The Life of Imam-al-Azam Abu Hanifa  رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ

The Life of Imam-al-Azam Abu Hanifa رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ

Muhammad Abu Zahra 


His birth and lineage

According to most sources, Abu Hanifa  رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ was born in Kufa in 80 AH. Although there is almost total agreement on this, there is one source that posits 61AH, but this does not tally with the facts of his life since it is agreed that he did not die until 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.

His father was Thabit ibn Zawti al-Farisi, a Persian. His grandfather was one of the people of Kabil who was captured in the Arab conquest of the region. He was enslaved to one of the Banu Taym and then freed. His wala’ belonged to this tribe and so he was a Taymi by clientage. This information was transmitted by the grandson of Abu Hanifa, ‘Umar ibn Hammad, but ‘Umar’s brother Isma‘il said that Abu Hanifa was an-Nu‘man ibn Thabit ibn an-Nu‘man ibn al-Marzban. He said, “By Allah, we were never enslaved.”

So his grandsons disagreed about his lineage. One said that his grandfather was called Zawti and the other that his name was an-Nu‘man. The first said that he was captured and enslaved and the second completely denied it. The author of al-Khayrat al-Hisan combined the two versions, maintaining that the grandfather had two names, Zayti and an-Nu‘man. He denied the enslavement. This present work agrees with the names but not the fact of enslavement, because the second version totally excludes it.

It seems probable that he was captured in the conquest, but that grace was shown him, which was the custom of the Muslims towards some of the important people of conquered lands, so as to uphold their position and importance in Islam and to bring their hearts and those of their children close.

Reliable sources state that he was a Persian and not an Arab or a Babylonian. Whether his grandfather was enslaved or not, he and his father were born free men. In any case, the fact that he was a client in no way detracts from his worth. The major exponents of fiqh in the time of the Tabi‘un, whom Abu Hanifa met and from whose fiqh he extrapolated, were clients of tribes rather than pure Arabs. Most of the fuqaha’ in the time of the Tabi‘un and indeed the following generation were clients.

In al-‘Aqd al-Farid, Ibn ‘Abdu Rabbih says:

Ibn Abi Layla said: ‘Isa ibn Musa, a religious and very partisan man, asked me,

“Who is the faqih of Iraq?”

I replied, “Al-Hasan ibn Abi’l-Hasan (al-Basri).”

“Then who?”

I said, “Muhammad ibn Sirin.”

“Who are those two?” he asked.

“Two clients,” I replied.

“Who is the faqih of Makka?” he asked.

“‘Ata ibn Abi Rabah, Mujahid, Sa‘id ibn Jubayr or Salman ibn Yasar,” I replied.

“Who are they?”


“Who are the fuqaha’ of Madina?”

“Zayd ibn Aslam, Muhammad ibn al-Munkadir, and Nujayh ibn Abi Nujayh,” I replied.

“And who are they?” he asked.

“Clients,” I said.

His face changed colour. Then he asked, “Who knows the most fiqh of the people of Quba’?”

“Rabi‘a ar-Ra’y and Ibn Abi’z-Zinad,” I responded.

“Who are they?”


He scowled and then asked, “Who is the faqih of Yemen?”

“Tawus, his son, and Ibn Munabbah,” I replied.

“Who are they?” he asked.

“Also clients.”

His veins bulged and he stood up. “And who is the faqih of Khorasan?”

“‘Ata’ ibn ‘Abdullah al-Khurasani.”

“Who is this ‘Ata’?”

“A client,” I said.

‘His scowl deepened and he glared until I became quite afraid of him. Then he said, “Who is the faqih of Syria?”

“Makhul,” I replied.

“Who is this Makhul?”

“A client,” I said.

He began breathing hard and then asked, “Who is the faqih of Kufa?”

By Allah, were it not for fear for him, I would have said, “Al-Hakim ibn ‘Utba and Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman,” but seeing his violent state I replied, “Ibrahim an-Nakha‘i and ash-Sha‘bi.”

“Who are they?” he asked.

“Two Arabs,” I replied.

“Allah is greater!” he exclaimed and calmed down.

There are other transmissions to the same effect from other sources which indicate that, during the time in which Abu Hanifa grew up, knowledge was for the most part among the clients. Since they lacked the glory of lineage, Allah gave them the glory of knowledge which is purer and more lasting. This shows the truth of the prophecy of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, that knowledge would be found among the sons of Persia. We find the hadith in al-Bukhari, Muslim, ash-Shirazi, and at-Tabarani: “If knowledge were suspended in the Pleiades, some of the men of Persia would still obtain it.”

Before going into Abu Hanifa’s lineage, we should perhaps first discuss the reason why, in Umayyad times, knowledge was found mostly among the clients. There were several reasons for this.

• In Umayyad times, the Arabs had authority and power and they fought wars and went on expeditions. All of which distracted them from study and learning. The clients, on the other hand, were free to study,analyse and investigate. They realised that they lacked power and so they wanted to obtain honour by a means which was within their grasp: knowledge. Social deprivation can lead to excellence, high aspirations and splendid deeds, and indeed it led those clients to master the intellectual life of Islam while the Arabs were politically and economically dominant.

• The Companions spent a lot of time with the clients. keeping their company morning and evening so the clients were able to take from the Companions what they had learned from the Messenger of Allah. When the era of the Companions ended, they became the bearers of knowledge after them and thus it was that most of the great Tabi‘un were clients.

• The clients came largely from ancient civilisations with developed cultures and science. This had an effect on the formation of their ideas and the direction of their pursuits, and indeed, at times, on their beliefs. Devotion to knowledge was part of their nature.

• The Arabs were not people of crafts and learning; and when someone devotes himself to knowledge, it becomes like a craft. A lengthy discussion about this can be found in Ibn Khaldun.


His upbringing

Abu Hanifa grew up in Kufa and was educated there and lived most of his life there as a student, debater and teacher. The sources in our possession do not mention his father’s life or what his occupation and circumstances were but certain things about his circumstances can be deduced. He must have been wealthy, a merchant, and a good Muslim. In most books that recount the biography of Abu Hanifa, it states that his father met ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib as a child and that his grandfather gave ‘Ali some faludhaj1 on the day of  Nawruz. This indicates that his family were wealthy since they were able to give the khalif sweets which only the wealthy ate. 

It is related that ‘Ali prayed for blessing for Thabit and his descendants when he saw him. This shows that he must have been a Muslim. It explicitly states in histories that Thabit was born into Islam and Abu Hanifa grew up in a Muslim household. That is confirmed by all scholars.

