Abu Hanifa

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Abu Hanifa
أَبُو حَنِيفَة
BornSeptember 699 CE / Rajab 80 AH
Died767 CE (aged 68) / 150 AH (aged 70)
Resting placeAbu Hanifa Mosque, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Hammad
  • Hanifa[1]
EraIslamic Golden Age
JurisprudenceIndependent (eponym of the Hanafi school)
Main interest(s)
Notable idea(s)
Notable work(s)
Arabic name
Ibn Thābit ibn Zūṭā ibn Marzubān
ٱبْن ثَابِت بْن زُوطَا بْن مَرْزُبَان
Abū Ḥanīfa
أَبُو حَنِيفَة
Al-Taymī al-Kūfī
ٱلتَّيْمِيّ ٱلْكُوفِيّ
Muslim leader

Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zūṭā ibn Marzubān al-Taymī al-Kūfī (Arabic: أَبُو حَنِيفَة ٱلنُّعْمَان بْن ثَابِت بْن زُوطَا بْن مَرْزُبَان ٱلتَّيْمِيّ ٱلْكُوفِيّ; September 699–767 CE / Rajab 80–150 AH)[3] was a Sunni Muslim scholar, theologian, jurist, ascetic,[4] and eponym of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, which remains the most widely practiced to this day.[4] His school predominates in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran (until the sixteenth century), Turkey, the Balkans, Russia, Circassia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and some parts of the Arab world.[5][6]

Born to a Muslim family in Kufa,[4] Abu Hanifa traveled to the Hejaz region of Arabia in his youth, where he studied in the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.[4] Named by al-Dhahabi as "one of the geniuses of the sons of Adam" who "combined jurisprudence, worship, scrupulousness, and generosity",[7] he reportedly studied under some 4,000 scholars in his search for knowledge, and, according to some historians, also met some companions of Muhammad.[8]

As his career as a theologian and jurist progressed, he became known for favoring the use of reason in his jurisprudential rulings, and even in his theology.[4] His school grew after his death, and the majority of its followers would also come to follow the Maturidi theological school.[4] He left behind two major students, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani, who would later become celebrated jurists in their own right.

He is often reverently referred to in Sunni tradition with the titles the Greatest Imam (al-Imām al-Aʿẓam), Lamp of the Imams (Sirāj al-Aʾimma),[4][9] and Shaykh of Islam (Shaykh al-Islām).


How Abu Hanifa earned his name is disputed. According to some linguists, including Muhyi al-Din, ḥanīfa refers to "inkpot" in Abu Hanifa's dialect. He was often seen with one, thus earning his name this way.[1] According to this interpretation, his name literally means the "Father of the Inkpot".

However, some historians contest he earned it as he had a daughter named Hanifa.[1] His name would then mean the "Father of Hanifa". The opposing side believes he never had a daughter with such name.


Family background[edit]

Historians generally agree Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa during the period of the Umayyad Caliphate, but they differ regarding the year: 699 CE / 80 AH,[10][11] 696 CE / 77 AH,[12] 689 CE / 70 AH,[13] or 680 CE / 61 AH.[14] Many historians choose the latest date, 699 CE / 80 AH; however, Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, adjunct to the office of the last Elder of Islam of the Ottoman Empire, believed the date of 689 CE / 70 AH is supported by two considerations.[citation needed] First, Muhammad ibn Makhlad al-Attar considered the narration of Abu Hanifa's son, Hammad, from Malik ibn Anas to be an example of an older man's narration rather than a younger man. Second, Abu Hanifa was concerned with who should succeed Ibrahim al-Nakha'i after his death in 96 AH. This concern would have only arisen if he was older than 19, since it is considered he only took his religious studies seriously after then. If Abu Hanifa was born in 80 AH, Abu Hanifa would have been 16 at the time of al-Nakhai's death.[14]

Abu Hanifa is thought to be of Persian ancestry.[9][15] However, he has also been stated to have descended from the Zutt, Jats who migrated into Iraq during the Islamic Golden Age.[16][17][18] His grandfather, Zuta, may have been captured by Muslim troops in Kabul and sold as a slave in Kufa, where he was purchased and freed by an Arab tribesman of the Taym Allah, a branch of the Banu Bakr. Zuta and his progeny thereafter would have become clients clients of the Taym Allah, hence the sporadic references to Abu Hanifa as "al-Taymi".[19] According to his grandson Isma'il, however, his lineage went back to free Persians who had never been held as slaves. He called Abu Hanifa's great-grandfather "Marzuban", which is an arabicized form of the Sasanian military office of marzban, held by governors of the frontier provinces of the Sasanian realm.[3]

Early life and scholarship[edit]

There is scant biographical information about Abu Hanifa. It is generally known that he worked a producer and seller of khazz, a type of silk clothing material. He attended lectures on jurisprudence conducted by the Kufan scholar Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (d. 737).[19] He also possibly learnt jurisprudence (fiqh) from the Meccan scholar Ata ibn Abi Rabah (d. c. 733) while on Hajj.

