Abu Hanifa al-Numan b. Thabit b. Zurti (imam abu hanifa real name) was the eponymous founder of the Hanafi school (madhhab) of Islamic law. His birth dates are given variously but the year 699 is considered the most sound based on many biographical dictionaries. Abu Hanifa died and was buried in Baghdad, though sources differ concerning the month of his death. A shrine was built in 1066 over the site of his tomb, and the quarter of the city is called the al-A_zamiyyah after Abu Hanifa’s epithet al-Imam al- A_zam, the “Great Imam.” In his Jawahir al-mudiyya, Ibn Abi al-Wafa_ provides a genealogy, on the authority of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Muhammad al-Sarifini (d. 1243), which links Abu Hanifa’s family with the Sassanian kings, the Kayyanid kings, and Judah, the eldest son of the prophet Jacob. Many sources mention that Abu Hanifa was of Persian descent, that his family were sellers of silk. Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi (d. 1374) reports that Abu Hanifa’s grandfather Zurti (also given as Zuta) is said to have been a slave brought from Kabul to Kufa where the family was attached to the Arab tribe of Taym-Allah b. Tha_laba. Other sources claim that Abu Hanifa’s family was from Babylon, or the city of Anbar (on the Euphrates about forty miles from Baghdad).
Most Muslim biographical dictionaries focus on the relative authority of Abu Hanifa as a transmitter of hadith reports. It is said that a number of the younger ahaba (Companions) were still alive during the lifetime of Abu Hanifa but he only transmitted hadith from one of these, the well-known Anas b. Malik (d. 709 or 711). Among the tabi_un (Followers) from whom he transmitted hadith reports are _Ata_ b. Abi Rabah (d. 732 or 733), al-Sha_bi (d. 724) and Nafi_, the client of Ibn _Umar. Many authorities regard Abu Hanifa as a trustwothy transmitter but others question theuthority of his sources. In his Mizan al-i_ tidal, al-Dhahabi cites opinions that Abu Hanifa should be considered weak as a transmitter of hadith, and that his legal opinions rely upon personal opinion (ra_y). Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi (d. 1083) criticizes Abu Hanifa for having received most of his knowledge of hadith reports from Ibrahim al-Nakha_i rather than from the sahabah who were still reliable transmitters during his lifetime.
In terms of his reputation as a jurist, Abu Hanifa is credited with founding the Hanafi school of law, and is given the epithet “imam” because of this role. In his Tadhkirat alhuffaz, al-Dhahabi repeats a conversation in which Yazid b. Harun says that Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 778) was more knowledgeable in hadith but Abu Hanifa was more knowledgeable in jurisprudence and law. Even Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi_i (d. 820), whose legal opinions often rival those of the Hanafis, is reported to have attributed great learning in jurisprudence to Abu Hanifa. Many sources refer to Hammad b. Abi Sulayman (d. 738) as Abu Hanifa’s primary teacher in jurisprudence, and Joseph Schacht considers Abu Hanifa to have adapted the bulk of his legal opinions from him. Yazid b. Harun also states that he did not know anyone more pious and rational than Abu Hanifa. Bishr b. al-Walid reports that Abu Hanifa used to pray all night, and that he never learned or transmitted a hadith that he did not himself practice.
After Abu Hanifa’s death his legal opinions and the hadith reports that he transmitted were compiled into texts. There are no extant collections of works composed by Abu Hanifa himself. His legal opinions can be found in the Ikhtilaf Abi Hanifa wa Ibn Abi Layla and the al-Radd _ala siyar al-Awza_i, both attributed to Abu Yusuf (d. 798), one of Abu Hanifa’s closest disciples.
To another of Abu Hanifa’s disciples, Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 805), is attributed the al-Hujjah fi ikhtilaf ahl Kufah wa ahl al-Madinah and the Kitab al-asl fi al-furu_, both containing the legal opinions of Abu Hanifa which later became the basis for Hanafi legal scholarship. Some of the hadith reports transmitted by Abu Hanifa can be found collected in the Sharh ma_ani al-athar and Bayan mushkil alhadith of Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 933), and in the later Jami_ masanid Abi Hanifa compiled by Abu al-Mu_ayyad Muhammad b. Mahmud al-Khwarizmi (d. 1257). Classical Hanafi jurisprudence developed primarily as compendia and commentaries on the legal opinions of Abu Hanifa and their interpretation by his main students, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani. The Mukhtasar fi al-fiqh Abi Hanifa al-Nu_man by Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Quduri (d. 1037) contains a collection of the opinions of these three Hanafi authorities, as does the Kitab al-mabsut of Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090). The works of later Hanafi scholars such as Abu Bakr b. Mas_ud al-Kasani (d. 1191), _Ali b. Abi Bakr al-Marghinani (d. 1197), _Abdallah b. Ahmad al- Nasafi (d. 1310), _Uthman b. _Ali al-Zayla_i (d. 1342), Ibn Nujaym (d. 1562), and _Abd al-Hakim al-Afghani (d. 1907) are largely based upon these earlier compilations of opinions going back to Abu Hanifa and his immediate disciples. These works, building upon the opinions of Abu Hanifa and his main students, show the influence of Abu Hanifa upon the development of Islamic legal theory and case law.
Abu Hanifa is also credited with a number of creedal and theological works, though some scholars assign the reaction of these to followers of Abu Hanifa. Two such works are the al-_Alim wa al-muta_allim and the Fiqh al-absat, which contain a series of questions and answers between Abu Hanifa and his disciple Abu Muti_ al-Balkhi (d. 799). Extant is a letter written by Abu Hanifa to _Uthman al-Batti, which resembles the perspective found in these other works. Also attributed to Abu Hanifa is the Fiqh al-akbar, the so-called Fiqh al-akbar II, and the Wasiyyat Abi Hanifa. The ten creedal articles of the Fiqh al-akbar closely parallel the views found in the Fiqh alabsat, but scholars such as Arent Jan Wensinck have assigned later dates to the Fiqh al-akbar II and the Wasiyyat Abi Hanifa, though they may have been influenced by the earlier works.
The creedal works of later Hanafis such as Tahawi and Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi (d. 993) may also show the influence of Abu Hanifa’s theology. Because of Abu Hanifa’s close association to these creedal statements, later scholars have emphasized the influence of Abu Hanifa on the development of widespread and officially sanctioned definitions of Muslim belief.