told him not to give it to him.

The man asked again, “Imagine if he fights me?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told him to resist.

The man asked, “Imagine if he killed me?

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that he would be a martyr.

The man asked once more, “Imagine if I killed him?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that the man killed would go to the Hellfire.

Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) said that the Prophet (s.a.w.) was asked by about a hypothetical situation four times.  When Imam Malik (r.a.) said that this was for a purpose, Imam Abu-Hanifah (r.a.) replied, “In Iraq we do it for a purpose also.”

Then, Imam al-Layts ibn Sa’ad (r.a.) said, “Glory to Allah.  By Allah, you are enriching Islam.”

Imam Malik (r.a.) kept people away from indulging in trivial issues and Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) hypothesized the future to protect people.  That was what the Prophet (s.a.w.) did.  He forbade asking about things that are hypothetical and yet trivial but replied to an important situation that could happen.  Both a’immah reached an accord of holding on to the respective principles of their madzahib, but then integrated both approaches for the benefit of the ummah.

Their difference of opinion is a natural phenomenon because the minds and environment of Iraq are unlike those of Madina.  Their difference of opinion resulted in an environment that enriched Islam.  The respectful dialogue helped in presenting the various opinions and truths from all aspects.


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