Abu Hanifah (b 80H 698 CE) أبو حنيفة
Born in Kufa, (where 12, 000 Yemenis and 8, 000 of the Nizar received state allowances during `Umar's time), Abu Hanifah, Nu`man ibn Thabit, a descendant of a notable Persian family, grew in an intellectual, scholarly and religious milieu. It is said that he was taken to `Ali in his childhood who prayed for him. Suyuti believed that the following prediction of the Prophet suited none but Imam Abu Hanifah: “If eiman happens to be in the Pleiades, one of the Persians (or “the Persians”) will acquire it.”
As he grew, four Companions of the Prophet were still alive: Anas ibn Malik (who died in 100H.), `Abdullah ibn abi Awfa, Sahl ibn Sa`d al-Saa`idi and Abu al-Fadl `Amr ibn Wasilah. How many he did actually meet is not clear, though Ibn Hajr counts him as a Tabe`i.
He began his career as a cloth merchant which could well have been a family business. However, once he happened to cross Imam Sha`bi. He told him that he could see intelligence and ability in him, and that he should seek knowledge. Those were the days of 'Ilm Al-kalam (theological science). Abu Hanifah had all the qualities for it: intelligence, logic, debating ability, and a wide and well-spread knowledge. Basra was then the center of intellectual discussions, polemics and debates. Abu Hanifah often visited it for business, and used the opportunity to debate with the scholars and zealots of all kinds of sects that had mushroomed there. He defeated most of them in debates and his fame began to spread. But soon he saw the futility of any efforts among these sects and philosophical or theological schools, where everyone stuck to his guns, logic or no logic. But encounters with them did sharpen his abilities in logic, analysis and analogy.
Turning to more profitable sciences – the knowledge that the Salaf excelled in – he soon began to attend the circles of Hammad ibn abi Sulayman. His master was the most prominent student of Anas ibn Malik, and several renowned persons from among the Followers (Tabe`iyyun). Hammad’s was a school of thought by itself, which had its roots in the knowledge and methodology of Ibrahim Nakha`ee, ending with `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud who had been sent by `Umar as the first Qur’anic and Fiqh teacher of Kufa. Soon Abu Hanifah won the front seats with Hammad because of his keen intellect and understanding. After a while, when Hammad had to travel to Basra because of the death of one of his relatives, he appointed Abu Hanifah to hold the classes in his absence, which was a huge commendation for Abu Hanifah seeing that Hammad’s circle was the most renowned. When odd questions came, wherein he had heard no opinion from Hammad, Abu Hanifah used his personal knowledge and analogy to arrive at solutions, but kept a record of the questions and answers. They were some sixty. When Hammad came back, he showed him the list. He gave approval to forty of his answers. Thereafter, Abu Hanifah showed exemplary consistency by remaining in his study circle for a whole decade and gained mastery in `Ilm al-Fiqh.
In parallel, he attended to the science of Hadith, and left no Sheikh in Kufa but had taken lessons from him. Abu al-Muhasin, the Shafe`i scholar, has named 93 Hadith Scholars of Kufa and its suburbs alone, from whom Abu Hanifah obtained Hadith.But specialization required training in Makkah and Madinah which were centers of Hadith. `Ata’ ibn Rabah, and `Ikrimah were leading Traditionists at Makkah while Salim and Sulayman ibn `Abdullah dominated the Madinan scene. Abu Hanifah obtained Hadith from all of these persons. Altogether, Abu al-Muhasin has named 319 scholars from whom Abu Hanifah received lessons. Sha`bi, Salama ibn Kuhayl, Abu Is-haq al-Suba`ee, Muharib ibn Wartha, `Awn ibn `Abdullah, Hisham ibn `Urwah, A`mash, Qatadah, Sho`ba, `Asim ibn Sulayman al-Ahwal, were some of the outstanding scholars of those times spread over Kufa, Basra, Makkah and Madinah whose circles Abu Hanifah attended.
The consequence of ambitious interest, keen intellect, studentship of renowned scholars, training in the application of reason, logic and analogy, with no financial restraints for traveling around, which exposed him to different milieus and cultures, was that Imam Abu Hanifah emerged as a matchless Faqeeh that ever appeared in the Islamic world. Once, someone visited Imam Malik. He received him with great respect. When he was gone, he asked his students, “Do you know who this was? It was Abu Hanifah. By Allah, if he wished, he could prove that this pillar is made of gold.”
