Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa – Part I

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Malik Saif-ur-Rahman Sahib, the author of the article given below, was a highly educated and established scholar of Islam, having studied and taught at famous Islamic institutes prior to accepting Islam Ahmadiyyat.

He devoted his life to the Ahmadiyya Jamaat in Islam and served in many capacities. In 1947, he was appointed as Mufti-e-Silsila and later, also served as the principal of Jamia Ahmadiyya Rabwah for ten years.

He is famous for his services to the Jamaat and notable works such as the compilation of Hadiqatus-Salihin and authoring Tarikh Afkar-e-Islami, which includes the article presented below

Malik Saif-ur-Rahman

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa’srh full name was Numan bin Thabit bin Zuta, also known as Abu Hanifa.

(There are disputes as to why he was known as Abu Hanifa. One narration suggests that as he lived a life of moderation and refrained from going to extremes, he was called Abu Hanifa. Some are of the view that as “hanifa” meant inkpot in Iraq and due to his services to fiqh, inkpots always surrounded him by his students, that is why he was known as Abu Hanifa.)

He was born in 80 AH in Kufa and when he was around 70 years of age, he passed away in Baghdad in the year 150 AH.

His family belonged to an illustrious and religiously influential lineage of Kabul (Afghanistan), which consisted of Zoroastrian priests of Kabul. 

After the conquest of Kabul, Imam Abu Hanifa’s grandfather, Zuta settled with his family in Kufa or came there after being captured. He accepted Islam and made friendship with Banu Teem bin Tha‘libah.

Aerial view of Kufa | Wiki Commons

It is said that Zuta had immense reverence for Hazrat Alira. He once made a drink called faluda, which the people of Kabul were experts in, and offered it to Hazrat Alira. He had a son named Thabit and requested Hazrat Alira to pray for his successful life and blessed offspring.

Imam Abu Hanifarh was tall, had a broad and friendly face, fair and wheat brown complexion, full beard, pleasant appearance and was overall a clean, holy person. He was always considered to be a content and patient person, full of wisdom and knowledge.

His grandfather, Zuta, came to Kufa and started a business of garments and excelled in it. This business eventually was bequeathed to Imam Abu Hanifarh. He too possessed a great deal of expertise in this trade as he would partake in it along with his father, Thabit, from a very young age. Later, when this burden was placed on his shoulders, not only did he take care of the business, considering it his duty, but also gave it new heights.

A famous type of garment at the time was khaz and this very popular to customers. Khaz was made by combining silk and cotton. He installed weaving looms that could make this cloth and began trade with this cloth as a partnership. He established agencies in various cities, where he would send the product and earned profit. Due to his professionalism, other people would also invest in his business.

Once, he sent 170,000 dirhams to a youth and said, “This was given to me by your father, which he was not able to take back before his death.” This incident has been recorded in history books.

When he passed away, he had about 50,000 investments from different people, which were returned after his demise. Nonetheless, Imam Abu Hanifarh was very affluent and never experienced any financial problems.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s knowledge

As has been mentioned above, from a very young age, he had developed a relationship with his familial profession and could not give due attention to the sciences prevalent at the time.

Once, when he was about 15 years old, whilst walking in a bazaar, he had the chance to meet the famous muhaddith [scholar of hadith] Hazrat Imam Sha‘birh. During the course of the conversation, Hazrat Imam Sha‘birh gauged that the child was intelligent and promising. Upon observing this, he advised Abu Hanifarh that he should focus on acquiring knowledge.

Imam Sha‘bi’srh advice had an impact on him and consequently, due to a natural inclination, he started looking at various educational institutes in Kufa.

Initially, he had an interest in the subject of kalam [argumentation on the basis of Islamic scholastic theology], due to which he visited Basra, the capital of kalam at the time. However, having studied the subject for some time, he realised that deliberation and absorption in the subject could make a person quarrelsome and argumentative. After observing it as a science whose arguments were completely useless, inconsequential and negative for a person’s outward demeanour, he shunned it. However, the thirst for knowledge that had now been ignited did not permit him to sit idly.

