Answered by Mawlana Ilyas Patel
Sometimes I hear preachers mention that Abu Hanifa was weak in the Hadith Sciences and that he didn’t know many hadith.
Is this claim true?
What is his status in the Hadith Sciences? How many Hadith did he know approximately?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
I pray you are well.
Who Was Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him)?
Our master, our blessing, our refuge, our pillar, the one of tremendous stature, Imam Abu Hanifa, Numan ibn Thabit, (Allah have mercy on him), may he benefit the Muslims and us through him, and may he cause us to part this world upon his love, amin.
He was born in the year 80AH and died in 150AH. He was a follower (Tabi’i) and was alive during the generation of the companions and met Anas ibn Malik (Allah be pleased with him), who died in 93AH and was a companion. He is one of the four Imams with whom the ummah is united in their following.
Among the issues that scholars agree on is that these four Imams and jurists, and their likes too, derived rulings from the Quran and hadith, and thus became mujtahid Imams, who derived rulings from the four sources of Quran, sunna, consensus, and legal analogy.
Criticism Against the Imam
However, despite all this, some people say Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) was weak in hadith. Criticism by some throughout history was based on their own judgment, one cannot take into account all of their opinions.
The Imam has been accused because he was of the opinion that he would only narrate what he has memorized from the time he heard it until he imparted it, due to which transmission from him was minimal. His narrations were minimal in relation to this; otherwise, in reality, he knew many narrations.
Testimonies of Scholars to the Imam’s Vast Knowledge of Hadith
The following incidents bear clear witness to this testimony he knew many hadith:
Yahya ibn Nasr says, “I came to the house of Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him), and it was filled with books, so I asked, ‘What is this?’ He responded, ‘These are all hadith. I have narrated but a few by which people may benefit.’”
Muhammad ibn Sama‘a mentions, “Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) mentioned over seventy thousand hadith and selected only forty thousand hadith for the compilation of al-Athar.”
Yahya ibn Ma‘an mentions that a person who memorizes five hundred thousand hadiths might be qualified to exercise ijtihad and pass verdicts.
Imam Abu Yusuf mentions, “I have never seen anyone more knowledgeable regarding the commentary of hadith than Abu Hanifa. He had more insight than I regarding authentic narrations.”
In addition, he performed Hajj fifty-five times; each time, he met with the scholars of Makka, Madina, and the rest of the cities of Islam. For this reason, you will find among those teachers of his from Makka, Madina, and various other cities.
Imam Abu Hanifa’s Scrupelousness in Hadith Narration
Moreover, Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) did not permit transmission by ijaza as was the view of Shu‘ba ibn al-Hajjaj, the Imam of the Science of Criticism and Justification (Ilm al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil) in his era. Shu‘ba said, “If ijaza was permitted, traveling (for Hadith) would be vain.” Thus, how could Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) restrict himself to the scholars of his city when traveling for hadith was stipulated?
Just as the knowledge of Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) cannot be gauged by the number of hadiths he narrated, and he was the first and closest of all of the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) companions, likewise, Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) cannot be labeled as one who knew very few hadith simply because he narrated a limited amount hadith.
[For the narrations above, see: Muhammad Awwama, Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Ikhtilaf al-A’imma al-Fuqaha]
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I pray this helps with your question.
[Mawlana] Ilyas Patel
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Mawlana Ilyas Patel is a traditionally-trained scholar who has studied within UK, India, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.
He started his early education in UK. He went onto complete hifz of Qur’an in India, then enrolled into an Islamic seminary in UK where he studied the secular and Alimiyyah sciences. He then travelled to Karachi, Pakistan.
He has been an Imam in Rep of Ireland for a number of years. He has taught hifz of the Qur’an, Tajwid, Fiqh and many other Islamic sciences to both children and adults onsite and online extensively in UK and Ireland. He was teaching at a local Islamic seminary for 12 years in the UK where he was a librarian and a teacher of Islamic sciences.
He currently resides in UK with his wife. His personal interest is love of books and gardening.