He was forty when Hammad died. He was the last of the great scholars of the previous generation. The Kufans knew that only Abu Hanifah could take his place. They pressed on him and he accepted to deliver lectures. Soon he attracted the most talented to his circles because none could match his, in excellence from every angle. Indeed, several of the other circles of Kufa closed down because the entire attendance moved to Abu Hanifah’s circle. More, some of his former teachers began to attend his classes. His students represented the whole Islamic world. They were from Makkah, Madinah, Dimashq, Busra, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Isfahan, Tabaristan, Nishapur, Sarkhas, Bukhara, Samarqand, Tirmiz, Herat, and almost every town north of Iraq, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
After a couple of years, when he had trained men like Abu Yusuf, Muhammad ibn Hasan, Zufar, Hasan ibn Ziyad, who all achieved the status of Mujitahidin with expertise in Law, apart from many others who excelled in other disciplines such as `Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Yahya ibn Sa`eed, Da’ud al-Ta`ee, and many others, he converted his sessions into an academy. He was not merely a mujtahid but a maker of Mujitahideen. In this new academy, a first experience in the Islamic world, newly arising issues were discussed, sometimes for as long as a month, among the jurists and would-be jurists numbering anything between a few dozens to a hundred, a consensus arrived at, and finally, the solution documented. Thousands of difficult problems were solved.
Jurisprudence was Abu Hanifah’s main contribution, its codification the first in Islamic History. He did not take up narration of Hadith, there were plenty of Hadith narrators around. For every single expert in Fiqh, there were dozens of Hadith narrators and collectors. Indeed, to be fair, Hadith narration was, and has remained, simpler than achieving mastery over Fiqh. Hadith collection or narration does not require the compiler or narrator to master any discipline. Memory plays an important part, especially, the remembrance of tens of thousands of narrators, along with all of their personal details. But Fiqh requires, apart from a good knowledge of Hadith, a good understanding also of those ahadith, their contexts, a thorough knowledge of the Qur’an, its interpretations, a good grasp of the practices of the Companions, mastery in Arabic language, a good hold on logic, the ability to analyze, analogize, and arrive at conclusions that no other Mujitahid could challenge.
Tarikh Baghdad has quite a few allegations against Abu Hanifah made by his adversaries. A few of them are ridiculous. Some people level the criticism that the Imam did not quote many ahadith, and, draw the conclusion that he was weak in Hadith. This can only come from people who do not know Fiqh, its principles and their application. No Mujitahid can issue any ruling without a thorough understanding of the Hadith. Once Imam Abu Haneefa gave a ruling in an assembly of A`mash. A`mash was amazed at the answer. He asked, “How did you arrive at this conclusion?” The Imam said, “From a Hadith, which in fact you had narrated to us.” A`mash admitted: “You jurisconsults (fuqaha’) are like doctors, while we, the collectors of Hadith are like pharmacists. We specialize in the texts and transmitters of the Hadith, but you understand their meanings.” It is also freely alleged that Imam Abu Hanifah used weak ahadith. They do not know that the narrators that are now being judged by remarks of the scholars about them long in the past, Imam Abu Hanifah and scholars of his time knew them in person. The standards of judgment of the narrators were set much later and the dependence is on others’ written remarks about them. But the early scholars knew the narrators personally. They were their contemporaries, and hence evaluated them differently. Further, in great many cases, Hadith plays a secondary role in Abu Hanifah’s rulings, judgments and conclusions: the Qur’an comes first; a point often missed by his adversaries.
No scholar, no matter how popular, has escaped persecution. Abu Hanifah was no exception. First, the Governor of Iraq ordered Abu Hanifah to accept judgeship of Kufa. He refused and, was subjected to 110 lashes of the whip starting with ten a day, and ten added for every refusal. But when he saw that Abu Hanifah was showing no sign of weakness, he gave up. Abu Hanifah was afraid that the authorities would interfere with court proceedings, and get fatwas issued for political purposes. This was perhaps when he was 42.
