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Abu Hanifa

Abu Hanifa

Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zūṭā ibn Marzubān (Arabic: نعمان بن ثابت بن زوطا بن مرزبان; c. 699–767), commonly known by his kunya Abū Ḥanīfa (Arabic: أبو حنيفة), or reverently as Imam Abū Ḥanīfa by Sunni Muslims, was a Persian Sunni Muslim theologian and jurist who became the eponymous founder of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, which has remained the most widely practiced law school in the Sunni tradition, predominates in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran (until the 16th century), Balkans, Russia, Chechnya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Muslims in India, Turkey, and some parts of the Arab world.

Some followers call him al-Imām al-Aʿẓam ("The Greatest Imam") and Sirāj al-Aʾimma ("The Lamp of the Imams") in Sunni Islam.

Born to a Muslim family in Kufa, Abu Hanifa is known to have travelled to the Hejaz region of Arabia in his youth, where he studied in Mecca and Medina. As his career as a theologian and jurist progressed, Abu Hanifa became known for favoring the use of reason in his legal rulings (faqīh dhū raʾy) and even in his theology. Abu Hanifa's theological school is claimed to be what would later develop into the Maturidi school of Sunni theology.


Family background

Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa in 80 AH, 77 AH, 70 AH, or 61 AH, during the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate. Most historians choose the latest view, 80 AH, in accordance with the principle of choosing the latest date death as this is for the purpose of caution.

But Mohammad Zahid Al-Kawthari, adjunct to the office of the last Shaykh Al-Islam of the Ottoman Empire, writes that the middle view, 70 AH, is supported by two facts the others aren’t. Firstly, Mohammad Ibn Makhlad Al-Attar considers the narration of Abu Hanifa’s son, Hammad, from Imam Malik Ibn Anas to be an example of an older man narration from a younger man. Secondly, Abu Hanifa was concerned with who should succeed Ibrahim Al-Nakhai after his death in 96 AH. Something that could only happen after Abu Hanifa was slightly older since it’s well known Abu Hanifa only cared about his religious studies after he was about 19. According to the view of Abu Hanifa being born in 80 AH, Abu Hanifa would have been 16.

His ancestry is generally accepted as being of Persian origin as suggested by the etymology of the names of his grandfather (Zuta) and great-grandfather (Mah). The historian Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi records a statement from Abu Hanifa's grandson, Ismail ibn Hammad, who gave Abu Hanifa's lineage as Thabit ibn Numan ibn Marzban and claiming to be of Persian origin. The discrepancy in the names, as given by Ismail of Abu Hanifa's grandfather and great-grandfather, are thought to be due to Zuta's adoption of the Arabic name (Numan) upon his acceptance of Islam and that Mah and Marzban were titles or official designations in Persia, with the latter, meaning a margrave, referring to the noble ancestry of Abu Hanifa's family as the Sasanian marzbans. The generally accepted opinion, however, is that most probably he was of Persian ancestry .

His grandfather, Zuta, may have been captured by Muslim troops in Kabul and sold as a slave in Kufa. There, he was purchased and freed by an Arab tribesman of the Taym Allah, a branch of the Banu Bakr. Zuta and his progeny thereafter became clients (mawali) of the Taym Allah, hence the sporadic references to Abu Hanifa as 'al-Taymi' (i.e. 'of the Taym Allah'). It is otherwise held that his family emigrated from Charikar north of Kabul to Baghdad in the eighth century. The Indian scholar Qazi Athar Mubarakpuri reports from the grandson of Abu Hanifa, who said, "By God, our family was never a slave to anyone and my grandfather Numan was born in 80 AH." Athar also suggests that Zuta had embraced Islam during the reign of Ali and was named Numan.

Early life and scholarship

There is scant biographical information about Abu Hanifa. It is generally known that he worked a producer and seller of "khazz", a type of silk clothing material. He attended lectures on jurisprudence by the Kufan scholar Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (d. 737). He also possibly learnt jurisprudence (fiqh) by the Meccan scholar Ata ibn Abi Rabah (d. c. 733) while on Hajj.

Abu Hanifa succeeded Hammad, when the latter died, as the principal authority on Islamic law in Kufa and the chief representative of the Kufan school of jurisprudence. Abu Hanifa gradually gained influence as an authority on legal questions, founding a moderate rationalist school of Islamic jurisprudence that was named after him.

Adulthood and death

In 763, al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph offered Abu Hanifa the post of qadi al-qudat (chief judge of the state), but he declined the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Abu Yusuf was later appointed to the post by Caliph Harun al-Rashid.

In his reply to al-Mansur, Abu Hanifa said that he was not fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abu Hanifa of lying.

"If I am lying," Abu Hanifa said, "then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qadi (Judge)?"

