Al-Numan bin Thabit, commonly known as Abu Hanifah or Abu Hanifa, is considered the founder of one of the four schools or rites of Islamic legal knowledge (fiqh) within the Sunni schools of law. He is also widely known as Al-Imam Al-Aẓam (The Great Imam) and Siraj Al-Aimma (The Lamp of the Imams).

1. His birth and lineage:

According to most sources, Abu Ḥanifa Al-Numan bin Thabit bin Zuṭa bin Marzuban was born in Kufa, Iraq in 80 AH (699 AC). His father was a Persian namely Thabit Ibn Zauta Al-Farisi. Though there is some conflicting evidence about the lineage of Imam’s family, it is certain that he was not Arabic, but one of well-known Persian merchants.

When Imam was born, the regime of Islamic government was in the hands of Abdul Malik bin Marwan (king of the 5th Umayyad Banu).

According to some sources, he got the title “Abu Hanifa” because he was someone who diligently do worship Allah and earnestly do obligations in religion because the words ” Hanif ” in Arabic language means “inclined or inclined” to the true religion.

2. His Early Life:

The sources do not mention his father’s life but he must have been wealthy, a merchant, and a good Muslim. In most books, it states that his father met Ali Ibn Abi Talib (R.A.) as a child and that Imam’s grandfather gave Ali (R.A.) some faludhaj (a sweet confection of Persian origin) on the day of Nawruz (Persian New Year). This indicates that Imam’s family were wealthy since they were able to give the Ali (R.A.) sweets which only the wealthy ate.

Abu Hanifa grew up in his hometown of Kufa and was educated there and lived most of his early life there except for periodic pilgrimages (Hajj) and scholarly visits to Makkah, Madinah, and other centers of learning. Under his father’s paternal direction, Abu Hanifa memorized the Quran. He grew in Kufa, first as a student, then a merchant, then as a student, and finally a teacher and expert of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).

Imam Abu Hanifa followed in the family’s trade (silk cloth merchant) and quickly establishing a reputation for honesty and fairness. Many stories exist about his life as a merchant and all these stories mentions the fact that even before studying law (fiqh), he had natural virtue, a kind heart, an honest nature, and a generous personality.

One of his many stories is told about the time he sent his partner, Hafs Ibn Abdur-Rahman, to sell some cloth at a distant market. He pointed out a defect in the cloth, and instructed him to disclose it to the buyer when he sold it, and so price the cloth accordingly. Hafs sold the cloth, however, he forgot to point out the defect, and, to add insult to injury, he could not remember the identity of the purchaser. Faced with the predicament of holding unjust profit, Abu Hanifa decided to forego the entire amount of transaction i-e thirty thousand dirhams (both basic price and profit) and donated the proceeds to the poor.

3. His conversion to the Study of Islamic Law (Fiqh):

This is a great example of the way Allah’s will works. One day Abu Hanifa was going home after his work. Imam Al-Shabi was also on his own way home. They crossed paths and this meeting changed Abu Hanifa’s life. Imam Shabi asked,

“what do you do in your free time?”

Abu Hanifa replied,

“I go to the market, then to my shops”.

Then Imam Al-Shabi asked,

“There are many scholars, do you have any teachers of the deen (religious devotion)?”

He then went on to tell Abu Hanifa,

“You are far too talented, you must use your time for the deen (religious devotion)”.

Then Abu Hanifa agreed to specialize in one thing and he researched about the different branches of the Islam like Quran, Hadih, Language, Poetry, etc. He also explored the idea of being a judge to help people know what is halal and what is haram as this would benefit the people. So he went to Imam Al-Shabi to tell him about his decision, and Imam Al-Shaabi said,

“I wanted you to be that but I did not impose it on you”.

