Imam Abu Hanifah’s Refusal of Judgeship and his Political Activism

Both the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates demanded Imam Abu Hanifah take the position of Qadi, and upon his refusal to align himself with the state, he was punished both times. In the second time, he was imprisoned and probably poisoned under the caliph al-Mansur which led to his death, making him a shahid. The reason for his imprisonment was not only refusal of judgeship but because he ideologically and financially assisted the anti-Abbasid rebellion of the descendents of ‘Ali, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali better known as “al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah” (the pure soul) and his brother, Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah. In this respect, I will quote a few authentic narrations from Imam al-Khatib’s Tarikh Baghdad:

Under the Umayyads:

1. Al-Khatib narrates: Qadi Abu al-‘Ala’ Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Wasiti narrated to us: He said: Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Hammad ibn Sufyan narrated to us in Kufa: He said: al-Husayn ibn Muhammad ibn al-Farzadaq al-Fazari narrated to us: He said: Abu ‘Abd Allah ‘Amr ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Sarj narrated to us in Egypt: He said: Yahya ibn Sulayman al-Ju‘fi al-Kufi narrated to us: He said: ‘Ali ibn Ma‘bad narrated to us: He said: ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Amr al-Raqqi narrated to us: He said: “Ibn Hubayrah spoke to Abu Hanifah, [demanding him] to accept the role of Qadi of Kufa for him, which he refused. Thereupon, he struck him with a hundred and ten lashes, ten lashes every day. He [persisted] on [his] rejection, and when he saw this, he let him go.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:448) – Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih, and the narrations which come after it add strength to it and support it.”

Yazid ibn ‘Umar ibn Hubayrah (d. 132 H) was the last Umayyad governor over Iraq under Marwan (d. 132), the last Umayyad caliph.

2. Al-Khatib narrates: Al-Khallal reported to us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: He said: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan narrated to us: He said: Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid narrated to us from his father: He said: “Abu Hanifah would be brought out every day,” or he said, “amongst the days, and he was beaten, to [force him to] accept judgeship but he refused. He wept on some of the days, and when he was freed, he said to me: ‘The grief of my mother was more difficult on me than the beating.’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:449)

The chain is sound: the narrators al-Khallal, al-Hariri and al-Nakha‘i are trustworthy narrators (thiqat) as detailed in earlier posts; Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan (d. 277) was declared thiqah by al-Daraqutni (Misbah al-Arib 3:195); although some imams held negative opinions of Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid (d. 228), he was declared thiqah by Mutayyan, Yahya ibn Ma‘in, Ibn Numayr and Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Bushanji (204-290) [a great hadith-scholar whose narrations are found in Sahih al-Bukhari], and Ibn ‘Adi said: “I did not find in his Musnad or his hadiths anything objectionable (munkar), and I hope there is no harm in him” (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 11:243-9); Abu Yahya ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Himmani (d. 202) is a narrator found in the Sahihs of al-Bukhari and Muslim, and declared thiqah by Ibn Ma‘in, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Qani‘ and others, although some invalid criticism was levelled at him because of irja’. (Tahrir al-Taqrib 2:300-1)

This narration shows even as he endured severe physical punishment, it was the effect that this would have on others that concerned him. This illustrates his strength and patience in the path of truth, and his selfless concern for others, particularly his close family.

Under the Abbasids:

3. Al-Khatib narrates: Abu ‘Umar al-Hasan ibn ‘Uthman al-Wa‘iz reported to us: He said: Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ahmad ibn al-Hakam al-Wasiti reported to us [here, al-Khatib includes a second chain which I have omitted]: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub narrated to us: He said: My grandfather narrated to us: He said: Bishr ibn al-Walid al-Kindi narrated to us: He said: “Abu Ja‘far [al-Mansur] the commander of the faithful, sent for Abu Hanifah. He wanted him to accept the role of judge but he refused. Thereupon he made an oath he will do [this], and Abu Hanifah made an oath he will not do [so]. Then al-Mansur [again] made an oath he will do [this], and Abu Hanifah made an oath he will not do [so]. Al-Rabi‘ al-Hajib said: ‘Do you not see that the Commander of the Believers is making an oath?!’ Abu Hanifah said: ‘The Commander of the Believers is more capable of compensating for his [broken] oaths than I am of compensating for my [broken] oaths.’ And he refused to take the position [of Qadi]. Immediately al-Mansur ordered him to be imprisoned.”

The chain is authentic: al-Khatib said about Abu ‘Umar al-Wa‘iz (347 – 426) “there is no harm in him” (Tarikh Baghdad, 8:348); Ja‘far ibn Muhammad al-Wasiti (d. 353) is thiqah according to al-Khatib and Ibn Abi al-Fawaris (Tarikh Baghdad, 8:152-3); Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah (254 – 331) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad, 2:248); he heard from his grandfather, the famous trustworthy hafiz Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah (180 – 262), as a child; Bishr ibn al-Walid al-Kindi (d. 238 H) is thiqah according to al-Daraqutni and others (Misbah al-‘Arib, 1:247).

