Trinkets of Imam Abu Hanifa
Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa in 80/699
(d. 150/767); where he spent most of
his life. Kufa was oneofthe two largest citis of Iraq at the time.
Iraq had many differing religions, sects and the beliefs of the ancient
civilisations. Iraq became the melting pot of diverse races who would clash
on their differing beliefs. Abu Hanifa during his youth would engages these
differning sects, however during his youth his focus was mostly on the
market place focusing on commerce. He was a wealthy silk merchant, following
in the footseps of his father.
Abu Hanifa was concerned with his appearance which was reported to be good.
He would always choose the best clothes to wear. Abu Yusuf said, 'Abu Hanifa
used to take care of even his sandal straps so that he was never seen with a
Abu Hanifa was also concerned with the condition of his companions. Once he
was in an assembly and oneof his companions was wearing a poor garment. He
asked him to wait until everyone had left. When they left, he asked him to
lift up the prayer mat and take what was under it. The man found 1000
dirhams. Abu Hanifa said, 'Take these dirhams and change your state with
them'. The man said, 'I am wealthy and well off, I do not need them'. Abu
Hanifa replied, 'Have you not heard the hadith, Allah loves the trace of His
blessing to appear on His servant?. For this reason you must change your
Abu Hanifa would travel alot and went on hajj many times.
Abu Hanifa said, "One day I was going by ash-Shabi who was sitting down. He
called to me, 'Where are you going?'. I replied, 'I am going to the market'.
He said, 'I do not frequent the market, I am concerned with going to the
scholars'. I told him, 'I rarely frequent them'. He told me, 'Do not be
heedless. You must look into knowledge and sit with the scholars. I discern
alertness and energy in you'. Thataffected my heart and I ceased to frequent
the market and began to turn to knowledge and Allah let me benefit from what
[Virtues of Abu Hanifa, al-Makki, pt 1 p 59]
After this advice, Abu Hanifa would visit the scholars as frequently as he
would visit the market.
Abu Hanifa used to acrue profit from year to year using it to provide for
the needs of scholars, their food, their garments, and their general needs.
He would then give the remaining profit to them and say, 'Buy what you need
and only praise Allah. I have not given you any money.Itis simply part of
Allah'sbounty to you'.
[History of Baghdad, pt 13 p 360]
It was said that Abu Hanifa used to recite the Quran 7 times during Ramadan;
and itis said that he learned the Quran from Imam Asim, one of the reciters
of the Quran whose method and punctuation is recorded as one of the seven
ways of reciting.
His grandfather met Ali when he was a child and gave Ali some faludhaj (a
sweet made of ground almonds, sugar and rose water) on the day of Nawruz
(Persian new year). His grandfather was enslaved by Banu Thayb in the Arab
conquest of the region, but was later set free. He was a Persian by descent.
"If knowledge were suspended in the Pleiades, some of the men of Persia
would still obtain it"
[ash-Shirazi; at-Tabarani; al-Bukhari, al-Muslim]
The majority of fiqh which Abu Hanifa came in contact with was from the
clients of the Arab tribes. Most of the learned people at this period in
time were clients of the companions of the Prophet. The meaning of this
hadith is that while many Persians were clients of the companions, they
weren't themselves companions. And for this reason, it is stated that even
though a person is not a companion of the Prophet, that person is still able
to gain knowledge.
At the time of Abu Hanifa, there were three types of gatherings in which
knowledge could be gained. Those where the fundamentals of dogma were
concerned; those where the hadiths of the Prophet were discussed, and those
where the fiqh from the Quran and Sunnah where fatwas were made were
discussed. Abu Hanifa chose to study fiqh, after having had lengthy
discussions about sects and after having learned the hadiths.
Abu Hanifa lived under Umayyad rule for 52 years andunder Abbasid rule for
Ibn Hubayra, the Governor of Iraq asked Abu Hanifa to be a judge, but he
declined repeatedly. Eventually he wa sbeaten untilhis head became swollen
and breathing became difficult for him. He did not grieve or weep until he
was told that his mother was grieved by what happened to him, whereupon his
eyes filled with tears for his compassion for her feelings. Subsequently, he
fled to Mecca and sought refuge there for 6 years, until the Abbasids came
Caliph al-Mansur of the Abbasids would support Abu Hanifa by giving him
gifts, however Abu Hanifa would reject them politely.
