Contrary to the widespread misconception spread by Salafi and modernist sects of today, the rulings of the Four Madh-habs were widespread and extant during the blessed era of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen. The codification and compilation of the rulings of each Madh-hab were in fact the collaborative effort of a galaxy of Imams of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen who had acquired the complete Deen directly from the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) and their successors, well before the birth of Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and other later Muhadditheen whom the Salafis make their primary points of reference. As shall be demonstrated, with regards to the practical implementation of the Qur’an and Hadith, the teachers of Imam Bukhari, and their teachers, who were even greater Muhadditheen, deferred to and submitted themselves to the Imams of Fiqh of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen – Fiqh being the proper understanding of the Hadiths, as opposed to mere memorisation and recording of Hadiths which the Muhadditheen specialised in. This fact will become glaringly conspicuous during the course of this article, as we demonstrate the huge weight and widespread prevalence the rulings of the Hanafi Madh-hab had exercised amongst the Salaf-us-Saaliheen.
As a reminder, it first needs to be emphasized that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) himself had certified the superiority of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen over the rest of the Ummah, which includes the later Muhadditheen such as Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, etc:
“The Most Superior of my Ummah is my generation (i.e. the Sahabah), then those who follow them (the Tabi’een), then those who follow them (the Tab-e-Tabi’een).” (Bukhari, Muslim)
The Salaf-us-Saaliheen were the transmitters and upholders of the teachings of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen. Since the Khulafa-e-Rashideen in particular, and the Sahabahs (radhiyallahu anhum) in general witnessed first-hand, understood properly, and upheld the Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) better than anyone, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) explicitly made the Sunnah of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen on par with his own Sunnah i.e. they are one and the same:
“Indeed, those who will still be alive after me will see many differences; so hold fast to my Sunnah, and the Sunnah of the Khulafa Rashideen (i.e. Hadhrat Abu Bakr, Hadhrat Umar, Hadhrat Uthmaan and Hadhrat Ali radhiyallahu anhum) after me. Adhere to and cling tightly to it and beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is deviation.” (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud)
The means through which Allah (azza wa jal) has preserved the pure, untainted Deen as represented by the actual Amal (practice) of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, is through the agency of the Imams (Aimmah Mujtahideen) and Fuqaha of the Four Madh-habs, who codified, recorded, and mass-transmitted the letter and spirit of the complete Shariah. Nothing of the Deen was ever lost for a single moment.
To the eternal consternation of the multitude of deviant sects, all of whom seek to justify their deviances by wriggling themselves free from rigid Taqleed (tightly binding oneself) to the set of immutable and unchangeable set of laws which the Madh-habs represent, nothing will ever be able to alter the spirit and law of the Shariah which the Aimmah Mujtahideen (the Imams of Fiqh) captured, recorded, and engraved permanently into our heritage.
As a result, the massive contrast and discrepancy between the teachings of deviant sects and the teachings of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen as represented by the accepted Madh-habs of Fiqh and Aqeedah, will forever remain glaring and conspicuous, in every age, to every sincere seeker of the Haqq.
Take, for example, the glaring contrast between the pure Aqeedah of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen and the anthropomorphic Aqeedah of the Salafi sect. There is not the slightest vestige of a hint in any of the books of the accepted Madh-habs, mass-transmitted from the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, of beliefs such as Allah being able to sit upon the back of a mosquito, Allah having limits from several sides, Allah having a size, a body (jism) and spatial direction (jiha), Allah being closer to the top of mountains than to it’s bottom, Hell-fire shutting down even for the disbelievers, and innumerable other abominable beliefs explicitly expounded by Ibn Taymiyyah and other Imams of the Salafi sect which the salafi-lovers of today are extraordinarily silent regarding – their deafening silence even more conspicuous given such hypocrites’ (i.e. the salafi-lovers’) double-standards and propensity to shed crocodile tears and whine tragically about the numerous other deviances which are currently afflicting this Ummah. (See this article for actual quotes: Salafism is Anthropomorphism)
We shall now bring forward a small sample of undisputed authorities of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen who testified to the superiority of Imam Abu Hanifah in Fiqh (the true understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith and the proper method of their implementation), or who adhered to the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah, or who testified to the widespread prevalence of the Hanafi Madh-hab amongst the Salaf-us-Saaliheen. These Authorities were of such standing that they themselves would have had innumerable followers amongst the Salaf-us-Saaliheen.
