Professor Kamran Riaz narrates a story of how Imam abu Hanifa dealt with questions of faith and belief, telling a story:
“A man once came to the learning-circle of Imām Abū Hanīfah (may God have mercy on his soul) and asked the great Imam whether or not his neighbour was a Muslim. He asked the Imam that if his neighbour died, if he had to wash his body, bury him, and pray the janāzah prayer over him.
Imam Abu Hanīfah asked him, “Why do you think that he is not a Muslim?”
The man replied, “My neighbor says the following seven things, and because of this, I do not know whether or not he is still a Muslim. The first thing is that he says he has no imān (faith) in the signs of Allah that he sees. The second is that he says that he does not fear Allah. The third is that he says he does not have any hope for Paradise. The fourth is that he says he does not fear the Hell-Fire. The fifth is that when he prays, we see him praying without any bowing (rukū`) or prostration (sajdah). The sixth is that he says he eats meat that he already finds dead. The seventh, and last statement, is that he says that he doesn’t like truth (haqq) and he loves corruption/chaos (fitnah).”
The Imam smiled and looked around his circle of students and fellow scholars. He asked them, “What do you say after listening to this account? Is this man’s neighbor a Muslim?”…
The students all looked around at one another, confident that this matter was quite easy. They looked to the senior most student-scholar of the gathering, Qādī Abū Yūsuf (may God have mercy on his soul), who also had the same look on his face that this matter was quite clear. Abu Yusuf confidently said to the Imam that the opinion of all the scholar-students present was that this man was not a Muslim.
Abu Hanīfah smiled and asked if this was the students’ final decision, and they all replied in the affirmative. The Imam remained quite pensive for a while, then he smiled and said, “Have you not heard the hadith of the Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him) wherein he said, “Think good of the believers (Zunnu bi’l-mu’minīna khayran)”. He continued and said, “If a man’s faith can be divided into 100 parts, and if 99 of them are corrupted and false, and even one is sound and whole, then we look at that sound part first, disregard the other 99 parts, and consider him as a believer.”
He continued, “However, this case goes beyond simply just that. In fact, after hearing this man’s description of his neighbor, I am quite pleased to listen to his narration and I wish that every believer would have a similar creed (`aqīdah) as this man’s neighbor.”
A hush fell over the students. They thought to themselves, How could the great Imam make such a statement? How could he not only give this man excuses, but then say that every believer should have a similar creed?
Abū Hanīfah continued, “I will now explain to you why I have made such a statement and tell you why that perhaps this man’s creed is a model for all believers.
“As for the first statement, that he says he has no faith in the signs of Allah that he sees. Have you not read the verses in the Qur’an when Prophet Musa (`alayhi al-salām) asks Allah to show him Himself: ‘And when Musa came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said: My Lord! show me (Thyself), so that I may look upon Thee. He said: You cannot (bear to) see Me but look at the mountain, if it remains firm in its place, then will you see Me; but when his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain He made it crumble and Musa fell down in a swoon; then when he recovered, he said: Glory be to Thee, I turn to Thee, and I am the first of the believers.’ Now Musa did not see this sign of Allah that he asked for, yet he believed. Compare this to Fir`awn, who at the moment of his drowning saw the sign of Allah and said he believed: “…until when drowning overtook him, he said: ‘I believe that there is no god but He in Whom the children of Israel believe and I am of those who submit.’ And then Allah said to him, “What, now? and indeed you disobeyed before and you were of the mischief-makers.” So here, Fir`awn saw the sign of Allah but it was too late for him since he brought faith only after seeing. So perhaps it may be that this man is saying he has no faith in those types of signs of Allah that when upon seeing them, it is too late for him to benefit from such a witnessing.
“As for the second statement, that he says he doesn’t fear God. Now, you know that on the Day of Judgment, Allah will have complete dominion over all things and there is no one who can question Him in His decisions and choices. He has the choice to judge with fairness and equity or to judge without it. Yet, He says that He will judge with truth and balance, “…and they shall be judged with truth and they shall not be wronged.”, and in another place, He says, “…and they shall be judged with equity.” So perhaps it may be that this man is saying that he doesn’t fear that Allah will judge without truth and fairness, and he has full certainty that God will judge with fairness.
“As for the third and fourth statements, wherein he said that he has no hope for Paradise and no fear of the Hell-fire. We know that both of these things are creations of Allah, and they have no power or authority to determine who will enter them and who will not. Only the One who created them has the authority to decree who will enter Paradise and who will enter Hell-fire. Why should anyone fear Hell or put their hope in Paradise. So perhaps it may be that this man is saying that he doesn’t fear Hell or hope for Paradise since he knows that God will decide who goes where.
“As for the fifth thing, which is that you say that when you see him praying, he doesn’t make any bowing or prostration. Know then that the Prophet said that a believer has six rights over another believer: when he meets him, he should greet him; when he is sick, he should visit him; when he invites him, he should accept the invitation; when he sneezes, he should pray for mercy on him; whether he is present or absent, he should think only good of him; and when he dies, he should pray the funeral prayer over him. Now, when this man prays, he is only standing and not making any bowings or prostrations. So perhaps it may be that this man is taking part in a Janazah prayer that is going on anywhere in the Muslim lands when you see him like this. We know that one does not have to be present in front of the dead body to pray the Janazah prayer, as the Prophet prayed the funeral prayer of the Negus (who was in Abyssinia) while he was in Madinah. So perhaps he is always praying the Janazah prayer for any Muslim that has passed away and therefore fulfilling his obligations.
“As for the sixth thing, which is that he says that he eats meat that is already dead (al-maytah). Know that the Prophet said in a hadith, “Made lawful for us are two bloods and two dead meats (Uhillat lana al-damān wa’l-maytatān) [i.e., the two bloods are the liver and spleen of a lawful animal and the two dead things are fish and locusts… a person may freely eat these if he chooses]”. So perhaps it may be that he is referring to dead fish or dead locusts that he finds and he eats of them. So therefore, perhaps this statement is correct.
“As for the seventh and final thing, wherein he said that he loves fitnah and hates the haqq. How is he any different from any of you in this statement. When he said that he hates the haqq, don’t you recall that the Qur’an says, “and the stupor of death will come in truth.” There is not a man amongst us who loves the stupor of death and does not hate it. No man in his right mind would love the stupor of death, so perhaps it may be that he when he says he hates the truth, that he is referring to this. Now, the Qur’an also says, “Indeed your wealth and your children are a fitnah.” There is not a man amongst us who does not love his wealth and his children. What makes him any different than us? So perhaps it may be that when he says he loves fitnah, that he is in fact referring to this.
“You did not meet this man’s neighbor or ever speak to him, yet you all unanimously agreed that he was not a Muslim. You did not think good of him after you heard these seven things. And now that you have heard my responses, perhaps this is why his creed is indeed sound, and why every Muslim should have a similar creed.”
Those who were present were astonished and amazed by the Imam’s insight, intelligence, leniency, and wisdom.
A hush fell over the students and scholars as they became silent out of respect.
Imam Abu Hanifah had spoken.
What else was left for them to say?”
Unlike Imam Malik, who only discussed situations which had occurred and used a lecture style format, Imam Abu Hanifa’s pedagogical approach was based on setting up hypothetical situations and asking his students to debate a topic using principles of fiqh – similar to the classroom dynamics teachers are asked to cultivate nowadays, where it’s less chalk and talk or sage on stage more acting as a facilitator to encourage collaboration, discussion, independent thinking and reasoning etc.
Further details on Imam Abu Hanifah: