The glorious period of the Caliphate Rashida lasting 30 years will go down in the history of mankind as the most successful experiment of democratic rule in the world, in which there was hardly any distinction between the ruler and the ruled. Notwithstanding his being the Head of the mightiest Empire of his time, Umar the Great refused to taste wheat unless it was available to every citizen of his vast dominions. This golden epoch of Islamic democracy was, however, shortlived and the evil forces which lay dormant under the exemplary rule of the Iron Caliph raised their head during the reign of Yazid. The noble descendants of the Prophet had to make supreme sacrifice without precedent in history in order to hold aloft the banner of truth and virtue in the world. Brutal political persecution of his opponents started by Yazid, was relentlessly continued by tyrant Hajjaj bin Yusaf. Even such venerable persons as Hasan Basri and Anas bin Malik could not escape the wrath of the Umayyad rulers and their lieutenants. The two and half year’s rule of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, who endeavored to revive the traditions of his maternal grandfather Farooq-e-Azam, was only a glimmer in the vast gloom of evil, which at last prevailed over it.
In such a dark atmosphere was born Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa who valiantly braved the persecution by the ruling class and never budged from the right path.
Abu Hanifa Al-Numan ibn Tabit, the greatest authority on Muhammadan canon law, was born in Kufa in 80 A.H. (699 A.C.), in the reign of Abdul Malik bin Merwan. He was a non-Arab of Persian extraction. His grandfather, Zauti, embraced Islam and presented Tabit, his son, to Hazrat Ali, who prayed for the glorification of his family which ultimately took shape in the form of Imam Abu Hanifa, The Imam saw the reign of ten Umayyad Caliphs including that of Umar bin Abdul Aziz who ruled when the Imam was eighteen years of age. He also saw two Abbaside Caliphs Saffah and Mansoor. The notorious tyrant Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the great persecutor of Muslims died when Imam Abu Hanifa was 15 years of age.
During his childhood, Hajjaj was the Umayyad viceroy of Iraq. The venerable Imams and religious leaders who wielded great influence with the Arabs were made the main targets of his persecutions. Primarily occupied with his commercial occupations during the Caliphate of Waleed, the Imam paid little attention to education. But during the reign of Sulaiman, when education the pupils assembled round him with pen and paper carefully took down the notes. Imam Abu Hanifa had learnt Hadiths from more than four thousand persons.
It redounds to the credit of Imam Abu Hanifa that he left behind the greatest number of pupils in the world of Islam, including Qazi Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad, Hafiz Abdur Razzaq, Abdullah bin Al Mubarak, Abu Neem Fazal, and Abu Asim who acquired great fame in their days. Qazi Abu Yusuf rose to be the Grand Qazi of Abbaside Caliphate during the time of Haroon-ar-Rashid.
Imam Abu Hanifa was deeply impressed by the reformatory ideas of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, who had, to a great extent, revived the pristine glory of Islam.
The principal occupation of Imam Abu Hanifa was business. He carried on a flourishing trade of textile goods. His success in commercial enterprises was largely due to his absolute honesty in business transactions. He was so much trusted by all that even non-Muslims deposited their wealth with him. He did not believe in excessive profits and never tolerated to earn money through illegal and questionable means.
Once he sent a few pieces of cotton goods to one Hafs bin Abdur Rahman with a word that some of the pieces were defective of which the customer should be apprised. Hafs forgot to do so and disposed of all the pieces. This deeply shocked the Imam who by way of atonement gave away the entire sum amounting 30 thousand dirhams in charity.
Once a woman brought to him a piece of Haz (costly cloth) for disposal. She demanded hundred dirhams as its price. She was wonderstruck with his honesty when he paid her five hundred dirhams for the piece.
The prices of commodities kept in his shop were fixed. Once in his absence, some of his pupils unknowingly sold certain articles at relatively higher prices. When he learned about it on return, he resented it very much, saying they had cheated the customer. Meanwhile, the customer who was an inhabitant of Medina had left Kufa. It is stated that the Imam himself undertook a journey to Medina and paid him the balance.
Contrary to the general tendencies prevalent among the wealthy class of people, Imam Abu Hanifa was exceedingly kind-hearted. It is stated on the authority of celebrated mystic saint Shafiq Balkhi that once while he was accompanying Imam Abu Hanifa they sighted a person who suddenly turned to another lane. Thereupon the Imam called him out why he was turning to the other side. The man stopped; he was in a flurry of spirits. On being accosted, he said that he could not face the Imam as he owned him ten thousand dirhams which he could not afford to pay back. Being deeply moved, the Imam, told the debtor that he need not bother to pay him back. Not only that, he apologised to the borrower for causing him so much distraction. Such was the humanitarianism of our Imams, which is unparalleled in the annals of the world.
