In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Hanafi School

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Islamic Studies The Hanafi School
Christie S. Warren
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0082


The Hanafi School is one of the four major schools of Sunni Islamic legal reasoning and repositories of positive law. It was built upon the teachings of Abu Hanifa (d. 767), a merchant who studied and taught in Kufa, Iraq, and who is reported to have left behind one major work, Al-Fiqh al-Akbar. Two of Abu Hanifa’s disciples, Abu Yusuf (d. 798) and al-Shaybani (d. 805), compiled and organized their master’s teachings, which were favored and followed by the Abbasid dynasty. While the Hanafi madhab, along with other Sunni schools, utilizes qiyas (analogical reasoning) as a method of legal reasoning, Abu Hanifa himself relied extensively on ra’y (personal opinion). He also favored the use of istihsan, commonly known as juristic preference, which, in some circumstances, can operate to ameliorate harsh consequences that might otherwise flow from strict legal reasoning, and which is believed by some to be based on principles of equity as interpreted by the jurist. Hanafi doctrines have always been considered among the most flexible and liberal in Islamic law, including in the areas of criminal law, treatment of non-Muslims, individual freedoms, marriage and guardianship, and ownership and use of property. Officially adopted by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century and codified in the Mejelle, Hanafi jurisprudence remains the most influential school in the world today and is used in Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. With respect to family and personal law issues, Hanafi fiqh predominates in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and, for significant minority populations, in Iran and Malaysia. The Constitution of Afghanistan privileges Hanafi jurisprudence as a residual source of law in the absence of explicit legislation or other constitutional provisions.

General Overviews

To understand the significance of the Hanafi School, it is useful to gain an overview of the role of schools in general and the distinctive features of the Hanafi School. Khan 1991 provides the simplest overview for readers approaching Sunni schools for the first time. Kamali 2008, an introduction to Sharia, is clearly written, well organized, and easy to read. Makdisi 1981 has stood the test of time and is still considered one of the most highly regarded overviews of the relationship between Muslim scholars and schools. The material in Hallaq 1999 and Bearman, et al. 2005 is somewhat advanced and will be most useful to readers who have a prior understanding of Islamic legal principles. Vikor 2005 provides good intermediate level information on theory, applications, history, and specific topics in Islamic law. Although dated and perhaps of less use in the modern era, Schacht 1979 and Coulson 1994 are, nevertheless, considered foundational sources in the study of Islamic law.

  • Bearman, Peri, Rudolph Peters, and Frank E. Vogel, eds. The Islamic School of Law: Evolution, Devolution and Progress. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

    This book contains a number of articles pertaining to the development of Islamic schools, including the Hanafi School. Included are discussions of Hanafi doctrines, jurists, judges, and texts, along with similar issues in other schools.

  • Coulson, Noel J. A History of Islamic Law. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

    Although this book is somewhat outdated with respect to contemporary issues, and Coulson’s dating of early works has been challenged in the past decade, it is nevertheless considered foundational for those interested in a classical overview of the history of Islamic law. Included is a good chapter on the early schools and their jurisprudence.

  • Hallaq, Wael B. A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunni Usul al-Fiqh. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Hanafi interpretations of legal theory are compared in this book with those of the other major schools. This is not a book for beginners; it will be most useful to readers who already have an understanding of Islamic law.

  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Shari’ah Law: An Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2008.

    Clearly written and well organized, this overview of Sharia is useful for readers of any level who wish to gain a framework for Islamic law and its salient features. Included is a section on the major schools of law, including the Hanafi School, and their most important scholars, texts, and applications.

  • Khan, Mohammad Hameedullah. The Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence: A Comparative Study. New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1991.

    This small book is written in the style of a primer. It includes chapters on sources of Islamic jurisprudence and specific aspects of the major (and a few extinct) schools, including influential scholars and texts in each school and particular juristic devices favored in each. This book is probably the easiest to read (and most appropriate) for readers with no previous background in Islamic law.

  • Makdisi, George. The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981.

    A thorough, well-researched study of the Muslim law colleges in their madrasa form and the scholarship that was produced in them, this book also includes detailed sections on fields of knowledge, organization of curricula, methodology of learning, and issues relating to teachers and students. It concludes with a comparison of the systems of education in Islam and the Christian West.

  • Schacht, Joseph. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford: Clarendon, 1979.

    Originally published in 1950. This is one of the oldest contemporary studies of Islamic law and jurisprudence. Although it is not as easy to read as some more modern works, nevertheless, it is frequently cited. Included are overviews and technical discussions of Islamic legal traditions, sources of law, legal reasoning, and scholars of the major schools.

  • Vikor, Knut S. Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    This intermediate-level book is intended for readers already familiar with introductory issues in Sharia who seek additional information before proceeding to Schacht 1979 and other specialized analyses. Included are sections on theory, applications, history, and specific topics in law.

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