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Imam Abu Hanifah: The Pioneer Jurist (Part 3)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The reputation that Imam Abu Hanifah had for analogy, critical thinking, and originality was established quite early in his career.

He was described by some as a man of ra’y and qiyas. Many implied through this indirectly, that he did not possess sufficient knowledge of Hadith and fiqh. Some went as far as implying that he complicated matters or even innovated. For instance, `Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, a well-known scholar who had studied with Abu Hanifah, met the great Syrian Imam, al-Awza`i. Dr. Nadwi presents the encounter al-Mubarak had with al-Awza`i:

“Al-Awza`i referred to Abu Hanifah as ‘an innovator who has appeared in Kufah’ and discouraged `Abdullah from listening to him. Then, from his notes, `Abdullah recounted some complex juristic issues as dealt with by “a Sheikh whom I met in Iraq.”

Al-Awza`i commented: “This is a noble Sheikh; go and learn more from him.”

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“This is the same Abu Hanifah that you forbade me from,” `Abdullah said.

Later on, al- Awza`i met Abu Hanifah in Makkah and discussed the issues that `Abdullah ibn al- Mubarak had presented to him. Abu Hanifah explained them in rather more detail than `Abdullah had recorded.

When the two men separated, al-Awza`i remarked to `Abdullah :

“I envy this man for his abundant knowledge [and] perfect intelligence, and I repent to God, for I had been in a clear mistake about him. Stick close to this man, for he is different from what had been reported to me.”

Similar to this, we find numerous cases in the life of Abu Hanifah where major figures speak highly of him and his knowledge.

Aside from his credibility, Imam Abu Hanifah enjoyed a status that none of the other three Imams enjoyed. That is, the fact that he was regarded as a successor/follower of the companions, or a tabi’i. He had met a number of the Prophet’s companions, including: Anas ibn Malik, Sahl ibn Sa`d, Abu al-Ṭufayl, `Amir ibn Wathilah, and Jabir ibn `Abdullah .[1]

Among the esteemed students of Imam Abu Hanifah were Abu Yusuf, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl ibn Qays, and Hasan ibn Ziyad. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal studied under Abu Yusuf and Imam al-Shafi`i studied under Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani.

Abu Hanifah followed the practice of Kufah as this was the place where he brought up. He trained under the tutelage of Hammad and fully comprehended the evolving of fiqh over time. As the gap between the growing Muslim community and the companions began to increase along with the presence of divergent and at times conflicting views regarding legal issue, Abu Hanifah realized that there was a need for systematic approach.

There was an urgent need for an organized body of general principles and particular rulings. Abu Hanifah created a team comprising of his prominent students. With this team, he would consult, discuss, and debate issues with them and then he would draw conclusions. The laws were divided up into subject areas in an order that is familiar to us nowadays: aharah, alah, awm, etc.[2]

In his systematic approach, Abu Hanifah relied firstly upon the Quran and then theSunnah followed by ijma’ and qiyas. For matters of qiyas he was very scrupulous and set stringent conditions as it entailed making ijtihad. According to Imam Abu Hanifah, the following conditions must be met in order for qiyas/analogy to be valid:[3]

  • First condition: The `illah (reason) of the original case should be susceptible of rational understanding and explanation. If it is not, there is no possibility of extending the ruling to a new situation because the analogy cannot be rationally justified.
  • Second condition: The situation for which a ruling is sought should not be one on which an established ruling already exists in the texts. If the matter is covered in the Quran or Sunnah, then any addition to or amendment of it by analogy with some other ruling is invalid.
  • Third condition: If the original ruling in the original situation is exceptional in nature, it cannot be extended by analogy to yield a new ruling for a new situation. The reason for this is that the `illah in such a case is by definition not susceptible to generalization, it remains confined to the particular case.
  • Fourth condition: A ruling derived by juristic analogy must not necessitate any change in a ruling established in the texts or in the form of that ruling in those texts. If it does then the analogy is invalid
  • Fifth condition: The `illah on which the original ruling is based should not be closely bound to the original situation. If that is the case, the `illah cannot be generalized and analogical extension of the ruling to a similar situation is unsafe.

To be continued.


[1] Khan, 54.

[2] Nadwi, Abu Hanifah, 57.

[3] Ibid., 66.