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Abu Abdullah Irfan Jameel al-Hanbali
The Life of Imam Abu Hanifa – The Great Imam and master of Fiqh
The understanding of the laws and code of conduct of Islam is something that has constantly been evolving throughout Islamic history. The first generations of Muslims after the Rasullullah ﷺhad a much easier time understanding what is expected out of them as Muslims because they had access to the Sahaba, the companions of the Rasullullah ﷺ. As history progressed, however, a need arose to codify Islamic laws into organized and easy to access law codes. The first person who undertook this monumental task was the great scholar Imam Abu Hanifa. Through his efforts, the first school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), the Hanafi school, developed. Today, the Hanafi School is the largest and most influential among the four schools (madhhabs) of fiqh.
Early Life and Education
Abu Hanifa’s given name was Nu’man ibn Thabit. He was born in 699 in the Iraqi city of Kufa, to a family of Persian origin. His father, Thabit, was a successful businessman in Kufa and thus the young Abu Hanifa intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. Living under the oppressive reign of the governor of Iraq, alHajjaj ibn Yusuf, Abu Hanifa stayed focused on running the family silk-making business and generally steered clear of scholarship. With the death of al-Hajjaj in 713 came the removal of oppressive policies regarding scholars, and Islamic scholarship soared in Kufa, especially during the reign of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (717-720). Thus, by his teenage years, Abu Hanifa began to study under some of the resident scholars of Kufa. He even got the opportunity to meet between eight and ten companions of Rasullullah ﷺ, among them Anas ibn Malik, Sahl ibn Sa’d, and Jabir ibn Abdullah. After learning from some of the greatest scholars of Kufa, he went on to study in Makkah and Madinah under numerous teachers, namely Ata ibn Abu Rabah, who was known as one of the greatest scholars of Makkah at the time. He soon became an expert in the sciences of fiqh (Jurisprudence), Tafsir (exegesis of the Quran), and Kalam (seeking theological knowledge through debate and reason). In fact, the concept of using debate and logic became a cornerstone of his methodology for seeking Islamic laws.
His School of Fiqh
based on the rulings of Imam Abu Hanifa. Muhammad al-Shaybani. of course. Instead. and Zuffar. then the Sunnah. they would turn to the Sunnah. Using such a process for codifying fiqh. It became the first . if it was not clearly answered in the Quran. A major aspect of his methodology was the use of debate to derive rulings. Abu Yusuf. and if he does not find a direct solution there. Students would at first attempt to find the solution in the Quran. and challenge them to come up with a ruling based on the Quran and Sunnah.The Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad Imam Abu Hanifa was a firm believer that a code of laws cannot stay static for too long. an answer that Rasullullah ﷺwas pleased with. This dynamic form of legalism did not supersede the Quran and Sunnah (sayings and doings of the Rasullullah )ﷺ. and his prominent students. Abu Hanifa based this methodology on the example when Rasullullah ﷺsent Mu’adh ibn Jabal to Yemen and asked him how he will resolve issues using Islamic law. Mu’adh responded that he would look into the Quran. he would use his best judgement. he promoted the use of the Quran and Sunnah to derive laws that addressed the issues that people dealt with at that time. they would use reason to find a logical solution. He would commonly pose a legal issue to a group of about 40 of his students. Thus he advocated interpreting the sources of Islamic law (usul al-fiqh) in response to the needs of the people at the time. the Hanafi madhhab (school of law) was thus founded. and if it was not there. at the risk of no longer meeting the needs of the people.
Syria. the Balkans. Abu Hanifa was offered a position as a chief judge in the city of Kufa. it is very popular in Turkey. the Abbasid authorities. He consistently refused such appointments and thus found himself regularly imprisoned by both the Umayyad and later. al-Fiqh al-Akbar. his school became very influential throughout the Muslim world. and the Indian Subcontinent. As the official madhhab of the Abbasid. Numerous times throughout his later life. Mughal. The Hanafi madhhab is in light green. Egypt. and Ottoman Empires. through the main book of Abu Hanifa’s legal opinions. Students of Imam Abu Hanifa & Their Books . His school of law became very popular in the Muslim world not long after his death.codified madhhab. Today. He died in the year 767 while in prison. A masjid was built in his honour in Baghdad years later. Iraq. His Legacy A map of the distribution of madhhab’s worldwide today. and was renovated in the Ottoman period by the monumental architect Mimar Sinan.