We find Abu Hanifa frequenting the market before he frequented scholars. We see that throughout his life he engaged in trade and so we must deduce that his father was a merchant. It seems probable that he was a merchant in khazz silk and that Abu Hanifa followed his father’s occupation as is the custom of people both past and present. It is also probable that, following the custom of most wealthy city dwellers, he memorised the Qur’an. That assumption tallies with what is known of Abu Hanifa being one of the people who was very frequent in his recitation of the Qur’an. It is reported that he used to recite the entire Qur’an seven times in Ramadan, and even if that is an exaggeration, it is based on the fact that he recited the Qur’an a lot. Many sources report that he learned recitation from Imam ‘Asim, the source of one of the seven recitations (qira’at) of the Qur’an.2

Kufa was one of the two great Iraqi cities of the time. Iraq was home to many different religions, sects and beliefs and of various ancient civilisations. Syriac Christians were dispersed throughout it and they had schools there before Islam, in which Greek philosophy and the ancient wisdom of Persia were studied. Before Islam, Iraq was also home to several Christian sects where dogma was debated. After Islam, Iraq was a melting pot of diverse races and a place rife with confusion and disorder. There were clashes of opinion on politics and religion. The Shi‘a and Mu‘tazilites were there as well as the Kharijites in the desert. There were also the Tabi‘un who strove to take knowledge from the Companions they met. Knowledge of the deen was transmitted freely there. It was an environment of clashing sects and conflicting opinions.

Abu Hanifa observed these diverse currents and his intellect was sharpened and sifted these differing views. It appears that while still in his youth he debated and argued people from various sects. This reveals his upright natural disposition. He concentrated, however, on commerce, going mainly to the markets and rarely to scholars. This remained the state of things until one day a scholar noticed his intelligence and cleverness and thought that he should not devote himself entirely to trade. He told him to frequent the scholars as he did the markets.

t is transmitted that Abu Hanifa said, “One day I was going past ash-Sha‘bi who was sitting down. He called to me, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I am going to the market.’ He said, ‘I do not frequent the market. I am concerned with going to the scholars.’ I told him, ‘I rarely frequent them.’ He told me, ‘Do not be heedless. You must look into knowledge and sit with the scholars. I discern alertness and energy in you.’ That affected my heart and I ceased to frequent the market and began to turn to knowledge and Allah let me benefit from what he said.” (Virtues of Abu Hanifa, al-Makki, pt. 1, p. 59) After ash-Sha‘bi’s advice, Abu Hanifa turned to knowledge and frequented the circles of the scholars.


His involvement in learning

But to which group did he go? As is seen from the historical sources, there were three fields of knowledge at that time: circles which discussed the fundamentals of dogma, which was the arena of the different sects; circles which studied the hadiths of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace; and circles which deduced fiqh from the Book and Sunna and gave fatwa about things which arose.

We have three versions of what happened. One mentions that when he devoted himself to knowledge, he turned to fiqh after examining all the sciences which were known at that time. Two other versions clearly state that he first selected the science of kalam and debated with the sects and then Allah directed him to fiqh to which he completely devoted himself. We will examine the three versions.

It is related by various paths, including Abu Yusuf, that Abu Hanifa was asked, “How did you happen to come to fiqh?” He replied, “I will tell you. Success is from Allah and praise is His as He deserves and merits. When I wanted to learn knowledge, I looked at all the forms of knowledge and read some of them and thought about the end and usefulness of each. I said, ‘I will go into kalam.’ Then I looked and found that it had a bad aim and contained little benefit. When a man is proficient in it, he cannot speak openly and cast aside every evil and is likely to be called a sectarian.

“Then I examined literature and grammar, and found that the logical end of that discipline is to sit with a child and teach him grammar and literature. I examined poetry and saw that its end was eulogy, satire, lies and tearing apart the deen. Then I thought about the forms of Qur’an recitation (qira’at) and said, ‘When I reach the end of it, young people will gather to read with me and discuss the Qur’an andits meanings and that is difficult.’ So I said, ‘I will seek hadith.’ But then I said, ‘To amass a lot of it I will have to have a long life before I will be of any use to people, and even then only youths will gather around me who will probably accuse me of lying and poor memory and that will be a burden for me until the Day of Rising.’

“Then I turned to fiqh and no matter which way I looked at it, it only increased in esteem and I could not find any fault in it. I saw that it involved sitting with scholars, fuqaha’, shaykhs and people of insight and taking on their character. I saw that it is only by knowing it that the obligations are properly performed and the deen and worship established. Seeking this world and the Next World can only be done through it. If anyone desires to seek this world through it, he seeks a weighty matter and will be elevated by it. If someone wants to worship and divest himself, no one can say, ‘He worships without knowledge.’ Rather it will be said, ‘This is fiqh and acting by knowledge.’”

This anecdote is illustrative of the sciences which were prevalent in his time and shows that he chose between them as he was inclined.

The second transmission is reported from Yahya ibn Shayban. He reports that Abu Hanifa said: “I was a man given to debate in kalam and spent some time indulging in it. The people of debate and disputation were mostly located in Basra. So I went to Basra about twenty times, staying more or less a year each time. I argued with the groups of Kharijites: Ibadites, Sufrites and other Kharijite sects. I considered kalam to be the queen of the sciences. I used to say that kalam was the basis of the deen.

“Then I reconsidered after a considerable part of my life had been spent involved in it. I reflected and realised that the Companions of the Prophet and the Tabi‘un knew as much as we know and had more capacity, more understanding and better knowledge of the truth of matters. But they did not have arguments about it and did not delve into it. They withheld from doing that and forbade it strenuously. I saw them dealing with laws and areas of fiqh and speaking about such matters. That was what they sat to learn and those were the circles they attended. That was what they used to teach people and what they invited them to learn and what they encouraged them in. They gave fatwa and were asked for fatwa concerning matters of fiqh.

“That was the standpoint of the Companions, and the Tabi‘un followed them in it. When their mode of behaviour became clear to us, we left debate, argument and delving into kalam and confined ourselves to the basic knowledge of fiqh and we returned to the position of the Salaf, taking from what they left and legislating as they legislated. The people of knowledge sat with us for that reason and I saw that those who were involved in kalam and debating were people whose trait was not that of our noble predecessors and whose path was not that of the righteous. I saw them as being hard-hearted and thick-skinned. They were not worried about the fact that they were conflicting with the Book and the Sunna and the righteous Salaf and that they had neither scrupulousness nor fear of Allah.”

The third transmission is reported from Zafar ibn al-Hudhayl, the student of Abu Hanifa, who stated: “I heard Abu Hanifa say, ‘I used to look into kalam until I was advanced in it and people pointed me out. We used to sit near the circle of Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman. One day a woman came to us and said, “A man has a wife who is a slave girl whom he wants to divorce according to the Sunna. How many times should he pronounce the divorce?” I told her to ask Hammad and then come back and tell me. She asked him and he said, “He should divorce her once at a time when she is not menstruating and he has not had intercourse with her and then leave her until she has menstruated two more times. Then when she has purified herself she may remarry.” She returned and told us what he had said. I said, “I have no further use for kalam,” and took my sandals and sat with Hammad. I used to listen to his questions and learned what he said and then went back again day after day. I remembered while his other students erred. He said, “Only Abu Hanifa should sit opposite me at the front of the circle.”’”

These three transmissions are related in various forms but all bear the same import. It is clear that he chose fiqh after looking into other fields of knowledge, and two say that he was skilled in kalam before turning to fiqh. It cannot be denied that his final interest was knowledge of fiqh.

