Better known as ‘Imam-e-`Azam’ (The Greatest Imam), or by his kunyah Abu Hanifa, Nu’man ibn Thabit was born in the city of Kufa (modern day Iraq) in the year 80 A.H (689 A.D). Born into a family of tradesmen, the Imam’s family were of Persian origin as well as descending from the noble Prophet’s (saw) Companion Salman al-Farsi (ra). Imam Abu Hanifa’s father, Thabit, had met in Kufa Imam `Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra) who made dua for him and his progeny, and some say that Abu Hanifa was a result of this dua.
His name is Noman and his father’s name is Thabit. His position is very high in the mystic knowledge (tariqat) and in the Islamic law (Shariat). In both these fields of knowledge, no one could be compared to him as he acquired great knowledge and experience during his time. Abu Hanifa met many pious persons and companions of the holy Prophet. The following are the names of pious persons whom he met.
Anas Bin Malik, Abdullah Bin Abi Awf, Sahl Bin Sa’d,
Amir Bin Wasila, Abdullah Zuhri and Imam Ja’far.
He was the teacher of the following well-known pious and learned persons.
Fuzail Bin Ayaz Ibrahim Bin Adham Bishr Hafi Dawood Tai
How he got his patronymic Abu Hanifa?
Once some women asked him, “As per Islamic law the men are allowed to marry four women, so the women may also be allowed to marry at least two men?” Abu Hanifa could not reply the question of the women at the same moment, so he told them that he would reply later. He came back to his house with great worry and trouble due to the above question, which was asked by the women. When his daughter Hanifa saw him in that condition she asked him the reason of his worry. When his daughter came to know the details, she told her father that she will reply the question of the women but he should use her name as his patronymic name as Abu Hanifa. He promised to do so. She called the women before her. When the women came there, she gave a cup to each woman and told them to put some milk in that cup. When they put the milk in the cups Hanifa mixed the milk of each cup into another big cup. Then she told the women to take back their milk into their cups. They replied that it is impossible.
Hanifa explained them, “If they have children after marriage form two husbands then how they will recognize that who is the father of the child.” After hearing the answer the women were greatly surprised. They got the correct reply of their question and from that day Imam’s
name was called as Abu Hanifa. Allah gave fame to his patronymic name than his original old name.
There is a strange story that when he visited the Prophet’s tomb and said, “Assalaamu alaikum” then he heard a reply from there, “Wa alaikum assalaam, Oh! the Imam (leader) of Muslims.” So please note how fortunate he was to have such a great position. After that he went into the loneliness.
It was reported that then he turned towards Allah and left the worldly life and pleasure. He used to wear a woollen dress and saw in his dream that he was collecting the bones from the Prophet’s grave and was sorting them from each other.
He woke up and in horror could not sleep whole night. Next morning he asked the explanation of his dream to Ibn Sirin who was Prophet’s companion. He explained him, “You will reach the highest position in the knowledge of the Prophet and his Sunnah (the Prophet’s teachings) and also you will take precautionary measures and will differentiate between the false and true of sayings of the Prophet.”
Once he saw the Prophet in his dream who told him, “Oh! Abu Hanifa! You were given life to show my Sunnah. So leave your loneliness.” He was very careful and helpful. Once caliph Mansur called all the learned people of Baghdad before him but Sha’bi, who was teacher of Abu Hanifa was absent in that meeting due to his old age.
Caliph Mansur sent an agreement through his servant to Sha’bi to sign it as witness as he was the qazi (judge) of the city of Baghdad. He signed and stamped it. All other learned people also signed it. When that paper was brought before Abu Hanifa for his signature as witness on it, he asked the servant, “Where is Mansur?” The servant replied, “He is in the palace.” Abu Hanifa told him, “The caliph should come over here or we should go to the palace then only the witness would be correct.” The servant forced him to sign it because as the qazi and other learned people have already signed it as witnesses.
