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Translated by Nehal Anwar Qasmi, Najran
Brief Sketch of Imam Abu Hanifa's Life:
Nu'man bin Thabit bin Nu'man bin Marzuban, better known by his nickname Abu Hanifa, was born in Kufa in 80 A.H. He was of Persian origin. His grandfather Nu'man bin Marzuban was regarded even by the elite class of Kabul as wise and astute man. Marzuban, his great-grandfather, had been ruler of a part of Persia. It is recorded in Imam Abu Hanifa's biography that his father Thabit was once brought to Hazrat Ali, the companion of the Prophet (PBUH), who prayed for him and for his descendents. At that time, Thabit was too young and the prayer that Hazrat Ali made for his lineage resulted in birth of the highly esteemed scholar Imam Abu Hanifa in the family.
Imam Abu Hanifa at his early age acquired a basic education and chose a trade as his career, but he was intelligent and had gifted in-born talent. That is why Shaikh Amir Shabi (17A.H.-104A.H.), a noted Muhaddith of Kufa who had the privilege of meeting over 5000 companions of the Prophet (PBUH), suggested that he should continue to learn more about Ilm ul Kalam, Hadith & Fiqh. Thus he left the trade and studied those subjects so dedicatedly from the various scholars of Kufa, Basra and Baghdad that he mastered all those subjects and was widely acclaimed as the greatest Imam in the academic world.
Abu Jafar Mansoor an Abbasid Caliph who was well aware of Imam Abu Hanifa's popularity tried to force him to become Chief Judge of the State, but Imam Abu Hanifa declined and swore not to accept the post. This invoked the anger of the caliph and finally Imam Abu Hanifa was detained in jail in 146A.H. Even there, the indomitable jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him. Imam Muhammad the great Muhaddith and Faqih is one of Imam Abu Hanifa's pupils who learnt from him in jail. The caliph of that period was so scared of his increasing popularity that he poisoned him. When Imam Abu Hanifa felt the effect of poison and became sure that the death was imminent, he went into Sajdah and died. He was buried in Khaizran graveyard in Baghdad and almost 50,000 people participated in the funeral.
The man who had the honour of transmitting Hadiths from Prophet's companions and great Taabi'een said goodbye to the world in 150 A.H. A brief sketch of his life reveals that he willingly sacrificed his life so that the caliph wouldn't be able to impose his own decisions upon him.
The Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) Prophecy About Imam Abu Hanifa:
The famous commentator of the Qur'an, Shaikh Jalaluddin Siuti Sha'fei Misri (849A.H – 911 A.H) quoted in his book (تبييض الصحيفة في مناقب الامام أبي حنيفة) a number of Hadiths that clearly prophesize about Imam Abu Hanifa and have been mentioned in different words in Bukhari, Muslim etc.:
“If knowledge were found near the star Pleiades, some people of Persia would acquire it even". (Narrated by Bukhari). Similar Hadiths with slightly different words have been recorded by Muslim and other books Hadith. After quoting all these Hadiths, the commentator Shaikh Siuti adds that in his view the Hadiths are obvious prophecies about Imam Abu Hanifa and they are so clear that we need not to look for other evidence.
Shaikh Ibn Al Hajar Al Haitamy Almakki Al Sha'fei (909 A.H - 937 A.H) writes in his book (الخيرات الحسان في مناقب امام أبي حنيفة) "Some pupils of Shaikh Jalaluddin Siuti believe the Hadiths mentioned above indicate towards Abu Hanifa, because there was no other man of his caliber in Persia who could reach the level of his greatness.
Explanation: We may differ on who or what has been meant by those Hadiths, but various scholars of different schools of thought including the two quoted above concede the point that it was Imam Abu Hanifa who was prophesied by the Prophet ( PBUH).
Imam Abu Hanifa's Status as a Tabi‘ee:
When asked about Imam Abu Hanifa's status as Tabi'ee, the renowned scholar of Hadith Hafiz ibn Al Hajar Asqalani commented that Imam Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa in 80 A.H, the period when a group of Prophets' companions were alive. Hazrat Abdullah bin Aufa lived in Kufa and Hazrat Anas bin Malik in Basra, thus it is probable that Imam Abu Hanifa got a chance to see them. Ibn-e-Saad also reports from his Sanad that beside Hazrat Anas bin Malik there were many other companions who were alive, so it is likely that Imam Abu Hanifa is a Tabi'ee and happened to see a few of them.