He assessed various institutes of fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] as this science too was popular at the time. The sermons of Hazrat Hamaadrh bin Abi Sulaiman appealed to him. Hamaadrh was a scholar of hadith traditions and narrators and was a famous scholar and jurist of his time in Kufa. Thus, Abu Hanifarh formed an attachment with his madrasah [institute] and embarked on a journey of studying fiqh.

The relationship between student and teacher became a fountain of knowledge and their bond strengthened into a loving friendship.

Hazrat Hamaadrh was a student of Imam Ibrahim al-Nakhai and al-Nakhai, through Alqama  [ibn Qays], had the honour of indirectly studying from Hazrat Abdullahra bin Masud. Hazrat Ibn Masudra was sent by Hazrat Umarra to Kufa to acquire knowledge of Islam. Imam Ibrahim al-Nakhai also derived benefit from Hazrat Alira.

In this manner, Imam Abu Hanifa’srh acquisition of knowledge was linked with such a prestigious ijtihad [hermeneutics] promoting madrasah that was an authority in the fields of traditions, narrators, nass [sources of ruling] and tafaqquh [grasping the meaning and gaining insight].

Imam Abu Hanifarh spent around 18 years seeking knowledge. Alongside that, he oversaw matters related to his business. Due to having such business partners who were professional and conscientious, his business remained afloat and he did not allow his studies to affect his business in any way.

Imam Abu Hanifarh as a teacher

After acquiring knowledge, he began teaching. At the time, mosques would serve as schools also. Therefore, he too preferred the mosque as his place to teach and used part of the central mosque of Kufa to teach, which gradually excelled to such a level that it was counted among the foremost schools of the time.

His weekly schedule, in terms of division of duties, consisted of the following:

Saturdays were dedicated to house-related work and overseeing his properties. On this day, he did not give any attention to his business, nor did he occupy himself with his teaching responsibilities

Every Friday, aside from worshipping Allah, he would offer a feast for his friends and prominent students and would spend the day meeting and conversing with them

On other days, he would attend to his teaching obligations and business-related affairs. During these working days, he would divide his day into three parts: In the first part, after saying his prayers, he would perform house chores; after midday, he would go to the bazaar and oversee his business, where he would give instructions to workers and inspect the profit and loss of the business; in the afternoon, he would eat, rest and following the Asr prayer at the mosque, start teaching

His madrasah was no ordinary one. He would have students of various aptitudes; some were specialists in linguistics, while others were experts in hadith, history, tafaqquh, qiyas [deductive analogy] and sociology. In this manner, his madrasah was a hub for people of different specialities.

Students had permission to ask any question and partake in discussions. Every statement, even if it was the statement of a lecturer, would be scrutinised. Eventually, after much deliberation, when issues were solved, they would be noted down and a ruling would be made, sealing the discussion. Discourses like this would run into the night and the only recesses would be for Salat

Alongside his intellectual growth, Imam Abu Hanifarh was an extremely generous and philanthropic saint. Alongside his affluency, he was also openhanded in giving in the way of Allah. He would spend a great deal of money on his students and always took their welfare upon himself.

Imam Abu Yusuf’srh father was an extremely destitute and impoverished labourer. He once said to his son, “Instead of attending Abu Hanifa’s classes, you should work so that we can have some money to run the house.” Therefore, upon his father’s persistence, he withdrew himself from the lessons and began work as a tailor.

When Imam Abu Hanifarh came to learn of this, he called Abu Yusufrh and enquired from him about his circumstances. He then assigned a reasonable allowance for him and from then on, always looked after him.

Abu Hanifa Mosque, Baghdad, where Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh is buried

For other students too, he adopted the same means. It was his desire for intelligent students to not waste their intellect due to poverty and not to deprive themselves of the wealth of knowledge. The students at Imam Abu Hanifa’srh madrasah would later be positioned at extraordinary ranks and served as shining stars in their respective fields.