The Imam was very popular among the masses who loved and respected him. This greatly irritated and upset the lieutenants of the Umayyad Government, who hired hooligans in order to tease and malign him. Once a mercenary hoodlum intruded in the social gathering of the Imam and began to criticise and abuse him. His pupils wanted to oust him forcibly, but he prevented them from doing so. When he started for home, the hooligan followed him and went on abusing him to the very doorsteps of his house. Halting at the gate, he addressed him, “Brother, I am entering my house; you will not be able to get in. Please abuse me to your heart’s content before I step in.”
The Imam was very much annoyed with a drunkard neighbour, who used to call names the whole night in a drunken state. His neighbours were fed up with his objectionable behaviour. One day, the police caught hold of him and put him behind the bars. In the evening, when the Imam got back home, he inquisitively asked as to why the drunkard had assumed silence. On learning that he was imprisoned for his misbehaviour, he at once called on the Governor who was taken aback at the unexpected visit of the Imam. The Imam apprised him of the whole matter and secured the release of the drunkard on his surety. On being free, the Imam said to the drunkard, “Brother, we do not want to lose you at any cost.” The drunkard was so much struck with the angelic behaviour of the Imam that he abstained from wine forever and became one of the famous pupils of the Imam.
The powerful Umayyad and Abbaside rulers tried to win his favour, but he always kept away from them. He scrupulously avoided association with corrupt and tyrannical administrators. Mansur, the Abbaside Caliph, once offered him a high sum as a gift which he declined, saying that it was repugnant for him to share the money of Baitul Mal which was public property and should go to the needy.
Mansur offered him the high post of Grand Qazi of his vast Empire, bluntly replied, “Supposing a complaint is lodged against you in my court and you want it to be decided in your favour, otherwise I would be thrown into the river: then please rest assured that I would prefer to be drowned in the river rather than tamper with justice.” This outspoken curt reply of the Imam silenced the Caliph for the time being.
Imam Abu Hanifa possessed exceptional qualities of head and heart. He could never be purchased or cowed down by the ruling power. Ibn Hubaira, the Umayyad Governor of Kufa, once requested him to pay him occasional visits for which he would be highly grateful to him. Since he abhorred corrupt rulers, he frankly replied, “Why should I meet you? If you favour me, I would be associating myself with your evil. If you persecute me you would add to my insults. I do not aspire for any position or wealth, Whatever God has given me am content with it.”
There had been some dispute between the Abbaside Caliph Mansur and his wife Hurra Khatun. The Khatun wanted the matter to be referred to Imam Abu Hanifa. The Imam was summoned by the Caliph and his wife also sat behind the curtain; The Caliph asked the Imam, “How many wives at a time are allowed in Islam?” The Imam replied, “Four.” Mansur cried out to his wife, “Did you listen what the Imam said? The Imam at once said, “But this is subject to one condition. A man is empowered to marry more than one provided he is capable of doing equal justice to all of his wives.” The last part of Imam’s reply went against the interests of the Caliph. On reaching home in the evening he found a man waiting for him with a bag of guineas and a letter of thanks from the wife of the Caliph. The Imam returned the money with the remarks that it was his duty to speak the truth without any fear or favor.
The Imam lost his father in his childhood, but his mother survived till his old age. He respected and served her devotedly.
Yazid bin Umar bin Hubaira, Governor of Kufa, during the Caliphate of Merwan II, persuaded the Imam to accept some respectable job in the Government which he refused. The Governor swore that he would have to do his bidding, but the Imam stuck to his words. Thereupon he was put behind the bars and was flogged every day under orders of the Governor. He was released after a few days and left Kufa for Hejaz where he stayed for 24 years until the Umayyad Caliphate was replaced by the Abbasids.
Hakam, son of Hisham, the Umayyad Caliph, once said, “Our Government offered two alternatives to Imam Abu Hanifa-either to accept the keys of our treasuries or to get his back flogged, but the Imam preferred the latter.”
The Imam pinned rosy hopes on the Abbaside Caliphate. On the accession of Safah, the 1st Abbaside Caliph he had returned to his native town Kufa from Hejaz. But soon he was disillusioned for the Abbasids, turned out to be equally bad, if not worse for him. They stepped up his persecution. On transferring his Capital from Hashmiya to Baghdad, Mansur, the second Abbaside Caliph offered him the post of Grand Qazi. The Imam flatly declined it saying that he was not fit for it. The Caliph indignantly shouted, “You are a liar.” The Imam retorted, “You have upheld my contention. A Liar is unfit for the post of a Qazi.” The Caliph became non-plussed and swore that he would have to accept the post of the Grand Qazi. The Imam too swore that he would not. The whole Durbar wondered at the boldness of the Imam. Rabi, a courtier explained, “Abu Hanifa, you have taken the oath of allegiance to the Amirul Momineen.” The Imam promptly replied, “But it is easier for the Caliph to compensate for his oath.”
There upon the Imam was thrown into a dark prison in 146 A.H. There he was poisoned. Under the effect of poison, he prostrated in prayer and died. The news of his death soon spread throughout Baghdad. The whole citizenry came out to pay their last homage to their greatest Imam. More than fifty thousand people participated in his first funeral prayer. His funeral prayer was offered six times. According to the historian “Khatib, the funeral prayers of the Imam were offered for twenty days after his burial. Commenting on his death”, Sheba bin Hajjaj said, “Night has settled over Kufa.”