When Hammad died, Abu Hanifa succeeded him as the principal authority on Islamic law in Kufa and the chief representative of the Kufan school of jurisprudence.[19] Abu Hanifa gradually gained influence as an authority on legal questions, founding a moderate rationalist school of Islamic jurisprudence that was named after him.[6]

Adulthood and death[edit]

Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad, Iraq

In 763, al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph offered Abu Hanifa the post of qadi al-qudat (chief judge of the state), but he declined the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Abu Yusuf was later appointed to the post by Caliph Harun al-Rashid.[20]

In his reply to al-Mansur, Abu Hanifa said that he was not fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abu Hanifa of lying.

"If I am lying," Abu Hanifa responded, "then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Qadi (Chief Judge)?"

Incensed by this reply, al-Mansur had Abu Hanifa arrested, locked in prison and tortured. It was said that once in prison he was never fed nor cared for.[21] Even in prison, the jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to visit him.

On 15 Rajab 150,[22] (15 August 767[23]) Abu Hanifa died in prison. The cause of his death is not clear, as it was said by some that Abu Hanifa issued a legal opinion for bearing arms against al-Mansur, so al-Mansur had him poisoned.[24] His fellow prisoner and founder of Karaite Judaism, Anan ben David, was said to have received life-saving counsel from Abu Hanifa.[25] It was said that so many people attended his funeral that the funeral service was repeated six times for the more than 50,000 people who had massed before he was actually buried. The historian al-Khatib said that for a full 20 days people performed funeral prayers for him. Many years later, the Abu Hanifa Mosque was built in the Adhamiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad. Abu Hanifa also supported the cause of Zayd ibn Ali and Ibrahim al Qamar, both Alid Zaydi Imams.

The structures of the tombs of Abu Hanifa and Abdul Qadir Gilani were destroyed by Shah Ismail of the Safavid Empire in 1508.[26] In 1533, the Ottomans conquered Baghdad and rebuilt the tombs of Abu Hanifa and Abdul Qadir, as well as other Sunni sites.[27]

Character and appearance[edit]

Al-Nadr ibn Muhammad recalled Abu Hanifa had "a beautiful face, beautiful clothing, and fragrant scent."[28]

His student Abu Yusuf described him as "well-formed, from the best of people in appearance, most eloquent in speech, sweetest in tone, and clearest in expressing his thoughts."[28]

His son Hammad described him as "very handsome, dark-skinned, having good posture, wearing much cologne, tall, not speaking except in reply to someone else, and not involving himself in what did not concern him."[28]

Ibn al-Mubarak remarked he "never saw a man more revered in gatherings, nor better in character and forbearance, than Abu Hanifa."[28]


Yusuf ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Mizzi listed 97 hadith scholars who were his students. Most of them went on to be hadith scholars, and their narrated hadiths were compiled in the Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and other books of hadith.[29] Imām Badr al-Din al-Ayni included another 260 students who studied Hadith and Fiqh with Abu Hanifa.[30]

His most famous students were Imām Abu Yusuf, who served as the first chief justice in the Muslim world, and Imām Muhammad al-Shaybani, who was the teacher of the Shafi‘i school of jurisprudence founder, Imām Al-Shafi‘i. His other students included Abdullah ibn Mubarak and Fudhayl bin Iyaadh[31]

Sources and methodology[edit]

The sources from which Abu Hanifa derived Islamic law, in order of importance and preference, were: the Qur'an, the authentic narrations of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (known as hadith), consensus of the Muslim community (ijma), analogical reasoning (qiyas), juristic discretion (istihsan) and the customs of the local population enacting Muslim laws (urf).[citation needed] The development of analogical reason and the scope and boundaries by which it may be used was recognized by the majority of Muslim jurists, but its establishment as a legal tool was the result of the Hanafi school. While it was likely used by some of his teachers, Abu Hanifa is regarded by modern scholarship as the first to formally adopt and institute analogical reason as a part of Islamic law.[32]

As the fourth Caliph, Ali had transferred the Islamic capital to Kufa, and many of the first generation of Muslims had settled there. The Hanafi school of law based many of its rulings on the prophetic tradition as transmitted by those first generation Muslims residing in Iraq. Thus, the Hanafi school came to be known as the Kufan or Iraqi school. Ali and Abdullah, son of Masud helped form much of the base of the school, as well as other personalities from the direct relatives (or Ahli-ll-Bayṫ) of Moḥammad from whom Abu Hanifa had studied such as Muhammad al-Baqir. Many jurists and historians had reportedly lived in Kufa, including one of Abu Hanifa's main teachers, Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman.[33][34]

