Imam Al-A’zam Abu Hanifa [RA] (80H to 150H)
The following are my notes from the English translation of the book ‘Sirat-I-Nu’man’ by Allama Sibli Nu’mani.
The notes are purely mine and my own understanding of his book. Any mistakes in the notes are also mine and not the author of the book.
I hope these notes will serve as a brief bullet point outline of Imam Abu Hanifa’s life and works based on the above book.
Please keep us in your Duas.
Imam Al-A’zam Abu Hanifa [RA] (80H to 150H)
Birth and Family History:
- The Imam’s name was Nu’man ibn Thabit
- The Imam was born in 80H.
- He was born and raised in Kufa (Iraq)
- His name and lineage is as follows: Nu’man ibn Thabit ibn Zuta ibn Mah
- His family originally from Persia. His grandfather migrated from Persia to Arabia.
- He comes from a family of businessmen and merchants.
- His father was Thabit, and his grandfather was Zuta
- When Thabit was born to Zuta, Ali (RA) was the Caliph at the time and Zuta took Thabit to Ali (RA) and asked for his prayers to which Imam Ali (RA) obliged.
- Not much else is known about Zuta or Thabit.
- Imam Abu Hanifa was born to Thabit in the year 80H.
- Although Imam Abu Hanifa did not relate any traditions (Hadith) from the companions, he did meet/see some of the companion including Anas bin Malik (RA) and therefore he is classified as a Tabi’I by the verdict of many of our historians and hadith scholars.
- The Imam’s Kunya ‘Abu Hanifa’ is an indication of his being on the Path of Hanifa alluded to in the Qur’an (10:105, 30:30). It’s a different type of Kunya as normally Kunya’s are by the names of ones children and the Imam had no child called Hanifa.
Youth/Adulthood and years as a student
- In his youth the Imam worked in the garments trade in the footsteps of his father.
- He was a very successful businessman and did well in selling silk.
- However in the course of his youth he happenede to pass by the house of Imam Sha’bi who was a learned Imam in Kufa. Imam Sha’bi asked Abu Hanifa who he was studying with or what school he was attending, but Abu Hanifa replied that he was not studying with anyone at which the Imam Sha’bi replied that he should study as he sees signs of intelligence in him. This hit a cord in the Imam and the Imam started to attend classes of Kalam, Fiqh and Hadith.
- Primarily the Abu Hanifa studied under Hammad who was a prominent Shaykh and Scholar at the time and a student of Ibrahim Al-Nakha’i.
- As well as studying Fiqh under Hammad the Imam studied hadith at the foot of many masters including those listed below:
- Imam Sha’bi (Kufa)
- Imams Shu’ba and Qatada (Basra)
- Ata bin Abi Rabah (Mecca)
- Sulaiman and Salim bin Abdullah (Madina)
- Abu Hanifa also met Awza’I, Imam Malik and studied with Imam Baqir.
- Imam Abu Hanifa’s studies took him far and wide and he studied at the feet of great scholars and corresponded with many others.
- When Hammad would go on long journeys or travelling he would leave Imam Abu Hanifa in charge to take the classes.
Life as a Teacher, Later Life and Death
- Though he was teaching informally previously, Abu Hanifa took up the post of teaching formally after the death of his teacher Hammad in 120H.
- Initially he declined out of humility and respect for other scholars and (in his opinion) more able teachers. However the people persisted and requested him to teach to which he obliged.
- After a short period of time the Imam’s school became one of the largest, most well known school in Kufa and Iraq. People from all over came to study with the Imam and people from all walks of life sought Fatwa from the Imam.
- There was a lot of political turmoil in the Ummah at the time which disturbed the Imams teaching at certain points in his life, however, notwithstanding this his school continued to grow and he became the most famous Imam of his time.
- The Imams popularity reached the courts of the Khalifa, Mansur, who wanted to appoint the Imam as a Qadi in Kufa. The Imam refused this post as he felt unworthy and unqualified. But Mansur persisted and when the Imam continued to refuse he sent him to prison.
- The Imam continued his teaching from prison and students flocked to his prison cell to learn from him.
- Mansur continued to try and persuade the Imam to take up the post of Qadi but when the Imam refused still he poisoned the Imam and killed him.
- The Imam dies in a state of prostration in the month of Rajab 150H.
- The news of the Imams death spread far and wide and brought great sadness to Kufa and Iraq. His Janaza prayer was prayed by thousands and it lasted for many days as people kept on coming to pay homage to the Imam.
- Upon the Imam’s death one of his most famous student Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak remarked: ‘Abu Hanifa, may Allah have mercy on you! When Ibrahim died he left a successor, and so did Hammad, but, alas, there is no one in the whole world to take your place.’
The Imam’s views on aspects of belief
- Imam Abu Hanifa held the view that faith and action are two different things and that wrong action does not nullify ones Iman.
- The Imam also believed that faith itself is fixed and constant whilst the quality of that faith goes up and down depending on your deeds.
The Imam’s contribution to Hadith
- It is often asserted that Imam Abu Hanifa did not know a lot of hadith and that he used logical reasoning in deducing rulings more than hadith.
- This is a false claim as the Imam studied hadith under the tutelage of masters of hadith in his time. The Imam also left students who were great muhaddith’s of their time and beyond.