Abu Hanifa experienced the full Islamic culture of his age. He memorised the Qur’an with the reading of ‘Asim. He knew a considerable amount of hadith, grammar, literature and poetry. He debated with the different sects on questions of dogma and related matters. He travelled to Basra to do this and sometimes remained there for a year. But then he moved on to fiqh.

Abu Hanifa turned to fiqh and immersed himself in it as he had done with the different sects, studying the fatwas of the great shaykhs of his time. He devoted himself to one of them and took benefit from him. He thought that a seeker of fiqh should take from various different shaykhs and live in their environment but devote himself to a particular distinguished faqih in order to be trained by him and so be able to understand the fiqh of subtle questions.

During his time, Kufa was the home of the fuqaha’ of Iraq as Basra was the home of the different sects and those who delved into the principles of dogma. Kufa was the intellectual environment that influenced him. Explaining that, he said, “I was situated in a lode of knowledge and fiqh. I sat with its people and devoted myself to one of their fuqaha’.”

Abu Hanifa devoted himself to Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, studied fiqh with him, and remained with him until his death. There are three questions which need answering concerning this. One is the age of Abu Hanifa when he first stayed with Hammad and devoted himself to fiqh? The second concerns his age when he became an independent teacher? And the third concerns whether his devotion to his teacher was so total as to preclude contact with the knowledge of others.

There is, in fact, no way that we can know the age when Abu Hanifa turned to fiqh or took up with Hammad. All we know is that he stayed with Hammad until he died. He did not start teaching on his own until after Hammad died when he took the latter’s place in his circle which was vacated by his death. Hammad died in 120 AH when Abu Hanifa must have been in his forties. So Abu Hanifa did not teach independently until after he was forty and fully developed, physically and intellectually. He thought about becoming independent before that, but did not do so.

It is related from Zafar that Abu Hanifa said about his connection to his shaykh Hammad, “I accompanied him for ten years and then my self urged me to seek leadership and I wanted to withdraw and have my own circle. One day I went out in the evening resolved to do so that but when I entered the mosque, I saw that I would not be happy to withdraw from him and went and sat with him. That night Hammad heard that a relative of his in Basra had died leaving property and had no other heir but him. He told me to sit in his place while he was away. I replied to questions I had not heard answered by him and wrote down my replies. When he returned I showed him the questions – there were about sixty of them. He agreed with me on forty and disagreed on twenty. I decided not to leave him until he or I died and that was what I did.”

It is reckoned that he was with him for eighteen years and it is related that he said, “I came to Basra and thought that I would not be asked about anything which I could not answer. Then they asked me about things which I could not answer so I decided that I would not leave Hammad until he or I died. I kept his company for eighteen years.”

If we study his life, it will be seen that this was not exclusive since he often went on hajj to the House of Allah, and in Makka and Madina he met a number of scholars, many of whom were Tabi‘un and his encounter with them was only for the sake of knowledge. He related hadiths from them, debated fiqh with them, and studied their methods. Thus he had many shaykhs. There were also those from whom he related regarding the different sects. It is confirmed that he studied with Zayd ibn ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin and Ja‘far as-Sadiq, who were Shi‘ite Imams, and ‘Abdullah ibn Hasan. He studied with some of the Kaysaniyya who believed in the return of the hidden mahdi.

So he met and studied with other scholars while he was with Hammad, especially the Tabi‘un who had learned directly from the Companions and were distinguished for fiqh and ijtihad. He stated, “I learned the fiqh of ‘Umar, the fiqh of ‘Ali, the fiqh of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud and the fiqh of Ibn ‘Abbas from their companions.”


His replacing Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman

When Abu Hanifa was in his forties, he took the place of his shaykh, Hammad, in Kufa and began to teach his students regarding the problems they presented for fatwa, cases, analogies and examples with his capable, orderly intellect and direct, logical mind and thus set up that method of fiqh from which the Hanafi school is derived. However, before continuing to discuss the course of his life and what is connected to it, we must first consider two further important aspects of his life: his livelihood and source of income and how the events of his time affected him.

Historical deduction leads us to conclude that Abu Hanifa’s father and grandfather were wealthy merchants, and it is probable that they traded in khazz-silk which was a very profitable business. Abu Hanifa carried on in the family business until his conversation with ash-Sha‘bi after which he devoted himself to knowledge. Did he give up commerce altogether? The transmitters are agreed that he did not but remained a merchant until his death. They mention that he had a partner and it appears that this partner enabled him to continue to seek knowledge, teach fiqh and transmit hadith. This trustworthy partner must have prevented him from having to go to the markets. There were other scholars who combined trade and knowledge such as Wasil ibn ‘Ata’, the shaykh of the Mu‘tazilites who was Abu Hanifa’s contemporary. He was born in the same year and was a Persian like him. He also lived off his trade and had a partner who was a relative and dealt with business on his behalf so that he could devote himself to his studies.

Abu Hanifa, the merchant, had four qualities connected to the behaviour of people in business which made him a perfect example of the upright merchant just as he was in the first rank among scholars:

• He was wealthy and not controlled by greed which impoverishes souls. This may be due to having grown up in a wealthy home and never having tasted need.

• He was very trustworthy in all he did.

• He was generous and Allah protected him from avarice.

• He was very devout and religious. He worshipped a lot, fasting in the day and praying at night.


These qualities combined to define his business dealings so that he was unusual among merchants. Many people compared him to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq in that respect. It was as if by imitating Abu Bakr’s example and proceeding on his path, he was one of the Salaf who are followed. Both his buying and selling were trustworthy. A woman brought a silk garment to sell and he asked, “How much is it?” She replied, “A hundred.” He said “It is worth more than a hundred. How much?” She kept increasing it by hundreds until she reached four hundred and he said, “It should be more than that.” She said, “You are mocking me.” He said, “Bring a man to value it.” She brought a man and he bought it for five hundred.

Thus we see that he was circumspect in buying as well as selling and did not see the heedlessness of the seller as something to be taken advantage of, but thought that it was necessary to guide the person correctly. When he was the seller, he would sometimes forgo profit if the buyer was weak or a friend, alternatively, he would give him some of his excess profit.

A woman once came to him and said, “I am weak and I put myself in your hands. Sell me this garment for what it cost you.” He said, “Take it for four dirhams.” She retorted, “Do not mock me. I am an old woman.” He said, “I bought two garments and sold one of them for the cost of both less four dirhams. This garment is then worth four dirhams.”

Another time a friend came to him and asked him for a silk garment of a certain description and colour. He told him, “Be patient until it comes and I will get it for you, Allah willing.” That happened before a week had passed and he took the garment to his friend and said to him, “What you needed has arrived.” “How much is it then?” the friend asked. “A dirham,” Abu Hanifa replied. He said, “I did not think you would mock me.” He said, “I am not mocking you. I brought two garments for 20 dinars and a dirham. I sold one for twenty dinars and this remains for a dirham.”

