The Four Great Imâms
In the second century of Hijra arose the great four doctors of jurisprudence who codified the Islamic Law according to the needs of their time.
The first of these scholars was Imâm Abû-Hanîfa Al-Nu’mân ibn Thâbit, born at Basra [80 A.H.] [A.D. 699] – died A.D. 767 – His centre of activity was at Kufa. The basis of his analogical reasoning, known by qiyâs [analogy] was the Glorious Qu’ran, and he accepted hâdîth only when he was fully satisfied as to its authenticity. The great collector of hâdîth had not yet commenced their work of collection, and Kûfa itself was not a great centre of the branch of learning. It was Imâm Abû-Hanîfa who first directed attention to the great value of qiyâs or analogical reasoning in legislation which was held by Muslims to be fourth foundation of the Islamic jurisprudence after the source of ijmâ’. The principle of qiyâs will be dealt with later. Imâm Abâ Hanîfa had two renowned disciples, Imâm Muhammad Ibn Al-Hassan and Imâm Abû-Yûsuf, and it is mostly their view of the great master’s teaching that now forms the basis of the Hanafi School system.
Next comes Imâm Mâlik ibn Anas, the second great scholar. He was born at Medîna in the year 93 A.H. [A.D. 713], and worked and died there at the age of 82. He limited himself almost entirely to the hadîth which he found and collected at Al-Medina, relating more especially to the practice which prevailed there, and his system of jurisprudence is based entirely on the traditions and practices of the people of Al-Medina. His book, known as Muwatta, is the first collection of hadîth and one of the most authoritative books of tradition and Sunnah.
The third of great scholar was Imâm Muhammad ibn Idris Alshâf’I, he was born in Palestine in the year 150 A.H. [A.D. 767]. He passed his youth at Makkah but he worked for the most part in Egypt, where he died in 204 A.H. In his day, he was unrivalled for his knowledge of the Glorious Qu’ran, and took immense pains in studying the Sunnah, travelling from one place to another in search of information. His school was based chiefly on Sunnah. Over the Mâliki system, which is also based on Sunnah, the Shâf’i system has the advantage that the hadîth made use of by Imâm Shâf’i was more extensive, and was collected from different centres, while Imâm Mâlik contented himself only with what he found at Al-Medina.
Imâm Ahmad Ibn Hanbal
Last of the four great Imâms was Imâm Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who was born at Baghdâd in the year 164 A.H. and died there in 241 A.H. he too made a very extensive study of hadîth. His famous work on the subject is known as Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, containing thousands of hadîths. This monumental compilation is based on the material collected by the Imâm himself. His collection of hadîths is not arranged according to subject matter but under the name of the companion to whom a hadîth is ultimately traced.
While the system of Abû-Hanîfa applied reasoning very freely and sought to deduce all questions from the Glorious Qu’ran by the help of reason, the system of Ibn Hanbal is distinguished by the fact that it makes reserved use of reason and judgment.
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