Abū Ḥanīfa had surrounded himself by some forty scholars, some of whom were themselves considered mujtahīds (independent legal jurists). They were free to agree or disagree with the Imam’s legal judgments and it appears, through reported statements and their later writings, that they most often took to accepting Abū Ḥanīfa’s judgments. After his death they still held his rulings with great esteem and maintained that he was a prominent, if not the most prominent, legal authority of their time. Many of his students later went on to became scholars of not only fiqh, but also hadith; some specializing in Asma’ al-Rijāl, the study of hadith narrators.
Abū Ḥanīfa Nuʽman b. Thabit (80-150AH/703-767CE) is considered by many to have been the greatest scholar of the Ahl al-Raʽy, and especially of those living in Iraq. His school is also the predominant school of Sunni law, nearly half of all Muslims associating with it. However, the Imam has not escaped fierce criticisms alleged against him that are often based upon misperceptions concerning the city of Kūfa; particularly the belief that hadiths were severely limited to people so far removed from Medina. Recent scholarship may actually show the opposite to be true. Interestingly, a study conducted by Wael B. Hallaq revealed a classical source detailing Kūfa as the largest base of hadith specialists (living between 80-120AH/699-737CE), followed by Basra, then Medina, Syria, Mecca, and Egypt.
Within the first Islamic century differing jurisprudential approaches were already being formed, laying the foundations for differing legal schools still existing today. And by the beginning of the second century two geographical centers of juristic activity were emerging; one in the Ḥijāz and another in Iraq; each further subdivided into two prominent cities: Mecca and Medina in the Ḥijāz, and Basra and Kūfa in Iraq; and of the four cities none held greater importance than Medina and Kūfa.
Historians of Islamic legal thought have often looked to these two cities as the epicenters of rapidly growing, yet differing, legal schools: Ahl al-Raʽy (People of Legal Opinion) and Ahl al-Ḥadīth (People of Transmission).
The Muslim empires expansion to the north allowed them to not only acquire new land, spoils, and converts; but they also inherited the home of many different religions, sects and beliefs. Dispersed throughout the area, Syriac Christians had already well-established
educational institutions for the study of Greek philosophy and the ancient wisdom of Persia; and debate over Christian dogma was common. To help resolve some of the religious, and political, issues that one might expect when injecting a new faith into such a dynamic area came some of the greatest companions: Ṭalḥa, al-Zubayr, Saʽd and his son ʽUmar, Abū Mūsā al-Ashʽarī, ‘Abdullah b. Masʽūd, Khālid b. ʽUrfuṭa, ‘Adī b. Ḥātim, Jarīr b. ʽAbdullah al-Badhalī, al-Ashʽath al-Kindī, Umm Hānī (the sister of ‘Ali), and ‘Ali b. Abī Ṭalib ; may God be pleased with them all.
It is an all too common misperception that Ḥanafī legal thought, or Hanafism, was forged at a time, and locality, where hadiths were not widely available. Likely due to this misperception, Hanafism is often singled out as the only representative among the Sunni schools today of an earlier, and controversial, school known as Ahl al-Raʽy (People of Legal Opinion); so named by their detractors the Ahl al-Ḥadīth (People of Transmission). Kūfa, the city of Hanafism’s birth, is truly the key to understanding these misperceptions. Allegations made against the city have contributed much to the controversy surrounding Ḥanafi thought. Since many books and articles already exist that examine the unique legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh) of Hanafism, as well as other Sunni schools of law (madhāhib); and many more exist which illustrate the life of Abū Ḥanīfa, I will respond to these misperceptions by focusing upon that which is less well-known. In these series of posts I will briefly survey the vast diversity of culture and thought that flooded one of Islam’s first foreign-born cities, Kūfa.