Once al-Mansur and his wife had a disagreement. He asked her who would she
like to arbitrate to try and resolve the disagreement? She replied, Abu
Hanifa. Abu Hanifa was summoned. The Caliph said, 'Abu Hanifa, this free
woman contends with me. Give me my right against her'. Abu Hanifa said, 'Let
the Amir al-Muminin speak'. He asked, 'Abu Hanifa, how many wives can a man
marry at any one time?'. 'Four' he replied. He then asked, 'How many
slavegirls is he allowed?'. 'As many as he likes' he replied. He then asked,
'Is anyone permitted to say anything different?' Abu Hanifa replied, 'No'.
The Caliph said to the woman, 'You have heard (the verdict)'. But then Abu
Hanifa continued to say, 'Allah has allowed this to the people of fairness.
If, however, anyone is not fair or fears that he willnot be fair he should
only have one (wife). Allah Almighty saus, 'But if you are afraid of not
treating them equally, then only one (4:3). So we must follow the discipline
of Allah and take heed of His admonitions'. The Caliph remained quiet for a
long time. Abu Hanfia left. When he reached his house the Caliph'swife sent
him a servant with money, clothes, a slavegirl and an Egyptian donkey. Abu
Hanifa refused the gift and told the servant, 'Give the Caliph's wife my
greeting, and tell her that he gift endangers my faith. I did that (spoke
the truth) for Allah, and not desiring anything (i.e.gifts) from anyone'
Once, Hasan al-Basri issued a fatwa. Abu Hanifa stated, 'Hasan has erred'. A
man said to Abu Hanifa, 'You say that Hasan erred, son of a whore!'. Abu
Hanifa did not redden i.e.become angry. He said, 'By Allah, Hasan erred and
Abdullah ibn Masud was correct'. Abu Hanifa used to say, 'O Allah, if
someone is annoyed by me, my heart is open to him'.
Once Abu Hanifa was debating and a person said to him, 'Innovator!
Heretic!'. He replied, 'May Allah forgive you,Allah knows that I am not
that. I have not turned from Him since I knew Him and I only hope for His
pardon and only fear His punishment'. Abu Hanifa said, 'If any of the people
of ignorance say something of me, then I pardon them.As for the peopleof
knowledge who say something about me, they are sinful'.
Abu Hanifa said, 'Know that ction follows knowledge as the limbs follow the
eye. Alittle action with knowledge is far more beneficicial than a lot of
action with ignorance. In the desert a little provision with guidance is
more useful than alot of provision without it. That is like what Allah
Almighty says, "Say: Are they the same - those who know and those who donot
know? It is only people of inteligence who pay heed (39:9)".
Abu Hanifa lived in Kufa, which was essentially a shia area. There he met
the shia imams of his time such as Zayd ibn Ali, Muhammad al-Baqir, Jafar
as-Sadiq and Abdullah ibn Hasan; yet Abu Hanifa maintained his high opinion
of the companions of the Prophet.
Ibn Hajr said, 'The renown of a man in the past is indicated by the
disagreement of people regarding him. Do you not see when Ali died, there
were two parties, one which intensely loved him and the other which
intensely hated him?'
The same can be applied to Abu Hanifa. There were some who were partisan
towards him by placing him in the ranks of the Prophet, and on the other
extreme were those who accused him of being a heretic. These discussions
occurred when Abu Hanifa was still alive.
Once, al-Awzai, the faqih of Syria, said to Ibn al-Mubarak, 'Who is this
innovator who has emerged from Kufa called Abu Hanifa?'. Ibn Mubarak did not
answer him but instead began to mention some difficult questions and how to
understand them and give fatwa regarding them. He asked, 'Who gave these
fatwas?'. Hereplied, 'A shaykh I met in Iraq'. Al-Awzai said, 'This is a
noble shaykh. Go and take alot from him'. He replied, 'It is Abu Hanifa'.
After this, Awzai met Abu Hanifa in Mecca and discussed the questions which
Ibn al-Mubarak raised. He investigated them. When leaving Abu Hanifa,
al-Awzai said to Ibn al-Mubarak, 'I envy the man his great knowledge
andintelligence. I ask forgiveness of Allah. I was inclear error. Devote
yourself to the man. He is not as they say about him'.
[al-Khayrat al-Hisan, p 33]
During the 4th century the debates between his supporters and opponents
intensified with discussions in houses and mosques. Whole days would be
spent in arguments about his madhab (school of thought). It was during this
time that most of the biographies about the 4 imams were written, often
overpraising them in lieu of the attacks against them.
[Abridged from, The Four Imams, Abu Zahra]
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