Sufyan al-Thawri’s Respect for Imam Abu Hanifah

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi reported in his Tarikh Baghdad:

Al-Saymari informed us: He said: We read onto al-Husayn ibn Harun from Ibn Sa‘id: He said: ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim ibn Qutaybah narrated to us: he said: Ibn Numayr narrated to us: He said: Ibrahim ibn al-Basir narrated to me from Isma‘il ibn Hammad from Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash: He said:

“‘Umar ibn Sa‘id, the brother of Sufyan [al-Thawri] died, so we came to him to console him, when it so happened that the gathering was full of his family, and amongst them was ‘Abd Allah ibn Idris. Thereupon, Abu Hanifah approached amidst a group with him. When Sufyan saw him, he moved from his seat, and stood up and embraced him, and seated him in his place and sat in front of him.”

Abu Bakr continued: “I became angry at him, and Ibn Idris said [to me]: ‘Woe to you! Don’t you see [that there are people present]?’ Then we waited until the people dispersed, so I said to ‘Abd Allah ibn Idris: ‘Don’t get up until we know what is with him in [behaving] this way.’ Then I said: ‘O Abu ‘Abd Allah! I saw you today doing something that I disapproved, and our companions disapproved of it.’ He said: ‘What was that?’ I said: ‘Abu Hanifah came to you, and you stood up for him and seated him in your seat and you behaved in an exaggerated manner, and this is blameworthy according to our companions.’ He said: ‘Why do you disapprove of this? This is a man who has reached a [high] degree of knowledge, so if I did not stand for his knowledge, I stood for his age, and if I did not stand for his age I stood for his jurisprudence, and if I did not stand for his jurisprudence I stood for his scrupulousness.’ This caused me to withdraw as I had no answer.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:467-8)

A Brief Look at the Chain

Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Saymari (351 – 436) is saduq according to al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (Tarikh Baghdad 8:634-5). Al-Barqani said al-Husayn ibn Harun al-Dabbi (320 – 398) is a hujjah which is equivalent to thiqah (Tarikh Baghdad 8:729-30)

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa‘id al-Kufi is the famous Hafiz Ibn ‘Uqdah (248-332). Abu ‘Ali al-Hafiz al-Naysaburi said he was an imam and hafiz and a transmitter of such calibre that his reliability should not even be inquired about (Lisan al-Mizan 1:605); however, he was accused of holding mild Shiite beliefs. ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim ibn Qutaybah al-Ansari al-Kufi was a recognised authority in the field of Qur’an reading (Rijal al-Daraqutni p. 23) Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Numayr (160 – 234) is a narrator found in all six collections of hadith and of undisputable reliability.

Ibrahim ibn Isma‘il ibn Bashir al-Basir has a notice in Ibn Abi Hatim’s Kitab al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil, and Abu Zur‘ah said: “If there is anyone reliable in the hadith of Ja‘far ibn ‘Awn from al-Mu‘alla ibn ‘Irfan from Abu Wa’il…, it is him [i.e. Ibrahim ibn Isma‘il ibn Bashir].” (Lisan al-Mizan)

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 motivated by 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. Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash is a famous hadith-scholar found in the collections of al-Bukhari and the four Sunan.

Hence, although this narration contains some degree of weakness because of the unknown reliability of ‘Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim and the possible unreliability of Isma‘il, the weakness is slight and can be overlooked in such reports which describe the virtues of Imam Abu Hanifah, as in the context of virtues, the scholars of hadith were not as stringent as they were in laws and beliefs.

Sufyan al-Thawri was known to have some opposition to Imam Abu Hanifah, yet it is authentically established that he regarded him as “the greatest faqih of the time” (see here) and he would often accept his opinions in fiqh (see here). The event described in this report which probably occurred towards the end of Imam Abu Hanifah’s life, as indicated by the death of his brother and by the mention of Abu Hanifah’s old age, would seem to suggest Sufyan’s feelings towards the Imam changed later in his later life when he held a positive opinion of him.

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3 comments on “Sufyan al-Thawri’s Respect for Imam Abu Hanifah

  1. I was so eagerly waiting for new post. This is one of the best site with accurate reference + complete English translation(you wont find anywhere else). Please keep adding more in same fashion. If possible please address the weak and fabricated lies attributed to Imam e Azam

    Jazaka’Allah khair

  2. If possible can you shed some light on this famous quote “Imam abu hanifa r.a studying under Imam Jafar saddiq r.a for two years and had that not be happened then he(abu hanifa r.a) would perish “- References from Majors/famous books would be great

    Jazaka’Allah

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