Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Four Madhabs - The Hanafi School of Jurisprudence


The Founder: Imam Abu Hanifah RA (703-767 CE)

This madhab is named after its founding scholar, Abu Hanifah, whose actual name was Nu'maan Ibn Thaabit. He was born in Kufah, Iraq. His father was a silk merchant of Persian origin, who accepted Islam during the reign of the Khulafaa Ar-Rashideen (Righteous Caliphs). Imam Abu Hanifah began his earlier studies in the field of philosophy and dialectics known as "Ilm-Al-Kalaam", but after mastering its various disciplines, he left it and went into an in-depth study of Fiqh and Hadith. He chose as his main teacher, Hammad Ibn Zayd RA, who was among the greatest scholars of Hadith of his time.

Imam Abu Hanifah RA studied under his teacher for eighteen years. During this time he actually became qualified to teach, but instead remained as Hammad's student until the latter died in the year 742 CE.

After Hammad's death Imam Abu Hanifah RA took up the position of teacher at the age of forty and became the most outstanding scholar in Kufah. As such, he appeared to be a valuable prize to the Umayyad caliphs at that time. He was offered the position of Qadi (Judge) of Kufah, but he refused the post in spite of being physically beaten for his refusal by the Amir of Kufah, Yazid ibn Umar. Similarly, during the rule of the Abbasids, he also refused royal appointments, and for his refusal was consequently imprisoned in Baghdad by the Caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur (754-775 CE). He remained imprisoned until his death in 767 CE. Imam Abu Hanifah RA was considered among the minor Tabi'un (Students of the Sahabah), because he had met a few of the Sahabah RA and had related some Ahadith from them.


Imam Abu Hanifah RA based his teaching method on the principle of Shura (group discussion). He would present a legal problem to his students for scholarly debate and discussion and tell them to record its solution whenever they arrived at a unified position. Because of this interactive approach to making legal rulings, we could say that the Hanafi Madhab was as much a product of Imam Abu Hanifah's students' efforts as it was a product of his own efforts. They would also discuss on hypothetical problems and work out solutions, based on the principle of preparing for a problem before its occurrence. Because of their leaning towards hypothetical Fiqh which often introduced an issue with a question, "what if so and so happened?", they became known as the "What-Iffers" or Ahl-ar-Ra'i (the opinion people).


The early jurists of this Madhab deduced Islamic Laws from the following sources which are listed hereunder in the order of their importance:

1. The Noble Qur'an: They considered the Noble Qur'an to be the primary unquestionable source of Islamic Law. In fact it was used to determine the accuracy of the other sources. Accordingly any other source that contradicted the Holy Qur'an was considered inaccurate.

2. The Sunnah: The Sunnah was consulted as the second most important source of Islamic Law, but with some qualification as to its use. They stipulated that it was not sufficient that a Hadith be authentic (Sahih), but it had to be also widely known (Mashur) if it was to be used as a legal proof. This condition was laid down as a safeguard against false Ahadith which were cropping up frequently in that region where only a few notable Sahabah RA had settled ( e.g. Saiyidina Ali RA and Abdullah ibn Mas'ud RA).

3. Ijmaa of the Sahabah RA: Third in importance as a source of Islamic Law was the unanimous opinion of the Sahabah RA on any point of law not specified in the Most Holy Qur'an or the Sunnah. That is, Ijmaa of the Sahabah RA was precedence over the personal opinions of Imam Abu Hanifah RA and his students in their deduction of Islamic Law. The Hanafi Madhab also recognised the Ijmaa of Muslim scholars in any age as valid and binding on Muslims.

4. Individual opinion of the Sahabah RA: If there were different opinions among the Sahabah on a particular point of Islamic Law and no Ijmaa was subsequently formed, Imam Abu Hanifah RA would choose the opinion which appeared most appropriate to the case in question. In establishing this as a vital principle of the Hanafi Madhab, Imam Abu Hanifah RA again gave more weight to the opinions of the Sahabah RA than to his own. However, he did apply his own reasoning in a limited sense by choosing one of their various opinions.

5. Qiyas (Analogical deduction). Imam Abu Hanifah RA felt no obligation to accept the deductions of the students of the Sahabah (Tabi'un) in areas where no clear proof was available from any of the above mentioned sources. He considered himself equal of the Tabi'un and would make his own Ijtihad based on the principles of Qiyas which he and his students established.

6. Istihsaan (Preference). Istihsaan, in short, is the preference of one proof over another proof because it appears more suitable to the situation, even though the preferred proof may be technically weaker than the one it is preferred to. This may involve the preference of a Hadith which is specific over a general one, or it may even involve the preference of a more suitable law over the one deduced by Qiyas.

7. 'Urf (Local Custom): Local customs were given legal weight in areas where there were no binding Islamic customs available. It was through the application of this principle that various customs found in the multiplicity of cultures within the Islamic world entered the legal system and became mistakenly classified as Islamic.


The most famous of Imam Abu Hanifah's (RA) students were:

(a) Zufar ibn Al-Hudhayl RA (732-774 CE) - Zufar RA was one of those who followed Imam Abu Hanifah's example and refused to accept appointments as Qadi even though many attractive offers were made to him. He preferred to teach, which he did until he died at the age of 42 in the city of Basrah.

(b) Abu Yusuf Ya'qub ibn Ibrahim RA (735-795 CE) - Abu Yusuf RA was born into a poor family in Kufah. He studied Hadith extensively until he became a noteworthy Hadith scholar then studied Fiqh in Kufah for nine years under Imam Ibn Abi Lailaa RA (died 765 CE) whose father was a famous companion of Rasulullah SAW from Madinah. Abu Yusuf RA later studied under Imam Abu Hanifah RA for nine years, and when Imam Abu Hanifah RA died, he went to Madinah and studied for a short period under Imam Malik RA. Abu Yusuf RA was appointed chief judge of the state by the Abbasid Caliphs, Al-Mahdi (775-785 CE), Al-Hadi (785-786 CE) and Harun Ar-Rashid (786-809 CE). In his capacity as chief judge, he used to appoint judges for the various cities. Thus, in this way, he was indirectly instrumental in the spread of the Hanafi school of thought throughout the Muslim empire.

(c) Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan, Ash-Shaybaani RA (749-805 CE) - Imam Muhammad RA was born in Wasit, but grew up in Kufah. Like Abu Yusuf RA, his early studies were also in Hadith. He studied briefly under Imam Abu Hanifah RA until the latter's death, and then continued his studies under Abu Yusuf RA for three years. During this period he became one of the main narrators of Imam Malik's Hadith book - Al-Muwatta. Imaam Shafi'i RA was among the many scholars who later studied under Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan in Baghdad. Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan also accepted appointment as Qadi but soon gave it up because of the many compromises it demanded during that time, and returned to his teaching post in Baghdad.


Today, those who follow the Hanafi Madhab are found mostly in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam and to some extent Egypt and South Africa. When the Ottoman rulers codified Islamic Law according to the Hanafi Madhab in the nineteenth century CE and made it state law, any scholar who aspired to be a judge was obliged to learn it. As a result, the Madhab spread throughout the Ottoman Islamic State during the last part of the nineteenth century.

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