This issue of irja’ (literally: postponement) with respect to Imam Abu Hanifah – which has unfortunately become a common talking point for the denigrators of the Imam – was discussed in great detail by Imam ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi in his al-Raf’ wa l-Takmil (pp. 149-81).
An Explanation of the Irja’ of Imam Abu Hanifah
When the term “irja” was applied to Imam Abu Hanifah, his shuyukh and his students, it was from two groups:
1. The first are the Mu’tazilah and the Khawarij who used this term for them because they actively opposed the Mu’tazilah and the Khawarij in their belief that a major sin takes one out of faith (iman). Imam al-Shahrastani (d. 548) wrote in his work al-Milal wa l-Nihal:
The Mu’tazili and Khariji belief is that a believing perpetrator of a major sin who does not repent will forever be punished in the Fire, and this belief is opposed by the Ahl al-Sunnah. Imam al-Shahrastani also said:
Similarly al-Taftazani said in Sharh al-Maqasid:
2. The second group who referred to Abu Hanifah and other fuqaha as “murji’” are the muhaddithun, like Imam al-Bukhari, who believed that works/deeds (‘amal) are included in the definition of iman and iman increases and decreases, so they referred to those who said works are not included in the definition of iman and that it does not increase and decrease in its essence “murji’ah.” Al-Laknawi offers a number of quotes from the books of Rijal to prove this, including the following: Al-’Asqalani narrated in Lisan al-Mizan in the biography of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan: Ibn ‘Adi transmitted from Ishaq ibn Rahwayh: I heard Yahya ibn Adam say:
This is clear in showing that the muhaddithun regarded those who believed works are not included in the definition of iman as murji’ah.
It is clear, therefore, that the reason Imam Abu Hanifah, his students and his teachers, were called“murji’ah” by the Mu’tazilah firstly and the muhaddithun later, is their belief in the following:
- Works are not included in the definition of the essence of faith (iman)
- Faith (iman) does not increase or decrease
- The believing man who perpetrates a major sin and does not repent may be punished and he may be forgiven
The latter is the belief of all of the Ahl al-Sunnah. The first two is the belief of the ‘aqidah-scholars including Imam al-Tahawi (in his al-Aqidat al-Tahawiyyah), al-Maturidi, Abu Hanifah, and others, with the hadith-scholars disagreeing. However, this is only a semantic dispute as concluded by the verifying scholars, because although the muhaddithun include works in the definition of iman, if a man has no works and he is sinful, they still accept that he may be a believer (mu’min) which implies that the absence of works does not necessarily imply even according to them the absence of faith (iman). Therefore, works, in this sense, even according to the muhaddithin, are not included in iman, whereas confirmation with the heart (tasdiq bi l-qalb) is universally accepted as being fundamental to the nature and essence of iman.
Regarding the second point, it is as articulated by al-Tahawi,
Again, the dispute with the muhaddithun on this issue is a semantic dispute as all agree the believers vary, but Abu Hanifah, al-Tahawi and others say this variation is not in the essence of iman but in its branches, while others say this variation is in iman itself.
There is no doubt, therefore, that the murji’ah are two types: those of the Ahl al-Sunnah and those deviants who claimed that sins do not harm a believer and faith is sufficient for salvation, both of which Abu Hanifah rejected. This division of the murji’ah was explicitly mentioned by some of the scholars, including al-Shahrastani, Abu Shakur al-Salimi (d. 1077), and al-Birgivi (d. 981). It was even reported from Imam Abu Hanifah in his letter to ‘Uthman al-Batti.
Regarding a commonly quoted passage from Ghunyat al-Talibin by Imam ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani in which he includes the “Hanafiyya,” subscribers to the doctrine of irja’ amongst the deviant groups, al-Laknawi discusses this at great length on pages 166-81. He shows that at best this is a contradiction from al-Jilani (who is not infallible), since he refers to Imam Abu Hanifah as “Imam” and quotes his opinions as valid fiqhi opinions. Examples of this are given in page 169 of al-Raf’ wa l-Takmil. This shows al-Jilani did not believe Abu Hanifah was a deviant.
Then, al-Laknawi offers a number of responses to this text from Ghunyat al-Talibin, and he favours the following:
In Ghunyat al-Talibin, al-Jilani uses almost the exact same description of the beliefs of “Hanafiyya” when describing their irja:
Al-Jilani, while listing the groups of murji’ah, did not mention the Ghassaniyyah and it is known Ghassan would falsely attribute his madhhab to Abu Hanifah: Al-Shahrastani said,
Ibn Hajar al-Makki said something similar. Al-Jilani, therefore, by “Hanafiyyah” and the “companions of Abu Hanifah” most probably meant the Ghassaniyyah who claimed to follow Abu Hanifah. It is also well-known that many of those who followed Abu Hanifah in the peripheral matters of jurisprudence were Mu’tazili in creed or followed another deviant creed. Al-Jilani’s statement is therefore best understood not as referring to Abu Hanifah and his true companions/followers, but this deviant sect called the Ghassaniyyah who claimed to be followers of Abu Hanifah.
