The Imagined Hadithism: Discontinuity between Abu Hanifa and the Imagined Abu Hanifa

25 October, 2023

The ACRPS has published The Imagined Hadithism: Discontinuity between Abu Hanifa and the Imagined Abu Hanifa (264 pp.) by Adnan Falahi. Through a close reading of documents in support of Tammāmist theory, the book casts light on contrasts and discontinuities between “the two Abu Hanifas”: the Abu Hanifa of the ancients, and the “imagined” Abu Hanifa of today. The latter figure is presently offered up – in a form developed and imagined over time by a set of historians, jurists, theologians, and Hadith scholars – as the only such depiction grounded in reality. The term “imagined” in the book’s title borrows from Raed Alsamhouri’s The Imagined Salaf which itself borrows from Azmi Bishara’s work Sectarianism Without Sects (Arabic title Sects, Sectarianism, and Imagined Sects).

The Imagined Hadithism characterizes the dominant perception of “Abu Hanifa the Hadith scholar” that presents him as adhering to the approaches of the likes of al-Shāfiʿī and al-Bukhārī as entirely imagined, distorted, and unrealistic. Falahi argues that there is an essential discontinuity between this depiction and the true figure of Abu Hanifa, whose Hadithism radically diverges from the traditional portrayal.

In the fifth century AH, a theory emerged that Abu Hanifa belongs to the Ahl al-Ḥadīth school because his jurisprudence is based on traditions and reports by individual narrators (aḥādīth wa-akhbār al-āḥād). Scholars have been in consensus that those who lived nearest in time to Abu Hanifa accepted this notion: a theory that compels us to accept that there has been no epistemological split between the principles of Hanafi jurisprudence and its treatment of the Hadith, and the views of the great jurist during his liftetime.

The first chapter provides a concise overview of Abu Hanifa’s life, intellectual background, and education, making mention of his teachers, his disciples, and the ordeals he faced during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Chapter 2 outlines evidence for the great discontinuity between the Hadithism of the historical Abu Hanifa and that of the imagined Abu Hanifa. It examines the veracity of critiques made by a broad segment of Hadith scholars and jurists over the centuries (from the second to the sixth century AH) and by his contemporaries.

Falahi devotes the third chapter to interpreting and categorizing the evidence and critiquing the most prominent modern scholarship on the imagined Hadithism of Abu Hanifa. The fourth and final chapter reviews the study’s findings and sheds light on its central argument as to the discontinuity between Hanafi jurisprudence and the Greatest Imam himself: between Abu Hanifa and his imagined counterpart.

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