His full name was Abu Hanifah Al-Numan ibn Thabit. He is one of the most influential and
celebrated personalities in the Muslim world. He was the founder of the first orthodox schools of
Islamic law, which became known after his name, the Hanifite. His brilliant use of reason and
systematic thought provided Muslim civilization with a coherent and applicable system of law.
Abu Hanifah was the grand son of Zuta who was a Kabul royalty. Zuta was a Tajik Zoroastrian
who converted to Islam. It is known that during the Arab invasion he was brought as a slave to
Kufa. Zuta was freed but he remained in Kufa and got in to the business of trading.
Although Abu Hanifah was born into a non-Arab family, he was no stranger to wealth. His father
was a successful merchant and following his father's path, he also became a successful merchant.
He won fame as a silk trader and cloth manufacturer. Like prophet Mohammad, the merchant
Abu Hanifah gained a reputation for his honesty and generosity. He endowed scholarships for
needy students and shared liberally with the poor.
Economic prosperity enabled Abu Hanifah to turn from business to scholarship. With a sharp
wit, a facile tongue, and a logical mind, Abu Hanifah was well fitted for the world of letters. For
a while, he pursued the study of theology. His primary interest, nurtured while he was yet a
merchant, was the problem of equity, establishing norms for a networks of right or just
relationships between human beings. As a devout Muslim, Abu Hanifah believed that ethical and
legal norms were given by God through divine revelation, the Koran. On the basis of the Quran
and the Hadith (a compendium of Islamic traditions), theologians, philosophers, and jurists
developed rules for just living. Abu Hanifah thus turned his energies to the sacred law (Sharia).
Living, as he did, in one of the great intellectual centers of the medieval Arab world, he was able
to study with a number of noted jurists, including Ata and Jafar al Sadiq, the founder of Shiite
law. For eighteen years, Abu Hanifah worked with one of the most brilliant of all Muslim jurists,
Hammad ibn Ali Sulayman.
Abu Hanifah's students remembered their master as a tall, stately an of very impressive
appearance. His demeanor was serious. Abu Hanifah had the bearing of a scholar, and an air of
piety permeated his every act. He was respected as a man of firm conviction, reasoned
conclusions, uncompromising integrity, and determined opinions. Because Abu Hanifah had
independent means, he was not in need of royal, private, or religious patronage. His wealth game
him the freedom to exercise his native virtues of fearlessness independence, and total disregard
for the opinions and rewards of the world.
Upon the death of his mentor, Hammad, in 738, Abu Hanifah emerged as the leading legal
thinker in Kufa and in much of the Muslim world. Because of his personal wealth, he was able
to devote himself entirely to teaching and research. Under no necessity to accept either private
donations or governmental appointment, Abu Hanifah had complete academic freedom. This
financial security ad his love of independence may explain, in part, why one of Islam's most
eminent jurists never sat on the bench as a Qazi ( judge). Like the Greek philosopher Plato, who
established his own Academy, Abu Hanifah attracted hi own students. Relatively free of
governmental pressures and of the burdens of a practicing attorney, Abu Hanifah could
concentrate on the theoretical foundations of Muslim law.
In his teaching, Abu Hanifah relied heavily on dialectic, lectures, and discussions with his
disciples. Nothing of his writings survived, however, his teachings were copiously recorded by
his students, among whom were his son Hammad and his grand son Ismail (both of whom
eventually became distinguished jurists); other disciples included such eminent thinkers as Abu
Yusuf and Ali Shyhant. Abu Hanifah's principal achievements as a teacher was twofold: He was
the founder of the systematic study of Islamic law and he was also the founder of a particular
school of jurisprudence, one named in his honor- the Hanifite school.
As a jurist, Abu Hanifah employed a variety of sources. He was able to draw on his own rich
experience asa merchant, a man of practical affairs. Reflected in his thought are his extensive
travels in the Muslim world. As one familiar with the many levels of a complex and
sophisticated society, Au Hanifah could discuss conditions of places as varied as the royal court
and business bazaar. In his formal legal work, Abu Hanifah, as an orthodox Muslim, accepted
two primary sources for Islamic law: the divine revelation, written in the Holy Quran and given
by God through the Prophet Muhammad, and the human tradition, reported in the Hadith, the
sayings passed down by the Muslim community from the time of Muhammad. The relationship
of Quran and Hadith was similar to that of Torah and Talmud in Judaism, for God spoke in the
Quran to man's conscience and in the Hadith to human intelligence. Abu Hanifah, however,
recognized the need for interpretation of these given authorities; for that reason, he was inclined
to accept other authorities. Perhaps these were in a very real sense "secondary" to the primary
sources, but since Muslim survival required interpretation and adaption, the supplementary
means became crucial in his thinking. Abu Hanifah allowed personal interpretation on the part
of the jurist. As the one closed to the case, the judge had t trust his own intelligence and
instincts, experience and evaluation. Believing all the truths to b ultimately related ( a corollary
of the belief that God is one), Abu Hanifah also permitted the notion of consensus, the
consideration of the majority opinion of the Muslim world. Some dispute later arose regarding
how Abu Hanifah intended such a consensus to be determined: was it the majority opinion of the
jurists, the educated classes, or the masses of Islam? Apparently, Abu Hanifah was envisioning
an implicit agreement among the intellectual elite of Islam, both past and present.
The major problem that Abu Hanifah faced as a jurist was the growing complexity and
confusion of Islamic law in his generation. For a century and a half, Islamic law had developed
unsystematically, without clear direction or a discernment of underlying fundamental principles.
