A testing beginning of a Prestigious Life:
Imam Abu Yusuf’s rahmatullahi alaihi humble beginnings in the path of knowledge mirror what many young Muslims suffer today from parental displeasure at occupying oneself in acquiring the sacred knowledge of Islam, at the detriment of one’s secular studies or in pursuing a career. Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi had a great passion for studying at a young age, however his father wanted his son to occupy himself in mastering some trade in order to make ends meet. The Imam followed his father’s wishes, but as soon as he was free of his days work he would scurry along to the circles of learning of the scholars. At first, as the Imam puts it:
‘I would go to the scholar Ibn Abi Layla rahmatullahi alaihi, who recognised my potential, however when some issue would arise he would get it solved by Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi. Because of this, deep down in my heart I wanted to study with the Imam and benefit from him, but hurting the feelings of Ibn Abi Layla rahmatullahi alaihi prevented me. Eventually, I did start to frequent the circles of Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi; Once when I was present in his circle, my father appeared and forcibly escorted me back home with him. At home he explained, ‘Son! Allah has made Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaih content about his livelihood, he is wealthy and rich - you are poor and needy, why do you wish to be like him? You should worry about gaining a livelihood.’’
Imam Abu Haneefa (RA) assesses the value of this gem:
Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi says after this bitter episode he reluctantly gave up his studies and started living with his father. A few days passed and Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi noticed the absence of his bright young student from his circle: ‘Why is it that Ya’qub no longer comes?’ he asked the other students. Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi says:
‘When I discovered Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi was asking about me I went to him and told him the whole story, the Imam then surreptitiously handed me a small bag. When I got home, I looked inside and found a thousand Dirhams. The Imam had also said to me: ‘When it finishes let me know’. However with the grace of Allah I never had to ask him, he would give me according to his own estimation regularly.’
A master of many sciences:
From then on Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi became a regular student from the horde of students that sat at the feet of the great Imam. The knowledge of Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi mainly acquired from Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi was that of Fiqh. However it should be noted that he was also highly talented in the field of Hadith and Aathar as well as such auxiliary sciences as history and literature.
The historian Ibn Khaldun rahmatullahi alaihi tells us that Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi had memorised a vast array of histories, from the Maghazi to the Ayyamul Arab. It is also well known that in Hadith he was an authority in his own right, so much so that when the other great Imam-Ahmed rahmatullahi alaihi - began his quest for Ahadith, his first stop was Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi as is recorded by Khatib Al Baghdadi in his Tarikh. Imam Ahmed rahmatullahi alaihi also had this to say about Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi and the Tarafayn (Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi and Imam Muhammad rahmatullahi alaihi):
‘Whenever the opinions of three men agree upon an issue, the disagreement of anyone else will not even be entertained.’ When asked who these three men were, he replied: ‘Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Ibn Al Hasan. The reason being, Abu Hanifah with his insight of Qiyaas takes precedence above all, and Imam Abu Yusuf is ahead of all others in Ahadith and Athar and Muhammad is the Imam of the Arabic language.’
Glimpses form his unparalleled zeal of learning:
Such accolades being heaped upon one man is not down to his having read a few books or spending a few years in studying Fiqh, rather, it is the result of his immense sacrifice and devotion to sacred knowledge. Seldom has the world seen a person more dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge. To give our readers a glimpse into how deeply absorbed the Imam was in knowledge, we present the following two examples from his life:
It has been recorded that Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi was so engrossed in his studies that the frail student was oblivious to partaking of his meals. Often a whole day or two would go by with the Imam untiringly discussing Fiqhi issues with his fellow students from morning till late at night, his counterparts remarking:
‘Yet by the end of the day he seemed as alert and fresh as he was in the morning!’
The second incident may seem a bit strange to us today, but in reality it is the hallmark of the true seeker of knowledge.
