Law cannot remain static for long: Imam Abu Hanifa


Imam Abu Hanifa was a firm
believer that a code of laws
cannot stay static for too long, at
the risk of no longer meeting the
needs of the people. Thus he
advocated interpreting the
sources of Islamic law (usul al-
fiqh) in response to the needs of
the people at the time. This
dynamic form of legalism did not
supersede the Quran and Sunnah
(sayings and doings of the
Prophet ﷺ), of course. Instead, he
promoted the use of the Quran
and Sunnah to derive laws that
addressed the issues that people
dealt with at that time.
A major aspect of his
methodology was the use of
debate to derive rulings. He
would commonly pose a legal
issue to a group of about 40 of
his students, and challenge them
to come up with a ruling based
on the Quran and Sunnah.
Students would at first attempt
to find the solution in the Quran,
if it was not clearly answered in
the Quran, they would turn to the
Sunnah, and if it was not there,
they would use reason to find a
logical solution.
Abu Hanifa based this
methodology on the example
when Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sent
Mu’adh ibn Jabal to Yemen and
asked him how he will resolve
issues using Islamic law. Mu’adh
responded that he would look
into the Quran, then the Sunnah,
and if he does not find a direct
solution there, he would use his
best judgement, an answer that
Muhammad ﷺ was pleased with.
Using such a process for
codifying fiqh, the Hanafi
madhab (school of law) was thus
founded, based on the rulings of
Imam Abu Hanifa, and his
prominent students, Abu Yusuf,
Muhammad al-Shaybani, and
Zuffar. It became the first
codified madhab, through the
main book of Abu Hanifa’s legal
opinions, al-Fiqh al-Akbar.