Abū Ḥanīfah was born in the city of Kufa in Iraq in 699 AD,  during the reign of the Umayyah Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.  His father, Thabit bin Zuta, a trader from Kabul Afghanistan, was 40 years old at the time of Abū Ḥanīfah's birth.

The historian Al Khatabi al Baghdadi records a statement from Imām Abū Ḥanīfah's grandson, Ismail bin Hammad, who gave Abū Ḥanīfah's lineage as Thabit bin Numan bin Marzban and claiming to be of Persian origin.

In 763, Al Mansur the Abbasid monarch offered Abu Hanifa the post of Chief Judge of the State, but he declined the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Abu Yusef was later appointed Al Qadi or Judge (Chief Judge of the State) by the next Caliph Harun al Rashid. 

In his reply to al-Mansur, Abū Ḥanīfah said that he was not fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abū Ḥanīfah of lying.

"If I am lying," Abū Ḥanīfah 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 Abū Ḥanīfah arrested, locked in prison and tortured. He was never fed nor cared for. Even there, the jurist continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him.

In 767, Abū Ḥanīfah died in prison. The cause of his death is not clear, as some say that Abū Ḥanīfah issued a legal opinion for bearing arms against Al-Mansur, and the latter had him poisoned.  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. On the authority of the historian al-Khatib, it can be said that for a full twenty days people went on performing funeral prayer for him.

Abu Hanifah's Status as a Tabi'i

The majority of hadith-scholars agree that a man becomes a Tabi‘i by merely having met a Sahabi and having seen him, and it is not a condition that he accompanies him for a period of time and narrates from him. [Al-Suyuti] said inTadrib al-Rawi on the definition of a Tabi‘i:

It was said: he is one who met him [i.e. a Sahabi], although he did not accompany him, as was said on [the definition of] a Sahabi, and al-Hakim agrees with this. Ibn al-Salah said: “It is closest [to the truth].” The author [i.e. al-Nawawi] said: “It is most apparent.”

Al-‘Iraqi said: “The practice of the majority of the scholars of hadith is based on this, for indeed Muslim and Ibn Hibban included al-A‘mash amongst the generation of the Tabi‘in.” Ibn Hibban said: “We have included him in this generation because he had met [with a Sahabi] and had recollection [of that meeting]. He saw Anas although it is not authentic from him that he heard a connected narration from him.” Al-Tirmidhi said: “He did not hear any of the Sahabah.” Hafiz ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi also counted him amongst them, and he counted Yahya ibn Abi Kathir amongst them as he met Anas, and Musa ibn ‘A’ishah as he met ‘Amr ibn Hurayth.

Hafiz [Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani] said in Sharh Nukhbat al-Fikar:

This is the preferred view, as opposed to one who makes it a condition for a Tabi‘i to have accompanied [a Sahabi] for a period of time or that it is authentic he heard [from him], or that [he reached] the age of distinction (tamyiz).

The Seal of the Huffaz, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Allah have mercy on him), said inTabyid al-Sahifah:

This question [of Abu Hanifah being a Tabi‘i] was raised to Hafiz Ibn Hajar and he replied with [a statement], the text of which is:

“Imam Abu Hanifah lived at the time of a group of Sahabah, as he was born in Kufah in the year 80 H, and at that time ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Awfa [resided] therein, since he died after that by agreement; and in Basra at that time there was Anas ibn Malik who died in the year 90 or thereafter.

“Ibn Sa‘d narrated with an unproblematic chain that Abu Hanifah saw Anas. Other Sahabah besides these two were alive in the lands [of Islam] after this.

“One of them [i.e. the scholars] compiled a volume on what was transmitted of Abu Hanifah’s narration from the Sahabah. However, their chains of narration (isnad) are not devoid of weakness.

“The relied upon [position] on his being present [in the times of which Sahabah] is what has passed, and on his sighting of some Sahabah what Ibn Sa‘d narrated in al-Tabaqat. Hence, by this consideration, he is from the rank of the Tabi‘in, and this has not been established for any of the Imams of the towns contemporary to him, like al-Awza‘i in the Levant, the two Hammads [Ibn Salamah and Ibn Zayd] in Basrah, al-Thawri in Kufah, Malik in Madinah, Muslim ibn Khalid al-Zanji in Makkah and al-Layth ibn Sa‘d in Egypt. And Allah knows best.”

His students (may Allah be well pleased with them)

Imam Abu Hanifah had thousands of students. Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhummad and Ibn Mubarak were the most famous students of Imam Abu Hanifa. Imam Abu Hanifah had a council of 40 students who lived and studied in his academy. He has reportedly spoken on 83,000 juristic issues.

Whenever an issue came to the attention of Imam Abu Hanifah’s council they used to discuss the matter for months and reach a conclusion based on the consensus. The council used to resolve the problems of the community, they were unlike some of the scholars today who are harsh and send people away.

They used to “speculate” and “assume” issues and then passed Fatwa’s on them. The Fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifah is compatible and applicable to modern times.

