The Testimony of the Pious Salaf on Imam Abu Hanifah’s Excellence in Fiqh
“Abu Hanifah al-Nu‘man ibn Thabit was from the geniuses of the sons of Adam. He combined fiqh, worship, scrupulousness and generosity. His birth was in the year 80 H which is one of three opinions on his birth. He saw Anas. And he passed away in the year 150 H.” (Al-Dhahabi, al-’Ibar, 1:214)
Imam Abu Hanifah’s fiqh was praised by some of the greatest Imams of hadith and fiqh from the salaf, and many of them recognised him to be the greatest faqih with no parallel amongst his peers. “Fiqh,” literally meaning “to understand,” is the ability to interpret correctly the texts of the Shari’ah and derive from them the rulings of the Shari’ah. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Whoever Allah wishes good for, He gives him fiqh of the religion.” (Bukhari and Muslim) And he said, “Allah illuminate the face of a man who hears a hadith from us, and memorises it until he conveys it. For often the carrier of fiqh [carries it] to one with more fiqh than him.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah) These two hadiths illustrate that fiqh is granted by Allah and is dependent on the transmission of Shar’i knowledge.
Abu Hanifah, the Greatest Faqih
I will quote below the authentic sayings of some of the eminent Imams from the salaf on the fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifah:
1. Sufyan ibn Sa’id al-Thawri (97 – 161 H), a narrator found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, and one of the greatest huffaz from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in (third generation of Muslims after the Sahabah and Tabi’in). Shu’bah ibn al-Hajjaj, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Yahya ibn Ma’in, Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil and others referred to him as “the commander of the faithful in hadith” (amir al-mu’minin fi l-hadith) (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:113) Yahya ibn Ma’in would not favour anyone over al-Thawri in fiqh, hadith and piety (ibid). His authority in all these fields is undisputed. Al-Thawri interacted with Abu Hanifah, and many of their opinions on controversial issues in fiqh converge as is apparent in theikhtilaf literature, which indicates al-Thawri had great respect and admiration for Abu Hanifah’s juristic opinions.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal informed us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: ‘Umar ibn Shihab al-‘Abdi narrated to us: Jandal ibn Waliq narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Bishr narrated to me: He said: I would frequent Abu Hanifah and Sufyan. I came to Abu Hanifah and he said to me, “From where did you come?” I said: “From the company of Sufyan.” He said: “Indeed you have come from the company of the man, that if ‘Alqamah and al-Aswad were present, they would need the like of him.” Then I came to Sufyan and he said to me, “From where did you come?” I said, “From the company of Abu Hanifah.” He said, “Indeed, you have come from the company of the best faqih from the inhabitants of earth (afqahi ahl al-ard).” (Tarikh Baghdad15:471) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf, the editor of Tarikh Baghdad comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”
2. ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (118 – 181), also a narrator of the Six, and one of the Imams of the Atba’ Tabi’in whose merits are innumerable. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “I looked into in the matter of the Sahabah and I did 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.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib5:385) He was an undisputed authority in hadith.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal informed us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan narrated to us: Abu Kurayb narrated to us: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak say [here, al-Khatib mentions a second chain for the same narration]: “I saw the most pious of people, the most scrupulous of people, the most learned of people, and the best faqih of people. As for the most pious of people, [he is] ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Abi Rawwad; as for the most scrupulous of people, [he is] al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad; as for the most learned of people, [he is] Sufyan al-Thawri; and as for the best faqih of people, [he is] Abu Hanifah.” Then he said “I have not seen the like of him in fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:469) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym the Hafiz reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali narrated to us: Abu ‘Arubah al-Harrani narrated to us: I heard Salamah ibn Shabib say: I heard ‘Abd al-Razzaq say: I heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “If anyone has the right to issue [a legal verdict] using his opinion, Abu Hanifah has the right to issue [a legal verdict] using his opinion.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:471) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “The isnad of this report is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mu’addal reported to us: ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Razi narrated to us: Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Za’farani narrated to us: Ahmad ibn Zuhayr narrated to us: Al-Walid ibn Shuja’ narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Shaqiq narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak would say: “When [the opinions] of these two, meaning al-Thawri and Abu Hanifah, converge on something, that is strong.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:470) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
