Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa


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.

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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 an Numan mosque Benghazi
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.

Abu Hanifa Mosque in 1959
An old picture of Abu Hanifa Mosque, Iraq, where Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa’srh tomb is situated

Compilation of books

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh never wrote any book himself. Some journals are attributed to him, for instance Al-Fiqh-ul-Akbar, which was on doctrine and Kitab-ul-Alim wal-Muta‘allim, which was on the etiquette of gaining knowledge. There is a letter that he wrote to a famous scholar of the time, Uthman al-Laythi explaining the issue of irja [postponement of an edict].

Two of his students preserved his fiqh-related views. Both these students are famous by the term, “Sahibain” [the two gentlemen]. One of them was Hazrat Imam Yaqub bin Habib al-Ansari, who is famous by the appellation of Abu Yusuf. The other was Hazrat Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani.

Imam Abu Yusuf was the qazi al-quzat [chief jurist] in the time of Harun al-Rashid, which was a respectable post under the Abbasid rule. He was the first to be given this post and was famous by the appellation of qazi al-quzat.

During the Abbasid reign, he appointed qazis [jurists] mostly belonging to the Hanafi mazhab [order], due to which the entire government was highly influenced by the Hanafi beliefs. Imam Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi would often say that two mazhabs of fiqh had influenced the policies of governments: the Hanafites had gained ascendency during the Abbasid reign and the Maliki order was popular under the Caliphate of Cordoba.

At one point, when the Ayyubid dynasty was dominant in Egypt and Syria and Sultan Mahmud Sabuktigini [Mahmud of Ghazni] ruled over Ma Wara al-Nahr [Transoxiana], the Shafi‘is held the same position and were considered the state religion.

Hazrat Imam Abu Yusuf was a prolific writer. His work, Kitab-ul-Khiraj gained much acclaim. Similarly, his second book, Al-Athar, and pamphlets, Ikhtilaf ibn Abi Layla and Al-Raddu Ala Siyaril-Auza‘i were also famous.

Imam Abu Yusuf passed away in 183 AH. He left behind a lot of wealth. His will said that 100,000 dirhams should be distributed respectively among the needy and deserving in Mecca, Medina, Baghdad and in Kufa – the city where he spent his childhood, acquired knowledge and was given great respect in spite of being the son of a poor tailor.

Kufa Mosque in Iraq
Wiki Commons

The other worthy student of Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh was Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani, who also served as a jurist, but whose nature was inclined more towards preparing literature. It is for this reason that he is considered the biggest compiler of Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa’srh views.

Imam Muhammad bin Hasan was born in 132 AH. He belonged to a prosperous family. He passed away in 189 AH.

He was a student of Imam Abu Hanifarh for around three years. At the time, he was very young, yet Abu Hanifarh remained vigilant about the educational and moral wellbeing of this young child and would sit him beside him during lessons. That is why he is also famous by the term, “Tarafain”, i.e. he who sits beside the teacher.

When Imam Abu Hanifarh passed away in 150 AH, he completed his education studying from Imam Abu Yusuf and also studied for three years under Hazrat Imam Malikrh.

There are various copies of Hazrat Imam Malik’srh compilation of traditions, which is famous by the name, Al-Muwatta. Two such copies are popular; one is called Muwatta Imam Malik, which was narrated by Yahya bin Yahya al-Laythi, while the other is Muwatta Imam Muhammad, as narrated by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani.

Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani authored many voluminous books, most of which is based on the Hanafi school of thought. Among these books, the following are famous:

Kitab al-Mabsut, Kitab al-Ziyadat, Al-Jamey‘ al-Saghir, Al-Jamey‘ al-Kabir, Al-Siyar al-Saghir and Al-Siyar al-Kabir. These six books are famous by the name of Zahir al-Riwayat.

Two other books of his are also deemed to be of the same calibre: one is called Al-Rad ala Ahlil-Medina, while the other is Kitab al-Athar. Muwatta Imam Muhammad is also very famous.

