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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Heroes of Islam

Imam Abu Haneefa

Once upon a time, a pious young man of Persian origin was sitting by the bank of the Tigris river in Iraq when he saw an apple floating on the water. Feeling rather hungry, he picked up the apple and ate it. Then soon afterwards he began to question himself on having eaten something that doe not belong to him, without permission by its owner. Therefore he decided to look for the owner. Had the young man been a scholar, he would have known that he could eat the apple without need of permission by anyone. However, he went upstream, looking at houses close to the river, until he saw a house with a garden and an apple tree, full of fruit and with some branches stretching over the water. It was a splendid house, with a large garden. He knocked on the door and asked to see the owner. He was ushered into the presence of an old man with a pleasant face, who seemed to be very decisive in his attitude.

On hearing the story , the house owner reflected a little before saying to the young man that he committed a gross error. He should have known better than seeking forgiveness after the misdeed is done. However, he was prepared to forgive the young man if he would meet his condition. The young man was full of hope, but when he heard the condition, his heart sank. The house owner said to him: I have a daughter, and I am worried about what would happen to her after my death. Looking at you, I feel that you could provide her with the care that she needs. If you are prepared to marry her, I will forgive you what you have done.

The young man thought hard, then decided that going through life with such a wife was much easier than having to go to hell for his misdeed. Therefore he accepted. Then on the wedding night he was surprised to find his wife to be a beautiful and well educated young woman.

It was into that marriage that Imam Abu Haneefah, Numan, was born in Kufah, southern Iraq in 80 A.H. corresponding to 700 a.d. He belonged to a business family trading in clothes. Abu Haneefah grew up as a very religious young man, and he memorised the Quran when he was very young. He also began to learn Hadith so that he would know how to conduct his life and business in accordance with Islam. He was clear in his mind that he would carry on with his family business, which brought affluence to his family.

His intelligence was evident at an early stage. In his youth, he was involved in debates with the adherents of various beliefs and philosophies, relying mainly on his natural instinct. This gave him a good training that was to stand him in good stead in his later pursuit of Islamic studies which he started at the advice of Amir Al-Shaabi, one of the most distinguished scholars of the generation following the Prophet (Pbuh) companions who said to him: "You should pursue knowledge and attend the circles of scholars. I can see in you a man with an alert mind and penetrative understanding."

Since debating was his main hobby, now he began to concentrate on beliefs, learning them in depths. He then traveled frequently to the other centre of learning, Basrah, where he was involved in numerous debates with different groups. But he then felt debating was largely a waste of time, and could not bring benefit to anyone. So he turned to the study of Fiqh (Islamic Law).

Kufah was a city where different trends of knowledge had converged. Abu Haneefah aimed to achieve full understanding of four trends of fiqh scholarship: 1, Umar's fiqh based on what benefits the people; 2, Ali's fiqh based on deduction and a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of Islamic law; 3, Abdullah ibn Massoud's fiqh based on analogy; 4, Ibn Abbas's thorough knowledge of the Quran.

He learnt from different scholars, but he had a teacher to whose company he committed himself. That was Hammad ibn Abu Sulaiman, a highly distinguished scholar0lar who had studied scholars of the second Islamic generation.

Abu Haneefah also learnt fiqh from other scholars, particularly during his pilgrimage trips. He did the pilgrimage almost every year, absenting himself only there was an unavoidable reason. On these trips he met numerous scholars and he learnt much through them.

When his teacher, Hammad ibn Sulaiman died in 120, Abu Haneefah, his most distinguished student, took his place and continued his circle. He was soon to acquire great fame for he added broad scholarship to superb intelligence and a exceptional ability in both analysis and debate. Moreover, he did not stop his business activity. In fact he continued his business, but he went into partnership with a friend who was responsible for carrying on with all his activities. Abu Haneefah, however, continued to exercise close supervision to ensure full compliance with Islamic law.

Abu Haneefah followed a meticulous method of learning. On the importance of combining the study of fiqh with the study of hadith he says:"Anyone who learns hadith without studying fiqh is like a pharmacist who has all the medicines but does not know for which condition they are used. He must wait until the doctor comes. A hadith must also wait for the scholar of fiqh."

As a teacher, Abu Haneefah followed a method similar to that of Socrates. He did not lecture. Rather, he would present a case to his students and outline the principles that apply to it. That opens the way for discussion or a debate. Each one of them was free to express his thoughts to the case. They may agree with him or object to his views. The discussion may even be a heated one. When everyone has had his say and defended his view as forcefully as he could, Abu Haneefah would sum up the discussion and outlined the conclusion giving the final verdict. Everyone would accept his final verdict without hesitation. Thus he was able to debate with his students as if he was one of them, and retain the position of the teacher who has the ultimate say. Hence, his students loved him dearly.

