Imam Abu Hanifa (699 - 765) was an important Islamic scholar and jurist and is considered the founder of the Hanifi school of fiqh.

Imam Abu Hanifa was born in Kufa, Iraq in 699. His father was a trader from Persia. Abu Hanifa's early education was achieved through madrassahs and it is here that he learned the Quran and Hadith, and he did exceptionally well.

Imam Abu Hanifa joined his father's business, where he showed scrupulous honesty and fairness. His agent in another country once sold some silk cloth on his behalf but forgot to point out a slight defect to the customers. When Abu Hanifa learnt of this, he was greatly distressed because he had no means of returning the money to the customers. So he immediately ordered the entire proceeds of the sale of the consignment of silk to be distributed to the poor.

Imam Abu Hanifa was keenly interested in education. He established a school at Kufa, which later became a famous College of Theology. Here Imam Abu Hanifa lectured on religious subjects.

Islamic law (fiqh) was systematically studied by his students under his guidance. A number of his devoted and highly intelligent students worked under him for thirty years, and it is their labor which produced the Hanifi school of Islamic jurisprudence.

Imam Abu Hanifa was probably the most liberal of the four great Imams of fiqh. The Hanifi fiqh is thus the most flexible and adaptable. He saw Islamic law as an organic growth in which changes would be necessary from time to time as society changed. He advocated the use of reason based on the Quran and the Sunnah in the consideration of religious questions.

In 763 al-Mansur, the Abbasid ruler of Baghdad, offered Abu Hanifa the post of Chief Judge of the State, but the Imam declined to accept the offer choosing to remain independent.

In his reply to al-Mansur, the Imam excused himself by saying that he did not regard himself fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused the Imam of lying.

"If I am lying," the Imam said, "then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qadi?"

Incensed by this reply, the ruler had Imam Abu Hanifa arrested and locked in prison. Even there, Imam Abu Hanifa continued to teach those who were permitted to come to him.

In 765 Imam Abu Hanifa died in prison. So many people attended his funeral that the funeral service was repeated six times before the Imam was actually buried.