Thursday, April 14, 2011


by Ustad Maulana Shah on Friday, September 3, 2010 at 11:43am


Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was born in Rabi` Awwal AH 164 (November 780 CE). Imam Ahmad belongs a noble house of Bani Shayban in Baghdad. His father passed away before his birth. His mother took care of him and brought him up in the most proper manner. She was keen that he learns the different disciplines of knowledge prevalent at that time. So, he memorized the Noble Qur'an and applied himself enthusiastically to the knowledge of Hadith. He would get up at dawn to be the first student to attend the knowledge circle of hissheikh.

During his teens, he joined the circle of Abu Yusuf, a disciple of Imam Abu Hanifah and the first person to hold the post of Chief Judge. His circle was unspeakably splendid. It attracted seekers of knowledge, scholars, as well as judges of different classes and ranks. Imam Ahmad attended this circle for four years. He recorded in writing all what he learned there, which formed a great amount of papers. He also used to attend the circle of Imam Hasheem ibn Basheer As-Solamy, the grand scholar of Hadith in Baghdad. Moreover, whenever he heard that a knowledgeable scholar came to Baghdad, he would seek to acquire knowledge from him. In this regard, he learned from the great scholars Na`eem ibn Hammad, Abdul-Rahman ibn Mahdi, and `Umayr ibn Abdullah ibn Khaled.

Ibn Hanbal was famously called before the Inquisition of the Abassid Caliph al-Ma'mun - known as the mihna. Al-Ma'mun wanted to assert the religious authority of the Caliph by forcing the top scholars of the time to admit that the Qur'an was created rather than uncreated. Ahmad ibn Hanbal was one of the few scholars to refuse to back down to the Caliph, setting the train in motion for the increasing power of the ulama in deciding questions of law and theology.

A scant reading of the Islamic history illustrates that the Hanbalis are known for having an outstanding character, fearlessness and eagerness for enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, with Imam Ahmad setting the precedence by remaining steadfast during the inquisition. After the demise of Imam Ahmad, the Hanbalis grew stronger in Baghdad, and as Ibn ‘Asakir notes, they would patrol the streets, during which, if they noticed a man with an unrelated woman, they would report him to the police; or if they noticed a musical instrument or a bottle of alcohol, they would smash it. Al-Khiraqi, who was the first Hanbali scholar to write a Fiqh manual, died after being severely beaten while attempting to combat evils in Damascus. Ibn Taymiyah would likewise patrol the streets with his students, during which, if they noticed anyone playing chess they disrupt the game; or if they saw utensils of alcohol or musical instruments, they would smash them. Ibn Taymiyah was also greatly admired for his fearless encounter with the ruthless Mongolian invader of Damascus, Qazan; as he is also remembered for his frequent imprisonment for in defence of the orthodox doctrine.


Seekers of knowledge at the time were known for their journeys in the pursuit of religious knowledge, especially Hadith. Regardless of the high cost and distance of this kind of journeys, seekers of knowledge would travel throughout the Muslim World where the eminent jurists and scholars of Hadith live to acquire knowledge.

Imam Ahmad commenced his blessed journey in the pursuit of Hadith in AH 186 (802 CE) at the age of 22. He went to Basra, Koufa, Ar-Riqqa, Yemen, and Al-Hijaz (i.e., Makkah and Madinah) where he met a number of prominent and great scholars and jurists of the Ummah, such as Yahya ibn Sa`id Al-Qattan, Abu Dawud At-Tayalisi, Waki` ibn Al-Jarraah, Abu Mu`awiyah Ad-Darir, Sufyan ibn `Uyainah, and Ash-Shafe`i.

He dedicated himself to studying at the hands of Ash-Shafe`i for a period of time, during which he learnedfiqh(Islamic jurisprudence) and its principles. He was such a devout seeker of knowledge that Imam Ash-Shafe`i said about him that there was no one in Baghdad that was more knowledgeable in religion and skillful in memorizinghadithsthan Imam Ahmad.

His great passion for seeking Hadith made him bear every difficulty willingly. Despite his great knowledge and high status among eminent scholars, he proceeded to seek knowledge from others. Though hissheikhsand colleagues attested to the ample knowledge he possessed, he did not feel embarrassed at all to sit among students to receive knowledge from others.

