It is a well-known fact that Muslims follow some basic schools of thought in matters of Islamic Jurisprudence, other than questions of faith and fundamentals of worship and legal practices. For the latter are not subject to controversy, since they have been clearly defined in the Qur'an and in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam
The renowned scholars of the four basic schools were Abu Haneefah, Malik ibn Anas, Muhammad ibn Idrees ash-Shaafii and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Now we will try to shed some light on the personality of Abu Haneefah, whose school of thought is widely spread especially in Asia (including the Indian subcontinent, the whole of Central Asia and countries like Turkey and Afghanistan).
Abu Haneefah An-Nu`man was born in Koofa, Iraq, in the year 80 AH. He was lucky to be born in the second generation of Islam, since he had the opportunity to learn from some companions of Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam, and many renowned scholars of the second generation. It has been pointed out that Abu Haneefah was the first to codify Islamic law or jurisprudence (commonly known as Fiqh) compiled from the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Our hero was a merchant by profession, but he spent both ends of the day in teaching in the mosque. He was exemplary in his conduct both as a merchant and a teacher. For he was not only very honest in his commercial dealings, but he was very conscientious as well, to the extent that he would refuse any profit he felt uneasy about, even if it was a legitimate one. Once a lady came to his store and requested him to sell a silk dress for her. He asked her about the suggested price for the dress. When she told him “100 dirhams”, he told her that it was worth more than that. She could not believe that until it was sold for her before her own eyes for 500 dirhams. On another occasion our hero warned his partner not to sell a certain garment due to some defects in it. Somehow his partners forgot and sold that garment. When our hero knew that, he decided to give out in charity all the money earned that day, and he broke the partnership with his friend who sold the defective garment even though inadvertently.
As a teacher, our hero used to support all his needy students in order for them to devote all their time to learning. His encouragement of education made him very generous even to scholars. It is reported that when he wanted to buy clothes for himself or his family, he would do the same for some of the scholars he knew. In fact, our hero's generosity reached everyone that came in contact with him. One day he was walking down the street when he noticed a man trying to hide from him. Abu Haneefah asked the man, “Why are you trying to hide from me?” When he was told that he owed our hero 10,000 dirhams and was embarrassed because he could not pay the money to him, our hero informed the man that he no longer wanted the loan back. He further asked the man to forgive him for causing him so much trouble and feeling of embarrassment!
As a typical man of piety our hero was very kind to all his acquaintances, whom he visited when ill and inquired about when absent. A very interesting case is reported in the encounter between our hero and his drunkard neighbour, who would get drunk and keep singing aloud all night long causing so much annoyance to Abu Haneefah. Once the police caught the man (the noisy neighbour) and took him to prison. Abu Haneefah noticed that night that the neighbourhood was quiet. So he inquired about his noisy neighbour. Upon knowing of his neighbour's imprisonment, he rushed to the governor of the city interceding for his neighbour who was immediately released. Not only that, Abu Haneefah gave the man some money to compensate for the earnings he lost due to imprisonment. The drunkard was so impressed with this kind attitude and treatment that he decided to repent and devote his time to learning the message of Islam in the mosque.
Abu Haneefah's fear of falling into fault made him refuse all the offers made by governors and the Caliph to appoint him in public offices, including the post of a judge. For that reason Caliph Abu Ja`far al-Mansoor ordered that Abu Haneefah be put in jail where he died in the year 150 AH.
But even if our hero died in prison, his name is still very much alive in the memory of Islamic history and millions of the followers of his school of thought and others all over the world.