The Hanafi Way: Kufa

This is the sixth 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.

Abu Hanifa is from the people of Iraq in general and most specifically from the people of Kufa. The second caliph, Umar (Allah be well-pleased with him) established Kufa as a civilizational pillar for the growth of Islam.

Much of the revelation came in the Medinan phase. Particularly the legislative. Most of the companions remained in Medina right till the final age of the third caliph. A minority of companions were residing in Mecca, and a minority of them went to  various lands, 

Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman, particularly in the first part of his reign, kept the number of Companions who left Madina to an absolute minimum. In the time of Umar, the greatest land opened was Iraq. It was opened at the hands of the great companions, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas. 

The Vision of Umar 

Umar commanded for Kufa to be built, which was in 17AH. Umar had a long-term vision. He incentivized and ordered the most eloquent tribes of the Arabs to move around Kufa.

Arabic is integral to the civilizational strength of our religion. The Quran is in Arabic and it is understood through deep Arabic. 

Kufa was established but Umar did not allow the companions to leave for some time. He waited till the right time.

Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud

When he did send someone, Umar sent Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud to teach them the Quran and knowledge of the Quran. To grant them fiqh in the deen. 

Umar said, “I have preferred Abdullah for you over myself.” Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud was known as the most learned of the Companions after the rightly guided caliphs. Umar would refer to him as, “A tiny container overflowing with knowledge.” 

Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud said:

“I know every verse when it was revealed and where it was revealed and why it was revealed and about what it was revealed and what it means and if I knew anyone under the sky who knows more about any verse of the Book of Allah, I would prepare my caravan and travel to take from that person.”

During the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), Ibn Mas‘ud dedicated himself to fiqh. The fiqh of the Quran and the Hadith of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). 

During the age of the Caliphs, he dedicated himself to teaching. Umar did not send Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud to Kufa to govern, but to teach.

Ibn Mas‘ud remained there from when Kufa was established till the end period of the caliphate of Uthman. His focus was teaching the Fiqh of the religion and training the next generation in Fiqh.

Imam Ali in Kufa 

Imam Sarakhsi in his Mabsut mentions that the number of Imams of knowledge who were trained under Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud and his direct students was around 4,000. These are people at the level of Fiqh, by the standards of the age of the Companions and the Followers. They were qualified to give religious verdicts and to guide people in their religion.

Other leading companions were also sent to Kufa. Amongst them were Sa‘ad ibn Malik, Hudhaifa, Ammar, Salman al-Farisi, Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari and others of the leading Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

Due to all the events taking place in the Umma, by the time Ali ibn Abi Talib moved to Kufa, he was amazed at how much learning there was. Kufa was a newly established city. Ali reportedly said:

“May Allah have mercy on Ibn Umm Abd (Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud), he has filled this village with knowledge.”

In another narration, Ali ibn Abi Talib said: “The companions of Ibn Mas‘ud are the shining lamps of this town.”

This educational project in Kufa continued in the time of Ali. It had a deep knowledge of the Quran and Hadith. The focal point of that knowledge was Fiqh.

All the sciences were there. Kufa became, in the next century, one of the two great cities for Arabic grammar. More companions went to Kufa, than Egypt, the Levant or any other part of the early Muslim lands.

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i

With the details of Kufa’s establishment and learning, it is evident that Abu Hanifa did not emerge in a vacuum. 

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i was of those who took from the age of the followers and those who followed them. He encompassed the knowledge of the companions of Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud. Al-Nakha‘i had encyclopedic knowledge of Hadith and he retained that deep focus on fiqh. Due to this he became the reference point for the people of Kufa. 

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i (d.95AH) is a follower (Tabi‘i) as he met some of the Companions. He took primarily from the companions of Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud. After he passed away, one of the great early Muslims said to those present, “You have now buried the most learned of people.” 

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i used to narrate Mursal narrations. For example, he would narrate directly from Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, skipping whom he took it from, or he would narrate directly from another Companion. 

When the scholars of Hadith checked, they considered the Mursal narrations of Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i to be stronger than his contiguously transmitted narrations. 

One of the reasons for this is that in the early generations when they were questioned, “Whom are you relating this to?” they remarked:

“If I mention the full chain of transmission back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) I am only narrating this from that chain of transmission, whereas if I skip one generation in the transmission, I am narrating it from multiple people.”

Hammad ibn Abi Sulaiman

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i had countless dedicated students, who were part of the age of transmission. One of these students was Hammad ibn Abi Sulaiman, the main teacher of Imam Hanifa. 

Abu Hanifa took from hundreds of scholars, particularly in Hadith. He took from many in the science of Fiqh. However, no one compared to Hammad ibn Abi Sulaiman because of how close Hammad’s connection was to Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i.

Hammad was known for his extensive study with as well as his deep respect for Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i. He was also known for his service to Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i.

Towards the end of Ibrahim’s life, he was asked him, “Whom should we ask (our questions of religion) after you?” He responded, “Hammad.”  

Hammad ibn Abi Sulaiman died in the year 120AH. It was under Hammad that Imam Abu Hanifa emerged.  

The Scholars of Kufa

Imam Abu Muhammad Al-Ramahurmuzi in Al-Muhaddith al-Fasl mentions that Anas ibn Sirin said, “I went to Kufa and I saw in Kufa 4,000 people studying Hadith and 400 who had become Fuqaha. There is no city of the cities of the Muslims other than Kufa that had such a concentration of Hadith.”

The 4000 mentioned above are people who have acquired scholarships and were specializing in Hadith. Consider the numbers. Kufa would not have had more than tens of thousands of people to begin with. 

Kufa had 400 scholars of Fiqh despite it being a small town. This was not to be found anywhere else besides it. 

This narration from Ibn Sirin also highlights how the Kufans were not bereft of Hadith scholars.