Abu Hanifa

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Abu Hanifa
The founder of Hanafiyya school of fiqh
Mausoleum of Abu Hanifa (Maqbarat al-Khayzaran) where the mosque of Abu Hanifa was built afterward in al-A'zamiyya reign, Baghdad, Iraq.
Mausoleum of Abu Hanifa (Maqbarat al-Khayzaran) where the mosque of Abu Hanifa was built afterward in al-A'zamiyya reign, Baghdad, Iraq.
Full Nameal-Nu'man b. Thabit
TeknonymAbu Hanifa
Epithetal-Imam al-A'zam •Siraj al-A'imma
Religious AffiliationSunni
LineageOriginally Persian
Place of BirthKufa
Place of ResidenceKufa • BaghdadMedinaMecca
Cause of
Died in the prison of al-Mansur al-'Abbasi
Burial PlaceBaghdad
EraAl-Mansur al-'Abbasi
ProfessorsHammad b. Abi Sulayman'Asim b. Abi l-Nujud al-KufiImam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) and etc.
WorksAl-'Alim wa l-Muti'allimal-Fiqh al-akbar, ...

Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān b. Thābit (Arabic:أبو حنيفة النعمان بن ثابت), (b. 80/699-700 d. 150/767-8) was a scholar of fiqh and theology in Kufa and the founder of Hanafiyya, one of the four sects of Sunni Islam. Hanafis refer to him as "al-Imam al-A'zam" (the greatest leader) and "Siraj al-A'imma" (the light of the leaders).


According to the oldest biographies, Abu Hanifa's family had the relation of wala' al-'itq (being emancipated slaves) with the Banu Taym Allah b. Tha'laba clan from the Rabi'a tribe, a significant branch of the great tribe of Bakr b. Wa'il. According to some sources, Thabit, Abu Hanifa's father, was an emancipated slave of a man from the Banu Qafal family from the above tribe.

Moreover, according to 'Uthman b. Sa'id al-Darimi's citation from Ibn Asbat, Abu Hanifa's father was a Nazirite for some time after his birth.


Little is known about Abu Hanifa's personal life. It is said that he was born in Kufa, was in the business of selling fur, and when he was young, he had relations with Hammad 'Ajrad, a poet in Kufa.

Education and Teachers

Abu Hanifa studied with many scholars and faqihs, but Hammad b. Abi Sulayman was the particular teacher whose lectures he attended for 18 years. He accompanied him until death.

His teachers in Kufa, as mentioned in his biographies, include:

According to biographies, he also studied with people from Basra, such as Qatada b. Di'ama and Malik b. Dinar.

During his studies (before 114/732-3), he travelled to Hijaz and studied with teachers there. In Medina, he attended the lectures of Rabi'a b. Abi 'Abd al-Rahman, a scholar of fiqh, and in Mecca, he attended the lectures of 'Ata' b. Abi Ribah (d. 114/732-3 or 115/733-4).

In Medina, he also studied with Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a), 'Abd al-Rahman b. Hurmuz al-A'raj, Nafi' mawla Ibn 'Umar, Muhammad b. Munkadir, and Ibn Shahab al-Zuhri, and in Mecca, he also studied with people such as 'Amr b. Dinar and Abu l-Zubayr al-Makki.

Relationship with Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a)

Some Sunni sources have pointed to the relationship between Abu Hanifa and two Shi'a Imams (a) with respect to the transmission of hadiths. Al-Dhahabi and al-Qaramani have referred to his transmission of hadiths from Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a). Abu l-Hajjaj al-Mizzi mentioned Imam al-Baqir (a) as one of his masters. Other Sunni scholars, such as Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Ibn Sabbagh al-Maliki, and Sulayman al-Qunduzi said that he transmitted hadiths from Imam al-Sadiq (a).

Ibn Abi l-Hadid al-Mu'tazili explicitly said that Abu Hanifa was Imam al-Sadiq's (a) student. There is a well-known statement attributed to Abu Hanifa: "if there were not those two years, Nu'man [Abu Hanifa] would perish" (لولا السنتان، لهک نعمان). It is said that the statement was first cited in the 14th/20th century in the short book, Tuhfa al-ithna 'asharaiyya. Some people have interpreted this statement as referring to Abu Hanifa's studies with Imam al-Sadiq (a) for two years.

Others believe that it refers to his studies with Zayd b. 'Ali, and not Imam al-Sadiq (a), because he did learn hadiths from Zayd. However, the authenticity of such an attribution to Abu Hanifa was called into question, because it cannot be found in early sources. Some people have suggested that the phrase "سنتان" in this statement should be read as “Sunnatan” (the two traditions), rather than "sanatan" (the two years), in which case it would not refer to his studies.

Authority in Fiqh

After the death of Hammad b. Abi Sulayman (120/737-8), his most prominent student, Abu Hanifa, became the authority for issuing fatwas and teaching fiqh in Kufa. He enjoyed a distinctive social position.

Political Activities

In last years of the Umayyad dynasty from 121/738-9 to 132/749-50, Abu Hanifa was a significant figure for opponents of the government, except Khawarij.