Many other students of Imam Abu Hanifarh were positioned at key posts and were no less in the field of knowledge.

Imam Zufar, Daud Tai, Hasab bin Ziyad and Abdullah bin al-Mubarak were all saints of their age. Due to his students, Imam Abu Hanifa’srh fiqh-related views were widely circulated. A heavy portion of the Muslim population living in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkistan, Afghanistan and Hindustan associate with the Hanafi order. His followers can be found in other Muslim countries also. The Ottoman reign of the Turks was based on the Hanafi school of thought and due to the Turks, the Hanafi order was spread widely.

Beautiful aspects of the life of Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh would adopt a beautiful approach when addressing contentious matters. He would try his utmost to clear the matter, without hurting anyone’s sentiments.

He once presented a beautiful example regarding this. He said:

“If four people dispute about a white coloured sheet – one saying that it is red, the other saying that it is black, another calling it green and the last one, who knows that the actual colour is white – and remain adamant on their stance, then the person who knows the true colour should not say to the others, ‘You are wrong’, but rather should say, ‘As far as I am aware, the colour is white.’”

Imam Abu Hanifarh was very clean. He would wear clean, presentable clothes and would desire the same for others.

Once, some scholars arrived to meet him, of whom one wore old, dirty, torn and tattered clothes. After their meeting, when they got up to leave, Imam Abu Hanifarh asked the gentleman with torn clothes to stay behind. When the others had left, he gave 1,000 dirhams to the gentleman to purchase new, decent clothes. The man replied, “I am a wealthy person. I do not need such financial help.” Abu Hanifa replied, “When God has given you wealth and has made you affluent, then you should be thankful to Him for this blessing upon you. There should be a practical display of this blessing upon you. It is thanklessness to wear such torn and tattered and unclean clothes. It goes against the verse:

وَاَمَّا بِنِعْمَتِ رَبِّکَ فَحَدِّثْ

[‘And as for the bounty of your Lord, do relate it (to others)’ (Surah al-Duha, Ch.93: V.12).] It goes against the hadith that says that there should be a practical display of God’s beneficence.”

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh was a great neighbour and had the great quality of solving disputes and quarrels.

A neighbour of his was a dissolute alcoholic and would create a lot of disturbance. During the nights, his alcoholic friends would gather at his home, where dancing, drinking and many acts that disturbed the environment would take place. This was somewhat unsettling for Imam Abu Hanifarh, however, due to the guidance about treating neighbours with kindness, he did not consider it suitable to file a complaint against him.

One night, the area’s chief of police was walking past, when he heard the disturbance from the man’s house. When he approached the house to enquire about the disturbance, he ended up arresting them all and putting them in jail.

The following day, when Imam Abu Hanifarh came to learn of this, he met with the governor of the city and gave him the guarantee of treating his neighbour kindly. With that, the prisoner was freed and Imam Abu Hanifarh brought him home.

Imam Abu Hanifarh said to him, “You would often recite a couplet saying that a neighbour should be such who helps in times of difficulty. So, what sort of a neighbour have you found me to be?”

The following couplet could often be heard being sung from his house:

اَضَاعُوْنِیْ وَاَیَّ فَتًی اَضَاعُوْا

لِیَوْمِ کَرِیْھَۃٍ وَّ سِدَادِ ثَغْرِ

After freeing his neighbour, Abu Hanifarh jokingly asked him:

ھَلْ اَضَعْنَاکَ

The neighbour was so overwhelmed by the treatment of Imam Abu Hanifarh that he ceased such activity and started to live a peace-loving, pious and sincere life.

Imam Abu Hanifarh was a steadfast and intelligent person who would resolve conflicts. He would respond to harsh words in such a way that would leave the other feeling ashamed, yet wanting to correct their way.

Due to fiqh-related disputes, scholars would use harsh words for him and the ignorant followers of such scholars would take this anger to extremes. However, whenever people would observe his patience and fortitude, they would be forced to change their views.

