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Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zuṭā ibn Marzubān
Full name Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zuṭā ibn Marzubān
Born 699
Kufa, Iraq
Died 767
Baghdad, Iraq
Era Islamic Golden Age
Region Muslim Jurist
School Hanafi
Main interests Fiqh
Notable ideas Evolution of Fiqh

Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zuṭā ibn Marzubān[3] (Arabic: نعمان بن ثابت بن زوطا بن مرزبان‎), known as Abū Ḥanīfah, (Arabic: أبو حنيفة‎) (699 — 765 CE / 80 — 148 AH) was the founder of the Sunni Hanafi school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

Abu Hanifa was also one of the Tabi‘un, the generation after the Sahaba (companions), because he saw the Sahabi Anas ibn Malik, and transmitted hadiths from him and other Sahaba.[4]


Name, birth and ancestry

Abu Hanifa (699 — 767 CE] / 80 — 148 AH) was born in Kufa, Iraq during the reign of the powerful Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (Abdul Malik bin Marwan). Acclaimed as Al-Imam al-A'zam, or Al-A'dham (the Great Imam), Nu’man bin Thabit bin Zuta bin Mah was better known by his kunya Abu Hanifa. It was not a true kunya, as he did not have a son called Hanifa, but an epithetical one meaning pure in monotheistic belief. His father, Thabit bin Zuta, a trader from Kabul, part of Khorasan in Persia (the capital of modern day Afghanistan), was 40 years old at the time of Abu Hanifa's birth.

His ancestry is generally accepted as being of non-Arab origin as suggested by the etymology of then names of his grandfather (Zuta) and great-grandfather (Mah). The historian, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, records a statement from Abu Hanifa's grandson, Ismail bin Hammad, who gave Abu Hanifa's lineage as Thabit bin Numan bin Marzban and claiming to be of Persian origin. The discrepancy in the names, as given by Ismail of Abu Hanifa's grandfather and great-grandfather are thought to be due to Zuta's adoption of the Arabic name (Numan) upon his acceptance of Islam and that Mah and Marzban were titles or official designations in Persia. Further differences of opinion exist on his ancestry. Abu Muti, for example, describes Abu Hanifa as an Arab citing his ancestry as Numan bin Thabit bin Zuta bin Yahya bin Zaid bin Asad[citation needed]. The widely accepted opinion, however, is that he was of Persian ancestry.[5][6]

Status as a Tabi‘un

Abu Hanifa was born 67 years after the death of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, but during the time of the Sahaba of Muhammad, some of whom lived on until Abu Hanifa's youth. Anas bin Malik, Muhammad's personal attendant, died in 93 AH and another companion, Abul Tufail Amir bin Wathilah, died in 100 AH, when Abu Hanifa was 20 years old. No evidence exists, however, to indicate Abu Hanifa had narrated any hadith from the companions although there is no doubt that he was a "tabi'i" (one who had met a companion of Muhammad) and had met Anas bin Malik.

The author of al-Khairat al-Hisan collected information from books of biographies and cited the names of the Sahaba whom it is reported that the Imam has transmitted ahadith from. He counted them as sixteen of the Sahaba. They are: Anas ibn Malik, Abdullah ibn Anis al-Juhani, Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Juz’ al-Zabidi, Jabir ibn Abdullah, Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa, Wa’ila ibn al-Asqa`, Ma`qal ibn Yasar, Abu Tufail `Amir ibn Wa’ila, `A’isha bint Hajrad, Sahl ibn Sa`d, al-Tha’ib ibn Khallad ibn Suwaid, al-Tha’ib ibn Yazid ibn Sa`id, Abdullah ibn Samra, Mahmud ibn al-Rabi`, Abdullah ibn Ja`far, and Abu Umama. Hadith Reported by Abu Hanifa upon the authority of Anas ibn Malik "Seeking of knowledge is an obligation on each and every Muslim." [7]

It is perceived this is due to the strict age requirements for learning the discipline of hadith that existed at the time in Kufa where no one below the age of 20 was admitted to a hadith school. The scholars of the time felt anyone below this age would not have attained the maturity required to be able to understand the meaning of the narrations.

Early life and education

Abu Hanifa grew up in a period of oppression during the caliphates of Abdul Malik bin Marwan and his son Al-Walid I (Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik). The governorship of Iraq was under the control of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, a loyal follower of Abdul Malik. During his governorship leaders in religion and learning were especially targeted by Hajjaj as they were proving to be an obstacle to Abdul Malik's establishment of his rule across Arabia and Iraq. Consequently, Abu Hanifa had no interest nor the opportunity to acquire any education in his early childhood. He was simply content with following in the footsteps of his father as a silk merchant.

He set up a silk weaving business where he showed scrupulous honesty and fairness. Once his agent in another country, sold some silk cloth on his behalf but forgot to point out a slight defect to the purchasers. When Abu Hanifa learned this, he was greatly distressed as he had no means of refunding their money. He immediately ordered the entire proceeds of the sale of the consignment of silk to be distributed to the poor.

Following the deaths of Hajjaj in 95 AH and Walid in 96 AH, justice and good administration began to make a comeback with the caliphates of Sulaiman bin Abdul Malik and thereafter Umar bin Abdul Aziz. Umar encouraged education to such an extent that every home became a madrasa. Abu Hanifa also began to take an interest in education which was heightened further by the unexpected advice of as-Sha'bi (d. 722), one of Kufa's most well-known scholars.