3. Yazid ibn Harun (118 – 206), also a narrator found in the six books of hadiths, and one of the greatest huffaz of hadith, said to have memorised over twenty thousand hadiths. He was one of the most reliable transmitters of hadith. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 11:366-9)
4. Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil al-Dahhak ibn Makhlad ibn al-Dahhak (122 – 214), also a narrator of the Six and the greatest and eldest of al-Bukhari’s shaykhs in hadith. Some of al-Bukhari’s thulathiyyat(three-narrator chains) which are the shortest of al-Bukhari’s chains go through him. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:450-3)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Abd al-Baqi ibn ‘Abd al-Karim al-Mu’addib informed me: ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar al-Khallal reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah narrated to us: my grandfather narrated to us: Ya‘qub ibn Ahmad narrated to me: I heard al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali say: I heard Yazid ibn Harun when a man asked him, “O Abu Khalid! Who is the best in fiqh from those you have seen?” say, “Abu Hanifah.” Al-Hasan said: I asked Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil, “Is Abu Hanifah a better faqih or Sufyan (al-Thawri)?” He said, “The slave of Abu Hanifah is a better faqih than Sufyan!” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:468) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad ishasan.” Needless to say, Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil’s statement is not to be taken literally, but exaggarates the excellence in fiqh of Abu Hanifah over even Sufyan al-Thawri.
5. Ayyub ibn Abi Tamimah al-Sakhtiyani (68 – 131), a Basran Tabi‘i senior to Abu Hanifah, and also a narrator found in all six collections of hadith. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah mentioned that from all the Tabi’in he met and witnessed, he found none greater than Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 1:397-8)
Al-Khatib narrates: Qadi Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Simnani reported to us: Isma‘il ibn al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali al-Bukhari al-Zahid reported to us: Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Sa‘d ibn Nasr narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Qummi narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Sa‘dan narrated to me: I heard Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani say: I heard Hammad ibn Zayd say: I intended [to go for] Hajj so I came to Ayyub [al-Sakhtiyani] to bid him farewell, so he said to me: “It has reached me the pious man, the faqih of the Kufans, meaning Abu Hanifah, is performing Hajj this year, so when you meet him, convey to him my salutations.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:467) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.”
6. Abu Nu’aym al-Fadl ibn Dukayn (130 – 219 H), the Kufan Imam of hadith, also a narrator of the Six from whom al-Bukhari narrated many hadiths. He is known to be one of the most reliable (athbat) narrators of hadith. Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: “Abu Nu’aym is the most learned about theshuyukh and their lineages, and about narrators.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 8:270-6)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym, the Hafiz reported to us: Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Asbahani narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Thaqafi narrated to us: Al-Jawhari narrated to us: Abu Nu‘aym narrated to us: He said: “Abu Hanifah was one of deep penetration into juristic issues.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:472) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
7. Sulayman ibn Mihran al-’A‘mash (61 – 148), a narrator of hadith found in all of the six famous collections of hadith. He was from the Tabi‘in who saw and probably narrated from some of the younger Sahabah. He spent most of his life in Kufa learning hadith and teaching it. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said he knew the most hadiths from his companions, and Ibn ‘Ammar said al-’A‘mash was the most trustworthy narrator of hadith in his time. He was declared thiqah by al-Nasa’i, Ibn Ma‘in and others. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:222-6)
Ibn Hibban (d. 354) narrated under the biography of ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad ibn Shaddad al-‘Abdi al-Misri in his al-Thiqat (8:467):
‘Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Sumay‘ narrated to me at Sayda: al-Muzani narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad narrated to us from ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Amr: He said: al-’A‘mash said to Abu Hanifah: “O Nu‘man! What is your opinion regarding such-and-such an issue?” He replied: “Such-and-such.” He said: “From where do you say this?” He said: “You narrated to us from so-and-so such-and-such.” Al-’A‘mash said: “O group of jurists (fuqaha), you are the doctors, and we are the pharmacists.”
