Abu Hanifa: A Genius within Muslim society

Published 07.01.2017 00:00
Updated 16.09.2017 11:13
Abu Hanifa’s tomb in Baghdad, Iraq
Abu Hanifa’s tomb in Baghdad, Iraq

Founder and the most influential scholar of the Sunni school of fiqh, Abu Hanifa produced precious works about Quran and sunnah, which has affected the lives of millions of Muslims since the 8th century

The issue of different sects quickly became complicated in Islamic history. It is complicated because those who triggered the discussion and arguments made no contribution to the internal development of sects. I call it an argument, as there are accusations generally. Everyone blames each other. Non-Islamic factors and power houses help the triggering of this discussion normally. The less Muslims know and talk to each other, the more they benefit.

Director of Religious Affairs Mehmet Görmez made a very important assertion and said "Sects are our schools." All Muslims need to adopt this perspective of commonsense and tolerance, and the way to do this is to stop blaming each other with little knowledge but much excitement, and instead try to attain the character, good-manners and intelligence of those who founded and sustained these schools.

Religion, politics and knowledge

According to Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, the name of Noman bin Sabit belongs to the founder of Hanafism, is Abu Hanifa. He is the father of those who have good faith (hanifs) and not, as might be believed, due to having a daughter called Hanifa. Abu Hanifa was born in 699, in Kufa. He is believed to be of Persian or Turkish origin. But what is certain is that he was not ethnically Arab.

When Abu Hanifa was born, Kufa was a prominent city full of knowledge and civilization, just like its neighbor, Basra. Damascus was the political center, the capital of the Umayyad dynasty, while Mecca and Medina preserved their status as the holy lands, thanks to Prophet Mohammad and his friends. Sitting right in the middle of this distance and tension between religion and politics were Kufa and Basra, both geographically and spiritually.

Abu Hanifa was the son of a rich family engaged in trade. In his younger years, he also directly engaged in trade, even after devoting himself to learn and spread knowledge, he kept on dealing with trade through his partners. This is of great importance for two reasons: Firstly, Noman bin Sabit was from among the ordinary people and had a lively life thanks to his trade. Thus he marked a new epoch in Islamic thought without becoming lost in abstract, non-human ideas, by remaining in touch with daily business and issues. He founded a school that loves peace, remains impartial between Muslims in conflict, does not support violence, and seeks solutions and recommends gentle behaviors.

Secondly, he was able to reject offers from sultans who reigned during his lifetime, to protect his independence and impartiality. For he was prosperous and could afford to support himself without taking on an official position. However, due to his declining the overtures of the rulers of the time, he suffered a lot during both the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. He was imprisoned, tortured and affronted. If one factor that makes him The Great Imam is his supreme talent of discernment in issues related to faith and law, the other is his wisdom before the rulers.

A bright young man

Abu Hanifa was loved by people around him and attracted attention with his brilliance. Scholars who knew him told him to get a good education in the Islamic sciences and he soon decided to take their advice, by learning aqaid and jadal. Aqaid is the science of the Islamic fundamentals of faith, while Jadal refers to silencing a rival in debate by using postulates whose accuracy is accepted by all.

These were popular and critical sciences in the era Abu Hanifa lived. Around that time, large numbers of people embraced Islam along with the expansion of the islamic empire and as a result great differences occurred in understanding Islam. There was no central spiritual authority, like a prophet or the first khalifas. Umayyad khalifas had no such authority at all, so the scholars had to do something.

Noman bin Sabit, the young scholar of aqaid and jadal, had many debates in Kufa and Basra. He defended the opinions of the Muslim-majority against those denying these opinions, while impressing everyone with his talent for discernment and comparison.

There are lots of stories about his switch from aqaid to fiqh, Islamic law. According to one of them, having not been able to answer a question about a woman and divorce, Noman bin Sabit had to send her to Hammad bin Abu Suleiman for the answer she sought. Due to this incident, the young scholar grasped what society needed and what he lacked. When he was 22, he began participating in Hammad's lectures and learning fiqh, while he turned to the heart of Muslim society, moving beyond abstract discussions among scholars.

Gate of Ijtihad

After the prophet died, Muslims opened up discussions on different matters (doing ijtihad) when needed. Ijtihad means delivering a new judgment about an issue that does not have an ultimate judicial resolution or changing an old one relying on evidence. To give an example, Supreme Court decisions are regarded as performing ijtihad today. So, ijtihad is the final point as to how the law will be implemented.

What Islamic law should be on various topics and how this should be established was a matter of debate in the era of Abu Hanifa. This young scholar, who learned and taught the things to believe and how to believe them, oriented to Islamic law and became a gate of ijtihad for the Muslims. He developed the Hanafi articulation of faith, thought and action after integrating two sciences together over the course of his career. Abu Hanifa played a central role in determining four fundamentals formulated as Qur'an-Sunnah- Ijma-Comparison.

Comparison is the keyword here. Comparison or analogy refers to the Muslim scholars' freedom of arguing their individual opinions by comparing the judgments indicated on unsolved issues with the help of Qur'an, Sunnah and Ijma. This is why some regard Hanafism as close to modern rationalism of Europe.

Abu Hanifa was not the inventor of comparison and legal discourse in Islam; the school of Iraq or school of Hammad bin Abu Suleiman, and many other scholars had already established the basics of these matters. But the one who systematized discourse is Abu Hanifa. I believe that his bright past and experience in aqaid and jadal had a role in this.

Gate of knowledge

When Abu Hanifa was learning and teaching, madrasas had not yet been built and the courts did have a systematic framework. Abu Hanifa himself kept away from institutionalization as it existed and chose to live the civilian life in at the heart of Islamic learning and teaching.

We can liken him to a mountain spring. It is said that he trained forty students who could do ijtihad. Hanafism spread greatly with the help of countless scholars and many books were written within centuries by students of Abu Hanifa, making the Hanafi's resemble a wide sea.

Today, the majority of Muslim people are Hanafi and I think Abu Hanifa's attitude, which laid great stress on the practical issues humans face to neither ignore the facts of life nor sacrifice individuals for abstract discussions, played a role in this spread. Abu Hanifa was a remedy for Muslim people amid political turmoil and this has been going on for centuries.

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