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Abu Hanifah, 'Imam e Azam'  (80 - 150H.)


Summarized by: Mir Iqbal Ali M.D.

Surrey, B.C. Canada .


SAW=Sallallhu Alaihe Wasallam; RA=Rahmatullah Alaih; Fiqh=Islamic code of particular Madhab; Faqih= a scholar of Fiqh;

Imam Nu'man bin Thabit bin Zuta bin Mah, popularly known by his title Abu Hanifah was born in Kufah , Iraq in 80 H. He was of Persian ancestry. He is well known for his compilation of Hadis and Fiqh on which is based the Hanafi Madhab. He was quite young when he participated in debates on Islamic topics and became recognized for his intellect and talents. He was encouraged by a great Islamic teacher Shubaii(RA) to join his religious classes and thus started learning at the age of eighteen.

Several Companions of Mohammed RasulAllah(SAW) were still alive and he had met a few of them, although too young to acquire any formal education from them. His father had met Hazrat Ali the Khalifah. He travelled to Medina and Mekkah several times and to Baghdad and met and exchanged views with other learned men and Imams of other Fiqh. He was most dedicated to his teacher Hammad(RA) with whom he spent twenty two years, learning Hadith, Kalam, Fiqh and other aspects of Islamic studies. Later he found Fiqh of great interest and spent most of his life gathering, interpreting and classifying rules and regulations, with Quran as the very first reference, then Hadith, then rulings of the Companions of Mohammed (SAW) and other Ulema, if available on the subject, then taking into consideration the traditions of the Islamic practices, and finally using his own deductions with the knowledge of Islamic law, and giving Fatwas about the issues in question. He always used to tell people after such Fatwas that it was his opinion at the time, that they should seek further opinions from other Faqihs and accept the best solution offered. His compilation is said to have dealt with sixty thousand issues. He had a staff of thirty to forty dedicated students who spent thirty years doing this work. Many of his students later became famous for their knowledge, acquired through his teachings and became Imams and Muftis and Qadis in different places, and made great contributions towards Hadith and Fiqh.

After the death of his teacher Hammad(RA)in 120 H., Abu Hanifah(RA) was appointed principal of the school. He was also a businessman, selling clothes and carried on the business for many years, while pursuing learning and teaching. He lived during the Ummawi rulefor fifty two years and later during the Abbsia rule for eighteen. He served as the Chief Qadi and supervised the courts and many times personally oversaw the proceedings within those courts. He never hesitated to criticize the judges and was never afraid to openly point out the mistakes of the Khalifah of the time, when he thought they were deviating from Islamic values in their actions.

A few years after the era of Hazrat Ali (RA) Muslims became divided into many sects, and involved in much controversy over many religious issues. Discussions between groups and sects became common and were even encouraged by the rulers, and many learned men of high rank were invited to take part. Abu Hanifa (RA)participated in many such debates and exchanged views with teachers of other sects, notable among them being the Shia and Mu’tazila groups. The compilation and formulation of the Fiqh by Abu Hanifah(RA) was thus very timely, and the most notable written jurisprudence in Islamic history. It preserved authentic Ahadith and correct interpretations of the Islamic Law.

Abu Hanifa(RA) is said to have compiled five books- Fiqh Akbar, Risalat ul Mu'allim wa Mut'allim, Maktub ba nam Osman Al Batti, Kitab Al Rad 'Al Al Qadria, Al 'Ilme Sharqan wa Gharban wa B'adan wa Qarban. It is not known for sure whether these were for his own reference or whether these were ever published. One author thinks they existed until the sixth century. Material from these books was copied by his disciples for their own books, and acknowledged most frequently therein, published, and widely circulated over many centuries, and are available to this day.

Notable among these are writings of Qazi Abu Yousuf(RA), Imam Mohammed bin Hasan(RA) (popularly known as 'Imam Mohammed'). Zafr bin Hazeel did not publish books but became Qazi of Basra and taught Fiqh based on Abu Hanifah's writings. Yousuf son of Abu Yousuf wrote Kitab ul Aasar that contains discussions of Fatwas collected in Kufah. Abu Yousuf published at least fourteen books, which are well documented. These consist of subjects dealing with salat, zakaat, fasting, fara’id (compulsory duties), taxation (written for Khalifa Haroon Rasheed), Kitab ul Jawame' consisting of forty volumes, dealing with the issues which were causing difference of opinions among the various Muslim groups of people, and offered their solutions.