which are listed in the order of their importance: 1. Accordingly any other source that contradicted the Qur’aan was considered inaccurate. 3. but with some qualification as to its use. This condition was laid down as a safeguard against false Hadeeths which were cropping up frequently in that region where only a few notable Sahaabah had settled (‘Alee and Ibn Mas’ood).Abu Hanifah wrote many books. They stipulated that it was not sufficient that a Hadeeth be accurate (Saheeh). 2. Individual opinion of the Sahaabah . The Hanafi Madhhab also accepts the Ijmaa’ of Muslim scholars of any age as valid and binding on Muslims. Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah Third is importance as a source of Islamic law was the unanimous opinion of the Sahaabah on any point of law not specified in the Qur’aan or the Sunnah. That is. and his students also authored many important books on Islam. Some of the famous books of those who followed his Madhhab include. The Qur’aan They considered the Qur’aan to be the primary unquestionable source of Islamic law. Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah on any point of law not specified in the Qur’aan or the Sunnah. if it was to be used as a legal proof. but are not limited to the following: • Al Kharaj (Fiqh on Islamic Economic System) by Qadi Abu Yusuf • Al Mabsoot by As-Sarkhasi (Fiqh) • Bada’ee as-Sana’ee by Al-Kasaani (Fiqh) • Fathul Qadeer by Kamal ibn Humam (Fiqh) • Kitab-ul Usul-ul Fiqh by Al Bazdawi (Usul al-Fiqh) • Mu’watta by Muhammad al-Shaybani (Hadith) • Kitab-ul-Aathar by Yusuf bin Abu Yusuf (Hadith) Sources of Law used by the Hanafi Madhhab The early jurists of this Madhhab deduced Islamic laws from the following sources. but it had to be also widely known (Mashhoor). 4. The Sunnah The Sunnah was consulted as the second most important source of Islamic law. In fact it was used to determine the accuracy of the other sources. That is. Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah was given precedence over the personal opinions of Abu Haneefah and his students in their deduction of Islamic law. The books of Abu Hanifah include Fiqh ul-Akbar and Al Alimwal-Muta’allim.
Iraq. 7. or it may even involve the preference of a more suitable law over the one deduced by Qiyaas. Syria. Trinidad. and Surinam and to some extent Egypt. Pakistan. Abu Haneefah would choose the opinion which appeared most appropriate to the case in question. However. in short. is the preference of one proof over another proof because it appears more suitable. 6. Istihsaan (Preference) Istihsaan. Qiyaas (Analogical deduction) Abu Haneefah felt no obligation to accept the deductions of the students of the Sahaabah (Taabi’oon) in areas where no clear proof was available from any of the above mentioned sources.If there were different opinions among the Sahaabah on a particular point of law and no Ijmaa’ was subsequently formed. This may involve the preference of a Hadeeth which is specific over a general one. the Madhhab spread throughout the Ottoman Islamic State during the last Part of the nineteenth century. even though the preferred proof may be technically weaker than the one it is preferred to. He considered himself the equal of the Taabi’oon and would make his own Ijtihaad based on the principles of Qiyaas which he and his students established. ‘Urf (Local Custom) Local customs were given legal weight in areas where there were no binding Islamic customs available. any scholar who aspired to be a judge was obliged to learn it. As a result. In establishing this as a vital principle of his Madhhab. When the Ottoman rulers codified Islamic law according to the Hanafi Madhhab in the nineteenth century CE and made it state law. Afghanistan. 5. . Turkey. Abu Haneefah again gave more weight to the opinions of the Sahaabah than to his own. Guyana. Followers of the Hanafi Madhhab Those who now follow the Hanafi Madhhab are found mostly in India. It was through the application of this principle that various customs found in the multiplicity of cultures within the Islamic world entered the legal system and became mistakenly classified as Islamic. he did apply his own reasoning in a limited sense by choosing one of their various opinions.
one must have mastery of the Quran. Nafi’. tasks that the Muslim community has undertaken in 1400 years of history. He became a teacher. which he held in the mosque of the Rasullullah ﷺ. The Scholar of Madinah After an immense amount of study that extended into his 20s and 30s. At a time when the Muslim community desperately needed the sciences of fiqh and hadith (sayings and doings of Rasullullah ) ﷺto be organized. 79 years after the death of Rasullullah ﷺin that same city. and Abdullah ibn Umar. His legacy is manifest in his continued influence throughout the Muslim world. the sayings of Rasullullah ﷺ. Imam Malik became known as the most learned man in Madinah at his time. and thus young Malik was raised in an environment that was based on Islamic scholarship. Imam Malik rose to the occasion.Imam Malik – The Imam of Ahl al-Madinah The collection and codification of Islamic law has historically been one of the most important. as well as other subjects such as grammar and history. Tafsir (interpretation of the Quran). Imam Malik mastered the sciences of hadith. In this capital of Islamic knowledge. Although the political centre of the Muslim world shifted away from Madinah during the caliphate of Ali in the 650s. He used to sit on the pulpit of the mosque with the Quran in one hand and a collection of hadith in the other and offer legal rulings and opinions based on those two sources. it remained the intellectual capital of Islam. Imam Malik’s uncle. and narrated hadith from Aisha. Both his father and grandfather had studied religious sciences under the Companions of the Rasullullah ﷺwho still lived in Madinah. Abu Hurayrah. To be considered a faqih (an expert in Islamic law – fiqh). and fiqh. One of the giants of Islamic law was the 8th century scholar of Madinah. Early Life and Education Imam Malik was born in 711 in the city of Madinah. but his grandfather had moved to Madinah during the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab. learning from his father and uncle. His family was originally from Yemen. other sources of law. both through his own works and the works of those he helped guide on a path of scholarship and devotion to Islam. was an eminent scholar in his own right. and challenging. all companions who are noted for their vast knowledge of hadith. . attracting a huge number of students to lectures. Malik ibn Anas.
