) is one of the four schools (Madhhabs
) of Fiqh
or religious law
within Sunni Islam
(the other three being Hanafi
). It is also claimed to be a school of aqeedah
(creed) in Sunni Islam according to the Wahabi and Salafi sects but Sunni scholars reject this position. The Salafi's have also referred to this as the Athari
(or Textualist) school.
The jurisprudence school was started by the students of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 855). Hanbali jurisprudence is predominant among Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula, although students of Islam throughout the world study and may choose to observe its conclusions about Islamic practice.
Ahmad’s Five Basic Juristic Principles
Despite being an exceptional jurist, Imam Ahmad detested that his opinions be written and compiled, fearing that it may swerve his students away from studying the sources of Law, the Quran and the Sunnah. Yet, as Ibn al-Jawzi comments, Allah knew the sincerity in his heart and raised around him faithful students who would record his opinions, such that an independent school of jurisprudence and theology was formed and attributed to Imam Ahmad.
Imam Ahmad employed exceptional caution while formulating juristic opinions and issuing verdicts, and would frequently warn his students of speaking in a matter in which you have no reputable predecessor. This prudent attitude is clearly demonstrated in the thought process applied by Ahmad in extrapolation of laws from the divine sources, which is as follows:
1) Divine text (the Quran and the Sunnah) was the first point of reference for all scholars of jurisprudence, and in this, Ahmad was not an exception. Whenever he noticed a divine textual evidence for an issue, he never referred to other sources, opinions of the Companions, scholars or resorted to analogical deduction (Qiyas).
2) Verdicts issued by the companions were resorted to when no textual evidence was found in the Quran or the Sunnah. The reasons for ranking the verdicts of the Companions after the Quran and the Sunnah are obvious: The Companions witnessed the revelation of the Quran, and its implementation by Muhammad, who advised the Ummah to adhere to the rightly-guided caliphs, hence, the companions ought to have a better understanding than the latter generations.
Imam Ahmad, would likewise, never give precedence to a scholarly opinion or analogical deduction (Qiyas) over that of the Companions’, to the extent that if they were divided into two camps over an issue, two different narrations would similarly be documented from Imam Ahmad.
3) In a case where the companions differed, he preferred the opinion supported by the divine texts (the Quran and the Sunnah).
4) In instances where none of the above was applicable, Ahmad would resort to the mursal Hadith (with a link missing between the Successor and Muhammad or a weak hadith. However, the type of weak Hadith that Ahmad relied on was such that it may be regarded as fair hadith due to other evidences (Hasan li Ghairihi), not the type that is deemed very weak and thus unsuitable as an evidence for Law. This was due to the fact that, during his time, the Hadith was only categorised into ‘sound’ (sahih) and ‘weak’ (da’if). It was only after Ahmad, that al-Tirmidhi introduced a third category of ‘fair’ (hasan).
5) Only after having exhausted the aforementioned sources would Imam Ahmad employ analogical deduction (Qiyas) due to necessity, and with utmost care.
As demonstrated previously, Imam Ahmad became the leading authority on the Orthodox doctrine of Islam, which represented the first three blessed generations of Islam, untainted with foreign dogmas. Ahmad’s doctrinal influence can be measured by the fact that, out of the four traditional schools, the Hanbali school alone maintained its own theological view, unlike the Hanafi school which adopted the Maturidi doctrine, or the Shafi’i and Maliki schools that adopted the Ash’ari doctrine. The secret for this was the depth and length at which Ahmad spoke in matters of theology, due to the prevailing unorthodoxy in his age, headed by the Mu’tazilites. Due to this it is noted that there have been, in comparison to other schools, very few Hanbalis who inclined towards unorthodox views, for the copious volume of narrations from Imam Ahmad dealing with specific issues of doctrine made it extremely difficult for his followers to adhere to any other, yet still remain faithful followers.
