In this story, we read one of the simplest and clearest logical proofs out of many for the existence of God.
It can be hard to think of abstract things like the whole universe. But if we think about a simple boat creating itself, we can easily realize the mistake there and see the error of thinking the same way about the universe. There are more complex ways of expressing this simple point.
Even his opponent, who we can assume was a debater skilled in tricky proofs, was silenced by this plain argument because Imam Abu Hanifa expertly made his opponent contradict himself.
Moreover, it’s very easy to get stuck in pointless details or meaningless words in a debate. This leads to neither side convincing the other at all and just putting on a show for the crowd.
More than just convince his opponent, Imam Abu Hanifa debated in a way to prevent that large audience (filled with people of different levels of knowledge and skill) hear unnecessarily complicated arguments from both sides which would confuse them without benefit.
Instead he directly answered the simple question at the heart of the debate with a clear demonstration befitting the Truth.
Different Ways To The Truth
This was a debate about one of the most fundamental questions of belief: does Allah exist?
People are different, and so different ways to reach this Truth will be more convincing for each of us.
- People might find belief in God by spending some time in nature close to His creation. Others might be inclined to self-reflection and find a feeling inside themselves pointing to the Creator.
- Some may marvel at linguistic miracles of the Quran; others convinced by information in it that was impossible to know until recently. Some see the reflection of God’s guidance in some of His servants and follow that light.
- Many experience some major life event (usually of the difficult kind) and are drawn to God afterwards. Others ponder upon their own creation through reason itself and become convinced.
All the above are fine. Humans are a mix of reason and emotion based on their own nature, so different people are drawn to the one Truth in different ways. But regardless of which path we are usually drawn to, it’s from the perfection of belief to explore the other paths to this same goal and thus strengthen our belief in Allah.
Logic is one path out of many to reach belief in God, one many people usually don’t take. This story is a powerful introduction for us to the wide array of (formal) logic-based approaches to belief.
Just looking at sources in English, this is a famous story shared by a variety of people. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi and Shaykh Zahir Mahmood narrate this story. The Islam.ru blog overseen by Shaykh Said al-Chirkawi also has this story written in greater detail. I combined details from all three sources into one place here.
Many scholars have narrated this story for hundreds of years, but as noted at the beginning of the story here, it’s shared without a chain of narrators. So this story cannot be verified or considered historically accurate. It’s shared simply as a popular story.
Other scholars suspect this story to be false, because it’s unbelievable to imagine a blatant disbeliever provoking Muslims so fearlessly in the city of Kufa.