Imam Abu Hanifa (Rahmatullah Alayh) on Imaan (Faith)

By: Muhammad Abu Zahra

There are different transmissions  about what Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) says about faith. The one we can be most  sure about is: “Faith is affirmation and confirmation.” He said that Islam is submission and obedience to Allah’s command.  Linguistically, there is a difference between faith and Islam, but there is no faith  without Islam and no Islam  without faith. They are like the outward is to the inward. The  deen is the name given to faith,  Islam and the laws of the Shari‘ah. [al-Fiqh al-Akbar, p.11]

So we see that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) did not  consider faith to be pure  affirmation by the heart alone. He thought that its reality was  confirmation by the heart and  affirmation by the tongue. He  made his views on that clear in a debate between himself and Jahm ibn Safwan. Al-Makki states in The Virtues:

“Jahm ibn Safwan went to Imam Abu Hanifa to debate with him about kalam. When he met him, he said, ‘Abu Hanifa, I have come to discuss with you some questions which I have prepared.’ Imam Abu Hanifa said, ‘Speaking with you is shame and delving into what you are in is a blazing  fire.’ 

He (Safwan) asked, ‘How can you  judge me as you do when you  have not heard what I say nor  learned it from me?’
Imam Abu Hanifa replied, ‘Words have been transmitted to me from you which the people of prayer do not utter.’ 

Safwan said, ‘Then you judge me  in absentia!’ 
He (Imam Abu Hanifa) replied, ‘You are well-known for that. It is known among both the common and elite and so I am permitted to  assert that about you.’

He (Safwan) said, ‘Abu Hanifa!, I will not ask you about anything except faith.’ Safwan asked him, ‘Do you  not recognise faith until the Final Hour so that you have to ask me about it?’
‘Yes,’ the Imam replied, ‘but I am uncertain about it in one  area.’ Imam Abu Hanifa retorted, ‘Doubt  in faith is disbelief.’
He (Safwan) said, ‘It is only lawful for you to clarify how you attach disbelief to me.’ He (Imam Abu Hanifa) said, ‘Ask.’

Jahm said, ‘Tell me about someone who recognises Allah in his heart and knows that He is One with no partner or like and  acknowledges Allah with His  attributes and that there is nothing like Him and then dies  before articulating it on his  tongue: does he die a believer or unbeliever?’ 
Imam Abu Hanifa replied, ‘An  unbeliever and one of the people  of the Fire unless he articulates it  with his tongue along with what  he knows in his heart.’

Jahm asked, ‘How can he not be a  believer when he acknowledges  Allah with His attributes?’
Imam Abu Hanifa said, ‘If you believe in  the Qur’an and accept it as  evidence, I will speak to you using it. If you believe in it and but do  not accept it as evidence, I will speak to you as one speaks to  someone who opposes the  religion of Islam.’ 

Jahm replied, ‘As someone who  believes in the Qur’an and acceptsit as evidence.’ 
Imam Abu Hanifa said, ‘In His Book, Allah Almighty makes belief involve two limbs: the heart and the tongue.  
“The Almighty says: ‘When they listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see  their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they recognise of the truth. They say, “Our Lord, we believe! So write us down with the witnesses. How could we not believe in Allah, and the truth that has come to us, when we long for our Lord to include us among the people of righteousness?” Allah will reward them for what they say with Gardens with rivers flowing under them, remaining in them timelessly, forever. That is the recompense of all good-doers.’ [5:83-85] So He connected the Garden to both recognition and word and made the believer someone with two limbs: the heart and tongue. 

“Allah also says: ‘Say, “We believe in Allah and what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to Ibrahim and  Isma‘il and Ishaq and Ya‘qub and the Tribes, and what Musa and ‘Isa were given, and what all the Prophets were given by their  Lord. We do not differentiate between any of them. We are Muslims submitting to Him.” If they believe the same as you believe then they are guided.’ [2:136-137]

“Imam Abu Hanifa continued to quote ayats and hadiths to this effect. Then he stated, ‘If words had not been necessary and mere  recognition adequate, Allah would not have mentioned verbal articulation. Iblees would have been a believer because he recognised his Lord and knew that he disobeyed Him.’”

Al-Makki added to what Imam Abu Hanifa said, regarding someone who dies with faith butwithout affirming it dying an unbeliever, that it means that when he is suspect since he has neither affirmed or openly declared his faith, then he dies an unbeliever. When there is no suspicion, as when he is on an island or in a desert, then he is not an unbeliever. So Imam Abu Hanifa affirms that faith has two parts: firm belief and outward  verbal acknowledgement of it. The verbal declaration is necessary.

