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The Life of Imam Abu Hanifa
The four Imam's - Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal and Imam Shafi - are the figures who's interpretation of the Hadith and Quran are followed by the majority of Sunni Muslims Worldwide. They are therefore of immense importance to the correct practice of Islam. These brief biographies do not do justice to the long and splendid lives of the Imams, but serve as a starting point in recognizing their importance. I urge you to learn more about them. Let us not forget that they were Tabieens - they had met some Sahabas and could directly relate Ahadith - and also that the great scholar Imam Bukhari was a follower of Imam Shafi's school of thought.

IMAM MALIK

IMAN AHMED BIN HANBAL

IMAM SHAFI

 


IMAM MALIK FAQIH

ABU ABDULLAH, Malik bin Anas, was born in Medina in the year 715 AD. His ancestral home was in Yemen, but his grandfather settled in Medina after embracing Islam. He received his education in Medina, which was the most important seat of Islamic learning, and where the immediate descendants of the Companions of the Holy Prophet lived. Imam Malik was highly attracted to the study of law, and devoted his entire interest to the study of Fiqh. It is said that he sought out over three hundred Sahaba (those who saw the Companions of the Holy Prophet). From them he acquired the knowledge of the Holy Prophet's sayings, Hadith, (plural Ahadith) - and the Holy Prophet's Deeds, - Sunnah. Imam Malik studied Fiqh under the guidance of nearly one hundred learned Shaikhs who were residing in the city of the Prophet at the time. Among Imam Malik's writings is the great work entitled Kitab-al-Muwatta, which is the earliest surviving book of Islamic law and Hadith. It quotes Sayings as well as the practices according to the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet as observed by Muslims in Medina.

Although Imam Malik wrote many treatises dealing with religion and ethics, Kitab-al-Muwatta is acknowledged as the most important among his writings. It is said that Imam Malik had originally recorded ten thousand Ahadith in this book, but in a revised edition the Imam reduced the number to only one hundred and seventy-two. Imam Malik was famous for his piety and integrity and courageously stood up, and was prepared to suffer, for his convictions. For example, when the governor of Medina demanded and forced people to take the oath of allegiance to Khalifa al-Mansour, Imam Malik issued a Fatwa that such an

oath was not binding, because it was given under duress. This resulted in many people finding courage to express their opposition, but the Imam was arrested, found guilty of defiance and publicly flogged.

When al-Mansour, learnt of this outrage, he apologized to the Imam and dismissed the governor. Sometime later the Khalifa sent him three thousand Dinars for his travelling expenses and invited him to come and reside in Baghdad. Imam Malik refused the offer and indicated that he preferred to continue his residence in Medina where the Holy Prophet was buried.

When the Khalifa Haroun-al-Rasheed visited Medina when he came to perform Hajj, he summoned Imam Malik to visit him and deliver a lecture. The Imam politely refused to go to the ruler but invited him to attend the class of students to whom he delivered regular lectures. The Khalifa, accompanied by his two sons, accepted the invitation and sat among the students to hear the Imam's lecture.

Imam Malik died in the year 795 AD at Medina and is buried in the famous al-Baqie cemetery in the city of the Prophet.

Imam Malik's followers and disciples developed a Fiqh school based on his books which came to be known as the Maliki Madhhab. Malikis are mostly found in North and West Africa, - Tunis, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.

 


 

IMAM AHMED BIN MUHAMMAD HANBAL

 

Ahmed bin Muhammad Hanbal known as ibn Hanbal was born in the city of Baghdad in the year 780 AD. He studied various subjects in his hometown and traveled extensively in quest of

knowledge. He was chiefly interested in acquiring knowledge of Ahadith- traditions of the Holy Prophet - and traveled extensively through Iraq, Syria, Arabia and other countries of the Middle East studying religion and collecting traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Returning home from his travels which occupied several years of his early life, he took lessons from Imam Shafiee in the subject of Islamic law (Fiqh). He was deeply devoted to the traditional views on religious subjects and opposed innovation of any kind.