Later in 146H, when Ibrahim ibn Hasan (a descendant of `Ali) rebelled against the Abbasids, Imam Abu Hanifah supported his cause and helped him with a big sum. Earlier, when Zayd, the son of Zayn al-`Aabideen rose against the Umayyad's, Abu Hanifah had helped him too. He believed that the `Alawiyyun deserved Khilafah more than the Umayyads or `Abbasids. When Mansur, the `Abbasid Caliph, came to know of his inclination towards the progeny of `Ali, he invited him to settle down in Baghdad and take up the post of Chief Justice. Abu Hanifah refused. Several meetings took place to persuade Abu Hanifah. On one occasion, Mansur said, “By Allah, you will have to accept the job” The Imam replied, “By Allah, I will not.” Mansur was boiling with anger. He said, “Do you swear upon my oath?” He replied, “Yes, because it is easy for you to break your oath and offer expiation than me.” At one point Abu Hanifah told him that he did not think he was fit for the job Mansur said, “Of course, you are! You are lying.” Abu Hanifah said, “If I am lying, then I am disqualified for the judiciary.” Ultimately, he got him imprisoned. The Imam kept conducting classes from the prison. Mansur did not feel safe from him and his powerful political influence, even when behind the bars. So, one report says he got him poisoned, another, that he died of whip lashes in 150H
The news of his death spread like wild fire. Hasan ibn `Ammarah, the Judge, washed his body muttering, “By Allah, you were the best of the jurists, best in piety and most devoted to rituals.” There were fifty thousand people at the funeral. But streams of people kept arriving and the funeral Prayers had to be conducted six times. For weeks people kept arriving at his grave to offer funeral Prayers. The Imam had willed that he should be buried in Khayzuran because he thought that that was a piece of land that had not been wrongly confiscated.
When Ibn Mubarak visited his grave, he remarked, weeping, “Abu Hanifah, when Ibrahim ibn Nakha`ee died, he left someone to inherit his position. When Hammad died he left someone to take his position. But when you have died, there is no one to take your place.” He also said, “I never saw anyone more fearful of Allah than Abu Hanifah, whether on trial under the whips or when tried with wealth and property.” Sufyan Thawri said, “In comparison with Abu Hanifah, we were like sparrows against a falcon.” `Ali ibn `Asim said, “If Abu Hanifa’s knowledge was measured against the knowledge of the rest of the scholars contemporary to him, his knowledge would overweigh the rest.” Bishr al-Hafi stated: “No one criticizes Abu Hanifah except an envier or an ignoramus.”
It is narrated that Muhammad al-Baqir told Abu Hanifah during their first meeting in Madinah, “You have altered the religion of my ancestor (Prophet Muhammad) and (the meaning of) his traditions through (the application of) analogy.” Abu Hanifah said, “Allah's refuge.” Muhammad said, “For sure, you did it.” So Abu Hanifah said, “Sit down in your place, as it deserves you, so that I can sit as it deserves of me to sit, for, you deserved from me as honored position as your ancestor – Allah's peace be on him – as it was during his life over his Companions.” So he sat down. Abu Hanifah genuflected before him and said, “I’ll place before you three points, reply to me: Is man weaker or woman?” Al-Baqir replied, “Woman.” Abu Hanifah said, “What is a woman’s share (in inheritance).” He said, “To a man two, while to a woman one.” Abu Hanifah said, “This is the saying of your ancestor (Prophet Muhammad). Now, had I altered his religion, then analogy should have ruled that a man should have one share while a woman two, since a woman is weaker than man.” Then he asked, “Is Prayer superior or fasts?” He said, “Prayer is superior.” He said, “This is the saying of your ancestor. Had I altered your ancestor’s rulings, analogy would have said that when a woman comes out of her menstrual cycle, I should rule that she repeats the Prayers but not the fasts.” Then he asked, “Which is more unclean? Urine or sperm?” He (al-Baqir) said, “Urine is more unclean.” Abu Hanifah said, “Had I altered the religion of your ancestor through analogy, I should have ruled that (when dirtied by) urine (one may) wash himself but make ablution (when dirtied by the emission of) the sperm. But, Allah's refuge that I should alter the religion of your ancestor through analogy.” Muhammad stood up, hugged him, kissed his face, and paid him homage.
