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Imam Abu Hanifa
Jamil Ahmad


The glorious period of the Caliphate Rashida lasting 30 years will go down in the history of mankind as the most successful experiment of democratic rule in the world, in which there was hardly any distinction between the ruler and the ruled. Notwithstanding his being the Head of the mightiest Empire of his time, Umar the Great refused to taste wheat unless it was available to every citizen of his vast dominions. This golden epoch of Islamic democracy was, however, short-lived and the evil forces which lay dormant under the exemplary rule of the Iron Caliph, raised their head during the reign of Yazid. The noble descendants of the Prophet had to make supreme sacrifice without precedent in history in order to hold aloft the banner of truth and virtue in the world. Brutal political persecution by Yazid of his opponents was relentlessly continued by tyrant Hajjaj Bin Yusaf. Even such venerable persons as Hasan Basri and Anas Bin Malik could not escape the wrath of the Umayyed rulers and their lieutenants. The two and half years’ rule of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, who endeavoured to revive the traditions of his maternal grandfather Farooq-e-Azam, was only a glimmer in the vast gloom of evil, which at last prevailed over it.

In such a dark atmosphere was born Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa who valiantly braved the persecution by the ruling class and never budged from the right path.

Abu Hanifa, Nuaman Bin Tabit, the greatest authority on Muhammadan canon law, was born in Kufa in 80 ASH. (699 AD), in the reign of Abdul Malik Bin Marwan. He was an Arab of Persian extraction. His grandfather, Zauti, embraced Islam and presented Tabit, his son, to Hazrat Ali, who prayed for the glorification of his family which ultimately took shape in the form of Imam Abu Hanifa. The Imam saw the reign of ten Umayyad Caliphs including that of Umar bin Abdul Aziz who ruled when the Imam was eighteen years of age. He also saw two Abbasid Caliphs Saffah and Mansoor. The notorious tyrant Hajjaj Bin Yusuf, the great persecutor of the Muslims died when Imam Abu Hanifa was 15 years of age.

During his childhood, Hajjaj was the Umayyad viceroy of Iraq. The venerable Imams and religious leaders who wielded great influence on the Arabs were made the main targets of his persecutions. Primarily occupied with his commercial occupations during the Caliphate of Waleed, the Imam paid little attention to education. But during the reign of Sulaiman, when education received state patronage and people showed greater inclination towards learning, Abu Hanifa developed a penchant for acquiring religious knowledge. An interesting story is told about the beginning of his studies. One day while he was passing through the Bazaar, he came across Imam Shebi, a well-known Kufi Divine, who casually questioned him about his literary pursuits. Receiving the reply in the negative, Imam Shebi felt sorry and advised young Hanifa to devote his time to studies. Imam Abu Hanifa took the advice to his heart and whole-heartedly plunged himself into studies and soon amassed knowledge of theology and jurisprudence. In those times, literature, Fiqh and Hadith, were the only subjects taught. The associations with Persian, Syrian and Egyptian savants enlarged the scope of Arabian studies. Philosophy and logic entered the sphere of religious doctrines which is termed as ‘Kalaam’. Abu Hanifa, who was gifted with a keen sense of reasoning and exceptional intelligence, acquired great fame as the interpreter of religious doctrines. Hammad, who was one of the greatest Imams of the time, owned the biggest school in Kufa. Abu Hanifa joined his school. Hammad was impressed by the intelligence, perspicuousness and extraordinarily retentive memory of the new pupil who soon became his favourite. Out of great regard for his learned teacher, Abu Hanifa did not open any school during the lifetime of Hammad, in spite of his great reputation as a unique jurist. Makkah and Medina, Kufa and Basra were the great centres of learning in those times. The venerable Companions of the Prophet (sws) and their illustrious associates resided in these cities and adorned their literary circles. Kufa, which was founded during Umar’s Caliphate as an Arab colony, had the distinction of being the Capital of Ali. It was inhabited by more than one thousand Companions of the Prophet (sws), including twenty-four who had participated in the battle of Badr. It grew to be the famous centre of Hadith, and Imam Abu Hanifa took full advantage of the presence of the celebrated mohaddis (teacher of Hadith) there. According to Abdul Mahasin Shifai, Imam Abu Hanifa had learned Hadith from as many as 93 teachers. He attended the lectures of Ata Bin Abi Rabah and Imam Ikrama who were reputed teachers of Hadith. They held Abu Hanifa in high esteem.