Imam Ahmad’s doctrine could be summarised as follows:
- He would believe in the description that Allah gave to himself in the Quran, or inspired Muhammad with, affirming such at their face value (Dhahir), while generally negating any resemblance between the Creator and the creation.
- He would vigorously reject negative theology (Ta’til), as well as allegorical exegesis (Ta’wil), with respect to belief in Allah, which was heavily employed by the Jahmites and Mu’tazilities.
- He believed that Allah Speaks with letters and sound, for he believed every word and letter of the Quran to be the word of Allah, uncreated.
- He believed that Allah is High above and distinct from His creation.
- He believed that Allah is all Knowing, All Wise, All Power and All Able, and that Allah has His own Will, He Does what He likes out of His Wisdom. Whatever Allah has Written and Decreed upon His creation, must come to pass. Nothing leaves His knowledge, or happens without His Permission or Will.
- He believed that Allah becomes Pleased when obeyed and Displeased when disobeyed.
- He held that the sinners amongst the Muslims are under the threat of Allah's punishment; that if He wishes He may Punish them or Forgive them; Contrary to the Khawarij. He would not declare a Muslim to be a disbeliever (Kafir) on account of his sins, nor would he exclude actions from Iman unlike the Murji'a.
- He believed in the miracles that occurred at the hands of the Awliya' (pious Muslims) as a favour from Allah.
- He believed that Abu Bakr is the best of the companions, followed by Umar, then the six companions chosen by the latter as Ashab al-Shura (members of Shura council): Uthman, Ali, al-Zubair, Talha, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Awf and Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas; followed by the fighters of Badr from the emigrants (Muhajirun) and then the helpers (Ansar).
- He prohibited discussions on the differences between the companions or dislike of any of them; for the honor of companionship with Muhammad is sufficient a virtue to rank them higher than the entire Muslim Ummah until the end of time.
- He would look down upon discussing in detail the attributes of Allah, instead choosing a simple position of "Affirm them without attributing human characteristics", as to not lose sight of what is important...i.e. good deeds
Size of Hanbali School
Increasing Number of Hanbalis
Historically, the Hanbali Madhab has always been known for having fewer followers comparatively to the remaining schools. Some even argued that the small number of followers was indicative of an inherent weakness of the Madhab and its lack of popularity. Hanbalis often responded with the following verse of poetry:
Yaquluna fi ashabi ahmada qillatun
Fa qultu lahum inn al-kirama qalilu
They say of Ahmad’s followers: How few they are!
Thus, I said to them: The dignified are always few
The secret behind the spread of any particular Madhab, or lack thereof, has mainly been the authorities, responsible for bestowing the Islamic courts to one faction, at the expense of the other. In a land where courts were dominated by a particular Madhab, a student qualifying in a different Madhab had no future, and consequently, was forced to migrate, or embrace the native Madhab.
The Hanbalis, however, had an inherent tendency of declining lofty positions offered by the authorities. Hence, Abu al-Wafa Ibn ‘Aqil al-Hanbali remarks that the Hanbali Madhab has been ‘oppressed’ by none other than Hanbalis themselves. For whenever a Hanbali would excel in knowledge, he would submerge himself in worship and gratitude to Allah, embrace the ascetic life (Zuhd) and divorce himself from fame, status and worldly life. This was also confirmed by a prominent Shafi’i traditionist and a historian, al-Dhahabi, in his book Zaghl al-‘Ilm where he describes the Hanbalis with similar distinguishing qualities.
The Hanbalis had remained an insignificant minority, and perhaps, close to extinction, until Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab arose in Najd forming an influential revivalist movement, with the aim to purify the true understanding of Islamic monotheism (Tawhid), in a society stained with pre-Islamic pagan beliefs and practices. After a period of persecution and exile, he joined forces with Muhammad b. Su’ud and successfully revived the enforcement of the much-neglected Shariah laws.
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 would 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 defense of the orthodox doctrine.
