Imam Abu Hanifah, despite his mastery in the Islamic sciences, was recognised for his piety (taqwa), scrupulousness (wara’) and worship (‘ibadah). In the following I will quote a few excerpts from Imam al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s biographical dictionary Tarikh Baghdad, omitting the chains and relaying the editor’s, Dr Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf’s, gradings of the chains, as he graciously included his expert analysis on most of the narrations from Abu Hanifah’s biography in the footnotes.
1. Yazid ibn Harun (118 – 206) said: “I comprehended the people and I have not seen anyone more intelligent, nor more virtuous, nor more scrupulous than Abu Hanifah.”(Tarikh Baghdad 15:498) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih.”
Yazid ibn Harun is a narrator of hadith found in the six famous collections, and is one of the greatest huffaz of hadith, said to have memorised over twenty thousand hadiths. He was one of the most reliable transmitters of hadith, and was also recognised for his devotion and piety. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 11:366-9)
2. Sulayman ibn Abi Shaykh (151 – 246) said: “Abu Hanifah was scrupulous and generous.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:462-3) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments on this narration, “Its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”
3. Yahya ibn Ma‘in said: I heard Yahya al-Qattan say: “We have sat in the company of Abu Hanifah, by Allah, and we heard from him. By Allah, when I would look at him, I recognised in his face that he feared Allah!” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:482) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is hasan.”
Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan (120 – 198) was also a follower of the opinions of Abu Hanifah in fiqh, as shown in an earlier post. His standing in hadith was unmatched. (see: Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 216-20)
4. Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Balkhi narrated to us: I heard al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi say: “I came to Kufa and inquired about the most devout (a’bad) of its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah. Then I came when I was an old man and inquired about the best faqih amongst its inhabitants and I was directed to Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:482) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is good (jayyid).”
Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Laythi was the Qadi of Marw and ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak was favourably disposed to him. (Ibn Hibban, Kitab al-Thiqat 8:168) This narration, therefore, shows Abu Hanifah from an early period was known to the people of Kufa as the one who performed the most worship amongst them. Kufa was at that time a large city containing many learned and pious inhabitants.
5. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (107 – 98) said: “Allah have mercy on Abu Hanifah. He was from the worshippers (musallin), that is, he was one of many Salahs.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:482) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “A sahih report.”
‘Ali ibn al-Madini narrated: I heard Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah say: “Abu Hanifah was an honourable person, and he would perform [much] Salah from early in his life.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:483) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is good.”
Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah is the most prominent hadith-teacher of Imam al-Shafi’i, and is a prolific narrator found in the six famous collections of hadith.
6. Abu Muti‘ said: “I was at Makkah, and I did not enter into Tawaf in a moment from the moments of the night except I saw Abu Hanifah and Sufyan (al-Thawri) in Tawaf.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:483) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.”
7. Yahya ibn Ayyub al-Zahid (d. 168) said: “Abu Hanifah would not sleep at night [i.e. he would stay awake in worship].” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:483) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is hasan.”
Yahya ibn Ayyub al-Ghafiqi is also a narrator of hadith found in the six famous collections.
8. Abu ‘Asim al-Nabil (122-214) said: “Abu Hanifah would be called ‘the peg’ (al-watad) because of the abundance of his Salah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:484) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments, “Its isnad is sahih. Its narrators are trustworthy.”
Abu ‘Asim al-Dahhak ibn Makhlad is a narrator of the six famous collections of hadith, and he is the greatest and eldest of al-Bukhari’s shaykhs. Some of al-Bukhari’s thulathiyyat (three-narrator chains) which are the shortest of al-Bukhari’s chains go through him. (Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 4:450-3)
9. It is narrated from Imam Abu Yusuf: “While I was walking with Abu Hanifah, I heard a man say to another man: ‘This is Abu Hanifah, he does not sleep at night.’ Abu Hanifah said: ‘By Allah: It is not said of me what I do not do.’ He would revive the night in prayer, supplication and devotion.” (Tarikh Baghdad 485-6) Dr Bashshar comments that its chain is acceptable (salih).
10. It is narrated from Mis’ar ibn Kidam (d. 155): “One night I entered the masjid and I saw a man praying, and I found his recitation pleasing. He recited a seventh (of the Qur’an) and I thought he would bow down. Then he recited a third and then half and he continued to recite until he completed it all in one rak‘ah. I looked, and behold, it was Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 487-8) Dr Bashshar comments that it has a hasan chain with all the narrators being trustworthy (thiqah) except Hafs ibn Abd al-Rahman who is reliable (saduq).
Mis’ar ibn Kidam was a contemporary of Abu Hanifah, and he is a narrator found in the six famous collections of hadith, and was known for his worship and piety.
Imam al-Dhahabi wrote in a volume dedicated to the merits of Imam Abu Hanifah and his two companions: “Abu Hanifah’s standing in the night in prayer, his night-vigilance, and his devotion have been mass-transmitted (tawatarat).” (Manaqib al-Imam Abu Hanifah, al-Dhahabi, Lajnatu Ihya’ al-Ma’arif al-Nu’maniyyah, pp. 20-1)
Many pious men of the generation of the Atba’ al-Tabi’in kept the company of Imam Abu Hanifah, such as Dawud al-Ta’i, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad and Shaqiq al-Balkhi, whose virtues are endless and can be read in the biographical literature. This is also a great testament to the profound spiritual station reached by Imam Abu Hanifah.