There is no doubt that such behaviour involves giving or it is alms in the form of buying and selling. It is not usual commerce. Rather, it tells us about the inner character of that great merchant in himself, his trustworthiness, intelligence, deen and fidelity, and illustrates the generosity in his heart.

He was very distressed about anything which was tainted by the possibility of wrong action, even if such was unlikely. If he thought that there was any wrong action involved in a transaction, or suspected it in connection with any property he had, he would take it and give it as charity to the poor and needy. It is reported that he sent his partner, Hafs ibn ‘Abdu’r-Rahman, with some goods and told him that there was a fault in one garment and that he must make the fault clear when he sold it. Hafs sold the goods and forgot to point out the flaw and he did not know who had bought it. When Abu Hanifa learned of that, he gave theentire value of the garment away as charity. (History of Baghdad, pt. 13, p. 58)

In spite of this scrupulousness and not being satisfied with anything that was not absolutely lawful, his trade was profitable and so he often spent on shaykhs and hadith scholars. It states in TheHistory of Baghdad: “He used to accrue profit from one year to the next and he would use it to provide for the requirements of the shaykhs and scholars: their food and garments and all their needs. Then he would give the remaining dinars of profit to them and say, “Buy what you need and only praise Allah. I have not given you any money. It is simply part of Allah’s bounty to you.” (pt. 13, p. 360)

The profit of his trade was used to preserve the dignity of scholars and provide for their needs and to enable people of knowledge to dispense with official stipends. He was also keen about his appearance which was reported to be good. He was very concerned about his clothes and chose the best so that his cloak was worth thirty dinars. He had a good appearance and wore a lot of scent. Abu Yusuf said, “He used to take care of even his sandal straps so that he was never seen with a broken strap.”

n the same way that he was concerned with his own attire and appearance, he was also concerned with that of others. For instance, it is reported that he saw one of his companions wearing a poor garment and ordered him to wait until the assembly had departed so that he alone remained. He told him, “Lift the prayer mat and take what is under it.” The man lifted it and there was 1000 dirhams under it. He told him, “Take these dirhams and change your state with them.” The man said, “I am wealthy and well-off. I do not need it.” He told him, “Have you not heard the hadith, ‘Allah loves the trace of his blessing to appear on His servant’? For this reason you must change your state, so that your friend is not grieved by you.”


His position in respect of the revolutionary movements of his time

We know turn to something which had a strong effect on the course of Abu Hanifa’s life: his position in respect to the revolutionary movements of his time, the extent of their effect on him, what assistance he gave to the instigators, and what was his relationship with those in authority. It is vital to ascertain these matters since the trial which ended his life was connected to them to the extent that one could say, it was a case of direct cause and effect. What took place was connected to something which had happened in his youth.

Abu Hanifa lived for fifty-two years under Umayyad rule and eighteen years under Abbasid rule. He experienced both Muslim dynasties. He knew the Umayyads when they were strong and when they were in their decline. He experienced the Abbasid state when it was in a missionary stage in the Persian lands, when it was emerging newly-fledged from its hidden lair, and then when it became a movement which defeated the Umayyads and wrested sovereignty from them, imposing on the people an authority which they considered to be religious because its khalifs were among the relatives of the Messenger of Allah. So the people were impelled to it by both desire and terror.

Abu Hanifa was aware of this and it had an effect on him, even if it is not known that he participated with those who rebelled. Most of the reports about his position make it clear that his heart was with the ‘Alawites when they rebelled first against the Umayyads, and then later when they rebelled against the Abbasids.

It is related that when Zayd ibn ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin rebelled against Hisham in 121 AH, Abu Hanifa said, “His going forth resembles that of the Messenger of Allah on the Day of Badr.” He was asked, “Did you not stay behind?” He said, “People’s trusts kept me from him. I offered them to Ibn Abi Layla but he did not accept them. So I feared that I would die without them being known.” It is reported that he said about not accompanying Zayd, “If I had known that people would not disappoint him as they did his father, I would have striven with him because he is a true Imam. Nonetheless, I helped him with my property and sent him 10,000 dirhams and told the messenger, ‘Give him my excuse.’” (al-Manaqib, al-Bazzazi, pt. 1, p. 55)

This indicates that he considered the rebellion against the Umayyads to be legally permissible when there was a just Imam like Imam Zayd and that he wanted to bear arms with him. But the sources do not indicate that he did not anticipate a good result. The action was correct, but nothing was achieved because of lack of support. Nonetheless he supported him with money.

Imam Zayd’s rebellion ended in his death in 132 AH, after which his son Yahya rebelled in Khorasan in135 AH and was also killed. Then ‘Abdullah ibn Yahya continued to pursue their cause and fought against the general whom Marwan II sent to Yemen at the end of the Umayyad era, and he too was killed as had been the fate of his fathers before him.

So this illustrates what Abu Hanifa thought of Zayd ibn ‘Ali and how he compared his expedition to that of the Prophet at Badr. He considered him to be a just Imam and supported him financially so as not to be one of those who stayed behind. He saw him slain, and then his son was killed after him and then his grandson as well. It is likely that he was distressed by their deaths. When scholars are angry, their tongues can accomplish what swords cannot. Their blows are stronger and sharper. What befell him from the Umayyad governor inIraq in 130 AH supports that. It is stated in al-Makki’s The Virtues of Abu Hanifa and in other sources and history books that Yazid ibn ‘Umar ibn Hubayra, Marwan’s governor of Iraq, sought out Abu Hanifa to appoint him qadi or to put him in charge of the exchequer. Sedition was rife at that time in Iraq, Khorasan and Persia because of Abbasid agitators.

This is what al-Makki says about what happened:

Ibn Hubayra was the governor of Kufa for the Umayyads. There were seditions in Iraq and he gathered the fuqaha’ of Iraq at his door, including Ibn Abi Layla, Ibn Shibrama, and Da’ud ibn Abi Hind. He appointed each of them to high post. Then he sent for Abu Hanifa and wanted to put the seal in his hand so that no document would be implemented except at the hand of Abu Hanifa. But Abu Hanifa refused and Ibn Hubayra swore that if he did not accept, he would flog him.

Those fuqaha’ said to him, “We beseech you by Allah not to destroy yourself. We are your brothers and we all are forced to comply in this business and can find no way to avoid it.”

Abu Hanifa said, “If he wanted me to restore the doors of the Wasit Mosque for him I would not undertake to do it. What should I do when he wants me to write that a man should have his head cut off and seal the document? By Allah, I will never become involved in that!”

“Let your companion alone.” said Ibn Abi Layla to the others. “He is right and others are wrong.”

The authorities imprisoned Abu Hanifa and he was flogged on consecutive days. The flogger came to Ibn Hubayra and told him, “The man will die.”

Ibn Hubayra said, “Tell him: ‘We will banish anyone who lies to us.’”

He asked Abu Hanifa to submit but he said, “If he were to ask me to restore the doors of the mosque for him, I would not do it.”