Generational status[edit]

Abu Hanifa is regarded by some authorities as one of the Tabi‘un, the generation after the Sahaba, who were the companions of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. This is based on reports that he met at least four Sahaba including Anas ibn Malik,[35] with some even reporting that he transmitted Hadith from him and other companions of Muhammad.[36][37] Others take the view that Abu Hanifa only saw around half a dozen companions, possibly at a young age, and did not directly narrate hadith from them.[36]

Abu Hanifa was born at least 60 years after the death of Muhammad, but during the time of the first generation of Muslims, some of whom lived on until Abu Hanifa's youth. Anas ibn Malik, Muhammad's personal attendant, died in 93 AH and another companion, Abul Tufail Amir bin Wathilah, died in 100 AH, when Abu Hanifa was at least 20 years old. The author of al-Khairat al-Hisan collected information from books of biographies and cited the names of Muslims of the first generation from whom it was reported that the Abu Hanifa had transmitted hadith. He counted 16 of them, including Anas ibn Malik, Jabir ibn Abd-Allah and Sahl ibn Sa'd.[38]


Map of the Muslim world. Hanafi (grass green) is the Sunni school predominant in Turkey, the Northern Middle East, many parts of Egypt, Central Asia and most of the Indian subcontinent

He was highly regarded across the various fields of sacred knowledge and significantly influenced the development of Muslim theology.[39] During his lifetime, he was acknowledged as a jurist of the highest calibre.[40]

Outside of his scholarly achievements, Abu Hanifa is popularly known amongst Sunni Muslims as a man of the highest personal qualities: a performer of good works, remarkable for his self-denial, humble spirit, devotion and pious awe of God.[41]

His tomb, surmounted by a dome erected by admirers in 1066 is still a shrine for pilgrims.[42] It was restored in 1535 by Suleiman the Magnificent after the Ottoman conquest of Baghdad.[27]

The honorific title al-Imam al-A'zam ("the greatest leader") has been granted to him[43] in many communities where his legal theory is followed.[citation needed] According to John Esposito, 45% of all Muslims follow the Hanafi school.[44]

Abu Hanifa also had his critics. The Zahiri scholar Ibn Hazm quoted Sufyan ibn `Uyaynah: "[T]he affairs of men were in harmony until they were changed by Abù Hanìfa in Kùfa, al-Batti in Basra and Màlik in Medina".[45] Early Muslim jurist Hammad ibn Salamah once related a story about a highway robber who posed as an old man to hide his identity; he then remarked that were the robber still alive he would be a follower of Abu Hanifa.[46]

Zakaria bin Muhammad Amin credited Abu Hanifa as one of the best figures in the implementation of Islamic brotherhood due to never considers his opinion to be the most correct and instead suggests discarding his opinion if there is more correct opinion.[47]

Connection with the family of Muhammad[edit]

