The Forty-Scholar Council of Imām Abū Hanīfah
By Muntasir Zaman
Among the various specialties of the Hanafī school of thought, one outstanding specialty is the rigorous manner in which it was developed. Imām Abū Hanīfah had a group of prominent scholars with whom he would consult. Often they would only come to a conclusion on a particular issue after debating it for three days.
As such, one can understand the truthfulness of what Imām Wakī‘ ibn al-Jarrāh stated when a person in his gathering claimed that Imām Abū Hanīfah erred. He said:
How can Abū Hanīfah err when with him are the likes of Abū Yūsuf and Zufar in their logic; and the likes of Yahyā ibn Abī Zā’idah, Hafs ibn Ghiyāth, Hibbān, and Mindal in their memorization of hadīth; and the like of al-Qāsim ibn Ma‘n in his knowledge of language and Arabic; and Dāwūd al-Tā’ī and Fudayl ibn ‘Iyād in their asceticism and their scrupulousness? The one whose companions are such, he does not come close to erring, because if he erred they would correct him.
Moreover, there was a council of forty scholars from his companions who documented the legal issues. The following is a report that mentions this council, followed by its grading.
It is reported in Fadā’il Abī Hanīfah of Ibn Abī al-‘Awām:
My father narrated to us, he said: my father narrated to us, he said: Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Salāmah narrated to me, he said: Ibn Abī Thawr wrote to me narrating from Sulaymān ibn ‘Imrān who said: Asad ibn al-Furāt narrated to me:
The companions of Imam Abū Hanīfah who document the books (i.e. legal issues) were forty personalities. The leading ten among them were Abū Yūsuf, Zufar ibn Hudhayl, Dāwūd al-Tā’ī, Asad ibn ‘Amr, Yūsuf ibn Khālid al-Samti, and Yahyā ibn Zakariyya ibn Abī Zā’idah, and he was the one would write it (i.e. the legal issues) for them for thirty years.
1) The chain of transmission commences from the transmitter of the book, Abū al-‘Abbās Ahmad ibn Muhammad i.e. the grandson of Ibn Abī al-‘Awām, the author. He is the first to say, “My father narrated to us.”
2) Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh i.e. the son of the author. He is the second to say, “My father narrated to us.”
Ahmad was a judge and his father Muhammad hailed from a household of distinguished scholars. The above two are only the transmitters of the book. When citing the incident in reference, al-Kawtharī in Fiqh Ahl al-‘Iraq mentioned Ibn Abī al-‘Awām as the narrator from Imam al-Tahāwi.
3) The author of the book, Abū al-Qāsim ‘Abd Allāh ibn Muhammad Ibn Abī al-‘Awām. Muhammad ibn Yūsuf al-Sālihī mentioned him among those who wrote on the virtues of Imām Abū Hanīfah and said, “They are all reliable and expert Hanafis who had vast knowledge.” ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Qurashī said, “He hailed from a household of distinguished scholars.” 
4) Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Salāmah. He is none other than Imām Abū Ja’far al-Tahāwī, whose lofty position is well-known and requires no introduction. 
5) Ibn Abī Thawr. His full name is Abū al-‘Abbās Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Abī Thawr who was a judge and also known as Ibn ‘Abdūn. Ibn Yūnus said, “He was a scholar of the madhhab of the Iraqis and studied jurisprudence according to the school of Imam Abū Hanīfah.” Qāsim ibn Qutlūbughā included him in al-Thiqāt min Man Lam Yaqa’ fi al-Kutub al-Sittah (reliable narrators who are not found in the six canonical books) and quoted Ibn Yūnus who said he is well known.
6) Sulaymān ibn ‘Imrān. He was also known as Kharūfah and was a judge. Abu ‘Abd Allāh al-Qayrawānī said, “He was upon the madhhabs of Sunnah. Once or twice a week he would teach tafsir of Quran and other sciences. He was diligent in his affairs and possessed intuition.”  He should not be confused for Sulayman ibn ‘Imran who narrates from Hafs ibn Ghiyath and is criticized in al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil (vol.4, p.134). This is evident by comparing the two entries.