Four other books are mentioned which represent the thoughts and viewpoints of Abu Hanifah(RA). Imam Mohammed (RA) wrote at least eleven books, which are well known by their names. His writings are considered to be of the first rank among books written for the Hanafi Madhab. 'Kitab Al Mabsoot' is his biggest book which contains many questions on religious practices, and extensively quotes Abu Hanifah(RA) as well as other collections of Fatwahs. In his book 'Al Jame ul Saghir' he extensively quotes Abu Yousuf(RA). 'Jame ul Kabir' consists of many quotations of his own and has had much sharah (interpretations) written by at least nineteen ulema (scholars in Islam) whose names are well documented. 'Al Rid Ala Ahlal Madinah' was viewed by Imam Shafa'i and given reference to in his book 'Kitab e Alam'. Another book 'Kitab ul Asaar' contains many Ahadith and 'Asaar' which were known at the time in Iraq by various Fuqha and resembles the book by similar name written by Abu Yousuf (RA).

Later Abul Fazal Mohammed bin Mohammed and Sarqsi wrote further books based upon the writings of Imam Mohammed (RA). Further writings count several Fuqha such as Hasan bin Ziad Lu'lui, Isa bin Imam, Mohammed bin Sam'a, Hilal bin Yahya of Basra, Ahmed bin Umr bin Mohir ul Khasaf, Imam Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salamah Abu Jafar ut Tahawi(RA). 'Hujjat ul Lahul Baligha' of Shah Wali Ullah, and the more recent Jawahar e Fiqh from Darul Uloom, Karachi are well known sources of Fiqh in our times. Some other students of Abu Hanifah(RA) became well known Muhadditheen(scholars of Hadith). Thus through the efforts of Abu Hanifah(RA) and his students, enormous amount of literature was produced for the Fiqh.

Shibli Nu'mani (RA) writes in his biography of Abu Hanifah(RA) "He subscribed to the doctrine of rationality and beneficence for the rules of the Shariah. It is because of this quality, the Hanafi Fiqh is most in accord with rational principles. There are hundreds of questions relating to ritual duties(ibadat) in which Abu Hanifah's enunciations show that he gave special consideration to the inner purpose and the benefits likely to accrue from the Sharia. This characteristic is more manifest in his treatment of secular matters." He for the first time laid down rules regarding transactions and contracts, crime and punishments, adjudication of justice and collecting evidence “.

Rules for marriage were defined and rights of a woman with her right to agree or disagree to a marriage were restored. Women were allowed to give testimony as a single witness, and the rights of the non-Muslims living in Muslim countries were liberalised. Hanafi Fiqh is described to be the easier Fiqh and found followers in many countries of the world, including Iraq, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, North Africa, China and Turkey, and other countries, to name a few.

Hazrat Abu Hanifah(RA) exchanged views with many other learned Imams and Muhaddithin (transmitters of Hadith), and with learned men with Shia belief from Iraq and Persia . He strongly believed that Ahle Bait (relatives of Mohammed SAW) should have the right to be Khalifahs. He had very high regards for Hazrat Ali. When the Khalifahs in Iraq used excesses over the people, he made his displeasure known to them. This sometimes created a feeling that he was not loyal to them. It is said that he supported the revolt of Ibrahim against the rule of Mansoor, the Khalifah of Iraq. Ibrahim was defeated and killed and Abu Hanifah (RA) entered into the bad books of the Khalifah. It is said that he was not immediately punished, from fear of provoking the masses.

His political opponents in the high places in the Khalifah's government became successful in having him branded as an opponent of the regime. He was thus arrested. He died a few weeks after being jailed. One version is that he was poisoned while in prison, another, that he was released and died soon after, in Rajab 150 H. Qadi Hassan b. Ammarah bathed his body and stated, "By Allah, you were the greatest Faqih and the most pious man of our time. You had all the qualities of greatness in you. You were indeed so great that no one after you may hope to reach your level".

It is said that fifty thousand persons attended the first funeral prayer and the prayer was repeated six times because of the large number of people present. He was buried at Khaizran near Baghdad . In 459 H., Sultan Alp Arslan Saljuqi had a dome erected over his tomb. A Madrasa (religious school) was also built close to it, called ' Mashhad Abu Hanifah'. His tomb is a place for pilgrimage for Muslims, and the Madrasa still continues to function.

There are twenty seven biographies of Abu Hanifah(RA) listed. A few are available in most bookstores. Shibli Nu'mani(RA) wrote 'Seerat e Nu'man', translated by Hadi Hassan into English, published by Idara Isha’at e Dinyaat, New Dehli. Professor Abu Zahra of Cairo has written Hayat e Abu Hanifah, an excellent book, with Urdu translation by Prof. Hariri of Faisalabad .

Summarised by: Mir Iqbal Ali M.D.

Surrey, B.C. Canada .



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