In this manner, the Almighty Allah had bestowed Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh with knowledge and wealth and the best of both the religious and secular worlds. He was never closefisted in spreading his knowledge and sharing his wealth. 

A business partner, Hafs, was very intelligent. He worked with Imam Abu Hanifarh for around 30 years. Once, he said:

“I have spent time with many scholars, fiqh experts, judges, pious people and tradesmen, but never have I seen a saint full of qualities as was Imam Abu Hanifarh. He possessed all the qualities and attributes that people possessed separately.”

Imam Abu Hanifarh and governance

Imam Abu Hanifarh witnessed both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Around 52 years of his life were spent under the Umayyad rule, while 18 years were spent under the Abbasids. He saw the period of Umayyad influence and eventually its dissolution too.

He disliked the method of governance used by both dynasties. He was beyond any desires as such, however he desired for the pious members of the Holy Prophet’ssa progeny to come into power. Despite this desire, he never resorted to rebellion and never attempted to topple the government.

He was of the view that one should help a government in their good works. He was always a well-wisher for others and tried to advise them for their betterment. He would say that rebellion was a form of disorder and that the blood shed in this act was even worse than the individual cases of wrongdoings of those in authority. Therefore, he would always discourage rebellion as a means of seeing improvement.

The Umayyads tried to gain his support and did their utmost in getting him to work in their favour, however he never accepted any official position.

In the time of the Abbasids, he was pressured into accepting the title of a jurist under their government, however he never accepted the request. The government would ask for the cooperation of scholars at the time as the masses, following the example of scholars, would become obedient. Yet it was not the policy of the government for such scholars to play any role in governance as this would be akin to sympathising with the wrongdoings of the government, and religious scholars would abstain from giving such an impression and were never prepared to take up a role in governance.

Once, the Abbasid Khalifa, Abu Jafar Mansur said to Imam Abu Hanifarh, “Why do you not accept a post in the judiciary?” He replied, “I do not consider myself worthy of this post.” Mansur, somewhat furiously, said, “You are lying! You are completely fit for this role.” Imam Abu Hanifarh very respectfully responded, “The matter has been settled by Amirul Momineen. If I am lying, as Amirul Momineen suggests, then a liar is not fit to be a qazi [judge].”

Upon hearing this prompt reply, Mansur was left dumbfounded and was unable to say anything else.

At another occasion, Abu Jafar said angrily, “Neither do you accept any post in my government, nor do you accept any gifts I send for you. This shows that you are opposed to this government!” Imam Abu Hanifarh replied:

“That is not the case. I cannot bear the responsibility of the judiciary. The gifts sent from Amirul Momineen are not sent from his personal money, but from the treasury, for which I am not worthy as I am neither a soldier, nor do I belong to the offspring of a soldier, nor am I needy. Only these people deserve money from the treasury. When I am not worthy of this money, then how can I accept these gifts?”

Upon this, Mansur responded, “You can take this money and distribute it between the poor.” He replied, “Amirul Momineen’s wealth is far greater than this humble one’s. You are far more qualified to ascertain who is needy and who is rich. Thus, your distribution would be much better suited.”

He tolerated many difficult circumstances, suffered the cruelty of caliphs and leaders, endured lashings, spent many long periods imprisoned, departed Kufa and settled in Mecca, yet he never accepted any official governmental post, nor did he accept any gifts.

At one instance, he explained the reason behind not accepting any post himself. The governor of Kufa under the Umayyad rule, Ibn Hubayra once asked him to accept a position in the judiciary so that he may be an authority of the government. If he declined, he said that no ruling made by him would be deemed credible. To this, Imam Abu Hanifarh replied:

ھُوَ یُرِیْدُ مِنِّیْ اَنْ یَّکْتُبَ دَمَ رَجُلٍ یَضْرِبُ عُنُقَہُ وَاَخْتِمُ اَنَا عَلیٰ ذَالِکَ الْکِتَابِ فَوَاللہِ لَا اَدْخُلُ فِیْ ذَالِکَ اَبَداً

meaning that Ibn Hubayra’s purpose was to demand the murder of a person and then have Imam Abu Hanifarh legitimise it, however this would never happen.

