Within the Sunni Muslim tradition, Hanafi is one of four "schools of law" and considered the oldest and most liberal school of law. Hanafi is one of the four schools of thought (madhabs / Maddhab) of religious jurisprudence (fiqh) within Sunni Islam. Named for its founder, the Hanafi school of Imam Abu Hanifa, it is the major school of Iraqi Sunni Arabs. It makes considerable use of reason or opinion in legal decisions. Sunni Hanafi creed is essentially non-hierarchial and decentralized, which has made it difficult for 20th century rulers to incorporate its religious leaders into strong centralized state systems.
The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence was founded by Abu Hanifa, born in Kufa, Iraq about A.D.700. He was one of the earliest Muslim scholar-interpreters to seek new ways of applying Islamic tenets to everyday life. In his lifetime Abu Hanifa was disgraced, called ignorant, inventor of new beliefs, hypocrite and kafir. He was imprisoned and poisoned. He died in 150 A.H. [circa 767-768 C.E.]. Abu Hanifa's interpretation of Muslim law was extremely tolerant of differences within Muslim communities. He also separated belief from practice, elevating belief over practice. Hanafi took Shafi as his rival and vice versa.
Most of the Hanafi school follows al-Maturidi in doctrine. Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Mansur al-Samarqandi al-Maturidi al-Hanafi (d. 333) of Maturid in Samarqand, Shaykh al-Islam, was one of the two foremost Imams of the mutakallimūn of Ahl al-Sunna. He was known in his time as the Imam of Guidance (Imām al-Hudā). The majority of the Taliban are Maturidis.
Broad-minded without being lax, this school appeals to reason (personal judgment) and a quest for the better. It is generally tolerant and the largest movement within Islam. The Hanafi school is known for its liberal religious orientation that elevates belief over practice and is tolerant of differences within Muslim communities.
A sectarian dispute in the United States was transformed into a mass hostage taking by Hanafi Muslims in Washington, DC in 1977. The Hanafi Movement in the United States was founded by Hamas Abdul Khaalis in 1968. Khaalis, formerly Ernest 2X McGee, had been the Nation of Islam's first National Secretary and a friend of Malcolm X. He had converted to orthodox Islam and founded the Hanafi Movement with money donated by Kareem Abdul-Jabar. On 09 March 1977, Khaalis and about a dozen of his followers armed with shotguns and machetes seized control of seized the District Building [city hall], the B'nai B'rith building, and the Islamic Center, in the District of Columbia. Khaalis said they were seeking revenge for the murders of Khaalis' family members by Black Muslims in 1973. They held 134 hostages for more than 39 hours, they shot Washington DC city councilman Marion Barry in the chest, and they shot a radio reporter dead. The standoff ended and the hostages were freed after ambassadors from three Islamic nations joined the negotiations. The Hanafis were convicted and sentenced to long terms in prison.
Hanafi scholars refuse to control a human religious or spiritual destiny, and refuse to give that right to any human institution. Among the Hudud crimes, those crimes against God, blasphemy is not listed by the Hanafis. Hanafis concluded that blasphemy could not be punished by the state. The state should not be involved in deciding God-human relationships. Rather, the state should be concerned only with the violation of human rights within the jurisdiction of the human affairs and human relationships.
Notwithstanding their common heritage from Imam Abu Hanifah, the scholars belonging to the Hanafi madhhab are divided in the Barelvi and the Deobandi school, and these two schools have different attitude toward Wahhabism.
The Sunni Hanafi school is dominant in the Arab Middle East, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The followers of Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 767) are found in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, China, North Africa, Egypt, and in the Malay Archipelago. The school is followed by the majority of the Muslim population of Turkey, Albania, the Balkans, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India and Iraq. Most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Ethnic Kazakhs, who constitute approximately one half of the national population, historically are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi School. Ethnic Uzbeks, Uyghurs, and Tatars, comprising less than 10 percent of the population, also largely are Sunni Hanafi. Other Islamic groups, which account for less than 1 percent of the population of Kazakhstan, include Shafit Sunni (traditionally practiced by Chechens), Shiite, Sufi, and Akhmadi.
Sunni are found throughout Afghanistan. An estimated 84% of Afghanistan's population is Sunni, following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence; the remainder is predominantly Shi'a, mainly Hazara. In March 2003 Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni, leader of the predominantly Shia Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan, proposed that, along with the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, the Shia Ja'fari school of jurisprudence be included in the new constitution as an official sect.
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