Abu Hanifa secretly helped and sponsored Zayd b. 'Ali in his uprising and provided him with warfare.

In 126/743-4, Abu Hanifa played the role of a moderator between people of Khorasan and Ajlah, an official close to the caliph, in order to receive a safe conduct for Harith b. Surayj (a revolutionary head of Khorasan).

In 127/744-5 and 128/745-6 when Sufri Khawarij occupied Kufa under the leadership of Dahhak b. Qays al-Shaybani, Abu Hanifa had debates with them.

Leaving Kufa

When Yazid b. 'Umar b. Hubayra was appointed by Marwan II in 129/746-7 as the ruler of Iraq, he proposed the position of judgeship or, on some other accounts, monitoring the Treasury, to Abu Hanifa, but he rejected the proposal despite the pressures from Ibn Hubayra.

The pressures by Ibn Hubayra made him leave Kufa to Mecca. Thus, in the last two years to the end of the Umayyad dynasty, Abu Hanifa lived in Mecca, propagating his beliefs and opinions in fiqh. His serious rival there was Ayyub Sakhtiyani, the faqih of Basra, who had a sojourn in Mecca at the time.

Return to Kufa

When the Abbasids toppled down the Umayyad government and al-Saffah became the caliph, Abu Hanifa returned to Kufa, but he avoided pledging his allegiance to al-Saffah by means of a trick.

Death in the Prison of Baghdad

In the last days of Abu Hanifa's life, al-Mansur al-'Abbasi summoned him to Baghdad and imprisoned him for reasons unknown to us. After few days, Abu Hanifa died in the prison. In his the Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam , Jafari holds that Abu Hanifa was imprisoned because of his support for the Uprising of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya against al-Mansur.

Abu Hanifa's body was buried in the al-Khayzaran cemetery of Baghdad after Hasan b . 'Umara al-Bajali, the Kufi muhaddith (scholar of Hadith), said Funeral Prayer on his body. A dome and school were constructed over his burial place in 459/1066-7. Today the place in which his burial place is located is called "Hayy al-A'zamiyya" (al-A'zamiyya neighborhood).

Abu Hanifa's School of Thought

According to some reports, Abu Hanifa was an active participant of theological meetings in Kufa when he was young. He also travelled to Basra to debate with Ibadis, Sufris, and other theological branches of Islam.

Abu Hanifa's Beliefs


Many authors from People of Hadith, Imamis, Mu'tazilis, and Ash'aris, take Abu Hanifa to lean towards Murji'a. It has been taken as a widely accepted fact.

The problem of whether a person who commits a major sin counts as having Iman (faith) or not was a matter of severe debate in the second half of the 2nd/8th century. It led to three different positions and sects: Khawarij who believed that such a person will no longer count as having iman, and is, therefore, an unbeliever; Murji'a who believed that such a person still has iman, since for them, iman is not a matter of increase or decrease; and People of Hadith who avoided to count such a person as being an unbeliever, but took iman to be a matter of degrees and subject to increases and decreases.

Since Abu Hanifa believed that iman is subject to increases and decreases, he was considered by his opponents as leaning towards Murji'a.

In his book, al-'Alim wa l-muta'allim, Abu Hanifa emphasized on the importance of actions, explicitly holding that not all believers will go to the Heaven, and sinners who do not repent will be punished by God or forgiven by Him.

According to Abu Hanifa, there are three groups of people with respect to their position in the afterlife: people of Heaven, people of Hell, and monotheists concerning whom we should suspend judgment.


One of the most crucial problems regarding imamate in the history of Islamic denominations is that of the early successors of the Prophet (s) and the four Rashidun Caliphs.

In the first half of the 2nd/8th century, it was common among denominations of Islam other than Shi'a and Khawarij to take Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa and 'Umar b. al-Khattab as superior to other caliphs, but with respect to 'Ali (a) and 'Uthman b. 'Affan, not only was there a disagreement with respect to their superiority, but the early Murji'a, as Ibn Sa'd says, had even suspended judgment about whether they were believers (holders of iman or faith) in the first place. A well-known figure of the early Murji'a was Muharib b. Dithar, a teacher of Abu Hanifa.

Abu Hanifa's position about this problem was expressed in his Mujmal al-fiqh al-akbar where he said: "we leave the judgment about 'Uthman and 'Ali to God". It was quoted by Ibn Shahrashub as follows: “judgment about what happened between 'Ali and 'Uthman is left to God".

'Ali's (a) being Right

Abu Hanifa takes Ali (a) to be on the right side in all of his battles, taking his enemies to be "baghi" (transgressors).

He takes Imam al-Hasan (a) to be the right caliph and imam after 'Ali (a).

Abu Hanifa and Shi'a

There are many hadiths involving debates between Abu Hanifa and Imam al-Sadiq (a) or Imam al-Kazim (a), as well as some Imami scholars of Kufa, such as Muhammad b. 'Ali Sahib al-Taq, Faddal b. Hasan, and Haytham b. Habib al-Sayrafi. The chains of transmitters of each of these hadiths have to be assessed with respect to their reliability. In these debates, various issues are discussed, such as imamate, faith, and predestination. In some hadiths, Imam al-Sadiq (a) is cited as reproaching Abu Hanifa and sometimes taking him to be a person who does not love and respect 'Ali (a) so much.