The strength of his views was tested when under Khalifa al-Mamun and Khalifa al-Mu’tasim, a kind of 'inquisition court' was created to deal with people - among whom were many acknowledged theologians - who would not for instance profess the doctrine of "the creation of the Qur’an".

Imam ibn Hanbal, too, suffered as a result when he was arrested and brought in chains before the court. But he patiently submitted to corporal punishment and imprisonment and resolutely refused to deviate from his beliefs.

Under the rule of Khalifa Mutawakkil however, the policy of the government changed and Imam ibn Hanbal's trials came to an end. From then onwards the Imam was accorded honor befitting his greatness and on several occasions he was invited to the Court and granted a generous pension.

Imam ibn Hanbal's fame spread far and wide. His learning, piety and unswerving faithfulness to traditions gathered a host of disciples and admirers around him.

He died in Baghdad in the year 855 (241 A.H.) at the age of 75 years.

Among the works of Imam ibn Hanbal is the great encyclopaedia of Traditions called Musnad, compiled by his son from his lectures and amplified by supplements - containing over twenty eight thousand traditions. His other works include Kitab-us-Salaat, on the Discipline of Prayer and Kitab-us-Sunnah, on the Traditions of the Prophet. The above books form in the main, the Hanbali school of law, although Imam ibn Hanbal too, did not establish a Fiqh system of his own. His decisions were so highly regarded by his disciples that they began to systematize his legal teachings during his lifetime and his ideas gained recognition by the Sunni sect as one of the four authoritative Madhahb the Hanbali.

In the world of Islam, the Hanbalites to-day represent the smallest group of the four Sunni Madhahb, mostly confined to the Middle East countries.

In the 18th century Christian-era, the Hanbali system received a vigorous support from the Wahhabi movement founded by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab (1703-1787 AD) who followed the Hanbali school of thought. The leadership of the Wahhabi movement today is in the hands of the Saudi dynasty who are the autocratic rulers of Hijaz, in the Arabian Peninsula.

 

 


IMAM SHAFI-EE

 

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Idris descends from the Hashimi family of the Quaraish tribe to which Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) belongs. He was born in Gaza, Syria in 767 and became famous as Imam Shafi-ee. He lost his father early in life and was brought up by his mother in abject poverty in the city of Mecca. He spent much time among the Bedouins and acquired very great knowledge of Arabic poetry.

At the age of twenty, he went to Medina and remained there as a student of Imam Malik till the later’s death in 796. He also came into contact with other learned men from whom he acquired knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Imam Shafi-ee possessed a very sharp memory and knew the whole of Imam Malik's Muwatta by heart.

In 804 he visited Syria and from there proceeded to Egypt where he settled down. As a pupil of Imam Malik he was received with great honor and respect by the Egyptians. In 810 he went to Baghdad and there he was surrounded by a large number of students who were eager to acquire knowledge of the faith and practice of Islam from him.

The Shafi-ee school of law emerged from these students who practiced and propagated the views and rulings of Imam Shafi-ee through their writings and preaching.

Imam Shafi-ee wrote several books, the most well-known of which is called Kitab-al-Umm, which is a collection of writings and lectures of the Imam. A number of his students have also collected his writings, lectures and rulings in the form of books, or quoted him in their books.

Baghdad in Iraq and Cairo in Egypt were the chief centers of Imam Shafiee's activities. It is from these two cities that teachings of the Shafi-ee school spread in the 9th century of the Christian era.

During the time of Sultan Salahuddeen (Saladin), the Shafi-ee doctrine was the most prominent in Egypt, and to this day the Imam of the Al-Azhar Musjid is always a Shafi-ee and the Shafi-ee Madhhab is industriously studied along with that of the other three schools of the Sunnis.

During his life Imam Shafi-ee also suffered from political intrigues. For instance, after studying under Imam Malik in Medina he was sent to fill an office in Yemen, where he was accused of political involvement which resulted in his arrest. He was taken as prisoner to Haroun al-Rasheed. The Khalifa however found him innocent and the Imam was honorably released.

Imam Shafiee died in the year 820 in Egypt.

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