Abu Hanifa told him, “The action of all the persons will not be the same.” The matter was reported to caliph Mansur. He called Sha’bi in his court and asked him whether presence is necessary for the witness. He told, “Yes.” The caliph asked him, “Then why did he sign it when he did not find his presence?” Sha’bi replied, “Because I know you and I do not want to give you the trouble.” The caliph told him, “This is not correct and it is against the rules of qaziat (justice). It is better for you to leave the post of qazi.” The caliph asked his advisors for another suitable person for the post of qazi and they told him, “The following four are most suitable persons:”
- Abu Hanifa
- 2. Sufyan
The caliph called the above four persons to his court. When they were going to the court on the way Abu Hanifa told them “I want to tell you one wise thing in this matter
that I will try to avoid this post. Sufyan it is better for you to run away from here and Mashair you pretend as a mad man so that Shire will become qazi.” Sufyan ran from the way, hid himself in the boat and asked the crew of boat to hide him. He told them that if the caliph will catch him then he would cut his head. As per the saying of the Prophet, “One who becomes a judge can be slaughtered without a knife.” So they made him hide there.
The three persons went to the palace of Mansur. The caliph first asked Abu Hanifa to accept the post of qazi. He replied that he is not an Arab but he is a slave of them, so they will not accept his legal decisions. Imam Ja’far who was present there told him that this post is not inherited but it requires knowledge.
Abu Hanifa told Mansur, “I am not eligible for the post of qazi. The only logic is that he is not eligible for the post is enough. This argument has two points that whether it is true or false. If it is true then I am not eligible for it and if it is false then also I am not eligible for the post.” He told him, “Oh! Caliph! A false person is not eligible for the post of qazi to decide the cases of Muslims.” In this way he saved himself. Mashair then holded caliph’s hand and asked him, “How are you and how is your son?” Mansur said, “Send him out, he seems a mad person.” Then the caliph asked Shire to accept the job. He told him, “My mind is weak.” Then Mansur told him to take care of it and asked him to accept the post of qazi. When Shire became qazi, Abu Hanifa never visited him.
It was reported that a group of boys were playing with ball and by chance the ball fell before Abu Hanifa. No boy dared to come over there to pick up the ball. One boy told the other boys that if they permit him then he will go and pick up the ball from there. He went there and rudely collected the ball from that place.
Abu Hanifa told, “This boy is not halali (legal).” The people enquired into the matter and it was found right. The people asked him, “Oh! the leader of Muslims! How do you know that?” He replied, “If he would have been legal then he would have felt sorry.”
It was reported that one person was his debtor and his house was near the funeral place. Once Abu Hanifa’s disciple died and he went there for his funeral prayer. At that time the weather was very hot and there was no shadow except near the wall of his debtor’s house. The persons asked him to take shelter there but he replied them, “The house owner is his debtor so it is not right to stay in the shadow of his house wall.
Because the Prophet has said, ‘The benefit from the loan is interest. If I get benefit from this wall then it will be calculated as interest.’ “
It was reported that a fire worshipper once imprisoned him. When he was in the jail, a cruel person came to him and asked him to shave the sides of his head but he refused to do the same. That person asked him why he is not doing? He replied him that if he does so then he will become a member of that community.
If Allah will tell on the Day of Judgement to gather those persons who did sins with their helpers and He may give
order to put them into the Hell. Abu Hanifa told him, that he does not want to become his helper.
It was reported that he used to pray 300 rakats (one rakat is equal to one set of standing, genuflexion and prostration in prayer) every night. When Abu Hanifa was going somewhere, one woman saw him and told another woman that this person used to pray 500 rakats every night. When he heard this, he decided to pray 500 raktas every night as per the saying of that woman.
Another day when he was going on the way some of the boys told themselves that this man used to pray 1,000 rakats every night and so he decided to pray the same. One day one of his disciple told him that the people talk about him that he never sleeps in the night and so from that day he decided not to sleep in the night.
When he was asked why? He told, “Allah says persons
like praise of the qualities which are not in them and for this reason they will not be free from the punishment. I never sleep in the night from that day so that I may not be from that community.” He used to pray the Morning Prayer for 30 years with the ablution of Isha (evening) prayer.
It was reported that due to too much prostration corn developed on his knees like the corns of the camel’s knees. It was also reported that once he welcomed a rich man due to his wealth, so for this mistake he read the Qur’an for 1,000 times. It was said that for any problem he used to read the Qur’an 40 times and due to the blessing he was able to get the solution of the problem. It
was reported that Mohammed Bin Hasan was most handsome person. One day he looked at him and asked him to sit behind a pillar and never see him again.