The Imam went to Medina in 102 A.H. in pursuit of Knowledge and attended the lessons of seven top theologians. The celebrated Imam Jafar Sadiq and his illustrious son Imam Musa Kazim the descendants of the House of the Prophet (sws), were the greatest authorities in Islamic learning of their times and Imam Abu Hanifa took full advantage of their society in Medina. He was highly impressed with the erudition of Imam Jafar Sadiq whom he acknowledged as the most learned man in the world of Islam. Imam Abu Hanifa also attended the classes of Imam Malik who was thirteen years younger than he. It was his good fortune that Umar Bin Abdul Aziz had organised the study and recording of Hadiths on a sounder footing. Before the Caliphate of Umar Bin Abdul Aziz, the record of Hadiths was confined to the memory of the people. In a letter addressed to the learned men of Medina in 101 A.H., he requested them to preserve in writing the record of Hadiths. Imam Zuhri furnished the first collection of Hadiths. The teaching of Hadiths, too, had undergone a revolutionary change. From his pulpit, the learned teacher discoursed on the subject and the pupils assembled round him with pen and paper and carefully took down the notes. Imam Abu Hanifa had learnt Hadiths from more than four thousand persons.

It redounds to the credit of Imam Abu Hanifa that he left behind the greatest number of pupils in the world of Islam, including Qazi Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad, Hafiz Abdur Razzaq, Abdullal Bin Al Mubarak, Abu Naeem Faza, and Abu Asim who acquired great fame in their days. Qazi Abu Yusuf rose to be the Grand Qazi of the Abbasid Caliphate during the time of Haroon Rashid.

The principal occupation of Imam Abu Hanifa was business. He carried on a flourishing trade of textile goods. His success in commercial enterprises was largely due to his absolute honesty in business transactions. He was so much trusted by all that even non-Muslims deposited their wealth with him. He did not believe in excessive profits and never tolerated to earn money through illegal and questionable means.

Once he sent a few pieces of cotton goods to one Hafs Bin Abdur Rahman with a word that some of the pieces were defective of which the customer should be apprised. Hafs forgot to do so and disposed of all the pieces. This deeply shocked the Imam who by way of atonement gave away the entire sum amounting to 30 thousand dirhams in charity.

Once a woman brought to him a piece of Haz (costly cloth) for disposal. She demanded hundred dirhams as its price. She was wonder-struck with his honesty when he paid her five hundred dirhams for the piece.

The prices of commodities kept in his shop were fixed. Once in his absence, some of his pupils unknowingly sold certain articles at relatively higher prices. When he learned about it on return, he resented it very much, saying they had cheated the customer. Meanwhile the customer who was an inhabitant of Medina, had left Kufa. It is stated that the Imam himself undertook a journey to Medina and paid him the balance.

Contrary to the general tendencies prevalent among the wealthy class of people, Imam Abu Hanifa was exceedingly kind-hearted. It is stated on the authority of the celebrated mystic saint Shafiq Balkhi that once while he was accompanying Imam Abu Hanifa they sighted a person who suddenly turned to another lane. Thereupon the Imam called him out why he was turning to the other side. The man stopped, he was in a rush. On being accosted, he said that he could not face the Imam as he owed him ten thousand dirhams which he could not afford to pay back. Being deeply moved, the Imam, told the debtor that he need not bother to pay him back. Not only that, he apologized to the borrower for causing him so much distraction. Such was the humanitarianism of our Imams, which is unparalleled in the annals of the world.

The Imam was very popular among the masses who loved and respected him. This greatly irritated and upset the lieutenants of the Umayyad Government, who hired hooligans in order to tease and malign him. Once a mercenary hoodlum intruded in the social gathering of the Imam and began to criticize and abuse him. His pupils wanted to oust him forcibly, but he prevented them from doing so. When he started for home, the hooligan followed him and went on abusing him to the very door steps of his house. Halting at the gate, he addressed him: ‘Brother, I am entering my house; you will not be able to get in. Please abuse me to your heart’s content before I step in’.

The Imam was very much annoyed with a drunkard neighbour, who used to call names the whole night in a drunken state. His neighbours were fed up with his objectionable behaviour. One day, the police caught hold of him and put him behind the bars. In the evening, when the Imam got back home, he inquisitively asked why the drunkard had assumed silence. On learning that he was imprisoned for his misbehaviour, he at once called on the Governor who was taken aback at the unexpected visit of the Imam. The Imam apprised him of the whole matter and secured the release of the drunkard on his surety. On being free, the Imam said to the drunkard: ‘Brother, we do not want to lose you at any cost.’ The drunkard was so much struck with the angelic behaviour of the Imam that he abstained from wine forever and became one of the famous pupils of the Imam.

