“Abu Hanifah al-Nu‘man ibn Thabit was from the geniuses of the sons of Adam. He combined fiqh, worship, scrupulousness and generosity. His birth was in the year 80 H which is one of three opinions on his birth. He saw Anas. And he passed away in the year 150 H.” (Al-Dhahabi, al-‘Ibar, 1:214)
Imam Abu Hanifah’s fiqh was praised by some of the greatest Imams of hadith and fiqh from the salaf, and many of them recognised him to be the greatest faqih with no parallel amongst his peers. “Fiqh,” literally meaning “to understand,” is the ability to interpret correctly the texts of the Shari’ah and derive from them the rulings of the Shari’ah. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Whoever Allah wishes good for, He gives him fiqh of the religion.” (Bukhari and Muslim) And he said, “Allah illuminate the face of a man who hears a hadith from us, and memorises it until he conveys it. For often the carrier of fiqh [carries it] to one with more fiqh than him.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah) These two hadiths illustrate that fiqh is granted by Allah and is dependent on the transmission of Shar’i knowledge.
Abu Hanifah, the Greatest Faqih
I will quote below the authentic sayings of some of the eminent Imams from the salaf on the fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifah:
1. Sufyan ibn Sa’id al-Thawri (97 – 161 H), a narrator found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, and one of the greatest huffaz from the Atba’ al-Tabi’in (third generation of Muslims after the Sahabah and Tabi’in). Shu’bah ibn al-Hajjaj, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Yahya ibn Ma’in, Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil and others referred to him as “the commander of the faithful in hadith” (amir al-mu’minin fi l-hadith) (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:113) Yahya ibn Ma’in would not favour anyone over al-Thawri in fiqh, hadith and piety (ibid). His authority in all these fields is undisputed. Al-Thawri interacted with Abu Hanifah, and many of their opinions on controversial issues in fiqh converge as is apparent in the ikhtilaf literature, which indicates al-Thawri had great respect and admiration for Abu Hanifah’s juristic opinions.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal informed us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: ‘Umar ibn Shihab al-‘Abdi narrated to us: Jandal ibn Waliq narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Bishr narrated to me: He said: I would frequent Abu Hanifah and Sufyan. I came to Abu Hanifah and he said to me, “From where did you come?” I said: “From the company of Sufyan.” He said: “Indeed you have come from the company of the man, that if ‘Alqamah and al-Aswad were present, they would need the like of him.” Then I came to Sufyan and he said to me, “From where did you come?” I said, “From the company of Abu Hanifah.” He said, “Indeed, you have come from the company of the best faqih from the inhabitants of earth (afqahi ahl al-ard).” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:471) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf, the editor of Tarikh Baghdad comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”
2. ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (118 – 181), also a narrator of the Six, and one of the Imams of the Atba’ Tabi’in whose merits are innumerable. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “I looked into in the matter of the Sahabah and I did find any virtue in them over Ibn al-Mubarak except their companionship of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and their battles with him.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 5:385) He was an undisputed authority in hadith.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Khallal informed us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan narrated to us: Abu Kurayb narrated to us: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak say [here, al-Khatib mentions a second chain for the same narration]: “I saw the most pious of people, the most scrupulous of people, the most learned of people, and the best faqih of people. As for the most pious of people, [he is] ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Abi Rawwad; as for the most scrupulous of people, [he is] al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad; as for the most learned of people, [he is] Sufyan al-Thawri; and as for the best faqih of people, [he is] Abu Hanifah.” Then he said “I have not seen the like of him in fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:469) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym the Hafiz reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali narrated to us: Abu ‘Arubah al-Harrani narrated to us: I heard Salamah ibn Shabib say: I heard ‘Abd al-Razzaq say: I heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “If anyone has the right to issue [a legal verdict] using his opinion, Abu Hanifah has the right to issue [a legal verdict] using his opinion.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:471) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “The isnad of this report is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mu’addal reported to us: ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Razi narrated to us: Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Za’farani narrated to us: Ahmad ibn Zuhayr narrated to us: Al-Walid ibn Shuja’ narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Shaqiq narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak would say: “When [the opinions] of these two, meaning al-Thawri and Abu Hanifah, converge on something, that is strong.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:470) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih, and its narrators are trustworthy.”
3. Yazid ibn Harun (118 – 206), also a narrator found in the six books of hadiths, and one of the greatest huffaz of hadith, said to have memorised over twenty thousand hadiths. He was one of the most reliable transmitters of hadith. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 11:366-9)
4. Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil al-Dahhak ibn Makhlad ibn al-Dahhak (122 – 214), also a narrator of the Six and the greatest and eldest of al-Bukhari’s shaykhs in hadith. Some of al-Bukhari’s thulathiyyat (three-narrator chains) which are the shortest of al-Bukhari’s chains go through him. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:450-3)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Abd al-Baqi ibn ‘Abd al-Karim al-Mu’addib informed me: ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar al-Khallal reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah narrated to us: my grandfather narrated to us: Ya‘qub ibn Ahmad narrated to me: I heard al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali say: I heard Yazid ibn Harun when a man asked him, “O Abu Khalid! Who is the best in fiqh from those you have seen?” say, “Abu Hanifah.” Al-Hasan said: I asked Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil, “Is Abu Hanifah a better faqih or Sufyan (al-Thawri)?” He said, “The slave of Abu Hanifah is a better faqih than Sufyan!” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:468) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.” Needless to say, Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil’s statement is not to be taken literally, but exaggarates the excellence in fiqh of Abu Hanifah over even Sufyan al-Thawri.
5. Ayyub ibn Abi Tamimah al-Sakhtiyani (68 – 131), a Basran Tabi‘i senior to Abu Hanifah, and also a narrator found in all six collections of hadith. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah mentioned that from all the Tabi’in he met and witnessed, he found none greater than Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 1:397-8)
Al-Khatib narrates: Qadi Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Simnani reported to us: Isma‘il ibn al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali al-Bukhari al-Zahid reported to us: Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Sa‘d ibn Nasr narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Qummi narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Sa‘dan narrated to me: I heard Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani say: I heard Hammad ibn Zayd say: I intended [to go for] Hajj so I came to Ayyub [al-Sakhtiyani] to bid him farewell, so he said to me: “It has reached me the pious man, the faqih of the Kufans, meaning Abu Hanifah, is performing Hajj this year, so when you meet him, convey to him my salutations.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:467) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.”
6. Abu Nu’aym al-Fadl ibn Dukayn (130 – 219 H), the Kufan Imam of hadith, also a narrator of the Six from whom al-Bukhari narrated many hadiths. He is known to be one of the most reliable (athbat) narrators of hadith. Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: “Abu Nu’aym is the most learned about the shuyukh and their lineages, and about narrators.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 8:270-6)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym, the Hafiz reported to us: Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Asbahani narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Thaqafi narrated to us: Al-Jawhari narrated to us: Abu Nu‘aym narrated to us: He said: “Abu Hanifah was one of deep penetration into juristic issues.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:472) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
7. Sulayman ibn Mihran al-’A‘mash (61 – 148), a narrator of hadith found in all of the six famous collections of hadith. He was from the Tabi‘in who saw and probably narrated from some of the younger Sahabah. He spent most of his life in Kufa learning hadith and teaching it. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said he knew the most hadiths from his companions, and Ibn ‘Ammar said al-’A‘mash was the most trustworthy narrator of hadith in his time. He was declared thiqah by al-Nasa’i, Ibn Ma‘in and others. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:222-6)
Ibn Hibban (d. 354) narrated under the biography of ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad ibn Shaddad al-‘Abdi al-Misri in his al-Thiqat (8:467):
‘Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Sumay‘ narrated to me at Sayda: al-Muzani narrated to us: ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad narrated to us from ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Amr: He said: al-’A‘mash said to Abu Hanifah: “O Nu‘man! What is your opinion regarding such-and-such an issue?” He replied: “Such-and-such.” He said: “From where do you say this?” He said: “You narrated to us from so-and-so such-and-such.” Al-’A‘mash said: “O group of jurists (fuqaha), you are the doctors, and we are the pharmacists.”
