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The Muslim World Book Review, 31:4, 2011


Abu Hanifah: His Life, Legal Method and Legacy. By Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Markfield: Kube Publishing Ltd. 2010. Pp. xii+148. ISBN: 9781847740175. This very short, albeit highly erudite, work of hagiography is written by a scholar who has engaged with the study of Abu Hanifah and his legacy for a very long time. By using only the most authentic reports found in the classical Islamic prosopographical collections, original Arabic and Urdu sources and core Hanafi legal texts, the author endeavours to understand why and how Abu Hanifah came to inherit the appellation al-Imam al-A[zam (the greatest one worthy to be followed), an epithet which is worthy of him today as it was in his days. The book is written in the typical format of a classical Islamic biography work. The author discusses Abu Hanifahs life, his life style, his erudition and probity, his piety and propriety, his scholarship, his teachers and his students. He talks about him as a jurist, theologian and Hadith scholar. The impact of Abu Hanifahs fiqh and its status in the modern age is discussed in details. All of these discussions take place within the framework of the overall development of Islamic law in general. The quality of the book is further enhanced by the use of diagrams and an annotated reading list. Given the plethora of sources found on Abu Hanifahs life in English in the form of monographs, articles, introductory sections to translated classical texts, translations of Arabic and Urdu books, audio and visual recordings and the internet, the question that looms on this reviewers mind is: what is the need for yet another biography of Abu Hanifah? The reviewer believes that it is what the author wants to do with the biography of Abu Hanifah that justifies the writing of this book. The author deems it pertinent to write this book because of three reasons. Firstly, he takes issues with the many voices from within and without Islam that are calling for an Islamic reformation. He argues that Islams contribution to the modern world especially in trade and commerce has been advanced by people like Abu Hanifah and other scholars like him. It is only through understanding and emulating the lives of these pious savants that some of the ethical and moral principles that have been lost can be restored. Secondly, information readily available through high-speed medium is not [ilm but short lived data, devoid of any substance and missing the personal touch of a wise master. Through this book, the author wants to remind us that true [ilm can only be sought through slow and painstaking study where knowledge is passed from heart to heart.


The Muslim World Book Review, 31:4, 2011

For this reviewer, the most unique contribution of this book is the authors third reason for writing the book. The author draws a distinction between Abu Hanifah and later Hanafi scholars. Abu Hanifah is someone who understood the context as well as the text; he made a distinction between the spirit of the law; and his understanding of the law is not partial but holistic. He urges Muslim scholars to recover both their intellectual ability as well as their moral authority to understand the Quran and Sunnah in its entirety and not just in parts. The scholars will find a precedent for this in Abu Hanifah, who paradoxically, was neither a Hanafi nor a professional Hanafi mufti. This is a streak that one can implicitly see throughout the work (pp.115-120). The author very subtly tries to rescue Abu Hanifah from Hanafi scholars who are engaged in a self-contained discourse, where the fiqh is presented with reference to itself rather than its sources, a partial and anachronistic understanding of fiqh that is severed from reality. Equally unique is the authors discussion on the development of the sciences of Hadith. One of the major drawbacks, that this reviewer has noticed in some traditional Islamic circles, is that people tend to treat the works of the scholars as if they were all written in the same era; working with the same hermeneutical devices and employing terminologies that are ossified in time. This kind of attitude towards the sources leads to misunderstanding and unfounded criticism, as the author has shown. Abu Hanifah cannot be blamed for following a hadith deemed to be weak by later standards if those standards were not available in his day and age. If the Hanafi School is founded upon those standards used by Abu Hanifah, then it is not fair to judge the actions of its followers through later developments. This is a very important subject as it will put a lot of minds at ease as to why Abu Hanifah does not, seemingly, follow sound Hadith. This reviewer has a few personal observations. One does not get an inkling of the authors opinion regarding the authorship of al-Fiqh al-Akbar. Ab u Zahrah opines that some of the topics discussed in the work seem to have developed after Abu Hanifah. It would have been interesting to see how the author reacts to this assertion. The author very brilliantly sheds light on Abu Hanifah as a Hadith scholar. However, this discussion would have been further enhanced if the author addressed the common clich that Abu Hanifah knew only 17 hadiths. An assumption that stems from a comment made by Ibn Khaldun in his Prolegomena (although Ibn Khaldun does indicate it is a weak claim by using the passive perfective verb qila). A section on the Hadith works of the school would have nicely complemented the legacy of Abu Hanifah. Finally, Radd al-Mukhtar should read Radd al-Muhtar (p.111).

The Muslim World Book Review, 31:4, 2011


The author has successfully delivered his promise to understand why and how Abu Hanifah came to deserve the title al-Imam al-A[zam; it now remains the duty of the scholars to appreciate Abu Hanifahs teachings by trying to understand the Quran and Sunnah holistically in both letter and spirit. Cardiff University M. Mansur Ali