It was reported by Dawood Tai that he was in his
company for a period of 20 years and he has not seen him without covering his head and sitting with legs stretched out in the loneliness or in the congregation. So he asked, “Oh! the leader of Muslims! What is matter if we stretch out our legs in the loneliness?” And he replied, “It is good thing to respect Allah in the loneliness also.”
It was reported that once he was going somewhere, he saw a boy in the mud and he asked him, “Walk carefully otherwise you will fall down.” The boy replied him, “Oh! leader of Muslims! I am alone, if I slip I will control myself but you take care of your legs that may not slip and if it happens then all Muslims who follow you will fell down and then it will be the difficult situation to control them.”
The Imam surprised when he heard the boy’s wise talk. He wept and asked his disciples to be careful about any doubt. If they find any problem then without clear proof they should not follow him. They do not overlook his finding and this is sign of justice. There are many sayings of Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Mohammed. Their opinion was different to him in some problems.
It was reported that a rich man had enmity with Caliph Osman Bin Affan and he used to say him an unbeliever. When he heard this he asked the rich man to see him. When that man came there he told him to marry his
daughter to one unbeliever. When he heard this he replied him, “You are leader of Muslims and talking to marry a Muslim’s daughter to an unbeliever, I think it is not good.” Imam told him, “Nothing would happen if you think like this as the Prophet married his two daughters to an unbeliever.” Then that rich person understood the matter and he corrected his opinion about Caliph Osman Bin Affan. This happened due to the blessing of Abu Hanifa’s prayer.
It was reported that one day he was in a public bathroom and a man entered there. The persons talked about him that he is a false and an unbeliever of God. When he entered there that person was naked, so Abu Hanifa closed his eyes. That person asked him, “When did you lose your eyesight.” The Imam replied him, “At the time when you
lost your dress.” Then Abu Hanifa said, “If you have
discussion with an unbeliever person then keep two things in your mind. Either you will become an unbeliever or will be away from the religion. Because if he would say ‘If Allah wills your knowledge will guide them and it will be equal to the knowledge that is known. When that man would say ‘no’ then you will become an unbeliever and if he says ‘yes’ then you will be away from the religion.”
It was reported that Abu Hanifa told, “He would not consider the miser and his witness due to his miserliness as he will require more and will take more than what he deserves.” It was reported that for the construction of a mosque persons asked him some amount as benediction (saintly gift). He felt uneasiness for this.
The persons asked him to offer any amount as benediction, and he gave one dinar unwillingly. His disciples told him, “You are very kind and great learned man and your generosity is well-known to all so what is the reason for such a small amount you were unwilling to give for the construction of mosque.”
He replied them, “He was not worried for the amount but he was sure that halal (legal) amount will not be used for the construction” He thought his money is legal and by giving the amount there will be doubt about his money and for this reason he was very sad for it. After some time they returned back his one dinar and they told him that the dinar is not original. He was not happy to take it back.
It was reported that once he was going to the bazaar when a small amount of soil made his dress dirty. He went to the river Tigris and washed it carefully. The persons asked him, “You told us that small filth if it is fallen on the dress is permissible but why you have washed small amount of soil?”
He replied, “You are right that is legal opinion (fatwa) and this is piety or fear of God (taqwa), as the Prophet not permitted Bilal to store half bread but he stored food for his wives for the period of one year.” When Dawood Tai became his disciple then he asked him what to do? He replied him, “To act upon your knowledge because the knowledge which is not acted upon is like a body without a soul.”
It was reported that the caliph saw the angel Izrael in his dream so he asked him, “How much life is left?” He
showed him his five fingers. The caliph asked the explanation of his dream to many persons but no body explained him clearly. He called Abu Hanifa and he explained him that the angel told him about the five knowledges, which no body knows. Allah mentioned it in the Qur’an and the meaning is as follows:
It is fact that no body knows when the Day of Resurrection will take place.
The knowledge about the rain.
The knowledge about what is there in the womb of a pregnant woman.
The knowledge about the activities of tomorrow. The knowledge when a person will die.
