Examples of the Eminent Disciples of Imam Abu Hanifah from the Salaf

One of the greatest indications that Imam Abu Hanifah’s opinions in fiqh were informed by an immense knowledge of hadiths, and related Islamic sciences, is the companionship with him of some of the most learned scholars of the salaf. In this respect, the following narrations should shed some light:

1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (392 – 463) narrates in Tarikh Baghdad: Al-Khallal informed me: ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr al-Hariri informed me that ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Najih ibn Ibrahim narrated to us: Ibn Karamah narrated to us: We were with Waki‘ [ibn al-Jarrah] (126 – 196) one day and a man said: “Abu Hanifah erred!” Waki‘ said: “How can Abu Hanifah err when with him are the likes of Abu Yusuf (113 – 182) and Zufar (110 – 158) in their logic; and the likes of Yahya ibn Abi Za’idah (120 – 182), Hafs ibn Ghiyath (117 – 194), Hibban (111 – 171) and Mindal (103 – 169) in their memorisation of hadith; and the like of al-Qasim ibn Ma‘n (100 – 175) in his knowledge of language and Arabic; and Dawud al-Ta’i (105 – 162) and Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad (107 – 187) in their asceticism and their scrupulousness? The one whose sitting partners are such, he does not come close to erring, because if he erred they would correct him.” (Tarikh Baghdad 16:365)

All the narrators in this chain are trustworthy (thiqat) with the possible exception of Najih ibn Ibrahim: 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-Hasan Abu l-Qasim al-Nakha‘i known as “Ibn Kas” (d. 324), is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:540); and Ibn Karamah is Muhammad ibn ‘Uthman ibn Karamah (d. 256), and he is a narrator found in Bukhari’s Sahih, declared thiqah by al-‘Asqalani in al-Taqrib.

The problematic narrator between Ibn Kas and Ibn Karamah, Najih ibn Ibrahim, is mentioned in Ibn Hibban’s al-Thiqat (9:220), which means he is saduq or thiqah according to Ibn Hibban. However, Maslamah ibn al-Qasim (d. 353) believed him to be weak (da‘if) as mentioned by al-‘Asqalani (Lisan al-Mizan 8:254). Maslamah ibn al-Qasim, himself, however, was considered da‘if by al-Dhahabi in Mizan al-I‘tidal (Lisan al-Mizan 8:61), and Abu Ja‘far al-Malaqi (d. 702) said “he is questionable (in his reliability).” Imam al-Dhahabi transmitted some criticism of him in Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, and no one said he is trustworthy or reliable. A principle of al-Jarh wa l-Ta‘dil states that the criticism of someone who was himself subject to valid criticism is not accepted unless the one criticised is free of any words of praise. Hence, the accreditation (ta‘dil) of Ibn Hibban stands and Maslama’s criticism is rejected. This narration is therefore either hasan or sahih. Moreover, the companionship of those mentioned in this narration is established by other evidence, like those below.

All of the companions mentioned by Waki‘, besides Abu Yusuf and Zufar, are narrators whose hadiths can be found in some of the six famous collections of hadith, and two of them, Yahya and Hafs, have narrations in all six. All of them are also trustworthy narrators (thiqat) of hadith with the possible exceptions of Hibban and Mindal, the sons of ‘Ali al-‘Anbari, regarding whom hadith scholars had mixed opinions.

2. With the same chain up to al-Nakha‘i, al-Khatib narrates: Al-Nakha‘i said: I heard Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Bakka’i say: I heard Isma‘il ibn Hammad ibn Abi Hanifah say: “The [foremost] companions of Abu Hanifah were ten: Abu Yusuf, Zufar, Asad ibn ‘Amr al-Bajali (d. 190), ‘Afiyah al-Awdi (d. 160), Dawud al-Ta’i, al-Qasim ibn Ma‘n al-Mas‘udi, ‘Ali ibn Mushir (d. 189), Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah, Hibban and Mindal the sons of ‘Ali al-‘Anbari, and there was not amongst them the like of Abu Yusuf and Zufar.” (Tarikh Baghdad 16:363)