Although the Hanbali school was small, it did manage to produce a number of noted scholars. These include:
- Al-Khallal (d. 311) – A student of some of the closest companions and students of Imam Ahmad. He is remembered and honoured for collecting the responsa of Imam Ahmad from his students, who were scattered across the Muslim world.
- Al-Khiraqi (d. 334) – (who summarised Jami' al-Khallal into a Fiqh manual, the mother of all Fiqh manuals in the Madhab)
- Ghulam al-Khallal (d. 363) – A servant and a devout student of al-Khallal, and author of many works in various sciences. It is reported that, days before his death, in his illness, he said to his companions: I am with you until this Friday. Upon being asked why, he said: al-Khallal informed me from Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi that Ahmad lived until he was 78 and died on Friday. Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi lived until he was 78 and died on Friday. Al-Khallal lived until he was 78 and died on Friday. On Friday, Ghulam al-Khallal breathed his last when he was 78.
- Ibn Hamid (d. 403) – He was a leading authority on the Hanbali school in his time, and known for his frequent performance of Hajj, such that he died on his way back from Makkah. He is regarded to be the last of the early class (Tabaqa) of the Hanbalis.
- al-Qadhi Abu Ya'la (d. 458) – He was born to a Hanafi family, but became a Hanbali after studying under Ibn Hamid. He became the leading authority on the school after Ibn Hamid, who is remembered for spreading the Madhab far and wide. His Hadith assemblies were very popular and attended by thousands of Traditionists, where he would sit on the chair of ‘Abdullah b. Ahmad b. Hanbal and narrate Hadith.
- Abu al-Khattab (d. 510) – A devout student of al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la, and author of many works in the Madhab, the most important of which, al-Intisar, was authored as a defence of various Hanbali juristic opinions against those of other schools. His students included many prominent Hanbali figures, such as ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jailani.
- Abu Isma’il al-Harawi (d. 481) – A celebrated Hanbali jurist and a theologian, known for his awe-inspiring personality, and ardent enmity towards the Ash’arites. He was one of the great Sufi figures in history, who authored Manazil al-Sa’irin – a manual in Tasawwuf – which was later expounded by Ibn al-Qayyim in Madarij al-Salikin. He was a fearless defender of the Hanbali faith such that he would often say:
- Ana Hanbaliyun Mahayiytu fa in amut
- Fa wasiyati li al-Nasi an yatahanbalu
- I am a Hanbali as long as I live, and when I die
- My legacy to the people is to become Hanbalis
- Abul-Wafa ‘Ali ibn ‘Aqil (d. 488) – One of the most intelligent jurists the Hanbalis ever had within their ranks. He was, in his youth, influenced by the Mu’tazlites and showed admiration for al-Hallaj, but soon repented and wrote various rebuttals against the Mu’tazlites and the Ash’arites. Ibn al-Jawzi relates that Ibn ‘Aqil once said: I say with utmost certainty that the Companions died having no knowledge of the atoms (Jawhar) or accidents (‘Aradh). Hence, if you feel that you should be like them, then be! But, if you think that the way of the Doctors of Kalam is better than the way of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, then how evil is what you think! He left behind many works, amongst them voluminous al-Funun, of which only a small portion is found today.
- Abdul-Qadir al-Jailani (d. 561) was a noted Sunni Hanbali preacher, Sufi sheikh and the figurehead of the Qadiri Sufi order. His contribution to the Muslim world earned him the title al-Gauth al Azam (the "Supreme Helper").
- Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597) A famous jurist, exegete, critic, preacher and a prolific author, with works on all subjects. He began his preaching career at a very young age and gained popularity amongst the masses. Although, he never met Ibn ‘Aqil, he did receive a fair amount of tutelage from his books, which left him perplexed about the orthodox doctrine of the Hanbali school; as reflected in his theological opinions that are often contradictory, and at times leaning towards allegorical exegesis (ta’wil) conflicting with the mainstream Hanbali position. His works in theology, thereafter, were criticised by the mainstream theologians of the Madhab, such as Ibn Qudama.
- Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi (d. 620) One of the major Hanbali authorities and the author of the profound and voluminous book on Law, al-Mughni, which became popular amongst researchers from all juristic backgrounds. He was also an authority on Hanbali doctrine and a passionate opponent of the Ash’arites, but that did not prevent him from joining the military campaign of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, who was an Ash’ari, against the Crusaders in Palestine.
- Majd Ibn Taymiyah (d. 653) A great jurist, traditionist, grammarian and exegete of Harran. He was the grandfather of the celebrated Sheikh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyah. The well-known grammarian and the author of Alfiya, Ibn Malik would hold al-Majd in high regard. He also enjoyed an esteemed position in the Hanbali school, as the term ‘The Two Sheikhs’ (Sheikhan) would only refer to him and Ibn Qudama.
- Ibn Taymiyah (d. 728) – A legendary figure in the Islamic history, known by his friends and foes for his expertise in all Islamic sciences. Aside from being a celebrated scholar, he also gained much prominence due to his fearlessness, zealous activism, political and military campaigns in Damascus against the invading Tatar. Ibn Nasir al-Din al-Dimashqi in his book al-Radd al-Wafir mentions 87 scholars from all schools who referred to Ibn Taymiya as ‘Sheikh al-Islam’, a prestigious title given only to jurists and traditionists whose verdicts reached a high level of fame and acceptance. His fame also earned him many envious enemies who continued to conspire against him, until he was imprisoned in the citadel of Damascus and died therein. His funeral was attended by a mammoth number of inhabitants of Damascus, while the funeral prayer in absentia was prayed over him throughout the Islamic world. He is remembered for his invaluable contributions, not only to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence and theology, but also to the rich Islamic heritage. He also produced many students of high calibre. Names such as Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir are but some of his virtues.
- Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya (d. 751) – The closest companion and a student of Ibn Taymiyah who shared with him the moments of ease and hardship, until the latter’s death in the citadel. His works in various Islamic sciences earned him much acceptance and fame. Some of his important works include Zaad al-Ma’ad in Seerah and Fiqh, I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in in Usul al-Fiqh, and al-Kafiyah fil-Intisar lil-Firqat al-Najiyah, an ode rhyming in the letter Nun on Hanbali theology, which is taught and studied in Hanbali schools until today.
- Ahmad ibn ‘Abdil-Hadi (d. 744) – A devout and close student of Ibn Taymiyah and an expert traditionist. He wrote at length the legendary accounts of his beloved teacher Ibn Taymiyah. He is also the author of al-Sarim al-Munki fi al-Radd ‘Ala al-Subki, a violent rebuttal of al-Subki’s attempt to justify taking long journeys for the visitation of the Prophet’s grave. Unfortunately, he died before completing this book at the age of forty.
- Najm al-Din al-Tufi (d. 716) – The author of several important works, such as the summarisation of Rawdat al-Nadhir by Ibn Qudama, also known as al-Bulbul, widely taught until today. In spite of being a Hanbali in Fiqh, he would often refer to himself as an Ash’arite and extreme Shi’ite. He was chastised in public and imprisoned several times for his unorthodox views. Although, his repentance is reported; however, Ibn Rajab doubted the sincerity of his repentance.
- Shams al-Din b. Muflih (d. 763) – One of the leading authorities in Hanbali Law who received his tutelage amongst several prominent Hanbali figures, including Ibn Taymiyah. He gave particular attention to the juristic preferences of Ibn Taymiyah, and included them in his voluminous and renowned masterpiece on Hanbali jurisprudence known as al-Furu’.
