Advice to a new Judge – Instructions of Imam Abu Hanifah to Qadi Abu Yusuf

From the Book: Sirat-e-Nu’mani (Imam Abu Hanifah, Life and Work)
By Allahma Shibli Numani
Translated by M.Hadi Hussain
Published by: Kitab Bhavan


Qadi Abu Yusuf, a student of Imam Abu Hanifah was appointed as the Minister of Justice by Caliph Harun Rashid. Abu Yusuf’s good management gave his ministry an organization which was not only unprecedented but remained unsurpassed under later regimes. Abu Yusuf owed all this to the training he received from Imam Abu Hanifah.

Imam Abu Hanifah gave Abu Yusuf a written set of instructions designed to be guidelines in all important religious and secular matters. The gist of the instructions is given below:

*These instruction might appear strange to a common person. But these instructions were being given to a newly appointed Qadi (Supreme Court Judge) – who has an immense reputation to protect. All his words and actions would be monitored. He would be under constant observation due to the post he holds.

The instructions, at the outset, treat of relations with the ruling monarch. “Go rarely to see him”, says the Imam, “and be aware of him as if he were fire. Never go to court expect for some specific purpose, lest you  lose the respect you enjoy there. Avoid it especially when there are present there people whom you do not know, for since you are not aware of their rank, you might speak them in a manner inappropriate to their position. If they are higher than you and you do not show due regard for this, it will be considered as bad manners. If, on the other hand, they are ordinary people and you show them too much respect, you will lower yourself in the king’s eyes. Should the king offer you the post of Qadi (Judge), Do not accept it without making sure that he approves of your exercising your personal judgement, lest you should have to act against it under official pressure. Never accept a position which you are not fit to hold.”

Al though a lot of emphasis has been laid in the instructions on showing respect to the king, yet at the same time complete freedom has been enjoined in expressing the truth. “If” say the instructions “You find some guilty of improper innovation in matters of Shariah, point out his error, so that others are discouraged from following his example. Never mind if the man is powerful or wealthy, for in declaring the truth, God will support you, since He is the Guardian and Protector of the faith. Even if it is the king himself whom you find doing something improper, do not hesitate to call his attention to it. Tell him frankly that though as his Qadi, you are subordinate to him, yet it is your duty to point out to him his errors. If he pays no heed to this, speak to him in private and explain to him that the action in question is contrary to Quran and Sunnah. If he realizes his mistake, well and good; otherwise, pray to god to save you from the evil that is in him.”

There are useful tips, too, about the daily tasks of life. “Consider the acquisition of knowledge as your primary task. After you have completed it, turn to acquiring wealth by legitimate means; for knowledge and wealth cannot be acquired simultaneously. Thereafter, marry, but only if you are sure you will be able to shoulder the responsibility of looking after a family. Do not marry a woman who has children by a former husband. Mix sparingly with the common people and the rich, the latter might think that you expect something from them and might be led by this to offer you bribes. Strictly avoid going to bazaar, sitting with shopkeepers, eating in the streets and mosques, drinking at public watering places or drinking water served by water-carriers and the like. When someone seeks a ruling from you, confine yourself to answering his question and do not add anything unsolicited. Do not discuss the questions of belief with common people. Treat your pupils with such sincerity and kindness that strangers are led to think that they are your own children. Avoid engaging in debate with common people and people of inferior rank. When you visit a city other than your own, conduct yourself towards the men of learning there in such a way that they do not look you upon as a rival.

When you discourse on learned subjects, speak after due reflection and say on that of which you can produce sufficient proof. In debating, be courageous and steadfast; if you have the slightest fear in your heart, you will not be able to keep your thought collected and your tongue will stammer. Never get involved in discussion with people who do not know the rules of debate or who become unpleasant. During a debate never get angry and do laugh a little, for laughter can hurt your adversary’s susceptibilities. Do everything in a calm and collected manner and with dignity. Unless a person accosts you face to face, do not reply to him, for accosting from behind is a habit peculiar to animals. When walking do not look right or left. When you go to a hammam (public bathing place), pay more than the common people. Never do any shopping yourself, let the servants do it for you. Leave your domestic management in the hands of trustworthy servants, so you have enough time for your proper duties. Never reside in the vicinity of the royal court. Let everything you do or say  demonstrate your indifference to worldly matters and personal interests: keep this up even in poverty. Never deliver a sermon to gatherings of common people, for in addressing such gatherings one is often compelled to tell lies. If you permit any of your pupils to take a Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) class, attend his lectures in order to form an estimate of his ability. Should he make a mistake, point it out at once, otherwise those present might think that what he said was correct. In subjects other than Fiqh, you need not personally attend classes taken by your pupils, but you should depute your trusted friends or pupils to bring you a report.”

“Let piety and faithfulness mark every action of yours. Have the same relation with God inwardly as you profess outwardly. As soon as you hear the adhaan get ready for saying your prayer. Reserve three or four days for fasting in every month. After every prayer recite a wazifah (tasbeeh). Never miss reading the Quran. Do not incline much to the world. Go frequently to the graveyard. Abstain from pleasure-seeking and amusement. If you see any defects in your neighbor, try to hide them. Avoid the company of heretical innovators. Do not be the imam of prayers until you are asked to do so. When people come to see you, converse them on scholarly subjects: If they are scholars, they will gain something; If not, they will at least learn to respect you.”


About syedfawaz2002

I am Syed Fawaz Ahmed. I am currently pursuing post graduation in New Media Design at National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Engineer by profession, Artist at heart. I have done my Engineering in Information Science in M.S.Ramaiah Institute of Technology You can reach me at
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