Imam al-A’zam Abu Hanifa’s (Alaihir raHma) full name was Nuʿman ibn Thabit ibn Zuta ibn Marzuban. He was born in Kufa in Iraq in 80 A.H. 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(Radiyallahu Anhum).He studied under great scholars in Kufa. In Basrah he studied under two great Taabi’ie scholars who had learnt Hadith under the Sahaba. In Makkah and Madina Munawwarah, he learnt under Sayyiduna Ata bin Abi Rabah and Sayyiduna Ikramah (radi Allahu Anhuma). When his teacher, Sayyiduna Hammad Basri (Alaihir raHma) passed away, Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa (Alaihir raHma) was 40 years old and he began teaching. He became very famous and travelled to many places.
A review of Islamic History reveals that when Almighty Allah grants any extraordinary scholar with His Divine Blessings, you can be sure that he would not have respite from distortions, slander and lies that are attributed against him. From amongst these scholars Imam Abu Hanifa(RA)‘s name comes at the top of the list that have been severely attacked by opponents. However, the credibility of Imam Abu Hanifa(RA), as like the other three Imams’ is accepted by scholars throughout Islamic History, which in itself is a very strong argument against the opponents of Imam Abu Hanifa. Unfortunately, today severe criticism has been launched against this great Imam, which is mainly due to either three factors:
This short paper will assist in clarifying the authentic image of Imam Abu Hanifa from Classical Muslim authorities, rather from the angle of those who befriended ignorance, enmity or jealousy. By the consensus (Ijm’a) of scholars, Imam Abu Hanifa(RA) was from amongst the senior mujtahids and no one has rejected this reality throughout history. A person can only be qualified as a mujtahid after he has gained mastery and expertise in the Noble Qur’an, Noble Hadith, the opinions of companions and other scholars, history, lexicography and analogy. After this rejecting the Imamat of Imam Abu Hanifa in hadith is nothing but skepticism and sheer ignorance.
Imam Abu Hanifa(RA) was born in 80A.H, living at a time when there were still some Sahabah (companions) alive. He saw the famous companion, Hadrat Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) and six other companions. He learnt Ahadith (Prophetic traditions) from a group of Tabi’un (successors) and spent most of his time in worship.
Imam Hafiz Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Dhahabi who mentions Imam Abu Hanifa in his book Tadhkirah al-Huffaz, a great book containing the names of notable Huffaz (memorizers of Hadith). Imam Dhahabi say’s:“Abu Hanifa, the great Imam (Imam al-A’zam), the jurist of Iraq, Nu’man ibn Thabit Ibn Zuta al-Taymi al-Kufi. He was born in 80 A.H. and saw Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with Him)….”
Imam Dhahabi not only says he is the Imam but declares he is the Great Imam (Imam al-A’zam), which in itself is clear how highly Imam Dhahabi held Imam Abu Hanifa in the field of Hadith.
*-“Hafiz is a person who is well informed about the conditions of the transmitters and chain of narrators and can evaluate reliability or weakness of the narrators of hadith in every generation just as he can ascertain strength and weakness in the ijtihad (personal reasoning) of other scholars. He is knowledgeable of terminology of hadith and ascertain nuances of expression in hadith literature with regard especially of Hadith”
It is interesting to note that in the introduction of the book Tadkirah Imam Dhahabi writes:“This is a review of those personalities whom I have judged to be reliable and the possessors of Prophetic knowledge, and those who could be consulted for their expertise in determining the authenticity or weakness (of narrations) and the reliability or weakness (of narrators)”
From the above it is quite clear that Imam Abu Hanifa did not only excel in the field of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Kalam (Theology) but also, rather he was an expert in the field of hadith.
In his books Siyar al-I’lam al-Nubala Imam Dhahabi writes:“Imam Abu Hanifa travelled specifically for the knowledge of Hadith.Indeed Imam Abu Hanifa studied and strived for hadith and excelled in it, particularly from 100 A.H. and after”
To briefly judge the vastness of the knowledge possessed by Imam Abu Hanifa in the field of hadith, let us take a quote from one of the most renowned Imams of hadith, Imam Mis’ar ibn Kaddim who states:“We studied hadith alongside Abu Hanifa and he surpassed us. We struggled to become ascetic and he overwhelmed us, and we studied fiqh together, and now you see the gems of his perfection”
Ameer-ul-Mo’mineen in Hadith , Abdullah Ibn Mubarak says: “I saw Mis’ar in the gathering of Abu Hanifa and he was asking questions and benefiting from him. Mis’ar said: I have not seen anyone more knowledgeable in Fiqh than Abu Hanifa”
It is very important to shed some light on the greatness of Imam Mis’ar ibn Kaddim. He was Hafiz-ul-Hadith and because of such extraordinary memory he possessed, Imam Sh’ubah used to call him “Mushaf” as quoted by Imam Dhahabi in Tadhkirah.
