The distinguishing features of Hanafi maslak

The first and foremost
distinguishing mark of Hanafi
Fiqh is that it bases laws upon
expediency and beneficialness.
There have been two schools of
thought in Islam from the very
beginning in regard to
prescriptions of the Shariah.
According to one of them, they
are purely devotional, that is to
say, there is no expediency or
benefit implied in them. For
instance, wine drinking and
debauchery are reprehensible
simply because the Shariah has
prohibited them, while charity
and almsgiving are praiseworthy
simply because the Lawgiver has
enjoined them – intrinsically none
of these acts is either good or
bad. Shafi’i is inclined to
subscribed to this school of
thought, and perhaps that is the
reason why Abu’l-Hasan Ash’ari,
the founder of kalam among the
Shafi’ites, based his system upon
According to the second school
of thought, all rules of the
Shariah have their origin in
expediency, even though the
common people do not
understand this in the case of
some of them. This doctrine has
been the subject of much
controversy because of
prominent authorities ranging
themselves on opposite sides in
regard to it. The controversy,
however, was not justified, since
the expediency and purpose of
all important enjoinments have
been stated in the Qur’an itself.
In rejoinders to the unbelievers,
the Qur’an always explains the
rationale of its directives. For
example, it says about prayer
that it saves one from immoral
and forbidden acts; about fasting
that it leads to piety; about jehad,
that it is intended to end
disruption. There are similar
explanations and hints here and
there in the Qur’an about other
acts commanded by it.
Abu Hanifah subscribed to the
doctrine of the rationality and
beneficence of the rules of the
Shariah and made it a postulate
of all his Fiqh propositions. It is
owing to this that of all the
systems of Fiqh, the Hanafi
system is most in accord with
rational principles. Tahawi, who
was both a muhaddith and a
mujtahid, has written a book on
this subject under the title of
Sharh Ma’ani al-Athat, in which
he stresses the necessity of
proving Fiqh propositions with
the aid of both Qur’anic text and
rational argument. He deals with
every aspect of Fiqh and,
although exhibiting a creditable
impartiality, [and even though]
he disagrees with Abu Hanifah
on some questions, he proves by
arguments worthy of a mujtahid
that on most questions, Abu
Hanifah’s stand was in accord
with both Traditions and reason.
Muhammad b. al-Hasan also has
employed rational argument on
most questions in his Kitab al-
Hujaj. Both these books have
been published and are available
for anyone interested to consult.
Even Shafi’ites and others do not
deny that Abu Hanifah’s
madhhab is in conformity with
reason. Indeed, it was not to be
expected that they would deny
this, maintaining as they do that
the further the prescriptions of
the Shariah are removed from
reason, the better. Thus Razi,
discussing Zakat, says that
Shafi’i’s standpoint on it is more
correct than Abu Hanifah’s
because it is far removed from
reason and analogy, Zakat being
a purely devotional duty needing
no rational justification.
The fact that, unlike his
contemporaries, Abu Hanifah
favoured the principle of
rationality was due to a special
reason. The other doctors who
applied themselves to the
systematisation of Fiqh began
their education with that subject.
Abu Hanifah, on the other hand,
began his education with Kalam,
application to which sharpened
his intellect and increased his
power of reasoning. As the
Mu’tazilah and others with
whom he engaged in debates
followed the principle of
rationality, he had to do the same
in contending with them. This
exercise made him realise that
every prescription of the Shariah
was consonant with reason.
When he turned to Fiqh later on,
he brought the same approach
to bear on its problems. A
comparison of the formulations
of the Hanafi system of Fiqh with
those of other systems clearly
shows this approach as the
distinguishing feature of the
former. Not to speak of mundane
matters, even in matters
pertaining to worship, which in
the view of literal-minded people
have nothing to do with reason,
the rules framed by Abu Hanifah
are eminently rational.
If one tries to determine the
benefits aimed at by the Shariah
in prescribing prayer, fasting,
Hajj and Zakat as obligatory
duties and what in the light of
the benefits should be the modes
of performing these duties, one
finds that only the modes
established by the Hanafi Fiqh
are appropriate. Prayer, for
example, is the name given to a
combination of acts, having
different degrees of importance
in relation to the real object of
prayer (namely, the cultivation of
humility, expression of devotion,
affirmation of God’s greatness,
invocation of God’s grace) and in
proportion to the extent to
which they are respectively
effective in achieving that object.