Then the flogger met with Ibn Hubayra again who said, “Is there no sincere adviser of this prisoner to ask me for a reprieve which we can grant him?”

That was mentioned to Abu Hanifa who said, “Let me consult my brothers.” He did so and Ibn Hubayra commanded that he be let go and he went Makka in 139 AH. He remained in Makka until the Abbasids came and then returned to Kufa during the time of al-Mansur.”

So al-Makki and others mention that Ibn Hubayra offered a post to Abu Hanifa and he refused. He thought that Ibn Hubayra wanted to appoint him to some office to confirm his loyalty or prove his suspicions against him. He offered him the seal but Abu Hanifa refused. He asked him to accept a general post but he refused even though he was severely beaten until his head was swollen and breathing became difficult for him. He did not weaken or weep until he learned that his mother was grieved by what had happened to him. Then his eyes filled with tears as he was pained by her pain and compassionate on her behalf. Such is the truly strong person; he is not concerned for himself but only concerned for others.

Abu Hanifa fled to Makka after the flogging and remained there from 130 AH until the Abbasids were in power. He was safe in the Haram while the seditions were rife throughout the khalifate. He devoted himself to the hadith and fiqh which came from the knowledge of Ibn ‘Abbas. He met his students there and discussed knowledge with them. Al-Mansur came to power in 136. Abu Hanifa was in Makka from 130 AH which means he stayed at least six years in the vicinity of the Haram.

It also reports in The Virtues by al-Makki that Abu Hanifa was in Kufa when Abu’l-‘Abbas as-Saffah entered it and asked for people to give him their allegiance.

When Abu’l-‘Abbas came to Kufa, he gathered the scholars and said, “This command has come to the people of the House of your Prophet and Allah has brought you good and established the truth. You are the scholars and it is more proper for you to assist it. You will have gifts, honour and hospitality from the property of Allah as you wish. So pledge allegiance to your Imam as evidence for and against you and security for your Life to Come. Do not meet Allah without an Imam and be those who have no evidence on their behalf.”

The people looked at Abu Hanifa and he said, “Do you want me to speak on my own and your behalf?”

We do,” they said.

“I praise Allah,” he said, “Who has conveyed the right of Imamate to the kin of His Prophet and ended for us the oppression of injustice and has released our tongues with the truth. We give you homage based on the command of Allah and fidelity to you by your contract until the Hour comes. Allah has not removed this matter from the kin of His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.”

As-Saffah answered him well. “Someone like you speaks for the scholars. They did well to choose you and you conveyed well.”

This would suggest that Abu Hanifa was in Kufa when as-Saffah came there and received allegiance before 136 AH. This conflicts with the report that he did not come to Kufa until al-Mansur was khalif, i.e. in 136 AH or afterwards.

I think it is possible to reconcile the two. If Abu Hanifa fled to Makka from Ibn Hubayra and stayed there until Ibn Hubayra and his dynasty were out of Iraq, he could have gone to Kufa when as-Saffah went there and pledged allegiance to him. However, the sedition continued in Iraq and matters were not completelysettled so he returned to Makka. He may have gone back and forth between the two cities until things were in order in the time of al-Mansur. Then he came back to Kufa and stayed there and restored his circle in the mosque. His circle did not resume until things were more settled in Iraq and the Abbasids firmly established. That only happened during the khalifate of al-Mansur.


His relations with the Abbasids

That Abu Hanifa welcomed the arrival of the Abbasids is indicated by his behaviour with Abu’l-‘Abbas as-Saffah. This is in harmony with his past experience because he had observed the oppression which ‘Ali’s descendants had suffered at the hands of the Umayyads. When the Abbasids first came to power they did so as a dynasty which had started as a Shi‘ite movement, stating that they would hand over power to one of the descendants of ‘Ali. Once in power, the dynasty was Hashimite, but from descendants of the Prophet’s uncle not ‘Ali. They then had to put down ‘Alawite rebellions on the part of those whom they in their turn had wronged.

Abu Hanifa continued to support the Abbasids on account of his love for the entire family of the Prophet. Al-Mansur used to bring him near to him, esteem him and offer him generous gifts but he refused them with gentleness and use of stratagems. An estrangement took place between al-Mansur and his wife because he inclined away from her and she asked him to be fair. He asked her whom she would be content with as an arbiter and she chose Abu Hanifa. Al-Mansur was happy with that and Abu Hanifa was summoned.

He said to him, “Abu Hanifa, this free woman contends with me. Give me my right against her.”

Abu Hanifa said, “Let the Amir al-Mu’minin speak.”

“Abu Hanifa,” he replied, “How many wives can a man marry at the same time?”

“Four,” he replied.

“How many slavegirls is he allowed?”

“As many as he likes,” was the reply.

“Is anyone permitted to say anything different?”

“No,” replied the Imam.

“You have heard,” said the khalif.

But Abu Hanifa continued, “Allah has allowed this to the people of fairness. If, however, anyone is not fair or fears that he will not be fair he should only have one. Allah Almighty says, ‘But if you are afraid of not treating them equally, then only one.’ (4:3) So we must follow the discipline of Allah and take heed of His admonitions.”

Al-Mansur was silent for a long time. Then Abu Hanifa got up and left. When he reached his house, the khalif’s wife sent him a servant with money, clothes, a slavegirl and an Egyptian donkey. He refused the gift and told the servant, “Give her my greeting and tell her that she endangers my deen. I did that for Allah, not desiring anything from anyone.”

It is not known that Abu Hanifa was against Abbasid rule until punitive action was taken against the sons of ‘Ali and there was a strong dispute between the Abbasids and them. It is known that he was loyal to the sons of ‘Ali, partisan on their behalf and that he preferred them, so it was natural that he should become angry when they were angry, especially when those who rebelled against al-Mansur were Muhammad an-Nafsaz-Zakiya (Pure Soul) and his brother Ibrahim. Their father was one of those connected by scholarship to Abu Hanifa – The Book of Virtues mentions him as one of his shaykhs from whom he transmitted. When his sons rebelled, ‘Abdullah was in al-Mansur’s prison where he died after his sons were killed.

That is why we see words related from Abu Hanifa showing resentment against the Abbasids during the rebellion of these ‘Alawites and after their deaths. It is clear that, at that time, he did not think that loyalty to the Abbasids was correct but, as had been the case with him in the past, his resentment never exceeded verbal criticism and stating his loyalty to the ‘Alawites. He took no action. Such is the action of scholars who are only a little distracted from their knowledge by their devotion for those they love. Al-Mansur was aware of this and he overlooked it sometimes and sought information at other times until the tragedy occurred.

Muhammad Pure Soul rebelled against al-Mansur in Madina in 145 AH and was supported by the people of Khorasan and others but he was too far away for them to be able to help him. It is reported that in Madina, Malik issued a fatwa, permitting Muhammad to rebel. At-Tabari and Ibn Kathir state that he gave a fatwa commanding people to pledge allegiance to Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah and that when people said that they had already pledged allegiance to al-Mansur, he said that they had been forced and that a forced allegiance is not binding. So people pledged allegiance. Malik stayed in his house. The affair ended when Muhammad was slain, and the same fate befell his brother Ibrahim after he had rebelled in Iraq, takes several cities and attacked Kufa.

Some people think that this alleged fatwa by Malik was the reason that he was flogged and injured. Abu Hanifa held an even stronger position about the matter than Malik. He openly supported them in his classes. Things reached the point where one of the generals of al-Mansur refused to go out to fight him.

It is reported that al-Hasan ibn Qahtaba, one of al-Mansur’s generals, went to Abu Hanifa and said, “My situation is not hidden from you. Can I repent?”

The Imam said, “If Allah knows that you regret what you have done. If you can choose between killing a Muslim and being killed yourself, choose your own death before his. Then you will have a contract with Allah if you do not go back on it. If you fulfil that, you have repented.”

“I have done that,” said Hasan. “I make a contract with Allah that I will never again kill a Muslim.

Then Ibrahim ibn ‘Abdullah rebelled and al-Mansur com-manded Hasan to go against him. He went to the Imam and told him what had happened and he said, “The moment of your repentance has come. If you fulfil your promise, you have repented. Otherwise, you will be punished for the first and last.”

So he was serious about his repentance, prepared himself for execution, and went to al-Mansur and said, “I will not go against this man. Allah is owed obedience in everything you do as far as you are able. I will have a fuller portion with Him. If it is disobedience, I am responsible.”

Al-Mansur was angry and Hamid ibn Qahtaba, his brother, said, “We have suspected his mind for a year.He seems muddled. I will go. I am more entitled to excellence than him.” So he went.

Al-Mansur asked one of his confidants, “Which faqih does he go to?” They said, “He frequents Abu Hanifa.”

If this is true, al-Mansur would regard it as a very dangerous thing for the state because Abu Hanifa had gone beyond the bounds of simple criticism and emotional loyalty into the sphere of positive action, even if his action was confined to a fatwa. The faqih must give good counsel in the deen of Allah and not recommend corruption.

Whatever the truth of this transmission, it is reliably confirmed that Abu Hanifa openly stated his criticism of the khalif and his behaviour towards the ‘Alawites. That is in accord with his past behaviour and his links to the descendants of ‘Ali. He was linked with Zayd, as we said, and also had a firm connection to Ja‘far as-Sadiq. Muhammad al-Baqir was also connected to him. He was a student of ‘Abdullah ibn Hasan, the father of Ibrahim and Muhammad, as we previously stated. They had his loyalty and he was pained by what befell them.

Abu Hanifa’s position was not hidden from the ever-watchful al-Mansur, especially in Kufa. That is why he wanted to test his loyalty and obedience when the opportunity arose. He was in the process of building Baghdad and wanted to appoint Abu Hanifa qadi there but he refused. Al-Mansur insisted on him accepting some post, whatever it was. So his aim was evident. Abu Hanifa perceived his intention and wanted to avoid it. It is related that eventually he agreed to count the bricks in the construction.

At-Tabari summarised the situation in this way.

Al-Mansur wanted Abu Hanifa to be in charge of the judges but he refused. Al-Mansur swore that he must accept a post while Abu Hanifa swore that he would not. So he put him in charge of overseeing the construction of the city; making the bricks and getting men for the work. He undertook that until they finished the city wall next to the ditch. Al-Haytham ibn Adi mentioned that al-Mansur offered Abu Hanifa the post of qadi but he refused. He swore that he would not leave him alone until he undertook a post for him. That was reported to Abu Hanifa and he called for a measuring rod and counted the bricks and thus fulfilled al-Mansur’s oath. Al-Mansur ignored Abu Hanifa for a time, but not completely. Things were reported to him from time to time, but he deferred taking action.

Before going on to mention some of these matters which made al-Mansur do what he did without right, we can state that the tragedy which befell Abu Hanifa was not the result of the rebellion of Ibrahim ibn ‘Abdullah, the brother of the Pure Soul. Abu Hanifa died in 150 AH, five years after the rebellion and death of Ibrahim.

An analytic approach forces us to reject what al-Khatib relates in The History of Baghdad from Zafar: “Abu Hanifa made strong public statements in the time of Ibrahim. I told him, ‘By Allah, you are in his favour so spare the ropes from our necks.’ It was not long before a letter came from al-Mansur to ‘Isa ibn Musa ordering him to take Abu Hanifa to Baghdad. He lived for only fifteen days after that.”

As Ibrahim was killed in 145 AH, he could not have been taken directly following that since five years had passed. History books often contain errors of this sort and it is necessary to exercise caution about accepting them.

After the ‘Alawite opposition to al-Mansur and his persecution of them and execution of their leaders, Abu Hanifa was not pleased with his rule. He was able to avert any harm from himself and directed himself to the path of knowledge. But from time to time he would make certain statements or things were revealed about his opinion of al-Mansur and his government. We will mention two instances which aroused al-Mansur’s suspicions about him.

One is when the people of Mosul rebelled against al-Mansur. Al-Mansur imposed a condition on them which stated that if they rebelled, their blood was lawful for him. So al-Mansur gathered the fuqaha’ including Abu Hanifa and said, “Is it not true that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘Believers are those who abide by their preconditions’? The people of Mosul accepted a condition that they would not rebel against me. They have rebelled against my governor and so their blood is lawful for me.” A man said, “Your hand is extended over them and your word is accepted among them. If you pardon, pardon befits you. If you punish, it is according to what they deserve.”

He asked Abu Hanifa, “What do you say, shaykh? Do we not have the khalifate of the Prophet and a house of security?” He said, “You imposed on them a precondition which they were incapable of fulfilling and you stipulated for them something which is not within your right. The blood of a Muslim is only lawful on account of one of three things. If you take them, you take what is not lawful. The precondition of Allah has more right to be observed.” Al-Mansur commanded that the session be ended and they dispersed. Then he called him and said, “Shaykh, the position is as you stated. Go to your city but do not give people a fatwa which will disgrace your ruler and extend the domain of the Kharijites.” 

Here is what we find in al-Kamil by Ibn al-Athir on the events of 148 AH:

The populace of Hamdan were Shi‘ites and al-Mansur decided to send armies to Mosul and annihilate its inhabitants. He summoned Abu Hanifa, Ibn Abi Layla and Ibn Shibrama and told them, ‘The people of Mosul gave me their word that they would not rebel, and that, if they were to do so, then their blood and property would be fair game. They have rebelled.’ Abu Hanifa was silent. The two other men said, ‘If you pardon your subjects, you are worthy of that; and if you punish, it is because they deserve it.’ He said to Abu Hanifa, ‘I see you are silent, shaykh.’ He replied, ‘Amir al-Mu’minin, they made a contract they had no right to make. Do you think that if a woman made her private parts lawful without a marriage contract or ownership, it would be permitted to have intercourse with her?’ ‘No,’ replied the former. ‘No,’ Abu Hanifa continued, ‘So how can it be permitted for the people of Mosul ?’ Al-Mansur commanded that Abu Hanifa and his companions return to Kufa. (pt. 5, p. 217)

There are some mistakes in the details of this account – for instance, mentioning Ibn Shibrama as being with him on this occasion when the events were in 148 AH whereas Ibn Shibrama died in 144, as Ibn al-Athir himself says elsewhere.

