The Emperor of the Romans once sent a large amount of wealth to the Khalifah of the Muslims. Before dispatching his representative with the wealth, the Emperor commanded him to pose three questions to the ‘Ulamaa’ of the Muslims. The Roman representative, as instructed, posed the three questions to the ‘Ulamaa’ but they were unable to give him satisfactory answers. Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) was, at that time, still a young boy and he happened to be present with his father. When he saw that the ‘Ulamaa’ were unable to adequately answer the three questions, he approached the Khalifah and asked him for permission to respond to the challenge of the Romans. The Khalifah granted him permission and he turned to the Roman representative who was seated at a raised pulpit and asked, “Will you be posing the questions?” When the representative replied in the affirmative, Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) said, “In that case, you should descend to the floor so that I can be seated at the pulpit.” The representative complied and climbed down, allowing the young Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) to ascend.
The Roman representative then put forth his first question, “What was in existence before Allah?” Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) replied by likewise asking a question, “Do you know mathematics?” The representative replied, “Yes.” Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) continued, “What precedes the number ‘one’?” The representative replied, “One is the first number; there is nothing before it.” Imam Abu Hanifah then concluded his answer explaining, “If there is nothing before the figurative number one, how can there be anything before the actual One (Allah Ta‘ala)?”
The representative then posed the second question. He asked, “In which direction is Allah facing?” Once again, Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) answered by posing a question of his own, “When you light a lamp, in which direction does the light shine?” The representative replied, “The light shines equally in all four directions.” Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) explained, “If a light that can be lit and extinguished is not restricted and limited by direction, how can the light of the Creator of the heavens and earth, which is eternal and overpowering, ever be restricted and limited by direction?”
The representative then asked his third and final question, “What is Allah doing?” Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) answered, “He has brought down a disbeliever such as yourself from the pulpit and raised a believer such as myself from the ground.”
Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) had correctly and efficiently answered all three questions and the Roman representative admitted defeat and departed.
(Ashbaah wan Nazaa’ir page. 415)