Individual lawyers and judges had argued on the basis of specific situations and particular cases;
the result was that conflicting verdicts were being offered in various parts of the Muslim world.
Amid this cacophony of variant opinions, it was often impossible to arrive at either fundamental
principles or clear lines of direction for the law in the future. Abu Hanifah's great contribution-
one that was revolutionary in its implications- was to approach the law not situationally but
systematically. Many jurists had looked at particulars; Abu Hanifah determined to find
principles. Sifting through the vast legal writings of his time, Abu Hanifah sought universal
norms and standards that would be applicable regardless of time or place. By reviewing the
problems that had preciously been faced by Muslim jurists, Abu Hanifah also tried to anticipate
what cases might arise next and to speculate as to the proper approach to be followed.
In his work as a legal theoretician, Abu Hanifah evolved several main principles. First, the law
was to be studied systematically rather than situationally, rationally rather than empirically,
abstractly rather than concretely The purpose of such a study was to locate, beneath the welter of
contradictory decisions and traditions, the unifying principles of Islamic justice. Second, at all
times, Abu Hanifah looked for the way of moderation or the via media between extreme
positions ; like the legal sage of ancient China, Confucius, Abu Hanifah held to the philosophy
of the Golden Mean. Third, Abu Hanifah permitted the use of natural law, the findings of
reasons based on the physical and social sciences; this approach, as ancient as the Greek
philosophers Aristotle, allowed material not covered in the Quran or the Hadith to be employed
in court. God, Abu Hanifah believed, was the author of tow books; nature, as the Creator, and
Quran, as the Revealer. Fourth, Abu Hanifah put a balanced emphasis on various test of truth.
One was coherence, or internal logic, another was consistency with other known truth, and a
final was consequence, or the implications of an action or decision. Finally, as a rationalist, Abu
Hanifah trusted the role and rule of reason in all matters not resolved b the Quran or the Hadith.
In this respect, he was similar to the emperor Justinian I, the systematizer of Roman law, and to
Aristotle, the father of Greek philosophy and science. For Abu Hanifah, the law was not simply a
matter of external relationships between persons but also an issue of internal integrity ( within
the mind of the judge).
The work of Abu Hanifah within his life time was recognized as superior to that of his
contemporaries in four respects. First, he made the law wider than had been the case in existing
codes; it became not only more broadly based but also more universally applicable. Second, Abu
Hanifah made the law deeper, firmly grounding it in the judge's reason and experience and the
Muslim intellectual community's interpretation of Scripture, tradition, and nature. Third, Abu
Hanifah made the law higher: No longer accidental and incidental, it had become intensely
cerebra, theoretical, refined, and technical. Finally, the law had become narrower, for it now
rested on universal moral principles, applied through a rigorous process of reasoning.
Because of his brilliant intellect, Abu Hanifah also influenced the development of Muslim
theology. As a philosophical theologian, Abu Hanifah inclined toward a movement in his time
that was named Murjiism. This tendency emphasized the universal community of Islam,
upholding the unity of the fellowship (umma) against divisive or sectarian movements. It
focused on the confessional character of Islam as opposed to moralistic definition; Islam was
envisioned a the public confession of certain cardinal doctrines (God, revelation, prophecy)
rather than a society composed of ethically perfect persons. Moreover, the community was seen
as inclusive: if one professes the true faith, his actions, even his moral failures, cannot sever him
from the Muslim nation. In these respects, Abu Hanifah was an advocate of Muslim ecumenism
Apparently, Abu Hanifah tried to avoid political involvement. His century was a time of dynastic
upheaval in the Muslim world. There was a growing difference of opinion as to whether the
Muslim community should be led by a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad ( the
opinion of the Shiites, or partisans of Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law) or by a caliph, a successor
chosen from among the majority party ( the Sunnis) in Islam. Two rival caliphates came into
existence, the Umayyads (after 750 exiled to Spain) and the Abbasids (established in Baghdad).
It seems likely that Abu Hanifah had contempt for bot the Umayyads and the Abbasids. In spite
of his attempted neutrality, he was arrested and imprisoned. The circumstances surrounding his
death are not clear. One account insists that the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur( or possibly the
Umayyad governor of Kufa) asked Abu Hanifah to accept appointment as a judge; upon his
refusal, the jurist was flogged and imprisoned. Another version contends that Abu Hanifah's
family sympathized with the followers of Ali ( a tradition states that " Ali blessed his father and
his descendants"). In any case, it is known that Abu Hanifah died in Baghdad, Iraq, in 767, either
while still in prison or shortly after his release. His tomb, surmounted by a lovely dome erected
by admirers in 1066, is still a shrine for pilgrims.
Islamic law, along with that of the Romans and Anglo-Saxons on of the great systems of human
jurisprudence. The Hanifite school founded by Abu Hanifah was te earliest, and became the
most widespread, of the four schools of orthodox (Sunni) Islamic law. An appealing system of
justice, it has been influential in India Pakistan, Turkey, China, Central Asia, and much of the
Arab world. With a concern for equity as the chief goal of law, it has given the judge latitude to
exercise private opinion (ra'y) and to draw on natural law. Regarded as the most liberal or
tolerant of the Islamic legal systems, it stands in opposition to the position of the Hanbalite
school (the more fundamentalist persuasion, represented by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, who
accept only the Koran and the Hadith as sources of Muslim law). It is also a more moderate
system than the other two schools of Islamic law-the Malikite (prevailing in parts of North
Africa). As the pathfinder of Muslim law, Abu Hanifah ranks as one of the great jurists of Arab
civilization and one of the major legal philosophers of the entire human community.
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