Once, a person called him an innovator and disbeliever. In response, Imam Abu Hanifarh replied, “May Allah forgive you. I am not what you claim I am. Ever since I accepted Islam and Allah bestowed spiritual wisdom upon me, I hold fast only to Him. I neither consider anything parallel to Allah, nor do I deify anything. Is this what a disbeliever is?”

Upon hearing this response, the man felt embarrassed and sought forgiveness. Imam Abu Hanifarh said, “When a person commits a mistake unknowingly, upon repenting, Allah forgives them.”

Once, Imam Abu Hanifarh was sitting in a mosque when a person following an opposing scholar came and started hurling abuse at him. Imam Abu Hanifarh remained quiet throughout his abuse, but that person increased in his verbal abuse. When Abu Hanifarh got up to leave, that person started to follow him and continued his verbal assault.

When he eventually reached his home, he turned to the man and said, “This is my home. I must go inside. If anything remains, please express it now. Otherwise, do not say later on that you still have a desire to continue.”

Upon hearing this reply, the man felt ashamed and repented from his actions.

During the time of the Umayyads, Kufa’s governor, Ibn Hubayra and the second Caliph of the Abbasid reign, Abu Jafar Mansur tried their utmost to have Imam Abu Hanifarh accept the role of chief judge, however he would always reject the offer. Both these rulers were harsh towards him during their periods of rule, at times lashing and imprisoning him. Abu Hanifarh bore this time with immense forbearance, however he disliked any wrongdoings.

Once, his mother said quite anxiously to him, “Son, what has this knowledge brought you? Troubles and lashings?” He replied to his mother:

یَا اُمَّاہُ یُرِیْدُوْنَنِیْ عَلَی الدُّنْیَا وَاِنِّیْ اُرِیْدُ الْآخِرَۃَ وَاِنِّیْ اَخْتَارُ عَذَابَھُمْ عَلَی عَذَابِ اللہِ

“My dear mother, these people present the world, yet I yearn for the Hereafter. I bear the pain they extend so that I may be saved from Allah’s punishment.”

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh was a very balanced, moderate and God-fearing saint.

Once, while scholars had gathered to meet the ruler of the city, a debate started on a certain issue. Everyone gave their opinion and Imam Abu Hanifarh also presented his view. Among them was a scholar, Hasan bin Ammara; when he presented his stance, Abu Hanifarh responded, “This view seems more accurate. We were all thinking along the wrong track.” After hearing this, Hasan bin Ammara replied, “If Abu Hanifa wanted, he could have remained adamant on his stance, but due to his taqwa, he accepted the truth.”

Once, a sanction was placed against him by the government that prohibited him from making a fatwa [ruling] on any issue or addressing any issue. While at home, his son, Hamaad enquired about a certain matter, to which he replied, “The government has prohibited me from giving my view on any religious matter. If anyone from the government asks whether I issued any ruling, then how will I reply?”

As far as possible, Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh maintained friendly and sincere relations with contemporary scholars. He had great respect for Hazrat Imam Malikrh. Whenever he would meet him, they would share views on different religious issues. He had the same sort of relationship with other moderate scholars.

Imam Abu Hanifarh had a very content and satisfied disposition. Once, when a wife of Abu Jafar Mansur enquired of a religious matter from him, the reply Imam Abu Hanifarh gave was so pleasing to her that she sent 50,000 dirhams, a concubine and a horse as a gift for him. He replied that his fatwa was not given in the lust of any reward and that whatever truth he knew, he had mentioned it. Thus, he returned the gift with thanks.

Imam Abu Hanifa’srh astuteness to critical questions

His style of rejoinder was very unique. Even in the most complicated circumstances, he would reply in such a fashion that all onlookers would be left amazed.

The fitna [unrest] of the Kharijites was in full swing during his lifetime. These people were usually ill-mannered and always ready to create disorder.

Once, a group of Kharijites stormed into the main mosque of Kufa whilst Imam Abu Hanifarh was teaching his class. He instructed everyone not to fret and remain calm. When the head of the group arrived, he asked everyone sternly, “Who are you people?” Imam Abu Hanifarh promptly replied:

نَحْنُ مُسْتَجِیْرُوْنَ

“We are refugees.” The Kharijites assumed that he was referring to the verse of the Holy Quran that mentions giving refuge to the idolater who wishes to seek refuge whilst listening to the Quran so that they may listen to God’s word and then to shift them to a place of rest i.e. their homes.

Nonetheless, the leader said to his men to recite the Quran to them and then to return them safely to their homes.

Through his astute wisdom, not only was the life of everyone saved, but they were taken home safely.

Once, the Kharijites turned up all of a sudden. The leader of the Kharijites, Dahhak bin Qays said to Imam Abu Hanifarh, “If you are in favour of tahkim [the incident of a mediator being appointed between Alira and Muawiyyahra] then you should repent, otherwise we shall be forced to kill you.” Imam Abu Hanifarh replied, “Do you wish to use force or will you listen to reason?” He replied, “If you have any reason, then of course, do present it.”

Abu Hanifa said, “Who can decide whether this argument is correct or not?” He replied, “We can assign a mediator”, to which Imam Sahibrh replied, “Okay, fine. We shall accept [so and so] from your party as a mediator.” Dahhak agreed and asked Imam Abu Hanifa to present his arguments. He astutely and immediately responded, “What can be more of an argument than the fact that you have yourself accepted the option of mediation; this is called tahkim.” Dahhak was immediately dumbfounded and could not utter anything else.

Once, a group of Kharijites came to visit Imam Abu Hanifarh with swords in their hands. They were of the belief that a person who had committed atrocious sins would be summoned to the hellfire for eternity. Therefore, they said to Imam Abu Hanifarh, “We have two questions only. Answer them, otherwise we shall kill you.” He responded, “What are the questions?”

They said, “The first question is that if a person consumes a lot of alcohol and dies whilst drunk, or if a woman commits adultery and gets pregnant as a result and dies whilst pregnant with that child, tell us, will they both be considered Muslims?”

Imam Abu Hanifarh replied, “Were they Jewish?” They replied in the negative. “Were they Christians?” They replied negatively. “Were they Zoroastrian?” They again replied in the negative. He then asked, “Then what religion did they belong to?” They replied, “They were Muslims.” Imam Abu Hanifarh immediately replied:

قَدْ اَجَبْتُمْ

“You have yourself answered the question.” This shows that he considered anyone a Muslim who called themselves a Muslim.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed, they said, “Alright, then tell us, are they hell bound, or can they enter paradise?” Imam Abu Hanifarh replied, “My answer is that which Abrahamas and Jesusas gave. Abrahamas said:

فَمَنۡ تَبِعَنِیۡ فَاِنَّہٗ مِنِّیۡ ۚ وَ مَنۡ عَصَانِیۡ فَاِنَّکَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ

“‘So whoever follows me, he is certainly of me; and whoever disobeys me – Thou art, surely, Most Forgiving, Merciful.’ (Surah Ibrahim, Ch.14: V.37)

Jesusas, the Messiah, said:

اِنۡ تُعَذِّبۡہُمۡ فَاِنَّہُمۡ عِبَادُکَ ۚ وَ اِنۡ تَغۡفِرۡ لَہُمۡ فَاِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ الۡعَزِیۡزُ الۡحَکِیۡمُ

“‘If Thou punish them, they are Thy servants; and if Thou forgive them, Thou surely art the Mighty, the Wise.’” (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.119)

Upon hearing this response, they felt ashamed and went on their way.

Once, Imam Abu Hanifarh visited the court of Abu Jafar Mansur where an official of Mansur, Abul Abbas Tusi, who held animosity against Abu Hanifarh, was also seated. Abul Abbas Tusi found an opportunity to create mischief and intended to have him punished by any means necessary. In front of Mansur, he asked Imam Abu Hanifarh, “If Amirul Momineen calls someone and orders him to smite another person’s neck while they are unaware of their crime, should such a person follow such orders?”

Imam Abu Hanifarh realised the mischief and asked, “In your view, does Amirul Momineen issue commands with justice and integrity, or are his orders unjust and without reason, bearing a thirst for the blood of others?” Abul Abbas Tusi immediately felt uneasy and abruptly answered, “Amirul Momineen’s decision is just”, to which Imam Sahibrh replied, “A just order should be obeyed.”

A person once made a will for Imam Abu Hanifarh in his absence. According to the law, his property was handed to the court. When Imam Abu Hanifarh finally arrived, he filed a lawsuit and explained the circumstances. The witnesses attested to the fact that the will was, in fact, in Abu Hanifa’srh name. Upon hearing this, the adjudicator said to Imam Sahibrh, “Can you swear on oath that what the witnesses are saying is the truth?” Imam Sahibrh replied, “How can I take an oath when I was not even present when the will was made?” to which the adjudicator responded, “Then you have lost this case.”

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh was very intelligent and so, when he assessed that the adjudicator was testing his intellect, he said to him, “If a blind man is beaten by someone and injured and witnesses attest that so and so was the one who beat the blind man and that they were present and saw it happen, would you require for the blind to take an oath that the witnesses are telling the truth?” Observing Imam Sahib’srh intelligence and astuteness, the adjudicator was left stunned and called a decision in favour of Imam Sahibrh.

A mentally challenged lady would often walk the bazaars of Kufa. Once, someone harassed the lady, to which the lady became enraged and started hurling foul language, calling him “Ya ibnal-zaniyain” (son of two adulterers). This incident took place in the bazaar close to the main mosque and was witnessed by Kufa’s qazi [judge], Ibn Abi Layla. He instructed for the woman to be arrested and sentenced her to twice the amount of the usual sentence of lashing.

When Imam Abu Hanifarh came to learn of the injustice against the lady, he could not just sit by and observe. He criticised the sentencing and said that the qazi had made many blunders, for example:

1. The lady was insane and such people cannot be held accountable for their crimes and cannot be punished

2. The punishment was given inside the mosque, whereas the mosque is not a place for meting out punishments

3. When the lady had been punished, she was standing, even though women should be seated whilst being punished and cannot be punished whilst standing

4. By ascribing two crimes to the lady, the qazi issued two punishments, even though one punishment was enough. If a person falsely makes an accusation against an entire group of people, they would be punished once only and only that false accuser would be punished

5. The qazi issued both punishments together, even though the limits prescribed are that there should be a gap of a few days between such sentences so that the injuries sustained from first punishment can heal

6. Those who have been accused of being adulterers should also be present during sentencing and their refutation should be heard, rejecting any truth in the claim. It is apparent that in the case mentioned, this did not happen

The qazi, Ibn Abi Layla, complained to the governor of the city about Imam Abu Hanifa’srh criticism, saying that he had defamed the court. Thus, the governor issued sanctions upon Abu Hanifarh that prevented him from issuing any fatwas or answering any theological question.

Imam Abu Hanifarh considered it acceptable to criticise issues surrounding the Shariah. He would himself criticise and would welcome criticism.

Once, a qazi called Shurayk was presented with a question on what to do if a person was in doubt about whether they had divorced their wife or not. To this, Shurayk answered, “Such a person should divorce his wife and then do ruju‘ [seek to return to the wife] to remove any doubt.”

Imam Thawrirh said that in such circumstances, divorce was not required as the husband’s intention was equivalent to ruju‘. Imam Zufarrh said that their Nikah was certain and that doubt was not more credible than certainty. Therefore, she would remain his wife as she was prior to the doubt.

When Imam Abu Hanifarh heard of these views, he remarked that Imam Zufar’srh views were closest to the principles of fiqh, Imam Thawri’srh fatwa was based on taqwa, while Shurayk’s suggestion was similar to a person, who says that they are in doubt about whether their clothes were contaminated with urine, being told to urinate on their clothes and then to wash them.