28 of Imam Abu Hanifah’s students became judges in different towns, cities and provinces and 8 became Imams, capable of passing legal rulings according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

The 40 Students of Imam Abu Hanifah and the Ulama of the founding Hanafi School:

1.     Imam Zufar(Passed away 158 A.H.)

2.     Imam Malik bin Mighwal(Passed away 159 A.H.)

3.     Imam Dawud Ta’i(Passed away 160 A.H.)

4.     Imam Mandil bin Ali (Passed away 168 A.H.)

5.     Imam Nadhar bin Abdul Karim(Passed away 169 A.H.)

6.     Imam Amr bin Maymoon(Passed away 171 A.H.)

7.     Imam Hiban bin Ali(Passed away 173 A.H.)

8.     Imam Abu Ismah (Passed away 173 A.H.)

9.     Imam Zuhayr bin Mu’awiyah (Passed away 173 A.H.)

10.            Imam Qasim bin Ma’n (Passed away 175 A.H.)

11.            Imam Hammad bin Abi Hanifah (Passed away 176 A.H.)

12.            Imam Hayyaaj bin Bistam (Passed away 177 A.H.)

13.            Imam Sharik bin Abdullah (Passed away 178 A.H.)

14.            Imam Afiyah bin Yazid (Passed away 180 A.H.)

15.            Imam Abdullah ibn Mubarak (Passed away 181 A.H.)

16.            Imam Abu Yusuf (Passed way 182 A.H.)

17.            Imam Muhammad bin Nuh (Passed away 182 A.H.)

18.            Imam Hushaym bin Bashir Sulami (Passed away 183 A.H.)

19.            Imam Abu Sa’id Yahya bin Zakariyyah (Passed away 184 A.H.)

20.            Imam Fudhayl bin Iyadh (Passed away 187 A.H.)

21.            Imam Asad bin Amr (Passed away 188 A.H.)

22.            Imam Muhammad bin Hasan as Shaybani (Passed away 189 A.H.)

23.            Imam Ali bin Mis’ar (Passed away 189 A.H.)

24.            Imam Yusuf bin Khalid (Passed away 189 A.H.)

25.            Imam Abdullah bin Idris (Passed away 192 A.H.)

26.            Imam Fadhl bin Moosa (Passed away 192 A.H.)

27.            Imam Ali bin Tibyan (Passed away 192 A.H.)

28.            Imam Hafs bin Ghiyath (Passed away 194 A.H.)

29.            Imam Waki’ bin Jarrah (Passed away 197 A.H.)

30.            Imam Hisham bin Yusuf (Passed away 197 A.H.)

31.            Imam Yahya bin Sa’id al Qattan (Passed away 198 A.H.)

32.            Imam Shu’ayb bin Ishaq (Passed away 198 A.H.)

33.            Imam Abu Mutee Balkhi (Passed away 199 A.H.)

34.            Imam Abu Hafs bin Abdur Rahman(Passed away 199 A.H.)

35.            Imam Khalid bin Sulayman(Passed away 199 A.H.)

36.            Imam Abdul Hamid (Passed away 203 A.H.)

37.            Imam Hasan bin Ziyad(Passed away 204 A.H.)

38.            Imam Abu Aasim Nabil (Passed away 212 A.H.)

39.            Imam Makki bin Ibrahim (Passed away 215 A.H.)

40.            Imam Hammad bin Dalil (Passed away 215 A.H.)

The pillars of this committee were Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Zufar, Imam Dawood Ta’i, Imam Yusuf bin Khalid, Imam Yahya bin Zakariyyah, Imam Muhammed, Imam Abdullah ibn Mubarak and Imam Abu Hanifah himself.

With regard to this committee, Imam Waki’ who was the teacher of Imam Shafi’i said:

“How could there have remained any errors in this work of Imam Abu Hanifah when he had with him experts of Hadith, experts of Tafsir, experts of Fiqh, experts in Arabic….A person who has such people as companions cannot be wrong because there would always be someone to correct him if he erred”.

An example of his vast knowledge insight in the science of theology

It is narrated that a large group of Khawārij once came to Abu Hanifah and said, “There are two funeral biers at the gate of the Mosque. One is of a drunkard who died drinking, the other of a woman who had gotten herself illicitly pregnant and took her own life in shame.”

“To which community did they belong? Were they from amongst the Jews?”   Abu Hanifah asked.

“No,” they said.

“Were they from amongst the Christians or fire-worshippers?”

“No,” they answered again.

“Then, to which community did they belong?” he asked.

“To the community which bears witness to the doctrine of Islam,” The Khawārij replied.

“Is that one-third of the faith or one-fourth of faith?” he asked.

They said, “There is no one-third or one-fourth of faith.”

“After all, what part of faith is this bearing witness to the doctrine of Islam?” he said.

“The whole faith,” they said.

When you yourself call them faithful, (by acknowledging that they are muslim, but who happens to sin) what is it you want of me?”  Abu Hanifah asked.

“We ask whether they would go to heaven or hell.”

He replied, “If you ask me that, I will say about them what the Prophet of God, Abraham, said about sinners worse than they, ‘Oh God, he who follows me is mine, and he who disobeys – Thou art the Forgiving, the Compassionate’, .....

or what the Prophet of God, Jesus, said about sinners worse than they, ‘If You punish them they are Your creatures, and if You forgive them, Thou art All-powerful and Wise’, .....

or what the Prophet of God, Noah, said, ‘Their reckoning rests with God, would that you understood, and I do not wish to turn my back upon the believers.’”

May Allah (most merciful) bless the Imam and all those who love him !