Seeing Imam Ahmad holding the inkwell by means of which he would write what he learned,a contemporary of him commented, "O father of Abdullah, [You sit among students] despite the high level of knowledge you have reached. You are the imam of Muslims [in knowledge]!" The reply of Imam Ahmad came thus: "With the inkwell [I stay] till I go to the grave."


It is worth noting that Imam Ahmad took the seat of teaching and issuingfatwain Baghdad in AH 204 (819 CE), which was the same year Imam Ash-Shafe`i died. Imam Ahmad was thus a great successor to an eminent predecessor.

He used to have two knowledge-imparting circles: a special one at his home for his keen students and a general one in the mosque following the `Asr Prayer for ordinary people and knowledge-seekers in general.

Imam Ahmad would deal heartily with his students and would describe their inkwells with which they recorded what he imparted to them ofhadithsas the lambs of Islam. Furthermore, he was so honest and meticulous in reportinghadithsthat he never reported ahadithunless it was from a written source, though he was highly noted for his sharp memory.

It is also worth mentioning that Imam Ahmad memorized about million narrations from the Companions and Tab`in (first generation after Prophet Muhammad).

A number of keen students who studied at Imam Ahmad's circles for a good and long time spread his knowledge and jurisprudence everywhere. Most eminent among them was Abu Bakr Al-Maruzy, who was close to the imam and most liked by him on account of his knowledge, superior morality, truthfulness, and integrity. Imam Ahmad said about him, "Whatever he [Al-Maruzy] reports me as saying is truly said by me." Also, among the students of Imam Ahmad were Abu Bakr Al-Athram, Ishaq ibn Mansur At-Tamimi, Ibrahim ibn Ishaq Al-Harbi, Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and Baqi ibn Makhlad.


Imam Ahmad did not record his juristicfatwas, nor did he compile a book on jurisprudence or assign such a job to any of his students. He disliked that any of hisfatwasbe written. This remained the case until Abu Bakr Al-Khallal, a student of Al-Maruzy undertook the responsibility of compiling the Hanbalifiqh.

Al-Khallal traveled to various places in search of the juristic opinions andfatwasissued by Imam Ahmad. He gathered such a huge number offatwasthat he compiled a book of about 20 volumes entitledAl-Jami` Al-Kabir.

He later held a circle in Al-Mahdi mosque in Baghdad to teach this book to his students. Out of this knowledge-imparting circle, the written jurisprudence of the Hanbali school of thought spread after it was no more than scattered narrations.

Afterwards, Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khiraqi summarized the book compiled by Al-Khallal in a book entitledMukhtasar Al-Khiraqi (Al-Khiraqi's Compendium). This book found favor with people and captured the attention of the Hanbali jurists, who wrote more than 300 books wherein explaining Al-Khiraqi's book and commenting on it. The best and most well-known book among those 300 wasAl-Mughniwritten by Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdesi.

Later, Imam Abdus-Salam ibn Abdullah, the grandfather of Imam Ibn Taymiyah,reviewedImam Ahmad'sfatwasand wrote a book entitledAl-Muharir(The Freer)on jurisprudence. Afterthat, many other books were written on Imam Ahmad'sfatwas, and these books circulated among people.

It is worth noting that the Hanbali school was the most flexible school of thought with regard to freedom of transaction and the conditions thereby the contracting parties shall be required to abide. Imam Ahmad held the opinion that the basic rule is that transactions among people are, in principle, permissible unless proved otherwise by a legal proof.


Imam Ahmad faced a serious trial that he bore steadfastly. He refused to make any concessions in the process.

The trial began when Caliph Al-Ma'moun declared in AH 218 (833 CE) his call to consider the Qur'an a creature like all creatures. Many jurists were forced under torture to agree. But Ahmad and Muhammad ibn Noah refused to succumb. As a consequence, they were fettered and sent to Baghdad to stand before Caliph Al-Ma'moun. While they were on their way to him, the caliph passed away, so they were returned to Baghdad fettered.

On the way back to Baghdad, Muhammad ibn Noah died. But before his death, he advised his companion, Imam Ahmad, saying, "You are a man that people take as a role model. They are now waiting to see how you will act [in this trial]. So, be mindful of Almighty Allah and remain steadfast for His sake."

