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Ḥanafī School

Farhat J. Ziadeh
The [Oxford] Encyclopedia of Islam and Law What is This? An English-language legal reference for scholars of Islamic studies and Western engaged readers presenting the history and development of Islamic Law.

Ḥanafī School

One of the geographical centers of legal thought was Kufa in Iraq. The servant and companion of the Prophet, ʿAbd Allāh ibn Masʿūd (d. 653), had been sent there by the caliph ʿUmar as a teacher and jurist. His students and theirs in turn achieved prominence as jurists; notable among them were ʿAlqamah al-Nakhaʿī, Masrūq al-Hamadānī, al-Qāḍī al-Shurayḥ, Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī, ʿĀmir al-Shaʾbī, and Ḥammād ibn Abī Sulaymān (d. 738), who was the teacher of Abū Ḥanīfah, the eponym of the school.

Abū Ḥanīfah (699–767) is the agnomen of Nuʾmān ibn Thābit, of Persian extraction and Kufa. He first studied scholastics and then concentrated on the jurisprudence of the Kufa school while earning his living as a textile merchant. His training in scholastics coupled with his experience as a merchant imparted to him the unusual ability to use reason and logic in the application of rules to the practical questions of life, and to broaden those rules by the use of analogy (qiyās) and preference (istiḥsān). His liberal use of opinion in the formulation of analogy and preference caused his school to be dubbed the People of Opinion, as distinguished from the People of Traditions who depend on traditions in the formulation of rules—even though his school was not less knowledgeable about traditions. He was reported to have said, “This knowledge of ours is opinion; it is the best we have been able to achieve. He who is able to arrive at different conclusions is entitled to his opinion as we are entitled to our own.”

On the whole, the legal doctrines of Abū Ḥanīfah evidence a liberality and a respect for personal freedom that are not that pronounced among other jurists. He was the first to formulate rules concerning contracts, which reflect his attachment to the principle of freedom of contract as exemplified in the contracts of salam and murābaḥah. The former allows the immediate payment of the price of goods for future delivery, although the contract of sale stipulates the immediate exchange of an object and its price; the latter allows a merchant to sell what he had bought at the original price plus a stipulated profit, provided that usury is not involved. In the field of personal law, Abū Ḥanīfah allows a free girl who had reached her majority to marry without the intercession of a marriage guardian, although later Ḥanafī doctrine restricted that right to a woman who had previously been married. Also contrary to all other jurists, including the dominant opinion in his own school, he would not interdict the spendthrift, contending that a person who has reached majority is independent and can do as he wishes with his property.

The legal thought of Abū Ḥanīfah was transmitted by his students, four of whom achieved fame—Abū Yūsuf, Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, and al-Ḥasan ibn Ziyād. In particular, Abū Yūsuf and Muḥammad were able to spread the influence of the school through their writings and their high positions in the ʿAbbāsid state; they were often referred to as al-Ṣāḥibān (the Two Companions). Abū Yūsuf, whose name was Yaʾqūb ibn Ibrāhīm al-Anṣārī (731–798), was appointed a judge in Baghdad and later became the first qāḍī al-quḍāt, or chief justice, with authority to appoint judges in the empire. On various occasions he differed with the opinions of his teacher, basing his decisions on traditions that may not have been available earlier. His book Kitāb al-kharāj is in the form of a treatise he prepared for Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd on taxation and the fiscal problems of the state.

To Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī (749–804) goes the credit for writing down the legal thought of the Ḥanafī school. He was trained in the jurisprudence of the Iraqi school as well as in that of Medina, for he traveled to Medina and studied under the scholar Mālik ibn Anas, a version of whose book al-Muwaṭṭaʾ was transmitted by him. Caliph al-Rashīd appointed him qāḍī (judge) of Raqqah and later removed him, but he accompanied the caliph to Khurasan and died at Rayy. The books he compiled contain many of the detailed rules he extracted, particularly on the laws of inheritance, as well as the doctrine of his school. Often the dominant opinion of the school reflected his opinion on a disputed topic. His books have been classified into two categories: Ẓāhir al-Riwāyah, whose transmission from him has been authenticated, and al-Nawādir, books transmitted by less reliable authorities. The first category consists of the six books al-Mabsūt, al-Jāmiʾ al-kabīr, al-Jāmiʾ al-ṣaghīr, al-Siyar al-kabīr, al-Siyar al-ṣaghīr, and al-Ziyādāt. These books were collected in one volume known as al-Kāfī by Abū al-Fadl al-Marwazī, better known as al-Ḥākim al-Shahīd (d. 955). This collection was later annotated in a thirty-volume work, al-Mabsūt, by the distinguished scholar Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Sarakhsī (d. 1090). This work was the basis of the Ottoman civil code of 1869, the Mecelle (Ar., Majallah), part of the legal reforms of the Tanzimat period. The second category, al-Nawādir, consists of Amālī Muḥammad or al-Kaysānīyāt reported by Shuʾayb al-Kaysānī, al-Raqqīyāt (cases submitted to al-Shaybānī while he was a judge in Raqqah), al-Makhārij fī al-hiyal on legal fictions and devices, and five other lesser-known collections.

