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.
In his article Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print, Francis Robinson analyzes the relatively late use of the printing press by Muslims, who only utilized en masse about four hundred years after it had been well established in the Christian world. He rightly asserts that the use of transmission, via person-to-person, has been understood by Muslims to be at the very essence of Islamic knowledge and gave one the necessary authority to transmit and interpret Islamic texts. Printing materials in mass distribution would have jeopardized their authority, and especially the essence of traditional knowledge. However, once the ᶜulama, especially those losing power and influence under Western colonization, feared that the Muslim community might slip into unbelief (kufr) due to the corroding Islamic religious infrastructure (especially the loss the implementation of the shari’ah) and the efforts of Christian missionaries, the ᶜulama decided that making knowledge available through print was now necessary. The impact of the printing press has had both positive and negative effects. Islamic material was now being transmitted in large numbers to the masses, allowing the ᶜulama to publish works they considered critical in their time. Yet, by making material more widely available to the public the ᶜulama jeopardized their own role in the community. That is, if people could seek knowledge from a book, why did they need to turn to a scholar?