A brief introduction to Abu Hanifah’s contribution to the most important subject in Islam, the discipline that has saved the Ummah from disintegration, will be offered with the revision of this work, Allah willing. At this point we end with a few anecdotes from a man considered the most intelligent, an extremely pious, a vastly learned, yet a witty person of his time.
Ibn abi Layla, Kufa’s Qadi used to hold the court in the same Mosque in which Abu Hanifah held his classes. Once, as the Qadi was on his way after his session, he came across a woman who said to a man, “Oh you, the son of two adulterers.” He returned with the instruction that the woman was to be brought to him. When she came, he ordered that she be whipped twice: one set of whips for each of the victim’s parents and instructed that she be lashed then and there. When Abu Hanifah came to know, he said the Qadi committed six mistakes:
1. He returned to hear and judge the case while a Judge should not return after he has closed a session and left the place.
3. He getting her whipped in a standing position, whereas a woman should only be whipped in a sitting position, well-covered.
4. He got her whipped twice, whereas a slanderer should be punished once, no matter how many he or she slanders.
5. Even if someone deserves two sets of lashing, only one should be conducted at a time, the next whipping should await recovery from the first whipping.
6. He took up the case of the woman despite the fact that no one had sued her.
Of course, Ibn abi Layla was upset. He complained to the Governor saying that a young man was interfering in his business. The Governor banned Abu Hanifah from issuing any fatwa. But after some time, he had some difficult problems at hand, needing juridical views, but none could give satisfactory answers. Ultimately, they appealed to Abu Hanifah, and the ban was removed.
A Khariji called Dahhak ibn Qays and a few others rushed into the Mosque in Kufa and threateningly said to Abu Hanifah, “Repent, or we’ll kill you.” Abu Hanifah asked, “Repent for what?” He said, “For having ruled that arbitration is permissible.” (He was referring to `Ali having accepted arbitration during his differences with Mu`awiyyah). Abu Hanifah asked, “Do you want to straightaway kill me, or debate with me?” He said, “OK, I’ll debate.” Abu Hanifah asked, “But, we are bound to disagree, so who would you name to decide if we fail to agree?” He said, “Choose your man.” Abu Hanifah pointed to one of his companions and said, “Will you accept this man to decide between us?” When the Khariji said yes, Abu Hanifah said, “You have accepted arbitration.”
An extremist Shi`ah used to call `Uthman a Jew. He had a daughter for whom he was having difficulty finding a match. Abu Hanifah asked him whether he could help him out. He said he would be grateful. After some time, he told him that he had found a good match: the candidate was good-looking, smart, well-off, well-connected, etc. The man said, “What could be better than that?” Abu Hanifah told him that everything was alright with the man except that he was a Jew. The man protested, “But how can I give away my daughter to a Jew?” He replied, “Why not, when, according to you our Prophet gave his two daughters to a Jew?” The man repented.
A case was brought to him of a cranky man who said to his wife who was on a ladder, “If you went up further, you are divorced three times, and if you came down, you are divorced three times.” Then he felt sorry. Abu Hanifah was approached, he gave the solution, “Let some people physically bring her down from the ladder and place her on the ground.”
Someone gifted him something. Imam Abu Hanifah responded by gifting him something much more expensive. The man said, “If I knew this is how you will respond, I would not have sent you the gift.” Abu Hanifah replied, magnanimously and correctly, “The credit goes to the initiator.”
For ten long years he supported Abu Yusuf financially in order to free him for studies. When Abu Yusuf appreciated his help by saying, “I haven’t come across a man more generous than you,” he would say, “You haven’t seen my teacher Hammad. Had you, you would not say this.” He had reserved a part of his profits for the Muhadditheen contemporary to him. He distributed it among them after every deal resulted in profits, leaving none who was engaged in the study of Hadith.
He left one son, Hammad, who was his equal in piety. He avoided any contacts with the courts. However, his grandson Isma`il, son of Hammad, achieved great fame as a Judge at Basra, appointed by Haroon al-Rasheed. He left behind him thousands of students who learnt from him all that could be learnt. He did not need to, nor perhaps had the time or inclination for writing books, what his students were writing down anyway, not to speak of the compilation of Fiqh rulings of the academy. Yet, we hear from scholars of the past of a few books left by him, though none seems to have survived intact.