It is recorded in several books that after thirty years had passed in the circle of Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi without being absent for a single day. Then one early morning disaster struck the house of Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi when the Imam’s young son became severely ill and died. That morning the funeral prayer was to be held and burial was to take place. The problem was that it meant that the Imam would, after thirty years of diligent attendance have to miss his Imam’s lecture. It bore too heavily on the Imam, that he should be deprived of even a moment of learning, compelling him to arrange for his neighbours to conduct the funeral prayers and see to the burial whilst he could take his place in the circle of the great Imam. Amazing! Especially for those students amongst us who due to a minor cold or headache nonchalantly absent ourselves for hours and even days from our ustadh’s lectures.
True knowledge inherits love, respect and humbleness:
One can fully gorge the depth of Imam Abu Yusuf’s rahmatullahi alaihi knowledge by a study of the famous Hanafi fiqh book al-Hidayah. The arguments and proofs that he gives to bolster his positions often time leaving the reader mesmerised and in awe. On many occasions he takes a position against the other Imams, but this in no way indicates that any sort of rivalry or enmity existed between them. In fact Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi had indescribable awe and each and every word that would leave his mouth, which is shown by the fact that in the text of al-Hidayah in one issue related to Hajj we find the words: “Were a woman to do Tamattu; and then sacrifice a sheep it would not suffice her for the Dam of Tamattu as she performed what was not wajib upon her.” This Masalah applies equally to men and the only person we find the text amiting it to women is because these are the exact words relayed to Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi from his teacher Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi when he asked him the Masalah (which had arisen concerning women). So precious were these words to the Imam he did not even adjust the words to suit the general applicability of the ruling.
In another place in al Hidayah we find the rare phase “… and accordingly to Yaqub,” the explanation for this that Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi stipulated out of deference for his teacher, that “whenever my opinion conflict with the Imam’s relay it from Yaqub” and not from Abu Yusuf.
As for Imam Abu Yusuf’s rahmatullahi alaihi recognition of his colleagues Imam Muhammad rahmatullahi alaihi in term of his immense erudition as shown, for example by the fact that the Imam reduced the Najasah of the urine of such animals that can be eaten from being ghalizah to khafifah because Imam Muhammad rahmatullahi alaihi held contrary to the majority of scholars, that their urine is pure.
On the seat of Chief Justice:
Later on in life Imam Abu Yusuf rahmatullahi alaihi was given the highest legal post in the entire Khilafah; that of qadi ul Qudat, the modern equivalent of a Chief Justice. During the day he’d listen to the cases and give Fatawa. The visitors to his court were amazed at his skill, the most complicated legal issues would be put before him and in a matter of moments he would have them solved. The night would be given over to teaching Hadith and Fiqh. One would imagine one who is so occupied in these affairs would have little time for the worship of his lord, but on the contrary the Imam was able to even with all his duties, offer two hundred Rakaas in Tahajjud every night.
Final moments of a grand living:
The Imam’s rahmatullahi alaihi last moments before departing from this World were spent in pain and restricted to his bed. It is narrated that once, during his time, a visitor entered upon him and noticed the Imam was in a distressed state, the visitor questioned him, “Is it the pangs of death? The Imam replied: “It is not that, the reason for my unease is my fear about what Allah (SWT) will do to me because of a case I judged between a Muslim and a Jew. Though al-Hamdulillah, I judged in the end correctly- in favour of the Jew I cannot forget that in the court the Muslim was seated in a higher position than the Jew (showing inequality).” Allahu Akhbar!, can there be a more strictly example of Taqwa? May Allah bestow upon us the Taqwa of our Predecessors-Ameen.
There are several other Hadiths related about the Imam during his final illness, such as him discussing Figh issues with his visitors in between bouts of unconsciousness. It is recorded that just before he died he said: “O Allah! You know that I never intentionally judged against the apparent. I have always gave your Book and the Sunnah of your Messenger predence over all else. And whenever a complex issue would arise I would use Imam Abu Hanifah rahmatullahi alaihi as my source, and to my knowledge he used to understand your laws fully, never leaving the bounds of the Truth on purpose. I thank Allah (SWT) and it is His blessing upon me that I never knowingly opposed anyone nor ever favoured any side, whether king or subject. O Allah! You are aware that I never intentionally partook of anything forbidden nor consumed any unlawful dirhams…”