Introducing Imam Abu Hanifa, ‘This is the world’s greatest alim’, remarked the righteous Zahid and Abid Isa bin Musa (Rahimaullah) as they sat in front of the Abbasi Khalifa, Mansoor. The Khalifa asked the Imam, ‘Who did you learn from?’
The Imam responded, ‘I learned from the students of Hazrat Umar who had learned from Sayeduna Umar and from students of Hazrat Ali who had learned from Sayeduna Ali and from the students Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood who had learned from Sayeduna Ibn Masood (Radi Allahu anhum ajmaeen).’ The Khalifa replied, ‘You have learned from solid and secure places.’ (Al-Khairat Al-Hassan: 18)
Hazrat Huzaifa (Radi Allahu anhu) was asked, ‘Tell us of someone who was the closest to the seerat and character of Nabi Al-Kareem (Sall Allahu alaihi wasallam) so we can learn from him.’ He replied, ‘I know of no one closer than Abdullah bin Masood (Radi Allahu anhu) who was closer to Nabi Al-Kareem (Sall Allahu alaihi wasallam).’ (Bukhari, Kitab of Al-Manaqib, Chapter Abdullah bin Masood)
The Imam of Ahl-us Sunnat references Muhaddith Mulla Ali Qari that, ‘Our Imams says that after the four Khulafa, the most faqih was Sayeduna Abdullah bin Masood (Radi Allahu anhu). Imam ul-Azam would give tarjeeh (precedence) to his sayings and narrations after the those of the Four Khulfa. (Fatawa Radaviyah, V 5, P 312 with reference to Mirqat Sharah Mishkat)
In Madinah, the Fuqha collected the fatawa (verdicts) of Hazrat Aisha, Ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas and the tabieen that followed. In Iraq, the Fuqha collected the fatawa of Hazrat Ibn Masood and Hazrat Ali as well the Qadi Shuraih and the Qudha (judges). The directions of the Fuqha became the bases of the people and so there were Fatawa collections of Hazrat Ibrahim Nakhai and Imam Hammad, the Ustadh of Imam Abu Hanifa. These collections were not formal books which the mujtahid had noted from their predecessors as sayings and verdicts which would were memorized, taught, and examined. They would be referenced as needed. (Hayat Imam Abu Hanifa, 338)
Imam al-Azam (Radi Allahu anhu) is celebrated for his accomplishment of having formulated the usool and qawaid of extracting masail based on the Prophetic tradition and the Sahaba’s methodology. By this effort, fiqh took on the shape of a formal science so that future scholars and judges would have means to solve and explain ahkaam.
Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehelvi (Rahimullah) says, ‘Formal categories of ahkam was not seen in the time Rasoolullah (Sall Allahu alaihi wasallam). Without the formal mention of rukn, wajib, mustab, the Sahaba would simply perform wudu and offer Salat as they would see Him (Alaihis Salaam) perform wudu and offer Salat. The Sahaba would simply perform the worships as they would see them rather than inquire in detail about the fard, wajib, etc.
After Nabi al-Kareem (Alahis Salaato watasleem) time, during and after the Khulafa Ar-Rashidun, the borders widened. The Scholars and Mujtahid Sahaba turned to ijtihad and istimbaat, they in quested and extracted rulings from Quran and Sunnat to solve the questions that were rising.
To provide details, ways and obligations of ibadaat (worship) became a need that grew and grew. For example, Salat has components, rukn, fard, wajib, sunnat, musthab, it was not as if every part was fard. What was necessarily needed for Salat to be complete. Orders would now have to be clarified for the people and for their Imams, when to do Sajda Sahw, when to repeat, when is the prayer nullified, when is it makruh, etc.’ (Seerat-un Nu’man, 219)
In order to formulate Fiqh (laws) in light of the Quran and Sunnat, Imam al-Azam composed a board of forty of his most distinguished students who were eminent in their fields and made a Fiqh Council. The board consisted of Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Dawood Taa’ee, Hazrat Yahya bin Abi Zaidah and Hazrat Hafs bin Ghiyaath. There was also Hazrat Abdullah bin Mubarak who was had a prominent proficiency in Hadith and Asaar, Hazrat Qaasim bin Ma’n and Imam Muhammad who were experts in Arabic and grammer, and Imam Zufar who was robust in istimbaat (extraction).
Imam Zufar (Rahimahullah) says, ‘Imam Al-Azam (Radi Allahu anhu) and his disciples would not speak outside of Quran and Sunnat. If a matter was not found in the Quran and Sunnat, they would seek the sayings and deeds of the Sahaba Al-Kiraam. If the matter was not solved there, they would perform Qiyaas based in the light of Quran and Sunnat.’ (Manaqib lil-Muwaffaq, 118)
Among the forty board, there was a special bench of ten or twelve (10 or 12), with Imam al-Azam, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Zufar, Dawood Taa’ee, Abdullah bin Mubarak, Yahya bin Zakariyya, Hiban bin Ali, Imam Mandil bin Ali, Aa’fiya bin Yazeed, Ali bin Mis’ar, Ali bin Tibyaan, Qaasim bin Ma’n and Asad bin Amr were in this bench which would finalize the issue and write it down.
All the Muhadditheen of Sihah Sitta were direct or indirect students of Imam Al-azam. Sufyān ibn `Uyaynah, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Hamzah bin Muqri, Ibaad bin Al-Awaam, Ali bin Mis’ar, Qaasim bin Ma’n, Hasan bin Salih, Abu bakr bin Ayyash, Isa bin Yunus, Ishaq bin Yusuf, Shuaib bin Ishaq, Abdul Warith bin Saeed, Muhammad bin Bishr, and Hammad bin Zayd were some of the distinguished students of Imam al-Azam who themselves were among the teachers and mashaikh of the Muhadditheen of Sihah Sitta. Imam Nawawi (Rahmaullah) has also counted Imam Sufyan Thawri has his student.
The other three Noble Imams were direct or indirect students of Imam al-Azam. Imam Malik was the student of Imam al-Azam, Imam Shafai was the student of Imam Muhammad bin Hasan and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal was the student of Imam Abu Yusuf, both Imam Muhammad and Imam Abu Yusuf were two of the most famous of Imam al-Azam’s students.