All the narrators in this chain are trustworthy (thiqat) besides the shaykh of Ibn Hibban: Abu Ibrahim Isma‘il ibn Yahya al-Muzani (175 – 264), the famous student of al-Shaf‘i and the uncle of al-Tahawi, was declared thiqah by Ibn Yunus; ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad ibn Shaddad al-‘Abdi (d. 218), a narrator of Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i, he was a Hanafi in madhhab and he narrated al-Jami‘ al-Kabir and al-Saghir from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, and he was thiqah according to Abu Hatim (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 7:384-5); ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn Abi l-Walid al-Asadi (104 – 180), a narrator found in the six famous collections of hadith, and declared thiqah by al-Nasa’i, Abu Hatim, Ibn Sa‘d, Ibn Ma‘in and others (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 7:42-3)
Ibn Hibban’s shaykh, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Sumay‘ (d. 309), is in fact ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Mahmud ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn al-Qasim ibn Sumay‘ Abu l-Walid al-Qurashi, as mentioned by Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq who corrected “Muhammad” to “Mahmud.” His reliability is unknown as no one criticised him and no one praised him. Therefore he is majhul al-hal. However, a large number of reliable narrators took from him, including Ibn Hibban and the famous Imam, Ibn al-Sunni, as mentioned by Ibn ‘Asakir amongst the list of those who narrated from him (Tarikh Dimashq 37:108-10). Such a narrator is termed “mastur” (hidden). The majority accept the narration of such a narrator, since many of the narrators found in the Sahihayn are mastur. Al-Dhahabi said, “The majority opinion is that whichever shaykh [of hadith] a group has narrated from and he does not produce what is rejected (munkar), his hadith is sahih.” (Mizan al-I‘tidal under the biography of Malik ibn al-Khayr al-Ziyadi al-Misri) Hence, this narration is sahih according to the principles of the majority.
Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said, as narrated by his student al-Sakhawi: “When the narrator whose condition [i.e. reliability] is unknown has no criticism and no accreditation, and both his shaykh and the one who narrates from him are trustworthy (thiqah) and he does not produce rejected reports, he is trustworthy according to Ibn Hibban.” (Fath al-Mughith) This is the case here as both the shaykh of ‘Abd al-Malik and the one narrating from him (i.e. al-Muzani and Ibn Hibban) are thiqah, which would make this narration sahih according to the principles of Ibn Hibban.
Moreover, this same narration from al-’A‘mash has been narrated with slight variations in wording by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in al-Faqih wa l-Mutafaqqih and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlih with different chains leading up to ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad after which the chain is the same. Although both chains contain weaknesses, they can be used as supporting narrations.
The narration is therefore sound, and proves Imam Abu Hanifah’s superiority in fiqh to even those more senior than him from the major muhaddithin of his time, and even those muhaddithin from whom he narrated, which is exactly what was meant by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) when he said, “often the carrier of fiqh [carries it] to one with more fiqh”. Imam al-‘A’mash’s analogy also indicates Imam Abu Hanifah was aware of a large number of hadiths as doctors are generally aware of medicines and drugs though they do not manufacture them or dispense them, which means Abu Hanifah knew many hadiths but did not generally narrate them. He did, however, derive rulings from them and they were a major source of his rulings in fiqh. This narration is also one of many narrations showing Abu Hanifah took hadiths from some of the greatest narrators of hadith in his time.
8. ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ (120 – 213), a hadith-narrator from Abu Hanifah and others, a narrator found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, declared thiqah by Nasa’i, Khalili and others. Ibn al-Mubarak said he was “pure gold.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 6:83-4)
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn Abi ‘Ali reported to us: He said: Abu ‘Ali Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Mu‘addal al-Naysaburi narrated to us: He said: Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Bilal narrated to us: He said: I heard Muhammad ibn Yazid say: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ say: “I have not seen a black headed [person] with more fiqh than Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad, 15:472)
Based on the identity of one of the narrators in the chain (Muhammad ibn Yazid), the chain is either authentic or contains an unknown, therefore weak: ‘Ali ibn Abi ‘Ali is ‘Ali ibn al-Muhassin Abu al-Qasim al-Tanukhi (365 – 447) who is saduq according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:604-5); Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Naysaburi (d. 383) is a Hanafi shaykh, declared thiqah by al-Khatib and al-Tanukhi (Tarikh Baghdad B 6:260-1); Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Bilal al-Kashshab (d. 330) is from “the firm and trustworthy narrators” (al-thiqat al-athbat) (al-Ansab 5:120); “Muhammad ibn Yazid” is probably Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid (d. 256) who was known to narrate from ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 9:284), and he was declared thiqah by Ibn Abi Hatim, Nasa’i, Khalili and Maslamah ibn al-Qasim (ibid.).
9. The people of Kufa. Kufa was, at that time, a centre of learning. It had been the residence of over a thousand Sahabah, including ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, and the sciences of hadith and fiqh were taught in gatherings in the masajid. From the following narration, Imam Abu Hanifah is recognised by the Kufans as being the greatest faqih living amongst them at that time.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Al-Saymari informed us: We read unto al-Husayn ibn Harun from Abu l-‘Abbas ibn Sa’id: He said: Ibrahim ibn al-Walid narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Balkhi narrated to us: I heard al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi say: “I came to Kufa and inquired about the most devout (a’bad) of its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah. Then I came when I was an old man and inquired about the best faqih amongst its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:482) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is good (jayyid).” Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi was the Qadi of Marw and ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak was favourably disposed to him (Ibn Hibban, Kitab al-Thiqat 8:168)
10. Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i (150 – 204 H), the Imam of fiqh. He is the only one from this list that did not meet Abu Hanifah in person, and he is the only one not from the first three generations of Muslims. However, his eminence is beyond question, so he will be quoted here:
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: Abu Nu‘aym, the Hafiz, reported to us: Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali narrated to us: I heard Hamzah ibn ‘Ali al-Basri say: I heard al-Rabi‘ say: I heard al-Shafi‘i say: “All people are dependent on Abu Hanifah in fiqh.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn al-Qasim reported to us: ‘Ali ibn Ishaq al-Madara’ini narrated to us: Zakariyya ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn Ahmad narrated to me: Harun ibn Sa‘id (al-Ayli) said: I heard al-Shafi‘i say: “I have not seen anyone better in fiqh that Abu Hanifah.” Al-Khatib comments: He meant by his statement “I have not seen,” “I do not know.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:474) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
These are the statements from some of the greatest Imams of the salaf, praising Abu Hanifah’s fiqh, with five of them, Ibn al-Mubarak, Yazid ibn Harun, Sufyan al-Thawri, ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ and al-Shafi’i [and the people of Kufa in general], using the superlative, to indicate none of Imam Abu Hanifah’s contemporaries were equal to him in fiqh. Such a high degree of praise for Imam Abu Hanifah’s fiqh, reaching the degree of mashhur or mutawatir amongst the salaf, is not found for any other individual, which is from Allah’s favour on Imam Abu Hanifah.
After quoting some of the abovementioned narrations, ‘Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani says, “It is not hidden that fiqh is not possible without memorisation of hadiths, narrations, the statements of the Sahabah and Tabi’in and their disagreements; and knowledge of the abrogating and abrogated [texts] from the sunnah and from other than it. Since, they [i.e. the scholars] have agreed on Abu Hanifah being the best faqih of all people, they have accepted him as a hafiz of hadith, and a collector of a large quantity thereof.” (Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith, p. 314)