Imam Hafiz Abu Muhammad Ramahurmuzi one of the pioneers of Usool al-Hadith (Principles of Hadith) writes in his book al-Muhaddith al-Fasil a comprehensive book on the principles of hadith:“When Imam Shu’bah and Imam Sufiyan al-Thawri would differ regarding a hadith, they would say,“Take us to the Mizan (scale between right and wrong) Mis’ar”
It is interesting to note that both Imam Shu’bah and Imam Sufiyan al-Thawri are unanimously agreed upon by the Muslim authorities to be Ameer-ul-Mo’mineen in Hadith (The leader of all Muslims in the field of hadith). When two such great authorities are taking their issues regarding hadith from Imam Mis’ar ibn Kaddim then you can realise how well versed Imam was in the field of Hadith. However at the same time it shows the greatness of Imam Abu Hanifa(RA) because Imam Mis’ar ibn Kaddim himself admits that Imam Abu Hanifa surpassed them in all fields including the field of Hadith. Therefore Imam Abu Hanifa is the Grand Shaykh of Imam Shu’ah and Imam Sufiyan al-Thawri. When these two Imams regard Imam Mis’ar to be the scale of correctness of this science, then what will be the level of Imam Abu Hanifa?
Another great Muhaddith (Traditionist) who was the student of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Makki ibn Ibrahim who said regarding Imam Abu Hanifa:“He was the most knowledgeable in his time”
Imam Muwaffaq Makki quotes Imam Makki ibn Ibrahim who said:“Imam Abu Hanifa was an ascetic, a Scholar inclined towards the Hereafter, and the greatest Hafiz of his era” Imam Makki ibn Ibrahim was one of the outstanding students of Imam Abu Hanifa and an illustrious teacher of Imam Bukhari. Hafiz ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in his Muqaddima of commentary of Bukhari has categorised the teachers of Imam Bukhari into five categories and placed Imam Makki ibn Ibrahim in the highest category. He is also one of the teachers of Imam Bukhari in the 11 of the 22 thulathiyaat of Imam Bukhari. These are the highest chains of Imam Bukhari back to Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him) which only contains three narrators between Imam Bukhari and Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him). Out of these 22 hadiths, 11 have been narrated through Makki bin Ibrahim. Imam of such caliber is stating that Imam Abu Hanifa was the most knowledgeable of his time while knowing the likes of Imam Shu’bah ibn Hajjaj, Imam Malik, Imam Auza’ee, Imam Sufiyan Thwari, Imam Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Sufiyan ibn Uyanah, and many others were present. If the credibility of Imam Abu Hanifa is questioned then scholars are questionable because all their teachers have highly praised Imam Abu Hanifa and accepted his erudition in the field of all Islamic Sciences, because no scholar is free from criticism.
One of the greatest Shaykh’s of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal is Imam Yahya ibn Sa’eed Qattan who said regarding Imam Abu Hanifa:“This is no lie on our part, by Allah! We have not heard better opinion than Abu Hanifa, and we have followed most of his sayings”
Here I would like to quote an incident which has been quoted by Imam Nawawi who related on the authority of Ishaq al-Shahidli who says:“I would see Yahya bin Sa’eed Qattan pray the midafternoon prayer, then sit with his back against the base of the minaret of his masjid. Then Ali ibn al-Madini, Amr ibn Ali, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma’in, and others would stand before him and ask him questions about hadith standing on their feet until it was time for the sunset prayer. He would not say to a single one of them: “sit” nor would they sit, out of awe and reverence”
If scholars of such erudition in the field of hadith stand in front of Yahya ibn Sa’eed Qattan in such a manner because of his expertise and mastery in hadith, then what will be the level of Imam Abu Hanifa from whose religious edicts (fatwas), Imam Yayha ibn Sa’eed Qattan derives guidance?
Imam Yahya ibn Ma’in said:“Yahya ibn Sa’eed Qattan would turn towards the sayings of the people of Kufa and from that he would adopt the religious edict of Imam Abu Hanifa from the opinions of his companions”
Imam Yahya ibn Ma’in said:“I did not see anyone greater than Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah, it was said to him: ‘not even ibn Mubarak?’, He said: ‘Ibn Mubarak did posses virtue but I did not see anyone greater than Wakee’. He used to face the Qiblah and memorise hadith, stand in prayer at night and continuously fast during the day and he used to give religious edicts (fatwas) according to the opinions of Imam Abu Hanifa and he heard many hadith from him”
Imam Ibn Abdul al-Barr relates a saying of Imam Yahya ibn Ma’in who said:“I did not see anyone who I can give superiority over Wakee’, he used to give religious edict according to the opinion of Abu Hanifa, and he memorized all his hadith and he heard many hadith from him”
If the Imams of Hadith like Imam Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah, Yahya ibn Sa’eed Qattan and others who gave rulings according to the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifa accepted the greatness of Imam Abu Hanifa, then how can people of today criticise the great Imam? These are the Imams who have been taken as authority unanimously by all Imams of hadith and they exist in many chains of hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawud, Imam Tirmidhi, Imam Nisa’i, Imam Ibn Majah and other Imams of hadith.