But perhaps he loved his students more than they loved him. He treated them as a father treats his children. He often gave them grants t cope with their needs. If a student wanted to get married and did not have the means to do so, Abu Haneefah would pay the expenses of his marriage. One of his contemporaries describes this relationship as follows:"He would keep his student in good means, supporting him and his dependants. When he has attained a good standard, he would say to him, 'Now you have attained what is more valuable than wealth; for now you know what is lawful and what is forbidden'.

Two personal qualities had a great influence on his scholarship. Te first was independent thinking. He would nat accept any verdict on any question unless he has considered it thoroughly, looking at all factors that could influence the final verdict on it. This gave him two highly important scholarly characteristics. The first is his patience and forbearance. He did not use hard words to anyone who attacked him. Once, someone accused him of being a heretic who invented matters that had no basis in Islam. Very calmly, Abu Haneefah said to the man:"May God forgive you, for He knows that I am unlike what you have said. Ever since I came to know of Him, I have not transgressed in my beliefs. There is nothing that I hope for more than forgiveness, and nothing that I fear more then His punishment." The man asked him earnestly to absolve him of what he said. Abu Haneefah said:"I forgive anyone who says something against me if he is ignorant. If he is a scholar, then the situation is more difficult. A slur by a scholar leaves its traces for long."

The second characteristic derived from his independent thinking was his courage. He would stat his views very cleary, not swerving from any of them for any reason. However, he admitted that he could be mistaken over any question. He frequently repeated to his students:"What we say is merely an expression of an opinion, which is the best we have determined.If anyone comes to us with something better, he is entitled to uphold the truth." All this gave him a highly respectable status among all who knew him. He added to that penetrative insight. He was indeed the top scholar of fiqh in his time.

Abu Haneefah never accepted any gift, in cash or the like, from any ruler or Governor. In this attitude, he was subsequently joined by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who lived much of his life in poverty.

As a businessman, Abu Haneefah had four characteristics that distinguished hi among his peers: 1, A clear sense of integrity, which steered him away from greed and doubtful gains; 2, Exemplary honesty; 3, Kindness in his dealings; and 4, a profound sense of religion that considered honest and fair trading an act of worship. This made him exceptional among people of business. He was likened to Abu Bakr in his trading, showing any defect in the merchandise he was selling without placing the good attractive items on top or in the front. He placed them with the rest of the goods in order not to let in any element of cheating.

His honesty was demonstrated in both buying and selling. A woman brought him a silk dress which she wanted to sell. She asked 100 for it, but Abu Haneefah would not take it for the asking price, because, as he informed the woman, it was worth more. So she increased the price, but he kept saying it was worth more. She eventually asked him to pay 400, but he again refused again and said that she has asked for too little. She looked at him suspiciously and said, 'Are you mocking me?' He suggested that she should get someone who was an expert in this line. When the expert came, he valued it at 500, and Abu Haneefah bought it at that price.

He was willing to forgo his profit if the case merited that. An old woman said to him once:"I am old and poor. Be honest with me and sell me this dress without charging too much for it." He said:"take it then, for 4 dirhams." Knowing that the dress was worth much more, she said with a touch of anger:"Are you mocking me when I am an elderly woman?" He said:"The fact is that I bought to dresses, and sold the first one for 4 dirhams short of what i paid for the two. So, if you take the dress for this price, I will have got my money back."

It is difficult to cover all aspects of such a rich personality in the space allowed for one article. Hence it is necessary to leave some important aspects to a second article, Inshallah.

"Had I known that people would not let him down, I would have joined him in his Jihad, because he is the right leader. However, I will help him financially." These were Abu Haneefah's reported words in reference to Imam Zaid ibn Ali who rebelled against the Umayyad rule in 122 A.H. He was true to his word and he sent a large donation to Zaid. Abu Haneefah lived most of his life under the Umayyad Caliphate, but he felt that the Umayyads had no right to be rulers and he was against the choice of the Caliph hereditary.

Later when the Umayyad Caliphate was facing its stiffest test, the Umayyad Governor in Kufah, Ibn Hubairah wanted to consolidate their position in Iraq by getting the support of scholars. He called in the best and most popular scholars and practically presurised them into accepting official positions with the Umayyad rulers. They accepted these, with the exception of Abu Haneefah, who refused all offers. Ibn Hubairah then offered him the seal, so that no government correspondence would be issued and no financial allocations could be made unless he would sign and seal it. But he refused. The Governor requested some scholars to try and persuade him, but Abu Haneefah spoke to them kindly. In repeating his refusal he said:"If he wanted me to agree to sign and seal a letter ordering that a man should be beheaded? I will never agree to do any work for him."