- Ahmad b. Qadhi al-Jabal (d. 771) – A chief judge and a devout student of Ibn Taymiyah. He is regarded to be the leading Hanbali poet of his time. He would often recite the following:
- Nabiyi Ahmad wa Kadha Imami
- My Prophet is Ahmad, and so is my Imam
- wa Sheikhi Ahmad Ka al-Bahri Tami
- My Sheikh, Ahmad (b. Taymiya), is like an ocean abundant with knowledge
- wa ismi Ahmad Li Dhaka Arju
- My name is Ahmad and henceforth I wish for
- Shafa'ata Ashrafi al-Rusul al-Kirami
- The intercession of the most noble of the Messengers
- Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795) – A prominent jurist, traditionist, ascetic and preacher, who authored several important works, largely commenting upon famous collections of traditions, such as al-Tarmidhi, al-Bukhari and the forty Hadith of al-Nawawi. His teachers include Ibn al-Qayyim, under whom he learnt his famous Hanbali ode al-Kafiyah.
- ‘Ala al-Din Al-Mardawi (d. 885) – A chief judge and one of the foremost specialists in the Madhab amongst the latter Hanbali generations. He is the author of al-Insaf, a rich commentary on al-Muqni’ of Ibn Qudama, where he lists the variance of opinion, then declares the correct position in the school.
- Sharaf al-Din Al-Hajjawi (d. 968) A distinguished figure amongst the latter Damascan Hanbali scholars, and the author of two important manuals that were to remain the basis for verdicts amongst the Hanbalis until today: Zad al-Mustaqni’, a summarisation of al-Muqni’; and al-Iqna’.
- Ibn al-Najjar al-Futuhi (d. 980) – A notable Egyptian Hanbali authority and the author of Muntaha al-Iradat, which were to become another widely accepted manual amongst the latter Hanbalis, along with al-Iqna’.
- Mar’i b. Yusuf al-Karmi (d. 1033) – A Palestinian born scholar who resided in Egypt and wrote extensively on various sciences. He is particularly remembered for making two important contributions to Hanbali Fiqh: i) Ghayat al-Muntaha, which came as a merger between the two relied-upon manuals, al-Iqna’ and Muntaha al-Iradat; and ii) Dalil al-Talib, a summarisation of Muntaha al-Iradat. This manual received various commentaries, the most famous of which is Manar al-Sabil, by Ibn Dhuwayan.
- Mansur b. Yunus al-Buhuti (d. 1051) An Egyptian jurist of great stature, held in much respect for his invaluable contribution to the Hanbali school. His works mostly comprise of commentaries on various manuals, such as al-Rawdh al-Murbi’, a commentary on Zad; Kashaf al-Qina’, a commentary on al-Iqna’; and a commentary on Muntaha al-Iradat. He became the centre of learning for the Hanbalis from Jerusalem, the Greater Syria and Najd.
- ‘Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali al-Ba’li (d.1071) – A jurist and a traditionist who received his tutelage from al-Azhar. He assumed the position of Ifta for the Hanbalis in Jerusalem, and dedicated his life to learning and teaching various sciences.
- Ibn al-‘Imad (d. 1089) – A Syrian-Hanbali scholar and the author of a large biographical history, known as Shadharat al-dhahab fi akhbar man dhahab, covering the Hijra years one to 1000.
- Abu al-Mawahib al-Hanbali (d. 1126) – A Damascan Hanbali traditionist and a leading reciter of the Quran, who wrote extensively on various topics. Due to his known piety, he would often be asked to lead the prayer for rain (Salat al-Istisqa’), as occurred in the year 1108 when Damascus was hit by a drought. Abu al-Mawahib then led the masses in prayer, beseeching Allah for rain, and his prayer was instantly answered.
- Muhammad Al-Saffarini (d. 1188) – A traditionist and jurist and a profound writer on various issues. He is most commonly famous for his poetic treatise on Hanbali theology called: al-Durrah al-Mudhiyah fi ‘Aqd al-Firqat al-Mardhiyah, which generally falls in line with the mainstream Hanbali dogma, bar few instances. However, in his commentary, known as Lawami’ al-Anwar al-Bahiyah, he often tends to contradict his poem, in agreement with the mainstream Hanbali doctrine. His poem, nevertheless, still remains popular amongst Hanbali students.
