Imam Abu Hanifah’s Description of his Close Attachment to Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman

The following report from al-Khatib’s Tarikh illustrates the importance of the close apprenticeship to a master teacher in order to develop the ability of ijtihad and fiqh. Just as ‘Alqamah and Aswad closely accompanied Ibn Mas’ud and as a consequence acquired his adeptness at fatwa, and Ibrahim al-Nakha’i likewise earned this quality from his close companionship of them, and then Hammad as is clear from the biographical notices on him was the closest and most adept student of Ibrahim, Abu Hanifah gained the quality of faqahah by a close attachment to his shaykh. And, consequently, the group of fuqaha in this chain were the greatest jurists of their times as stated by Imam al-Dhahabi in his Siyar A’lam al-Nubala‘.

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates:

Al-Khallal informed us: al-Hariri reported to us that al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Hazim narrated to me: al-Walid ibn Hammad narrated to us from al-Hasan ibn Ziyad from Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl: He said: I heard Abu Hanifah say:

“I would examine dialectical theology (kalam) until I reached therein a degree in which I could be pointed to with the fingers. We would sit close to the circle of Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (d. 120 H) and a woman came to me one day and said to me: ‘A man has a slave-girl as a wife whom he wishes to divorce by the Sunnah method. How many times does he pronounce divorce on her?’  I did not know what to say so I instructed her to ask Hammad and then return and inform me. She asked Hammad and he said: ‘He issues one divorce to her when she is pure from menstruation and [in a period in which there was no] intercourse, and then leaves her until she experiences two periods of menstruation. When she bathes, she is lawful for [potential] husbands.’ Then she returned and informed me. Thereupon, I realised I have no need for dialectical theology.

“I took my shoes and sat next to Hammad and I would listen to his juristic opinions and memorise his speech. Then he repeated it the next day and I had it memorised, while his [other] companions erred. So he said: ‘None is to sit at the head of the circle next to me besides Abu Hanifah.’ Thereafter, I accompanied him for ten years. Then my soul incited me to seek leadership, so I wished to separate from him and sit in my own circle. I left one day in the evening with resolve to do this and then when I went to the mosque and saw him, my soul did not find it pleasing to separate from him so I came and sat with him. There came to him that night the news of the death of a relative of his who died in Basra who left behind some wealth and had no heir besides him. He ordered me to sit in his place. As soon as he left, questions came to me [the answers to] which I had not heard from him, so I would answer and write my answers. He was away for two months. When he returned, I showed him the answers and they were around sixty verdicts. He agreed with me in forty and disagreed with me in twenty. Then I insisted to my soul that I will not part from him until he dies, so I did not part from him until he died.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:456-7)

A Brief Look at the Chain

Al-Khallal, al-Hariri and al-Nakha‘i are all trustworthy narrators. Al-Walid ibn Hammad is mentioned in Ibn Hibban’s Thiqat (9:226), indicating he is either saduq or thiqah according to him, and al-‘Asqalani mentions him in Lisan al-Mizan and refutes the claim that he is unknown (Lisan al-Mizan 8:382). Al-Hasan ibn Ziyad, a major disciple of Imam Abu Hanifah, was criticised by most muhaddithun although Maslamah ibn al-Qasim said he is thiqah and he is included in Abu ‘Awanah’s Mustakhraj, indicating he is thiqah or saduq according to him. Moreover, his narrations from Abu Hanifah in fiqh were accepted by the Hanafi jurists, which is an assessment from them of his reliability. Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl is thiqah according to Ibn Ma‘in, al-Fadl ibn Dukayn and Ibn Hibban. The narrator in the middle, Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Hazim, is majhul al-hal (unknown in reliability), though not majhul al-‘ayn (unknown in identity), as at least two people have narrated from him [which removes jahalat al-‘ayn], Ibn Kas and Ibn ‘Uqdah.

This narration therefore contains some degree of weakness, but is not very weak. In the narration of history and biography, the scholars of hadith were more relaxed than they were in narrating hadiths related to law and creed, so long as the narration is not very weak or fabricated. Later biographers and historians, like al-Mizzi and al-Dhahabi, included this narration in their notices on Imam Abu Hanifah.

In Siyar A’lam al-Nubala, after quoting this narration, al-Dhahabi says: “Allah knows best its authenticity!” (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ 6:398) Also in relation to this report, al-Dhahabi expressed his skepticism of the existence of the science of Kalam in this early period. However, Imam Abu Hanifah’s familiarity with the heresies of his day, of the Jahmiyyah, Mushabbihah, Rafidah and Mu’tazilah, and his nuanced criticism of them, indicates he probably did engage in some form of proto-Kalam, which he in his later life referred to as “Kalam.” Both al-Khatib and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr have sections in their early biographies of the Imam on his views related to creed

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Hafiz ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrated with an authentic chain to the trustworthy narrator, Sulayman ibn Abi Shaykh, that he said: “One of the Kufans informed me: Abu Hanifah was told that there is a circle in the mosque examining fiqh. He asked: “Do they have a head?” They said: “No.” He said: “These people will never attain fiqh!”” (al-Intiqa’ p. 257)

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