Abu Hanifah: The Jurist of His Age

Eminent Muslim Scholars in Islamic History:
By Salman Al-Oadah
Muslim Scholar

Abu Hanifah renewed and reinvigorated Islamic legal thinking, and he contributed immensely to its theoretical underpinnings.

Abu Hanifah was a leading authority in Islamic Law and an expert in the use of analogical reasoning (qiyas) to resolve legal questions.

He could speak about legal reasoning with razor-sharp precision, and he has enjoyed the general acclaim of the scholarly community for his acumen and erudition.

Al-Shafi'i said:

“All people are indebted to Abu Hanifah for their legal knowledge.”

Al-Dhahabi said:

“His authority in Islamic Law and the precision of his legal knowledge are indisputable and without doubt.”

A number of leading jurists have attested:

“I know of no jurist more knowledgeable than Abu Hanifah.” Al-Shafi`i and Ibn al-Mubarak were among those who made this statement.

Ibn al-Mubarak also said:

“If the textual evidence is known but requires the exercise of opinion in its application, then the opinion would be that of Malik, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Abu Hanifah. Abu Hanifah was the best, most intellectually precise, and erudite of the three. He was certainly the most knowledgeable about the Law.”

His student Abu Yusuf said:

“I never met anyone more knowledgeable than Abu Hanifah about the meaning of Hadith or more capable of identifying their legal implications.”

When Shu’bah ibn al-Hajjaj learned of Abu Hanifah’s death, he said:

“The legal knowledge of Kufa died with him. May Allah have mercy to him, and on us.”

Al-Nadr ibn Shumayl said:

“When it came to Islamic legal knowledge, people were asleep until Abu Hanifah woke them up with his penetrating, clear, and concise way of explaining things.”

Indeed, Abu Hanifah renewed and reinvigorated Islamic legal thinking, and he contributed immensely to its theoretical underpinnings and in relating textual evidence to the practical concerns of the day. He was especially capable of identifying the legal rationale behind an established legal ruling and determine its presence in a new and unprecedented development. In this way, he was able to respond effectively to the questions that people needed answers for.

When Yazid ibn Harun was asked whether Abu Hanifah or Sufyan al-Thawri was the better jurist, he replied:

“Sufyan knows more hadith, but Abu Hanifah has greater legal understanding.”

Ibn Al-Mubarak said:

“If anyone were entitled to speak on the basis of his own opinion, it would have been Abu Hanifah.”

We have never heard any legal opinions better than those of Abu Hanifah

Muhammad ibn Bishr Al-`Abdi related the following experience he had as Abu Hanifah’s student:

“I used to attend classes with both Abu Hanifah and Sufyan Al-Thawri. Once, I went to Abu Hanifah and he asked me where I was coming from. I told him that I had been with Sufyan. Abu Hanifah then said to me: “You have come from a man that if the eminent Successors `Alqamah and Al-Aswad were around, they would have need of the likes of him.”

Then I went to Sufyan, and he also asked me where I was coming from. I told him I had been with Abu Hanifah. He then said: “You have come from the most knowledgeable jurist in the world.”

Yahya ibn Ma’in said:

“I have heard Yahya ibn Sa’id Al-Qattan say: “We will not deny the truth before Allah. We have never heard any legal opinions better than those of Abu Hanifah. We adopt most of what he says.”

Yahya ibn Sa`id would always adopt the legal verdicts of Kufa’s scholars, and he would prefer Abu Hanifah’s opinion from among them. He would follow his opinion when his colleagues differed with him.

`Abd Al-Razzaq Al-San’ni said:

“I was with Ma’mar when Ibn Al-Mubarak came to see him. Ma’mar said: ‘Of all the men I have known, Abu Hanifah is the most knowledgeable, well-spoken, erudite, rational, and articulate in matters of Law. At the same time, I know of no one more anxious to avoid introducing a matter into Allah’s religion wherein there is any doubt’.”

Al-Dhahabi said:

People will always be indebted to him

“When it comes to juristic knowledge, the precise application of reason, and a nuanced understanding of matters, Abu Hanifah was as good as one could get. People will always be indebted to him for that.”

Substantive Arguments & Abundant Evidence

Al-Shafi’i was with Malik ibn Anas when a man came up and asked him if he ever met Abu Hanifah. Malik answered:

“Yes I have. I saw a man of such caliber that if he claimed that this iron rod was made of gold, he would convince you that it was true.”

Al-Ja’far ibn Al-Rabi` said:

“I stayed with Abu Hanifah for five years, and never met anyone who spoke less than he did. But if someone asked him a legal question, he would open up, and his speech would flow like a river. His voice was audible and clear.”

Al-Muwaffaq ibn Ahmad Al-Makki, in his biography of Abu Hanifah, gives an interesting account of a debate that took place between Abu Hanifah and a group of atheists:

Abu Hanifah said:

“What would you say to a man who told you the following: I saw a ship laden with cargo and weighed down with goods, in the middle of some ocean, being battered by gales and rough waves, but it continues on its course without a navigator or anybody to steer it. Is something like that permitted by reason?”

They replied:

“No, reason does not accept it, nor can the imagination entertain it.”

Imam Abu Hanifah said:

“Glory be to God! If the dictates of reason rule out the possibility of a ship keeping its course in these conditions without a navigator or a crew, then how is it possible for this world to go on despite the perpetual flux of its conditions and activities, and despite its vast dimensions, without anyone forming it, maintaining it, or bringing it into existence?”

