He was only nineteen years old when Imam Abu Hanifah’s teacher Hammad ibn Abi Suleyman died as the principal of the Mosque of Kufa, one of the very few centres of advanced Islamic learning in the caliphate. Imam’s own class-fellows, many among whom were even older than him, demanded that Abu Hanifa take charge of the school, since he was extremely intelligent in so young an age.
Nouman bin Thabit, greatest of the Imams of Sunni school of thought – Imam Abu Hanifa, was a wise man. He accepted the demand only on a pre-condition that he would become the principal if his own class-fellows became his students for one whole year. The proposal was readily accepted and this gave Imam Abu Hanifa the platform through which he enjoyed the acknowledgement and the fame which no other Islamic jurist enjoys, till date.
At the time when Persian Empire was subdued in the reign of Caliph Umar (RA), Kufa was established on the outskirts of a city called Hirah. This city was an ancient center of learning which was inhabited mostly by Yemenite Arabs. Caliph Umar (RA) sent a great intellectual, a companion of the Holy Prophet (S), named Abdullah Bin Masud (RA), to the newly established city. Along with this famous companion of the Prophet (S) the caliph also wrote a letter to the people of Kufa. The letter read, “O people of Kufa! I need this man more than anyone else does. I am making a great sacrifice for your sake by sending Abdullah bin Masud to you. This should make you realize how important a man he is.”
Abdullah ibn Masud (RA) was neither a warrior, nor an administrator and nor was he any great trader. But he was a great jurist and an expert in the field of law. When he arrived in Kufa, he laid down the foundations of Islamic learning in the Mosque of Kufa. He set up a great school, which produced eminent scholars. After his demise a Yemeni student of his – Al-Qamah Al-Nakhai became the principal of the school. After him another Yemeni Arab Ibrahim Al-Nakhai and after him Hammad ibn Abi Suleyman, a non-Arab, took the charge of the institution. Abu Hanifa, thus, was the forth-generation student of the school established by Abdullah bin Masud (RA).
Abbasid Caliph Mansoor once asked Imam Maalik to codify the Islamic law for the caliphate but the noble scholar politely declined this offer stating that everyone could not be compelled to follow his school of thought; and that everyone has a right to disagree. Imam Abu Hanifa however, took this great burden on his shoulders and that too, in an unofficial status.
The imam imparted the knowledge of Islam in extremely efficient ways. The world of Islam slowly and steadily started accepting him as the great jurist due to his genius. Imam Abu Hanifa then set up an academy for the codification of Islamic law. For this purpose he chose forty of the best students of his ‘maktab’. Their fields varied. Some were ‘muhaddithin’ and some were the commentators of the Quran or ‘mufassirin’. Most important among them were the experts in the field of law and jurisprudence. For any religious question that arose, Quran was consulted. If there was not any indication in the Quran the ‘hadith’ or the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was approached in the second place. If the solution could not be sighted in either of the standards then the Imam used qiyas or ijtihad to solve the problem. The method was that Imam used to pose a hypothetical question and the students of his academy would argue upon that, threadbare. Sometimes the debate would last for whole month. Abu Yusuf, one of the key students of Imam Abu Hanifa performed the duty of secretary of the academy. He would pen down all the debates going on between the experts of all the disciplines, in a register. The work was completed after years of hard work in the form of questions and answers. This was the blue-print of Islamic jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought.
At the time of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Maalik and Imam Aw’zai were also alive. They wrote important books on law but codification of Islamic law was yet to be completed. These were the individual acts of these great jurists of Islam which however, could not meet all the requirements of the Islamic jurisprudence. Imam Abu Hanifa accomplished this enormous task with the collective effort of his personal wit and the help of his students.
This great service to Islam by Imam Abu Hanifa was recognized by Ulema and was enforced in the caliphate as the ‘state’ law’ when his pupil Imam Abu Yusuf became Qazi-ul-Quzza (Chief Justice) of the Abbasid Caliphate. To bear so great a fruit one also needs to infuse as much an effort. Imam-al-Azam Abu Hanifa instilled this effort and the whole Ummah bore its fruits.