Muhammad al-Shaybani (they were Abu Hanifah’s two most important students as well). After those two. there are numerous sources that are used to derive laws. the great scholars of fiqh differed on the next most important source of law. In the study of fiqh. He thus reasoned that if all of the people of Madinah practiced a particular action and it did not contradict the . Among his more notable students were Abu Yusuf. Imam Malik held his classes in the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah The most unique aspect of Imam Malik’s methodology in fiqh was his reliance on the practices of the people of Madinah as a source of law. and Imam al-Shafi’i. The first and second most important sources are always the Quran and Sunnah. His reasoning for this was that Madinah at that time was not far removed from the Madinah of Rasullullah ﷺ. Imam Malik believed that the practices of the people of Madinah should be seen as an important source. however. And the people living in the city had been taught Islam by their ancestors who had been Companions of the Rasullullah ﷺor students of the Companions. It had been spared the political and social upheaval that much of the rest of the Muslim world dealt with.Students flocked to his lectures from all corners of the Muslim world.
he would stop. Imam Malik was an incredibly humble and meticulous Muslim. In order to ease the study of fiqh and hadith. particularly the judging of chains of narrations for hadith. seeing it as unfathomable that he would ride on the same dust that Rasullullah ’ﷺs feet walked on. As such. Instead. He knew that no one interpretation of Islamic law was perfect and all-encompassing. out of respect for Rasullullah ﷺ. sit down. Imam Malik’s Character Besides being one of the greatest scholars of fiqh in history. He is unique among the four great imams of fiqh in this opinion. Imam Malik compiled a book known as the al-Muwatta. and give the hadith the attention it deserved. meaning “The Approved”. he refused to allow his fiqh to become official. thus he gave it the name al-Muwatta. Imam Shafi’i even stated that there is no book on earth. refused. He would also refuse to ride any animal in the city of Madinah.” Imam Malik’s work was so influential as a book of fiqh that the caliph of the time. Harun al-Rashid.Bukhari and Muslim. Out of respect for the Rasullullah ﷺ and his words. This type of extra respect and meticulousness out of respect for Rasullullah ﷺcertainly is not mandatory according to Islamic law. however. then it can be taken as a source of law. who all approved it. when asked about a hadith. This was the first book that attempted to compile only sound and reliable sayings of Rasullullah ﷺinto one book. that is more authentic than the Muwatta. even under threat of persecution and imprisonment.Quran and Sunnah. It helped establish the science of hadith. Imam Malik said that he showed his book to seventy scholars in Madinah. but simply a sign of the emphasis Imam Malik placed on the importance of Rasullullah ﷺ. Imam Malik was so thorough in his selection of hadith that it has been placed on the same level (and sometimes above) the hadith compilations of Imams . . Imam Malik. Al-Muwatta was a landmark book. he would refuse to narrate a hadith while walking. demanded that it be mass-printed and made the official book of fiqh for the Abbasid Empire. after the Quran.
Imam Malik’s seminal work. and whoever remains away perishes. As Imam Malik wished. it was not imposed on Muslims as the sole school of Islamic law.” “None renounces the world and guards himself without then ending up speaking wisdom.” Imam Malik’s ideology on fiqh developed into the Maliki madhhab (school).” “Knowledge does not consist in narrating much. Instead. Knowledge is but a light which Allah places in the heart. his mother advised him to “learn from your teacher his manners before you learn from him his knowledge. al-Muwatta Among Imam Malik’s sayings are: “The Sunnah is the ark of Nuh.” When Imam Malik embarked on the study of Islamic sciences with a teacher. Whoever boards it is saved. it complemented the other three schools that took precedence in the .
1. he put some restrictions on its use. then narrate appropriate Hadeeths or Athars which could be used to solve them. he rejected it. but would add or subtract from it slightly. or he would inquire about problems which had arisen in the areas from whence his students came. After Maalik completed al-Muwatta’. Instead he used any Hadeeth that was narrated to him as long as none of the narrators were known liars or extremely weak memorizers. He would either narrate to his students Hadeeths and Athars (statements of the Sahaabah) on various topics of Islamic law then discuss their implications. He used to strictly avoid speculation and hypothetical Fiqh and thus his school and its followers were referred to as the people of Hadeeth (Ahl al-Hadeeth).Sunni Muslim world – the Hanafi. Shafi’i. and Hanbali schools. He was buried in the Baqee’ Cemetery in Madinah. The Sunnah The Sunnah was used by Imaam Maalik as the second most important source of Islamic law. . The Qur’aan Like all the other Imaams. If a Hadeeth were contradicted by the customary practice of the Madeenites. whenever new information reached him. he used to narrate it to his students as the sum total of his Madhhab. but. The Maliki School became very popular in North and West Africa. Maalik considered the Qur’aan to be the primary source of Islamic law and utilized it without laying any pre-conditions for its applications. 2. Famous Books of the Madhhab: • Formation of the Maliki Madhhab Imaam Maalik’s method of teaching was based on the narration of Hadeeths and the discussion of their meanings in the context of problems of that day. Sources of Law Used by the Maliki Madhhab Imaam Maalik deduced Islamic law from the following sources which are listed in the order of their importance. Today it remains the main madhhab of North and West Africa. however. He did not. Imam Malik died at the age of 85 in the year 795. like Abu Haneefah. insist that a Hadeeth be Mash-hoor (well-known) before it could be applied as Abu Haneefah did. as well as Muslim Spain.
Qiyaas Maalik used to apply his own deductive reasoning on matters not covered by the previously mentioned sources. It deals with things which are for human welfare but have not been specifically considered by the Shari’ah. Imaam Maalik regarded common Madeenite practices as a form of highly authentic Sunnah narrated in deeds rather than words. Individual Opinion of the Sahaabah Imaam Maalik gave full weight to the opinions of the Sahaabah. as well as that of later scholars. 7. . ‘Amal (practices) of the Madeenites Imaam Maalik reasoned that since many of the Madeenites were direct descendants of the Sahaabah and Madinah was where the Rasullullah ﷺspent the last ten years of his life. whereas in Shari’ah only Zakaah has been specified. He reasoned that such customs. their individual opinions were given precedence over his own opinion. Where there was no consensus. Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah Imaam Maalik like Abu Hanifah considered the Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah. 4. However. the consensus of the Sahaabah was given precedence over individual opinions of the Sahaabah. Customs of the Madeenites Imaam Maalik also gave some weight to isolated practices found among a few people of Madinah so long as they were not in contradiction to known Hadeeths. Imaam Maalik also applied the principle of Istislaah to deduce laws more in keeping with needs which arose from current situations than those deduced by Qiyaas. 6. whether they were conflicting or in agreement. though occurring only in isolated instances. as the third most important source of Islamic law.3. if not encouraged by the Rasullullah ﷺhimself. must also have been handed down from earlier generations and sanctioned by the Sahaabah or even the Rasullullah ﷺhimself. 5. practices common to all Madeenites must have been allowed. Thus. Another example is the right of a Muslim leader to collect taxes from the rich other than Zakaah if the interest of the state demands it. However. Istislaah (Welfare) The principle of Istihsaan developed by Abu Haneefah was also applied by Maalik and his students except that they called it by the name Istislaah which means seeking that which is more suitable. he was very cautious about doing so because of the subjectivity of such forms of reasoning. An example of Istislaah is found in Caliph ‘Ali’s ruling that a whole group of people who took part in a murder were guilty even though only one of the group had actually committed the act of murder. and included them in his book of Hadeeth. 8. alMuwatta’.
Algeria and Morocco). for example. Qatar. Abu ‘Abdullah ibn Wahb (742-819 CE) Ibn Wahb also travelled from Egypt to Madinah in order to study under Imaam Maalik. a contract made in Syria requiring payment in the form of a Daabbah would legally mean a horse whereas elsewhere in the Arab world it would have to be more clearly defined as a horse. for example. etc. Muhammad ash-Shaybani who was among the foremost students of Abu Haneefah. Main students of the Maliki Madhhab The most notable of Malik’s students who did not later form their own Madh-habs were al-Qaasim and Ibn Wahb. Ibn Wahb was offered an appointment as judge of Egypt. and Bahrain). the word Daabbah means a horse. Sudan. He wrote an extensive book on the Fiqh of the Madhhab. Followers of the Maliki Madhhab Today. Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmaan Ibn al-Qaasim (745-813 CE) Al-Qaasim was born in Egypt but travelled to Madinah where he studied under his teacher and mentor for a period of more than twenty years. Nigeria. but turned it down in order to maintain his integrity as an independent scholar. According to custom in Syria. Some of them modified their own Madh-habs based on what they learnt from Maalik. Hence. North Africa (Tunisia. Maalik had other famous students from other madh-habs. which means the official expounder of Islamic law. the followers of this Madhhab are found mostly in Upper Egypt. ‘Urf (Custom) Like Abu Haneefah. Maalik considered the various customs and social habits of people throughout the Muslim world as possible sources of secondary laws as long as they did not contradict either the letter or the spirit of the Shari’ah. . West Africa (Mali. whereas its general meaning in Arabic is four legged animal. eclipsing even al-Muwatta’ of Maalik himself and called it al-Mudawwanah.9. Chad. He distinguished himself in th deduction of laws to such a degree that Maalik gave him the title of al-Mufti. There were others who developed their own Madhhabs by combining Malik’s teachings with that of others. for example Muhammad ibn Idrees ashShafi’i who studied for many years under Imaam Maalik as well as under Abu Hanifah’s student Muhammad as-Shaybani.) and the Arabian Gulf states (Kuwait.
