The Four Great Imaams - Imaam Abu Haneefa

The greatest Imaam and foremost scholar of jurisprudence, knowledgeable in hadeeth and fiqh and known for piety.

His name was Nu’maan ibn Thaabit. Born in Kufa (pronounced koo-fah), ‘Iraaq, 80 years after the Hijrah, his ancestry is reported to be from Fars (Persia). He was born in the era of the Sahaabah, among them Hazrat Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), and is established to be a Taabi’ee. At the time of his birth, Kufa was the center of Islamic knowledge: among the hundreds of Sahaabah who had resided there were some of the greatest Companions including Hazrat ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) and Hazrat Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him). Thousands of jurists and scholars of hadeeth were born in Kufa around this period of history.

His father passed away while he was a child and he bore the responsibility of the family business. He was a merchant of silk and cloth and built up somewhat of a fortune, which he later used to finance his studies and the studies of his students. At the age of 22 he was spending much of his time in debating and it was in this period of time that Imaam Sha’bee (may Allah have mercy on him) advised him to associate himself with a scholar.

He learned his knowledge of fiqh from Imaam Hammaad ibn Abi Sulaymaan  over a period of more than 18 years and the number of traditions ascribed to him is approximately 4,000, comparable to the Muwatta of Imaam Maalik (may Allah have mercy on him) and the Musnad of Imaam Shaafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him). His main teacher of ahadeeth was Imaam Aamir Sha’bee (may Allah have mercy on him) who in turn had gathered knowledge of hadeeth from 500 Sahaabah. Imaam Hammad (may Allah have mercy on him) was also extremely knowledgeable in hadeeth and fiqh and it was said of him that he was the most knowledgeable person of the ahadeeth of Hazrat Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) and ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). Imaam Abu Haneefah (may Allah have mercy on him) also acquired knowledge from other teachers including Ibraheem Nakh’i, Qataada, Qaasim bin Muhammad, Naafi’, Hasan Basri and other famous Taabi’een (may Allah have mercy on him).

Among the students of Imaam Abu Haneefah (may Allah have mercy on him) were also great scholars of hadeeth and fiqh. Some of them were Imaam Muhammad ibn Hasan ash-Shaybaani, Imaam Abu Yusuf, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubaarak and Wakee’ ibn al-Jarraah, the ustaadh of Imaam Shaafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him). Hazrat ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubaarak (may Allah have mercy on him) was reported to have said, “If Allah had not directed me to Abu Haneefah and Sufyaan, I would have been no different than the rest of the people.” Another of those that studied under him, Imaam Yahyaa ibn Sa’eed al-Qattaan (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “By Allah, we sat with Abu Haneefah and listened to him and by Allah, when I looked at him I would know from his face that he feared Allah, the Mighty and Glorious.” Imaam Shaafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him) once said of him: “In fiqh, all scholars are the dependents of Abu Haneefah.”

His literary works include various Masaaneed (compilations by his students of the ahaadeeth he related), his Kitaabul-Aathaar compiled from 70,000 ahaadeeth, al-Fiqh al-Akbar, an essay on the correct fundamental beliefs regarding Allah, Kitaabul Rad ‘alal-Qaadiriyah and al-‘Aalim wal-Muta’allim.

Many anecdotes tell of his strong knowledge of hadeeth. Among them is that of Imaam Abu Yusuf (may Allah have mercy on him) who said that when Imaam Abu Haneefah (may Allah have mercy on him) explained some legal issue, he (Abu Yusuf) would then go to all the scholars of hadeeth in Kufa and gather the hadeeth that were in support of the ruling that the Imaam Saahib had given, intending thereby to read them to the Imaam Saahib for his satisfaction. However, when he had read all the hadeeth to the Imaam Saahib, he informed him that such-and-such hadeeth had such-and-such weakness, and another hadeeth had so-and-so as an unreliable narrator and so were not up to the standard needed for deducing legal opinions. The Imaamul-A’zam remarked, “I am knowledgeable of the knowledge of the people of Kufa.”

His piety was reflected in the fact that for 40 consecutive years, he performed the Fajr prayers with the same wuduu’ as the ‘Isha- that is, he spent the entire night in worship. He said: “There is no Surah in the entire Qur’an which I have not recited during nafl prayers.” He performed Hajj 55 times in his lifetime and by the end of his life had recited the Qur’an 7,000 times.

His extreme caution to avoid the corruption of politics led to two trials, the first during the rule of Ibn Hubairah when the Imaam Saahib refused his request to become a judge. He was whipped for his rejection. Again during the rule of Mansoor he rejected a request to become judge of Baghdaad and swore that he would never accept such posts. For that he was imprisoned, beaten and forcefully fed poison which led to his martyrdom. He died in a state of prostration in Baghdaad in 150 H. at 70 years of age. 50,000 people gathered for his funeral prayer, of which six were held in order to accommodate the crowds. His only son, Hammad, led the last Janaazah prayer.

[For the greater part of Islamic history, the majority of cases in the courts of the khaleefahs were decided according to the Hanafi school of law. In addition, over half of the entire ummah follows that madhhab even today, attesting to the greatness of its legacy. Famous scholars of the Ahnaaf include Imaam Tahaawi, Haafiz Abu Bashr Dulaabi, Imaam Badruddeen ‘Ayni, Ali bin Sultan Nooruddeen Mulla ‘Ali Qaari, Imaam Jalaaluddeen Suyooti and many others (may Allah have mercy on him).]