Statements of the Salaf on the Knowledge of Imam Abu Hanifah
The following are a selection of some of the sayings of the scholars of the salaf regarding the expansive knowledge of Imam Abu Hanifah:
1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal reported to us: Al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Isma‘il ibn Muhammad al-Farisi narrated to us: I heard Makki ibn Ibrahim mention Abu Hanifah and say: “He was the most learned of the people of his time.” (kana a’lama ahli zamanihi) (Tarikh Baghdad 15:473)
The narrators are all trustworthy: Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali Abu Muhammad al-Khallal (352 – 439) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 8:454); ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr ibn Sahl Abu l-Husayn al-Hariri (292 – 380) is thiqah according to al-‘Atiqi (Tarikh Baghdad 13:470); ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn Abu l-Qasim al-Nakha‘i known as “Ibn Kas” (d. 324), a Hanafi, and ashaykh of al-Daraqutni and Ibn Shahin, is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:540); Isma‘il ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Kathir, Abu Ya‘qub al-Farisi (d. 282) is “trustworthy and reliable (thiqah saduq)” according to al-Daraqutni (Tarikh Baghdad 7:271-2).
Makki ibn Ibrahim ibn Bashir al-Tamimi (126 – 215 H) is a narrator of hadith found in all six collections of hadith, blessed with a long life such that he interacted and narrated from Abu Hanifah (some of his narrations from him are found in the Masanid reported from Abu Hanifah) and taught hadith to al-Bukhari. Most of al-Bukhari’s thulathiyyat (three-narrator chains) – which are his shortest chains – go through him. Al-Daraqutni, Ibn Sa’d, al-’Ijli, Maslama, al-Khalili and Ahmad ibn Hanbal said he is thiqah. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 10:293-5)
2. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn Jurayj al-Umawi (80-150 H), known simply as “Ibn Jurayj” was ashaykh of Makki ibn Ibrahim and is also a narrator of the Six. He was an exact contemporary of Imam Abu Hanifah and died shortly after him. He was one of the most important teachers of ‘Abd al-Razzaq the author of the Musannaf, and he was one of the first to write books on hadith. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 6:402-6)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Suri narrated to me: Al-Khasib ibn ‘Abd Allah the judge of Egypt informed us: Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn Hamdan al-Tarasawsi narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn Jabir al-Bazzaz narrated to us: I heard Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn Nuh say: I heard Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Tabba‘ say: I heard Rawh ibn ‘Ubadah say: I was with Ibn Jurayj in the year 150 and the [news] of Abu Hanifah’s death came to him, so he did istirja‘ [i.e. he said “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji‘un“] and expressed sorrow, saying “What knowledge has gone!?” Ibn Jurayj died in this very year. (Tarikh Baghdad 15:463) Dr Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
3. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Qadi Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Dawudi informed us: ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub al-Muqri’ informed us: Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Baghandi narrated to us: Shu‘ayb ibn Ayyub narrated to me: Abu Yahya al-Himmani narrated to me: I heard Abu Hanifah say: “I saw a dream which frightened me. I saw myself excavating the grave of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) so I instructed a man to ask Muhammad ibn Sirin [about the interpretation of the dream]. So he asked him, and he said: ‘This is a man who will excavate the reports of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace).’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:458-9) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad ishasan.”
4. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Jawhari informed us: Muhammad ibn ‘Imran al-Marzubani informed us: ‘Abd al-Wahid ibn Muhammad al-Khasibi narrated to us: Abu Muslim al-Kajji Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah narrated to me: Muhammad ibn Sa‘id Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib narrated to me: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn Dawud al-Khuraybi say: “It is necessary for the adherents of Islam to supplicate to Allah for Abu Hanifah in their prayers.” He [Muhammad ibn Sa‘id Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib] said: “He [al-Khuraybi] recollected his [Abu Hanifah’s] preservation for them of the sunnah and fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:472) Dr. Bashshar comments that all the narrators are trustworthy besides Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib whose reliability is unknown, but according to one opinion amongst hadith scholars, particularly that of Ibn Hibban, if the narrator before and after the narrator whose reliability is unknown are trustworthy (thiqah), which is the case here, the narration will be authentic. So, this narration may be regarded as authentic depending on the principles used.