His father died when he was very young. Imam Malik was very impressed with the intelligence and analytical mind of the young al-Shafi’i. During his illustrious career. while still holding close to the Quran and Sunnah as the main sources of Islamic laws. especially considering the fact that he was from the family of the Rasullullah ﷺ. and thus his mother decided to move to Makkah. after the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifa. and memorized the most popular book of fiqh at the time. Each one of these imams added a unique and new dimension to the understanding of Islamic law. he began to immerse himself in the study of fiqh. Today. his great contribution was the codifying and organization of a concept known as usul al-fiqh the principles behind the study of fiqh. Studies under Imam Malik At the age of thirteen. one of Imam Abu Hanifa’s foremost students. He was thus forced to take notes in his classes on old animal bones. which he memorized by age ten. and expanded upon by their successors in their schools. his mother insisted that he embark on a path towards scholarship. This familiarized al-Shafi’i with differing viewpoints on the study of fiqh. Thus. Despite being in a very bad economic situation. Islamic jurisprudence. and expanded on their ideas. he studied under Imam Muhammad alShaybani. In Madinah. Afterwards. he was trained in Arabic grammar. and he greatly benefited from the exposure to various approaches to fiqh. Early Life Muhammad ibn Idrees al-Shafi’i was born in 767 (the year of Imam Abu Hanifa’s death) in Gaza. Palestine. his madhhab (school of thought). his mother could not afford proper writing materials for the young al-Shafi’i. Imam Muhammad al-Shafi’i. he managed to memorize the Quran at the age of seven. Because of his family’s financial situation. For the third of the four great imams. These schools were founded by the greatest legal minds in Islamic history. where many members of her family (who were originally from Yemen) were settled. Imam . In addition to Imam Malik. and provided him with financial assistance to ensure that he remains in the study of fiqh. is the second most popular on earth. When Imam Malik died in 795. literature. and history. different schools have developed over time. al-Shafi’i was completely immersed in the academic environment of the time. Imam Malik’s Muwatta. Despite this. he was urged by the governor of Makkah to travel to Madinah and study under Imam Malik himself. as a young man.Imam al-Shafi’i – the Father of Usul al-Fiqh In the study of fiqh. he learned under some of the greatest scholars of his time.
Al-Shafi’i agreed and smartly decided to stay away from politics for the remainder of his life. The Shafi’i madhhab is in blue. Imam Shafi’i gave an impassioned and eloquent defense. Imam Shafi’i was not just released. Harun al-Rashid. the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate. Imam Shafi’i was invited to Yemen to work as a judge for the Abbasid governor. even though he was in his 20s.Shafi’i was known to be one of the world’s most knowledgeable scholars. numerous factions within the government made it their aim to remove him from his post. When he met with the caliph of the time. Imam Shafi’i was not ready for the politicallycharged environment he found himself in. A map of the distribution of madhhab’s worldwide today. His Travels Not long after Malik’s death. he was arrested and carried in chains to Baghdad. Because he insisted on being uncompromisingly fair and honest. In 803. . on trumped-up charges of supporting Shia rebels in Yemen. His stay there would not last long however. but Harun al-Rashid even insisted that Imam Shafi’i stay in Baghdad and help spread Islamic knowledge in the region. which greatly impressed the caliph. The problem was that as an academic.
meaning “the people of Hadith”. where he was able to polish off his legal opinions and finally organize the study of usul al-fiqh. Muhammad al-Shaybani. As a result. held some very unorthodox beliefs about Islam. the Hanbali madhhab. Among them was Imam Ahmad. there were two competing philosophies about how Islamic law should be derived. Eventually. and his school of thought. Although he never met Imam Abu Hanifa. he had great respect for the originator of the study of fiqh. the originator of the fourth school of fiqh. giving lectures and compiling a large group of students that studied under him.While in Iraq. Al-Risala During the 700s and the early part of the 800s. Imam Shafi’i made his final move. meaning “the people of reason”. al-Ma’mun. Throughout his 30s and 40s. Imam al-Shafi’i travelled throughout Syria and the Arabian Peninsula. but they also accepted reason as a major source of law. he finally went back to Baghdad. he took the opportunity to learn more about the Hanafi madhhab. Al-Risala of Imam Shafi’i . this time to Egypt. The Hanafi and Maliki schools of fiqh were mostly considered to have been ahl al-ra’i at this time. under whom he mastered the intricate details of the madhhab. One philosophy was promoted by ahl al-hadith. in 814. He was reunited with his old teacher. but found out that the new caliph. They also believed in using Hadith of course. and was known to persecute those who disagreed with him. The other group was known as ahl al-ra’i. They insisted on absolute reliance on the literal interpretation of Hadith and the impermissibility of using reason as a means to derive Islamic law.
East Africa. and is very popular in Egypt. The framework he provides for Islamic law became the main philosophy of fiqh that was accepted by all subsequent scholars of Islamic law. 2. competing schools by providing a general philosophy that should be adhered to. The contributions of Imam al-Shafi’i in the field of usul al-fiqh were monumental. carefully considered. the Shafi’i madhhab is the second largest madhhab after the Hanafi madhhab. Bedouins. During his travels. Today. The Sunnah of Rasullullah ﷺ. but just to marvel as his use of language and his mastery of poetry. Even the Hanafi and Maliki schools were adapted to work within the framework that al-Shafi’i provided. 3. one would not find a better word in the entire Arabic language. his followers codified his legal opinions (which were laid out in another book. Palestine. Although he probably did not intend it. noted that “I never heard him [Imam Shafi'i] use anything other than a word which. and Southeast Asia. Analogical deduction. One of his companions. But it also provided enough flexibility for there to still be different interpretations. Syria. Imam al-Shafi’i outlines four main sources from which Islamic law can be derived: 1. Language of Imam Shafi’i Besides being a giant of a scholar in the field of fiqh. Al-Risala was not meant to be a book that discussed particular legal issues and alShafi’i's opinion on them. In it. Consensus among the Muslim community. For each one of these sources (as well a several more sources that he deems not as important). he goes in depth in his Risala. into the Shafi’i madhhab. it was meant to provide a reasonable and rational way to derive Islamic law. Al-Risala. Yemen. Nor was it meant to be a book of rules and Islamic law. His ideas prevented the fraying of the study of fiqh into hundreds of different.Having studied both schools of fiqh. who were known to be the best-versed in the Arabic language. His efforts towards this end resulted in his seminal work. explaining how they are to be interpreted and reconciled with each other. Imam al-Shafi’i sought to reconcile the two philosophies and introduce a clear methodology for fiqh – known as usul al-fiqh. Imam Shafi’i was noted for his eloquence and his knowledge of the Arabic language. Instead. as well as having a vast knowledge of authentic hadith. known as Qiyaas. Ibn Hisham.” . and thus madhhabs. 4. Kitab al-Umm) after his death in 820. would attend his lectures not to gain knowledge of fiqh. The Quran.
Formation of the Shafi’i Madhhab Imaam ash-Shafi’i combined the Fiqh of Hijaaz (Maliki thought) with that of Iraq. Sources of Law Used by the Shafi’i Madhhab 1. in their uncompromising stand in relation to the primacy of the Qur’aan among the sources of Islamic law. The Qur’aan Ash-Shafi’i did not differ from the previously mentioned Imaams. This dictation took place in Iraq in the year 810 CE and a number of his students memorised his book and narrated it to others. The Sunnah Imaam ash-Shafi’i laid down only one condition for the acceptance of Hadeeths. 2. he reversed many of the legal positions which he had held while in Iraq. in al-Madhhab al-Jadeed. namely that they be authentic (Saheeh). it should be regarded as the third most important source of Islamic law. If there were conflicting opinions among the Sahaabah on a legal point. Individual Opinions of the Sahaabah Credence was given by Imaam ash-Shafi’i to the individual opinions of the Sahaabah on condition that they were not at variance with each other. 3. he like Abu Haneefah. He was also noted for his great contributions to the science of Hadeeth criticism. Because of his exposure to a completely new set of Hadeeths and legal reasoning. would choose whichever opinion was the closest to the source and leave the rest. Ijmaa’ Although ash-Shafi’i had serious doubts about the possibility of the Ijmaa’ in a number of cases. . he conceded that in the few cases where it was known to have occurred. This book and period of his scholarship are usually referred to as al-Madhhab al-Qadeem (the old school of thought) to differentiate it from the second period to his scholarship which occurred after he reached Egypt. (Hanafi thought) and created a new Madhhab which he dictated to his students in the form of a book called al-Hujjah (The Evidence). In Egypt he absorbed the Fiqh of Imaam al-Layth ibn Sa’d and dictated al-Madhhab al-Jadeed (the new school of thought) to his students in the form of another book which he named al-Umm (he Essence). He rejected all the other conditions set by Imaams Abu Haneefah and Maalik. 4. Imaam ash-Shafi’i holds the distinction of being the first Imaam to systematize the fundamental principles of Fiqh which he recorded in his book called ar-Risaalah. He relied on it as heavily as those before him adding only the new insights which he gained from a deep study of its meaning.
then by Istis-haab all rules must remain in force that would hold if one knew for certain that he was still alive. If. It is based on the assumption that the Fiqh laws applicable to certain conditions remain valid so long as it is not certain that these conditions have altered. He was the constant companion of Imaam ash-Shafi’i throughout his stay in Egypt. it is doubtful whether he is alive or dead. Main students of Shafi’i Madhhab The most important of Imaam ash-Shafi’i’s students who continued to follow his school of thought were: al-Muzanee.5. on account of the long absence of someone. a valid method for deducing further laws from the previous sources. he placed it last in order of importance. Yoosuf ibn Yahyaa al-Buwayti Yoosuf ibn Yahyaa succeeded ash-Shaafi’ee as the main teacher of the Madhhab. they were based mostly on human reasoning in areas where revealed laws already existed. He was imprisoned and tortured to death in Baghdad because he rejected the officially sanctioned Mu’tazilite philosophy on the creation of the Qur’aan. since. in the Imam’s opinion. for example. it became the most widely read Fiqh book of the Shafi’i Madhhab. Istishaab literally means seeking a link. but legally it refers to the process of deducing Fiqh laws by linking a later set of circumstances with an earlier set. He wrote it down during Imaam ash-Shafi’i’s lifetime along with ar-Risaalah and other books. Al-Muzanee was noted for writing a book which comprehensively gathered the Fiqh of ashShaafi’ee. Istis-haab (Linking) Both the principle Istihsaan used by Abu Haneefah and Istislaah used by Maalik were rejected by ash-Shafi’i and considered a form of Bid’ah (innovation). Qiyaas Qiyaas was. However. in dealing with similar issues ash-Shafi’i was obliged to use a principle similar to Istihsaan and Istislaah which he called Istis-haab. 6. ar-Rabee’ and Yoosuf ibn Yahyaa. in his opinion. . Ar-Rabee’ Al-Maraadi (790-873 CE) Ar-Rabee’ was noted as the main narrator of ash-Shafi’i’s book al-Umm. considering his personal opinions inferior to proofs based on the opinions of the companions. Al-Muzani (791-876 CE) Al-Muzanee’s full name was Imaa’eel ibn Yahyaa al-Muzanee. However. Later condensed under the title Mukhtasar al-Muzani.
Tanzania) and Surinam in South America. Malaysia.Followers of the Shafi’i Madhhab The majority of the followers of the Shafi’i Madhhab are now to be found in Egypt. . and East Africa (Kenya. (Yemen. Sri Lanka. Hadramawt). Southern Arabia. Indonesia.
he had memorized the entire Quran and began studying the traditions of Rasullullah ﷺ. the hadith. The relatively new city was fast becoming a centre of scholarship of all forms. And Imam al-Shafi’i revolutionized the study of fiqh by establishing the field of usul al-fiqh. al-Muwatta. his contribution went beyond just fiqh. Early Life Ahmad ibn Hanbal al-Shaybani was born in 778 in Baghdad. perhaps his greatest legacy was his courage to stand for the orthodox beliefs of Islam as they were imparted to Rasullullah ﷺin the face of persecution and imprisonment at the hands of the political authority. Imam Malik upheld the importance of hadith in the field of fiqh through his landmark collection of hadith. but also includes the preservation of core Islamic beliefs against political oppression. Ahmad had numerous opportunities to learn and expand his intellectual horizons. Imam Ahmad’s legacy is far more than just the establishment of the Hanbali madhhab. the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. we have seen each one of the imams have a special and enduring role in Islamic history. by the time he was 10 years old. Imam Ahmad travelled throughout the Arabian Peninsula in search of knowledge .Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal – The Champion of Islamic Belief So far in our four part series on the four great imams of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). For this reason. Thus. Ahmad ibn Hanbal. So as a child. Although he was one of the greatest jurists and scholars of hadith of his time. Imam Abu Hanifa was the trailblazer when it came to codifying fiqh and establishing the basics of how it is to be studied. the principles behind the study of fiqh. For the last of the four great imams.
and Syria. he was heavily influenced by a group known as the Mu’tazila. Yemen. Imam Ahmad refused to be attracted to a life of luxury and wealth. This collaboration between two of the four great imams clearly shows that the schools of Islamic law are not opposed to each other. Al-Shafi’i helped the young Ahmad move beyond just memorization of hadith and fiqh. The Mihna Imam Ahmad was in Baghdad during the time of the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun. he also worked in a post office to help support his family. but rather work hand in hand. Madinah. and rejected the numerous gifts that people would offer him. Abu Yusuf. Imam Ahmad lost his father at a very young age. and he especially took care of the poorer ones. Students would flock to his lectures. When Imam Ahmad was 40 years of age in the year 820. he was recorded as having said. including Haytham ibn Bishr. instead choosing to live on whatever small amounts of money he had. Although al-Ma’mun was vital to the establishment of Baghdad as an intellectual centre. ready to start that day’s lesson. including theology. instead of relying on the Quran and Sunnah to understand God. and be able to instead also understand the principles behind them. He was so eager to expand his knowledge of the sayings and doings of the Rasullullah ﷺthat he would regularly be waiting after Fajr outside of the homes of his teachers.Like Imam Shafi’i. ensuring his independence from the political authority which could affect his teachings. Baghdad. Despite being in the capital of the Muslim world. he went on to study in Makkah. keeping in mind his own humble origins. who reigned from 813-833. After studying in Baghdad. He continued to live on very humble means. He was thus able to afford studying under one of Imam Abu Hanifa’s foremost students. they relied on philosophical techniques first developed . “I am leaving Baghdad when there is none more pious. Mu’tazili philosophy championed the role of rationalism in all aspects of life. he even met Imam al-Shafi’i in Makkah. the young Ahmad learned the basics of fiqh such as Ijtihaad (intellectual decision making). He especially insisted on not accepting gifts from political figures. At this point. In fact. Thus. After becoming proficient in the Hanafi Madhhab. Ahmad ibn Hanbal began to study Hadith under some of the greatest Hadith scholars of Baghdad. when Imam al-Shafi’i left Baghdad. Imam Ahmad began to teach hadith and fiqh to the people of Baghdad. and Qiyaas (analogical deduction). Imam Ahmad was able to begin to formulate his own legal opinions in fiqh. So in addition to spending his time studying fiqh and hadith under some of Baghdad’s greatest scholars. During this time.” Ahmad ibn Hanbal the Scholar After studying with Imam al-Shafi’i. nor a greater jurist than Ahmad ibn Hanbal. From Abu Yusuf. his mentor Imam al-Shafi’i passed away.