All the narrators in this chain are trustworthy (thiqat) besides the shaykh of Ibn Hibban: Abu Ibrahim Isma‘il ibn Yahya al-Muzani (175 – 264), the famous student of al-Shaf‘i and the uncle of al-Tahawi, was declared thiqah by Ibn Yunus; ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad ibn Shaddad al-‘Abdi (d. 218), a narrator of Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i, he was a Hanafi in madhhab and he narrated al-Jami‘ al-Kabir and al-Saghir from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, and he was thiqah according to Abu Hatim (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 7:384-5); ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn Abi l-Walid al-Asadi (104 – 180), a narrator found in the six famous collections of hadith, and declared thiqah by al-Nasa’i, Abu Hatim, Ibn Sa‘d, Ibn Ma‘in and others (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 7:42-3)
Ibn Hibban’s shaykh, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Sumay‘ (d. 309), is in fact ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Mahmud ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn al-Qasim ibn Sumay‘ Abu l-Walid al-Qurashi, as mentioned by Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq who corrected “Muhammad” to “Mahmud.” His reliability is unknown as no one criticised him and no one praised him. Therefore he is majhul al-hal. However, a large number of reliable narrators took from him, including Ibn Hibban and the famous Imam, Ibn al-Sunni, as mentioned by Ibn ‘Asakir amongst the list of those who narrated from him (Tarikh Dimashq 37:108-10). Such a narrator is termed “mastur” (hidden). The majority accept the narration of such a narrator, since many of the narrators found in the Sahihayn aremastur. Al-Dhahabi said, “The majority opinion is that whichever shaykh [of hadith] a group has narrated from and he does not produce what is rejected (munkar), his hadith is sahih.” (Mizan al-I‘tidal under the biography of Malik ibn al-Khayr al-Ziyadi al-Misri) Hence, this narration is sahihaccording to the principles of the majority.
Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said, as narrated by his student al-Sakhawi: “When the narrator whose condition [i.e. reliability] is unknown has no criticism and no accreditation, and both his shaykh and the one who narrates from him are trustworthy (thiqah) and he does not produce rejected reports, he is trustworthy according to Ibn Hibban.” (Fath al-Mughith) This is the case here as both theshaykh of ‘Abd al-Malik and the one narrating from him (i.e. al-Muzani and Ibn Hibban) are thiqah, which would make this narration sahih according to the principles of Ibn Hibban.
Moreover, this same narration from al-’A‘mash has been narrated with slight variations in wording by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in al-Faqih wa l-Mutafaqqih and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlih with different chains leading up to ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad after which the chain is the same. Although both chains contain weaknesses, they can be used as supporting narrations.
The narration is therefore sound, and proves Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority in fiqh to even those more senior than him from the major muhaddithin of his time, and even those muhaddithin from whom he narrated, which is exactly what was meant by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) when he said, “often the carrier of fiqh [carries it] to one with more fiqh”. Imam al-’A’mash’s analogy also indicates Imam Abu Hanifah was aware of a large number of hadiths as doctors are generally aware of medicines and drugs though they do not manufacture them or dispense them, which means Abu Hanifah knew many hadiths but did not generally narrate them. He did, however, derive rulings from them and they were a major source of his rulings in fiqh. This narration is also one of many narrations showing Abu Hanifah took hadiths from some of the greatest narrators of hadith in his time.
8. ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ (120 – 213), a hadith-narrator from Abu Hanifah and others, a narrator found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, declared thiqah by Nasa’i, Khalili and others. Ibn al-Mubarak said he was “pure gold.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 6:83-4)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn Abi ‘Ali reported to us: He said: Abu ‘Ali Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Mu‘addal al-Naysaburi narrated to us: He said: Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Bilal narrated to us: He said: I heard Muhammad ibn Yazid say: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ say: “I have not seen a black headed [person] with more fiqh than Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad, 15:472)
Based on the identity of one of the narrators in the chain (Muhammad ibn Yazid), the chain is either authentic or contains an unknown, therefore weak: ‘Ali ibn Abi ‘Ali is ‘Ali ibn al-Muhassin Abu al-Qasim al-Tanukhi (365 – 447) who is saduq according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:604-5); Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Naysaburi (d. 383) is a Hanafi shaykh, declared thiqah by al-Khatib and al-Tanukhi (Tarikh Baghdad B 6:260-1); Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Bilal al-Kashshab (d. 330) is from “the firm and trustworthy narrators” (al-thiqat al-athbat) (al-Ansab 5:120); “Muhammad ibn Yazid” is probably Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid (d. 256) who was known to narrate from ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 9:284), and he was declared thiqah by Ibn Abi Hatim, Nasa’i, Khalili and Maslamah ibn al-Qasim (ibid.).
9. The people of Kufa. Kufa was, at that time, a centre of learning. It had been the residence of over a thousand Sahabah, including ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, and the sciences of hadith and fiqh were taught in gatherings in the masajid. From the following narration, Imam Abu Hanifah is recognised by the Kufans as being the greatest faqih living amongst them at that time.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Saymari informed us: We read unto al-Husayn ibn Harun from Abu l-’Abbas ibn Sa’id: He said: Ibrahim ibn al-Walid narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Balkhi narrated to us: I heard al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi say: “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) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is good (jayyid).” Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi was the Qadi of Marw and ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak was favourably disposed to him (Ibn Hibban, Kitab al-Thiqat 8:168)
10. Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i (150 – 204 H), the Imam of fiqh. He is the only one from this list that did not meet Abu Hanifah in person, and he is the only one not from the first three generations of Muslims. However, his eminence is beyond question, so he will be quoted here:
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym, the Hafiz, reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali narrated to us: I heard Hamzah ibn ‘Ali al-Basri say: I heard al-Rabi‘ say: I heard al-Shafi‘i say: “All people are dependent on Abu Hanifah in fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn al-Qasim reported to us: ‘Ali ibn Ishaq al-Madara’ini narrated to us: Zakariyya ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn Ahmad narrated to me: Harun ibn Sa‘id (al-Ayli) said: I heard al-Shafi‘i say: “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) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
These are the statements from some of the greatest Imams of the salaf, praising Abu Hanifah’s fiqh, with five of them, Ibn al-Mubarak, Yazid ibn Harun, Sufyan al-Thawri, ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ and al-Shafi’i [and the people of Kufa in general], using the superlative, to indicate none of Imam Abu Hanifah’s contemporaries were equal to him in fiqh. Such a high degree of praise for Imam Abu Hanifah’s fiqh, reaching the degree of mashhur or mutawatir amongst the salaf, is not found for any other individual, which is from Allah’s favour on Imam Abu Hanifah.