Al-Khuraybi (126 – 213) is a narrator of the six famous collections of hadith besides Muslim. He was one of the greatest narrators of hadith. He was declared thiqah by Ibn Ma‘in, al-Daraqtuni, al-Nasa’i, Abu Zur‘ah, Ibn Sa‘d and others. However, Abu Hatim degraded him to “saduq” apparently because, as he said “he had an affinity with [the people of] juristic opinion”! – which in this case is Imam Abu Hanifah. Al-Khuraybi in appreciating Imam Abu Hanifah’s “preservation of the sunnah” is probably referring to his contribution as the earliest compiler of hadith according to the conventional chapters of fiqh in his Kitab al-Athar via the transmissions of his students – this is discussed in some depth in ‘Allamah ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Nu’mani’s al-Imam Ibn Majah wa Kitabuhu al-Sunan(see: pp. 50-60)
When Makki ibn Ibrahim and Ibn Jurayj mention the vastness of Imam Abu Hanifah’s knowledge, they mean knowledge of Qur’an and hadiths and athar. Imam al-Dhahabi said, “Logic, dialectics and the philosophy of the ancients were not, by Allah, from the sciences of the Sahabah, nor the Tabi‘in, nor al-Awza‘i, al-Thawri, Malik and Abu Hanifah. Rather, their sciences were the Qur’an and hadith.” (Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, 1:192) Hence, it is established major scholars from the salaf confessed Imam Abu Hanifah’s expansive knowledge of hadith.
Imam Abu Hanifah’s vast knowledge of hadiths and athar is further proven by the great number of juristic rulings (masa’il) he issued and dictated to his students, numbering in the tens of thousands, many of which concur excplicitly or implicitly with hadiths and athar, and Imam Abu Hanifah related them as fatwas as opposed to narrations. However, the narrations which he related by chain through transmission are also not very few in number (see Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith pp. 316-17). Like Imam al-Shafi’i, however, his main objective was the extraction of rulings, which is why both he and al-Shafi’i did not narrate many hadiths in the form of hadith-narration.
Sufyan al-Thawri’s Respect for Imam Abu Hanifah
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi reported in his Tarikh Baghdad:
Al-Saymari informed us: He said: We read onto al-Husayn ibn Harun from Ibn Sa‘id: He said: ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim ibn Qutaybah narrated to us: he said: Ibn Numayr narrated to us: He said: Ibrahim ibn al-Basir narrated to me from Isma‘il ibn Hammad from Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash: He said:
“‘Umar ibn Sa‘id, the brother of Sufyan [al-Thawri] died, so we came to him to console him, when it so happened that the gathering was full of his family, and amongst them was ‘Abd Allah ibn Idris. Thereupon, Abu Hanifah approached amidst a group with him. When Sufyan saw him, he moved from his seat, and stood up and embraced him, and seated him in his place and sat in front of him.”
Abu Bakr continued: “I became angry at him, and Ibn Idris said [to me]: ‘Woe to you! Don’t you see [that there are people present]?’ Then we waited until the people dispersed, so I said to ‘Abd Allah ibn Idris: ‘Don’t get up until we know what is with him in [behaving] this way.’ Then I said: ‘O Abu ‘Abd Allah! I saw you today doing something that I disapproved, and our companions disapproved of it.’ He said: ‘What was that?’ I said: ‘Abu Hanifah came to you, and you stood up for him and seated him in your seat and you behaved in an exaggerated manner, and this is blameworthy according to our companions.’ He said: ‘Why do you disapprove of this? This is a man who has reached a [high] degree of knowledge, so if I did not stand for his knowledge, I stood for his age, and if I did not stand for his age I stood for his jurisprudence, and if I did not stand for his jurisprudence I stood for his scrupulousness.’ This caused me to withdraw as I had no answer.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:467-8)
A Brief Look at the Chain
Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Saymari (351 – 436) is saduq according to al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (Tarikh Baghdad 8:634-5). Al-Barqani said al-Husayn ibn Harun al-Dabbi (320 – 398) is a hujjah which is equivalent to thiqah (Tarikh Baghdad 8:729-30)
Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa‘id al-Kufi is the famous Hafiz Ibn ‘Uqdah (248-332). Abu ‘Ali al-Hafiz al-Naysaburi said he was an imam and hafiz and a transmitter of such calibre that his reliability should not even be inquired about (Lisan al-Mizan 1:605); however, he was accused of holding mild Shiite beliefs. ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim ibn Qutaybah al-Ansari al-Kufi was a recognised authority in the field of Qur’an reading (Rijal al-Daraqutni p. 23) Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Numayr (160 – 234) is a narrator found in all six collections of hadith and of undisputable reliability.
