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Imam Abu Hanifah       By Mr. Taher

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 and inclusivism.

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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