Sheikh Ahmad al-Rashîd
The Hanafî school is one of the trustworthy and accepted schools of Islamic Law. It is, in fact, the oldest of the surviving four schools of thought. Abû Hanîfah, (80-150 AH), was one of the prominent scholars of Islamic Law. He was known for his piety and extraordinary knowledge. He had reached a high level of proficiency and expertise in juristic matters.
Imam al-Shâfi`î said: “All people are dependent in Islamic Law on Abû Hanîfah”. From that time to the present, there have been numerous scholars who followed and supported the Hanafî school of thought.
However, some scholars criticized this school, accusing it of insufficient reliance on hadîth and excessive use of human reasoning. This criticism did not start a few ago, as you have mentioned, but many centuries ago.
The famous judge and Mâlikî scholar, al-Qâdî `Iyâd, who died in 544 AH, said: “Admittedly, he had a very strong mind for considering matters, reasoning, and making astute comparisons. He was a very astute and preeminent thinker in matters of law. However, he was not a preeminent scholar of hadîth, nor was his knowledge broad or extensive enough to make him independent in that field. He is not mentioned in most books of hadîth. The two Sahîh compilations never quote a single word from him.”
Most of the criticism that was levied against him was about his relying upon reason instead of acting upon hadîth. Some even accused him of rejecting authentic hadîth. One of the most prominent scholars who made this accusation was al-Khâtîb al-Baghdâdî, who died in 463 AH.
Other scholars have responded to these criticisms and declared them to be untrue. They demonstrated that Abû Hanifah would always follow the hadîth whenever he found a hadîth to be authentic. They cite statements made by Abû Hanîfah on this matter. They quoted him as saying: “If a hadîth from the Prophet (peace be upon him) reaches us, we will not accept anything else, but we will act upon the hadîth.”
One time he was asked, about what a man must wear when going to Hajj or `Umrah if he does not find the proper clothes. He was asked in that case: “Would you act contrary to the Prophet (peace be upon him)?” His reply to this was: “May Allah curse whoever acts contrary to the Prophet (peace be upon him). By him Allah blessed us and saved us.”
His student, Zafar, said: “Do not listen to what his detractors say. Abû Hanîfah and his companions did not say anything but in accordance with the Qur’an, Sunnah, and authentic statements. Then, after that, they would use analogy to build upon these sources.”
Abû Yûsuf, Abû Hanîfah’s leading student, said: “I never saw anyone better than Abu Hanîfah in hadîth commentary and in undertstanding the subtle meanings found in the hadîth. He had greater insights than I do in determining the authenticity of hadîth.”
In truth, Abû Hanîfah was the same as the other preeminent scholars of Islamic Law. He would use a hadîth if he deemeded it authentic enough to use as evidence. It is unimaginable that he would simply ignore a hadîth and instead give preference to his own opinion.
If we come across an opinion of Abû Hanîfah – or any of the other preeminent scholars of Islamic Law – that differs from the hadîth of the Prophet (peace be upon him), we must excuse him and consider the possibility that he either did not know the hadîth or that it did not reach him with an authentic chain of transmission. It is worth remembering that the compilation of the Sunnah was not as complete during the lifetime of Abû Hanîfah as it was during the lifetimes of the scholars who came after him.
I would like to conclude with something that Ibn Khaldûn had said:
“How could it be possible that the preeminent jurist, Abû Hanîfah, was ignorant of the Sunnah? How could he be ignorant while his preeminence in Islamic law is an admitted fact? And how could it be that the majority of scholars took knowledge from him? In fact, the only thing that al-Qadî ` Iyâd was saying about Abû Hanîfah was that he did not reach the degree of knowledge in hadîth that scholars like Mâlik and Ahmad b. Hanbal reached, for they were preeminent scholars in both Islamic law and hadîth. These prominent people have the right to our good opinion.”
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today