Imam Ahmad acted upon his companion's advice and stood up for his beliefs. He was imprisoned for more than two years. Then he was carried to Caliph Al-Mu`tasim, who followed in the footsteps of his late brother, Al-Ma'moun.

The carrot-and-stick approach was used with Imam Ahmad in the presence of the caliph and his gathering in an attempt to gain a single word from him in support of their allegation about the Qur'an being a creature. They would ask him, "What do you say about the Qur'an? Is it a creature?" And his only reply was "It is Allah's word."

With the persistent attempts by the caliph to win him over, the imam would get more determined. When despair seized them, they hang him from the heels. They would whip him without the least prick of conscience that they were whipping an innocent and guiltless individual, let alone that he was a pious scholar whom people take as a role model. They showed no mercy in lashing his infirm body with turns of their harsh whips. He fainted as a result of the flogging and was released and returned home.

During the era of Caliph Al-Wathiq (AH 227–232 [841–847 CE]), Imam Ahmad was forbidden to address people in a gathering. He was allowed to go out only for prayer.

Circumstances changed, however, when Al-Mutawakkil assumed the Caliphate. He banned the opinion saying that the Qur'an is a creature and restored to Imam Ahmad his esteem and status. Upon that, Imam Ahmad resumed his teaching circles in the mosque.


Hanbali Books on Theology

Since Hanbalism is as much a school of theology as it is a school of Law, the Hanbali theologians have contributed several works, at various intervals in history, representing the doctrine of Ahmad b. Hanbal. Imam Ahmad himself played a leading role in authoring books on doctrine, such as the Kitab al-Sunnah (Book of Sunnah) and al-Rad 'Ala al-Zanadiqah wa al-Jahmiyah (The refutation of the Heretics and the Jahmis). Apart from these two works, Imam Ahmad wrote several letters addressed to some of his contemporaries, explaining the orthodox creed, found in the Tabaqat of Ibn Abi Ya'la, although not all of the letters are authentic.

Subsequently, the students of Ahmad in particular, and the rest of his followers, continued to contribute works in theology. Several Hanbalis authored books, in the footsteps of their Imam, with a common title: Kitab al-Sunnah, such as al-Athram, ‘Abdullah (the son of Imam Ahmad), Hanbal ibn Ishaq (the cousin of Imam Ahmad), al-Khallal.

Some of the important manuals on doctrine accepted by the mainstream Hanbalis include: Lum’at al-I’tiqad by Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi, al-I’tiqad by al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la, al-Iqtisad fi al-I’tiqad by ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi, and various treatise written by Ibn Taymiyah, such as al-Wasitiyah and al-Tadmurriyah, as well as his close student Ibn al-Qayyim, such as his famous Nuniyah, an ode rhyming in the letter Nun.

It is worthy to note that many works on theology by some Hanbalis were reactionary to the Hanbali-Ash’ari feud, such as al-Radd ‘Ala al-Asha’irah (Rebuttal of the Ash’arites) by Ibn al-Hanbali, and by Abul-Wafa Ibn ‘Aqil with the same title. Another example of such work is Ibtal al-Ta'wilat li Akhbar al-Sifat (Negation of the Allegorical Interpretations of the Traditions Pertaining to Divine Attributes) by al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la, which came is a rebuttal of the book Mushkil al-Hadith wa Bayanuhu (The Problematic Traditions and their Interpretations) by Ibn Furak, the Ash’ari theologian and a traditionist, who compiled the aforementioned book, giving allegorical interpretations to divine texts that seemed problematic according to Ash’ari principles; and al-Munadhara fi al-Quran ma’a Ahl al-Bid’ah (The Debate Regarding the Quran with Some Heretics), by the great Hanbali jurist, Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi, where he relates his violent discourse with his contemporaries from the Ash’aris, whom he refers to as ‘Heretics’, about the nature of the Quran contained in a book-form (Mushaf), whether it is created or uncreated.