7) Asad ibn al-Furāt. He was the student of Imām Mālik, Imām Abū Yūsuf, and Imām Muhammad. Al-Dhahabī said, “He was the Imām, erudite scholar, judge, leader, and the foreman in the ranks of the Mujāhidūn.”
Although Asad ibn al-Furāt never met Imām Abū Hanīfah, he was a direct student of the scholars who were part of Imām Abū Hanīfah’s council, such as Imāms Abū Yūsuf, Muhammad, Yahyā ibn Zākariyyā ibn Abī Zā‘idah, and Asad ibn ‘Amr al-Bajalī. Moreover, Ibn Abī al-‘Awām relates a similar report via Nūh Abū Sufyān from al-Mughīrah ibn Hamzah who was a student of Imām Abū Hanīfah.
One issue worth noting is that Imām al-Tahawī authored a book on the virtues of Imām Abū Hanīfah entitled, “’Uqūd al-Marjān.” It is possible that the report under discussion is from the book in reference. This is because al-Qurashī directly cites the chain of al-Tahāwī via the above-mentioned route without the intermediary of Ibn Abī al-‘Awām in several place in al-Jawāhir al-Mudiyyah.  If this is the case, then there will be no need to consider the narrators before Imam al-Tahawi.
The thirty years mentioned in the report is in relation to the period of time Yahyā ibn Zākariyyā wrote the legal issues for them. It does not mean that the entire council of forty scholars was formed and continued for thirty years in the presence of Imām Abū Hanīfah.
In any case, after viewing the above grading one may safely conclude that the report of the forty-scholar council of Imām Abū Hanīfah is reliable.
 Ibn Abi al-‘Awām, Fada’il Abi Hanifah, p.341. The chain of this report is for the most part the same as the one that will be discussed in this article. The only addition is Asad ibn ‘Amr from whom Asad ibn al-Furat relates the incident. Al-Qurashi said that he was a great personality and a student of Imam Abu Hanifah. He further states that Yahyā ibn Ma‘in regarded him as reliable and therefore no attention should be given to those who claim he is weak (al-Jawahir al-Mudiyyah, vol.1, p.140).
 Al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Baghdād, vol.16, p.365.
 Ibn Abi al-‘Awam, Fada’il Abi Hanifah, p.342. Although some scholars have enumerated the names of the forty scholars, I have yet to come across all of their names gathered in one place in specific reference to the council in an earlier and reliable source.
 Al-Qurashī, al-Jawāhir al-Mudiyyah, vol.1, pp.106-107
 Ibn Abi al-‘Awam, Fada’il Abi Hanifah, p.11, p.15
 Introduction to Nasb al-Rayah, vol.1, p.68
 Al-Salihi, ‘Uqud al-Juman, p.49
 Al-Qurashī, al-Jawāhir al-Mudiyyah, vol.1, p.106
 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’, vol.11, p.361
 Ibn Yunus, Tarikh, vol.2, p.212
 Qasim ibn Qutlubugha, al-Thiqat, vol.8, p.369
 Al-Qayrawani, Qudāt Qurtubah, p.236. The name of the author of Qudat Qurtubah is Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Harith. Ibn al-Faradi says regarding him, “He was a Hafiz in jurisprudence, a scholar in legal verdicts, and proficient in analogy.” (Tarikh al-‘Ulama’ wa al-Ruwwah li al-‘Ilm bi al-Andalus, vol.2, p.115); also see: al-Humaydi, Jadhwat al-Muqtabis, p.49.
 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala, vol.10, p.225
 Ibid.; al-Kawtharī, Bulūgh al-Amānī, p.15.
 Ibn Abi al-‘Awam, Fada’il Abi Hanifah, p.342
 Al-‘Aynī, Maghāni al-Akhyār, vol.3, p.131; Al-Salihi, ‘Uqud al-Juman, p.147
 Al-Salihi, ‘Uqud al-Juman, p.49; Ismā‘īl Bāshā, Hadiyyat al-‘Ārifīn, vol.1, p.58
 Al-Qurashi, al-Jawahir al-Mudiyyah, vol.1, p.140/vol.2, p.211