Shurayk was offended by Imam Abu Hanifa’srh strict criticism and never ceased in his spite for him.

A case was presented before Shurayk, the qazi, in which two witnesses were presented. One was Nazar bin Ismail, while the other was Imam Abu Hanifa’srh son, Hamaad. Both were noble scholars of fiqh and respectable members of society, however Shurayk rejected their testimonies. Nazar was accused of being the imam of a certain mosque and accepting money for this responsibility, while Hamaad was accused of believing in false principles, alongside his father, who supposedly said that the level of faith of the evil and pious was the same.

During the course of raising accusations against Nazar, when Nazar replied, “You also take money whilst being a qazi”, he replied by saying, “When I come as a witness in your court, feel free to reject my testimony.” Shurayk would often say that the existence of the Hanafi school of thought was the misfortune of Islam.

Accusations against Imam Abu Hanifarh

The governor of the city once required an intellectual thesis on a particular subject. Qazi Ibn Shibrima and Qazi Ibn Abi Layla exerted all efforts, yet they were not able to prepare the required thesis. When the matter was referred to Imam Abu Hanifarh, he prepared it in a very calculated and precise manner, which the governor highly appreciated, leading him to praise Abu Hanifarh.

When Ibn Abi Layla left the court of the governor, he said to his companion, Ibn Shibrima, “Did you see how this foolish and stupid person surpassed us?” Ibn Shibrima replied, “The real ‘foolish and stupid person’ is the one who was not able to formulate even a few lines on this subject and who is now furiously hurling insults at the scholar who was capable of it.”

He would be at the receiving end of a lot of verbal abuse and accusations. Some would allege that he did know Arabic, while others said that his knowledge of hadith was not sound. He was accused of having ties with the Murji‘ah sect, not accepting the importance of actions, being a Shiite, claiming to love the Ahl-e-Bait [close family of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa] despite being a disbeliever or a Jew.

Thousands of accusations were levelled against him, but who bears the capacity to humble a person whom God desires to favour? Those who raised false accusations against him have been effaced and are not remembered today, whereas Imam Abu Hanifarh and his students are venerated even today throughout the world.

Once, the chief jurist of the city, Imam Abu Yusuf was asked, “You have accomplished so much. Do you still have any unfulfilled desire?” He replied, “Firstly, to have the purity of Hazrat Musar bin Kudam and secondly, to be destined to become a great master of fiqh as was Abu Hanifa.” Harun al-Rashid, upon hearing this response, said, “This is a desire even higher than that of Khilafat.”

The greatness of Imam Abu Hanifarh

Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa Numanrh bin Thabit was a great scholar of fiqh. He was an exemplary imam, had a noble personality and was a saint of the highest order. The Muslim Ummah remembers him as “Al-Imam al-A‘zam” [the Great Imam], a title he deservedly earned. He was bigger than all of the famous imams of fiqh, age-wise and otherwise.

Everybody attested to his intellectual prowess. He had the honour of initiating the compilation of fiqh. He was the teacher of such students who would go on to become great men and took great pride in being his students. His fiqh became known as an ocean of knowledge due to the stretch of principles and abundance of rulings.

Islamic governments of various eras adopted his fiqh to rule. As compared to other imams of fiqh, his following is much larger and it is for this reason that the Imam of the age, the Promised Messiahas praised him and said with respect to him:

“The fact is that the aforementioned Imam Sahib, in terms of his aptitude of ijtihad [hermeneutics], comprehension of hadith, understanding and wisdom was superior and greater than the other three imams [i.e. Hazrat Imam Malikrh, Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh and Hazrat Imam Ahmadrh bin Hanbal]. His God-given decision-making skills were so refined that he knew how to differentiate between evidence and lack of evidence. His reasoning skills had a special power to understand the Holy Quran and his nature had a deep familiarity with the word of God, elevating him to the highest stage of God-realisation. It is for this reason that in terms of ijtihad and deduction, he was accepted as the highest authority, something which the rest were unable to attain.” (Izala-e-Auham, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, p. 385)

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

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