Most of the Muhaditheen including Khatib Baghdadi, Allama Ibn Hajr, Allama Nawawi, Allama Zahabi, Allama Zain ul Abidin Sakhawi, Hafiz Abu Na'im Asbahani, Imam Dar-Qutni, Hafiz ibn Abdul Bar, Allama ibnul Jauzi etc. are of the opinion that Imam Abu Hanifa got the chance to see Hazrat Anas bin Malik.
As per the Muhadditheen’s given definition of a Tabi'ee, it is not compulsory for a Tabi'ee to report Hadith from Sahaba. The mere sight of him is enough to be called Tabi'ee. Imam Abu Hanifa not only saw the companions of the prophet but also reported Hadiths from a few of them, especially Hazrat Anas bin Malik.
The above mentioned opinions of the scholars of Fiqh and Hadith, suggest that Imam Abu Hanifa was born at a time when many companions were alive, and got to see some of them. Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) himself prophesied about Imam Abu Hanifa, as described earlier, which is an obvious testimony of his greatness.
Hadiths which Imam Abu Hanifa reported directly From Companions:
Shaikh Abu Ma'shar Abdul Karim bin Abdussamad Al Tabri Al Maqri Al Shafi'ei wrote a booklet in which he listed all the Hadiths that Imam Abu Hanifa reported directly from Sahabas like: 1. Hazrat Anas bin Malik 2. Hazrat Abdullah bin Jaza Al Zubaidi 3. Hazrat Jabir bin Abdullah 4. Hazrat Ma'qal bin Yasar 5. Hazrat Waathila bin Al As'qa 6. Hazrat A'isha bint Ajr (May Allah be pleased with them).
Explanation: Although, Muhadditheen differ on the exact number of companions from whom Imam Abu Hanifa directly transmitted Hadiths, they all agree on the point that he was a Tabi'ee.
Kufa - The Center of Scholars of Fiqh and Hadith:
During the caliphate of Hazrat Umar Al Farooq, Iraq was conquered. Hazrat Saad bin Abi Waqqas a close companion of the Prophet (PBUH) got permission from Hazrat Umar Al Farooq and established a new city of Kufa where he employed the most eloquent and linguist people from different Arab tribes. Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood also was made a part of the plan. He was knowledgeable and well versed with Sunnah and Islamic jurisprudence. Even other companions time and again referred to him in day to day Masa'il. The Prophet (PBUH) said "If a person wants to recite the Qur'an, the way it was revealed, he should follow the method of Ibn-e-Umm-e-Abd" (Abdullah bin Mas'ood). Once the city was fully established, Hazrat Umar sent Abdullah bin Masood to teach Qur'an and Sunnah. He remained there throughout the period of Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Uthman caliphate teaching Qur'an and Sunnah to the inhabitants of the city. When Hazrat Ali was chosen as caliph he shifted Darul Khilafah to Kufa and it became a huge hub of education, where a large number of Sahabah and Taabi'een, especially Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood, and his students were always available to teach Qur'an and Sunnah.
Imam Abu Hanifa inherited the legacy of Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood through three of his teachers: Shaikh Hammad, Shaikh Ibrahim Nakha'i, and Shaikh Al'qama. He accompanied Shaikh Hammad for 18 years and replaced him in Kufa when he died. Since Imam Abu Hanifa inherited Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood’s legacy, we see his opinions in Masa'il of Fiqh are generally based on Hadiths narrated by him. For instance, Rafa Yadain before & after Roku is one of a few issues in which Hadiths are contradictory, but Imam Abu Hanifa acts upon the Hadith of Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood, and says it is not Sunnah.
Composition of Hadiths in Caliphate of Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz and Imam Abu Hanifa:
Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz during his caliphate appointed two prominent scholars of Hadith Shaikh Abu Bakr bin Al Hazam and Shaikh Muhammad bin Shihab Zuhri to collect all Hadiths in books. Till then, generally the Hadiths were not preserved in books, instead they were learnt by heart. These two were the first who compiled them in books. The Prophet (PBUH) prohibited his companions from writing Hadiths, so that they would not get messed up with the Qur'an. A few Faqih Sahaba, could distinguish Hadiths from the Qur'an, and they were allowed to write them. But in the subsequent period, the rightly guided caliphs collected the Qur'anic verses and shaped them into a book. Now there was no fear of the Qur'an and Hadiths being mixed up together. So Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz commanded Muhadditheen to compile Hadiths in books from Hadiths that were preserved in the hearts of various people.
This first collection consisted mostly the Hadiths that were attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) by two narrators in the middle; the Tabi'ee and the Sahabi. Some were attributed even by one narrator. Since the period was nearer the period of the Prophet (PBUH) and the narrators were either Sahabi or Tabi'ee there was no possibility of the Hadith, being weak or false.
At that time this collection was available for Imam Abu Hanifa. So he derived all his Shar'i Masa'il from it. In general, he got the Hadiths which reached the Prophet (PBUH) by two narrators in the middle, he also narrated Hadith with one narrator but they are few. The Hadiths with two narrators in the middle are called Thuna'i. These types of Hadiths are considered of highest quality but they are not available in any of Bukhari Muslim etc. Bukhari records 22 Hadiths with three narrators (Thulasiyat). Out of them 20 are reported by the pupils of Imam Abu Hanifa.
Islamic Regime From 80 A.H To 150 A.H & Imam Abu Hanifa:
Imam Abu Hanifa, as mentioned in the first chapter, was born in 80 A.H. during the regime of the Umayyad caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan. Abdul Malik died in 86 A.H. six years after Imam Abu Hanifa's birth. Then, his son Walid bin Abdul Malik took over the regime. He reigned for 10 years and died in 96 A.H., vacating the place of governance to his brother Sulaiman bin Abdul Malik. The new caliph Sulaiman would only rule for 3 years and died in 99A.H., but prior to his death he chose another member of the family, Hazrat Umar bin Abul Aziz, who was not his son nor his brother, for the caliphate. This was a strange decision and thus people were surprised by it. However, they were happy. Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz ruled for a short span of 2 years & 6 months (99A.H-101A.H), but his regime was so just and fair that it reminded people of the caliphate of rightly guided caliphs and earned him the title of the fifth rightly guided caliph.
The authors of history attribute many valuable achievements to Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz, but the most significant of all was his collection of Hadiths which has already been mentioned. Imam Abu Hanifa was now 19-21 years old and witnessed the period when Hadiths were being collected in books.
He continued to live in Kufa through most of the remaining period of the Umayyad caliphate, but in the last days of the caliphate he migrated to Makkah due to some differences between him and the government. He lived for 7 years in Makkah. Then, he again came back to Kufa when the Umayyad caliphate was finished and the new governance of the Abbasid caliphate was established.
Abu Jafar Al Mansoor the Abbasid caliph offered Imam Abu Hanifa the post of Chief Judge of the state, but he refused because he knew well that Al Mansoor was not sincere and his only intention was to enhance his regime. Incensed by his refusal, the ruler had Imam Abū Ḥanīfah arrested, locked in prison and tortured. He was never fed nor cared for. Even there, the indomitable jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him until he died in the prison in 150 A.H. Imam Ahmad bin Hambal very often wept when he recalled the torture Imam Abu Hanifa went through at Al Mansoor's hand and prayed for him. (Al Khairatul Hisaan: Vol 1, Page 59).
Imam Abu Hanifa and Science of Hadith:
The Hadiths transmitted through Imam Abu Hanifa are rare in the famous books of Hadith and that is why some bigoted groups of people are apt to believe that he knew little about Hadiths. In fact this opinion is based on hatred and prejudice that the enemies of Imam Abu Hanifa have deep in their hearts. The man who learnt Science of Hadith when he was only 20 year old, lived in the golden period of the companions, Taabi'een and Tab-e- Taabi'een, and got the Hadiths of the Prophet through only one or two narrators in the middle. He spent eighteen years of his life with pupils of the great Faqih Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood, and lived in the period of Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz when Hadiths were being collected. Abu Hanifa learnt the Science of Hadith from various Scholars of Kufa, Basrah, Baghdad, Makkah and Madina who were the great Muhadith of all time. He derived thousands of Masa'il from the Qur'an and Hadith, played a vital role in composition of Fiqh, and produced a large number of scholars who enlightened the world with their Islamic knowledge. How it is possible that such man was ignorant or knew little about Hadith. It is as if we say that Hazrat Abu Bakr, Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Uthman didn't know much of Hadith, and that is why their narrations are rare in the books. While it is obvious to everybody that all three of them were closer to the Prophet (PBUH), they had their own reasons for not narrating all what they heard from him. Similarly, Imam Abu Hanifa was as great a Muhaddith as he was a Faqih.
The Famous Books of Hadiths and Imam Abu Hanifa:
The famous books of Hadiths like Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Abu Da'ood, Nasa'i, Ibn-e-Majah etc. were written almost 100 years after the demise of Imam Abu Hanifa. Even their authors, the majority of whom were pupils of Imam Abu Hanifa's pupils, were not born at his time. But Imam Abu Yousuf and Imam Muhammad the two acclaimed pupils of Imam Abu Hanifa collected his Hadiths as well as lessons of Fiqh and shaped them into books. Most of them are still available. If we compare these books with others, we will find them more authentic and reliable as they consist of Hadiths which reach the Prophet (PBUH) through only two narrators in the middle.
Teachers Of Imam Abu Hanifa:
The biography authors count almost 4000 senior scholars from whom Imam Abu Hanifa learnt. He himself says: "There is not a single Muhaddith in Kufa and Basra that he hasn't got benefit from". For more detail, read Biography of Imam Abu Hanifa. Here is a short list of his teachers: Shaikh Hammad bin Abi Sulaiman, Shaikh Ata bin abi Rabah, Shaikh Ikrama Barbari, Shaikh Imam Auza'I, Shaikh Imam Makhool and two of the seven famous Faqih of Al Madina Al Munawwarh.
Students of Imam Abu Hanifa:
Allama Shibli Numani mentions in 'Siratun Numan' that the circle of Imam Abu Hanifa's class was even wider than border of the contemporary caliph's governance. Imam Shafi'ie says "Those who aspire to be perfect in Fiqh, should read Imam Abu Hanifa's Fiqh". He also says: "If he had not been the student of Imam Muhammad (Pupil of Imam Abu Hanifa) he would not have had the high status in Fiqh". The list of his pupils is so large that this small piece is not adequate, that is why, it is better to name only a few, who were closer to him and continued to teach as per his Maslak. 1. Imam Abu Yousuf 2. Imam Muhammad bin Hassan Al Shaibani 3. Imam Zufar bin Huzail 4. Imam Yahya bin Sa'id Al Qattan 5. Imam Yahya bin Zakariya 6. Muhaddith Abdullah bin Mubarak 7. Imam Wakee bin Al Jarrah Imam Da'ood Al Ta'i etc.
The Collection of Fiqh:
Scholars have defined the Science of Fiqh in different words, but the common point of all the definitions is to understand Islamic law in the light of Qur'an and Hadith. Before we understand the Fiqh-e-Hanafi, we need to know an important principle that Imam Abu Hanifa set for himself. He said, “If I want to know a ruling of Shari'ah about an issue, I first see Qur'an and Hadith. If that issue has not been mentioned in both of them, I search the sayings or actions of the companions. If it is also not there, I go through the Fatawa of others, and think of my own Qiyas or Ijtihad.” He further says, “if I get a Hadith (though weak in Sanad) on a particular issue I always prefer Hadith over my own Ijtihad.” Imam Abu Hanifa did not make this principle on his own account, but he derived it from the famous Hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) told to Hazrat Mu'aaz bin Jabal to do so. Imam Abu Hanifa learnt from three very intimate pupils of Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood. That is why, the Fiqh-e-Hanafi as a whole is based on his Hadiths. He was a Faqih and people, even when the Prophet (PBUH) was alive, turn to him in Masa'il of Shari'ah. He taught Qur'an and Hadith in Kufa. Shaikh Alqama bin Qais and Shaikh Aswad bin Yazid were his two closest students. Once he said that whatever he learnt from the Quran and Hadith, he taught to Alaqam and now his knowledge was no more than Alqama's.
