The Hanafi School of Thought

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The Hanafi School of Thought and Ahadeeth

The contention that the Hanafi school of thought bases its Fatwas upon weak
Ahadith narrations is sheer ignorance. Reflection upon the books of Hanafi Fiqh
impartially would leave no room for such an assertion. The following collections of
proofs for the Hanafi Fiqh illustrate the deep and profound level of Hadith scholarship
current amongst the followers of the Hanafi School of jurisprudence:

Sharah Ma ‘ani al-Aathar. by Imam Tahawi
Fathul Qadeer by Shaykh Ibn Hamam
Nasbul Rayah, by Shaykh Zala’ee
Al-Jawaharul An-Naqi. Shaykh Mardini
Umtadul Qari. by Shaykh ‘Aini
Fathul Mulhim by Shaykh Shabbir Ahmed Uthmani
Badhlul Majhood, by Shaykh Khalil Ahmed Saharapuri
Ma’ariful Sunan by Shaykh Binnori
Faidul Bari by Shaykh Shah Anwar Khashmiri

There are some fundamental points which demand clarification. Sound Hadith are
not exclusive to Bukhari and Muslim, there are many books of Hadith containing
thousands of sound Hadith. The basis for a sound Hadith is its chain of narrators (isnad)
and text (main). Compilers of Ahadith other than Bukhari and Muslim have established
sanads (plurul of isnad) as strong as the ones present in their respective collections.

Ahadith not found in the collections of Bukhari or Muslim are not deemed weak by virtue
of not being included in the two collections, this would reduce the science of Hadith to
total conjecture, Ahadith narrated by transmitters other than Bukhari and Muslim are
present in certain books of Ahadith which are infact stronger in their isnad than even the
two most sound compilations of Hadith. For instance, Ibn Majah, which is the sixth of the
canonical books of Hadith – has transmitted Ahadith, which in some regards are superior
to those of his predecessors. The standard, therefore of measuring the authenticity of any
Hadith is not whether it is present in Bukhari or Muslim, but rather the standards
employed by these two great scholars of Hadith themselves. If a certain Hadith meets the
same criteria as Bukhari or Muslim and is not necessarily found in the two collections,
this Hadith nonetheless would be regarded as sound. Understanding this principle of
Hadith would dissipate the somewhat misdirected criticism against the Hanafi fiqh

One of the main reasons why there are so many differences of opinion amongst
Mujtahids in particular details of the law is that the method of analyses, reasoning and
deduction, vary. If there is an apparent contradiction between two Ahadith, one Mujtahid
may base his opinion on the stronger of the two Hadith – even though both may be sound
in narration. Another Mujtahid. however, may base his opinion on the rule that no Hadith
should be discarded even though it may be weak in narration. Hence, the latter Mujtahid
will attempt to reconcile both Hadith by interpreting one as the basis and the other as it’s
contingent, regardless of how sound or weak any of the two Hadith may be. While yet
another Mujtahid may base his opinion of the Hadith upon the practice of the
Companions and their followers. Thus, every Mujtahid will adopt his particular method
and none can censure the other for abandoning Hadith.

Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) attempted to
reconcile contradictory Hadith and hence endeavored to apply every Hadith as long as it
was not fabricated. Weak Hadith have also been utilised when no other Hadith was found
to contradict it, even though it may be against legal reasoning and analogy, for example,
the issues of wudu breaking if one laughs in salaat and Zakaat on honey, he has favoured
even though their source Hadith is weak. Ruling over the authenticity of Hadith is in itself
a process of Ijtihad. This is why this issue has always been disputed amongst the scholars
who analyse the narrators of Hadith. The very Hadith, which is regarded as sound and
good by one Imam of Hadith, may be regarded as weak by another. There are occasions
where Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) regarded one Hadith as worthy of application and the same
Hadith was regarded as unreliable by another Mujtahid. Imam Abu Hanifa was a
Mujtahid himself therefore he is not bound by the rulings of other Mujtahids.

Occasionally a Hadith, which was transmitted to Imam Abu Hanifa with a sound
narration, became weak after it passed him in the chain of narrators. In other words, the chain of narrators
upto Imam Abu Hanifa is strong – but the chain from Imam Abu Hanifa
to other scholars became weak because of a weak narrator entering the isnad. This
sequence of events did not alter Imam Abu Hanifa’s reasoning. Sometimes a Hadith may
be narrated with a weak chain of narrators by one Imam, however the same Hadith
can be traced back with a sound chain by another Imam.

For instance, the Hadith. which
says that: “Whoever has an Imam (in salaat), the Imam’s recitation is enough” has been
narrated with a weak chain- Then, we find that in Imam Tahawi’s and Ahmed ibn
Muni’ee’s narrations, this Hadith is very sound. Occasionally a Hadith may be
weak in its chain, but since there are several different chains narrated the Hadith,
scholars will accept the Hadith as valid. This category of Hadith is known as “Good
because of others”.
This type of Hadith is not a weak Hadith and therefore valid
for application within areas of Fiqh.

There is no doubt, several Hadiths which are infact weak. The weakness of the
Hadith is determined by a weak narrator present in the sanad. However, it is not necessary
that every weak narrator narrated a weak Hadith each time he narrated. In the
circumstance of collaborating and supporting evidence to strengthen a weak Hadith, it
will be accepted and applied. For example, if there is a weak narration in a book of
Hadith upon which the Companions and their Successors have acted, then this practice
demonstrates that the weak narrator has indeed narrated correctly. This is why the Hadith
“There is no will for the heirs (who have pre-assigned shares in inheritance)”have been
accepted by all the Mujtahids – even though the Hadith is regarded weak in its narration.

In fact, this process can give preference to a weak Hadith over a strong one. For example,
the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam’s daughter, Zainab (ra) was married to Abu Aas who
did not accept Islam immediately, but did so later on. The question amongst scholars is
that did the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam renew his marriage contract, or did he allow
them to live as husband and wife without doing so. The narration from Abdullah ibn
Umar (ra) says that the contract was renewed with a new mahr, while the narration from
Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) says otherwise. The narration from Ibn Umar is weak whereas
the one from Ibn Abbas is sound. Imam Tirmidhi, who was a master of Hadith, gave
legal preference to the weak Hadith over the sound one because of the practice of the
Companions. [148]

The objection against the Hanafi point of view is seldom due to scholarly study
rather due to a lack of understanding and in certain instances even a want of attempting to
understand the Hanafi point of view. Certain scholars have fallen into this indifference.

For instance. Maulana Salfi has criticized Imam Abu Hanifa’s stand on the issue of
offering salaat with due diligence and proper composure:
“A man was told by the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam to repeat his salaat three
times after he had failed to complete with proper tranquility and composure. The Prophet
sallalahu alaihi wa sallam’s words were: “Pray for you have not prayed.”
This means that the salaat has no legal value which is the opinion of the Shaf’iees
and the scholars of Hadith. The Shaf’iee scholars say that once the legal definition of
ruku’ and sajdah is known, we cannot accept the interpretation of the Hadith, nor can we
comment on whether the salaat has been accepted or not.”

The Hanafis, of course make no such claim. Hanafees likewise claim that salaat
should be repeated if tranquility and composure is not established in ruk’u and sajdah, as
implied by the Hadith. The problem is that the respectable critic has failed to understand
the Hanafis position. Imam Abu Hanifa differentiates between what is Fard (obligatory
and an essential component of an act) and Wajib or what is mandatory but not an essential
component of the act. Other Mujtahids do not accept this division. Imam Abu Hanifa’s
ruling is that those components which are Fard have to be conclusively established from
the Quran and Sunnah whereas those which are Wajib are established by the sound
Hadith even with a single narration (ahad Ahadith). If someone misses either a Fard (for
instance recitation of the Qur’an) or misses a Wajib (like not offering salaat with
tranquility) salaat will still have to be repeated. What are the legal ramifications of this
great hair-splitting nuance? The distinction is that one who misses a Fard will be regarded
as someone who has missed his entire salaat. All the harsh rules of a person who misses
salaat – in a Muslim state – will be levied against him. This is because he has not
performed salaat legally and for this person it is not a question of repeating the salaat, but
rather a question of offering it. The one who misses a Wajib will not be regarded as
someone who has missed his salaat, since legally he has offered his salaat – but
incompletely and hence he needs to repeat it. This meaning is actually found in the Hadith

Imam Tirmidhi narrated that when the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam told this
person to repeat his salaat, the Companions found this to be difficult that someone who
offers his salaat in this casual manner would be regarded as one who leaves salaat. When
the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam emphasised the importance of tranquility, after which
the person repeated his salaat, the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam said:
“When you have done this, then you have completed your salaat. If you reduce
anything from this, you will have reduced from your salaat.”

