Origins of the Ḥanafī Madhhāb, Part II: A Young City with Ancient Controversies

As the newly emerging Muslim empire expanded to the north, it acquired not only new land, spoils, and converts; but also inherited the home of many different religions, sects and philosophical teachings.[1] Throughout the region, Syriac Christians had established educational institutions for the study of Greek philosophy and the ancient wisdom of Persia, [2] laying the groundwork for what would later become some of the greatest religious and philosophical debates in history.

To help resolve some of the religious and political issues that arose within this region came some of the greatest Companions: Ṭalḥa, al-Zubayr, Saʽd and his son ʽUmar, Abū Mūsā al-Ashʽarī, ‘Abdullah b. Masʽūd, Khālid b. ʽUrfuṭa, ‘Adī b. Ḥātim, Jarīr b. ʽAbdullah al-Badhalī, al-Ashʽath al-Kindī, Umm Hānī (the sister of ‘Ali), and ‘Ali b. Abī Ṭalib [3]; may God be pleased with them all.

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Origins of the Ḥanafī Madhhāb: Part I

Great Mosque of Kufa in 1915CE

It is an all too common misperception that the Ḥanafī madhhāb (school of legal thought) was forged at a time and locality where hadiths were not widely available. Likely due to this misperception, the Ḥanafī madhhāb is often singled out as the only representative among the Sunni schools today of an earlier, and controversial, school known as Ahl al-Raʽy (proponents of considered legal opinion); so named by their detractors the Ahl al-Ḥadīth (proponents of tradition). Kūfa, the city of Hanafism’s birth, is truly the key to understanding these misperceptions. Allegations made against the city have contributed much to the controversy surrounding Ḥanafi thought to this day.

Since many books and articles already exist that examine the unique legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh) of Hanafism, as well as other Sunni schools of law (madhāhib); and many more exist which illustrate the life of Abū Ḥanīfa, I will respond to these misperceptions by focusing upon that which is less well-known. In the following series of posts I plan to briefly survey the vast diversity of culture and thought that flooded the city from which the most widely-practiced Sunni madhhāb would spring: Kūfa.

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Our Tradition and Traditional Schools of Law

Sacred Law does not only entail the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, it also includes within it methodologies for their interpretation and application. While each school of Sacred Law considers the Qur’ān and the Sunnah as possessing divine legal authority, they also recognize that to derive the rulings from this authority demands the use of human intellect. The first to use his intellect was the Prophet himself (peace and blessings be upon him), and then his Companions (may Allah be well-pleased with them all).
During the Prophet’s lifetime he was available to correct, affirm, or reject the legal reasoning of those around him. However, after he passed away (peace and blessings be upon him) the interpretation of Sacred Law fell into the hands of his Companions. Many refrained from this arduous task, yet those most qualified made judgments based upon consensus, a more qualified scholar’s opinion, or their own legal reasoning.
At present, judicial principles have been derived through their own and their students’ understanding of Sacred Law and codified in four legal schools: Ḥanafī, Mālikī, Shāfiʽī, and Ḥanbalī. Though differences are present, the consensus of the Muslim Community has recognized them as valid as well as the importance of following one in one’s daily life.

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