In relation to such Authorities of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen who adhered to and testified to the superiority of the Hanafi rulings, today’s multitude of Salafi-influenced ‘Mujtahids’ and fraudulent followers of the Madh-habs who justify their right to exit the Madh-hab in case a particular ruling becomes too unpalatable for their Nafs (desires), are merely infants who defecate ‘fatwas’ into their diapers for their own consumption and for the willing consumption of the countless flies (followers) such ‘Mujtahids’ tend to attract. If any group (other than the Aimmah Mujtahideen) ever possessed the right to ‘dabble’ in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and become independent of adhering to the rulings of an Imam of Fiqh, then it were these very Authorities of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen who proclaimed their adherence to the rulings of an Imam in Fiqh. Yet, despite the fact that such Authorities could very well have claimed the right to perform Ijtihaad themselves, many of them having memorized hundreds of thousands of Hadiths, they still largely deferred to and submitted to the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah or other Leaders of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen in the field of Fiqh.
Unless otherwise stated, the narrations quoted from al-Khatib’s Tarikh Baghdad, which contains narrations of varying degrees of authenticity, are all authentic (Saheeh) even according to both standards of Salafi double-standards – the standard with which they authenticate narrators, and the other standard with which they attempt to weaken the very same narrators when a particular narration does not suit their desires. These narrations, carrying authentic sanads (chains), of superlative praise for Abu Hanifah by undisputed Authorities of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, completely clash with and override the few narrations of criticism, some allegedly coming from the very same Authorities, which were spread well after the time of the Imam.
AUTHORITIES OF THE SALAF-US-SAALIHEEN WHO ADHERED TO THE HANAFI MADH-HAB AND/OR TESTIFIED TO ITS PREVALENCE AND SUPERIORITY
Yahya bin Ma’een (158H – 233H)
Yahya bin Ma’een was the teacher of countless luminaries of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, amongst whom were Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal who would say, “If Yahya Ibn al-Ma’een has not heard of a hadith then that hadith does not exist!”, and Imam Ahmad’s fellow student, Ali Ibn al-Madeenee, who was the famous teacher of Imam Bukhari in whose presence Imam Bukhari confessed to feeling uniquely small in stature (in terms of knowledge). Whenever Ahmad bin Hanbal and Ali bin al-Madeenee would disagree on a matter while studying the Ahadith together, they would refer it to Yayha bin Ma’een. Ali ibn al-Madeenee sums up the tremendous standing of Yahya bin Ma’een in the following statement:
“The knowledge in Basrah ended up with Yahyaa ibn Abee Katheer and Qataadah; and the knowledge in Koofah ended up with Aboo Ishaaq and al-A’mash; and the knowledge in al-Hijaaz with Ibn Shihaab and ‘Amr ibn Deenaar; and the knowledge of these six was transmitted to twelve men: Ibn Abee ‘Aroobah, Ma’mar, Shu’bah, Hammaad ibn Salamah, the two Sufyaans (i.e. Sufyan bin Uyaynah and Sufyan al-Thawri – both mentioned later in this article), Maalik, al-Awzaa’ee, Ibn Ishaq, Hushaym, Aboo ‘Awaanah (and) Yahyaa ibn Abee Zaa’idah. And it came to Ibn al-Mubaarak and Ibn Mahdee and Yahyaa ibn Aadam – and the knowledge of ALL these came to Yahyaa ibn Ma’een.”
