Abu Hanifah His Life
Method & Legacy By Mohammad Akram Nadwi
About Abu Hanifah
Abu Hanifah Nu c man ibn Thabit (d. 150 ah) is a towering figure in the early history of Islamic law. He was among the first to employ the recognized methods of legal reasoning in a consistent way, and to gather the legal dicta of his time into an organized corpus. The doctrine (madhhab) that developed in line with his style of reasoning became the most widely practised school of law in the Islamic world. This was due in part to its being favoured by the ruling dynasties of the most extensive, populous and enduring of the Muslim empires — the c Abbasids, the Ottomans and the Mughals. But in part also it was due to the excellence of the students whom he inspired and trained to carry on his work.
Abu Hanlfah was a genius, supremely proficient alike in analysis of detail and reflection on general principles. He combined his passion for knowledge of the religion (and for organizing that knowl¬ edge) with an ability 7 to nurture the same passion in others. He was both a researcher and a teacher, a theoretician and a practitioner of the law. Building on the achievement of his predecessors, he schooled his students in particular thoughts and a way of thinking them so that,
over time, his doctrine came to be identified with his name rather than the name of his city (Kufah). However, he could not have com¬ manded the authority that he did if he had not also been exemplary in self-discipline and piety and, as a man, warm as well as virtuous, as familiar to and loved by his neighbours as he was respected and admired by his fellow scholars.
What distinguishes Abu Hanifah from other geniuses in Islamic history is that his achievement still touches the everyday life of ordinary Muslims. Their faith requires them to conduct their worship and general affairs in accordance with God’s will as framed by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s teaching. But how, in practice, are they to know how to do that? It is through pioneers in Islamic law like Abu Hanifah that Muslims feel able to answer that question in a way that, because it carries authority, commands voluntary obedience and general acceptance. The alternative to authority is mere assertion, which can command acceptance only so long as it is supported by force of power. Abu Hanifah is famously one of the prominent warriors for the authority of the law set against the power of the state. He suffered imprisonment and whipping for refusing to serve in the new c Abbasid administration, to lend his authority to the decisions of the caliph. Power got its hollow victory in that the caliph, unable to break Abu Hanlfah’s will, succeeded in having him poisoned.
In the event, jailing him only added to the popularity on account of which the recently established c Abbasid imperial dynasty consid¬ ered Abu Hanifah a threat. People demanded to consult him even while he was in prison, and they were too many to be resisted. In later times, when the dynasty was secure and when learned Islamic scholars did accept positions within the state administration and so depended for their livelihoods upon the state, they still felt they had a duty to refuse to lend their authority to the will of the government if, by doing so, they would be contradicting or undermining the law. This dedication to the law, intermittently weakened by necessary and unnecessary compromises, is derived from the pattern of conduct established by Abu Hanlfah and other pioneers in the field. In epoch after epoch in the history of Islam, we find that it is the learned scholars of the law, even though few of them individually were of the same metde as Abu Hanlfah, who managed, collectively, to preserve the Islamic character of the society in spite of the state, in spite of armed schisms and factions, betrayals and rebellions from within, and invasions from abroad. Not until the period of European colonization — which systematically weakened the network of relationships that the system of education in the Islamic world depended on, and as a result of which there was a rapid decline in opportunities for adequate training and subsequent employment — not until then, did scholars of the law lose their status and authority in society.
Abu Hanifah His Life, Method & Legacy By Mohammad Akram Nadwi