It was reported by Sheikh Abu Ali Bin Osman Al-Jali that when he slept on the grave of Bilal he saw himself in Makkah and he watched that the Prophet entered into the harem (grand mosque in Makkah) from the gate of Bani Shaiba. There was one old person with him. He ran towards him, kissed his feet and surprised to see that old person. The Prophet by his hidden knowledge understood my surprise and told me that he is the leader of Muslims. He is from my country and he is called as Abu Hanifa. It was reported by Nofal Bin Hayan that when Abu Hanifa died he saw in his dream a plain of the Day of Judgement where all creatures were ready in the accounting place. The Prophet was sitting on the fountain of Kauther and on his right and left side all pious persons were standing. An old man who was very handsome and his hairs and head were like snow was standing by the side of the Prophet. Isaid salam to him and asked for the water. The old man replied unless the Prophet permits he would not give the water. Then the Prophet asked him to give water to me, so he gave me a cup of water. All my friends and I drank water from that cup but it was still full. I asked, “Who is that person standing on the right side?” The Prophet replied, “He is Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and on the left side is Abu Bakr (RA).” In this way I asked him about seventeen persons. It was reported by Yahya Ma’az Razi that he saw the Prophet in his dream and he asked him that where he should see him. He replied him that one can see him near Abu Hanifa.
His praise and endeavours are numerous and are well known, so there is no need to mention all of them.
A hadith given by al-Bukhari and Muslim states that Abu Hurairah (ra) narrated Allah’s Messenger (saw) as saying:”If the Religion were at the Pleiades, even then a person from Persia would have taken hold of it, or one amongst the Persian descent would surely have found it.” Abu Hurairah (ra) also narrates: “We were sitting in the company of Allah’s Apostle (saw) when Surat al-Jum`a was revealed to him and when he recited amongst them, (those who were sitting there) said `Allah’s Messenger?’ but Allah’s Apostle (saw) made no reply, until he was questioned once, twice or thrice, and there was amongst us Salman the Persian. Allah’s Apostle (saw) placed his hand on Salman and then said:”Even if faith were near the Pleiades, a man from amongst these would surely find it.”
Imam as-Suyuti a Shafi’i alim (rh) remarked:”It has been communicated unanimously that this hadith refers to Imam Abu Hanifa.”
Kufa at the time of the Imam’s birth was a great center of knowledge and learning, with many of the noble Prophet’s (saw) Companions (ra) having taken residence there. Due to the presence of these venerable people who had engendered so much interest in hadith and riwayat that practically every house in Kufa had become a center of these disciples and their disciplines.
At first, Imam Abu Hanifa was not a student of knowledge. However, by coincidence, while one day passing by the house of Sha’bi (an acclaimed “Great Scholar among the Successors”), Abu Hanifa was called in by the shaykh who mistook him for a student. “Where are you going young man?” asked Sha’bi. Abu Hanifa named the merchant he was going to see. “I meant to ask,” asked Sha’bi, “Whose classes you attend?” “Nobody’s,” replied the Imam regretfully. “I see signs of intelligence in you,” began Sha’bi,”you should sit in the company of learned men.”
It was after this encounter that the young Imam began his quest for knowledge. Imam Abu Hanifa acquired knowledge from over four thousand people. His teachers included many prestigious men of the time whose sanad went back to a number of Companions (ra). He himself was blessed with the meeting of the Companions: Anas ibn Malik, Abdullah ibn Afwa and Sahl ibn Sa’ad (ra), thus gaining him the rank of being a Tabi’i (Successor to the Companions).
Amongst Imam Abu Hanifa’s shayukh was Hammad ibn Sulayman, he joined his circle at the age of 22, having already become a well-known debater and studied with this shaykh until the latter’s death, whereupon he took over his majlis (circle) at the age of forty. Shu’ba, a leadingmuhaddith who knew-by-heart two thousand traditions was also a teacher of Imam Abu Hanifa. Shu’ba was greatly attached to Imam Abu Hanifa saying: “Just as I know that the sun is bright, I know that learning and Abu Hanifa are doubles of each other.”