The powerful Umayyad and Abbasid rulers tried to win his favour, but he always kept away from them. He scrupulously avoided association with corrupt and tyrannical administrators. Mansur, the Abbasid Caliph, once offered him a high sum as a gift which he declined, saying that it was repugnant for him to share the money of the Bait-ul-Maal which was public property and should go to the needy.

Mansur offered him the high post of Grand Qazi of his vast Empire to which Abu Hanifa bluntly replied, ‘Supposing a complaint is lodged against you in my court and you wanted it to be decided in your favour otherewise I would be thrown into the river.: Please rest assured that I would prefer to be drowned in the river rather  than tamper with justice.’ This outspoken reply of the Imam silenced the Caliph for the time being.

Imam Abu Hanifa possessed exceptional qualities of head and heart. He could never be purchased or cowed down by the ruling power. Ibni Hubaira, the Umayyad Governor of Kufa, once requested him to pay him occasional visits for which he would be highly grateful to him. Since he abhorred corrupt rulers, he frankly replied, ‘Why should I meet you?’ If you favour me, I will be associating myself with your evil. If you persecute me you will add to my insults. I do not aspire for any position or wealth. Whatever God has given me I am content with it.’

There had been some dispute between the Abbaside Caliph Mansur  and his wife Hurra Khatun. The Khatun wanted the matter to be referred to Imam Abu Hanifa. The Imam was summoned by the Caliph and his wife also sat behind the curtain; The Caliph asked the Imam, ‘How many wives at a time are allowed in Islam?’ The Imam replied, ‘Four’, Mansur cried out to his wife., ‘Did you listen what the Imam said?’ The Imam at once said, ‘But this is subject to one condition. A man is empowered to marry more than once provided he is capable of doing equal justice to all of his wives?’ The last part of Imam’s reply went against the interests of the Caliph. On reaching home in the evening he found a man waiting for him with a bag of guineas and a letter of thanks from the wife of the Caliph. The Imam returned the money with the remarks that it was his duty to speak the truth without any fear or favour.

The Imam lost his father in his childhood, but his mother survived till his old age. He respected and served her devotedly.

Yazid Bin Umar Bin Hubaira, Governor of Kufa, during the Caliphate of Marwan II persuaded the Imam to accept some respectable job in the government which he refused. The governor swore that he would have to do his bidding, but the Imam stuck to his words. Thereupon he was put behind the bars, and was flogged everyday under orders of the governor. He was released after a few days, and left Kufa for Hejaz where he stayed for 2 1/2, years. until the Umayyad Caliphate was replaced by the Abbasids.

Hakam, son of Hisham, the Umayyad Caliph, once said, ‘Our government offered two alternatives to Imam Abu Hanifa--either to accept the keys of our the treasuries or to get his back flogged, but the Imam preferred the latter.’

The Imam pinned rosy hopes on the Abbasid Caliphate. On the accession of Safah, the 1st Abbasid Caliph, he returned to his native town Kufa from Hejaz. But soon he was disillusioned for the Abbasids turned out to be equally bad, if not worse for him. They stepped up his persecution. On transferring his capital from Hashmiya to Baghdad, Mansur, the second Abbasid Caliph offered him the post of Grand Qazi. The Imam flatly declined it saying that the he was not fit for it. The Caliph indignantly shouted, ‘You are a liar.’ The Imam retorted, ‘You have upheld my contention. A Liar is unfit for the post of a Qazi.’ The Caliph became nonplussed and swore that he would have to accept the post of the Grand Qazi. The Imam too swore that he would not. The whole Durbar wondered at the boldness of the Imam. Rabi, a courtier explained, ‘Abu Hanifa, you have taken the oath of allegiance to the Amir-ul-Momineen.’ The Imam promptly replied, ‘But it is easier for the Caliph to compensate for his oath.’

Thereupon the Imam was thrown into a dark prison in 146 A.H. There he was poisoned. Under the effect of the poison, he prostrated in prayer and died. The news of his death soon spread throughout Baghdad. The whole citizenry came out to pay their last homage to their greatest Imam. More than fifty thousand people participated in his first funeral prayer. His funeral prayer was offered six times. According to the historian Khatib, the funeral prayers of the Imam were offered for twenty days after his burial. Commenting on his death, Sheba bin Hajjaj said, ‘Night has settled over Kufa.’

His grave was a place of pilgrimage for the Muslims for a long time. Sultan Alp Arslan Suljuki built a tomb over it as well as a school attached to it. Ibn Batuta, the celebrated explorer of Asia saw this school when he visited Baghdad and was highly impressed by its good management as well as its boarding facilities.