His grave for a long time was a place of pilgrimage for the Muslims. Sultan Alp Arslan Suljuki built a tomb over it as well as an attached school to it. Ibn Batuta, the celebrated explorer of Asia saw this school when he visited Baghdad and was highly impressed by its good management as well as its boarding facilities.
Imam Abu Hanifa has the distinction of being the greatest legist of Islam. Being the highest authority of Islamic canon law, his disciples and followers from a majority in the Islamic world. He has left behind him three works namely (1) Fiqh Akbar, (2) Al Alim Wal Mutaam, and (3) Musnad. Figh Akbar is a brief magazine, which is very popular.
He founded a body of intellectuals, of which he was the President, to counsel on the codification of Islamic doctrines and to transform the Islamic Shariat in the form of law. According to Khwarizmi, “The number of sections of Islamic law framed by him is more than 83 thousands of which 38 thousands are related to religious matters and 45 thousands dealt with worldly affairs.”
Though the Imam has not left behind any collection of Hadith, he occupies a high place as a Muhaddis. Imam Malik is the author of ‘Muwatta, a book of Hadith which is well-known in the Islamic world. Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal was also a celebrated Muhaddis of his time.
The exponents of Hadith (Muhaddis) were divided in two groups-Those who collected the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) from various sources and those who critically examined the authenticity of those sources and interpreted them according to their knowledge. The second group was called the Mujtahid and Imam Abu Hanifa belonged to this group. The Imam was the greatest legist of Islam who gave a sounder basis to Fiqh. Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik have laid down similar conditions for appraising the authenticity of Hadith. It is said that Muwatta, the celebrated work of Imam Malik originally contained more than ten thousand Hadith, but the number of Hadith was reduced to seven hundred only on subsequent revision of the book by Imam Malik. Once Imam Shafii said, “Hazrat Abu Bakr had reported only seventeen Hadith from the Prophet, Hazrat Umar reported about fifty, Hazrat Usman and even Hazrat Ali who was so closely related to the Prophet had reported very few Hadith.” The Hadith which are against commonsense should not be accepted. This was the criterion which Imam Jozi in the 6th century A.H., followed for distinguishing between authentic and non-authentic Hadith. During the time of Imam Abu Hanifa too much reliance on commonsense for distinguishing between the authentic and non-authentic Hadith was resented, but the Imam followed this principle to a great extent and during the later centuries his principles were universally accepted.
Imam Abu Hanifa has left behind scores of wise sayings some of which are as follows :
(1) No person has sustained greater loss than that whose learning could not restrain him from indulging in vices.
(2) A person who talks of religion and does not think that he will have to account for what he says, does not know the meaning of religion and his conscience.
(3) If the religious people are not the friends of God then God has no friends in this world.
(4) A person who attains knowledge for the benefit of the world, his knowledge does not take root in his heart.
5) To have learned discourses with a person who has no sense of knowledge is to annoy him unnecessarily.
The greatest contribution of Imam Abu Hanifa is to Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. He is the most outstanding legist of Islam, whose Fiqh Hanafi is followed by the majority of Muslims of the world, including those of Turkey, Egypt, Turkistan, Afghanistan, and Indo-Pakistan sub-continent. He rejected most of the traditions as untrue and relied solely on the Quran. By ‘analogical deductions’ he endeavored to make the simple Quranic verses applicable to every variety of circumstances. Writing in “The Spirit of Islam”, Ameer Ali, the celebrated historian says: “He was a speculative legist, and his two disciples, Abu Yusuf, who became Chief Qazi of Baghdad under Harun, and Muhammad Ash-Shaibani, fixed Abu Hanifa’s conception on a regular basis.”
The Imam occupies the same place in Fiqh which Aristotle occupies in Logic. Actually he formulated the Islamic jurisprudence in a scientific manner. Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi has written a fine article describing the history of Fiqh. According to him, the Companions of the Prophet of Islam never enquired from him about his action. Ibn Abbas says that the associates of the Prophet did not ask the explanation of more than 13 doctrines from the Prophet during his lifetime. The Prophet was scrupulously and faithfully followed by his Companions. After the death of the Prophet, the conquests of the Arabs spread over the three continents and new problems in religious matters cropped up, which had to be solved through the commonsense of the learned Muslims.
The Hanafi Fiqh being too liberal and practical soon gained much popularity among the masses. It also received the patronage of Abbaside, Seljuki, and other Muslim ruling dynasties. The pupils of the Imam, who held important posts of Qazi during the Abbaside Caliphate also immensely contributed to its propagation.
Besides the above, there are other inherent factors which made Hanafi Fiqh, so popular among Muslim masses as well as among the intelligentsia. The secret of its popularity lies in its being more rational, intelligible, liberal, and universally applicable.