Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa in 80 AH and passed away in around 150 AH. Most say that he died after al-Mansur instituted the Inquisition. If he had been born in 61 AH, he would have been 90 at that time.
Uthman al-Batti was a jurist in Basra.
This epistle was sent from Abu Hanifa to ‘Uthman al-Batti regarding belief and its connection to action.
Peace be on you.
I extol God, of whom there is no other god than Him, to you. I counsel you in the fear and obedience of God; God suffices as reckoner and compensator. Your epistle has reached me and I have understood your advice in it. You say that you were moved to write it by what I had written to preserve you in good actions and to provide you with good advice. You mention that it has reached you that I belong to the Muiji’a, and that I claim that a believer may err, and that this distresses you, and that there is really no excuse among the people of God for a thing which keeps one apart from God; that there is nothing by which one may be guided in what people create and innovate; that moral commands are only in found in what the Qur’an states and in what Muhammad preached and his Companions agreed upon until the people became divided; and that anything beyond this is human innovation and human creation.
You must understand what I am writing to you. Keep your thoughts to yourself and fear Satan entering upon you; God preserve us both in obedience to Him—we ask the assistance of His mercy for us both.
I can tell you that the people were idolaters before God, most high, sent Muhammad. Then He sent Muhammad to call them to Islam, and he called them to testify that there is no god but God alone who has no partner, and to profess what he brought them from God. Whoever entered Islam was a believer, freed of idolatry, and his possessions and blood inviolate, while he was entitled to the rights of a Muslim and the protection of Muslims. Whoever neglected Islam when called to it became an infidel, free of faith, his possessions and blood lawful to Muslims, from whom nothing could be accepted except his entry into Islam or his death, except for thePeople of the Book whom God explicitly exempted, who paid tribute-money.
Then the laws were revealed after this for people who had believed and adoption of the laws became a work of faith. Thus God says in Qur’an 2/25 (etc.),
“Those who believe and do good works,”
and in Qur’an 2/62 (etc.),
“He who believes in God and does good works,”
and similar expressions in the Qur’an. Therefore an absence of works does not result in a loss of belief, and belief may be attained without any acts. If an absence of works involved a loss of belief, one would be taken by the absence of works from the name of faith and its continuance, just as people who lose belief move as a result from the name of faith and its continuance and truth, and revert to their former state of idolatry. One of the ways by which this may be known is the disagreement between act and belief. People do not disagree in belief and do not excel each other, but they excel each other in acts and their laws differ as well; yet the religion of the people of heaven and the religion of the prophets does not differ. ThusGod says in Qur’an 12/13,
“We have laid down for you as religion what was prescribed for Noah, and what We have revealed to you, and what We prescribed for Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus.”
Know that guidance in belief in God and His prophet is not like guidance in what is legislated as to acts. Why does this disturb you? You call a man a true believer for what he believes, and God calls him so in His book; and you call a man ignorant for what he does not know of the laws. He needs only to learn that of which he is ignorant. Is one who errs in knowledge of God and His prophets the same as one who errs about what people learn when they are already true believers?
God has said in His teaching about the law in Qur’an 4/176,
“God explains it to you for you may err. And God is the Knower of all things.”
And He says in Qur’an2/282,
“If one of you errs, then another one of you will remember”
and in Qur’an26/20,
“I [Moses] did it then, when I was of those who err,”
that is, among the ignorant. The proof from the book of God and the sunna for believing this is something so apparent and obvious that it does not pose a problem for someone like you. Do you not say “a wicked believer,” “a sinful believer,” “a trespassing believer,” “an uncouth believer,” “a cruel believer”? Can one be rightly guided in wickedness or error as he is rightly guided in faith? Can one be led astray from the truth while committing error?
Consider the speech of the sons of Jacob to our prophet, their father, in Qur’an12/95,
“Indeed, you are in your old error.”
Do you think they meant, “You are in your old disbelief’? God forbid that you, who are learned in the Qur’an, should understand it so!