The Imam’s quest for knowledge inevitably took him to the Holy Sanctuaries, at a time when Makkah was a busy center for learning. A number of acknowledged masters of hadith, who had had access to the Prophet’s (saw) Companions (ra) had established their own schools there. Of these was `Ata bin Rabah’s (rh) school. `Ata was a famous Tabi’i who had associated with most of the Companions (ra) and acquired from this association a status of authority. He himself claimed to have met two hundred men who had associated with the Noble Prophet (saw). The leading Companions (ra) all acknowledged his learning. Abdullah ibn `Umar (ra), son of theCaliph `Umar (ra) often used to say: “Why do people come to me when `Ata ibn Abi Rabah is there for them to go to?” Of the other Muhaddithin of Makkah whose classes the Imam attended was `Ikrimah. He was the slave and pupil of Abdullah ibn `Abbas, who educated him with great care and attention, making him so proficient that he, during his own lifetime gave Imam Abu Hanifa the authority to exercise personal judgement and rulings. “Imam Abu Hanifa was the first to analyze Islamic jurisprudence, divide it into subjects, distinguish its issues and determine the range and criteria for analytical reasoning (qiyas).”
Al-Hafiz al-Kabir Abu Bakr Ahmad al-Harizmi wrote in his book “Musnad“:
`Saif al-Aimma’ reports that when Imam Abu Hanifa derived a matter from theQur’an and Hadith, he would not give the answer to the inquirer unless all of them [his students] confirmed it. One thousand of Abu Hanifa’s disciples attended all his classes when he taught in the Mosque of Kufa City. Forty of them were mujtahids. When he would find an answer for a matter, he would suggest to his students who would study it together, and when they reached an agreement of it being consistent with the Qur’an and Hadith, and with the words of the Sahabah (ra), he would be delighted and say, “Al-hamdu li’llah wallahu Akbar,” and all those who were present would repeat his words. Then he would tell them to write it down.
Ibn `Abd al-Barr relates in”Al-Intiqa‘”:
`Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Dawraqi said:”Ibn Ma’inn was asked about Abu Hanifa as I was listening, so he said, “He is trustworthy (thiqatun), I never heard that anyone had weakened him.” No less than Shu’ba wrote to him [for narrations], and ordered him to narrate hadith.’
Ibn Hajar said in Kharija ibn al-Salt’s notice in”Tahdhib al-Tahdhib“:
Ibn Abi Khaythama said:”If al-Shu’bi narrates from someone and names him, that man is trustworthy (thiqa) and his narration is used as proof (yuhtajju bi hadithihi)“.
Many well-known shuyukh narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa, to name but a few: al-Thawri, ibn al-Mubarak, Hammad ibn Zayd and `Abd al-Razzaq (one of Imam al-Bukhari’s shaykhs.) Al-Mizzi in”Tahdhib al-Kamal” names about one hundred names of those who narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa.
Imam as-Shafi’i (rh) is recorded to have stated:”All men of fiqh are Abu Hanifa’s children” and”I would not have acquired anything of knowledge had it not been for my teacher. All men of knowledge are children of the ulema of Iraq, who were the disciples of the ulema of Kufa, and they were the disciples of Abu Hanifa.”
The Hanafi madhhab, entitled after the Imam, spread far-and-wide during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Today, more than half of the Muslims on the earth perform their `ibabadahaccording to the Hanafi madhhab. The Hanafi school has decided court cases in the majority of Islamic lands for the greater part of Islamic history, including the `Abbasid and Ottoman periods.
Not only was Imam Abu Hanifa’s extraordinary mind and knowledge something to be admired, but so too was his exemplary character and piety. Al-Dhahabi writes:”Accounts of his piety and devotion have reached a degree of tawatur (i.e., an unbroken chain of uncontradicted narrations).”
He was given the title of”The `Peg’” by some, for his continuous standing in prayer, often reciting the entire Qur’an in his nightly rakahs. He performed the Fajr prayer with the ablution made for the Isha prayers for forty years (due to him praying the whole night through). It is reported that he had recited the whole Qur’an seven thousand times in the place where he died.
He earned his living through trade (sending goods to other places), and with the earnings he made, he met the needs of his students. He gave much to charity and every Friday he would distribute twenty gold coins to the poor for his parents’ souls.
