In a delightful report about how Imam Abu Hanifah received his name (his original name was Numan bin Thaabit bin Zuta bin Mah), an account of why the wife is forbidden to take more than one husband is recounted. ‘Abu Hanifah’ is an unusual name because it means ‘the father of Hanifah’, and Hanifah was his daughter. It was not the custom in those days to do this. Normally, the name would be ‘the father of the name of a son.’ How this came about is quite edifying.
One day the great Imam Abu Hanifah was asked a question that, for the first time in his illustrious career, he was unable to answer. The question was, “Why were women forbidden to marry more than one husband at a time?”
To make a long story short, Abu Hanifah’s daughter said that she knew the answer and would solve this question if her father would make a promise to her that if she succeeded in solving this problem, he would then assure her a place in history. Abu Hanifah agreed.
So she gathered a group of women together and gave each of them a cup. Then she brought in a large bowl of milk and asked each of them to dip their cups in the milk and to fill their cups. They did so. She then asked them to pour back the milk into the bowl. They did this too. She then asked them to re-fill their cups taking back only their own milk that they had poured into the bowl.
This, obviously, was impossible to do. Hanifah had clearly demonstrated the kind of predicament that would be created if a woman had several husbands. With more than one husband, if she were to become pregnant, she would have exceptional difficulties determining who the actual father was. Identifying parentage and lineage would then be insurmountable for the offspring. Imam Abu Hanifah was so pleased with her answer that he took the name ‘Abu Hanifah’, ‘the father of Hanifah’, so his daughter did indeed earn a place in history.