Relation between Abu Hanifa and Zaydiyya

Abu Hanifa's intimate relation with Zayd b. 'Ali and Ibrahim al-Hasani is the best evidence for his good relations with Zaydiyya. Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Dibaj, Imam al-Sadiq's (a) son, and a Zaydi imam, admired Abu Hanifa and took his support of Zayd to be evidence of his love for the people of faith.

Abu Hanifa's Fiqh

The Structure of his Fiqh

In addition to the formulated Hanafi fiqh which is extant today, the only thing known about sources of his fiqh from old reports are some hadiths which are not very reliable. The most important and comprehensive of such hadiths is the one transmitted by Yahya b. Durays in which Abu Hanifa took the sources of his fiqh to be the following:

  • The Prophet's (s) tradition and reliable hadiths transmitted from him by reliable transmitters.

The View of the Imamiyya about Abu Hanifa's Fiqh

During his lifetime, Abu Hanifa was criticized in debates with Imam al-Sadiq (a) and Imam al-Kazim (a) as well as with Imami scholars such as Muhammad b. 'Ali Sahib al-Taq, Hurayz b. 'Abd Allah al-Sajistani, and Hisham b. Hakam for his appeals to personal opinion, qiyas, and some of his views regarding certain rulings of fiqh.

In 4th/10th century, Ibn Junayd al-Iskafi represented an approach in the Imami fiqh, which was very similar in its methods to Abu Hanifa's fiqh. Despite the dominant approach in the Imami fiqh, Ibn Junayd appealed to qiyas in fiqh.

Al-Sharif al-Radi (d. 406/1015), a scholar of Baghdad, also had views in usul al-fiqh which were close to those of Ibn Junayd. He had learned some texts of the Hanafi fiqh from teachers.

However, in the same period, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, the well-known Imami faqih, strongly attacked Abu Hanifa's methodology in usul al-fiqh and some of his rulings in fiqh.

In later centuries, some scholars showed respect for Abu Hanifa, and some criticized his views and methods.

Abu Hanifa and Transmitted Sciences

Recitation of the Quran

Abu Hanifa learned the recitation of the Qur'an from prominent teachers such as 'Asim (one of the Seven Reciters), al-A'mash (one of the Fourteen Reciters), and 'Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Layla. Hasan b. Ziyad al-Lu'lu'i transmitted his recitation of the Quran.

He had a recitation of his own recorded by Abu l-Fadl Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Khuza'i (d. 408/1017-8). It is cited by Hudhali in al-Kamil and al-Makki in Manaqib.


Throughout the works by Abu Hanifa's students, such as al-Athar by Abu Yusuf and al-Athar by Muhammad b. Hasan al-Shaybani, there are hadiths transmitted by Abu Hanifa. This shows the significance of the transmission of hadiths for him.

Abu Hanifa never gathered his hadiths in a single collection. This led some authors throughout centuries to collect several works under Musnad Abi Hanifa in which hadiths transmitted by Abu Hanifa here and there are collected in a single collection.

Information about Abu Hanifa's teachers and students in the transmission of hadiths comes from these hadiths. Thus, this information is usually treated with caution.

His narrators

  • Hammad b. Abi Hanifa
  • Zufar b. Hudhail
  • 'Ibad b. 'Awam
  • 'Abd Allah b. Mubarak
  • Hashim b. Bashir
  • Waki' b. Jarrah
  • Muslim b. KHalid al-Zanji
  • Dahhak b. Mukhallad
  • 'Abd Allah b. Yazid
  • Nawh b. Darraj al-Qadi
  • Abu Na'im Fadl b. Dakin
  • Ibrahim b. Tahan
  • Hamza b. Habib

Reliability in Rijal

Scholars of rijal (biography of the transmitters of hadiths) reproached him in different ways because he was their intellectual adversary. They, nevertheless, admitted that he was a truthful person.

The only hadith cited in al-Sihah al-Sitta from Abu Hanifa is one concerning hudud (punishments) in al-Nasa'i's al-Sunan al-Kubra. Al-Tirmidhi has cited a biographical remark by Abu Hanifa about Jabir b. Yazid al-Ju'fi and 'Ata' b. Abi Ribah in his al-Sunan, and in several parts of the book, he referred to Abu Hanifa's views in fiqh.

A number of hadiths transmitted by Abu Hanifa are cited in three of the Four Books of Imamiyya. There are some of his hadiths in other Shiite collections of hadiths as well.


  • Al-'Alim wa l-Muti'allim
  • Al-Fiqh al-akbar
  • Al-Fiqh al-absat
  • Al-Wawiyya
  • Risala ila 'Uthman al-Batti
  • Wasiyya ila tilmidhih al-Qadi Abi Yusuf
  • Wasiyya ila ibnih Hammad
  • Wasiyya ila Yusuf bin Khalid al-Samti
  • Risala fi al-iman wa takfir man qal bi khalq al-Qur'an
  • Mujadila li ahad al-dahriyyin