Before Malik and Abu Hanifa’s encounter, Imam Malik used to say, “Beware of the people of opinion.” Abu Hanifa’s school was called the “school of opinion.” Before their meeting, there was a lot of talk and exchange of letters but they only met during the rituals of the Hajj.
When they finally met, they chose to address three issues which were viewed differently by each party. The first jurisprudential issue was about how to address hypothetical questions; things that had not taken place yet. In Imam Malik’s juristic school of thought, we should not imagine situations and ask about things that have not happened, as this distracts people from already existing issues and lead to controversy. Imam Malik brought his evidence from various ayahs and ahadith. He stated the ayah where Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “They ask you concerning the new moons (Literally: crescents).” (TMQ, 2:189). Such questions are meaningless. Allah (SWT) replies in the ayah, that can be translated as, “Say, “They are fixed times for mankind, and (for) the Pilgrimage.” (TMQ, 2:189)
His other evidence was that Omar Ibnul-Khattab (RA) cursed the one who asked about situations that have not happened and used to say, “Do not engage us with things that have not happened, keep people busy with the truth instead.”
People used to come to Imam Malik and ask him hypothetical questions and he used to get angry and tell them not to ask about things that have not happened yet. Those people were usually from Iraq where Imam Abu Hanifa was, who supported this kind of questions.
As for Imam Abu Hanifa, his approach was based on inventing situations that have not happened. He invented 60, 000 such situations.
In their meeting Imam Malik disapproved Imam Abu Hanifa’s view. Abu Hanifa replied that the circumstances in Iraq are different from Madinah. Iraq is the capital of the Caliphate and everyday there are new things being introduced and they should be prepared, while in Madinah problems are fixed and limited.
Then, he gave an example when he discussed with his students a situation of a woman whose husband traveled and was absent for so long that she thought he was dead and hence she married another man. Suddenly, the man returned. What should be done then? Imam Malik wondered why they would ask about things that have not happened, but Abu Hanifa said that in Iraq, where soldiers went on conquests, this might occur and they should be ready for such situation. Imam Malik was silent.
Imam Abu Hanifa reminded him of what the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said when a man came to him saying, “Imagine if a man comes to take my money, what shall I do?” The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told him not to give it to him. The man asked again, “Imagine if he fights me?” The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) urged him to fight him too. The man asked, “Imagine if he killed me? The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that he would be a martyr. The man asked once more “Imagine if I killed him?” The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that the man killed would go to the hellfire.
Abu Hanifa said that the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was asked by about a hypothetical situation four times. When Malik said that this was for a purpose, Abu Hanifa replied, “In Iraq we do it for a purpose too.” Then, Al-Layth Ibn-Sa’ad said, “Glory to Allah. By Allah, you are enriching Islam.” Imam Malik kept people away from indulging in trivial issues and Imam Abu Hanifa was questioning the future to protect people. That was what the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did. He forbad asking about things that are hypothetical and replied to an important situation that could happen in the future.
Both Imams reached a conclusion of holding on to what they were doing, but to then integrate both approaches for the benefit of Islam.
The four principles previously mentioned certainly to this debate. Their difference of opinion is a natural phenomenon because the minds and environment of Iraq are unlike those of Madinah. Their difference of opinion resulted in an environment that enriched Islam. The calm and honest dialogue helped in presenting the various opinions and truths from all aspects. Meanwhile, the manner of conversation between both men was civilized, polite and outstanding.
The issues they discussed were not petty. Nowadays some people leave the obligatory issues related to the unity of the Muslims and dispute over trivial matters. Both Imams differed on core issues, but there was love and understanding between them.
The second issue which the imams disagreed on was that of the consensuses. In Islam, in order to reach a solution for any question is look it up in the Qur’an. If you did not find it, to look it up in ahadith, if not; then apply the rule of the consensus of the scholars.
Imam Malik believed that the consensus should be that agreed by the people of Madinah only because the companions of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) lived and died there and so did his nine wives who saw all his actions and witnessed all his deeds. They are about 10,000 companions.
A man came to Imam Malik and asked him about disputed matters. The Imam said, “Search for the opinion of the people of Madinah. When you find it, be sure that it is the truth.” He said to another one, “You can find knowledge in Madinah, as Qur’an was not revealed in Euphrates (meaning Iraq and Abu Hanifa’s school).”
Imam Abu Hanifa was 13 years older than Imam Malik, yet he respected him. He replied, “Malik, the conquests during the reign of Omar Ibnul-Khattab distributed the Companions (RA) all over the world. You say that in Madinah there are 10,000 companions. In the last battle of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) there were about 120,000 companions, so where are the rest? You cannot deny that Omar Ibnul-Khattab sent the companions particularly to teach people in different countries.”
