“The Questions of Abū Ḥanīfa.” Diyanet İlmî Dergi, 56 (2020): 1349-1404.


This article assesses the contribution of Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 150/767) to the development of Islamic law through a study of the ‘legal question’, or masʾala. The first section presents anecdotal accounts to illustrate the nature and reception of Abū Ḥanīfa’s questions. It also studies the spread of Abū Ḥanīfa’s questions through the writings of his students, particularly Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī (d. 189/805). The second section presents investigations into the development of legal questions addressing the topic of wiping over khuffs (leather socks) in ritual ablutions, assessing (1) the development of legal questions in the first two-and-a-half centuries of Islam, (2) the nature of questions addressed by key second- and third-century texts of the legal schools, and (3) the questions that constituted core school doctrine in classical-era mukhtaṣars (legal digests) of the schools of law. The article concludes that Abū Ḥanīfa’s questions had the clearest causative effect on the development of structured legal questions addressing the various topics of law, while highlighting that competing juristic circles did not merely mimic Abū Ḥanīfa’s questions, but, rather, developed questions that reflected their own conceptions of the legal project.


This article was written at the behest of someone whose request I could not refuse: Dr Murteza Bedir of Istanbul University, who guest edited this special edition of Diyanet İlmî Dergi that is dedicated to studies on Abū Ḥanīfa. I suggested to him that I’d like to study the effect of Abū Ḥanīfa’s questions on the development of Islamic law. This is a topic I had been thinking about but never thought to look into or write.

When we consider the output of Abū Ḥanīfa’s circle, filled with internal disagreements and debates, we realise that what it meant to belong to that circle was not to agree with Abū Ḥanīfa in his answers to the various questions discussed. Rather, the condition to belong to the circle was to engage with the questions proposed, and to be able to offer well-reasoned responses. Thus it was the questions that united them, not the answers. When studying the questions of well-known Ḥanafī mukhtaṣars, such as the Mukhtaṣar of al-Qudūrī – whose content draws almost exclusively from the output of Abū Ḥanīfa’s immediate circle – one cannot fail to be impressed by the range, depth and abstract nature of many of the questions addressed in this circle little over a century after passing of the Prophet ﷺ. It seems that their courage in asking such a range of questions is what made them stand out, often for blame, amongst early circles of knowledge. But could it be that this audacity in framing legal questions ultimately led all others to mimic their approach in some way? That is what I’ve attempted to assess in this paper, with the audacious – and perhaps unhelpful – leading question: was Abū Ḥanīfa the founder of Islamic law?

Unfortunately, I researched and wrote this at the end of a busy summer, so I wasn’t able to spend as much time on it as I would have liked, so there are definitely areas here I wish I could have developed and changed. At the same time, I found it an enriching project. One of the most personally satisfying findings for me was the taste it gave me for al-Shāfiʿī’s contribution to Islamic law. As I compared various second- and third century texts on the topic of wiping over khuffs, I felt that al-Shāfiʿī’s contributions stood out as the clearest and most fully-formed response to the fiqh of Abū Ḥanīfa. The Umm presents a clear idea of what is and is not a part of fiqh, and which questions should and should not be addressed, and offers a range of questions that reflect this clear vision. As someone who has always dealt with al-Shāfiʿī only as the ‘other’ in my projects, this taste of the maturity and completeness of al-Shāfiʿī’s response to Abu Hanifa was refreshing and personally needed.


Download: Sohail Hanif – The Questions of Abu Hanifa

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