When both Shaikh Alqama and Shaikh Aswad died, Shaikh Ibrahim Nakha'i was chosen to become their successor in Kufa. He made so many valuable contributions to the Fiqh that people started calling him the Faqih of Iraq. The most significant achievement of Shaikh Ibrahim Nakha'i, as Fuqaha write, was a collection of Fiqh that was later shaped into books by Abu Hanifa's pupils, especially by Imam Muhammad, Imam Yousuf and Imam Zufar. These books are still available.
Explanation: Today, some people read a few pages of Hadith and feel themselves inclined to denial of Fiqh. But the fact is, to understand the Qur'an and Hadith, and derive Masa'il of Shari'ah from them is called Fiqh. Moreover, the pupils of Imam Abu Hanifa had composed the Fiqh-e-Hanafi even before books like Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Abu Da'ood, Nasa'i, Ibn-e-Majah, Tabrani, Baihaqi, etc. came into existence. So, if the Fiqh was of no importance, the authors of those books of Hadiths would definitely have rejected it.
Point: If we go through the history, we will find that all the previous governments, in particular Abbasid and Umayyad, followed the Fiqh-e-Hanafi in 75 percent of their judicial and civil laws. Even today, the judicial laws of majority of Muslim countries are based on Fiqh-e-Hanafi.
The Opinions of Ulama-e-Ummat About Imam Abu Hanifa:
The previous chapters have clarified Imam Abu Hanifa's status as Muhaddith and the contributions he made towards Fiqh. Now, this chapter describes the opinions, Ulama-e-Ummat hold about him.
· Imam Mis'ar bin Kidam (153 A.H ) often told the people that he had not envied any of the men of Kufa except two persons: Imam Abu Hanifa & his Fiqh, and Shaikh Hassan bin Salih & his piousness. (Taarikh-e-Baghdad Vol: 14, Page: 328)
· Imam Auza'i the Faqih and Muhadith of Syria (157 A.H ) used to say: "Imam Abu Hanifa knows the complicated issues better than any other man of knowledge". (Manaqib-e-Kurdi, Page: 90)
· Imam Da'ood Al Ta'i ( 160 A.H ) said: Imam Abu Hanifa has got knowledge that touches the heart of believers. (Al Khairat Al Hisaan, Page: 32)
· Once Imam Sufyan Thori (167 A.H ) told a man who had just visited Imam Abu Hanifa that he had been fortunate to meet the greatest Faqih on the surface of earth. (Al Khairat Al Hisan, Page: 32).
· Imam Malik bin Anas (179 A.H) often confessed that he had not seen a man like Imam Abu Hanifa. (Al Khairat Al Hisan, Page: 28)
· Imam Waki bin Al Jarrah (195 A.H ) said that he had not met a Faqih greater than Imam Abu Hanifa.
· Imam Yahya bin Mueen (233 A.H ) generally delivered Fatwa in accordance with what Imam Abu Hanifa had said and memorized his Hadiths. (He heard a number of Imam Abu Hanifa's Hadith). (Jami Bayanul Ilm by: Allama Ibnul Bar Vol: 2 Page: 149).
· Imam Shafi'i (204 A.H) says we all need Imam Abu Hanifa in Fiqh. If a man wants to become perfect Faqih, he is required to study his Fiqh. (Taarikh-e-Baghdad Vol: 23 Page: 161).
· Imam Muwaffaq bin Ahmad Makki referred to Imam Bakr bin Muhammad Zaranjri (152 A.H) had told him that Imam Abu Hanifa's book 'Kitabul Aathar' is a selection, out of 40000 Hadiths. (Manaaqib Imam Abu Hanifa).
The topic in question is indeed very vast. It requires volumes to cover all aspect of Imam Abu Hanifa's life and his contributions towards Hadith and fiqh. Here, in this article I have attempted to collect the summarized data related to Imam Abu Hanifa and remove wrong perception of few people regarding his knowledge about Hadith. Allama Jalaluddin Siuti wrote a comprehensive biography of Imam Abu Hanifa titled 'تبيض الصحيفة في مناقب الإمام أبي حنيفة '. For detailed information on the subject, I advise readers to read this book.