Some of the acts are obligatory
and indispensable because in
their absence, the object of
prayer is defeated. Each of such
acts is called a fard in the
language of the Shariah. The
other acts only add grace and
beauty to the ritual of prayer and
their omission does not defeat
the object of prayer. Such acts
rank lower than acts of the first
kind and are called sunnat or
The Prophet did not specify
which acts were fard and wajib
and which were sunnat. There
can, however, be no doubt that
all the acts involved in prayer are
not of equal importance. That is
why the mujtahids thought it
necessary to grade them and
give them separate names. Abu
Hanifah did the same, but his
grading is superior to that of the
other imams in that it is more
realistic. For example, take the
question as to what are the
essential ingredients of prayer,
that is to say, the acts without
which prayer cannot be
performed. Now, since in reality
prayer consists in the affirmation
of submission to God and in
humbling oneself before Him,
therefore all the imams are
agreed that niyyat (expression of
the intention to pray), takbir
(saying: “God is great”), qira’at
(reciting Qur’anic passages),
ruku’ (bending down with hands
on knees), sujud (bowing the
head on the ground), etc., which
are the best outward forms of
submission to God and humbling
oneself before Him, are
obligatory, and the Lawgiver
himself has hinted at that and, in
fact, clearly stated it in some
places. But some of the imams
went beyond that and declared
even a particular manner of
performing these acts or making
these utterances to be de
rigueur, although it was not
intended to be so. Abu Hanifah
does not consider the manner to
have been prescribed strictly. For
example, he thinks that the
takbir-i-tahrimah (the formula of
glorification of God = Allahu
Akbar) can be uttered in words
other than Allahu Akbar which
have the same meaning, e.g.,
Allahu A’zam or Allahu Ajall.
Shafi’i thinks that it cannot. Abu
Hanifah even maintains that it is
permissible to say the takbir in
Persian. Shafi’i on the other
hand, holds that this invalidates
the prayer. According to Abu
Hanifah, the duty of qira’at can
be performed by reciting any
ayat of the Qur’an, while
according to Shafi’i, it can be
performed only by reciting the
Surat al-Fatihah. In Abu Hanifah’s
opinion, a person incapable of
reciting the Qur’an in Arabic may
recite it in some other language,
but Shafi’i rules that out as
It should not be concluded from
this that Abu Hanifah or any
other mujtahid fixed the
essential element of prayer
purely on the basis of reason and
analogy. The imams have, on the
contrary, adduced
pronouncements and hints from
Traditions in support of these
elements, and their arguments
are set forth at length in books
of Fiqh. All that I mean to say is
that Abu Hanifah’s enunciations
are supported both by
pronouncements and hints
derived from Traditions by
rational arguments, which shows
what an insight he had into the
inner purpose and justification
of Shariah prescriptions.
These remarks apply equally to
questions relating to Zakat. The
real motive behind Zakat is
human sympathy and help of the
needy. That is why those who
most need and deserve sympathy
and help, such as beggars, the
indigent, officers administering
Zakat, the grief-stricken, debtors,
travellers, soldiers and self-
ransomed slaves, have been
declared to be special objects of
it. But differences arose on the
question of dispensation. Shafi’i
thinks that it is obligatory to give
Zakat to all these categories of
recipients at the same time or
that, in other words, if even a
single category is left out, the
duty of Zakat is not fulfilled. Abu
Hanifah, on the other hand, holds
that although Zakat cannot be
given to anybody outside these
categories, the question whether
it must be given to all the
categories together or may be
given to some of them has to be
decided with reference to the
circumstances. Thus, according
to him, the imam or ruler may
select some of the categories and
leave out the others.
Another question on which Abu
Hanifah and the other imams
disagree is that of the mode of
giving Zakat on domestic
animals. According to Abu
Hanifah, Zakat on domestic
animals may be given either in
kind or in cash. Shafi’i maintains
that it must be given in kind and
that, if given in cash, it does not
discharge the obligation. This
ruling ignores the fact that so far
as the object of Zakat is
concerned, it is immaterial
whether an animal or its prices is
given away: the Lawgiver Himself
made no clear distinction
between the two.
Besides these propositions, there
are hundreds of questions
relating to ritual duties (‘ibadat)
on which Abu Hanifah’s
enunciations show that he gave
special consideration to the inner
purpose and the benefits likely to
accrue. I, however, refrain from
setting them forth for want of
space. This characteristic is more
manifest in Abu Hanifah’s
treatment of secular matters.


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