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Imam Abu Hanifah & Scholars’ Differences

Imam Abu Hanifah & Scholars’ Differences

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Editor’s Note: In the previous part, the contribution of Imam Abu Hanifah to the fiqh scholarship, especially his development of qiyas, was highlighted. This method for concluding juristic rules was received by criticism from some scholars who believed that Imam Abu Hanifah ignored the Sunnah in favor of analogy. This part continues the discussion and refutation of this allegation.

Both contemporaries and succeeding scholars of Imam Abu Hanifah misunderstood his application of qiyas. This was due to not understanding his method of reasoning. He exhausted the Quran and Sunnah, and when he needed to resort to qiyas, that is when he did.

Fudayl ibn `Iyad said:

“If there was a sound hadith for the case, Abu Hanifah would follow it even if it was [a saying or practice] of the Companions or the successors. Otherwise he applied analogy and he was good in analogy.”[1]

Added to this is the statement by Ibn Hazm who said:

“All the students of Abu Hanifah are unanimous that to Abu Hanifah [even] the weak hadith was preferable to qiyas.”[2]

Just as he is often misunderstood for his usage of qiyas, Abu Hanifah is credited for developing qiyas into a well-organized discipline. When it came to dealing with ritual rights and obligations [`ibadat] Abu Hanifah used to rely on Hadith, even if it went against reason.

On the other hand, if it was related to transactions [mu’amalat] then he relied on properly reasoned analogy over ahad Hadiths. In doing so, the intent was to serve the broader principles of the law and benefit individuals and society.[3]

Let us take a look at the issue of the number of rak`ahs in tarawih prayers. Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf notes in his “Fiqh al-Imam” that for twelve hundred and fifty years, there was very little controversy over the issue of how many rak`ahs in tarawih prayers.[4]He explains that Companions and scholars over a thousand years have made ijma` upon twentyrak`ahs.

Imam Abu Hanifah, Shafi`i, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal all agreed that it was twenty.[5] Ibn Yusuf quotes an excerpt from Imam ibn Rushd’s, Bidayatul Mujtahid:

“Imam Malik (in one of his opinions), along with Imam Abu Hanifa, Shafi`i, Ahmad, and Dawud al-Zahiri, has preferred that the tarawih performed in the month of Ramadan be twenty rak`ahs excluding witr.

Ibn al-Qasim reports from Malik that he preferred thirty-six rak`ahs with threerak`ahs witr [according to another of his opinions].”[6]

Sheikh Akram Nadwi in his Al-Fiqh Al-Islami presents the views of many of the leading scholars among the salaf and the khalaf, who stated that the number ofrak`ahs is twenty. He mentioned that Al-Thawri, Ibn Al-Mubarak, Ash-Shafi`i, `Ata ibn Abi Rabah, etc. went with this view.[7]

From these two brief evidences we can already get an idea of what the mainstream Sunni stance was in regards to tarawih. It also displays Imam Abu Hanifa’s insight into the Hadith on this particular topic and how every other jurist and scholar shared the same opinion as him.

This is one issue among the hundreds and thousands that our scholars opined on. They agreed on some issues and disagreed on others. But the key point is that when they disagreed, they did so knowingly, sincerely, and respectfully.

In the contemporary period, Muslims often get caught up in polemics and fail to look back at our glorious tradition. Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq, author of the well-known “Fiqh As-Sunnah” mentions that there were unfortunate incidents in our history where people abused the madhahib as a type of sect and went to extremes. They did not base their practices on knowing the true spirit of the madhahib and rather used it to create sectarianism.[8]

In contrast, we find that our scholars had respect and love when they differed. They had depth in their knowledge and wisdom and they coupled it with gentleness and good manners.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi mentions in his compilation of fatawa, Contemporary Fatawas, that when Imam Ash-Shafi`i went to Baghdad he did not perform thequnut in the Fajr Prayer as a form of honor and respect towards the companions of Imam Abu Hanifah.[9]

The qunut is highly encouraged in Imam Ash-Shafi`ismadhhab. This illustrates to us the adab that our scholars had with one another. From this incident, it is also evident that the level of respect the scholars had for Abu Hanifah was very high.

Throughout this series I have presented several distinguishing factors about the life and the school of Imam Abu Hanifah. Although it is very difficult to recount all the contributions made by our Imam, we can at least appreciate some of the things that were mentioned.

The next time we open up a book of fiqh and browse through the contents, let us remember that it is Abu Hanifah who innovated the sub-headings of fiqh. As-Suyuti said that Abu Hanifah was the first in Islam to organize the writing of fiqh under sub-headings embracing the whole of the Law, beginning with purity followed by prayer, etc.[10] As Ash-Shafi`i remarked, “People are all the dependents of Abu Hanifah in fiqh.”[11]


[1] Nadwi, Abu Hanifah, 69.

[2] Ibid., 69.

[3] Ibid., 74.

[4] Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, Fiqh al-Imam, (California, White Thread Press, 2007), 179.

[5] Ibid., 180.

[6] Ibid., 189.

[7] Mohammad AkramNadwi, Al-Fiqh Al-Islami, (Istanbul, Angelwing Media, 2007), 188.

[8] As-SayyidSabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, trans. Muhammad Sa’eedDabas and Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo, (Indianapolis, American Trust Publications, 1991), XII.

[9] Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Contemporary Fatawas, trans. Ramy Mohamed Osman, (New Jersey, Islamic Book Service, 1999), 221.

[10] Gibril Fouad Haddad, The Four Imams and Their Schools, (London, Muslim Academic Trust, 2007), 26.

[11] Ibid., 30.

About Zakir Ahmed

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