Abu Ja‘far al-Mansur (95 – 158) was the second Abbasid caliph, and the reason he wanted Abu Hanifah to represent his government as judge was not only because of the Imam’s great standing amongst the scholars and the people in general, but because al-Mansur gained intelligence of Abu Hanifah’s role in anti-Abbasid efforts, so he wished to force him to align himself with the regime.

4. Al-Khatib narrates: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rizq reported to us: He said: Isma‘il ibn ‘Ali al-Khutabi reported to us: He said: Muhammad ibn ‘Uthman narrated to us: He said: Nasr ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman narrated to us: He said: al-Fadl ibn Dukayn narrated to us: He said: Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl narrated to me: He said: “Abu Hanifah would speak openly and harshly in the days of Ibrahim (ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib) [in support of his resistance against the Abbasids]. So I said to him: ‘By Allah! You will not stop until ropes are strung around our necks!’ It wasn’t long before the letter of al-Mansur came to ‘Isa ibn Musa (the governor of Kufa) to deport Abu Hanifah. When I came to him in the morning, it was as though his face was wiped off. He deported him to Baghdad and he lived for 15 days, and then they gave him a drink, whereupon he died. That was in the year 150. And Abu Hanifah died when he was seventy years old.”

The chain is authentic: Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Rizq (325 – 412) is trustworthy according to al-Khatib and al-Barqani (Tarikh Baghdad, 2:211-3); Ismail ibn ‘Ali ibn Isma‘il ibn Yahya Abu Muhammad al-Khutabi (269 – 350) is thiqah according to Daraqutni and Ibn al-Fawaris (Tarikh Baghdad, 7:304-6); Muhammad ibn ‘Uthman ibn Abi Shaybah (210 – 297) was declared thiqah by Salih Jazarah, Ibn ‘Adi said he did not find any of his hadith objectionable (munkar), ‘Abdan said “there is no harm in him,” Ibn Hibban mentioned him in al-Thiqat, and Maslamah ibn Qasim said “there is no harm in him, the people wrote from him, and I do not know anybody who abandoned him.” (Lisan al-Mizan, 7:340-2) [although there was some criticism of him, most of it comes through Ibn ‘Uqdah whose reports from the scholars regarding narrator-criticism are not accepted]; Nasr ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kufi (d. 248), is thiqah (Tahrir al-Taqrib, 4:13); al-Fadl ibn Dukayn (130-219) is a narrator found in the six collections of hadith; and Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl al-‘Anbari (110-158), a major student of Imam Abu Hanifah, was declared thiqah by Ibn Ma‘in, al-Fadl ibn Dukayn and Ibn Hibban (Lisan al-Mizan, 3:501-3).

According to this report, Abu Hanifah was a martyr as he was poisoned to death. This is one of the great merits of Imam Abu Hanifah, and distinguishes him from the other three Imams of fiqh. Imam al-Dhahabi also recognised this where he said under the biography of Abu Hanifah in Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ “He died as a poisoned martyr in the year 150 when he was 70 years old.” (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ 6:403) He supported the rebellion of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah (d. 145 H) against al-Mansur; and then his brother, Ibrahim. Imam Malik also supported this rebellion (Al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa p. 208); and Imam Abu Hanifah even expressed a desire to participate with Ibrahim in battle, as shown in the following narration:

5. Al-Khatib narrates: Ibn al-Fadl reported to us: He said: Ibn Darastuwayh reported to us: He said: Ya‘qub narrated to us: He said: Safwan ibn Salih al-Dimashqi narrated to me: He said: ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Sulami narrated to me: He said: I heard Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Fazari narrate to al-Awza‘i, he said: “My brother was killed with Ibrahim al-Fatimi [the brother of al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah], so I rode to check his inheritance. I met Abu Hanifah and he said to me: ‘From where did you come and where are you heading?’ I told him that I came from al-Massisah and I am heading to a brother of mine killed with Ibrahim.’ He said: ‘If you were killed with your brother, it would have been better for you than the place you have come from!’ I said: ‘What prevented you from that?’ He said: ‘Were it not for the possessions and belongings of people that are with me, I would not have delayed [doing] that!’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:529-30) – Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.”

6. Hafiz Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrated with his chain to Ahmad Ibn Abi ‘Imran (d. 280, thiqah) from Bishr ibn al-Walid (d. 238, thiqah) from Imam Abu Yusuf: “Al-Mansur’s anger with Abu Hanifah, despite his recognition of his excellence, was only because when Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hasan seceded in Basra, it was mentioned to him that Abu Hanifah and al-A‘mash conspired with him in Kufa. Al-Mansur wrote [i.e. forged] two letters on his tongue, one [addressed] to al-A‘mash and another to Abu Hanifah from Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hasan, and he sent them with one he trusted. When the letter reached al-A‘mash, he took it from the man and read it, and then he stood up and fed it to a goat while the man watched, so he said to him: ‘What do you mean by this?’ He said: ‘Say to him: You are a man from Banu Hashim, and you are all loved by him, and peace [be on you].’ As for Abu Hanifah, he accepted the letter and replied to it. This remained in the heart of Abu Ja‘far until he did with him what he did.” (al-Intiqa’ fi Fada’il al-A’immat al-Thalathat al-Fuqaha, pp. 323-4)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s