Incensed by this reply, the ruler had Abu Hanifa arrested, locked in prison and tortured. He was never fed nor cared for. Even there, the jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him.

On 15 Rajab 150, (August 15, 767) Abu Hanifa died in prison. The cause of his death is not clear, as some say that Abu Hanifa issued a legal opinion for bearing arms against al-Mansur, and the latter had him poisoned. The fellow prisoner and Jewish Karaite founder, Anan ben David, is said to have received life-saving counsel from Abu Hanifa. It was said that so many people attended his funeral that the funeral service was repeated six times for more than 50,000 people who had amassed before he was actually buried. On the authority of the historian al-Khatib, it can be said that for a full twenty days people performed funeral prayers for him. Later, after many years, the Abu Hanifa Mosque was built in the Adhamiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad. Abu Hanifa also supported the cause of Zayd ibn Ali and Ibrahim al Qamar both Alid Zaydi Imams.

The tomb of Abu Hanifa and the tomb of Abdul Qadir Gilani were destroyed by Shah Ismail of the Safavi Empire in 1508. In 1533, Ottomans conquered Baghdad and rebuilt the tomb of Abu Hanifa and other Sunni sites.



Yusuf ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Mizzi listed 97 hadith scholars who were his students. Most of them were famous hadith scholars, and their narrated hadiths were compiled in the Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and other famous books of hadith. Imām Badr al-Din al-Ayni included another 260 students who studied Hadith and Fiqh from Abu Hanifa.

His most famous student was Imām Abu Yusuf, who served as the first chief justice in the Muslim world. Another famous student was Imām Muhammad al-Shaybani, who was the teacher of the Shafi‘i school of jurisprudence founder, Imām Al-Shafi‘i. His other students include:

  1. Abdullah ibn Mubarak
  2. Abu Nuāim Fadl Ibn Dukain
  3. Malik bin Mighwal
  4. Dawood Taa’ee
  5. Mandil bin Ali
  6. Qaasim bin Ma’n
  7. Hayyaaj bin Bistaam
  8. Hushaym bin Basheer Sulami
  9. Fudhayl bin Iyaadh
  10. Ali bin Tibyaan
  11. Wakee bin Jarrah
  12. Amr bin Maymoon
  13. Abu Ismah
  14. Zuhayr bin Mu’aawiyah
  15. Aafiyah bin Yazeed

Sources and methodology

The sources from which Abu Hanifa derived Islamic law, in order of importance and preference, are: the Qur'an, the authentic narrations of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (known as hadith), consensus of the Muslim community (ijma), analogical reasoning (qiyas), juristic discretion (istihsan) and the customs of the local population enacting said law (urf). The development of analogical reason and the scope and boundaries by which it may be used is recognized by the majority of Muslim jurists, but its establishment as a legal tool is the result of the Hanafi school. While it was likely used by some of his teachers, Abu Hanifa is regarded by modern scholarship as the first to formally adopt and institute analogical reason as a part of Islamic law.

As the fourth Caliph, Ali had transferred the Islamic capital to Kufa, and many of the first generation of Muslims had settled there, the Hanafi school of law based many of its rulings on the prophetic tradition as transmitted by those first generation Muslims residing in Iraq. Thus, the Hanafi school came to be known as the Kufan or Iraqi school in earlier times. Ali and Abdullah, son of Masud formed much of the base of the school, as well as other personalities from the direct relatives (or Ahli-ll-Bayṫ) of Moḥammad from whom Abu Hanifa had studied such as Muhammad al-Baqir. Many jurists and historians had reportedly lived in Kufa, including one of Abu Hanifa's main teachers, Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman.

Generational status

Abu Hanifa is regarded by some as one of the Tabi‘un, the generation after the Sahaba, who were the companions of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. This is based on reports that he met at least four Sahaba including Anas ibn Malik, with some even reporting that he transmitted Hadith from him and other companions of Muhammad. Others take the view that Abu Hanifa only saw around half a dozen companions, possibly at a young age, and did not directly narrate hadith from them.

Abu Hanifa was born 67 years after the death of Muhammad, but during the time of the first generation of Muslims, some of whom lived on until Abu Hanifa's youth. Anas bin Malik, Muhammad's personal attendant, died in 93 AH and another companion, Abul Tufail Amir bin Wathilah, died in 100 AH, when Abu Hanifa was 20 years old. The author of al-Khairat al-Hisan collected information from books of biographies and cited the names of Muslims of the first generation from whom it is reported that the Abu Hanifa had transmitted hadith. He counted them as sixteen, including Anas ibn Malik, Jabir ibn Abd-Allah and Sahl ibn Sa'd.


He attained a very high status in the various fields of sacred knowledge and significantly influenced the development of Muslim theology. During his lifetime, he was acknowledged by the people as a jurist of the highest calibre.

