The Hanafi Madh-hab is the first among the four schools of thought. The Madhhab was developed very early and it had numerous followers from the pious predecessors (Salaf). Imam Abu Hanifa, himself a Tabi’i, had a panel of forty of his students where issues were discussed and the results compiled. This was the first Fiqh Academy in history. Imam Abu Hanifa was the first to compile juristic verdicts into different chapters. [See for example: Al-Khawarizmi, Jami’ al-Masaneed 1/34 and Al-Makki, Manaqib Abi Hanifa 2/131]

In this brief article, we will give a few examples of such pious predecessors who expressed their affiliations and adhered to the Hanafi Madhhab.
Hafidh Ibn Hajar said in the biography of Shu’ayb ibn Is-haq ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dimashqi al-Umawi (118-189 H), a narrator in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim: “He narrated from his father and Abu Hanifa and he adopted his Madhhab (Tamadhhaba lahu).” [Tahdhib at-Tahdhib 4/347-348]
After quoting this saying, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwama adds: “So, adhering to Madhhab is something ancient (Qadeem).” [Annotations on Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 20/7]

Another example of those following the Hanafi Madhhab is Waqi’ ibn al-Jarrah (127-196 H). He was among the teachers of Imam Ash-Shafi’i and from the narrators of both Al-Bukhari and Muslim in their respective Sahihs. Imam Yahya ibn Ma’īn said about him: “I have not seen the like of Waki’ and he would give Fatwa according to the opinions of Abu Hanifa.” [Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Al-Intiqa 211]

Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan (120-198 H), the master and authority in Hadith criticism was a staunch follower of the Hanafi Madhhab. He said: “We do not lie in front of Allah. We have not heard any better opinions than that of Abu Hanifa and we have adopted most of his opinions.” [Al-Khatib, Tarikh Baghdad 15/474]

There are many such examples. Citing all these will be difficult in this brief article. Only in Sahih al-Bukhari, the number of students of Imam Abu Hanifa and those adhering to his Madh-hab rose to one hundred and fifteen narrators. Shaykh Mufid ar-Rahman compiled an entire book of four hundred and seventy-nine pages on these Hanafi narrators in Sahih al-Bukhari which he entitled “Al-Warda al-Haadira fi Ahadith Talaamidh al-Imam al-‘Adham wa Ahadith ‘Ulama al-Ahnaf fi al-Jami’ as-Sahih lil Imam al-Bukhari”.
The Madh-hab of Imam Abu Hanifa thus started spreading during the time of the pious predecessors and was accepted from this blessed early era of Islam. So, there is no reason why people of this age cannot make the Taqlid of Imam Abu Hanifa. The criticism usually facing the Hanafi followers in the name of the Salaf in recent days are thus baseless.