Imam Abu Hanifa has the distinction of being the greatest jurist of Islam. Being the highest authority of Islamic canon law, his disciples and followers form a majority of Islamic world. He left behind him three works namely (1) ‘Fiqh-i-Akbar’, (2) ‘Al Alim Wal Mutaam’ and (3) ‘Musnad’. ‘Fiqh-i-Akbar’ a brief magazine, which is very popular.

He founded a body of intellectuals, of which he was the president, to counsel on the codification of Islamic doctrines and to transform the Islamic Shariah in the form of law. According to Khwarizmi, ‘The number of sections of Islamic law framed by him is more than 83 thousand of which 38 thousand are related to religious matters and 45 thousand deal with worldly affairs.’

Though the Imam has not left behind any collection of Hadith, he occupies a high place as a Muhaddis. Imam Malik is the author of ‘Mu`attaa’, a book of Hadith which is well-known in the Islamic world. Imam Ahmad Bin Hambal is also a celebrated Muhaddis of his time.

The exponents of Hadith are divided in two groups--Those who collected the Hadith from various sources and those who critically examined the authenticity of those sources and interpreted them according to their knowledge. The second group was called the Mujtahid and Imam Abu Hanifa belonged to this group. The Imam was the greatest jurist of Islam who gave a sounder basis to Fiqh. Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik have laid down similar conditions for appraising the authenticity of hadith. It is said that ‘Mu`attaa’ contained more than ten thousand Ahaadith, but the number of Ahaadith was reduced to seven hundred only on subsequent revision of the book by Imam Malik. Once Imam Shafi said, ‘Hazrat Abu Bakr had reported only seventeen Ahaadith from the Prophet (sws), Hazrat Umar reported about fifty, Hazrat Usman and even Hazrat Ali who was so closely related to the Prophet (sws) had reported very few Ahaadith.’ The Ahaadith which are against common sense should not be accepted. This was the criterion which Imam Jozi in the 6th century A.H. followed for distinguishing between authentic and non-authentic Ahaadith. During the time of Imam Abu Hanifa, too much reliance on common sense for distinguishing between the authentic and non-authentic Ahaadith was resented, but the Imam followed this principle to a great extent and during the later centuries his principles were universally accepted.

Imam Abu Hanifa has left behind scores of wise sayings some of which are as follows:

1) No person has sustained greater loss than that whose learning could not restrain him from indulging in vices.

2) A person who talks of religion and does not think that he will have to account for what he says does not know the meaning of religion.

3) If the religious people are not the friends of God, then God has no friends in this world.

4)  Knowledge does not take root in the heart of a person who attains knowledge for the benefits of the world.

5) To have learned discourses with a person who has no sense of knowledge is to annoy him unnecessarily.

The greatest contribution of Imam Abu Hanifa is to the Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. He is the most outstanding jurist of Islam, whose Fiqh is followed by the majority of the Muslims of the world including Egypt, Turkistan, Afghanistan and the sub-continent. By ‘analogous deductions’ he endeavoured to make the simple Quranic verses applicable to a variety of circumstances. Writing in ‘The Spirit of Islam’, Ameer Ali, the celebrated historian says, ‘He was a jurist who relied greatly on analogy for deducing law, and his two disciples, Abu Yusaf, (who became Chief Qazi of Baghdad under Harun), and Muhammad Ash-Shaibani, established Abu Hanifa’s conception on a regular basis.’

The Imam occupies the same place in Fiqh which Aristotle occupies in Logic. Actually, he formulated the Islamic jurisprudence in a scientific manner. Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi has written a fine article describing the history of Fiqh. According to him, the Companions of the Prophet of Islam never enquired from him about his action. Ibn Abbas says that the associates of the Prophet did not ask the explanation of more than 13 doctrines from the Prophet during his lifetime. The Prophet was scrupulously and faithfully followed by his Companions. After the death of the Prophet, the conquests of the Arabs spread over the three continents and new problems in religious matters cropped up, which had to be solved through the common-sense of the learned Muslims.

The Hanafi Fiqh, being too liberal and practical, soon gained much popularity among the masses. It also received the patronage of the Abbasid, Saljuki and other Muslim ruling dynasties. The pupils of the Imam, who held important posts of Qazi during the Abbasid Caliphate also immensely contributed to its propagation.

Besides the points mentioned above, there are other inherent factors which made Hanafi Fiqh popular among Muslim masses as well as among the academics. The secret of its popularity lies in its being more rational, intelligible, liberal and universally applicable.

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