Ibrahim ibn Isma‘il ibn Bashir al-Basir has a notice in Ibn Abi Hatim’s Kitab al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil, and Abu Zur‘ah said: “If there is anyone reliable in the hadith of Ja‘far ibn ‘Awn from al-Mu‘alla ibn ‘Irfan from Abu Wa’il…, it is him [i.e. Ibrahim ibn Isma‘il ibn Bashir].” (Lisan al-Mizan)
Isma‘il ibn Hammad (d. 212) is the grandson of Imam Abu Hanifah and he studied under Abu Hanifah’s direct students like Abu Yusuf. He was Qadi of Baghdad and Basra. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari (118 – 215), a trustworthy (thiqah) narrator of hadith found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, who studied fiqh under Zufar and Abu Yusuf, said: “No one took charge of judgeship from the time of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab to this day more learned than Isma‘il ibn Hammad ibn Abi Hanifah.” Abu Bakr al-Jubbi said to him: “O Abu ‘Abd Allah! Not even al-Hasan ibn Abi l-Hasan (i.e. al-Basri)?!” He said: “No, not even al-Hasan.” (Lisan al-Mizan 2:114) Sibt ibn al-Jawzi (d. 654), the grandson of the famous Ibn al-Jawzi, said in his Mir’at al-Zaman, Isma‘il ibn Hammad is “trustworthy and reliable” (thiqah saduq). Although Ibn ‘Adi said he is “weak,” his criticism was moved by bias against the Hanafi Imams as he said the same regarding Imam Abu Hanifah in the very same sentence. Salih Jazarah also said “he is not thiqah,” but this was probably motivated by Isma‘il’s reputation for supporting the doctrine of “the creation of the Qur’an,” but as Sibt ibn al-Jawzi mentioned, his support for this Mu‘tazili doctrine was for reasons of self-preservation, and this was the practice of a number of scholars at that time. Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash is a famous hadith-scholar found in the collections of al-Bukhari and the four Sunan.
Hence, although this narration contains some degree of weakness because of the unknown reliability of ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim and the possible unreliability of Isma‘il, the weakness is slight and can be overlooked in such reports which describe the virtues of Imam Abu Hanifah, as in the context of virtues, the scholars of hadith were not as stringent as they were in laws and beliefs.
Sufyan al-Thawri was known to have some opposition to Imam Abu Hanifah, yet it is authentically established that he regarded him as “the greatest faqih of the time” (see here) and he would often accept his opinions in fiqh (see here). The event described in this report which probably occurred towards the end of Imam Abu Hanifah’s life, as indicated by the death of his brother and by the mention of Abu Hanifah’s old age, would seem to suggest Sufyan’s feelings towards the Imam changed later in his later life when he held a positive opinion of him.
‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak’s Respect for Imam Abu Hanifah
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates:
Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya’qub reported to us: He said: Muhammad ibn Nu’aym al-Dabbi reported to us: He said: I heard Abu l-Fadl Muhammad ibn al-Husayn the Qadi of Naysabur say: I heard Hammad ibn Ahmad al-Qadi al-Marwazi say: I heard Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Khallal say:
I heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “Abu Hanifah was a sign (ayah)!” A speaker said to him: “In evil O Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman or in goodness?” He said: “Keep quiet, O So-and-So! Because it is said: ‘peak (ghayah) of evil’ and ‘sign of goodness’ and then he recited: ‘We made the son of Maryam and his mother a sign.’ (Qur’an 23:50)” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:461) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf commented: “Its isnad is hasan.”
It has already been documented on this blog that it is authentically reported from Ibn al-Mubarak that he said: “as for the best faqih of people, [he is] Abu Hanifah” and: “I have not seen the like of him in fiqh” and: “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” and “When [the opinions] of these two, meaning al-Thawri and Abu Hanifah, converge on something, that is strong.” (see here) It has also been documented in earlier posts that ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak would narrate hadiths from Abu Hanifah.
Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah’s Respect for Imam Abu Hanifah
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates:
Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rizq reported to us: He said: Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Ji‘abi narrated to us: Abu Bakr Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn Dawud ibn Sulayman al-Qattan narrated to me: He said: Ihsaq ibn al-Buhlul narrated to us: He said: I heard Ibn ‘Uyaynah say: “My eyes have not seen the like of Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:460)
Dr Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.”
It has been documented in earlier posts that it is authentically reported from Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah that he said about Abu Hanifah: “Allah have mercy on Abu Hanifah. He was from the worshippers (musallin), that is, he was one of many Salahs.” (source)
And: “Abu Hanifah was an honourable person, and he would perform [much] Salah from early in his life.” (source)
And: “The first to sit me down to narrate hadith was Abu Hanifah…When I entered Kufa, Abu Hanifah said to them [i.e. the Kufans]: ‘This is the most learned of them regarding [the hadiths of] ‘Amr ibn Dinar.’ Then the scholars (mashayikh) gathered around me, asking me about the hadiths of ‘Amr ibn Dinar.” (source)