This narration is sound: Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Bakka’i is Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn ‘Awn al-‘Amiri, Abu Bakr al-Kufi (d. 264), mentioned in Ibn Hibban’s al-Thiqat (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 9:37) and al-‘Asqalani said he is “saduq” (Taqrib al-Tahdhib). Isma‘il ibn Hammad (d. 212) is the grandson of Imam Abu Hanifah and he studied under Abu Hanifah’s direct students like Abu Yusuf. He was Qadi of Baghdad and Basra. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari (118 – 215), a trustworthy (thiqah) narrator of hadith found in all six of the famous collections of hadith, who studied fiqh under Zufar and Abu Yusuf, said: “No one took charge of judgeship from the time of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab to this day more learned than Isma‘il ibn Hammad ibn Abi Hanifah.” Abu Bakr al-Jubbi said to him: “O Abu ‘Abd Allah! Not even al-Hasan ibn Abi l-Hasan (i.e. al-Basri)?!” He said: “No, not even al-Hasan.” (Lisan al-Mizan 2:114) Sibt ibn al-Jawzi (d. 654), the grandson of the famous Ibn al-Jawzi, said in his Mir’at al-Zaman, Isma‘il ibn Hammad is “trustworthy and reliable” (thiqah saduq). Although Ibn ‘Adi said he is “weak,” his criticism was moved by bias against the Hanafi Imams as he said the same regarding Imam Abu Hanifah in the very same sentence. Salih Jazarah also said “he is not thiqah,” but this was probably because of Isma‘il’s reputation for supporting the doctrine of “the creation of the Qur’an,” but as Sibt ibn al-Jawzi mentioned, his support for this Mu‘tazili doctrine was for reasons of self-preservation, and this was the practice of a number of scholars at that time.

3. In al-Jawahir al-Mudiyyah (no. 307, biography of Asad ibn ‘Amr), al-Qarashi quotes from a book by Imam al-Tahawi the following:

Ibn Abi Thawr wrote to me, narrating to me from Sulayman ibn ‘Imran: Asad ibn al-Furat narrated to me: “The companions of Abu Hanifah who would compile books were 40 men. From the ten foremost of them were: Abu Yusuf, Zufar, Dawud al-Ta’i, Asad ibn ‘Amr, Yusuf ibn Khalid al-Samti (122 – 189), Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah, and he was the one who would write for them (i.e. the companions of Abu Hanifah) for thirty years.”

Ibn Abi Thawr is better known as Ibn ‘Abdun, and his full name is Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Thawr (d. 299). He was a faqih in the Hanafi madhhab, and he was Qadi of Qayrawan (Amani al-Ahbar 1:41). Sulayman ibn ‘Imran narrated from the hafiz Hafs ibn Ghiyath, but according to Ibn Abi Hatim “his hadiths indicate he is unreliable (laysa bi saduq)” (Lisan al-Mizan 4:162). Asad ibn al-Furat (144 – 213) wrote from Yahya ibn Abi Za’idah, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan and Imam Malik. He was one of the reasons for the codification and spread of the Maliki madhhab. This chain is therefore weak but not very weak, so may be used as supporting evidence. Moreover, all of the individuals mentioned in the narration are recognised and known as companions of Abu Hanifah.

The individuals mentioned in these lists of the prominent students and companions of Abu Hanifah were major scholars from the salaf. I will elaborate on the hadith-knowledge of some of these aforementioned companions of Abu Hanifah:

‘Ali ibn Mushir (120 – 189)

His narrations are found in all six of the famous collections of hadith. Al-‘Ijli said: “He was of those who combined hadith and fiqh. Trustworthy (thiqah).” Al-‘Ijli also said about him, “A champion of the sunnah (sahib sunnah), trustworthy in hadith.” Ibn Sa‘d said, “He was trustworthy, and [possessed] many hadiths.” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 7:383 – 4)

