ABU HANIFA , Numan b. Sabit (80–150/699–767)

  February 03, 2024   Read time 3 min
ABU HANIFA , Numan b. Sabit (80–150/699–767)
Numan b. Sabit b. Zuta b. Mah, known as Imam al-A‘zam (the Greatest Imam), was born in Kufa in 80/699 and died in Baghdad on Shaban 150/September 767. He was a founder of the Hanafite school, one of the four mainstream legal schools in Islam.

Abu Hanifa’s family was probably of Persian or Turkish origin. His grandfather Zuta is said to have come to Kufa from Kabul during the reign of the caliph ‘Ali. There is not much information about his life. He was a manufacturer and a merchant of a kind of silk material in Kufa. Abu Hanifa’s interest in the Islamic sciences started from an early age. He first memorized the Qur’an, then studied Qira’at. He also studied other branches of Islamic sciences. Abu Hanifa joined theological debates in Kufa and Basra, the two intellectual centers of the region, where a number of theological groups, such as the Jahmiyya, Qadariyya, and Mu‘tazila, were active. His theological approach contributed to the construction of the main basis of Sunni theology.

Abu Hanifa’s main theological views can be summarized as follows. For him, reason is a source of human knowledge in comprehending the existence of God. In accordance with his epistemological approach in the field of theology, he used reason or personal opinion (ra’y) and analogy (qiyas) in his legal reasoning. As a result, he was severely criticized by his traditionist opponents. For him, God’s names and attributes are eternal. The nature of God’s attributes, such as his face and hand, cannot be known. For him, faith consists of knowledge, acceptance, and outward expression. Although the sinner is liable to punishment, he or she remains counted as a believer. According to him, human actions are created by God but willed and performed by us. His theological views were further developed by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi. Because of his opinion about faith, he has been considered by some classical theologians such as Abu al-Hasan al-Ash ‘ari and some traditionists such as Bukhari as a member of the Murji’a, the theological school which left it to God to decide who was a believer or otherwise.

Abu Hanifa’s interest in fiqh was deeper than his interest in theology. He attended the lectures of Hammad b. Abi Sulayman (d. 120/738), who was a prominent religious faqih of Kufa, for eighteen years. When his teacher died, Abu Hanifa took his post and started teaching fiqh. His teacher had learned fiqh from Ibrahim al-Nahai, Abu ‘Amr Sha‘bi, Masruk b. Ajda, Qadi Shurayh, ‘Abdullah b. Mas‘ud, the caliph ‘Ali, and the caliph ‘Umar. This chain of transmitters (silsila) had a powerful effect on his fiqh education. Abu Hanifa received hadith from ‘Ata’ b. Abi Raba, ‘Ikrima and Nafi in Mecca and Medina and also became acquainted with their fiqh works. He taught a number of students, among whom Muhammad b. Hasan al-Shaybani, Asad b. ‘Amr, and Hasan b. Ziyad are worth mentioning here.

Abu Hanifa produced a number of works, some of which are extant. In alFiqh al-akbar (The Great Book of Fiqh), he summarized the theological views of Sunni orthodoxy. Al-Fiqh al-absat (The Comprehensive Book of Fiqh), which was edited by his son and disciples Abu Yusuf and Abu Muti, al-‘Alim wa’l muta‘allim (The Scholar and the Literate), and al-Wasiyya (A Written Will) also dealt with theological issues. Musnad Abu Hanifa, a collection of traditions, has been attributed to him by his disciples. Although he is a prominent founder of the Hanafite school of law, Abu Hanifa did not compose any works on Islamic law. However, he dictated his legal opinions to his disciples after discussing the opinions with them. His legal views were reported by Muhammad al-Shaybani in some of his works such as al-Asl (The Foundation) and al-Siyar al-kabir (The Compendium of the Regulations).

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