Concerning the persistence of Abu Jafar Mansur, he said:

لا یصلح للقضاء الا رجل یکون لہ نفس یحکم بہا علیک و علی ولدک و قوادک و لیست تلک النفس لی

“A judge should be so courageous as to call a ruling against you, your children or the chiefs of an army without any hesitation, however I am not such.”

The reality is that Imam Abu Hanifarh wanted to dedicate his time for the study and spread of knowledge and practice. Other imams of fiqh were also of the thought that instead of accepting any official governmental position, they should try to teach knowledge and practice to those who had accepted government posts so that they may serve the public in a much better way. It was for this reason that those who studied from such imams of fiqh later accepted high official positions and through their knowledge and justice, served their countrymen and through their guidance, attained eternal fame.

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh once gathered his students, among whom were well renowned students who numbered 40. Whilst speaking to them, he said, “I have performed your intellectual and practical tarbiyat [edification] in a manner that has enabled you to take on responsibilities and contain the powerful government. Now you can walk steadily and firmly on the principles of integrity.”

In this manner, Allah the Almighty blessed his efforts and fulfilled his desires. His students attained high ranks and proved to be worthy of those ranks – history bears testimony to their achievements.

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa’srh approach to fiqh was that he would primarily focus on the Holy Quran, seeking guidance from it. If full clarity was not provided by the Quran, he would then focus his attention on the established Sunnah [practice of the Holy Prophetsa]. If there was no clear explanation in the Sunnah, then he would pursue the practice of the majority of the Companionsra. If the matter in question could not be solved from their collective example, then he would select such sayings of the Companionsra that would be the closest in meaning and interpretation to the Holy Quran and established Sunnah. Thereafter, he would pursue other sources of knowledge, for example qiyas, istihsan [make a ruling different from that on which similar cases have been decided on the basis of precedent] and urf [custom] etc. from which he could make a ruling.

Whilst studying and compiling fiqh, he bore in mind the aforementioned principles and encouraged his students to do the same.

He would always say that he had proven matters from the aforementioned sources and that if anyone could prove and interpret it in a more suitable manner, then he would accept their deduction and would not be adamant to have his ruling accepted.

If ever he rejected a tradition or it was ignored, it was either because the tradition was not authentic enough in his view or he knew of a stronger one or that such a tradition did not come to his knowledge. Traditions were collated much later on and gradually, they suffered changes, as has been discussed previously in the chapter concerning Sunnah and Hadith [in the book Tarikh Afkar-e-Islami]. 

During his time, due to various reasons, the tendency to fabricate ahadith had increased and for this reason, he felt compelled to take extra care when extracting traditions.

Whilst working on his fiqh, Imam Abu Hanifarh acquired another novel approach, which was that he thought up all possible social questions of the time and answered them in light of the Holy Quran, ahadith and the principles of deduction, thereby compiling them as questions and answers to assist other scholars. In this manner, through his guidance and with the efforts of his students, a treasure trove of fiqh concerning possible questions and scenarios was compiled.

This manner of compilation was not liked by other scholars and imams; his approach was challenged and sternly criticised. Their view was that when an incident is learnt of and one is practically faced with it, only then should it be solved and answered. To raise hypothetical questions or suggest potential scenarios and then seek answers for them was, in their view, a bid‘at [innovation in the teachings of Islam] and a means of causing harm. However, Imam Abu Hanifarh would say to this that this was all done with the purest intentions, for the promulgation of knowledge and to polish the human intellect.

After him, almost all of his students utilised this method for their extraordinary works in fiqh. Sahnun’s Al-Mudawwana – a Maliki fiqh book containing 36,000 solutions to matters, Al-Mukhtasar al-Kabir li-ibn Abdil Hakam, Ibn Qudamah’s Al-Mughni and Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm are perfect examples of this and treasure troves of Islamic jurisprudence.

(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in Tarikh Afkar-e-Islami by Malik Saif-ur-Rahman Sahib)

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