It is clear from al-‘Ijli’s comment that ‘Ali ibn Mushir was not only known for his knowledge of hadiths and the sunnah, but was also known for his mastery in fiqh. His fiqh was acquired through his companionship with Imam Abu Hanifah. It has authentically been reported that ‘Ali ibn Mushir was also the means by which Sufyan al-Thawri learnt of Imam Abu Hanifah’s opinions in fiqh which he would often follow. This explains why the opinions of Sufyan and Abu Hanifah concur in many controversial matters of fiqh, and ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Mubarak said, “When the opinion of Abu Hanifah and Sufyan concur on something, that is strong.” (Narrated by al-Khatib with a sahih chain in Tarikh Baghdad 15:471, and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr with a different sahih chain in al-Intiqa p. 206)

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (d. 463) mentioned that Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf ibn al-Dakhil (d. 388), a major muhaddith of Makkah who transmitted al-‘Uqayli’s book on weak narrators, narrated in his book on the merits of Abu Hanifah: Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Ahmad ibn Firas narrated to us: Musa ibn Harun narrated to us: Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Himmani narrated to us: from ‘Ali ibn Mushir: He said: I was with Sufyan al-Thawri when a man asked him about a man who did wudu with water from which another [person] performed wudu. He said: “Yes, he is pure.” I said to him: “Abu Hanifah says it shouldn’t be used for wudu.” He said to me: “Why did he say this?” I said to him: “It is used water (ma’ musta‘mal).” Later, I was with him several days after this when a man came to him asking him about doing wudu from water which had been used by another and he said: “It should not be used for wudu because it is used water,” so he retracted in this [issue] to the opinion of Abu Hanifah. (al-Intiqa fi Fada’il al-A’immat al-Thalathah, p. 269)

The chain is hasan: Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Ahmad ibn Firas (d. 344) is trustworthy (thiqah) according to al-Dhahabi (Misbah al-Arib 1:18); Musa ibn Harun (d. 294) is trustworthy (thiqah) according to al-‘Asqalani in al-Taqrib; Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Himmani (150 – 228) is trustworthy according to Yahya ibn Ma‘in and al-Ramadi (d. 265) who said he is more trustworthy than even Ibn Abi Shaybah, and Ibn ‘Adi said “I hope there is no harm in him.” However Ibn al-Madini and others criticised him, bringing the hadith down to the level of hasan.

Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Saymari (351 – 436), who is saduq according to al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (Tarikh Baghdad 8:634-5), narrated similar narrations in his Akhbar Abi Hanifah wa Ashabih (p. 73) and he said regarding ‘Ali ibn Mushir: “He is the one from whom Sufyan took the knowledge of Abu Hanifah.” (Akhbar Abi Hanifa, 158)

‘Ali ibn Mushir, despite his greatness in hadith, was not only a companion and follower of Imam Abu Hanifah, but a propagator of his madhhab, such that the likes of Sufyan al-Thawri gained the knowledge of Abu Hanifah’s opinions through him.

Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah (120 – 182)

Imam al-Dhahabi introduces Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah as “The firm and proficient hafiz, the faqih, Abu Sa‘id al-Hamdani al-Wadi‘i, their freed-slave, the companion of Abu Hanifah.” (Tadhkirat al-Huffaz 1:267) This is clear proof that Imam al-Dhahabi, an undisputed authority in the field of Rijal, regarded Yahya, based on the above reports and others, as being from the companions of Abu Hanifah.

‘Ali ibn al-Madini said, “There was not in Kufa after Sufyan al-Thawri [anyone] stronger [in hadith] than him.” (ibid p. 268) Al-‘Ijli said, “He was from those who combined fiqh and hadith, and he was judge over al-Mada’in, and is counted amongst the huffaz of the Kufans.”

Again, there is an indication that Yahya gained his reputation as a faqih due to his companionship with Abu Hanifah. Al-Saymari reported: Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Sayrafi informed us: ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr al-Hariri reported to us: Ibn Kas al-Nakha‘i narrated to us from his father: Salih ibn Suhayl narrated to me: “Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah had memorised the most hadiths from the people of his time and [he had] the most fiqh from them, along with constant companionship with Abu Hanifah and Ibn Abi Layla, and [along with] piety and scrupulousness.” (Akhbar Abi Hanifah, 156)

The shaykh of al-Saymari, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Sayrafi (d. 394) is better known as Ibn al-Abnusi. Hamzah ibn Muhammad ibn Tahir al-Daqqaq said “he would not lie” and “he loved to collect books” (Tarikh Baghdad 6:231-2). The remaining narrators are all thiqat except Ibn Kas’s father who is unknown. The narration is therefore weak but not very weak, so can be used as supporting evidence.