4. His pursuit for Knowledge:

Abu Hanifa first dedicated himself to the study of theology (kalam). After mastering theology, Abu Hanifa pursued the study of Islamic legal knowledge (fiqh) in Kufa which was considered the center of famous fiqh scholars. Abu Hanifa studied fiqh from Hammad Ibn Sulaiman, who was most knowledgeable teacher at the time. Abu Hanifa used to read every day from Hammad Ibn Sulaiman between Maghrib and Isha and whenever he got free time, he used to go to Hammad’s house. Hammad remained to be Abu Hanifa’s teacher for 18 years. After the death of Hammad Ibn Sulaiman, the scholars of Kufa Madrasah agreed to appoint Abu Hanifa as the head of the Madrasah.

Imam Abu Hanifa did not stay away from other fields. He mastered the other fields of Islamic Studies.

After completing his education at Kufa and Basrah, Abu Hanifa went to Makkah and Madinah as the center of religious teachings Islam. In Makkah, he learned hadith from Ata Ibn Rabah who was student of Abdullah ibn Abbas (R.A.). He educated Abu Hanifa with great care and attention.

Imam Abu Hanifa was taught by alomost 4000 teachers. Among them, according to different sources, seven were Sahaba [companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.)}, ninety-three from the Tabieen (Companions of Sahabas) and the rest from the Tabi Tabieen (companions of Tabieen). The exact number of teachers of Abu Hanifah is unknown as he traveled a lot to different cities to gain religious knowledge. He performed Hajj 55 times.

5. Teachers of Imam Abu Hanifa:

According to most of his teachers at that time were scholars Tabieen and Tabi Tabieen include:

  1. Abdullah bin Masud (Kufa)
  2. Ibrahim Al-Nakhai
  3. Amir bin Al-Shabi
  4. Imam Hammad ibn Sulaiman
  5. Imam Ata Ibn Rabah
  6. Qatada Ibn Al-Numan
  7. Rabiah bin Abu Abdurrahman

And many more scholars.

6. Students of Imam Abu Hanifa:

Imam Abu Hanifa had thousands of students. Twenty-eight of Imam Abu Hanifa’s students became judges in different towns, cities and provinces and eight became Imams. Following are some of Imam Abu Hanifa’s students:

  1. Imam Abu Yusuf
  2. Imam Muhammad bin Hasan as Shaybani
  3. Imam Zufar
  4. Imam Malik bin Mighwal
  5. Imam Dawood Taaee
  6. Imam Mandil bin Ali
  7. Imam Nadhar bin Abdul Kareem
  8. Imam Amr bin Maymoon
  9. Imam Hiban bin Ali
  10. Imam Abu Ismah
  11. Imam Zuhayr bin Muaawiyah.
  12. Imam Hasan bin Ziyaad

And many more scholars

7. The works of Imam Abu Hanifa:

Some of the books directly written by Imam Abu Hanifa are:

  1. Al-Fiqh al-Akbar
  2. Kitab al-Raddala al-Qadariyyah
  3. Al-Aalim wa al-Mutaallim
  4. Al-Fiqh al-Absat
  5. Kitab Ikhtilaf al-Sahaba
  6. Kitab al-Jami
  7. Al-Kitab al-Awsat
  8. Kitab al-Sayr
  9. Risalah Abu Hanifa ila Uthman al-Bayti
  10. Wasiyyah al-Imam Abu Hanifa fi al-Tawheed.

5. His meetings with Sahabas:

It has been unanimously agreed that Imam Abu Hanifa was amongst the Tabieen. There are various differing quotes concerning the number of Companions of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) (Sahaba) seen by Imam Abu Hanifa. However, it is confirmed that Imam Abu Hanifa had met with some of the companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) who were still living at that time. Some of the Sahabas he had met with includes

  1. Anas bin Malik (R.A.) in Basra
  2. Abu Tufail ibn Waasila (R.A.) in Makkah
  3. Abdullah Ibn Abu Awfa (R.A.) in Kufa
  4. Suhayl ibn Saad Saidi (R.A.) in Madinah.

6. Abu Hanifa and the Caliphs/Khalifas:

As Abu Hanifa grew in knowledge, formed a following among the masses, and developed a reputation for erudition and fairness, he drew the notice of the Khalifas or caliphs (The chief Muslim civil and religious ruler). Unfortunately, Abu Hanifa’s relationship with the Khalifas who governed the growing Islamic state was ambivalent at best, and adversarial at worst as the Khalifa’s lives became more lavish, they ensconced themselves in luxurious palaces and they naturally distanced themselves from the common people.