Outside of his scholarly achievements, Abu Hanifa is popularly known amongst Sunni Muslims as a man of the highest personal qualities: a performer of good works, remarkable for his self-denial, humble spirit, devotion and pious awe of God.

His tomb, surmounted by a dome erected by admirers in 1066 is still a shrine for pilgrims. It was given a restoration in 1535 by Suleiman the Magnificent upon the Ottoman conquest of Baghdad.

The honorific title al-Imam al-A'zam ("the greatest leader") was granted to him both in communities where his legal theory is followed and elsewhere. According to John Esposito, 45% of all Muslims follow the Hanafi school.

Abu Hanifa also had critics. The Zahiri scholar Ibn Hazm quotes Sufyan ibn `Uyaynah: "[T]he affairs of men were in harmony until they were changed by Abù Hanìfa in Kùfa, al-Batti in Basra and Màlik in Medina". Early Muslim jurist Hammad ibn Salamah once related a story about a highway robber who posed as an old man to hide his identity; he then remarked that were the robber still alive he would be a follower of Abu Hanifa.

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Connection with the family of Muhammad

As with Malik ibn Anas (who was a teacher of Imam al-Shafi'i,: 121  who in turn was a teacher of Sunni Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal), Imam Abu Hanifa was a student of Ja'far al-Sadiq, who was a descendant of the Islamic Nabi (Prophet) Muhammad. Thus all of the four great Imams of Sunni Fiqh are connected to Ja'far from the Bayt (Household) of Muhammad, whether directly or indirectly.

In one hadith, Abu Hanifa once said about Imam Ja'far: "I have not seen anyone with more knowledge than Ja'far ibn Muhammad." However, in another hadith, Abu Hanifa said: "I met with Zayd (Ja'far's uncle) and I never saw in his generation a person more knowledgeable, as quick a thinker, or more eloquent than he was."

Opposition to deviations in belief

Imam Abu Hanifa is quoted as saying that Jahm ibn Safwan (d. 128/745) went so far in his denial of anthropomorphism (Tashbih) as to declare that 'God is nothing (Allah laysa bi shay')'. And Muqatil ibn Sulayman's extremism (d. 150/767), on the other side, likened God with His creatures.

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated in his Tarikh Baghdad (History of Baghdad) that Imam Abu Hanifa said:

Two groups of the worst of people are from Khurasan: the Jahmiyyah (followers of Jahm ibn Safwan) and the Mushabbihah (antropomorphists), and he probably said (instead of Mushabbihah) "Muqatiliyyah" (followers of Muqatil ibn Sulayman).


Confusion regarding Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar

The attribution of Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar has been disputed by A.J. Wensick, as well as Zubair Ali Zai.

Other scholars have upheld that Abu Hanifa was the author such as Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari, al-Bazdawi, and Abd al-Aziz al-Bukhari.

Past Scholar, Ibn Abil-'Izz Al-Hanafi even attributed the book to Abu Hanifa

Scholars such as Mufti Abdur-Rahman have pointed out that the book being brought into question by Wensick is actually another work by Abu Hanifa called: "Al-Fiqh Al-Absat".



  • Schacht, J. (1960). "Abu Hanifa". In Gibb, H. A. R.; Kramers, J. H.; Lévi-Provençal, E.; Schacht, J.; Lewis, B. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume I: A–B. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 123–124. OCLC 495469456.

Further reading

  • al-Quduri, Ahmad ibn Muhammad (2010). Mukhtasar al-Quduri. Translated by Tahir Mahmood al-Kiani (First ed.). Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd. ISBN 978-1842001189.
  • Nu'mani, Shibli (1998). Imām Abū Ḥanīfah – Life and Works. Translated by M. Hadi Hussain. Islamic Book Service, New Delhi. ISBN 81-85738-59-9.
  • Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, Imam Abu Hanifa's Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar Explained


  • Abū Ḥanīfah: Muslim jurist and theologian, in Encyclopædia Britannica Online, by Zafar Ishaq Ansari, The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Thinley Kalsang Bhutia, Surabhi Sinha and Adam Zeidan

External links

  • The Life of Imam Abu Hanifa Biography at Lost Islamic History.
  • Imam Abu Hanifa by Jamil Ahmad.
  • Al-Wasiyyah of Imam Abu Hanifah Translated into English by Shaykh Imam Tahir Mahmood al-Kiani.
  • Book on Imam e Azam Abu Hanifa (Urdu)
  • Abu Hanifa on Muslim heritage
  • Imām Abū Ḥanīfah By Shiekh G. F. Haddad
  • Some teachers and students of Imam Abu Hanifa

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Abu Hanifa by Wikipedia (Historical)