Other Hanbalis, although they did not author books dedicated to doctrine, they did, however, include sections of doctrine in books of Fiqh and Suluk (ethics). Al-Ghunya, by Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani – a famous Hanbali jurist and the founder of the Qadiri Sufi order – is for the most part, a manual in ethics and morality, yet it begins with a thorough presentation of the Hanbali doctrine, which paints al-Jilani as an ardent follower of the mainstream Hanbalism, and an avowed antagonist of the Ash’aris.

Hanbali Books on Fiqh

The first manual in Fiqh, as mentioned earlier was the famous al-Mukhtasar by al-Khiraqi, which has remained up until this day, from the most important introductory works on Hanbali Fiqh, with its commentary par excellence, al-Mughani by Ibn Qudama.

Al-Majd Ibn Taymiyah, who was the grandfather of the famous Hanbali theologian and jurist, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyah, was considered to be one of the great authorities in the school, along with Ibn Qudama, such that if the two Sheikhs agreed upon an issue, it would be considered the reliable opinion (mu’tamad) in the school. Al-Majd Ibn Taymiyah authored his famous and reliable Fiqh manual called al-Muharrar fi al-Fiqh.

Ibn Qudama played a key role in developing a Hanbali curriculum of Fiqh for all levels of students. He wrote a preparatory manual for the beginners called al-‘Umdah, with the objective of developing an all-round surface understanding of jurisprudence, without confusing the student with difference of opinion within the school. For the students at an intermediate level, he authored al-Muqni’, aimed at training the students at exercising preference (tarjih) upon conflicting opinions (ta’arudh) within the school. For the next level, he authored al-Kafi, with the goal of acquainting the student with the sources of the Law, and the methodology for extrapolating rules from the revelation. Al-Mughni (lit. rich), which is a commentary on al-Mukhtasar by al-Khiraqi, was compiled for the advanced students, to familiarise them with the difference of opinion and the respective arguments, beyond the school, even surpassing the four traditional schools.

The aforementioned book, al-Muqni’ by Ibn Qudama had received two main important commentaries: al-Sharh al-Kabir (the Great Commentary) by al-Muwaffaq Ibn Qudama’s nephew, Shams al-Din Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi; and al-Insaf by the famous Hanbali jurist and judge, ‘Ala al-Din al-Mardawi. These two commentaries have remained popular amongst post-Ibn Qudama generations up until today.

Al-Muqni’ , also has a very popular abridgment by the famous Hanbali jurist Sharf al-Din Abu al-Naja al-Hajjawi called: Zad al-Mustaqni’ fi Ikhtisar al-Muqni’. This abridgement became particularly famous amongst the Hanbalis from Najd, where it is regarded as the primer to the Madhab. The most common and widely accepted commentary on Zad was written by the Egyptian Hanbali jurist, Mansur b. Yunus al-Buhuti called: al-Rawdh al-Murbi’, which was further commented on by the Najdi-Hanbali jurist, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Qasim. The latter commentary, which is informally known as Hashiyat Ibn Qasim is regarded to be one of the greatest contributions to the school in the modern times. Another invaluable contribution to the school has been al-Sharh al-Mumti’ ‘Ala Zad al-Mustaqni’, by the famous and profound Hanbali jurist, theologian, traditionist, linguist and a grammarian, Muhammad b. Salih al-‘Uthaimin. Al-Sharh al-Mumti’, originally, was delivered as a series of lectures over the years, which was then written, compiled and then published by his loyal students into volumes.

The aforementioned author of Zad al-Mustaqni’ – al-Hajjawi, is also the author of al-Iqna’ which serves today as a major reference work for verdicts (Ifta) in Saudi Arabia, along with Muntaha al-Iradat by al-Futuhi. Both of these voluminous manuals have been commented on by several authors. The most famous of those commentaries are Kashaf al-Qina’ ‘An Matn al-Iqna’, which is a commentary on al-Iqna’, and Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat, both by al-Buhuti.


After Imam Ahmad turned 77, he was struck with severe illness and fever, and became very weak, yet never complaining about his infirmity and pain until he died. In spite of his debilitation, he would urge his son, Salih b. Ahmad, to help him stand up for prayer. When he was unable to stand, he would pray sitting, or sometimes lying on his side. After hearing of his illness, the masses flocked to his door. The ruling family also showed the desire to pay him a visit, and to this end sought his permission. However, due to his desire to remain independent of any influence from the authority, Ahmad denied them access.