In the year 146 A.H, Abu Hanifa was sent to prison by Mansur, the leader at the time, after theImam’s refusal to state that Mansur was the rightful khalifa, as well as refusing the position of presidency of the Supreme Court in recompense. While in prison, Imam Abu Hanifa was thrashed with a stick. Mansur repented and sent the Imam money, only to be refused again. By now, Imam Abu Hanifa had become well-known and thousands flocked to meet and seek his opinion wherever he went. His imprisonment far from reduced his popularity, and Mansur realized that he would have to treat the Imam carefully, thus he allowed him to teach while still in prison. Mansur finally decided to do away with the great Imam and had him poisoned. Abu Hanifa, feeling the effects of the poison, bent down in prayer and died in the month of Rajab. News of the Imam’s death reached far-and-wide, and thousands gathered at the prison. The city Qadi washed his body, and kept repeating:”By God, you were the greatest faqih and the most pious man of our time …”
By the time the bathing was finished, so many people had assembled that the funeral prayer was performed attended by fifty thousand people.
The Great Imam died in Baghdad in 150 A.H at the age of seventy. May Allah be pleased with him.
Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit al-Taymi, al-Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150), called “The Imam” by Abu Dawud, and “The Imam, one of those who have reached the sky” by Ibn Hajar, he is known in the Islamic world as “The Greatest Imam” (al-imâm al-a`zam) and his school has the largest number of followers among the four schools of Ahl al-Sunna. He is the first of the four mujtahid imams and the only Successor (tâbi`i) among them, having seen the Companions Anas ibn Malik, `Abd Allah ibn Abi Awfa, Sahl ibn Sa`d al-Sa`idi, Abu al-Tufayl, and `Amir ibn Wathila.
Abu Hanifa is the first in Islam to organize the writing of fiqh under sub-headings embracing the whole of the Law, beginning with purity (tahara) followed by prayer (sala), an order which was retained by all subsequent scholars such as Malik, Shafi`i, Abu Dawud, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, and others. All these and their followers are indebted to him and give him a share of their reward because he was the first to open that road for them, according to the hadith of the Prophet: “He who starts something good in Islam has its reward and the reward of those who practice it until the Day of Judgement, without lessening in the least the reward of those who practice it. The one who starts something bad in Islam will incur its punishment and the punishment of all those who practice it until the Day of Judgement without lessening their punishment in the least.” Al-Shafi`i referred to this when he said: “People are all the children of Abu Hanifa in fiqh, of Ibn Ishaq in history, of Malik in hadith, and of Muqatil in tafsîr.”
Al-Khatib narrated from Abu Hanifa’s student Abu Nu`aym that the latter said: “Muslims should make du`a to Allah on behalf of Abu Hanifa in their prayers, because the Sunan and the fiqh were preserved for them through him. Al-Dhahabi wrote one volume on the life of each of the other three great Imams and said: “The account of Abu Hanifa’s life requires two volumes.” His son Hammad said as he washed his father’s body for burial: “May Allah have mercy on you! You have exhausted whoever tries to catch up with you.”
Abu Hanifa was scrupulously pious and refused Ibn Hubayra’s offer of a judgeship even when the latter had him whipped. Like al-Bukhari and al-Shafi`i, he used to make 60 complete recitations (khatma) of Qur’an every Ramadan: one in the day, one in the night, besides his teaching and other duties. Ibrahim ibn Rustum al-Marwazi said: “Four are the Imams that recited the entire Qur’an in a single rak`a: `Uthman ibn `Affan, Tamim al-Dari, Sa`id ibn Jubayr, and Abu Hanifa.” Ibn al-Mubarak said: “Abu Hanifa for a long time would pray all five prayers with a single ablution.”
Al-Suyuti relates in Tabyid al-Sahifa that a certain visitor came to observe Abu Hanifa and saw him all day long in the mosque, teaching relentlessly, answering every question from both the scholars and the common people, not stopping except to pray, then standing at home in prayer when people were asleep, hardly ever eating or sleeping, and yet the most handsome and gracious of people, always alert and never tired, day after day for a long time, so that in the end the visitor said: “I became convinced that this was not an ordinary matter, but wilâya (Friendship with Allah).”