The second incident which showed his view of al-Mansur’s government is when the latter sent him a gift to test to see if he would accept and he made an excuse about it. We read in The Virtues by al-Makki:

Al-Mansur sent him a gift of 10,000 dirhams and a slavegirl. ‘Abdu’l-Malik ibn Hamid, al-Mansur’s wazir, was a noble and generous man. He told Abu Hanifa when he refused it, “I tell you by Allah, the Amir al-Mu’minin is looking for a way to get at you. If you do not accept, you will confirm his suspicions about you.” He refused and so ‘Abdu’l-Malik said, “As for the money, give it out in stipends. As for the slavegirl, accept her from me or make an excuse so that I can excuse you to the Amir al-Mu’minin.” Abu Hanifa said, “I am too weak for women. I am old and I do not consider it lawful to accept a slavegirl with whom I cannot have relations and I would not dare to sell a slavegirl which came from the property of the Amir al-Mu’mimin.”

Similar incidents took place between Abu Hanifa and al-Mansur and so he kept him under surveillance. There were those in al-Mansur’s retinue who provoked him against Abu Hanifa and made him suspect his statements and fatwas, but he continued to make statements and fatwas which he believed to be true, unconcerned about whether people were pleased or angry as long as he was pleasing to Allah, complying to the Truth and it satisfied his own conscience.

Al-Khatib reported that Abu Yusuf said, “Al-Mansur summoned Abu Hanifa. Ar-Rabi‘, the chamberlain of al-Mansur, who was hostile to Abu Hanifa, said, ‘Amir al-Mu’minin, Abu Hanifa contradicts your grandfather, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas. He stated that when someone swore an oath and then made an exception a day or two later, the exception was permitted. But Abu Hanifa says that the exception is not allowed unless it is simultaneous with the oath.’ Abu Hanifa said, ‘Amir al-Mu’minin, ar-Rabi‘ claims that you have no allegiance from your army.’ ‘How is that?’ he asked. He said, ‘They swear to you and then return to their homes and make an exception, and so their oaths are invalid.’ Al-Mansur laughed and said, ‘Rabi‘, do not start with Abu Hanifa!’ When he left, ar-Rabi‘ said, ‘You wanted to spill my blood!’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you wanted to spill mine, and I saved you and saved myself.’”

Al-Khatib also said, “Abu’l-‘Abbas at-Tusi had a bad opinion of Abu Hanifa and Abu Hanifa was aware of it. Abu Hanifa went to al-Mansur at a time when there were a lot of people present. At-Tusi said, ‘Today I will finish with Abu Hanifa.’ So he came to him and said ‘Abu Hanifa, the Amir al-Mu’minin commands one of us to strike off the head of another man without knowing who it is. Is he permitted to do that?’ ‘Abu’l-‘Abbas,’ the Imam replied, ‘does the Amir al-Mu’minin command what is right or falsehood?’ ‘What is right,’ he replied. Abu Hanifa said, ‘Carry out the right wherever it is and you will not be questioned about it.’ Then Abu Hanifa said to those near him, ‘This one wanted to bind me so I tied him up.’”

t should be mentioned here that a position taken by Abu Hanifa may have provided al-Mansur with a means of harming him because Abu Hanifa would annul the judgments of the qadi of Kufa when they were contrary to his opinion and declare that they were wrong at the time they were issued and to those who had received a positive or negative judgment. That provoked the qadi against him and he thought ill of him and was moved to complain about him to the amir. 

According to The History of Baghdad, Ibn Abi Layla, who was qadi in Kufa, examined the case of a madwoman who had said to a man, “Son of two fornicators!” He carried out the hadd on her while she was standing in the mosque and she received two hadds since she had slandered both the father and the mother. Abu Hanifa heard about that and stated, “He erred about her in six ways. He carried out the hadd in the mosque and hudud are not carried out in mosques; he flogged her while standing and women are flogged sitting; he imposed one hadd for the father and another for the mother but if a man were to slander a group, he would receive only one hadd; he combined two hadds and two hadds are not combined; a madwoman is not subject to a hadd; and the hadd was for the parents who were absent and failed to attend and claim.”

After hearing about this, Ibn Abi Layla went to the amir and complained to him. The amir put Abu Hanifa under an interdiction, saying, “Do not give fatwa.” He did not give fatwa for some days and then a messenger came from the authorities who had been instructed to present some questions to Abu Hanifa so that he could give fatwa on them. Abu Hanifa refused, saying, “I am barred.” The messenger went to the amir who said, “I have given him permission.” So he sat to give fatwa.

In his criticism, Abu Hanifa did not differentiate between a judgment of the qadi which was binding on the public, right or wrong, and the fatwa that a faqih made which did was not binding on anyone. Sometimes he criticised a fatwa that he thought was wrong more severely than an actual judgment because injustice might develop from it. Injustice pained him greatly and an incorrect fatwa could result in injustice to people in their lives and property.

Whatever the position of Abu Hanifa about the judgments of the qadi, Ibn Abi Layla did not accept the criticism of Abu Hanifa cheerfully. He was hostile to him because of that criticism and perhaps enmity led him to try to harm Abu Hanifa. Thus it is reported that Abu Hanifa said about him, “Ibn Abi Layla seeks to make lawful in regard to me what I would not make lawful for any living creature.” If we blame Abu Hanifa for the severity of his criticism of the judgments of Ibn Abi Layla and his lack of restraint in making it public, we also blame the qadi of Kufa for allowing that criticism to provoke enmity between them.

Al-Mansur was annoyed by Abu Hanifa. Indeed, he became fed up with him when he learned of his leaning towards the ‘Alawites which was confirmed by various experiences he had had with him. But he could find no way of dealing with him because he did not go beyond his teaching circle and he was not suspect in his deen or his outward actions. He was a firm, reliable, generous scholar to whom people travelled because of his knowledge, excellence, guidance and fear of Allah. There was no way to act against him as long as he took no action or rebelled. An opportunity eventually presented itself when he offered him the position of qadi and he refused to accept it.

He asked him to be Qadi of Baghdad which would have made him the Chief Qadi of the state. If he accepted, that would indicate his sincerity or his absolute obedience to al-Mansur. If he refused, that would provide al-Mansur with a means to get at him publicly without damaging his religious reputation because people thought Abu Hanifa righteous and in this case his refusal was a refusal to accept a necessary duty and he could be impelled to do that by force. Any harm inflicted was to force him to accept something which would benefit the general public, not to trick him or wrong him.