Imam ad-Dhahabi, an undisputed authority according to even the Salafis, in transmitting authentically the descriptions of the narrators of Ahadith, narrates the well-accepted fact that Yahya bin Ma’een was a very staunch Hanafi:
“Ibn al-Ma’een was an extremely staunch Hanafi in his Madh-hab, even though he was a Muhaddith (master of hadith).” [Ar-Ruwat al-Thiqat al-Mutakallim Fihim Bima La yujabu raddahum]
Imam ad-Dhahabi states also in his famous Siyar:
“Abu Zakariyyah (Yahya bin Ma’een) was Hanafi in Furoo’ (in the rulings of fiqh)”
Yahya ibn Sa’eed al-Qattaan (120 H – 198 H)
The founder of the science of al-Jarh wa l-Ta’deel, Yahya bin Sa’eed was an undisputed and recognised authority amongst the Salaf-us-Saaliheen of his era. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said regarding him: “I have not seen anyone better than Yahya bin Sa’eed with my eyes.” Al-‘Aini narrates in ‘Umdatul Qaari that between ‘Asr prayer and Maghrib, Yahya ibn Sa’eed would sit leaning on a pillar in his Masjid, whilst luminaries of the calibre of Yahya ibn Ma’een, Ahmad ibn Hambal, and Ali ibn Al-Madeenee would stand in front him for the entire period with great humility, seeking answers to their questions on the Deen. Despite the fact that Yahya ibn Sa’eed’s stature in the field of Deeni knowledge was such that he could easily have claimed the right to Ijtihaad (the right to derive rulings directly from the Quran and Sunnah), he admits that he adopted most of Imam Abu Hanifah’s rulings, and he testifies to their superiority:
“We do not lie by Allah. We have not heard [rulings] better than Abu Hanifah’s rulings and we have adopted most of his rulings.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474)
Yahya bin Ma’een also narrated that his teacher, Yahya bin Sa’eed, adopted the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah:
“And Yahya ibn Sa‘eed adopted (yadh-habu) the rulings of the Kufans in fatwa and he selected his rulings from their rulings and he followed his rulings amongst his companions.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474)
Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah (107H – 198H)
Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah was amongst the greatest Muhadditheen of his era, regarding whom Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal stated: “I did not see anyone who knew the Sunnah better than him.” and regarding whom Imam Shafi’i stated: “I have not seen anyone as readily equipped for knowledge as Sufyaan, and I have not seen anyone who withheld more than him from giving religious verdicts, and I have not seen anyone who better explained the Hadiths than him.”
Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah mentions the widespread prevalence of the rulings of the Abu Hanifah alongside the prevalence of the Mutawaatir (mass-transmitted) recitation of the Qur’an as transmitted by Hamzah, both of which had reached the furthest regions of the Ummah during the era of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen:
“Two things I did not believe would go beyond the arch bridge of Kufa, and they have reached the furthest regions: the recitation of Hamzah (d. 156 H) and the opinions of Abu Hanifah.” [Tarikh Baghdad]
Although Sufyan ibn Uyaynah would have witnessed innumerable Stars of Uloom (knowledge) of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, amongst whom were the likes of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Imam Shafi’i, Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, Yahya ibn Ma’een, etc. he states that he had seen none comparable to Abu Hanifah.
“My eyes have not seen the like of Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:460)
Yazeed bin Zuray’ (101-182)
Ali bin al-Madeenee narrates that his teacher, Yazeed bin Zuray’, would express surprise at the widespread acceptance the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah had acquired during the era of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen:
“Yazeed ibn Zuray‘ would say when remembering Abu Hanifah: “How far have the grey mules flown with his fatwas!” [i.e. a figure of speech in the Arabic language which expresses widespread prevalence.] (Tarikh Baghdad 15:475)
Yazeed bin Haroon (118H – 206H)
Regarded as amongst the greatest Muhadditheen of his era, Yazeed bin Haroon was the teacher of the likes of Ahmad bin Hanbal, Yahya bin Ma’een and Ali bin al-Madeenee. Ali bin al-Madeenee said regarding him: “I have not seen a greater memorizer of hadith than Yazeed bin Haroon.” al-Hasan ibn Ali narrated Yazeed’s testimony that Imam Abu Hanifah was the greatest Faqeeh that he had ever seen:
“When a man asked Yazeed ibn Haroon, “O Abu Khalid! Who is the best in fiqh from those you have seen?” I heard him reply, “Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:468)
Ibn Abdul Barr and others have narrated similar statements confirming Yazeed ibn Haroon’s opinion that Abu Hanifah was the most knowledgeable scholar from amongst the galaxy of luminaries he would have had come across:
“Yazeed ibn Haroon said: “I met a thousand men, and I wrote from most of them. I have not seen from them [anybody] with better Fiqh (the combined knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah), nor more scrupulous, nor more learned, than five (men). The first of them is Abu Hanifah.” [Jami‘ al-‘Ilm of Ibn ‘Abdul Barr]
