Features of Imam Abu Hanifa’s Educational Thought
While the modern educational theory was teetering for deviation from religion, however the Islamic educational theory remained deeply rooted in Islamic society. The essence of the Islamic educational theory was expressed by Imam Abu Hanifa al-Nu'man (80AH/699AD -150AH/770 AD) through his career and heritage.
Here, we will review some of Abu Hanifa‘s contributions to the Islamic educational theory through presenting a study titled: "Educational Thought in the Diary of Abu Hanifah" by Khaled Al-Sharidah, a researcher.
About Abu Hanifa and His Life
Nu’man ibn Thabit (known as Abu Hanifa al-Nu'man), was born in the year 80 AH / 699 AD, and grew up in the city of Kufa, Iraq. He was well-versed in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that he established the Hanafi Madh’hab (School of Fiqh) which was later named after him. In addition, Abu Hanifah was a successful trader, as he inherited silk trade from his father.
Abu Hanifah acquired his knowledge at the Kufa Mosque at the hands of prominent scholar, most notably Hammad bin Sulayman, and later moved to Makkah and Madinah. (He even got the opportunity to meet between eight and ten companions of Prophet Muhammad, including Anas ibn Malik, Sahl ibn Sa'd, and Jabir ibn Abdullah)Abu Hanifah was the founder of the school of opinion in Fiqh. Among his most prominent students were Abu Yusuf and Mohamed Ibn Al-Hasan. He died in Rajab in 150 AH / 770 AD, at seventy and was buried in Iraq.
Landmarks of Abu Hanifa Educational School
- Specialization in science for the sake of Allah
Abu Hanifa linked between seeking knowledge to please Allah and win his acceptance, and acquisition of the various sciences that were widespread at his time, especially Fiqh (jurisprudence). Abu Hanifah says: “The best jurisprudence that man can learn is faith”. He later became an expert in the Fiqh (science of jurisprudence) and became become the undisputed Imam in this science. In this regard, Al-Shafi‘i said, ‘People are children to Abu Hanifah in fiqh.’ Through this ideal educational approach, Abu Hanifah believed that he could represent the ideal Muslim scholar for winning Allah’s acceptance.
- The best learning comes during childhood and youth
Abu Hanifa was the focus of attention of the students of his time. Young people used to crowd at his majlis (circle or class) to study at his hands. Abu Hanifa’s disciples used to come on a regular basis to his classes longing for learning from their teacher; and they rarely missed his majlis lessons.
Abu Hanifah used to recommend his disciples to avoid doing other work before acquiring their basic education, similar to what is currently called compulsory education. He considered the best time of learning was during childhood and youth; as young people should not be pre-occupied with anything but learning; however, they must work afterwards to earn their living and meet their necessary needs.
- Sincerity in learning and honoring scientists
Abu Hanifa was very keen on participating in any useful debate; and was patient in teaching his students by night and day. He was very reverent in his classes, and used to warn his students against attending classes known for lack of science and benefit.
Abu Hanifah used to appreciate and honor scholars; when his son Hammad memorized Surat Al-Fatihah (the opening of Quran), he gave his son’s teacher five hundred dirhams. When Abu Hanifah bought new clothes, he used to buy new clothes for sheikhs and scholars as well; and thus Abu Hanifa wanted to give prestige and majesty to science as well as his companions. One of his students, Abu Yusuf, imitated this approach: he was the first to change the clothing of scientists and presented to them a new style that could leave an impact in ordinary people, pushing them to respect and appreciate scholars.
- Abu Hanifah’s class and his relationship with students
Abu Hanifah was an exemplary character in his educational behavior towards his disciples and companions; students living in distant areas as well as those living in the neighborhood used to come and attend his classes. Abu Hanifah used to advise his disciples, saying: "You have to maintain patience, good morals, and tolerance. You should take care of your family, and treat them kindly. You have to visit ill people, greet people using ‘Asalamo Alaikom’ (Peace be upon you), argue with others gently, be cheerful and in good spirits, which results in friendliness and helps you maintain acquiring knowledge and attending classes.
- Freedom of discussion during class
In his majlis (class), Abu Hanifah innovated new teaching methods through discussion and debate, stressing the necessity of awareness and discrimination between the right and wrong, and emphasizing the existence of differing views. Moreover, Abu Hanifah used to consider the debate an ideal method for teaching and also for understanding the fundamentals of religion.
- The significance, goodness, and knowledge of teacher
The well-learned teacher is highly respected by Abu Hanifah, as teachers derive their importance and the authenticity of their knowledge through people’s trust. Speaking about his teacher Hammad bin Sulayman, Abu Hanifah says: “He was a dignified, kind, and patient Sheikh”.
He believes that a scholar should be characterized by self-restraint, be perfect in his specialization, and avoid addressing matters that are not within his competence, and to build on the scientific fundamentals, as a requirement for Ijtihad (It is an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question) stemming from enlightened thought and a comprehensive culture.
In his systematic approach to knowledge, Abu Hanifah relied firstly upon the Quran and then the right Sunnah followed by ijma’ (the consensus or agreement of the Muslim scholars basically on religious issues) and then qiyas (analogy and deduction of rules). Abu Hanifah is reported as saying: “‘What is from the Messenger, then that will gladly be given priority; what comes from the Companions, we shall choose, and what is apart from that, then they are men and we are men.” This is a confirmation of his method of Ra’I (opinion), ijtihad, argument, and evidence.