He had sometimes criticised the decisions of the qadis and so it was appropriate for him to sit in the highest seat of judgement in order to guide the judges to what was obligatory and impel them to what was correct. He was the faqih whose fatwas decided the correctness or error of judgements. If he refused that office, it meant that his prior criticism was merely destructive since he now had the opportunity to be constructive and had refused. Since he was the foremost faqih in the view of the people of Iraq, the khalif was correct in wanting to make him the Chief Qadi. If he refused, he could be forced to accept the post. So when he refused, al-Mansur punished him by flogging and imprisonment or simply imprisonment, according to which version of the story is correct. We will see what the sources state.

We read in The Virtues by al-Makki:

When Abu Hanifa was taken to Baghdad, he came out with a shining face and said, “This man has summoned me to be qadi and I told him that I am not fit. I know that the claimant must provide evidence while the oath absolves the one who denies the charge. The only one fit to be qadi is the one whose personality is such that he can command authority over you, your children, and your leaders. I am not like that. You summon me and I experience no relief until I part from you.” He said, “You do not accept my gift.” I said, “I have returned whatever money the Amir al-Mu’minin sent. If that is the gift, I accept it. The Amir al-Mu’minin has connected me to the treasury of the Muslims. I have no right to their money. I am not one of those who fights for them so that I should take what the fighter takes. I am not one of their children so as to take what their children take. I am not one of their poor so as to take what the poor take.” He said, “You will be qadi in what they need from you.” 

Al-Bazzari said in The Virtues,

Al-Mansur imprisoned Abu Hanifa to force him to become Chief Qadi and he received 110 lashes. He was released from prison on the basis that he would stay at home and he was asked to give fatwa regarding the judgments presented to him. Al-Mansur used to send questions to him but he did not give fatwa. He ordered him to be re-imprisoned. Abu Hanifa was imprisoned again and was harsh and severe to him.

We read in the History of Baghdad,

Al-Mansur sent for Abu Hanifa, wanting to appoint him qadi, but he refused. Al-Mansur swore that he would do it and Abu Hanifa swore that he would not. Al-Mansur swore again that he would do it and Abu Hanifa swore that he would not. Ar-Rabi,‘ the chamberlain, said, “Do you not see that the Amir al-Mu’minin has sworn?” Abu Hanifa said, “The Amir al-Mu’minin can expiate his oaths better than I can.” He refused the appointment therefore al-Mansur ordered his imprisonment.

Ar-Rabi‘ ibn Yunus said:

I saw the Amir al-Mu’minun clash with Abu Hanifa over the qadiship. Abu Hanifa said, “Fear Allah and do not give your trust except to the one who fears Allah. By Allah, I am safe from favouritism but how can I be safe from anger? If you threaten to drown me in the Euphrates unless I accept the appointment, I would prefer to be drowned. You have courtiers who need those who honour them for your sake. I am not fit for that.” Al-Mansur said to him, “You lie, you are fit.” Abu Hanifa retorted, “I have declared myself unfit so how can it be lawful for you to appoint someone who is a liar as qadi?”

There are a number of points to be noted in these stories. Firstly, when Abu Hanifa refused the qadiship, he refused it not only because al-Mansur appointed him, but because he saw it as a perilous post and thought that perhaps he would not be strong enough to do it, that his conscience would not be strong enough to bear its burdens and his will not strong enough to contain his feelings. He saw the post of qadi as a trial which made all other trials insignificant. His refusal does not necessarily have a political cause.

Secondly, al-Mansur was suspicious about the cause behind Abu Hanifa’s refusal and did not believe that it was based purely the avoidance of bearing the responsibility of judgments. That is why he specifically asked for the reason he had refused the stipend, even if there was no connection between refusing to be qadi and refusing the stipend, as this question would indicate. Al-Mansur believed that his grounds for suspicion were confirmed. Moreover, the retinue around al-Mansur provoked him when he was undisturbed and directed his attention to Abu Hanifa.

The third point is that Abu Hanifa was not diplomatic in his replies. He did not use honeyed words and did not use devices to extricate himself. He was forthright with the truth and unconcerned about the consequences. He endured them. So he refused to be qadi and refused to give fatwa and clearly stated that he refused the stipend because it was from the Muslim treasury and that it was not lawful for him. Then the khalif took an oath and so did he without concern. Rather he thought of the ultimate end and of his reward with Allah.

Eventually, the ordeal befell Abu Hanifa. The transmitters agree that he was imprisoned and that he did not sit to give fatwa or teach after that, since he died during or after this ordeal. Sources differ as to whether he died in prison after the flogging, which most say, or died in prison by being poisoned according to those who say that al-Mansur was not content to flog him, but poisoned the shaykh to hasten his end, or was released before he died and then died at home while refusing to teach and meet people. These three versions are mentioned in his biographies and elsewhere.

It is related that he stayed in prison after the flogging until he died, and Da’ud ibn Rashid al-Wasiti said, “I was present when the Imam was tortured to force him to accept the appointment as qadi. He was taken out each day and given ten lashes until he had received 110 lashes. He was told, ‘Accept the qadiship!’ and he would reply, ‘I am not fit.’ The beatings continued and he said silently, ‘O Allah, put their evil far from me by Your power.’ When he continued to refuse, they poisoned him and so killed him.”

Al-Bazzari says that after he was imprisoned for a time, al-Mansur spoke to some of his close advisors and brought him out of prison. He refused to give fatwa, hold audience with people or leave his house and remained so until his death.

We incline to this final version because it tallies with the course of events and what we know of al-Mansur which is that al-Mansur did not want to appear to be an oppressor of knowledge and scholars. When events forced him to punish Abu Hanifa, he produced a justification which had an adequate logical basis: to force him to act as qadi. He did not punish him out of simple malice. When this failed to produce a result, he did not insist on it so as to disclose his true motive. The general populace had also to be taken into account so he did not continue with the punishment. Sources agree that he ordered that he should be buried beside Abu Hanifa’s grave. It is reported that al-Mansur prayed over his grave after his death and al-Mansur would not have done that if he had died in his prison.

Abu Hanifa died the death of the true men and martyrs in 150 or 153 AH. The first date is sounder. When he died, he left instructions that he should not be buried in any land which the ruler had misappropriated. When he heard this, al-Mansur said, “Who will save me from Abu Hanifa, both when he was alive and now when he is dead?”

He died in Baghdad and was buried there. Reports agree about that. But did his teaching circle also move there? No historian mentions that Abu Hanifa moved his centre of teaching to Baghdad. All reports indicate that he remained teaching in Kufa until he stopped teaching and giving fatwa. After his ordeal, he did not resume teaching before his death. This does not mean that he did not have any teaching circle outside of Kufa. It is related that when he went on hajj, he gave fatwa, debated and studied, and at times he had a teaching circle in the Masjid al-Haram. We cannot deny that during the period in which he went to the Haram on account of the injustice of the Umayyad governor that he had a teaching circle in which he set forth his opinions and fiqh, even if the sources do not mention it, one way or the other.

He also had debates with the fuqaha’ like those he had with al-Awza‘i and there is a record of his studying some of the opinions of fiqh with Imam Malik and there were also many debates in Basra. Nonetheless, his principal school was in Kufa which is why he is known as ‘the Faqih of Kufa’.

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