During the reign of the great Caliph Hz Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA), a merchant entered the fold of Islam. The son of this merchant, Thabit bin Zuta, was a very pious man. Once, he was very hungry when he saw an apple floating in a river, and he ate it. However, as soon as his hunger subsided, the feeling of guilt set in, and he followed the course of the river to discover the orchard from which the apple had originated. He inquired about the orchard’s owner and confessed about the apple. The orchard’s owner was so impressed by the humility and honesty of Thabit bin Zuta that he requested Thabit to marry his daughter!
In the year 80 AH (699 CE), Thabit and his wife were blessed with a son. This son of theirs would, eventually, grow up to be the Imam of Imams, the Leader of Jurists and Scholars — Imam Abu Hanifa (RA).
The Life of Imam Abu Hanifa (RA)
The real name of Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was al-Numan bin Thabit bin Zuta bin al-Marzban. He was born during the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the city of Kufa, present-day Iraq. Even though Imam Hanifa (RA) was born 67 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), many of the Sahabah were still alive during his childhood.
His ancestors were traders and dealt mostly in silk. As a kid, once Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was headed towards the silk store of his father due to some errand, when he met a great Sheikh who recognized the young child’s ability and guided him towards a Madrassah. Thus began Imam Abu Hanifa (RA)’s life-long journey of knowledge, wisdom and intellect. As such, it is no wonder that it was he who reported the following Hadith upon the authority of Hz Anas ibn Malik: 
Seeking of knowledge is obligatory for each and every Muslim.
Love For Knowledge
Imam Abu Hanifa (RA)’s love for knowledge kept him on the path of learning. Soon enough, he began utilizing his wisdom and intellect to devise unique solutions for emerging problems, not just about jurisprudence but also related to other fields.
When Caliph al-Mansur decided to shift his capital from Damascus to somewhere in modern-day Iraq, the services of Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) were sought, which he delivered magnificently. He outlined the area which was to be demarcated as the new city, Baghdad, and spread cotton seeds there. On a moonless night, he set those seeds at fire (cotton seeds have a unique tendency to burn with a bright glow), and showed the glow to the Caliph from a high tower.
Founder of Great Philosophical Thought
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel (1770-1831 CE), a German philosopher, is famous for his philosophical ideas, that are collectively known as Hegelian Dialect. According to Hegel, a bigger truth can emerge from the debate of lesser-competing truths. Many Marxists and other thinkers have adopted this philosophy as the key ideology behind their struggles.
However, little do they know that this concept was first preached and practised by Imam Abu Hanifa (RA), at least a thousand years before the time of Hegel. He used debate as a medium to reach a final consensus on any given issue in the light of the Quran and the Sunnah.
Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was also the first scholar to come up with the rules of jurisprudence that allowed the application of Shariah to new and unknown issues. Later on, the scholars that undertook the task of redefining the Usul-e-Fiqh had the help and support of the immense knowledge and enormous works of Imam Hanifa (RA).
Being a resident of Kufa, Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was aware of the concept of socio-cultural diversity because the cosmopolitan city of Kufa was home to not just Muslims but also migrant Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians. If any issue ever arose, probably on account of socio-cultural differences, Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was quick to respond. For instance, addressing the issue of ethnic or racial tension between native Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims in the diverse society of his days, he stated:
The Iman (faith) of a believing Turk is equal to the Iman of a believing resident of Medina.
A Cup of Milk
If you are wondering how someone named Numan bin Thabit came to be known as Abu Hanifa, here is your answer.
The name of this great scholar came to be stated as Abu Hanifa in reference to one of his daughters, Hanifa. She was a lady of great intellect, having taken after her father. In fact, much like her father, Hanifa too had her own set of students. It is narrated that once some women asked Hanifa a question: how can people toil for or worry about the common good of Islam and the world at large, if they have their own family issues and tensions to deal with?
In response, Hanifa told all of them to bring a cup of milk. The next day, when they all brought their individual cups of milk, she poured the milk from all of them in a jar. Next, she asked them to separate their respective portions of milk. Obviously, this practical example made the women realize that the Muslim community was, in fact, like the milk in the jar — although it belonged to different cups, there was no question of segregation or sense of separation.
It was only befitting that Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) came to known such, with his title literally translating as the Father of Hanifa, the lady of commendable intellectual ability.
A Free Soul
Throughout history, attempts have been made by those in power to control men and women of scholarly prowess. Yet, the free soul that resides in such scholars defies all forms of captivity, be it spiritual or emotional.
The case of Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) was no exception to this norm. Once, Caliph al-Mansur offered the post of Chief Qadhi (Chief Justice) to him; but Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) declined the offer, stating that he did not consider himself qualified for such a high post. The Caliph, apparently, viewed this denial as an insult to his authority, and called the Imam a liar! Thereafter, Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) further responded that if he indeed were a liar, it’d only imply that he was highly unfit for the post of a judge. Infuriated and taken aback, the Caliph decided to put Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) behind bars.
Thus, Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) refused to surrender to the demands of the Caliph. He left this world in the year 767 CE, while still in prison.
Imam-e-Azam Abu Hanifa (RA) was a renowned scholar of his times, and he continues to be so even to this day. The school of law founded in sync with his jurisprudence, the Hanafi Madhab, would later go on to become the world’s most popular school of thought, and it ultimately became the official madhab of great Muslim empires such as the Mughal Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
The teachings and scholarly output of Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) remain alive even today, and his method of codified fiqh contributed a lot to Islamic jurisprudence and thought.
- Kitab al-Athar (compiled from a total of 70,000 Ahadith)
- Alim wa al-Mut’alim
- Musnad Imam al-Azam
- Kitab ar-Rad al-Qadiriyah
- Jami’at-Tirmidhi Volume 05, Book 39, Hadith 2647