In the Name of Allah.
I compiled the following paper for my Fiqh class, and would like to share with everyone. After the Prophet (PBUH) and Umar, I follow the example of Imam Abu Hanifa, and owe my ideology to him. may Allah reward him for his struggles. Just like today, he found himself surrounded by Scholars without clear understanding of practical implication of Islam. He fought hard with extreme right, and extreme left, and gave us a model to follow today.
Text book gives a very high level and brief biography of Imam Nu’man bin Thabit aka Imam Abu Haneefah, but it does not provide the background and details that one should have to understand his status and contributions. There is an aspect of his life that is usually not discussed, which is very unique to him in the history.
He was born to an affluent family in Kufa, and his ancestry was from non-Arabic origin, and was brought up as a businessman. He was a master mind in business, and understood the intricacies of trade, and rules of trade, and his mind was very sharp, logical, and full of ambitions. As far as “Sirat-i-Nu’man” is concerned, Nu’man did not have any formal religious education until he was in his adulthood, which is a great contrast to other leading Imams of his era. His objective in life was not to become an Imam, but to become a businessman. This unique background gave him the edge over other scholars in his time over matters of trade and social rulings.
Once, he was passing by the house of Imam Sha’bi, and Imam called him “Where are you going, young man?” Imam Abu Haneefah explained him that he was going to see a merchant close by. In fact, Imam Sha’bi called him by mistake believing him to be his student. Since they were talking, he offered him to join his classes (Sirat-i-Nu’man pg 9). Imam Abu Haneefah made up his mind to learn about Islam, and studied with many teachers for a long time to become a great teacher. When, he became a teacher, he had a mission that changed the world as we know it. He was, unlike other Imams, a man of trade in heart, and understood the direction the world is heading towards. In his time, there were a lot of foreign business contracts that were being exposed to Muslims, and it was very difficult for lay person to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) with every new case that came up. He made tons of rulings in the field of business and trade, and most of the rulings that Non-Muslims were exposed to in Islamic history, originated with him.
Of course, with any change, comes the criticism, and he was given different titles, and labels. Some said that he rejected hadith, and others called him “what iffer”, and some even denied his status as faqhi, due to lack of him narrating ahadith. However, the fact remains that he was the first one to compile the fiqh in a way that paved the way for the future. He looked at each issue without the lens of local custom or culture, and allowed his students to debate when other scholars dictated the conversation. His mastery on qiyas, and unique background allowed him to look at fiqh from a different perspective. Muslims in the west can relate to his life story, as he was born, grew up and studied outside the mainstream schools of learning, and came to Islamic knowledge at a later age.
He compiled many books but most of them did not survive to us. Three are well known. Fiqh Akbar, Al-‘Alim Wa’l-Muta’allim, and Musnad. What reached to us mostly are his student’s compilations, which were influenced by his methodology, and provided the foundations for Muslim Ummah for centuries as their official Fiqh. Unfortunately, there are many false extraordinary stories attributed to him, like he prayed Fajr with same wudu from Isha prayer, and he completed seven thousand readings in the jail (Sirat-i-Nu’man pg 43). There is no evidence that they were true, however. What seems to be his great contribution is his unique way of looking at fiqh. While conventional scholars restricted themselves to direct meaning of the Quran and Sunnah, in most occasions, he explored the spirit of the rules of Islam within sources, so answers could be given to the new arising cases. Today, it is a necessity for the scholars to answer whether Quran saved in the phone, makes the phone a mushaf.
Nevertheless, his wisdom and keen mind was well known. His famous encounter with Imam Malik left Imam Malik sweating, and on many occasion, he solved people’s issue with his wit. For example, a man took an oath that he will not speak to his wife unless she speaks first, and the wife also got angry and took the oath that she will not speak unless he does first. Later, they realized their mistake and went to Sufyan Thauri, but he told them that the only way out is atonement of oath. Unsatisfied, they went to Abu Haneefah, and he told them that you can speak to each other all you want, and no atonement is required. When Sufyan Thauri found out, he went to Abu Haneefah to complain about the invalid ruling. Abu Haneefah told him that when she spoke to take her oath, she fulfilled his condition, and his oath completed, so he can speak to her as he likes (Sirat-i-Nu’man pg 71). Imam Abu Haneefah had the gift of having sharp mind that could see through clutter of details, and he could solve problems with the most ingenious solutions in a moment.
In reality, the most important characteristic that he had was that he could explain the difficult matters in simple terms, which was unique to him in his era among scholars of his status. Today, this is the biggest weakness in our Ummah that there is a gap of understanding between the scholars and lay person, and the scholars are not able to prove to people using practical examples their legal opinions. If he was alive today, he would look at the division among Muslims based on fiqh, and will laugh at it, and then cry at it. He will laugh, because the correct ruling is in front of the scholars, but they refuse to accept it. He will cry because, one of the reason people will not accept the correct ruling is because it will mean to admit that a certain fiqh followed the wrong ruling for centuries.
Imam Abu Haneefah continued his trade throughout his life, and presented an example of balancing the religious duties and worldly duties. He was able to understand the issues of common folks, and was able to deduce rulings, and was able to articulate his rulings in a convincing way. Other scholars of his time could have been more educated, and well versed in hadith, perhaps, but his understanding of deen (fiqh) was second to none.
Adnan Jumani (Abu Arman)
References“Sirat-i-Nu’man”, Written by Allamah Shibli Nu’mani, Translated by M. Hadi Hussain.