Muhammad, The final Messenger of God(570–632 the Constitution of Medina, taught the Quran, and advised his companions
Abdullah ibn Masud (died 653) taughtAli (607–661) fourth caliph taughtAisha, Muhammad's wife and Abu Bakr's daughter taughtAbd Allah ibn Abbas (618–687) taughtZayd ibn Thabit (610–660) taughtUmar (579–644) second caliph taughtAbu Hurairah (603–681) taught
Alqama ibn Qays (died 681) taughtHusayn ibn Ali (626–680) taughtQasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (657–725) taught and raised by AishaUrwah ibn Zubayr (died 713) taught by Aisha, he then taughtSaid ibn al-Musayyib (637–715) taughtAbdullah ibn Umar (614–693) taughtAbd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (624–692) taught by Aisha, he then taught
Ibrahim al-Nakha’i taughtAli ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin (659–712) taughtHisham ibn Urwah (667–772) taughtIbn Shihab al-Zuhri (died 741) taughtSalim ibn Abd-Allah ibn Umar taughtUmar ibn Abdul Aziz (682–720) raised and taught by Abdullah ibn Umar
Hammad bin ibi Sulman taughtMuhammad al-Baqir (676–733) taughtFarwah bint al-Qasim Jafar's mother
Abu Hanifa (699–767) wrote Al Fiqh Al Akbar and Kitab Al-Athar, jurisprudence followed by Sunni, Sunni Sufi, Barelvi, Deobandi, Zaidiyyah and originally by the Fatimid and taughtZayd ibn Ali (695–740)Ja'far bin Muhammad Al-Baqir (702–765) Muhammad and Ali's great great grand son, jurisprudence followed by Shia, he taughtMalik ibn Anas (711–795) wrote Muwatta, jurisprudence from early Medina period now mostly followed by Sunni in Africa, Sunni Sufi and taughtAl-Waqidi (748–822) wrote history books like Kitab al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi, student of Malik ibn AnasAbu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Abdul Hakam (died 829) wrote biographies and history books, student of Malik ibn Anas
Abu Yusuf (729–798) wrote Usul al-fiqhMuhammad al-Shaybani (749–805)al-Shafi‘i (767–820) wrote Al-Risala, jurisprudence followed by Sunni, Sunni sufi and taughtIsmail ibn IbrahimAli ibn al-Madini (778–849) wrote The Book of Knowledge of the CompanionsIbn Hisham (died 833) wrote early history and As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, Muhammad's biography
Isma'il ibn Ja'far (719–775)Musa al-Kadhim (745–799)Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855) wrote Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal jurisprudence followed by Sunni, Sunni sufi and hadith booksMuhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) wrote Sahih al-Bukhari hadith booksMuslim ibn al-Hajjaj (815–875) wrote Sahih Muslim hadith booksDawud al-Zahiri (815–883/4) founded the Zahiri schoolMuhammad ibn Isa at-Tirmidhi (824–892) wrote Jami` at-Tirmidhi hadith booksAl-Baladhuri (died 892) wrote early history Futuh al-Buldan, Genealogies of the Nobles
Ibn Majah (824–887) wrote Sunan ibn Majah hadith bookAbu Dawood (817–889) wrote Sunan Abu Dawood Hadith Book
Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (864- 941) wrote Kitab al-Kafi hadith book followed by Twelver ShiaMuhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923) wrote History of the Prophets and Kings, Tafsir al-TabariAbu Hasan al-Ash'ari (874–936) wrote Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn, Kitāb al-luma, Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna
Ibn Babawayh (923–991) wrote Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih jurisprudence followed by Twelver ShiaSharif Razi (930–977) wrote Nahj al-Balagha followed by Twelver ShiaNasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) wrote jurisprudence books followed by Ismaili and Twelver ShiaAl-Ghazali (1058–1111) wrote The Niche for Lights, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, The Alchemy of Happiness on SufismRumi (1207–1273) wrote Masnavi, Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi on Sufism
Key: Some of Muhammad's CompanionsKey: Taught in MedinaKey: Taught in IraqKey: Worked in SyriaKey: Travelled extensively collecting the sayings of Muhammad and compiled books of hadithKey: Worked in Persia

As with Malik ibn Anas (who was a teacher of Imam al-Shafi'i,[48][49]: 121  who in turn was a teacher of Sunni Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal), Imam Abu Hanifa was a student of Ja'far al-Sadiq, who was a descendant of the Islamic Nabi (prophet) Muhammad. Thus all of the four great Imams of Sunni Fiqh are connected to Ja'far from the Bayt (Household) of Muhammad, whether directly or indirectly.[50]

In one hadith, Abu Hanifa once said about Imam Ja'far: "I have not seen anyone with more knowledge than Ja'far ibn Muhammad."[51] However, in another hadith, Abu Hanifa said: "I met with Zayd (Ja'far's uncle) and I never saw in his generation a person more knowledgeable, as quick a thinker, or more eloquent than he was."[52]

Opposition to deviations in belief[edit]

Imam Abu Hanifa was quoted as saying that Jahm ibn Safwan (d. 128/745) went so far in his denial of anthropomorphism (Tashbih) as to declare that 'God is not something (Allah laysa bi shay')'. Muqatil ibn Sulayman (d. 150/767), likened God to His creatures.[53]

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated in his Tarikh Baghdad (History of Baghdad) that Imam Abu Hanifa said:

Two groups of the worst of people are from Khurasan: the Jahmiyyah (followers of Jahm ibn Safwan) and the Mushabbihah (antropomorphists), and he probably said (instead of Mushabbihah) "Muqatiliyyah" (followers of Muqatil ibn Sulayman).[54][55][56]


Scholarly works by Abu Hanifa
Title Description
Al-Fiqh al-Akbar
Al-Fiqh al-Absat
Kitaab-ul-Aathaar Narrated by Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani & Imam Abu Yusuf – compiled from a total of 70,000 hadith
At Tareeq Al Aslam Musnad Imam Abu Hanifah

Confusion regarding Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar[edit]

The attribution of Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar to Abu Hanifa has been disputed by A.J. Wensick[57] as well as by Zubair Ali Zai.[58]

Other scholars have agreed that Abu Hanifa was the author including Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari, al-Bazdawi, and Abd al-Aziz al-Bukhari.[59] The scholar, Ibn Abil-'Izz Al-Hanafi attributes the book to Abu Hanifa.[60]

Scholars such as Mufti Abdur-Rahman have pointed out that the book being brought into question by Wensick is actually another work by Abu Hanifa called: Al-Fiqh Al-Absat.[59]


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