What is the advice that Abu Hanifa gave to his student Yusuf?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Abu Hanifa’s ideas and advice about people, society and the community in which he lived are the views of an experienced scholar who knew the spiritual mood of people thoroughly and who experienced good and bad incidents in life. His advice to his student Yusuf b. Khalid Samti (1) contains many of his most valuable thoughts. Some of them are as follows:

Know it very well that if you do not get on well with people, they will become your enemies; they will not like you even if they are your mothers and fathers. If you get on well with the people who are not your relatives, they will become like mothers and fathers to you. Now, I imagine the following: You go to Basra and start to oppose the people there and you do not spend time together with them. You abandon them and they abandon you. You curse them and they curse you. You accuse them of misguidance and bid’ah and they accuse you of misguidance and bid’ah. Bad words are uttered about you and us and you have to leave that place. Know that it is not something good. For, a person who does not manage well the people whom he has to manage until Allah shows him a way out is not regarded a wise person.

When you go to Basra, the people will welcome, visit and appreciate you. Put each person in his proper position. Treat the people of honor and knowledge well and esteem them. Show respect to old people and compassion to young people. Try to get close to people. Tolerate the sinners but choose your friends from good people. Do not despise administrators. Do not hurt anyone. Do not act carelessly about your dignity. Do not reveal your secret to anyone. Do not trust anyone until you test them. Do not make friends with mean people. Do not establish relationships with people who do not fit you. Do not talk to up to ignorant people. Do not accept anyone's invitation or gift.

Try to get along well with people, to show patience and endurance against the evil deeds you are exposed to and to have high ethics and a good heart. Let your clothes be clean and new. Pick yourself a good animal to ride. Use plenty of nice scents. Give yourself enough time to meet your personal needs. Keep an eye on your family. Take the initiative to educate and train them. Be soft-hearted related to education. Do not condemn people too much when you warn them about their mistakes because this will decrease the possibility of their regret and returning from their mistakes. Do not try to educate people yourself so that your prestige in their eye will not be harmed.  

Take care of your prayers. Treat people from your food because a stingy person can never gain the respect of the society and lead them. Find a confidant who will keep you informed of the situation of the people so that you will be able to correct something bad when you hear about it. When you hear some good news, increase your interest in people and help them.

Visit the ones who visit you and who do not visit you. Treat all people well whether they treat you well or not. Be forgiving. Enjoin what is good. Do not get involved in the things that do not concern you. Keep away from the people who can hurt you. Give everyone their due.

When one of your friends becomes ill, visit him personally and take care of him through your men. Ask and search about your friends who keep away from you. Visit those who do not come to you; ask about their state and health. Do not break off relationships with those who break off relationships with you. Entertain the people who visit you. Treat well the people who treat you badly. Speak well of a person  who speaks badly of you.

When one of your friends dies, pay his due to his inheritors and fulfil your duties toward him. Congratulate anyone who achieves something. Console anyone who is hit by a misfortune and share his sorrow.

If a person asks you for help, help him. Do not avoid helping the people who are in need. Treat people with mercy even if they are bad.

If you meet others in a gathering or join them in a mosque and if you encounter with views that are contrary to your views, do not start the discussion. However, if you are asked, mention their views first and say, “There are other views regarding the issue” and try to prove them. If they listen to you, they will appreciate you. Give some knowledge to the people who do not have the same view as you so that they will think about it. Try to persuade them based on clear information; do not try to persuade them with some complicated knowledge that will confuse them.   

Be friendly with the people who join the gatherings of ilm (knowledge). Make jokes with them from time to time and ask about their health. If you do so, their interest in you and in knowledge will increase. Invite them to dinner from time to time. Overlook their faults. Meet their needs, be kind to them and show tolerance. Do not make them feel that you are bored with them. Be like one of them. Treat them in the same way as you want them to treat you. Do not deprive them of interest and compliments that you would like for yourself. Do not forget about your responsibilities toward yourself. Take care of your special needs.

Do not provoke people. Do not show that you are bored with anyone who are bored with you. Listen to the people who listen to you. Do not burden people with the responsibilities that they do not burden with you. If people are pleased with something about themselves, you also be pleased with it. Always have good intentions about them.

Do not make concessions about your honesty. Do not act arrogantly. Do not betray people even if they betray you. Deliver what is entrusted to you to its owner even if what you have entrusted to someone has not been delivered to you. Do not give up loyalty. Hold fast to taqwa. Maintain your relationship with the members of other religions based on their own tendencies.

If you keep my advice, I hope you will attain salvation.”

Three conclusions drawn from the advice above

That was the advice of Abu Hanifa to one of his students. He gave the advice above to his student Yusuf who went to Basra. It clearly show us the three values of this Great Imam. They are as follows:  

1. We clearly see his degree of high ethics and his loyalty to virtue here. They virtually became his nature and his faculties. There is nothing to wonder that Abu Hanifa’s ethics is like that because he improved himself based on high ethical virtues and spiritual values. He always kept away from mean and bad deeds.  

We understand Abu Hanifa's sagacious views on social issues and ethics of people from his advice. A person who is engaged in the improvement of the community must win the hearts of people. He should make people love one another and unite them. He should not cause separation and hatred. He should tell people what they are used to, what they like and what they can tolerate. He should not say things that they will not accept. If he has an idea that contradicts their ideas, he should not utter it suddenly; he should not scare them. First of all, he should listen to what they say and then he should express his own view by saying, “There are other views regarding the issue.” He should support his view by presenting his evidences. He should not directly say that it is his view. If they ask whose view it is, he should say, “It belongs to a scholar.” He should present his views like that to make it easy for his views to be accepted.

3. We learn from this advice how a teacher should treat his students. How will he teach them what he knows, how will he make them familiarized and how will he instill his ideas into them? He should give good advice as an experienced teacher. The teacher should give information to his students according to their degrees, inclinations and natural abilities. He should make them familiarized with knowledge. He should not scare them by asking them hard questions that would discourage them. He should start from simple and easy topics and move gradually to hard and ambiguous ones. He does not find all those enough; he advises his student to talk to his students related to a variety of topics as a teacher, to gain the love and trust of them in order to make them be interested in the lessons, and even to make jokes with them, to overlook their mistakes and faults. Thus, we understand that it is necessary to treat students softly and nicely. He should work insistently, without getting bored. He should regard himself as one of the students in order to arouse their interest.

Those who give lessons will acknowledge how valuable and appropriate the advice above is. It is the most important thing to make the students love knowledge (ilm), to make it easy and to make the students interested in the subject. (2)


1.  Yusuf bin Khalid as-Samti is one of the previous students of Abu Hanifa. He is included in the chains of narrators of Ibn Majah. He died in 189 H. For detailed information, see al-Jawahirul-Mudiyya, 3/1842
2. Osman Keskioğlu, Ebu Hanife, M. Ebu Zehra, p. 217-219.

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