Wakee’ bin al-Jarrah (126 – 196)
He was the famous teacher of Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and countless other luminaries of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen. Imam Ahmad once stated that Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah possessed the most superior memory that he had ever come across. Khatib Baghadi states in his biographical note on Wakee’ that he would issue fatwas according to Imam Abu Hanifah’s rulings:
“He used to issue fatwas in accordance with Abu Hanifah’s dicta.” [Tarikh Baghdad]
Allamah adh-Dhahabi relates a similar statement from Yahya bin Ma’een that Wakee’ would issue fatwas according to the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah:
“I have not seen anyone better than Wakee`. He spends his night in prayer, fasts without interruption, and issues fatwa according to the verdict of Abu Hanifa. And Yahya bin Sa’eed al-Qattan also used to give fatwa according to what Abu Hanifa said.” (Tadhkiratul Huffaaz)
Many other Muhadditheen have transmitted this as an accepted fact. Ibn Abdul Barr, for instance, narrates the following with his chain:
“Yahya ibn Ma‘een said: “I have not seen the like of Wakee‘ [ibn al-Jarrah] and he would give fatwa according to the opinions of Abu Hanifah.” (Al-Intiqa’ fi Fada’il al-A’immati l-Thalathat al-Fuqaha)
The following two reports from Tareekh Baghdad are of a sufficient level of authenticity to corroborate Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah’s deference to the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifah:
“Ibn Karamah narrated: We were with Wakee‘ [ibn al-Jarrah] (126 – 196) one day and a man said: “Abu Hanifah erred!” Wakee‘ said: “How can Abu Hanifah err when with him are the likes of Abu Yusuf and Zufar in their logic; and the likes of Yahya ibn Abi Za’idah, Hafs ibn Ghiyath, Hibban and Mindal in their memorisation of hadith; and the like of al-Qasim ibn Ma‘n in his knowledge of language and Arabic; and Dawud al-Ta’i and Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad in their asceticism and their scrupulousness? The one whose sitting partners are such, he cannot come close to erring, for if he erred they would surely have corrected him.” (Tarikh Baghdad 16:365)
“Yahya ibn Ma‘een said: “I have not seen [anybody] superior to Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah!” It was said to him, “Not even Ibn al-Mubarak?” He said, “Ibn al-Mubarak indeed had excellence, but I have not seen [anybody] more virtuous than Wakee‘. He would face the qiblah and memorise his hadiths. He would stand [in prayer] in the night and fast continuously. He would give fatwa according to the opinion of Abu Hanifah, and he had heard many hadiths from him.” Yahya ibn Ma‘een said: “And Yahya ibn Sa‘eed al-Qattan would give fatwa according to the opinion of Abu Hanifah also.” (Tarikh Baghdad15:653)
Qasim ibn Ma’n ibn Abdur-Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (d 175 H)
The following narration relates how Qasim ibn Ma’n, the great-grandson of Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (radhiyallahu anhu), was once assailed for being a “child” (i.e. an ardent follower) of Imam Abu Hanifah.
“It was said to al-Qasim ibn Ma‘n ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ood: “You are the descendant of ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ood. Are you satisfied with being from the followers [literally: children] of Abu Hanifah?” He replied: “Men have not sat with anyone more beneficial than the company of Abu Hanifah.” Al-Qasim then said to him: “Come with me to him.” So he came and when he sat with him, and he stayed with him [for a while], he said: “I have not seen the like of such [a person].” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:462-3)
Shu‘ayb ibn Ishaq ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman (118 H – 189 H)
Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalani states in the biography of this luminary who was the teacher of the likes of Ishaq ibn Rahwaya, that he had adopted the Madh-hab of Imam Abu Hanifah:
“He narrated from his father and Abu Hanifah and he adopted his madhhab (tamadhhaba lahu)…” [Tahdheeb al-Tahdheeb]
Sufyan ibn Sa’id al-Thawri (97 – 161 H),
He was one of the greatest Huffaz from the Atba’ al-Tabi’een (third generation of Muslims after the Sahabah and Tabi’een). Shu’bah ibn al-Hajjaj, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Yahya ibn Ma’een, Abu ‘Aasim al-Nabeel and others referred to him as “the commander of the believers in hadith” (amir al-mu’minin fi l-hadith) (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:113) His authority in all fields of knowledge is undisputed. In the narration below, Sufyan al-Thawri explicitly testifies to the superiority of Imam Abu Hanifah in Fiqh over all others upon face of the Earth:
“Muhammad ibn Bishr [narrated]: I would frequent Abu Hanifah and Sufyan. I once came to Abu Hanifah and he said to me, “From where did you come?” I replied: “From the company of Sufyan.” He responded: “Indeed you have come from the company of the man, that if ‘Alqamah and al-Aswad [two of the great Tabi’een] were present, they would need the like of him.” Then I came to Sufyan who said to me, “From where did you come?” I said, “From the company of Abu Hanifah.” He responded, “Indeed, you have come from the company of the best Faqeeh from the inhabitants of earth (afqahi ahl al-ard).” (Tarikh Baghdad15:471)
‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (118 – 181)
He was an undisputed authority in all fields of Knowledge whose merits are innumerable. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “I looked into in the matter of the Sahabah and I did not find any virtue in them over Ibn al-Mubarak except their companionship of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and their battles with him.” Abdullah ibn Mubarak testified to Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority in Fiqh:
”Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak said: “I saw the most pious of people, the most scrupulous of people, the most learned of people, and the best Faqeeh of people. As for the most pious of the people, [he is] ‘Abdul Aziz ibn Abi Rawwad; as for the most scrupulous of the people, [he is] al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad; as for the most learned of the people, [he is] Sufyan al-Thawri; and as for the best Faqeeh of the people, [he is] Abu Hanifah.” Then he said “I have not seen the like of him in Fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:469)
Mis’ar ibn Kidam (d. 155)
He was the Imam to whom even great authorities would refer to when they differed in the field of knowledge. Ibrahim ibn Sa’eed al-Jawhari narrates that, “When Shu’bah and Sufyan differed they would say, ‘Let us go to the weighing scales, Mis’ar.” Mis’ar’s standing and rank can be gauged from the fact that both Sufyan ath-Thawri and Shu’bah were widely regarded as Ameer-ul-Mu’mineen (Chief of the the Believers) in Hadith, the highest rank in the field of Hadith amongst the Salaf-us-Saaliheen. Hafiz adh-Dhahabi narrates in Manaqib Abi Hanifah that Mis’ar ibn Kidam said:
“Along with Abu Hanifah I sought out hadith, but he beat us. So we took to Zuhd (abstaining from the pleasures and conveniences of this dunya) upon ourselves, but he excelled us. Then we sought fiqh along with him, but he produced what you already know.”
Abu ‘Aasim al-Nabeel al-Dahhak ibn Makhlad ibn al-Dahhak (122 – 214)
Abu Aasim was the greatest and eldest of al-Bukhari’s teachers in Hadith. In the narration below, while proclaiming Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority in Fiqh, Abu Aasim employs hyperbole in order to emphasise Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority over others:
“Al-Hasan said: I asked Abu ‘Aasim al-Nabeel, “Is Abu Hanifah a better Faqeeh or Sufyan (al-Thawri)?” He replied, “The slave of Abu Hanifah is a better faqeeh than Sufyan!” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:468)
Imam ash-Shafi’i (150 – 204 H)
The following narration of Imam Shafi’i proclaiming everyone (i.e. the Salaf-us-Saaliheen of his era) to be dependent upon Imam Abu Hanifah in Fiqh, has been transmitted by numerous Fuqaha and Muhadditheen throughout the ages:
“al-Shafi‘i said: “All people are dependent on Abu Hanifah in fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474) ”
“al-Shafi‘i said: “I have not seen anyone better in fiqh that Abu Hanifah.” Al-Khatib comments: He meant by his statement “I have not seen,” “I do not know.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474)
Makki bin Ibrahim (126 – 215 H)
He was blessed with a long life such that he was privileged to be both a student of Imam Abu Hanifah as well as being one of the senior teachers of Imam Bukhari. Most of Bukhari’s thulaathiyat narrations (sanads containing only three narrators) run through him. Proclaiming Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority in knowledge, Makki ibn Ibrahim stated:
“He (Abu Hanifah) was the most learned of the people of his time.” (kana a’lama ahli zamanihi) (Tarikh Baghdad 15:473)
The Greatest Scholar of the City of Knowledge
Over a thousand Sahabah, including ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, and seventy Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) who participated in Badr, had migrated to and settled in Kufa, It thus became a hub and centre of learning of all the Deeni sciences. Kufa’s standing in the field of Hadith, for example, can be understood from the fact that when al-Hakim, the author of the famous Mustadrak, devoted a chapter to listing the great Muhadditheen of the Salaf-us-Saaliheen, he mentioned forty narrators from Madīnah, twenty-one from Makkah, and two hundred and one from Kūfah (including Imām Abū Hanīfah). Imam Abu Hanifah was recognised by the Kufans as being the greatest Faqeeh living amongst them at that time:.
“al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi said: “I came to Kufa and inquired about the most devout (a’bad) of its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah. Then I came when I was an old man and inquired about the best faqih amongst its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:482)