Asad ibn ‘Amr al-Bajali (d. 190)

Ahmad ibn Hanbal said regarding him, “saduq.” Yahya ibn Ma‘in said, “There is no harm in him,” which for him is equivalent to “thiqah.” Ibn ‘Adi said, “There is no harm in his hadiths and narrations, and there is not amongst the champions of opinion [one] with more hadiths than him after Abu Hanifah.” Ibn Sa‘d said, “He has many hadiths (hadith kathir) and he is trustworthy (thiqah) if Allah wills,” and Abu Dawud said, “there is no harm in him.” (Lisan al-Mizan 2:90-2) Although some scholars of Rijal criticised him, this was probably due to methodological differences, and not over hadith narration. Otherwise, Imam Ahmad’s, Ibn Ma‘in’s and Abu Dawud’s testimony is enough. Ibn ‘Adi and Ibn Sa‘d both said he possessed “many hadiths.” The books of Rijal that contain his biography all agree he was a close student and companion of Abu Hanifah.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrates with an authentic chain in al-Intiqa (262 – 3) that Abu Yusuf said, Asad ibn ‘Amr “was the most exemplary of Abu Hanifah’s companions.” The men in the chain after Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr are as follows: ‘Abd al-Warith ibn Sufyan al-Qurtubi (d. 395) who is thiqah according to al-Dhahabi in Siyar (Misbah al-Arib 2:297); al-Qasim ibn Asbagh al-Qurtubi (247 – 340), called “the great hafiz” and “the muhaddith of Cordoba” by al-‘Asqalani, is saduq (Lisan al-Mizan); Ahmad ibn Zuhayr ibn Harb (d. 299) is thiqah according to al-Daraqutni and al-Khatib; and Mus‘ab ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Zubayri (d. 236), is thiqah according to Ahmad, Ibn Ma‘in and others, and a narrator of al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah.

Hafs ibn Ghiyath (117 – 194)

Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan said: “Hafs is the most trustworthy (awthaq) of the companions of al-A‘mash,” and this is why al-Bukhari would rely on his narrations from al-A‘mash. He is a narrator found in all six of the famous collections of hadith. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi said: “Hafs would narrate many hadiths, and he was a hafiz of hadith and strong therein. He was even ahead of the mashayikh from whom he heard hadith.” (Tarikh Baghdad 9:75) Al-‘Ijli said: “Hafs ibn Ghiyath is trustworthy and reliable, a faqih, and he was judge over Kufa. Waki‘ would often be asked about something and he would say: ‘Go to our Qadi and ask him’” (al-Thiqat).

And as mentioned in Waki’s statement above, he was from Abu Hanifah’s companions. However, it is also reported about Hafs ibn Ghiyath that he left the circle of Imam Abu Hanifah (Tarikh Baghdad 15:554).

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There were many other major scholars of the salaf that narrated from Imam Abu Hanifah and admired his opinions, including Waki‘ ibn al-Jarrah, Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, al-Fadl ibn Dukayn, Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil, Makki ibn Ibrahim, ‘Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’ and others.

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As is clear from the brief biographies of the aforementioned companions of Abu Hanifah, they all combined between memorisation of a large quantity of hadiths and an insight into fiqh which they acquired from the company of Imam Abu Hanifah. This is a great proof that Abu Hanifah did not formulate his opinions while ignorant of hadiths, rather he was aware of all or most of the hadiths that were directly or implicitly related to the issues on which he passed judgement. This is why such great muhaddithin as Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah and ‘Ali ibn Mushir saw no contradiction in their memorisation of a large number of hadiths and the fiqh of Abu Hanifah, and why such masters and huffaz of hadith like Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan and Sufyan al-Thawri would frequently adopt his positions in fiqh.

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