I recently visited the Abu Hanifa Mosque, one of the most prominent mosques in Baghdad, Iraq. It is built around the tomb of Abu Hanifa an-Nu’man (c. 699-767 CE), who became the eponymous founder of the Hanafi madhhab — school of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). It is in the al-Adhamiyah district of northern Baghdad, which is named after Abu Hanifa’s reverential epithet Al-imam al-a’dham (The Great Leader).
Hanafi madhhab is followed by Muslims in the Levant, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, the Balkans and by most of Russia’s Muslim community. There are movements within this school such as Barelvis and Deobandi, which are concentrated in South Asia.
Abu Ḥanifa was born in the city of Kufa in Iraq. His father, Thabit bin Zuta, was a trader from Kabul (Afghanistan). He ranks as one of the greatest jurists of Islamic civilization and he attained a very high status in the various fields of sacred knowledge and significantly influenced the development of Muslim theology.
In 763, Abu Ja’far al-Mansur, the Abbasid monarch offered Abu Hanifa the post of Qazi al-Quzat (Chief Judge of the State), but he declined the offer, choosing to remain independent. His student Abu Yusuf was later appointed Qazi al-Quzat by the Caliph Harun al-Rashid. In his reply to al-Mansur, Abu Ḥanifa said that he was not fit for the post. Al-Mansur, who had his own ideas and reasons for offering the post, lost his temper and accused Abu Ḥanifa of lying. Abu Hanifa said “If I am lying, then my statement is doubly correct. How can you appoint a liar to the exalted post of a Chief Qazi (Judge)?” Incensed by this reply, the ruler had Abu Ḥanifa arrested, locked in prison and tortured. He was never fed nor cared for.
While he was in prison, Abu Hanifa died in 767 in Baghdad, either from being poisoned or from old age. It was said that his funeral was attended by 50,000 people, and was attended by al-Mansur himself.
During the rule of Buwayhid dynasty in Iraq (945–1055), in 985–986, a medium-sized mosque was built near Abu Hanifa’s tomb, by the orders of Amir Samsam al-Dawla (r. 983–987). In 1066, the mosque was restored by Sharaf al-Mulk Abu Sa’id al-Khwarizmi, who added a large dome and constructed the adjacent Hanafi school.
After the invasion of Baghdad by Shah Ismail of Safavid dynasty in 1508, Abu Hanifa mosque and school were destroyed and abolished. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman empire captured Baghdad in 1534 and he ordered for reconstruction of many Shia and Sunni sites in Baghdad including Abu Hanifa mosque in 1535.
In 1638, the Ottomans re-invaded and again captured Baghdad, after it was recaptured by the Safavids in 1623. Sultan Murad IV built a luxurious dome on the mosque, because it was the shrine of the Imam of the sultan’s madhhab. The present mosque was constructed in 1871 but its dome dates back to 1638.
The mausoleum is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, with beautiful ornaments engraved on bricks and beautiful calligraphy of Koranic verses on blue tiles. The prayer hall is vast and includes columns and discs decorated with beautiful Moroccan decorations. The walls are also with Jordanian marble. In the middle is the minbar of the Imam overhung by a small dome.
The tomb is located at the centre of the room behind the prayer hall. The tomb is covered by a wooden box, with silver grids. The shrine attracts pilgrims from Turkey, Bosnia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, indeed from all over the Islamic world.