Imām Abū Ḥanīfah

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah is one of the four Imāms from the schools of Jurisprudence. He led the Hanafi school of Jurisprudence and is known as Imām al A’zam.

His Name, Background and Family

His full name is Abū Ḥanīfah al-Nuʿmān ibn Thābit, born 80 years after the Hijrah (699CE), during the reign of the Ummayad Khalifa Abd al-Malik in Kufa, Persia. He belonged to the Mawālī, the non-Arab Muslims who pioneered intellectual activity in Islamic lands.

He was called Abū Ḥanīfah, either because his daughter was called Hanifa or because he kept an ink pot with him all the time. He was raised in an Islamic and righteous environment, his father enrolled him in to Quranic memorisation at young age. He is also considered a Tabi’, there is a sound chain that he met Anas bin Malik in Basra and some weaker chains of meeting other Sahabah.

Along with Islamic education, he used to travel with his merchant father, and he quickly became a successful businessman. He continued to work as a silk merchant in the Kufan markets after his father died when he was 16 years old. He was a well-dressed, polite, and a honest businessman. He adhered to all Islamic business standards at all times. ‘You don’t learn true tawakkul (faith in Allah) until you run a business,’ he used to say. While working in the market, he overheard theological conversations, which piqued his interest in Islamic thought. He often would only listen, but sometimes get involved.

Journey to Sacred Knowledge

He was once approached by Imām Sha’bi, a well-known Imām in the town, who counselled him, “Do not live your life like a headless man, focus on obtaining good knowledge, sit within the madrasa, I see with you beneficial qualities.” Following this, the Imām began studying. His business was doing very well at this point, so he hired someone to manage it while he studied. The Imām was extremely proactive in ensuring that he self-funds his studies and does not rely on others. He also used to assist other families and students.

The Imām began his studies on credal matters as he lived in a turbulent city. Kufa was a city rife with socio-political frustration and many Islamic ideologies, like the Shi’, Khawaarij, Qadariyyah, the Mutazila and Ahlus Sunnah. As well as being challenged by Greco-Roman/Aristotelian philosophies. He soon mastered this science and led many debates. An example of a debate being:

A Christian once posed three questions: Where is Allah facing? What was before Allah? and What is Allah doing right now?

In his response to the first question, the Imām lit a candle and asked the man where the light of the candle was facing. As it faces all directions, so does the light of Allah.

In response to the second question, the Imām told him to count down from ten. Once he got one, he was encouraged to continue counting down after one. The man could not. Likewise, there is none before Allah.

In response to the third question, the Imām asked the man if he could sit in an elevated place to which the man said of course. The Imām said Allah has just disgraced the questioner by elevating the Muslim.

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah then started to study Fiqh under Imām Hammad ibn Ali Abi Suleyman, a senior scholar of Islamic Law, who took his knowledge from Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, who took it from Alqama, who took it from the Sahabi Abdullah ibn Masud. Each scholar was astute and righteous to the highest degree. Abdullah ibn Masud used to personally serve the Prophet ﷺ so was very observant of the Sunnah. He was also a master in Quran recitation and hadith collection, all knowledge which he passed down.

The Imām was a devout student, from sitting at the back of the class to sitting right by the teacher, from carrying his teacher’s shopping to being the one who delivered messages to his teachers’ private quarters. Once, whilst Imām Hammad was needed in Basra, the Imām took his seat, answering 60 questions from the people. Upon his teachers return, his teacher said he only agreed with 40 of them and explained his reasons for the other 20. The Imām was once again astounded by his teacher’s brilliance. During this period the Imām also sat with many other teachers from Makkah, Madina, Basra and Baghdad. When Imām Hammad died, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah was known as the scholar of Kufa at the age of 40. He now led the school.

