History of Shariah : Hanafi

Abbasid coins during Al-Mu'tamid's reign

Influenced by Greek philosophers whose work had been studied for centuries in Persia, Hanafites assumed God’s rationality. They proposed that Muslims should therefore seek to discern the purpose underpinning His laws, reasoning by analogy (qiyas) where necessary, and departing from earlier understandings of the shari‘a whenever that seemed just.

The Hanafites were logical, in other words – and though the flaws of logic are familiar enough today, that gave them immense confidence in an age unfamiliar with its shortcomings. One of the earliest fruits of their research was development of the hila (pl. hiyal) – a word that literally translates as ‘escape’ or ‘loophole’ – which was as inventive as it sounds. It allowed philanthropists to create charitable trusts in violation of the literal terms of the Qur’an’s inheritance rules, and it gave would-be tax-evaders ways of dodging the zakat.

Before long, the Hanafites would be redefining the Qur’an’s prohibitions on financial speculation in order to lubricate a money economy, complete with paper cash, cheques and letters of credit, half a millennium before canonical lawyers found ways of doing the same in Europe. And their mastery of syllogistic reasoning was capable of accommodating human frailties with equal ease, as early Hanafite arguments about alcohol show.

Noting that the Qur’an disapproved specifically of ‘wine’ (khamr), jurists proposed that God clearly had no objection to fermented date juice (nabidh). Because the holy book warned Muslims against being too drunk to understand their prayers, they reasoned further that the evil of alcohol arose out of the senselessness produced by overindulgence. Intoxication could therefore be defined, they said, as an inability to differentiate between a man and woman. The route was baffling, but the destination was easily defined. If Hanafites were to be believed, Muslims could down alcohol by the jug until they became incapable of telling a slave girl from a beardless boy.

The malleability impressed many people. As Abbasid officials fumbled to balance piety and convenience, they repeatedly turned to Hanafites for help, and though Abu Hanifa himself was supposedly too God-fearing to serve as a judge, students were soon wiping away their dutiful tears and settling down to work on divans across the caliphate. There were others who were considerably more critical, however. Conservatives complained that Hanafites were more interested in expressing their opinions than clarifying God’s law.

Sadakat, Kadri. “Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari‘a Law.”

The reference to Hila or Hiyal (legal tricks) require further research from my side. Currently it stands in a negative light the way author talked about it. Please share any references or readings that you can recommend on the topic.

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