Though this debate is well-known, it is not exceptionally ingenious or original. It is something that even a lay person could come up with. I only mention it because of how famous it is.

no one who was more intelligent, more dignified, or more pious than Abu Hanifah.

Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah Al-Ansari said:

“Abu Hanifah’s intellect could be discerned from his mode of speech, his way of walking, the way he entered a room, and the way he departed.”

Yazid ibn Harun said:

“I have met a lot of people, but no one who was more intelligent, more dignified, or more pious than Abu Hanifah.”

Concern for His Students

Abu Hanifah’s students were wholly devoted to their studies. Some of them previously had occupations to support themselves, so Abu Hanifah provided them with a monthly bursary instead. Abu Yusuf was the most prominent of these. He came from a poor family, and his parents did not like his decision to pursue Islamic knowledge. So Abu Hanifah supported him and his parents financially. Abu Yusuf admitted to this when later he wrote:

“He supported me and my family for ten years. When I told him how generous he was, he said to me: “You haven’t seen (my teacher) Hammad.”

He had great patience with his students. Not only would he support them and their families financially if they were poor, but when they reached a certain level of knowledge, he would tell them:

“Now you have become truly enriched with the knowledge of what Allah has made lawful and prohibited.”

He was a generous host and a hospitable companion. His students and associates were drawn to his kindness and amiable behavior. They always spoke highly of his conduct. He was faithful and magnanimous to those he taught. We have already mentioned how he used to remember them in his prayers, and that he said:

“I also beseech Allah’s forgiveness for all those I’ve learned from and all the people I’ve taught.”

He supported his students from his own wealth

It is this high-mindedness that made him the foremost scholar he was. He sought Allah’s forgiveness equally for his teachers and his students. He supported his students from his own wealth and made himself a means to facilitate their education. He strove to impart knowledge to the people he met and develop their capabilities, in spite of the abuse and ill-treatment he received from some of them. This is a rare quality that is indispensible for those who are leaders in the true sense of the word.

Accolades of the Scholars

Abu Hanifah had a massive impact on Islamic scholarship. He achieved wide recognition on account of the great efforts he expended throughout his life for the furtherance of knowledge. The scholarly community acknowledged him to be one of the foremost jurists of all time.

‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak said: “Had it not been for the succor Allah provided for me through Abu Hanifah and Sufyan al-Thawri, I would have been like all the other ordinary people.”

Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said:

“I never laid eyes upon anyone like Abu Hanifah.” Abu Dawud al-Sijistani said: “May Allah have mercy on Abu Hanifah. He was indeed one of the foremost scholars.”

When Shu`bah ibn Al-Hajjaj learned of Abu Hanifah’s death, he said:

“The legal knowledge of Kufa died with him. May Allah have His mercy to him, and on us.”

Hammad ibn Zayd related the following:

They had to offer the funeral prayer for Abu Hanifah six times to accommodate the crowd of people

I wanted to undertake the Hajj, so I went to Ayyub to say my farewells to him. He said to me:

“I have heard that a righteous man, the jurist of Kufa, is going to perform Hajj this year. If you meet him, please pass my greetings on to him.”

‘Abd Allah ibn Dawud Al-Khuraybi said:

“It is every Muslim’s duty to beseech Allah in their prayers on Abu Hanifah’s behalf, because of how well he has preserved for us the Sunnah and the Law.”

‘Ali ibn ‘Asim said:

“If the knowledge of Imam Abu Hanifah were weighed in the balance against that of all of his contemporaries, his knowledge would tip the scales.”

Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr said:

“He was a foremost authority in Islamic Law. He was proficient in his legal opinion and the application of qiyas. He had a keen intellect and a nuanced understanding of how to deduce legal verdicts. He had a solid grasp of his field. He possessed great intelligence and reasoning skills, while exercising considerable reserve and caution.”

Ibn Taymiyah said:

“Though people have disagreed with him and objected strongly about many things, no one doubts his extensive knowledge and understanding of the law.”

When he made this statement, Ibn Taymiyah was speaking in the context of particular legal questions wherein people had disagreed with Abu Hanifah. In general, when speaking about scholars, it is inappropriate to begin by mentioning how others have disagreed with them, especially since disagreement is a reality for every scholar.

Abu Hanifah’s Legacy

Historians agree that Abu Hanifah died in the year 150 AH, though they disagree about the month. He was probably seventy when he died, depending on what date we accept as his date of birth.

Al-Hasan ibn Yusuf said:

“They had to offer the funeral prayer for Abu Hanifah six times to accommodate the crowd of people in attendance.”

May Allah have mercy on his soul. He gave to posterity an enormous and precious legacy – one of knowledge. He left behind a large number of students who came up under his tutelage, and were well-grounded in critical thinking and legal reasoning.

He established a major school of law which, through the centuries, has produced some of the greatest works of law and legal theory the world has ever seen, as well as many of the most eminent jurists.

His school has endured the test of time, and today its adherents number in the tens of millions, primarily in Central Asia, India, Turkey, and Iraq, but also in Egypt and every other land where there are Muslims. His school has proven immensely useful for all legal thinkers wishing to deduce rulings for new and unprecedented situations.

Along with the imams of the other three schools of law, he has helped to steer a blessed course for the Muslims. May Allah be pleased with them all.

Source: Islam Today web site - http://en.islamtoday.net/
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