By the time, the Imām was the head Imām , there was much confusion and only some codification of Islamic Law. So, the Imām with his council of 40 students, who in their own right were advanced scholars in all fields of Islamic sciences, began codifying Islamic law, each legal problem was discussed before formulating any doctrines. They started with taharah then salah, purity and prayer. A distinct practice of the school was to discuss hypothetical issues that might rise in the future. Due to this, the Hanafi school was sometimes erroneously denounced as the school of raʾy (independent opinion), as opposed to that of Hadith (authoritative tradition). As a group of scholars, they had considered 83000 juristic issues.

The methodology generally was to first look into the Quran. If no clear answer, then the Sunnah. If no answer then the statements of the Sahabah. If no answer or there was a conflict, the school discussed and agreed the most appropriate opinion. However, if no answer could still be found, then the Imām would exercise ijtihad and consult the inferences of other scholars like Ibrahim al-Nakha’i and Hasan al-Basri.

In terms of the scholars within the council, they were Imām Abu Yusuf, Imām Zufar, Imām Dawood Ta’i, Imam Yusuf bin Khalid, Imām Yahya bin Zakariyyah, Imām Muhammad and Imām Abdullah ibn Mubarak. With regard to this committee, Imām Waki’ who was the teacher of Imām Al-Shāfi’ī said: “How could there have remained any errors in this work of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah when he had with him experts of Hadith, experts of Tafsir, experts of Fiqh, experts in Arabic…. a person who has such people as companions cannot be wrong because there would always be someone to correct him if he erred.”

An example of his wisdom alongside his knowledge is that a large group of Khawārij once came to Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and said,

“There are two biers at the gate of the Mosque. One is of a drunkard who died drinking, the other of a woman who had gotten herself illicitly pregnant and too her own life in shame.”

“To which community did they belong? Were they from amongst the Jews?” he asked.

“No,” they said.

“Were they from amongst the Christians or fire-worshippers?”

“No,” they answered again.

“Then, to which community did they belong?” he asked.

“To the community which bears witness to the doctrine of Islam,” they replied.

“Is that one-third of the faith or one-fourth of faith?” he asked.

They said, “There is no one-third or one-fourth of faith.”

“After all, what part of faith is this bearing witness to the doctrine of Islam?” he said.

“The whole faith,” they said.

“When you yourself call them faithful, what is it you want of me?” he asked.

“We ask whether they would go to heaven or hell.”

He replied, “If you ask me that, I will say about them what the Prophet of God, Abraham, said about sinners worse than they, ‘Oh God, he who follows me is mine, and he who disobeys – Thou art the Forgiving, the Compassionate’, or what the Prophet of God, Jesus, said about sinners worse than they, ‘If You punish them they are Your creatures, and if You forgive them, Thou art All-powerful and wise’, or what the Prophet of God, Noah, said, ‘Their reckoning rests with God, would that you understood, and I do not wish to turn my back upon the believers.’”

In another case, there was a man who used to say Uthman ibn Affan was a Jew. Many people tried talking him out of such slander but this was to no avail. So, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah told the man he has a suitable proposal for his daughter, a good and righteous man. The man was ecstatic, but then was told the man is also a Jew. He replied, ‘how is it possible to marry my daughter to a Jew!?’ Imām Abū Ḥanīfah said, ‘If our Prophet ﷺ can give two daughters in marriage to a Jew, then why can’t you?’ The man instantly understood his slander against Uthman ibn Affan, the possessor of two lights (the two blessed daughters), was wrong and senseless. This is one of the ways how Imām A’zam dealt with his counterparts.


Sometime later Imām Abū Ḥanīfah supported the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali who began a revolt against the Caliph Hisham Abdul Malik. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah supported him financially. In response, one of the governors of Kufa attempted to keep Imām Abū Ḥanīfah loyal to the Umayyads by appointing the Imām as treasurer or the chief judge. Imām Abu Hanifa denied the appointment and was imprisoned and tortured. He was released with the ultimatum that he would either take the position or be subjected to another bout of torture. So Imām Abū Ḥanīfah fled to Makkah, and it was this time in the Hijaz that the two great Imāms, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Imām Mālik met one another.