Famous scholars of the next two generations include Hilāl al-Raʾy (d. 859); Aḥmad ibn ʿAmr al-Khaṣṣāf (d. 874), author of al-Ḥiyal on legal fictions and devices, al-Waqf on religious foundations, and Adab al-qāḍī on procedure and evidence (commented on by Abū Bakr Aḥmad ibn ʿAlī al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 980), author of Aḥkām al-Qurʾān; and Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 933), author of al-Jāmiʾ al-kabīr fī al-shurūṭ on legal formularies. Still later generations produced Abū al-Ḥasan al-Karkhī (d. 951); al-Sarakhsī, mentioned earlier; ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad al-Bazdawī (d. 1089), author of al-Uṣūl on jurisprudence; Abū Bakr al-Kāsānī (d. 1191), author of Badāʾiʾ al-ṣanāʾiʿ fī tartīb al-sharāʾiʿ; and Burhān al-Dīn ʿAlī al-Marghīnānī (d. 1196), author of the famous and authoritative al-Hidāyah, which has been the subject of many commentaries.

There followed a period of stagnation and imitation of earlier jurists in which existing works were abridged and annotated. An abridgement that received wide recognition was al-Mukhtaṣar by Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Qudūrī (d. 1036). Also compiled were some fatwās, collections presenting actual or theoretical questions and answers. Chief among these were al-Fatāwā al-khānīyah by Qāḍīkhān Ḥasan ibn Manṣūr (d. 1195), al-Fatāwā al-khayrīyah by Khayr al-Dīn al-Ramlī (d. 1670), al-fatāwā al-Hindīyah—compiled in India by order of the Mughal emperor Awrangzīb ʿĀlamgīr (d. 1707) and consisting of extracts from the authoritative works of the school—and al-Fatāwā al-mahdīyah by the Egyptian muftī Muḥammad al-ʿAbbāsī al-Mahdī (d. 1897). In addition, Ḥanafī works achieved prominence in the Ottoman Empire, chief among which were Multaqā al-abḥur by Ibrāhīm al-Ḥalabī (d. 1549) and Radd al-muḥtār by Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1836).

The Ḥanafī school is the most widespread of the existing schools in Islamic countries. The fact that it was the dominant school during the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate, owing to the efforts of Abū Yūsuf and other early Ḥanafīs, gave it an advantage over the others. Moreover, it was the official school of the Ottoman Empire, with its far-flung dominions, and in 1869 its doctrines were enshrined in the Mecelle, or civil code, to be applied in the newly created secular (niẓāmīyah) courts. Ḥanafī law, therefore, continued to be applied to Muslim personal-status matters. It is still the official school for issuing fatwās and for application to the personal-status matters of Sunnī Muslims in the successor states of the Ottoman Empire, including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel-Palestine. In Turkey, which is officially secular, Ḥanafī law governs religious observances. It continues to be the dominant school for application to personal-status matters and/or for religious observances among the Muslims of the Balkans, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Central Asian republics, and China. It is estimated that its adherents constitute more than one-third of the world’s Muslims.


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  • Anderson, J. N. D. Law Reform in the Muslim World. London: Athlone Press, 1976. Comprehensive treatment of the philosophy and methods of reform, and the actual achievements of reform, in various fields of law.
  • Bayānūnī, Aḥmad ʿIzz al-Dīn al-. Al-Ijtihād wa-al-Mujtahidūn. Aleppo, 1968.
  • Bearman, P., R. Peters, and F. Vogel, eds. The Islamic School of Law: Evolution, Devolution, and Progress. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Coulson, Noel J. A History of Islamic Law. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964. Highly readable survey of the genesis of Islamic law, doctrine, and practice in the medieval period, and Islamic law in the modern world.
  • Esposito, John L., with Natana J. DeLong-Bas. Women in Muslim Family Law. 2d ed. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2001.
  • Al-Fatāwā al-ʿālamgīrīyah. Translated by Neil B. E. Baillie as A Digest of Moohummudan Law (1865); reprint, Lahore: Premier Book House, 1957. This is the work ordered by Sultan Awrangzib and based on the most famous Ḥanafī texts. It is also called Al-Fatāwā al-hindīyah.
  • Fyzee, Asaf A. A. Outlines of Muhammadan Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949. Comparatively modern treatment of the application of Islamic law in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Hallaq, Wael B. A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunnī usul al-fiqh. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Hallaq, Wael B. Authority, Continuity and Change in Islamic Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Hallaq, Wael B. The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Marghīnānī, ʿAlī ibn Abī Bakr al-. Al-Hidāyah. Translated by Charles Hamilton as The Hedaya (1791); reprint, Lahore: Premier Book House, 1957. Convenient source for Ḥanafī law.
  • Marghinani, Burhan al-Din al-Farghani al-. Al-Hidāyah: The Guidance. A translation of al-Hidāyah fī Sharh Bidayat al-Mubtadiʾ, A Classical Manual of Hanafi Law. Vol. 1. Translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee. Bristol, U.K.: Amal Press, 2006.
  • Nuʾmān ibn Muḥammad, Abū Ḥanīfah. The Book of Faith: From the Daʿāʾim al-Islām (Pillars of Wisdom) of Qādī al-Nuʿmān b. Muhammad al-Tamīnī.. Edited by Asaf A. A. Fyzee. Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1974. Major Ismāʿīlī work on jurisprudence and law.
  • Peters, Rudolph. Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: Theory and Practice from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-first Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Schacht, Joseph. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950. Pioneering work on the early development of schools of law and doctrine.
  • Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964. Concise treatment of the historical development of schools and doctrine, and a systematic presentation of legal topics.
  • Shakʿah, Muṣṭafā al-. Al-Aʾimmah al-arbaʿah. Cairo, 1979. Account of the life, work, and jurisprudence of the founders of the four orthodox schools of law.
  • Vesey-FitzGerald, Seymour Gonne. Muhammadan Law: An Abridgement. Oxford and London: Oxford University Press, 1931. An old classic about the actual application of Islamic law in the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. Outlines the doctrines of the various schools.
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