- Fatima bint Muhammad al-Hanbaliyah (d. 1247) – A famous female scholar of traditions, Fiqh, an ascetic and a popular preacher. She died in Makkah and was buried in al-Mu’lla graveyard.
- ‘Abdullah Aba Butain (d. 1282) – The grand Mufti of the 13th Islamic century Najd, and an undisputable Hanbali authority on Fiqh, traditions and theology. He was also a great admirer and defender of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.
- ‘Uthman b. Bishr al-Najdi (d. 1290) – A Najdi historian and a follower of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, known for his work on history: Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd.
- Muhammad b. Humaid al-Najdi (d. 1295) – A Hanbali jurist, traditionalist, historian, and an admirer of Imam Ibn Taymiyah and Imam Ibn al-Qayyim. He is the author of al-Suhub al-Wabila ‘ala Dhara’ih al-Hanabilah, which is a continuation of Dhail Tabaqat al-Hanabila of Ibn Rajab.
- Hamad b. ‘Atiq (d. 1301) – A jurist and a judge in al-Kharaj, and then al-Aflaj, and an author of several works in theology and Fiqh.
- ‘Abd al-Qadir b. Badran (d. 1346) – A Damascan scholar in Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, theology, grammar, and a great enthusiast for Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s movement. He was initially a Shafi’i, and later, after much research and investigation decided to be a Hanbali. His invaluable contributions to the Madhab include: al-Madkhal ila Madhab al-Imam Ahmad, an all-round introduction to the Madhab; a commentary on Ibn al-Qayyim’s al-Nuniyah; a commentary on a Hanbali manual on Usul, Rawdhat al-Nadhir by Ibn Qudama, and many other works.
- Abu Bakr Khuqir (d. 1349) – A prominent Hanbali scholar of Makkah, and a student of Ahmad b. ‘Isa. He was an outspoken propagandist of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s movement, due to which he was imprisoned along with his sons, while the eldest of them died in prison. He was eventually released upon ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Su’ud’s conquest of Makkah, where he was, thereafter, appointed as a Mufti for Hanbalis. His contributions mainly comprised of works and rebuttals on theological issues.
- Ibrahim al-Duwaiyan (d. 1353) – A jurist, traditionist, genealogist and a judge in Qasim, most notably known for his commentary on Dalil al-Talib, called Manar al-Sabil.
- ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Nasir al-Sa’di (d. 1376) – A prominent jurist, exegete, grammarian with a great interest in poetry. He contributed many works in different subjects, the most of celebrated of them: Taysir al-Karim al-Mannan in exegesis; Manhaj al-Salikin a primer in Fiqh. His students include Muhammad b. Salih al-‘Uthaimin and ‘Abdullah b. ‘Aqil.
- Muhammad b. Ibrahim (d. 1389) – The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and a prominent Hanbali jurist. He played a leading role in the development of some important legal and educational institutes. His students include: Muhammad b. Abd al-Rahman al-Qasim and ‘Abd Allah b. Jibrin.
- ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Qasim (d. 1392) A prominent jurist, traditionist and a theologian, who is particularly esteemed for the most valued contribution to the Islamic heritage in this age, a 35-volume Majmu’ al-Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyah. His seven-volume commentary on al-Rawdh al-Murbi’ has also become considerably popular amongst the latter Hanbalis.
- ‘Abdullah b. ‘Aqil – A jurist and formerly chief justice in Saudi Arabia. One of the closest students of * ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di, who is known today as Sheikh al-Hanabilah. His close students include: Dr. al-Shibl, Haitham al-Haddad and Anas b. ‘Aqil, his grandson.
- Bakr b. ‘Abd Allah Abu Zaid – A jurist, traditionist, linguist and a profound author of many works. His important contributions to the Hanbali Madhab include al-Madkhal al-Mufassal ila Fiqh al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, a two-volume in-depth introduction to the Madhab, which serves today as one of the main reference work on the school.