Once during his illness, an old man entered upon Imam Ahmad and reminded him of his account before Allah, to which Imam Ahmad began to weep profusely. On another occasion, a man who partook in the beatings inflicted on Imam Ahmad, came to Salih b. Ahmad, the son of the Imam, and begged him to seek permission from his father to allow him to enter, for he felt the guilt of his involvement in the suffering of the Imam. When he was finally given permission, he entered upon the Imam and wept, begging for his forgiveness. Imam Ahmad forgave him on the condition that he would never repeat his actions. The man left the Imam, and all those present, in tears.

‘Abdullah b. Ahmad b. Hanbal narrates, that while Imam Ahmad was on his death bed, he kept drifting in and out of consciousness, and gesturing with his hands saying: ‘No… No… No…’ When enquired about it, Ahmad replied: ‘The Devil was standing near me, trying his hardest to mislead me, saying: ‘Come on, Ahmad!’, and I was replying back: ‘No… No…’

On Friday, the 12 of Rabi' al-Awwal 241 AH, the legendary Imam breathed his last. The news of his death quickly spread far and wide in the city and the people flooded the streets to attend Ahmad’s funeral. One of the rulers, upon hearing the news, sent burial shrouds along with perfumes to be used for Ahmad’s funeral. However, respecting the Ahmad’s wishes, his sons refused the offering and instead used a burial shroud prepared by his female servant. Moreover, his sons took care not to use water from their homes to wash Imam Ahmad as he had refused to utilise any of their resources, for accepting the offerings of the ruler.

After preparing his funeral, his sons prayed over him, along with around 200 members of the ruling family, while the streets were teeming with both men and women, awaiting the funeral procession. Imam Ahmad’s funeral was then brought out and the multitudes continued to pray over him in the desert, before and after his burial at his grave.

During the trial of Imam Ahmad, he would often say: “Say to the heretics, the decisive factor between us and you is the day of funerals”; meaning, the adherents to the orthodox doctrine always have a good end, for they earn the love of Allah, as well as the affection of the multitudes, and their death has a great impact on people’s lives. This is exactly what took place in this instance, for it is estimated that about 1 300 000 people attended his funeral. One of the scholars said in relation to this that such a massive attendance at a funeral has never been equalled in the history of the Arabs, neither in the pre-Islamic era (Jahiliyah) nor in Islam. The masses were engulfed in the genuine popular emotion, while the scene of his grave became overwhelmed by such sentiments that the graveyard had to be guarded by the civil authorities.

Another scholar relates that when he attended the funeral of Ahmad, he wanted pray over him at his grave. But the crowds were so awe-inspiring that he didn’t reach the grave until after a week. The funerals of the famous opponents of Imam Ahmad, however, were in stark contrast, which where not attended by more than a handful. The funeral procession of the Ahmad ibn Abi Du’ad – the chief instigator of the inquisition – went largely unnoticed, with none willing to carry his funeral to the graveyard, except a few from the ruling family. Such was also the case with al-Harith al-Muhasibi – a theologian and an ascetic – who, despite being a bitter enemy of the Mu’tazilites, was still discredited by Imam Ahmad for his interests in Kalam (speculative theology). Only three or four people prayed over al-Muhasibi, and a similar fate met Bishr al-Mirrisi.

In the Islamic history, Ahmad’s funeral is noted as the day when the Mu’tazilite doctrine was brought to a decisive and a humiliating end, whilst the Sunni Islam and the Prophetic guidance were the order of the day. Ahmad’s death had proven the ineffectiveness of the Caliph’s role in defining Islam, and further unquestionably acknowledged that it were the scholars, rather than the Caliphs, who were the true ‘inheritors of the Prophets’. Ahmad’s funeral was marked by the multitudes flocking, and openly cursing al-Karabisi and al-Marrisi, the chief heretics. This became a frequent practise amongst the subsequent Hanbali funerals throughout Islamic history, where the masses would rally behind prominent Hanbali funerals proclaiming: This day is for Sunnis and Hanbalis! Not Jahmis, Mu’tazilis or Ash’aris!

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