This is the fifth 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.
Imam Abu Hanifa was strict when it came to the narrator. He required that the narrator should retain their memorization of the hadith from when it was transmitted to them till the moment when they transmit it.
The narrator could not just rely on what was written.
The Fiqh of the Narrator
The Hanafis also considered the deep understanding of the narrator. On legal matters, they distinguished between the evidentiary strength of narrations from Companions and those from narrators who were scholars of Fiqh, especially.
This is often misunderstood. It does not mean that the Abu Hanifa or the Hanafis reject this or that Sahabi or Tabi‘i. Rather, they ask, “Does the narrator clearly understand what they are transmitting?”
Narrating a Hadith by Meaning
Hanafis would accept hadith narrated by meaning. Who could narrate a hadith by meaning? It would have to be scholars of Fiqh.
The reason why is because in legal matters indications are so sensitive. One has to be very careful of missing the nuances. This is one of the reasons why the Hanafis sometimes will not pay as much attention to which chain of transmission is stronger.
They not only look at the reliability of the transmitter, but whether the transmitter is from the scholars of Fiqh.
The Hanafis show caution in applying a hadith with a singular transmission (which would frequently be non-decisive in its indication) in situations where there would be widespread implications.
There are some narrations which one understands from them to say: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh when giving the closing Salams. Some did not accept this. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not just pray at home. Had something like this been established, it would have been widespread.
Consider how widespread this would be amongst the Companions. Their practice was their striving to follow the Sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
The Hanafi Approach
The Hanafi approach to understanding the Sunna is quite unique. The Sunna is conceived of not as a body of transmissions that has come together each affirming a ruling, but the Sunna is a way. It was the way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). That way has coherence and consistency.
If there are two singular transmissions that appear to conflict, the Hanafis look to which one is stronger. Among the considerations of the Hanafis is which is being transmitted by a scholar of Fiqh (as this is significant in legal matters). Which one is more learned? Another consideration is that the narrator himself does not act contrary to his narration.
Abu Huraira narrates the hadiths that if a dog’s saliva comes in contact with a container, then it is to be washed seven times, once with dust. This is a sound hadith (sahih) in terms of transmission. However, there is a little bit of a problem.
The saliva of a dog is impure. All impure matters have one way of removing them: You remove it. This meaning is decisively established. There are so many texts that affirm it.
The Sunna is the way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). That way establishes principles.
A General Principle
According to the Hanafis, the saliva of an animal follows its meat. If something becomes filthy, we know through a huge body of evidence that all we need to do with filth is remove it. How you remove it is secondary.
Another issue is that Abu Huraira himself acted contrary to this narration. His legal verdict with respect to a container that a dog drank from is that it is washed just like anything else.
This does not mean we reject the Hadith. Rather, we leave acting upon the outward purport of this hadith as affirming the obligation of washing the container seven times, once with soil or dust. We would understand this (if consistently narrated) to be a recommendation for example. This falls under a general principle that it is good to be emphatic in one’s removal of filth. That’s it.
What is also considered (with respect to the singular transmissions) is how the Companions, their Followers, and their followers took the hadith. Particularly if great scholars of Fiqh among them rejected the hadith.
Another important issue is that the singular narration should not go against the inherited practice of the Companions and the Followers. The practice of the Companions and the Followers in matters related to rulings would be considered as evidentiary basis.
If that is opposed by a singular transmission, the Hanafis would not take it. An example of that would be the outward purport of the hadith about the Sunna of Friday Prayer. A man came late. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told him to get up and pray.
However, the companions and the followers did not act upon that. Therefore, it is understood to be an exceptional circumstance. Both the Hanafis and the Malikis do not act upon that hadith. They acknowledge it as being sound, but see it as a specific incident whose application cannot be generalized.
They are not rejecting the hadith insofar as its transmission but they do not take the outward meaning of it. A Hanafi should not go around around saying, “We reject that hadith.”
Abu Hanifa did not leave Hadith deliberately.