While running an errand for his mother, he happened to pass the home of as-Sha'bi. Sha'bi, mistaking him for a student, asked him whose classes he attended. When Abu Hanifa responded that he did not attend any classes, Sha'bi said, "I see signs of intelligence in you. You should sit in the company of learned men." Taking Sha'bi's advice, Abu Hanifa embarked on a prolific quest for knowledge that would in due course have a profound impact on the history of Islam. His early education was achieved through madāris and it is here that he learned the Qur'an and Hadith, doing exceptionally well in his studies. He spent a great deal of time in the tutelage of Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, a great jurist of Kufah.

Abu Hanifa was one of the distinguished students of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (Muhammad's great grandson; 6th Imam of Shia Islam), as has been confirmed by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami in his Al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, Allamah Shiblinji in his Nur al Absar, Abdul Haleem Jindi and Mohaqiq Abu Zohra and various other Muhadatheen (hadith scholars) and Ulema have clarified that Imam Abu Hanifa was a student of Imam Ja'far Sadiq. Imam Ja'far had opened a university that not only taught religion, but the sciences and math. The Islamic alchemist, Geber, studied at the Imams' university. Under these conditions Abu Hanifa studied and gained his knowledge. Abu Hanifa’s initial chain of knowledge was with Muhammad al-Baqir and he subsequently expanded this chain of knowledge with Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Adulthood and death

In 763, al-Mansur, the Abbasid monarch offered Abu Hanifa the post of Chief Judge of the State, but he declined to accept the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Abu Yusuf was appointed Qadi Al-Qadat (Chief Judge of the State) of al-Mansur regime instead of himself.

In his reply to al-Mansur, Abu Hanifa recused himself by saying that he did not regard himself fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abu Hanifa of lying.

"If I am lying," Abu Hanifa said, "then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qadi (Judge)?"

Incensed by this reply, the ruler had Abu Hanifa arrested, locked in prison and tortured. He was never fed nor cared for.[8] Even there, the indomitable jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him.

In 767, Abu Hanifa died in prison. It was said that so many people attended his funeral that the funeral service was repeated six times for more than 50,000 people who had amassed before he was actually buried. Later, after many years, a mosque, the Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad, was built in honor of him.

Some of Abu Hanifa's Literary Works

  • Kitaab-ul-Aathaar narrated by Imaam Muhammad al-Shaybani – compiled from a total of 70,000 ahadith
  • Kitabul Aathaar narrated by Imaam Abu Yusuf
  • Aalim wa'l-muta‘allim
  • Fiqh al-Akbar
  • Musnad Imaam ul A'zam
  • Kitaabul Rad alal Qaadiriyah


  • Nu'mani, Shibli (1998). Imam Abu Hanifah — Life and Works. Translated by M. Hadi Hussain. Islamic Book Service, New Delhi. ISBN 81-85738-59-9. 
  1. ^ Imaam Abu Hanifa
  2. ^ The Conclusive Argument from God:Shah Wali Allah of Delhi's Hujjat Allah Al-baligha, pg 425
  3. ^ ABŪ ḤANĪFA, Encyclopedia Iranica
  4. ^ Imam-ul-A’zam Abu Hanifa, The Theologian
  5. ^ S. H. Nasr(1975), "The religious sciences", in R.N.Frye, the Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 4, Cambridge University Press. pg 474: "Abu Hanfia, who is often called the "grand imam"(al-Imam al-'Azam) was Persian
  6. ^ Cyril Glasse, "The New Encyclopedia of Islam", Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. pg 23: "Abu Hanifah, a Persian, was one of the great jurists of Islam and one of the historic Sunni Mujtahids"
  7. ^ "Imam-ul-A’zam Abu Hanifa, The Theologian". Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  8. ^ Ya'qubi, vol.lll, p.86; Muruj al-dhahab, vol.lll, p.268-270.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ABU HANIFA AN-NUMAN IBN THABIT Mahommedan canon lawyer, was born at Kufa in A.H. 80 (A.D. 699) of nonArab and probably Persian parentage. Few events of his life are known to us with any certainty. He was a silk-dealer and a man of considerable means, so that he was able to give his time to legal studies. He lectured at Kufa upon canon law (fiqh) and was a consulting lawyer (mufti), but refused steadily to take any public post. When al-Mansur, however, was building Bagdad (145-149) Abu IIanifa was one of the four overseers whom he appointed over the craftsmen (G. Le Strange, Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate, p. 17). In A.H. 150 (A.D. 767) he died there under circumstances which are very differently reported. A persistent but apparently later tradition asserts that he died in prison after severe beating, because he refused to obey al-Mansur's command to act as a judge (cadi, gadi). This was to avoid a responsibility for which he felt unfit - a frequent attitude of more pious Moslems. Others say that al-Mandi, scn of al-Mansur, actually constrained him to be a judge and that he died a few days after. It seems certain that he did suffer imprisonment and beating for this reason, at the hands of an earlier governor of Kufa under the Omayyads (Ibn Qutaiba, Ma`arif, p. 248). Also that al-Mansur desired to make him judge, but compromised upon his inspectorship of buildings (so in Tabari). A late story is that the judgeship was only a pretext with al-Mansur, who considered him a partisan of the `Alids and a helper with his wealth of Ibrahim ibn 'Abd Allah in his insurrection at Kufa in 1 4 5 (Weil, Geschichte, ii. 53 ff.).

For many personal anecdotes see de Slane's transl. of Ibn Khallikan iii. 555 ff., iv. 272 ff. For his place as a speculative jurist in the history of canon law, see MAHOMMEDAN LAW. He was buried in eastern Bagdad, where his tomb still exists, one of the few surviving sites from the time of al-Mansur, the founder. (Le Strange 191 ff.) See C. Brockelmann, Geschichte, i. 169 ff.; Nawawi's Biogr. Dict. pp. 698-770; Ibn Hajar al-Haitami's Biography, publ. Cairo, A.H. 1304; legal bibliography under Mahommedan Law. (D. B. MA.)

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