Al-Shafi`i said: “Knowledge revolves around three men: Malik, al-Layth, and Ibn `Uyayna.” Al-Dhahabi commented: “Rather, it revolves also around al-Awza`i, al-Thawri, Ma`mar, Abu Hanifa, Shu`ba, and the two Hammads [ibn Zayd and ibn Salama].”
Sufyan al-Thawri praised Abu Hanifa when he said: “We were in front of Abu Hanifa like small birds in front of the falcon,” and Sufyan stood up for him when Abu Hanifa visited him after his brother’s death, and he said: “This man holds a high rank in knowledge, and if I did not stand up for his science I would stand up for his age, and if not for his age then for his Godwariness (wara`), and if not for his Godwariness then for his jurisprudence (fiqh).” Ibn al-Mubarak praised Abu Hanifa and called him a sign of Allah. Both Ibn al-Mubarak and Sufyan al-Thawri said: “Abu Hanifa was in his time the most knowledgeable of all people on earth.” Ibn Hajar also related that Ibn al-Mubarak said: “If Allah had not rescued me with Abu Hanifa and Sufyan [al-Thawri] I would have been like the rest of the common people.” Dhahabi relates it as: “I would have been an innovator.”
An example of Abu Hanifa’s perspicuity in inferring legal rulings from source-texts is his reading of the following hadith:
The Prophet said: “Your life in comparison to the lifetime of past nations is like the period between the time of the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr) and sunset. Your example and the example of the Jews and Christians is that of a man who employed laborers and said to them: ‘Who will work for me until mid-day for one qirât (a unit of measure, part of a dinar) each?’ The Jews worked until mid-day for one qirât each. Then the man said: ‘Who will work for me from mid-day until the ‘asr prayer for one qirât each?’ The Christians worked from mid-day until the ‘asr prayer for one qirât each. Then the man said: ‘Who will work for me from the `asr prayer until the maghrib prayer for two qirât each?’ And that, in truth, is all of you. In truth, you have double the wages. The Jews and the Christians became angry and said: ‘We did more labor but took less wages.’ But Allah said: ‘Have I wronged you in any of your rights?’ They replied no. Then He said: ‘This is My Blessing which I give to whom I wish.’”
It was deduced from the phrase “We did more labor” that the time of mid-day to `asr must always be longer than that between `asr and maghrib. This is confirmed by authentic reports whereby:
The Prophet hastened to pray zuhr and delayed praying `asr.
The Prophet said: “May Allah have mercy on someone who prays four rak`as before`asr.
`Ali delayed praying `asr until shortly before the sun changed, and he reprimanded the mu’adhdhin who was hurrying him with the words: “He is trying to teach us the Sunna!”
Ibrahim al-Nakha`i said: “Those that came before you used to hasten more than you to pray zuhr and delay more than you in praying `asr.” Al-Tahanawi said: “Those that came before you” are the Companions.
Ibn Mas`ud delayed praying `asr.
Sufyan al-Thawri, Abu Hanifa, and his two companions Muhammad ibn a-Hasan and Abu Yusuf therefore considered it better to lengthen the time between zuhr and `asr by delaying the latter prayer as long as the sun did not begin to redden, while the majority of the authorities considered that praying `asr early is better, on the basis of other sound evidence to that effect.
Like every Friend of Allah, Abu Hanifa had his enemies. `Abdan said that he heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “If you hear them mention Abu Hanifa derogatively then they are mentioning me derogatively. In truth I fear for them Allah’s displeasure.” Authentically related from Bishr al-Hafi is the statement: “No-one criticizes Abu Hanifa except an envier or an ignoramus.” Hamid ibn Adam al-Marwazi said: I heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “I never saw anyone more fearful of Allah than Abu Hanifa, even on trial under the whip and through money and property.” Abu Mu`awiya al-Darir said: “Love of Abu Hanifa is part of the Sunna.”
Written by Dr. G.F. Haddad
al-Khatib, Tarikh Baghdad 13:324-356;
al-Dhahabi, Manaqib Abi Hanifa 22-36 and Tabaqat al-Huffaz 1:168;
Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 10:450;
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya 10:114;
al-Suyuti, Tabyid al-Sahifa p. 94-95;
al-Haytami, al-Khayrat al-Hisan.