After quoting some of the abovementioned narrations, ‘Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-’Uthmani says, “It is not hidden that fiqh is not possible without memorisation of hadiths, narrations, the statements of the Sahabah and Tabi’in and their disagreements; and knowledge of the abrogating and abrogated [texts] from the sunnah and from other than it. Since, they [i.e. the scholars] have agreed on Abu Hanifah being the best faqih of all people, they have accepted him as a hafiz of hadith, and a collector of a large quantity thereof.” (Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith, p. 314)
The Methodology of Imam Abu Hanifah in Fiqh
One indication to Imam Abu Hanifah’s vast knowledge of the sources of the Shari’ah is his methodology in deriving rulings from the Shari’ah, since one of his primary sources is the authentic sunnah and the opinions of the Sahabah, as he himself explicitly stated:
Hafiz Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrates: ‘Abd al-Warith narrated to us: Qasim narrated to us: Ahmad ibn Zuhayr narrated to us: Yahya ibn Ma‘in narrated to us: ‘Ubayd ibn Abi Qurrah narrated to us from Yahya ibn Durays, he said: I was present with Sufyan al-Thawri when a man of great knowledge and piety came to him, and he said: “O Abu ‘Abd Allah! What do you have against Abu Hanifah?” He said: “And what does he have?” He said: “I heard him [i.e. Abu Hanifah] say a statement in which there is balance and proof: ‘Indeed I take [legal opinions] from the Book of Allah when I find it. That which I do not find therein, I take from the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger and the authentic narrations from him which have spread between the hands of trustworthy people from trustworthy people. If I do not find it in the Book of Allah, nor the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger, I take the opinion of his companions, [adopting the opinion of] whoever [of them] I wish, and I leave the opinion of whoever [of them] I wish. Moreover, I do not leave their opinion for another’s opinion. If the [legal] issue reaches [only] to Ibrahim, al-Sha‘bi, al-Hasan, ‘Ata, Ibn Sirin, Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab – and he enumerated [other] men – then, [they are] a people who performedijtihad, so I may perform ijtihad just as they performed ijtihad.’” Thereupon, Sufyan remained silent for a long period, and then he said some words of which there remained none in the gathering but he wrote them: “We hear harshness in speech and we fear it. We hear softness and we desire it. We do not judge the living; nor do we judge the dead. We accept what we hear. And we entrust what we do not know to its knower, and we put our opinion in doubt in favour of their opinion.” (Al-Intiqa’ fi Fada’il al-A’immati l-Thalathat al-Fuqaha’, pp. 264-5)
This sanad is authentic: ‘Abd al-Warith ibn Sufyan al-Qurtubi (d. 395) is thiqah according to al-Dhahabi in Siyar A’lam al-Nubala (Misbah al-Arib 2:297); al-Qasim ibn Asbagh al-Qurtubi (247 – 340) was called “the great hafiz” and “the muhaddith of Cordoba” by al-‘Asqalani and is saduq(Lisan al-Mizan (6:367-8); Ahmad ibn Zuhayr ibn Harb (d. 299) is thiqah according to al-Daraqutni and Khatib; ‘Ubayd ibn Abi Qurrah is a shaykh of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and is thiqah according to Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah and Yahya ibn Ma‘in (Tarikh Baghdad 12:386-9); Yahya ibn al-Durays (d. 203) is a narrator of Muslim, and is thiqah according to Ibn Ma‘in (Tahrir al-Taqrib 4:89).
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi transmitted the same narration with a different chain leading up to Yahya ibn Ma‘in after which the chain is the same, and Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf commented on it, “This is a report with a sahih isnad, and its narrators are trustworthy and well-known.” (Tarikh Baghdad15:504)
Several other narrations with similar wordings from Imam Abu Hanifah about his methodology have been reported in al-Intiqa’ by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (pp. 266-7). These narrations from Imam Abu Hanifah regarding his methodology in deriving laws reveal the baselessness of the allegation that in most of his opinions he relied on analogy and parted from the transmitted sources of the Shari’ah. In fact, the Qur’an, well-known sunnah and narrations from the Sahabah were the primary foundations of his madhhab.