That brought matters to a head, and the Governor ordered his punishment. So he was imprisoned and beaten up. Then the Governor feared that such punishment could lead to his death, and that would place a lasting stigma on the Umayyad rule. So, he requested other scholars to persuade Abu Haneefah to allow the Governor to fulfill his oath. Abu Haneefah would not accept co-operation, not even by seeking a postponement of the appointment. The Governor had no choice but to release him. When freed, Abu Haneefah left Kufah with his family, and head straight for Makkah where he spent the next few years. That was i 130 A.H.

With the Abbassids, he was first on good terms, but relations with Al-Mansorr, the Caliph, were strained. Al-Mansoor called in several scholars, including Abu Haneefah, and told them that the people of Musel rebelled, while they had pledged loyalty, making it clear that they would be liable to be killed should they ever rebelled. The Caliph wanted to know if this case comes under the principle laid down by the Prophet:"Believers will always honour their pledges." That would mean that all those who rebelled were liable for capital punishment. One man present said to the Caliph:"You have all authority over them. Should you forgive them, it is only your noble character, and if you punish them, they have deserved punishment."

As people voiced their views, Abu Haneefah remained silent. Al-Mansoor asked him for his opinion, reminding him that rebellion threatened people who otherwise were enjoying security. Abu Haneefah did not hesitate to state the truth. He said to the Caliph:"They have pledged what is not theirs to offer, and you have imposed on them a condition that you have no right to impose. Capital punishment cannot be imposed on a Muslim except in one of three cases. That is the condition God has imposed, and His condition is the one you ae better advised to honour. If you impose a condition , you kill them without justification." On hearing this, Al-Mansoor dismissed his students, but retained Abu Haneefah. When he was alone with him, he said:"Yours is the correct view. You may go home, but do not issue rulings that detract from the Caliph, so that you do not encourage rebellion."

In the year 146 A.H, Abu Haneefah was sent to prison by Mansur, the leader at the time, after the Imam’s refusal to state that Al-Mansur was the rightful Caliph, as well as refusing the position of presidency of the supreme court in recompense. Whilst in prison Imam Abu Haneefah was thrashed with a stick. Al-Mansur repented and sent the Imam money, only to be refused again. By now Imam Abu Haneefah had become well known and thousands flocked to meet and seek his opinion wherever he went. His imprisonment far from reduced his popularity, and Al-Mansur realised that he would have to treat the Imam carefully, thus he allowed him to teach whilst still in prison. Al-Mansur finally decided to do away with the great Imam and had him poisoned. Abu Haneefah feeling the effects of the poison, bent down in prayer and died in the month on Rajab. News of the Imam’s death reached far and wide, and thousands gathered at the prison. The city Qadi (judge) washed his body, and kept repeating "by God you were the greatest faqih (scholar of Islamic law) and the most pious man of our time....".

By the time the bathing was finished so many people had assembled that the funeral prayer was performed attended by fifty thousand people.

Al Hafiz al-Kabir Abu Bakr Ahmad al- Harizmi wrote in his book (Musnad), ‘Saif al Aimma’ reports that when Imam Abu Haneefah derived a matter from the Qur’an and Hadith, he would not give the answer to the inquirer unless all of them (his students) confirmed it. One thousand of Abu Haneefah’s disciples attended all his classes when he taught in the mosque of Kufa city. Forty of them were mujtahids. When he would find an answer for a matter he would suggest to his students who would study it together, and when they reached an agreement of it being consistent with The Qur’an and Hadith, and with the words of the Sahabah, he would be delighted and say, "Al-hamdu li’llah wallahu Akbar (All praise is due to Allah, Allah is the greatest)", and all those who were present would repeat his words. Then he would tell them to write it down.

Ibn ‘Abd al- Barr relates in al-Intiqa’, ‘Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Dawraqi said: "Ibn Ma’inn was asked about Abu Haneefah as I was listening, so he said "He is trustworthy (thiqatun), I never heard that anyone had weakened him" No less than Shu’ba wrote to him (for narrations), and ordered him to narrate hadith’. Ibn Hajar said in Kharija ibn al Salt’s notice in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Ibn Abi Khaythama said: "If al Shu’bi narrates from someone and names him, that man is trustworthy (thiqa) and his narration is used as proof (yuhtajju bi hadithihi)".

Many well known shuyukh (scholars) narrated from Imam Abu Haneefah, to name but a few: al Thawri, ibn al-Mubarak, Hammad ibn Zayd and ‘Abd al-Razzaq (one of Iman al-Bukhari’s shaykh) Al Mizzi in Tahdhib al-Kamal names about one hundred names of those who narrated from Imam Abu Haneefah.

Imam as-Shafi (rh) is recorded to have stated: "All men of fiqh are Abu Haneefah’s children". "...I would not have acquired anything of knowledge had it not been for my teacher. All men of knowledge are children of the ulema (scholars) of Iraq, who were the disciples of the ulema of Kufa, and they were the disciples of Abu Haneefah".

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