Meeting of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Imām Mālik

Imām Mālik used to say, ‘Beware of the people of opinion.’ i.e., the Hanafis. When they met, they embraced each other and spoke about three topics.

The first topic was on dealing with hypothetical questions. The Malikis did not like to discuss hypothetical scenarios and used proofs from the Quran and Sunnah against them. Whereas the Hanafis constantly thought about hypothetical situations, approx. 60,000 situations were discussed. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah explained that Kufa is a cosmopolitan with people of many views as well as being a trade city so the scholars need to be prepared for the unknown. He asked Imām Mālik what would be the ruling of the marriage of a woman whose husband leaves the land for so long she thinks he has died and she remarries, then he returns. As this was a hypothetical situation Imām Mālik refused to answer. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah explained there are many military expeditions from Kufa, so it is a potential hypothetical question. Imām Mālik understood the reasoning. Both acknowledged the needs to ask such questions but also the matter of trivial questions. 

The second topic discussed was Ijma. Imām Mālik believed ijma should only be made by the people of Medina because they were the descendants of 10000 companions of the Prophet ﷺ. In reply, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah said during fath-Makkah there were 120000 companions, yet you mention only 10000, so where are all the others? Umar had sent many companions all around the Muslim world. Muadh Ibn Jabal in Yemen, Ali ibn Talib and Abdullah Ibn-Mas’ud in Kufa, Abu-Dhar, Zubair Ibn al-Awwam, and Sa’ad Ibn-Abi-Waqqas in Egypt, and Abu-Ubayda Ibn Jaraah, Bilal and Abul-Dardaa’ in Syria, etc. Again Imām Abū Ḥanīfah defended his position.

The third topic discussed was on the explanations of hadith. Imām Mālik kept it simple and literal whereas the Hanafis tried to extract more and more rulings. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah explained they need to study the hadith in depth to take new meanings as there are many opinions in Kufa, and they need to establish sound principles to answer other groups and non-Muslims.

After this, both Imāms departed, each leaving the other with love and respect. Sometimes later another reputable Imām , Imām Al-Layth Ibn-Sa’ad from Egypt asked Imām Mālik on Imām Abū Ḥanīfah, to which he said, ‘By Allah, Abu-Hanifa made me sweat. By Allah, he is a true jurist. I’ve never seen a man debating like that. By Allah, if he told you that this iron rod is made out of gold, he would convince you.’ Then he went to Imām Abu Hanifa and asked about Imām Mālik to which is said, ‘I have debated hundreds of men, but have never seen a man accept the truth as fast as him.’

Following these meetings, there were numerous times when the Imāms consulted each other by letter. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah sent Imām Abu Yusuf to study with Imām Mālik and later Imām Muhammad after the death of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah studied with Imām Mālik for three years. This shows appreciation and approval of Imām Mālik’s school.

Back to Kufa

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah stayed in the Hijaz for approximately six years. When the Umayyad’s were overthrown by the Abbasids, he returned to Kufa. The Imām said, ‘All Praise be to Allah who allowed the truth to arise from the family of the Prophet ﷺ and who took away the injustice of the oppression. We will be in support of you so long as you support the book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ.’ After the death of the Caliph, Al Mansur became Caliph and offered the Imām a role as Chief Judge. Once again, the Imām refused the offer. He was imprisoned and tortured.


Imām Abū Ḥanīfah died in 150 Hijri (769 AD) at the age of 70. He died due to deteriorating health, some say due to food poisoning. Six funeral prayers were prayed over him with the first one with over 50000 worshippers.

His Legacy

He is the earliest amongst the renowned four schools and now the largest school in the world is named after him.. He mastered multiples branches of the religion including theology, aqeedah (creed), fiqh (Islamic rulings), established fiqh principles and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ). Imām Abū Ḥanīfah was also a prolific orator and debater. The Prophet ﷺ was once sitting with the Companions and he put his blessed arm around Salman al-Farsi (RA), the Persian Companion. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Even if faith was left amongst the stars, one of this man’s descendants would grab it”. 1 The Scholars say this hadith was about Imām Abū Ḥanīfah.

He said that, if the kings knew of the happiness of the students of knowledge, that they would send an army and sanction them to snatch that away for themselves.

The honorific title al-Imām al-A’zam (“the greatest leader”) was granted to him by all scholars.

Notable Teachers

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah many teachers. He spent many years with the highly esteemed Imām of Kufa, Hammad ibn Abu Sulaiman as well as the Hadith scholar Ata ibn Abi Rabah whilst he went to perform Hajj. Another teacher was Imām Salim, son of Abdullah ibn Umar ibn Al Khattab and Ata Ibn Yasar Hilali, the freed slave of Maymuna bint Al Harith. The Imām also spent time with the Ja’far al-Sadiq.

Notable Students

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah had thousands of students. Imām Abu Yusuf, Imām Muhummad and Ibn Mubarak were the most famous students of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah had a council of 40 students who lived and studied in his academy. 28 of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah’s students became Qadi’s in different towns, cities and provinces and 8 became Muftis, capable of passing legal rulings according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

The 40 Students of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah in Hanafi School:

  1. Imām Zufar d.158AH
  2. Imām Mālik bin Mighwal d.159AH
  3. Imām Dawud Ta’I d.160AH
  4. Imām Mandil bin Ali d.168AH
  5. Imām Nadhar bin Abdul Karim d.169AH
  6. Imām Amr bin Maymoon d.171AH
  7. Imām Hiban bin Ali d.173AH
  8. Imām Abu Ismah d.173AH
  9. Imām Zuhayr bin Mu’awiyah d.173AH
  10. Imām Qasim bin Ma’n d.175AH
  11. Imām Hammad bin Abi Hanifah d.176AH
  12. Imām Hayyaaj bin Bistam d.177AH
  13. Imām Sharik bin Abdullah d.178AH
  14. Imām Afiyah bin Yazid d.180AH
  15. Imām Abdullah ibn Mubarak d.181AH
  16. Imām Abu Yusuf d.182AH
  17. Imām Muhammad bin Nuh d.182AH
  18. Imām Hushaym bin Bashir Sulami d.183AH
  19. Imām Abu Sa’id Yahya bin Zakariyyah d.184AH
  20. Imām Fudhayl bin Iyadh d.187AH
  21. Imām Asad bin Amr d.188AH
  22. Imām Muhammad bin Hasan as Shaybani d.189AH
  23. Imām Ali bin Mis’ar d.189AH
  24. Imām Yusuf bin Khalid d.189AH
  25. Imām Abdullah bin Idris d.192AH
  26. Imām Fadhl bin Moosa d.192AH
  27. Imām Ali bin Tibyan d.192AH
  28. Imām Hafs bin Ghiyath d.194AH
  29. Imām Waki’ bin Jarrah d.197AH
  30. Imām Hisham bin Yusuf d.197AH
  31. Imām Yahya bin Sa’id al Qattan d.198AH
  32. Imām Shu’ayb bin Ishaq d.198AH
  33. Imām Abu Mutee Balkhi d.199AH
  34. Imām Abu Hafs bin Abdur Rahman d.199AH
  35. Imām Khalid bin Sulayman d.199AH
  36. Imām Abdul Hamid d.203AH
  37. Imām Hasan bin Ziyad d.204AH
  38. Imām Abu Aasim Nabil d.208AH
  39. Imām Makki bin Ibrahim d.215AH
  40. Imām Hammad bin Dalil d.215AH

His works

The most famous is Fiqh al-Akbar, the great book of Fiqh. This was a book on Islamic Aqidah. This works influenced Imām Tahawi and Imām Maturudi.