Adherence to the Opinions of Imam Abu Hanifah and their Prevalence amongst the Salaf
Affiliation to the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifah (80 H – 150 H), a Tabi’i who saw at least one Sahabi, started in the generation of the Atba’ al-Tabi’in (third generation of Muslims, those who saw the Tabi’in), which distinguishes it from all other madhhabs which began to be followed as established madhhabs only after the first three generations of Muslims. This is established as a general trend in the third generation of Muslims and with specific examples. The first three generations of Muslims (Sahabah, Tabi’in and Atba’ al-Tabi’in) were declared as the best of generations by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) in an authentic hadith in which he said: “The best of people are my generation, then those who follow them and then those who follow them.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Ibrahim ibn Makhlad al-Mu‘addal informed me: Qadi Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Kamil narrated to us by dication: Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Sulami narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr al-Humaydi narrated to us: Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (107 – 198) said: “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 Baghdad15:475) Its editor, Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.” Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah is a narrator of the six famous collections of hadith (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah and Abu Dawud) and one of the greatest narrators of hadith. His statement compares the canonical mutawatir recitation of Hamzah (who is amongst the seven qurra’) and its prevalence with the general acceptance of the madhhab of Abu Hanifah at that time, which was the era of the Atba’ al-Tabi’in.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Abd al-Baqi ibn ‘Abd al-Karim reported to me: He said: ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar reported to us: He said: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub narrated to us: He said: My grandfather narrated to us: He said: I heard ‘Ali ibn al-Madini say: Yazid ibn Zuray‘ would say when remembering Abu Hanifah: “How far have the grey mules flown with his fatwas!”(Tarikh Baghdad 15:475) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.” Yazid ibn Zuray‘ (101-182) is also a narrator found in the six collections of hadith, and was a highly reputable transmitter of hadith from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in, regarded by many as the most reliable hadith-narrator from Basra (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 11:325-8). His statement shows his surprise at the widespread acceptance of Imam Abu Hanifah’s fatwas at this early time.
Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah (159-235 H), the author of the Musannaf, dedicated a whole “Book” in hisMusannaf to refuting Imam Abu Hanifah’s opinions in about 120 issues of fiqh. Ibn Abi Shaybah did not dedicate any other chapter or book to refuting the opinions in fiqh of any other imam despite the fact many other scholars shared these opinions with Abu Hanifah. Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah, the editor of the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah, attributes this fact to the prevalence of the madhhabof Abu Hanifah and its wide acceptance in the time of Ibn Abi Shaybah (al-Musannaf li Bni Abi Shaybah 20:7). He lived amongst the fourth generation of Muslims (those who saw the Atba’ al-Tabi’in). Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah lists six authors who wrote answers to Ibn Abi Shaybah’s refutation (ibid. 20:9-12), from them Imam Qasim ibn Qutlubugha and ‘Allamah Zahid al-Kawthari.
As for specific examples:
1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-‘Atiqi informed us: ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar ibn Nasr ibn ‘Umar al-Dimashqi narrated to us from his father: Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Sa‘id al-Qadi said: I heard Yahya ibn Ma‘in say: I heard Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan (120 H – 198 H) say: “We do not lie by Allah. We have not heard [opinions] more beautiful than Abu Hanifah’s opinions and we have adopted most of his opinions.” Yahya ibn Ma‘in said: “And Yahya ibn Sa‘id took (yadhhabu) the opinions of the Kufans in fatwa and he selected his opinions from their opinions and he followed his opinions amongst his companions.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.” Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan is also a narrator of the six famous collections of hadith and he was from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in. He was the first to write on the science of al-Jarh wa l-Ta’dil, and in the field of hadith he is an undisputed and recognised authority.
2. Shu‘ayb ibn Ishaq ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Umawi al-Dimashqi (118 H – 189 H) is a narrator of the Six besides al-Tirmidhi. Al-‘Asqalani says in his biography in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (4:347-8): “He narrated from his father and Abu Hanifah and he adopted his madhhab (tamadhhaba lahu)…” He goes on to mention that Ahmad, Ibn Ma‘in, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Abu Hatim and others said he is trustworthy (thiqah). Shu’ayb ibn Ishaq was from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in.
3. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrated: Hakam ibn al-Mundhir ibn Sa‘id narrated to us: Yusuf ibn Ahmad [ibn al-Dakhil] narrated to us in Makkah: Abu Sa‘id ibn al-A‘ rabi narrated to us: ‘Abbas al-Duri narrated to us: I heard Yahya ibn Ma‘in say: “I have not seen the like of Waki‘ [ibn al-Jarrah] (127 H – 196 H)and he would give fatwa according to the opinions of Abu Hanifah.” (Al-Intiqa’ fi Fada’il al-A’immati l-Thalathat al-Fuqahap. 211) This narration was mentioned by many of the later scholars of Rijal like al-Dhahabi and al-’Asqalani, indicating it is authentic. Waki’ ibn al-Jarrah was also from the narrators of the Six and one of the greatest narrators from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in.
The report is further strengthened by the narration of al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: Ibrahim ibn Makhlad permitted us [to narrate]: He said: Mukram ibn Ahmad al-Qadi reported to us; then: al-Saymari reported to us, in reading: He said: ‘Umar ibn Ibrahim al-Muqri’ reported to us: Mukram narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Hibban reported to us from his father, he said: I heard Yahya ibn Ma‘in say: “I have not seen [anybody] superior to Waki‘ 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 Waki‘. 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‘in said: “And Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan would give fatwa according to the opinion of Abu Hanifah also.” (Tarikh Baghdad15:653) Both Ibrahim ibn Makhlad (325 – 410) and al-Saymari (351 – 436) are saduqaccording to al-Khatib. Abu Hafs ‘Umar ibn Ibrahim al-Muqri (300-390) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (13:138-9), and Mukram ibn Ahmad is also thiqah according to al-Khatib. ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Hibban ibn ‘Ammar Abu l-Hasan (d. 305) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (13:333-4). His father is al-Husayn ibn Hibban ibn ‘Ammar (d. 232), somebody known to have accompanied Yahya ibn Ma‘in and written a “very valuable book” from him narrated by his son, and he is “from the people of virtue and superiority in knowledge.” (Tarikh Baghdad 8:564) The only defect in this chain is that ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn did not hear from his father but narrated from him from his writings having discovered his book (wijadatan). However, this weakness can be overlooked due to the supporting narration mentioned above.
Moreover, there are some fatwas that Waki’ narrated from Abu Hanifah recorded in the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah, which will inshaAllah be dicussed in a later post. This proves Waki’ did in fact issue fatwas according to the Imam’s opinions. Some of Waki”s narrations of hadith from Imam Abu Hanifah are also available in the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah.
4. Another follower of Imam Abu Hanifah was al-Qasim ibn Ma’n ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (after 100 – 175 H), the great-grandson of the eminent Sahabi, ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud. He was the Qadi of Kufa, for which he took no wages. He is a narrator of hadith found in Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i, and was declared thiqah by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Dawud and Abu Hatim. He was known for his mastery in language and fiqh. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 8:338-9)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn al-Qasim al-Shahid informed us in Basrah: ‘Ali ibn Ishaq al-Madara’ini narrated to us: Ahmad ibn Zuhayr informed us with ijazah: Sulayman ibn Abi Shaykh informed me. [A second chain:] Abu Bishr al-Wakil and Abu l-Fath al-Dabbi informed me [i.e. al-Baghdadi]: ‘Umar ibn Ahmad narrated to us: al-Husayn ibn Ahmad ibn Sadaqah al-Fara’idi narrated to us, and this is the wording of his narration: Ahmad ibn Abi Khaythamah narrated to us: Sulayman ibn Abi Shaykh narrated to us: Hujr ibn ‘Abd al-Jabbar narrated to me: It was said to al-Qasim ibn Ma‘n ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud: “You are the decscendant of ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud. Are you satisfied with being from the followers [literally: children] of Abu Hanifah?” He said: “Men have not sat with anyone more beneficial than the company of Abu Hanifah.” Al-Qasim said to him: “Come with me to him,” so he came and when he sat with him, he stayed with him, and he said: “I have not seen the like of such [person].” Al-Fara’idi added: Sulayman said: “And Abu Hanifah was scrupulous and generous.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:462-3) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments on this narration, “Its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”
This early affiliation to the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifah is a great testament to his standing in fiqh, since these Imams of the sunnah recognise the convergence between their knowledge of the transmitted sources of the Shari’ah and Imam Abu Hanifah’s rulings extracted from them. Ibn Khaldun, the historian, said, “That Abu Hanifah is from the greatest of the mujtahids in the science of hadith is proved by the reliance of his madhhab amongst them, and dependence on it, and consideration of it for rejection and approval.” (Quoted in Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith, p. 314)