Imam Abu Hanifa was offered various posts, including Chief Treasurer, and Chief Judge (Qadhi) by the Khalifa Marwan bin Muhammad and governor of the Iraq province Umar ibn Hubayra al-Fazar but Abu Hanifa refused all these offers. In 763, Abu Jafar Abdullah ibn Mohammad Al-Mansur, the ruler/Khalifa at that time, offered Imam Abu Hanifa the post of Qadi (Chief Judge of the State), but Imam declined the offer because Abu Hanifa knew that if he was to become judge, he would never be able pass fair judgments because the Khalifa would pressure him into passing judgments according to his own desire. In his refusal letter to Mohammad Al-Mansur, Abu Ḥanifa said that he was not fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abu Ḥanifa of lying.

Imam Abu Ḥanifa said:

“If I am lying, then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the high post of a Chief Judge of the State (Qadhi)?”

6. His Imprisonment and Death:

Abu Hanifa’s response did not sit well with Mohammad Al-Mansur and so somewhere around 146 AH (768 AC), Abu Hanifa was punished by imprisonment and flogging. It is said that Imam was taken out each day and given ten lashes until he had received 110 lashes. He died at the age of 70, as a result of the mistreatment in prison or perhaps poison, in Baghdad somewhere around 150 AH (767 AC). It is said that Imam Abu Hanifa passed away in the state of prostration (Sajda) – Subhanallah.

When he died, he left instructions that he should not be buried in any land which the ruler had misappropriated.

When Khalifa Al-Mansur heard this, he said,

“Who will save me from Abu Hanifa, both when he was alive and now when he is dead?” He was full of sorrow and regret and made dua for Abu Hanifa and remarked that even with his dying breath, Abu Hanifa reminded him of his wrong doings.

7. His Funeral Prayer and Burial Place:

He died in Baghdad and was buried there. The news of his death soon spread throughout Baghdad. The whole town came out to pay their last homage to the greatest Imam of Islamic Law. It was said that so many people attended his Janazah Salah (funeral prayer) that the funeral service was repeated six times for more than 50,000 people who had amassed before he was actually buried. It was also said that people continued to gather every day for about a week to offer funeral prayers. His son, Hammad, lead the last Janazah Salah.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s body was buried in the Al-Khayzaran cemetery of Baghdad. Today the place in which his burial place is located is called ‘Al-Adamiyah’ district of northern Baghdad, Iraq.

Abu Hanifa Mosque, also known as Jamia Imam Al-Azam, is one of the most prominent Sunni mosques in Baghdad, Iraq. It is built around the burial place (tomb) of Imam Abu Hanifa.

7. His Children:

Details of the imam Abu Hanifa’s children are not known, but what is certain is that he has a son named Hammad, who was honest and was a worthy son of his father. Hammad died in 176 AC. He had four sons, Omar, Ismail, Abu Hayyan and Uthamn. Ismail, grandson of Imam Abu Hanifa, achieved great fame as he was appointed Qadhi (Judge) of Basra by Khalifa Haroon al-Rasheed.

8. His sayings:

Following are some wise sayings of Imam Abu Hanifa:

“If the Ulama (Islamic Scholars) are not Allah’s friends, then Allah has no friends in the world.”“Knowledge never sinks into the mind of a person who acquires it for worldly purposes.”“Knowledge without deeds is like a body without a soul. As long as knowledge does not embrace the existence of action it will not be enough not agreeable nor sincere.”“That person whose knowledge does not prevent him from committing sin and transgressions then who is that person who has suffered or incurred a greater loss than him.”“Faith is the highest worship and faithlessness the greatest sin. One who adheres to the highest worship and avoids the greatest sin can hope for salvation.”

May Allah elevate Imam Abu Hanifa’s ranks in Jannah (Paradise) for all that he has done for the Muslim Ummah.