Answered by Sidi Suheil Laher
I had this discussion/debate with this “salafi scholar” who was bashing Imam Abu Hanifa (May Allah be pleased with him) really hard and he said that Abu Hanifa’s opinion was that there was no prayer for asking for rain and this is proof that his opinions were totally against the sunnah. He also said that his students differed on this position and said that there is a special prayer for rain.
Is what he’s claiming true?
All praise is to Allah.
Before we get to the specific issue at hand (the rain prayer), it is useful to make a couple of general points about the knowledge of scholars and our attitude towards them. Hafiz Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) writes,
“It is obligatory on the Muslims to have wala’ (attachment, love) towards the [rest of] the believers, and especially for the scholars….for they are the successors to the Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) amongst his ummah, and the revivers of that which has died of his sunnah. The Book prevails by means of them, and they subsist by it; the Book speaks by means of them, and they speak by the Book. It should be known that none of the imams … knowingly contradicts the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) in any of his sunnah, minute or large, for they are in unequivocal agreement concerning the obligation of following the Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). … However, if one finds a statement by one of them, while an authentic hadith has been transmitted contrary to it, then they inevitably have an excuse in having left [the hadith]. The entire [range of] excuses are of three categories:
That he was not convinced that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said [or did] this.
That he did not believe [that this hadith applies to] exactly this issue.
That he believed this ruling is abrogated.
These three reasons can [in turn] be subdivided into many reasons.
1 – That the hadith did not reach him. Whosoever has not received a [particular] hadith is not accountable for being knowledgeable of its import…..This reason is the predominant one in most of the statements of the salaf which contradict some hadiths, for no-one of this ummah has had exhaustive knowledge of the hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).” [Raf` al-Malam `an al-A’immah al-A`lam, al-Maktab al-Islami (1992/1412), p. 11-13]
Ibn Taymiyah then goes on to discuss this reason and nine others at greater length, after which he says,
“And, in many cases of hadiths, it is possible that a scholar had some excuse that we have not discerned for his not acting on a hadith….although it is not permissible for us to deviate from a view for which the proof has become clear by an authentic hadith to which a group of the scholars have conformed.” [ibid., p. 42]
Ibn Taymiyah here makes and alludes to several important points:
1 – It is obligatory to love and respect the scholars, especially those recognized as imams in knowledge.
2 – At the same time, we do not claim they are infallible, and we acknowledge that they might occasionally have made mistakes. But if we find any of them to have contradicted a hadith, then he must have done so for some legitimate or excusable reason. Therefore, it is not permissible to speak badly of the scholar, nor to impugn his competence, especially for those scholars who have been widely recognized and acknowledged as luminaries (such as the four famous imams of Sunni fiqh).
3 – Notwithstanding the above, it is the Qur’an and Sunnah that are ultimately binding on the Muslim, and therefore if it becomes clear that a particular fatwa has contradicted these texts, then – while maintaining respect for the scholar in question – we will follow what is substantiated by the texts.
4 – The lay person cannot derive rulings from a single hadith; he/she must look to the scholars for guidance. (For more on this dimension, look for other answers from SunniPath – written by myself and others – about the statement of Imam al-Shafi`i, “If the hadith is authentic, then that is my madhhab.”)
Let us know see how these principles apply to the issue of the Rain Prayer (Salat al-Istisqa’). It is reported that from Imam Abu Hanifah (may Allah shower mercy upon him) that he said that a salah for rain is not sunnah. [See: al-Hidayah and other Hanafi texts] According to Imam Abu Hanifah, istisqa’ (seeking rain) essentially comprises supplication (du`a) and asking forgiveness from Allah (istighfar). This view is itself based on the Qur’an (71:10-11) and various hadiths, such as the following:
“Narrated Anas bin Malik:
In the life-time of Allah’s Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) the people were afflicted with a (famine) year. While the Prophet was delivering the Khutba (sermon) on the pulpit on a Friday, a Bedouin stood up and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! The livestock are dying and the families (offspring) are hungry: please pray to Allah to bless us with rain.” Allah’s Messenger raised both his hands towards the sky and at that time there was not a trace of cloud in they sky. Then the clouds started gathering like mountains. Before he got down from the pulpit I saw rain-water trickling down his beard. It rained that day, the next day, the third day, the fourth day and till the next Friday, when the same Bedouin or some other person stood up (during the Friday Khutba) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! The houses have collapsed and the livestock are drowned. Please invoke Allah for us.” So Allah’s Messenger raised both his hands and said, “O Allah! Around us and not on us.” Whichever side the Prophet directed his hand, the clouds dispersed from there till a hole (in the clouds) was formed over Medina. The valley of Qanat remained flowing (with water) for one month and none, came from outside who didn’t talk about the abundant rain.”
[Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
But what about the authentic hadith (also in Bukhari and Muslim) which tells us that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) “went out to the Musalla to offer the Istisqa’ prayer, faced the Qibla and offered a two-Rakat prayer.” Hafiz Ibn al-Humam, the famous Hanafi verifying scholar, has (among others) suggested that Imam Abu Hanifah was not aware of this hadith, and that he therefore stated that there is no salah for seeking rain. `Allamah al-Quduri states in the Mukhtasar that Imam Abu Hanifah did not endorse a group prayer for rain (i.e. because he lacked evidence for it), but allowed individual prayer for it. Others (such as Shaykh al-Marghinani, the author of al-Hidayah) are of the view that Imam Abu Hanifah was aware of the hadith. They proffer than what the imam meant by his fatwa is that Salat al-Istisqa’ in jama`ah is not an emphasized practice (sunnah mu’akkadah), but that it is still permissible (ja’iz) or even recommended (mustahabb). This is a reasonable conclusion, for it is clear, from hadith of Anas which we cited above, and other such narrations, that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) did not always perform the Istisqa’ prayer when seeking rain. He would sometimes only make du`a for rain (during the khutbah, or after salah, or specifically going outside to do so), while at other times he did perform the salah.
Regardless of which of these was the actual view of Imam Abu Hanifah, it is clear that later Hanafi scholars (starting right with his two prominent students, Qadi Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan) did know about the hadiths about Salat al-Istisqa’, and did take them into consideration. `Allamah Ibn `Abidin, one of the greatest verifying scholars of the madhhab in later times, has concluded, in his encyclopedic Hashiyat Radd al-Muhtar, that Salat al-Istisqa’ is mustahabb, and has cited various earlier scholars before him who held this view. `Allamah Zafar `Usmani has concluded the same in I`la al-Sunan, and cited words to this effect also from `Allamah Ashraf `Ali Thanwi.
So, in conclusion and summary, we observe:
It is clearly not the case that Imam Abu Hanifah knowingly contradicted the sunnah. He either did not know about the hadiths of Salat al-Istisqa’, or interpreted them in the context of other relevant hadiths and Qur’anic verses. Even if it should transpire that he did not know the hadith, this does not warrant concluding that he was ignorant, for as Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah has stated, no single scholar has exhaustive knowledge of all hadiths. Imam Abu Hanifah’s knowledge and piety were outstanding and are widely acknowledged.
The relied-upon conclusion in the Hanafi madhhab is that Salat al-Istisqa’ is mustahabb (recommended). This is a reminder that the madhahib do not merely consist of mindless regurgitations of the fatwas of their founding imams; rather there has been – and continues to be – verification and further research and analysis by qualified scholars.
InshaAllah, this will help you and your friend to realize that the commendable zeal for following the sunnah must be balanced with seeking more knowledge, and maintaining respect for the great scholars of the ummah.
And Allah knows best.