A giant among giants, Imam Abu Haneefa towers high among the sages who have graced Islamic history. He was like a huge mirror vaulting from horizon to horizon, reflecting the Light of the Prophet. These reflections empowered generation after generation to see the Light and bask in its warmth. A great majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world today (circa 2010 CE) follow the School of Fiqh named after him.
Al Imam al A’zam (the Great Imam), as he is referred to by those who adore him, was the first to define the processes that govern usool e Fiqh (the principles of Fiqh). He preceded Imam Malik by ten years, Imam Shafii by a generation and Imam Ahmed by a hundred years. Imam Abu Haneefa studied with Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq. In turn, the other great Imams had the benefit of the legacy of Imam Abu Haneefa when they took on the monumental task of codifying Fiqh.
That Imam Abu Haneefa was one of the greatest of the mujtahideen is well known. What is not commonly known is that he was also a great city planner, responsible for the planning of the city of Baghdad when it was founded by the Caliph al Mansur in 765 CE. Abu Haneefa was a mathematician of the first magnitude. He was aware of the concepts of specific density and specific volume and implemented them in practice. As a philosopher, his work anticipated the Hegelian dialectic by more than a thousand years. The Hegelian dialectic (named after Hegel the German philosopher of the 17th century) is one of the basic principles of Western philosophy. Its premise is that a higher collective truth emerges when multiple individual truths compete. To cap it all, Abu Haneefa was no hermit, or a pure academician, cloistering himself in a monastery or a mosque. He was a rich man, a successful merchant, a wonderful human being who lived among common folk with the zest and enthusiasm of a believer and contributed to the life of the community that he was a part of.
The Tigris River kisses the tomb of this mujtahid as it meanders through the now battered city of Baghdad. Located approximately six kilometers from the city center, the mosque of Abu Haneefa complex spreads out in the district of Al A’zamiyah which is named after him. It attracts pilgrims from Turkey, Bosnia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India , Bangladesh, indeed from all over the Islamic world. The cemetery is old. During the Abbasid period (751 to 1258 CE) it was called Maqbaratul Khaysarun, named after the mother of the famed Caliph Harun al Rashid (763-809CE). It has the tombs of many of the Abbasid Caliphs and dignitaries.
Gazing at the Abu Haneefa mosque from across the Tigris River on the west bank is the tomb of another great savant, Imam Musa al Kazim. The district is named after him and is called Al Kazimiyah. Musa al Kazim (745-799CE) was the seventh imam in the lineage of ahl-e-bait in the Ithna Ashari Shia tradition. The Tigris River divides the two tombs and in a wistful simile symbolizes the Shia-Sunni divide that runs through Islamic history as does the river Tigris through the divided city of Baghdad. It is said among the believers on both sides that the two great scholars, Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Musa al Kazim talk to each other in the early hours of the morning bemoaning the Shia-Sunni fitna that has engulfed Baghdad and urging the believers to build a bridge. Indeed, a bridge was built connecting the two mosques early in the twentieth century. The Shias and the Sunnis could not agree whether to call it the al-A’azamiyah bridge or the al Kazimiyah bridge. Therefore, a compromise was reached and it was simply called Burj al Imamiyah (the Bridge of the Imams).
The story of Imam Abu Haneefa is the story of the famed city of Baghdad. With the Abbasid Revolution of 750 CE, the center of gravity of political power shifted from the Arab heartland to Persia and Central Asia. Acknowledging this shift in power, the Caliph al Mansur wished to relocate his capital from Damascus, Syria. Iraq, sandwiched between Persia and the Arab world was the logical choice. Imam Abu Haneefa was commissioned by the Caliph to locate and plan a site for the new capital. Abu Haneefa chose the current location, around a bend of the River Tigris, paying careful attention to defense and communications. To obtain the concurrence of the Caliph, Abu Haneefa marked out the geometrical layout of the planned capital, showing in detail the location of the palace, the mosque, the market place, the residential areas and the fort. Then he sprinkled cotton seeds over the marked outlines. Selecting a moonless night when there was little background radiation, Imam Abu Haneefa set fire to the cotton seeds. One of the characteristics of cotton seeds is that they radiate a brilliant light when they are ignited. Using the ignited cotton seeds as his guide, Imam Abu Haneefa showed the outline of the planned city to the Caliph from a tower specially constructed for observation on the occasion. The Caliph was pleased and authorized the construction to begin.
A large number of bricks were needed for the construction of the city. Factories went up all around the selected site but there was no quality control, of either weight or size. Imam Abu Haneefa prescribed that each brick must meet specific requirements of dimensions and weight. In addition, he stipulated that the bricks, once delivered, be stacked in cubical piles of prescribed dimensions so that the total number of bricks in each pile was one thousand. In this manner, he introduced the concepts of specific density and specific volume and applied them in a major architectural project.
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