Abu Hanifah’s Opposition to Deviations in Belief
Abu Hanifah lived at a time when many new deviations were emerging, like Rafidism, Jahmism and Muqatilism, and he stood fast on the beliefs of the Ahl al-Sunnah, and condemned them in strong terms. For example, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: al-Khallal reported to us: al-Hariri reported to us that ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Mukram narrated to us: Bishr ibn al-Walid narrated to us: I heard Abu Yusuf say: Abu Hanifah said:
Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf said: “Its isnad is sahih, its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”
With the same chain, al-Khatib narrates: al-Nakha‘i said: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan narrated to us: Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Himmani narrated to us from his father: I heard Abu Hanifah say:
Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf said: “Its isnad is hasan.”
Imam Abu Hanifah’s opinion on Jahm is in fact quoted in the books of Rijal. Al-’Asqalani said in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib:
This clearly illustrates Imam Abu Hanifah’s greatness in the eyes of the scholars of Rijal, and the fact Imam Abu Hanifah stood against the distortions in ‘aqidah, of ta’til (negating Allah’s attributes) and tashbih (comparing Allah to creation) in this early period. Some of his expressions in ‘aqidahwere recorded by his students, and the most famous statement on the creed of Abu Hanifah is Imam al-Tahawi’s Bayanu ‘Aqidati Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah which is probably the most well-known and accepted formulae on Muslim creed throughout the history of Sunni Islam.
Imam Abu Hanifah on the Qur’an
Because some of the students of the companions of Imam Abu Hanifah supported and propagated the Mu’tazili doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an, and campaigned for it during the infamous mihnah which began under the rein of caliph Abu al-’Abbas al-Ma’mun (170 – 218), some began to suspect that this was the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah himself. In fact, in Orientalist circles, this view is still current, that Abu Hanifah originated the doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an! But, Imam Abu Hanifah, is innocent of this heresy. In examining a few narrations from al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s biography of the Imam, I will show that the preponderant view amongst the companions of Abu Hanifah was that rejecting the notion of the createdness of the Qur’an, and this is in fact traced authentically to the Imam himself, while a few followers of his school strayed and adopted the Mu’tazili and Jahmi doctrine.
1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated with a chain of trustworthy narrators, besides one narrator who is unknown, that Ibn al-Mubarak came to Abu Hanifah and Abu Hanifah said to him:
Although there is some question over the authenticity of this report due to the unidentifiable narrator in the chain, it is known that Abu Hanifah opposed Jahm on the issue of the attributes of Allah and he also declared him a disbeliever as shown above, so it is probable he addressed this false belief of Jahm also.
2. Al-Khatib narrated with his chain to Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi that he said:
Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.”
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the champion of the Ahl al-Sunnah during the period of the mihnah, and his major enemies besides the ruling elite were some scholars of the Hanafi school, in particular the judge Ahmad ibn Abi Dawud; and even as the charge that Abu Hanifah supported the state doctrine was being propogated, Imam Ahmad did not buy into this false propaganda and defended the Imam.
3. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated with his chain to al-Nakha‘i that he said: Muhammad ibn Shadhan al-Jawhari narrated to us: He said: I heard Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu‘lla ibn Mansur al-Razi say:
Dr Bashshar says: “Its isnad is sahih.”
The scholars who are quoted in this report, Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu‘alla ibn Mansur, were major scholars of Hanafi jurisprudence, as known to muftis of the Hanafi school. They were authors of some Nawadir literature, and fatawa. They were also amongst the few scholars who openly opposed the view of the createdness of the Qur’an, although this was before al-Ma’mun’s inquisition.
Mu‘alla ibn Mansur al-Razi, Abu Ya‘la (150 – 211), is a narrator of hadith found in all the six famous collections of hadith. He narrated from the famous hadith-scholar Hammad ibn Zayd (98-179) as found in Sahih al-Bukhari, and he also narrated from ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, Malik ibn Anas, al-Layth ibn Sa‘d, and from the students of Imam Abu Hanifah, Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah, Qadi Abu Yusuf, ‘Ali ibn Mushir and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. Abu Zur‘ah al-Razi said:
Yahya ibn Ma‘in said he is trustworthy.
Regarding Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani, al-Dhahabi says:
Al-Khatib described him as:
Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu’alla ibn Mansur were of course more aware of the views of their teachers and their grand-teacher than others.
Therefore, although Bishr ibn Ghiyath al-Marisi (140 – 218) and Ahmad ibn Abi Du’ad (full name: Ahmad ibn Faraj ibn Hariz) (160 – 240) stood as proponents of the Mu’tazili doctrine while claiming to belong to the Hanafi school, true followers of the madhhab opposed them, and clarified the position of their teachers and the teacher of their teachers. “Bishr” in Arabic means “joy” and “Ahmad” means “the most praised.” Based on this, Imam al-Dhahabi wrote under the biography of Bishr al-Marisi: