The following are a selection of some of the sayings of the scholars of the salaf regarding the expansive knowledge of Imam Abu Hanifah:
1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal reported to us: Al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Isma‘il ibn Muhammad al-Farisi narrated to us: I heard Makki ibn Ibrahim mention Abu Hanifah and say: “He was the most learned of the people of his time.” (kana a’lama ahli zamanihi) (Tarikh Baghdad 15:473)
The narrators are all trustworthy: Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali Abu Muhammad al-Khallal (352 – 439) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 8:454); ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr ibn Sahl Abu l-Husayn al-Hariri (292 – 380) is thiqah according to al-‘Atiqi (Tarikh Baghdad 13:470); ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn Abu l-Qasim al-Nakha‘i known as “Ibn Kas” (d. 324), a Hanafi, and a shaykh of al-Daraqutni and Ibn Shahin, is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:540); Isma‘il ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Kathir, Abu Ya‘qub al-Farisi (d. 282) is “trustworthy and reliable (thiqah saduq)” according to al-Daraqutni (Tarikh Baghdad 7:271-2).
Makki ibn Ibrahim ibn Bashir al-Tamimi (126 – 215 H) is a narrator of hadith found in all six collections of hadith, blessed with a long life such that he interacted and narrated from Abu Hanifah (some of his narrations from him are found in the Masanid reported from Abu Hanifah) and taught hadith to al-Bukhari. Most of al-Bukhari’s thulathiyyat (three-narrator chains) – which are his shortest chains – go through him. Al-Daraqutni, Ibn Sa’d, al-‘Ijli, Maslama, al-Khalili and Ahmad ibn Hanbal said he is thiqah. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 10:293-5)
2. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn Jurayj al-Umawi (80-150 H), known simply as “Ibn Jurayj” was a shaykh of Makki ibn Ibrahim and is also a narrator of the Six. He was an exact contemporary of Imam Abu Hanifah and died shortly after him. He was one of the most important teachers of ‘Abd al-Razzaq the author of the Musannaf, and he was one of the first to write books on hadith. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 6:402-6)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Suri narrated to me: Al-Khasib ibn ‘Abd Allah the judge of Egypt informed us: Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn Hamdan al-Tarasawsi narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn Jabir al-Bazzaz narrated to us: I heard Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn Nuh say: I heard Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Tabba‘ say: I heard Rawh ibn ‘Ubadah say: I was with Ibn Jurayj in the year 150 and the [news] of Abu Hanifah’s death came to him, so he did istirja‘ [i.e. he said “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji‘un“] and expressed sorrow, saying “What knowledge has gone!?” Ibn Jurayj died in this very year. (Tarikh Baghdad 15:463) Dr Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
3. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Qadi Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Dawudi informed us: ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub al-Muqri’ informed us: Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Baghandi narrated to us: Shu‘ayb ibn Ayyub narrated to me: Abu Yahya al-Himmani narrated to me: I heard Abu Hanifah say: “I saw a dream which frightened me. I saw myself excavating the grave of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) so I instructed a man to ask Muhammad ibn Sirin [about the interpretation of the dream]. So he asked him, and he said: ‘This is a man who will excavate the reports of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace).’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:458-9) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.”
4. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Jawhari informed us: Muhammad ibn ‘Imran al-Marzubani informed us: ‘Abd al-Wahid ibn Muhammad al-Khasibi narrated to us: Abu Muslim al-Kajji Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah narrated to me: Muhammad ibn Sa‘id Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib narrated to me: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn Dawud al-Khuraybi say: “It is necessary for the adherents of Islam to supplicate to Allah for Abu Hanifah in their prayers.” He [Muhammad ibn Sa‘id Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib] said: “He [al-Khuraybi] recollected his [Abu Hanifah’s] preservation for them of the sunnah and fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:472) Dr. Bashshar comments that all the narrators are trustworthy besides Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Katib whose reliability is unknown, but according to one opinion amongst hadith scholars, particularly that of Ibn Hibban, if the narrator before and after the narrator whose reliability is unknown are trustworthy (thiqah), which is the case here, the narration will be authentic. So, this narration may be regarded as authentic depending on the principles used.
Al-Khuraybi (126 – 213) is a narrator of the six famous collections of hadith besides Muslim. He was one of the greatest narrators of hadith. He was declared thiqah by Ibn Ma‘in, al-Daraqtuni, al-Nasa’i, Abu Zur‘ah, Ibn Sa‘d and others. However, Abu Hatim degraded him to “saduq” apparently because, as he said “he had an affinity with [the people of] juristic opinion”! – which in this case is Imam Abu Hanifah. Al-Khuraybi in appreciating Imam Abu Hanifah’s “preservation of the sunnah” is probably referring to his contribution as the earliest compiler of hadith according to the conventional chapters of fiqh in his Kitab al-Athar via the transmissions of his students – this is discussed in some depth in ‘Allamah ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Nu’mani’s al-Imam Ibn Majah wa Kitabuhu al-Sunan (see: pp. 50-60)
When Makki ibn Ibrahim and Ibn Jurayj mention the vastness of Imam Abu Hanifah’s knowledge, they mean knowledge of Qur’an and hadiths and athar. Imam al-Dhahabi said, “Logic, dialectics and the philosophy of the ancients were not, by Allah, from the sciences of the Sahabah, nor the Tabi‘in, nor al-Awza‘i, al-Thawri, Malik and Abu Hanifah. Rather, their sciences were the Qur’an and hadith.” (Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, 1:192) Hence, it is established major scholars from the salaf confessed Imam Abu Hanifah’s expansive knowledge of hadith.
Imam Abu Hanifah’s vast knowledge of hadiths and athar is further proven by the great number of juristic rulings (masa’il) he issued and dictated to his students, numbering in the tens of thousands, many of which concur excplicitly or implicitly with hadiths and athar, and Imam Abu Hanifah related them as fatwas as opposed to narrations. However, the narrations which he related by chain through transmission are also not very few in number (see Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith pp. 316-17). Like Imam al-Shafi’i, however, his main objective was the extraction of rulings, which is why both he and al-Shafi’i did not narrate many hadiths in the form of hadith-narration.