Rifaah. the narrator of this Hadith remarked:
“This statement of the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam was far easier [for the
Companions to tolerate] than the previous one [where he said that he had not offered his
salaat]. In this statement there is the impression that not all of the salaat has been

The Hanafi ulama have applied the Hadith in its entirety. The first part by stating
that omitting a Fara’id will render the Salaat incomplete and fiqh demands that the Salaat
be repeated, and the second part is applied for missing a Wajib, and therefore will not be
regarded, technically, as missing salaat completely. Such examples illustrate the deep
level of scholarship required to understand each Fatwa of the Hanafi fiqh.

upon subtle points clearly uncovers the apathy by certain quarters to understand the
reasoning for the positions of the Hanafi fiqh. Hence, the comment: “We cannot accept
the interpretation of the Hadith. nor can we comment on whether the salaat has been
accepted or not”
is a great distortion of the viewpoint of the Hanafi school of thought.

Unfortunately, jumping to conclusions concerning the Hanafi point of view without
doing due diligence to the issue in question has unfortunately becomes the norm. To
understand the legal Islamic reasoning, the principles which have been outlined above
have to be studied, to avoid blanket statements pertaining to the Hanafi legal
interpretations and from incorrectly assuming that undue preference is conferred to
analogy over Hadith. Both conclusions are a tremendous injustice. There have been many non-Hanafi
scholars in the past who has defended the Hanafi approach to law.

Sheikh Abdul Wahhab al-Sha’raani, who although a follower of the Shaf’iee school of
thought, dedicated a few chapters exclusively to reprimand the detractors of
Imam Abu Hanifa’s opinions:
“You should know, dear brother, that in these chapters. I will not be defending
Imam Abu Haneefa merely out of sentiment or conferring the benefit of the doubt, but
rather I have engaged in this endeavor after vigorous research and investigation into legal
proofs and reasoning. His school of thought was the first to be documented and organised,
and, as predicted by some savants, it will be the last to dissipate. In my book “The Proofs
of the Legal Schools”. I have discussed his opinions and the opinions of his students and I
have found that their views are based on a verse, a Hadith, a quotation from a Companion
or something similar to it or a correct analogy which itself had a precedent. So whoever
wishes to know more about those proofs should refer to that book of mine.”

Further, he refutes the idea that Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) preferred analogy to Hadith:
“Know that this allegation is based on prejudice, irresponsibly ascribing blanket
statements. The Qur’an says: “Certainly, hearing, seeing and thinking all will be

Then, he proceeds to relate an incident in which Sufyaan Thauri, Maqatil, Ibn
Hayyan, Hammad ibn Salamah and Imam Ja’far As Sadiq (all who were great scholars of
their time) came to Imam Abu Hanifa to substantiate directly whether or not he actually
did give preference to analogy over Hadith. Imam Abu Hanifa responded that not only
did he regard the Quran and Hadith stronger than analogy, but also he gave preference to
the opinions of the Companions over analogy. He then proceeded to prove and
substantiate his position for a few hours. The five great scholars departed with the
following apology:
“You are the leader of scholars! Please forgive us for forming assumptions
without due verification and out of ignorance.”

Sheikh Abdul Wahhab al-Sha’raani proceeds to refute the position that Imam Abu
Hanifa’s proofs are weak and finally comes to the categorical conclusion that:
“I have, with all praise due to Allah, combed his school of thought with a fine
brush and I have found that his school is extremely cautious and even ostentatiously

These comments from Imam Sha’raani are merely to illustrate fundamentally that
the Hanafi school is based on the Quran and Sunnah. [152]

148 The Jami’ of Tirmidhi. The above cited example is only an example of the rule mentioned. Otherwise, the Hanafi opinion on this issue is very difficult.
149 Tahreeke: page 32
150 Tirmidhi: chapter on the Description of Salaat
151 Al-meezanul kubraa, by Abdul wahhab Sha’raani: page 63/64 printed in Egypt by Mustafa al-Babi
152 For further evidence please consult his book Al-meezanul kubraa