This is the second article in a series based on the On Demand Course: The Hanafi Way: Lessons from Kawthari’s Fiqh Ahl al Iraq. It lays out the great defense of the Hanafi school in the 20th century by Imam Kawthari.
Praiseworthy reason was practiced by the Sahaba, those who followed them, and each succeeding generation. It consists in using sound methods of interpretation to approach the Quran and the Sunna to derive sound conclusions. These conclusions were either needed at that time or in the future.
Denying praiseworthy reason is denying the call of Allah in the Quran to reflect and understand as well as to derive rulings from the text. Allah says:
وَإِذَا جَآءَهُمْ أَمْرٌۭ مِّنَ ٱلْأَمْنِ أَوِ ٱلْخَوْفِ أَذَاعُوا۟ بِهِۦ ۖ وَلَوْ رَدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱلرَّسُولِ وَإِلَىٰٓ أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ ٱلَّذِينَ يَسْتَنۢبِطُونَهُۥ مِنْهُمْ ۗ وَلَوْلَا فَضْلُ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُهُۥ لَٱتَّبَعْتُمُ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًۭا
“And if any word reaches them of safety or fear, they uncritically spread rumor of it, while had they but referred it to the Messenger and men of true decision among them, those of them who can draw the right conclusions about it would have certainly known how best to proceed with it: If not for the bounty of Allah upon you and His mercy, you had followed the devil, save pitiably few.” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 4:83]
وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًۭا نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَسْـَٔلُوٓا۟ أَهْلَ ٱلذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
“Nor ever sent We before you anything but men, whom We inspired, – So ask those given the revealed Remembrance before, if you know not” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 16:43]
Abu Hanifa’s Concern
The greatest concern of the Umma was the memorization of the Quran. That is the first love of the believer. Allah has taken it upon Himself for the Quran to be preserved. There was and is widespread memorization of the Quran. This was something beyond measure in the first generations.
The second level of concern was with hadith. None of the six major collectors of hadith were from the heartland of Arabia. They were in surrounding lands because hadith had spread. In any city, there was great concern for the preservation and transmission of hadith.
However, was there as much concern for the systematic understanding and derivation of rulings of guidance? Abu Hanifa’s concern was who is there concerned with understanding hadith?
Some did seek to address an issue before it had arisen. Abu Hanifa was not like that. It is mentioned that he said, “I have lifted difficulty from my followers.”
Abu Hanifa saw that in those days they were surrounded by people with a sound understanding of the Quran and the hadith. However, the further one is from the age of revelation, the less of a comprehensive lived understanding one will have.
So Abu Hanifa delved into defining this method: The use of reason to understand revelation.
Some of those who attacked Abu Hanifa called what he was doing, “conjectural fiqh.”Abu Hanifa took a bold step when it came to analogy (Qiyas) in the broad sense. Analogy here means the use of reason to understand and apply revelation. This entailed looking at the texts of revelation and finding the underlying meanings, specific and general. Then, those meanings could be extended to other things.
It was to examine the underlying legal bases for the rulings. Were there commonly shared meanings that could be taken as a rational framework to understand what the Lawgiver seeks from us?
Imam Abu Hanifa knew that the Lawgiver is wise. He commands what is just and virtuous.
Abu Hanifa’s application of analogy got people worried. Abu Hanifa got the traditionalists very nervous during and after his time. Imam Bukhari throughout his Sahih attacked the Hanafi school. His saying, “Some people” referred to Abu Hanifa and the Hanafi school. Several Hanafi authors (such as the encyclopedic scholar Abdul Ghani Al-Maidani) wrote treatises responding to the objections of Imam Bukhari.
Imam Abu Hanifa is the only one of the four Imams who has a chapter dedicated against him in a major book of hadith. Imam Ibn Abi Shaiba, (a teacher of Imam Bukhari) in his great work Al-Musannaf has a chapter toward the end of the book entitled, “Kitab al-Radd ‘ala Abi Hanifa.” There were issues where he felt that Abu Hanifa was following reason rather than specific texts.
All of these points have been dealt with historically.
Two Levels of Analogy
Imam Abu Hanifa applied analogy at two levels. One was the use of legal analogy itself. No one would dispute this within Ahl al-Sunna. In the time of the early Muslims, no one but very aberrant individuals negated it.
Most of the scholars of hadith affirmed legal analogy as one of the sources of evidence. This entailed looking at what was established by the text, finding the underlying legal cause and applying it to a new issue. All Imams of the four schools of thought recognised this.
However, Imam Abu Hanifa applied analogy more rigorously. He did not wait for an issue to arise to then look for an analogous primary text. Rather, he looked at the Quran and Sunna as a whole to derive underlying legal causes of the issues.
In doing so, Abu Hanifa affirmed general principles of law throughout the Quran and the Sunna. He found common underlying principles. These constitute decisive evidence.
This was one of the great insights of Abu Hanifa. Textual evidence for something is not just the specific text that relates to it. But, what does the Quran and Sunna as a whole establish related to this matter? There was much precedence for this from the understanding of the companions.
It is related in the Sunan of Abu Dawud and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad that:
Umar kissed his spouse while fasting. He went to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him, “O Messenger of Allah, today I did something tremendous. I kissed while fasting.” So the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Do you see that if you rinsed your mouth while you are fasting, would there be an issue with it?” Umar said, “No, there will be no problem with it.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Then what?”
This is the analogy of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). This is how the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) trained the companions. There are many, many other examples.
Abu Hanifa’s systematic application of analogy worried some traditionalists. They felt you only need to address an issue if it arises. Abu Hanifa in his foresight saw many issues arising and knowledge was diminishing. If one does not lay the foundations and there is no systematization we are stuck.
Of course, Ahl al-Sunnah accepted this. Including the other schools. Imam Shafi‘i said, “People are the dependents of Abu Hanifa in fiqh.”
The Quran and Hadith permit a type of forward sale. The Hanafis would say legal reason would entail that it is not valid. What they meant was if you did not consider the specific texts related to this, the general principles established by the Quran and the Sunna would affirm that a forward sale is selling something that does not exist, and you cannot sell something that does not exist. However, if the texts that affirm this exceptional matter are decisive, then and only then will it be accepted.
This was a very rigorous way of reasoning, premised on the belief in the Lawgiver’s wisdom.