Thus it is reported from Imam Abu Hanifa that he divided faith  into three, and that someone who believes with his heart, affirming it in himself, is a believer with Allah, even if he is not a believer  with people. Al-Intiqa’ clarifies what Imam Abu Hanifa thought of faith and its categories: “Faith is recognition, affirmation and declaration of Islam. People are in three stages in respect of affirmation: some affirm Allah with heart and tongue; some affirm with the tongue and deny with the heart; and some affirm with the heart and deny with the  tongue. As for the person who affirms Allah and what has come from the Messenger of Allah with his heart and tongue, he is a believer with Allah and with people. If someone affirms with his tongue and denies with his heart, he is an unbeliever with Allah and a believer with people  because people do not know what is in a person’s heart and they call him a believer because of his  public declaration of the shahadah. They do not speak of the heart. The other is a believer with Allah and an unbeliever with  people. This is the one who displays disbelief on his tongue through taqiyya.” [p. 368]

As we see, the school of Imam Abu Hanifa affirms that action is  not part of faith. He was opposed in this by two groups; by the Mu‘tazilites and Kharijites who 
considered action to be part of belief so that someone who does not act is not a believer; and by a group of the fuqaha’ and  hadith scholars who thought  that action was an integral part  of belief and affected it so that it can increase and decrease,  without that affecting its basic existence. In that view someone who does not carry out the rulings of the Shari‘ah is considered a believer if the  principle of affirmation exists, but his faith is not considered complete. Hence faith increases  and decreases.

Faith neither Increases nor

Imam Abu Hanifa did not believe  that faith increases and  decreases. He considered the  faith of the people of Heaven and the people of Earth to be the  same. He said, “The faith of the  people of earth and the people of the heavens is the same; and the faith of the first and the last and the Prophets is the same because we all believe in Allah alone and affirm Him, even if there are many different obligations. Disbelief is  one and the attributes of the unbeliever  are many. All of us  believe in what the Messengers  believe, but they have a better reward than we do for faith and all acts of obedience; since they are better in actions, they are better in all matters: reward and  otherwise. This does not wrong us because it does not diminish our due. It increases our esteem for them because they are the models for people and the  trustees of Allah. No one has the  same rank as they do and people  only reach excellence by them; all who enter the Garden enter by their call.” [al-Bazzaziyyah, pt. 2, p.141]. Many later scholars disagreed with Imam Abu Hanifa’s view on this.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s position was  that belief is confirmation and it  does not increase or decrease,  and so he did not consider those  who disobey the Shari‘ah to be  unbelievers since they have their  basis of faith. The disobedient are believers who have a mixture of righteous and evil action. Perhaps Allah will turn to them.

These assertions of Imam Abu Hanifa are based on sound logic in conformity with the principle  of promise and threat contained by the Qur’an. Scholars and fuqaha’ accept it. Imam Malik  agreed with Imam Abu Hanifa on this matter. ‘Umar ibn Hammad ibn Abi Hanifa said, “I met Malik ibn Anas and stayed  with him and listened to his  knowledge. When I had got what  I wanted and desired to depart, I  told him, ‘I fear that you will have hostile and envious people telling you things about Imam Abu Hanifa which do not tally with his  true position. I want to make his  position clear to you. If you are  pleased with it, that is it. If you  have something better, I will learn it.’ ‘Go ahead,’ he replied. I said, ‘He does not consider a believer to be an unbeliever on account of committing a sin.’ He said, ‘He did well,’ or ‘He was correct.’ I said, ‘He said more than that. He  used to say, “Even if he commits  atrocious actions, I do not consider him an unbeliever.”’ He said, ‘He was correct.’ I went on, ‘He says more.’ ‘What is that?’ he asked, ‘He said, “Even if he kills a man deliberately, I do not consider him an unbeliever.”’ He said, ‘He was correct.’ I said, ‘This  is his position. If someone tells you otherwise, do not believe him.’” [al-Makki, pt. 2, p.77]

Some people misconstrued his  position and he explained this in  al-Fiqh al-Akbar: “We do not say  that sins do not harm the  believer nor do we say that he  will not enter the Fire. We do say  that he will not be in it for eternity, even if he is a deviant,  provided he leaves this world a  believer. We do not say that his  good deeds are accepted and his  evil ones forgiven as the  Murji’ites say. He (Allah Ta’ala) is subject to the will of Him who  will punish him in the Fire if He wills and forgive him if He wills.”

We can state that the  disagreement regarding people  who commit major sins has three branches.

One are those groups  who do not consider them believers at all – the Kharijites and the  Mu‘tazilites. 

The second are those who say that disobedience is not harmful when there is beliefand that Allahforgives all sins – the blameworthy Murji’ites. 

The third are the majority of scholars who say that a rebel is  not an unbeliever and that a good action is multiplied ten times and  that an evil deed is only counted  as one, and that the pardon of Allah is not limited or confined.  Imam Abu Hanifa was one of  these; and it is the opinion of the  majority of Muslims, which would make the majority of Muslims  Murji’ites by this definition. The  term Murji’ites, however, is normally confined to the second group.


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