Imam Hakim the compiler of al-Mustadrak ala Sahihain in his famous works Ma’rifat Uloom-ul-Hadith chapter 49 gives a list of famous Imams of hadith from various seats of Islamic learning like Madinah, Makkah, Egypt, Syria, Koofah, Basra, Yemen and other parts. While listing the Imams of hadith in Koofah he mentions Imam Abu Hanifa Nu’man ibn Thabit al-Taymi.In other words he testified to the greatness of Imam Abu Hanifa in the science of hadith.
Imam Shafa’ee highly praised Imam Abu Hanifa in the following words as quoted by various Imams:“I did not see anyone (i.e. come to know) more knowledgeable in fiqh than Abu Hanifa”.“Anyone who does not look into the books of Abu Hanifa will never excel in knowledge and fiqh”.“Anyone who wants to excel in fiqh then he should adopt the company of Abu Hanifa and his students, for indeed everyone is dependent upon Abu Hanifa in fiqh”
Abdullah ibn Mubarak who was Ameer-ul-Mo’mineen in hadith had great reverence for Imam Abu Hanifa and praised him abundantly in the following words as quoted by various Imams:“The most knowledgeable of people of fiqh is Abu Hanifa, I did not see anyone like in fiqh”
“I did not see anyone more intelligent than Abu Hanifa”
“If Allah Almighty had not rescued me through Abu Hanifa and Sufyan (al-Thawri), I would have been like the common people”
And in Manaqib Abu Hanifa of Imam Dhahabi relates it as:“I would have been an innovator”
With the great status possessed by Imam Abu Hanifa in the History of Islam in all fields of Islamic Sciences makes him independent of any individual validation from others. It is an established principle in Usool al-Hadith (Principles of Hadith) that an Imam whose scholarship and virtue are widespread then there is no need of validation.
Here I would like to quote a few Imams who testify to this established principle.
Imam Taj-ud-deen Subki, towards the end of his famous book, Jam’ul Jawaami’ on the principles of Fiqh, writes,
“We believe that Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’ee, Ahmad, the two Sufyaans, Auzaa’i, Ishaaq bin Rahwayh, Dawood Dhaahiri, Ibn Jareer and all the Imams of the Muslims are upon guidance from Allah in (matters of) Aqaa’id (beliefs) and other things. Those who speak ill of them (blame them) of that which they are free of are completely unworthy of receiving any attention. Verily, they were on such a level of divine knowledge, piety, worship, ascetism, and greatness, which the thought of even reaching is impossible”
Shaykh-ul-Islam Abu Ishaq Shiraazi Shafi’ee in his book, al-Luma’ fi Usool- al-Fiqh, states,
“And the crux of the matter in the science of Jarh’ (criticsm) and Ta’deel (validation) is that the Adaalah (Reliability) of the narrator is both famous and well known, or he is known as a Faasiq (open transgressor) or Majhool (unknown person). If his Adaalah (reliability) is known, such as the Sahabah, the senior Tabi’een such as Hasan Basri, ‘Ataa bin Abi Rabaah, Imam Sha’bi, Ibraheem Nakh’ee, or the Illustrious Imams such as Maalik, Sufyaan, Abu Hanifah, Shafi’ee, Ahmad, Ishaq, and those who tread their path, then it is wajib (necessary) to accept their narrations and it is not necessary to investigate their reliability.”
Hafiz ibn Salah, in his own words, has narrated the very same thing in his widely acclaimed book of Usool-ul-Hadith,“The one whose reliability is well known amongst the people of knowledge and praise of his trustworthiness becomes renowned, then this suffices as a witness to his Adaalah (reliability).”
People who launch an attack on this great Imam are in reality denying the sayings of authorities of Islam and the principles laid by the Imams of Usool-ul-Fiqh and Usool-ul-Hadith. It shows how ignorant the people have become in this day and age and quote statements without realising what the reality is. In fact this is a minor sign of the Day of Judgment as stated by Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him):“When the last ones of this Ummah curse the first ones”
Imams whose virtue, leadership and scholarship has been accepted throughout Islamic history are being criticized by illiterate and ignorant people due to their devious agendas, but who can degrade who Allah has raised?
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said: “There is absolutely no doubt regarding Imam Abu Hanifa’s knowledge. People later attributed many lies to Imam Abu Hanifa, which were all untrue. The aim and objective of such writings was to taint the image of Imam Abu Hanifa.”
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said that:“To leave this kind of discussion (talking about the Imams of the past) is better because al-Imam and his likeness have hurdled the bridge. The opinion of some is not effective in regards to others from them (some Imams in regards to others). Instead they are in the rank that Allah has raised them to in such a manner that they have been made leaders that are followed, this should be enough as a confirmation
You can also see that many scholars have praised and testified to the credibility, integrity, expertise and impeccability of Imam Abu Hanifa in the field of hadith that those who try to distort the image of the Great Imam will be left with no answers. How can Imam Abu Hanifa be the Shaykh of so many great Hadith scholars of the past and he himself is weak in the science of Hadith? This is nothing but a false claim against Imam Abu Hanifa.
May Allah Almighty guide the Ummah to Divine Guidance through the intermediation of the Holy Prophet (Blessings and Peace be upon him)….Aameen!