The greatest of the four imaams of fiqh is Imaam Abu Hanifah. He was born in 80 A.H. Imaam Maalik, is second in rank and he was born in 95 A.H. The third in rank is Imaam Shaafi’ee, and he was born during the second century in 150 A.H. Imaam Ahmad is the fourth in rank and he was born in 164 A.H.
It is incorrect to disregard any one of them.Not only were seven to eight Sahaabah alive when Imaam Abu Hanifah Rahmatullahi Alaihi born but even when he had reached adulthood.
However, the muhadditheen are not prepared to accept him as a Taabiee despite them accepting Imaam Maalik as a Taabiee who was born some fifteen years later. A Taabiee is one who narrates from a sahaabi.Imaam Bukhaari and Imaam Nasai are both the students of Imaam Ahmad, who was a student of Imaam Shaafi’ee. Imaam Shaafi’ee was a student of Imaam Maalik, who was a contemporary of Imaam Abu Hanifah. All the imaams had a good relationship with each another.
Once,Imaam Shaafiee told Imaam Ahmad, “Inform me of any authentic hadeeth that you come across so that I may adopt that as my madhab.” Imaam Shaafiee had mostly paid attention to the deduction of masaa’il and Imaam Ahmad had focused his attention to the scrutinising of the narrators. Therefore, Imaam Shaafiee relied on him and requested him to inform him of the authentic ahaadeeth he came across. The second point worth considering is that the one occupied in a specific field would possess more important points and factors pertaining to it.
The muhadditheen were involved in the scrutinising of the ahaadeeth day and night. Their occupation was to verify as to which hadeeth is weak and which is authentic, did a certain narrator meet another narrator or not, a certain narrator used this word whereas another narrator had used another word. In these matters, the decisions made by the muhadditheen are most reliable. On the other hand, those luminaries who were mujtahideen and fuqahaa had deduced laws from the Qur’aan and hadeeth. The method of deducing laws has been passed on from them. That is why, despite Imaam Tirmizi having such a great status in the field of hadeeth yet he states in Tirmizi Shareef, pg 118:
“The fuqahaa possess a better understanding of the hadeeth
Hence, in matters pertaining to the verifying and scrutinising of the ahaadeeth the views of the muhadditheen hold more the deduction of masaail, the views of the fuqahaa hold more weight.”
Malfoozaat of Faqeehul Ummah