- The reason why the Imam used fewer hadith in his rulings than were available to hadith scholars is because the Imam had very stringent rules as to whether a hadith could be used in a ruling. The hadith must have had to be fully authenticated without any possibility of doubt that it could be a weak or forged narration.
- It is worth noting that the study of hadith was in its early stages during the time of Imam Abu Hanifa and books such as the Sahihayn of Bukhari and Muslim did not exist. Many people were narrating traditions and many were forged. There were more forged narrations floating around in the hadith circles than actual narration.
- Imam Abu Hanifa painstakingly selected the strongest of these hadith in order to deduce the rulings and left those which he deemed as weak or unacceptable.
- The Imam knew many ahadith but he was a Faqih and not a narrator of hadith (Muhaddith) and this is the reason why we do not find his name mentioned in the books of Bukhari, Muslim and so on.
The Imam’s contribution to Fiqh
- Imam Abu Hanifa’s greatest contribution was in the field of Fiqh as this was his area of expertise and his filed of work.
- The Imam’s Codification of Fiqh
- During the Imam’s lifetime the development of fiqh was still in its primary stages. Ruling were given as and when questions were asked and there was no systematic collection of fiqh rules for people to govern their affairs with.
- Imam Abu Hanifa established a committee of scholars comprising of his most talented students (some reports say 40 in number) to discuss fiqh questions that were posed to the Imam and to document answers which were then to be arranged into a compilation of fiqh into various chapters such as taharah, salah, sawm, hajj, zakah, and other such headings.
- No one previous to the Imam had organised for such a scolarly committee to hold debate on legal fiqh issues and then to write down the answers into a book of law. The Imam was the pioneer of this type of writing.
- Not only did the Imam introduce the writing of Fiqh in this manner, he also codified fiqh into relevant chapters for easy reference. Although this was done by some before him in a very rudimentary way the Imam was one of the first to clearly define Fiqh in this way.
- This compilation of fiqh books became a very large volume and the other Imams in the time used is as a guide such as Sufyan Thawri and other contemporaries of the Imam.
- The compilation took around 30 years to complete and was complete in the Imam’s lifetime. Unfortunately no copy of this compilation has survived and therefore no copy of it is available even in manuscript form.
- The Imam’s other achievements in Fiqh
- The Imam devised a series of principles from which to derive the rules of Fiqh which later became known as the science of usul Al Fiqh. The Imam was one of the first to do this and although Imam Shafi’I was the first to put these Usul in writing the Imam had already been using these Usul way before Inam Shafi’i.
- The Imam divided his fiqh into two categories. Those dealing with canonical laws that were fixed and those things dealing with non-canonical laws that dealt with customary practices that could change with time and place.
- The Imam derived his rulings from the primary sources of Shaira but he took into account the aims and benefits of each ruling.
- Contrary to other Imams Abu Hanifa believed that there was a reason and befit behind every ruling and tried to deduce this from the primary sources and used these in making his fiqh rulings.
- The Imam also tried to make fiqh as easy and as applicable to day to day life as possible and therefore according to some the Imam’s rulings were very liberal and Hanafi Fiqh itself is seen to be the most liberal of the four Madhabs.
The Imam’s Character
- The Imam was a man of high moral character. He was pious, very generous with his time and wealth and a man of knowledge and much wisdom.
- He was eloquent in speech and very well mannered.
- The Imam loved to dress well and wore the best clothes.
- He was a businessman and carried out his business in the most equitable and just manner.
- Once one of his agents sold some defective clothes without mentioning the defects at which the Imam donated all the proceeds of that sale from fear that the money may be unlawful due to the defects.
- The Imam fixed stipends for the poor, the scholars and some of his poorer students from his business so that they could go about teaching and learning without the fear of poverty.
- He wrote of debtors that were unable to pay him back a loan
- He was courteous with his neighbours to the point that he bailed out his drunk neighbour from prison.
- He wept much from the recitation of Qur’an and whenever paradise or hellfire was mentioned. At times he would stay in prayer or dua from Esha to Fajr seeking refuge in Allah.
The Imam’s Family
- Not much is known about the Imam’s family and very little is mentioned of them in the history books.
- The Imam was survived by one son named Hammad. Hammad was a scholar in his own right however he chose for himself a life of asceticism and seclusion and kept himself away from the limelight.
The Imam’s Chain (Isnad) in learning
The following is taken from a PDF book by Abdur Raheem Nelson titled ‘Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) A Brief Introduction’ that was published in 2007.
The Imam’s chain (isnad) in Fiqh and Hadith go back to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in through the following routes:
- Imam Abu Hanifa took knowledge and fiqh from Hammad who took from Ibrahim Al-Nakah’I who took from Alqama who took from Abdullah bin Mas’ud who took from the Prophet (peace be upon him).
- Imam Abu Hanifa took knowledge and fiqh from Imam Baqir who took from Imam Zainul Abideen who took from Imam Hussein ibn Ali who took from Imam Ali ibn Talib who took from Prophet (peace be upon him).
Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) also studied with many other great scholars including:
Hazrat Sheikh Umar bin Dinar (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Qasim bin Muhammad (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Laith (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Atta (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Allamah Sha’bee (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Zehree (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Hisham (ra),
Hazrat Sheikh Nafe’ (ra),
Hazrat Imam Haram Amru bin Dinar (ra).