He collected 40,000 Hadiths in Kitab al-Athaar. Imām Muhammad took this work and added some explanatory material and giving his opinion.

What others said about him

During the day he would teach people sacred knowledge and at night humble before Allah. Asad ibn Umar said “Most of the time, he used to recite the entire Quran in one Rak’at. His nightly crying, which could be heard outside his house invoked sympathy and pity of his neighbours.”

Imām Zufar said,“I have never seen a man more willing to listen to people’s concerns and advise them.” He would always visit the sick and pray the funeral prayer of the deceased. He understood Islam as a religion of service.

Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit al-Taymi, al-Imām Abū Ḥanīfah (d. 150), called “The Imām” by Abu Dawud, and “The Imām , one of those who have reached the sky” by Ibn Hajar, he is known in the Islamic world as “The Greatest Imām ” (al-imâm al-a`zam) and his school has the largest number of followers among the four schools of Ahl al-Sunna. He is the first of the four mujtahid Imāms and the only Successor (tâbi`i) among them, having seen the Companions Anas ibn Malik, `Abd Allah ibn Abi Awfa, Sahl ibn Sa`d al-Sa`idi, Abu al-Tufayl, and `Amir ibn Wathila.

Imām Al-Shāfi’ī said: “People are all the children of Abu Hanifa in fiqh, of Ibn Ishaq in history, of Malik in hadith, and of Muqatil in tafsîr.”

Al-Khatib narrated from Abu Hanifa’s student Abu Nu`aym that the latter said: “Muslims should make du`a to Allah on behalf of Abu Hanifa in their prayers, because the Sunan and the fiqh were preserved for them through him.

Al-Dhahabi wrote one volume on the life of each of the other three great Imāms and said: “The account of Abu Hanifa’s life requires two volumes.”

His son Hammad said as he washed his father’s body for burial: “May Allah have mercy on you! You have exhausted whoever tries to catch up with you.”

Like al-Bukhari and Imām Al-Shāfi’ī, he used to make 60 complete recitations (khatma) of Qur’an every Ramadan: one in the day, one in the night, besides his teaching and other duties.

Ibrahim ibn Rustum al-Marwazi said: “Four are the Imāms that recited the entire Qur’an in a single rak`a: `Uthman ibn `Affan, Tamim al-Dari, Sa`id ibn Jubayr, and Abu Hanifa.”

Ibn al-Mubarak said: “Abu Hanifa for a long time would pray all five prayers with a single ablution.”

Al-Suyuti relates in Tabyid al-Sahifa that a certain visitor came to observe Abu Hanifa and saw him all day long in the mosque, teaching relentlessly, answering every question from both the scholars and the common people, not stopping except to pray, then standing at home in prayer when people were asleep, hardly ever eating or sleeping, and yet the most handsome and gracious of people, always alert and never tired, day after day for a long time, so that in the end the visitor said: “I became convinced that this was not an ordinary matter, but wilâya (Friendship with Allah).”

Sufyan al-Thawri praised Abu Hanifa when he said: “We were in front of Abu Hanifa like small birds in front of the falcon,” and Sufyan stood up for him when Abu Hanifa visited him after his brother’s death, and he said: “This man holds a high rank in knowledge, and if I did not stand up for his science, I would stand up for his age, and if not for his age then for his Godwariness (wara`), and if not for his Godwariness then for his jurisprudence (fiqh).”

Ibn al-Mubarak praised Abu Hanifa and called him a sign of Allah. Both Ibn al-Mubarak and Sufyan al-Thawri said: “Abu Hanifa was in his time the most knowledgeable of all people on earth.”

Ibn al-Mubarak said: “If Allah had not rescued me with Abu Hanifa and Sufyan [al-Thawri] I would have been like the rest of the common people.” Dhahabi relates it as: “I would have been an innovator.”


  1. Muslim, 2546

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