While many scholars pretended to subscribe to Mu’tazili ideas in order to avoid persecution. In the end. as opposed to the un-created literal word of Allah. Al-Ma’mun instituted an inquisition known as the Mihna. People who witnessed the torture commented that even an elephant could not have handled the treatment that Imam Ahmad was subject to. and sought to impose this new and dangerous belief system on everyone in his empire – including the scholars.by the Ancient Greeks. When he refused. His trials set the precedent that Muslims do not give up their beliefs regardless what the political authority imposes on them. Despite all of this. Imam Ahmad outlived al-Ma’mun and his successors until the Caliph al-Mutawakkil ascended in 847 and ended the Mihna. he was tortured and imprisoned. Imam Ahmad refused to compromise his beliefs. Al-Ma’mun believed in the Mu’tazili line of thought. was brought before al-Ma’mun and ordered to abandon his traditional Islamic beliefs about theology. Chief among their beliefs was that the Quran was a created book. and thus served as an inspiration for Muslims throughout the empire. Imam Ahmad held to traditional Islamic beliefs. as the most famous scholar of Baghdad. Imam . Any scholars who refused to accept Mu’tazili ideas was severely persecuted and punished. Legal writings based on the Hanbali Madhhab written by Abu Dawud in the late 800s. Imam Ahmad. His treatment at the hands of the political authority was extremely severe.
he would offer his own opinion while forbidding his students to record any of his own solutions. he discredited the claims of Ijmaa’ outside the era of the Sahaabah as being inaccurate. the Sunnah of the Rasullullah ﷺoccupied the number two position among the fundamental principles used by the founder of this school in the deduction of laws. Although the Hanbali Madhhab has historically been the smallest of the four. narration. due to the . In other words. His teaching method consisted of dictating Hadeeths from his vast collection known as al-Musnad. Ijmaa’ of the Sahaabah Imaam Ahmad recognized the consensus of opinion of the Sahaabah. numerous great Muslim scholars throughout history were greatly influenced by Imam Ahmad and his thoughts. attributed directly to the Rasullullah ﷺ.000 Hadeeths. Formation of the Hanbali Madhhab Imaam Ahmad’s greatest concern was the collection. The Qur’aan There was no difference between the way Ahmad ibn Hanbal approached Qur’aan and that of those who preceded him. He would then apply the Hadeeths or rulings to various existing problems. and placed it in the third position among the fundamental principles. If he could not find a suitable Hadeeth or opinion to solve a problem. As a result. the Hanbali Madhhab. His legacy was not restricted to the school of fiqh that he founded. 3. His only stipulation was that it be Marfoo’. Ibn Kathir. which contained over 30.Ahmad was again free to teach the people of Baghdad and write. The Sunnah Likewise. However. including Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. Ibn Taymiyyah. Unlike the other three imams. Ibn al-Qayyim. nor the huge amount of hadith he compiled. i. as well as the various opinions of the Sahaabah concerning their interpretation. and interpretation of Hadeeth. a collection of hadith that served as the basis of his school of legal thought. Imam Ahmad passed away in Baghdad in 855. and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 2. he wrote his famous Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal. his Madhhab was recorded. Sources of Law Used by the Hanbali Madhhab 1. During this time. he had a vital role in preserving the sanctity of Islamic beliefs in the face of intense political persecution. not by his students but by their students.e. the Qur’aan was given precedence over all else under all circumstances.
. that is when no other major principle could be directly applied. would give credence to all the various individual opinions. Ahmad would reluctantly apply the principle of Qiyaas and deduce a solution based on one or more of the previous principles. Its survival in Saudi Arabia. 4. Because of that. 6. 5. this was on condition that the weakness of the Hadeeth was not due to the fact that one of its narrators was classified as a Faasiq (degenerate). is due to the fact that the founder of the so called Wahhab. like Maalik. Followers of the Hanbali Madhhab The majority of the followers of this Madhhab can now be found in Palestine and Saudi Arabia. had studied under scholars of the Hanbali Madhhab. Imaam Bukhari and Muslim. after almost completely dying out elsewhere in the Muslim world. When ‘Abdul. Individual Opinions of the Sahaabah If a problem arose in an area where the Sahaabah had expressed conflicting opinions.‘Azeez ibn Sa’oud captured most of the Arabian peninsula and established the Saudi dynasty. he made the Hanbali Madhhab the basis of the kingdom’s legal system. Main Students of the Hanbali Madhhab Imaam Ahmad’s main students were his own two sons. Saalih (died 873 CE) and ‘Abdullah (died 903 CE). In his opinion. Hadeeth Da’eef (Weak Hadeeth) For a ruling on a case where none of the previous four principles offered a ready solution. Qiyaas As a last resort. Ahmad. there developed within the Madhhab many instances of multiple rulings for individual issues.vast number of scholars and their wide diffusion throughout the Muslim empire. and thus it unofficially became the Fiqh Madhhab of the movement. Ijmaa’ after the era of the Sahaabah was impossible. the Imaam used to prefer to use a weak Hadeeth rather than applying his own deductive reasoning (Qiyaas). as a Kadhdhaab (liar). However. compilers of the most outstanding collections of Hadeeth. were among the great scholars of Hadeeth who studied under Imaam Ahmad.