He started to numerate some companions such as Mo’az Ibn-Jabal whom the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) described to be the most knowledgeable and sent him to Yemen. Also, he mentioned Abdullah Ibn-Mas’od whose way of reciting Qur’an was recommended by the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) for the people. He added the names of Abu-Dthar, Zobair Ibnul-A’wam, and Sa’ad Ibn-Abu-Waqqas in Egypt, Hudthayfa Ibnul-Yaman, Abdullah Ibn-Mas’od, and Ali Ibn-Abu-Talib in Iraq, Abu-Ubayda Ibnul-Jaraah, Bilal and Abul-Dardaa’ in Syria, etc.
Then, he narrated the hadith of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) where he said that his companions are like the stars any of which can guide people. Imam Abu Hanifa went on to say that the brilliance of Omar Ibnul-Khattab is what led him to send the companions all over world and kept some in Madinah to keep a balance. Thus, Imam Abu Hanifa showed Imam Malik that the distribution of the companions was for the sake of the integration of the ummah.
Al-Layth ibn Sa’d said, “By Allah, this also, is an integration of the ummah.”
When you look from another angle you can see another aspect of the truth. This is the virtue of difference; to help you see the truth from all its aspects. If all people think alike, they will see only one side of the truth, but Allah (TWT) whose name is the Truth wants you to see all the sides.
The third issue tackled in the meeting was about the school of opinion and hadith. Imam Abu Hanifa expands the explanation of the ahadith to the extent that he concluded 100 lessons from one hadith. Imam Malik saw that it as an exaggeration and overloading the hadith which the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did not want.
Imam Abu Hanifa replied that in Iraq, Greek, Roman and Persian philosophies and sciences are invading them, so he needs to keep people fixed on the path of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). That is why he was searching in ahadith to counter the new ideas. On the other hand in Madinah, there are none but the companions and their followers, so there is no need for expansion in elaborating ahadith. Al-Layth Ibn-Sa’ad said, “This too is integration” Both Imams complement one another in keeping Islam.
If you discuss your problems calmly and honestly with your wife of husband, many problems will be solved. Similarly, if the politicians in Iraq, Darfur, and Lebanon, the religious scholars and the scientists do the same, many problems will be solved.
After the two Imams left the meeting, Al-Layth Ibn-Sa’ad, an Egyptian Imam whose juristic school of thought was just as superior as the other four Imams but had no students to spread it, was keen on knowing the impression of both sides.
He went to Imam Malik and asked him. Malik wiped his sweat and said, “By Allah, Abu Hanifa made me sweat. By Allah, he is a true jurist. I’ve never seen a man debating like that. By Allah, if he told you that this iron rod is made out of gold, he would convince you.”
Al-Layth went to Imam Abu Hanifa who said, “I debated hundreds of men, but have never seen a man accept the truth as fast as him.”
We need to teach the coming generations these manners. This is important for everyone; journalists, politicians, people working in the media, scholars, husbands and wives, parents and children.
What happened after that? First, Imam Abu Hanifa sent his son Hammaad to Madinah to learn the jurisprudential approach of Malik and his book ‘Al-Mu’ata’. Then, Imam Malik asked for the books of Abu-Hnifa to benefit from them.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Ibn ul-Hasan, a student of Abu Hanifa’s, held a session in Iraq to present the approach of Malik.
Once, Imam Abu Hanifa sent to Imam Malik consulting him on an issue before announcing his opinion to the public. Abu Hanifa did not agree about naming a sinful person a disbeliever. Imam Malik agreed, so Abu Hanifa announced it. This did not arise from one meeting only, but there were numerous correspondences which contributed more to their integration.
The Abbassid Caliph Al-Mansour once came to Imam Malik offering him to cancel all other jurisprudential approaches, making Malik’s approach prevail, and also writing his book in gold and keeping it inside the Ka’ba.
Imam Malik who once rejected all other approaches and asserted on the opinion of the people of Madinah told him not to do so because the companions of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) are spread all over the world. Those were Abu Hanifa’s words from their encounter.
Look at the superb manners and morals of differentiating with someone as well as handling the truth.
The first principle indicates that difference is a universal fact that needs to be respected. You have to respect that variation is a part of our existence. The second principle shows that variation complements us; it is an advantage and not a drawback. You have to look at this as an enriching advantage. The third principle is that at the moment of dispute, calm and honest dialogue helps you see the truth from all perspectives. Truth is one, but it has many aspects and paradigms. The fourth and final principle is that at the moment of conflict; never forget the proper manners of dialogue. You must believe in those four principles as the basis of coexistence.