al-Shaybānī and the Conclusion of this Tale…

Abbasid Palace in Baghdad Built 221/836

After Abū Yūsuf, the second most prominent student of Abū Ḥanīfa is Abū ʽAbdullah Muammad b. al-Ḥaṣan al-Shaybānī (132-189AH/749-804CE), more often  known simply as Imam Muḥammad or al-Shaybānī. He was born in Wasit but grew up as a client in Kūfa and, like Abū Yūsuf, he first began his studies in hadith. Unfortunately he was only able to study briefly under Imam Abū Ḥanīfa since he passed away when al-Shaybānī was about 18 years old. However, this limited time of study must have included an intense study of hadiths for al-Shaybānī later compiled (or transmitted from Imam Abū Ḥanīfa) a work of hadith and transmitted sayings of earlier scholars which rivaled in size Mālik’s al-Muwaṭṭa (the book is called Kitāb al-Athār).

After Abū Ḥanīfa passed away al-Shaybānī continued his study of Ḥanafī fiqh under Abū Yūsuf. However, he also took his fiqh from the hadith scholar al-Thawri, the scholar of Syria al-Awza’i, and traveled to Medina to study under Mālik b. Anas. In fact, al-Shaybānī is one of the main narrators of Mālik’s al-Muwaṭṭa. Notably, al-Shaybānī also included a commentary in his transmission of al-Muwaṭṭa where he discussed points of agreement and disagreement between Mālik and Abū Ḥanīfa; making it one of the first books on comparative fiqh.

This work is an extremely unique composition of both early Mālikī and Ḥanafī fiqh, and a wonderful addition to the evidences that support the immense use of hadith in Ḥanafī thought.[1] Al-Shaybānī was a prolific author and wrote many books on hadith, sayings of the Companions and their students (tabiʽīn), and law; six volumes of which are together called the Zahir al-Riwāya and form the basis of  Ḥanafī thought.[2] Later in his life Al-Shaybānī was appointed Qaḍi under al-Rashīd.[3] However, due to the political demands of this post he later gave up the position and returned to his teaching in Baghdad.

The Ḥanafī Madhhāb Moves to Baghdad

Students of history may ask, “Did anyone take over Abū Ḥanīfa’s circle in Kūfa when he passed away in 150AH?”

It actually seems doubtful that anyone did. His most prominent student, Abū Yūsuf appears to have left to study under Mālik by this point and then moved to Baghdad to take his position as the first Chief Justice. Another prominent student of the Imam, Zufar b. al-Hudhayl (d. 158AH/774CE), had already moved to Basra where he had been made Qaḍi during Abū Ḥanīfa’s lifetime. And, as for Al-Shaybānī, he was still too young at the time and, after studying under Abū Yūsuf, he also moved to study under Imam Mālik in Medina and then later to Baghdad. By this point, Ḥanafī thought seems to have been uprooted from Kūfa and replanted, like Abū Yūsuf and Al-Shaybānī, in Baghdad.

The earliest extant biographical treatment of the Ḥanafī school, Akhbār Abī Ḥanīfa wa-aṣḥābih by the Hanafi biographer al-Ṣaymarī (d. 436AH/1044CE), adds further evidence to this perspective. In al-Ṣaymarī’s Akhbār he lists 24 scholars (in addition the three just listed) of which only one is still linked to Kūfa, while ten are in Baghdad, seven in Jibal, four in Basra, one in Old Cairo, and two more of whom nothing is really known.[4]

Conclusion

Abū Ḥanīfa was born and taught in one of early Islam’s most religiously and culturally diverse cities. It is natural then that at least some controversy should surround his school’s inception. However objections raised by detractors, particularly those that believe hadiths were severely limited to the people of Kūfa, should be dismissed. Quite the opposite appears to be the case and actually due to the religious disputes and diversity within the city Sunni scholars in Kūfa had to be well-versed in the hadith sciences to be able to discern credible sources of hadith. As such, many scholars living in Kūfa who are associated with the development of Ḥanafī thought, including some of Abū Ḥanīfa’s most prominent students, have been scholars of hadith.

Linking the origins of the Ahl al-Raʽy (particularly those living in Iraq) with a lack of hadith in their area is an erroneous misperception. The real difference between Ahl al-Raʽy and Ahl al-Ḥadīth does not appear to have been due to a lack of hadith. We should remind ourselves that we are speaking of jurists whose legal thought was born out of revelation (i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah) as well as the legal aptitudes of the Prophet’s ﷺ closest Companions who even differed among themselves.

Obvious questions arise when dealing with the practice of deriving law from revealed sources, such as the matter of statement’s authenticity (whether it is an authentic hadith or statement of one of the Companions), or if there are supportive or apparently contradictory sources, and, if so, how to reconcile them. And, whether a ruling is to be applied generally or specifically (just to identify a few).

The diverse responses to these and other questions are really what differentiated the Ahl al-Raʽy from the Ahl al-Ḥadīth and in this diversity is a mercy for our Ummah.


[1] After relating the judgment of Mālik and his supporting hadiths, al-Shaybānī discusses whether this was the opinion of Abū Ḥanīfa and whether he himself accepts this judgment. Wherever there is any differing of opinion between the three scholars (Mālik, Abū Ḥanīfa, and al-Shaybānī) he cites the appropriate hadiths which support the differing judgments. Sometimes to support his own, or Abū Ḥanifa’s, different ruling, al-Shaybānī may add almost a dozen more hadiths to the chapter originally transmitted from Mālik. Check out this one available in English.

[2] Abū Zahrah, 235-6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Melchert, 327.

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