Abu Hanifa

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“If he were to speak to you regarding this pillar that it is made of gold, then it would happen through his proofs.”
Mālik ibn Anas (may Allah show compassion towards him)(i)

“We were in front of him like small birds in front of a falcon.”
Sufyān Al-Thawrī (may Allah show compassion towards him)

“He is the greatest Jurist amongst the people.”
ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Mubārak (may Allah show compassion towards him)(ii)

“I never saw anyone more fearful of Allah than him, even on trial under the whip and through money and property.”
ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Mubārak (may Allah show compassion towards him)

“When I hear people speaking ill of him, I become displeased and I fear the displeasure of Allah upon them.”
ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Mubārak (may Allah show compassion towards him)(iii)

“People are all the children of him in Islamic jurisprudence.”
Al-Shāfiʿī (may Allah show compassion towards him)(iv)

Map showing the distribution of the predominant Islamic schools of Jurisprudence followed in majority Muslim countries and regions.
The Ḥanafite school exists throughout Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Indian Subcontinent, and parts of the Middle East

ABŪ ḤANĪFA NUʿMĀN IBN THĀBIT IBN ZŪṬĪ IBN MARZUBĀN AL-TAYMĪ AL-KŪFĪ (may Allah show compassion towards him) was an eminent jurisprudent (mujtahid), theologian, and trustworthy narrator(v) of Prophetic traditions of the second generation of Muslims (tābiʿīn). He is revered throughout the Islamic world by the title of ‘Al-Imām Al-ʿĀẓam’ (the Greatest Imām) and he was the founder of the school of Islamic jurisprudence that has the largest following in the Muslim world. The Ḥanafite school exists throughout Turkey, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Indian Subcontinent, and parts of the Middle East, including Syria, Jordan and Palestine; and was the basis of the Muslim legal system for most of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates. He is held in high regard for his knowledge of jurisprudence, scrupulous piety, humility, and friendship of Allah (wilāya).

Abū Ḥanīfa was born in the city of Kūfa in modern-day Iraq in 80 AH. His grandfather was a Persian nobleman of the city of Kābul in present-day Afghanistan, who had been enslaved by the Banī Taym Allāh Thaʿlaba tribe during the early Muslim conquests. He had later been emancipated and converted to Islam. His father met the fourth ‘Rightly-Guided’ caliph ʿAlī (may Allah ennoble his face) when he was a youth and ʿAlī had invoked the blessings of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) upon him and his descendants.(vi) The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had also prophesised that the offspring of Persia would surpass the Arabs in their knowledge and practice of Islam.(vii)

Abū Ḥanīfa originally studied theology before realising the importance of Islamic jurisprudence in the day-to-day lives of the common folk. Thus, he began to study this discipline under the tutelage of the jurisprudent and narrator of Prophetic traditions, Ḥammād ibn Abī Sulaymān (may Allah show compassion towards him). He met the companions Anas ibn Mālik, ʿAbd Allāh ibn Abī Awfa, Sahl ibn Sʿad Al-Sāʿidī, and Abū Al-Ṭufayl ʿĀmir ibn Wāthila (may Allah be pleased with them all) whilst still a youth. Those he narrated Prophetic traditions from included ʿAṭā’ ibn Abī Rabāḥ, Hishām ibn ʿUrwa, Nāfiʿ, and Qatādah (may Allah show compassion towards them).(viii)

Abū Ḥanīfa was the first jurisprudent to arrange the discipline into sub-headings embracing the whole of the law, and beginning with purification. The master of dream interpretation, Muḥammad ibn Sīrīn (may Allah show compassion towards him) had correctly interpreted a dream of Abū Ḥanīfa to mean that he would lay the foundations of a new discipline of Islam involving Prophetic traditions (i.e. Islamic jurisprudence).(ix) The main book attributed to him to reach us is ‘Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar’, which is a treatise on creed. His students and those who narrated from him included his one-and-only child Ḥammād, ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Mubārak, Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn Ibrāhīm, Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥasan Al-Shaybānī, Zufr ibn Al-Hadhayl, and Wakīʿ ibn Al-Jarrāḥ (may Allah have compassion towards them). In total, there were forty students of his that he would debate with until a consensus was reached and a ruling was made on any particular issue.

Abū Ḥanīfa was offered the role of Chief Judge of Kūfa during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Marwān ibn Muḥammad. He refused the offer and was flogged for eleven consecutive days before being let go. He was also brought to Baghdād by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Manṣūr, and imprisoned for the last two years of his life after refusing the position of Chief Judge of Baghdād. During his stay in prison, he completed seven thousand recitations of the Qur’an.

The tomb of the Imam Abu Hanifa in Baghdad, Iraq.
Abū Ḥanīfa's tomb is located in the mosque named after him in Baghdād

Abū Ḥanīfa was a silk cloth merchant by occupation and made a good living out of this profession. He was medium-to-tall in height and his skin was olive-tanned in complexion. He was known for the elegance with which he debated and for mastering the art of using analogical deduction (qiyās) in making legal rulings. He was one of the few people to recite the entire Qur’an in one unit of prayer, and regularly prayed the Dawn prayer (Fajr) whilst still being in a state of ritual purification from the Night prayer (ʿĪsha).(x) He used to complete recitation of the Qur’an twice each day during Ramaḍān (i.e. sixty times during that month) and once a day during other months. He died aged seventy years old in Baghdād in Rajab 150 AH after being poisoned. He was buried in a cemetery in the north-east of the city. A famous mosque named after him was later built around his tomb and still stands to this day.

His Sayings

“What came from the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم (may Allāh bless him and grant him peace) has the highest priority; what came from the Companions we choose; and what is other than that then they are men and we are men.”(xi)

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Ibn Al-Mubarak (Abd Allah)