Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal


Naima Sohaib

Muslim Heroes series No. 7

Translated by Eman Asif Misbah

Copyright  2016 Naima Sohaib

Shakespir Edition

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, including photocopying, recording, Internet or any storage and retrieval system without prior written permission from the Publisher.

Available in print at Dawah Books


Translated from the Urdu book “Tareekh-e-Islam ki Azeem Shakhsiat” by Naima Sohaib

Table of Contents

Title Page


Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal – Introduction


Childhood Events

Education and Upbringing

The Study Circle of Imam Hanbal

The Trial

Scholar Par Excellence in Hadith and Fiqh

The Principles of the Hanbali School of Thought

The Impact of the Hanbali School of Thought

The Lifestyle of Imam Hanbal



About the Author

About the Translator


[][] Foreword

All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

This booklet is seventh in a series, translated from a book compiled on Muslim heroes by my good friend Naima Sohaib. The selection includes Muslim scholars, philosophers, reformers and military generals. It tells us about these unique individuals who selflessly worked for the cause of Islam. I hope that Muslims today will find their stories a source of inspiration.

The current narrative is about a remarkable Muslim hero from the world of learning. Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal attained the heights of scholarly knowledge at a young age and he was widely acclaimed by contemporaries in the Islamic world. He traveled far and wide to study Fiqh and Hadith. The task of collecting Ahadith took him to Kufa, Basra, Makkah, Madinah, Yemen and Syria. Many a journey was covered on foot and without sufficient resources to cover the travel cost. He founded the Hanbali School of Thought. His most famous work is Al-Musnad that contains about 30,000 Ahadith.

Imam Hanbal’s greatness is not only due to his scholarly achievements. When faced with the task of standing up for the truth, which meant challenging the ruler of the time on the issue of “Doctrine of the Creation of the Quran”, he demonstrated extreme courage and determination. He was persecuted, lashed, imprisoned and put in solitary confinement repeatedly. He faced serious death threats but he never wavered from his just stance.

May Allah reward Sana Dossul and Sohaib Umar for their editing, Nadeem Siddiqui for designing and Asif Misbah, my husband, for his constant encouragement and support.

Eeman Asif Misbah

Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal

The Founder of the Hanbli School of Thought and the Revolutionary of the Third Century Hijri


His name was Ahmed, his kuniat Abu Abdullah and the title given to him was Imam ul Hafiz. There are contradictory opinions regarding his genealogy.

Imam Hanbal was a pure Arab. He belonged to the Sheebani tribe of Arabia both from his mother’s and father’s side. He was related to the Prophet (SAW) through his ancestor Nazar Bin Ma’ad Bin Adnan. His tribe was famous for feats of courage and fearlessness. Another member belonging to this tribe was Musanna Bin Harisa, who drew the first caliph Abu Bakr’s attention towards the conquest of Iraq and who was famous for his military prowess. When the second Rightly-Guided Caliph Umar Bin Khattab (RA) founded the new city of Basra in Iraq, the family of Imam Hanbal settled there. Hence they came to be known as Basri.


Imam Hanbal was born in Rabi-ul-Awwal 164 Hijri in the city of Baghdad.

[]Childhood Events

Hanbal Bin Bilal, the grandfather of Imam Hanbal, migrated from Basra to Khurasan. He joined the army of the Umayyads. Successive promotions led him to become a commander, and later he was appointed the governor of the city of Surkhus. When the Abbasids started to advocate their role in the caliphate and began inviting people towards the promotion of Banu Hashim, he became one of their supporters. He suffered a great deal in this cause.

Imam Hanbal’s father Mohammad Bin Hanbal was also a soldier. He died when Imam Hanbal was of a tender age; according to some traditions, even before he was born.

His father did not leave much inheritance for his son. They had a single house in Baghdad, and a small piece of land which provided barely enough income to get by. The Imam’s mother was a courageous lady. She had inculcated in her son the traits of patience, gratefulness, contentment and bravery.

Ahmed Bin Hanbal was a popular lad in his community because of his good manners and high morals. Many women approached him for the reading and writing of letters as their husbands were in the army and had been transferred to far-off locations. People would quote Imam Bin Hanbal in front of their kids as an example for them to follow. Observing his obedience and cultured mannerisms, the foresighted men in the community used to predict that if the boy lived for long, he would become a living example for his contemporaries.

From childhood Ahmed Bin Hanbal stayed away from vices and sins. Ahmed’s uncle used to act as an informer for the governor of Baghdad in his absence. Once the governor summoned his uncle for some information on happenings in Baghdad. He wanted a written account of these activities. His uncle replied that he had already sent a letter with his nephew, Ahmed. When Ahmed was asked about the information that had been dispatched through him, he replied that he had thrown the correspondence into the river. Then he added that he had intended to bring the letters to the governor, but later it occurred to him that Allah had forbidden the act of spying and making it a regular part of one’s life was wrong. Hence he threw the bundle of information into the River Tigris. When he heard this, the governor of Baghdad was overcome with emotion. He said, “Woe is on us! We are worse than this lad. He is a pious boy. We cannot punish him for what he has done.”

[]Education and Upbringing

Imam Hanbal was educated in the city of Baghdad. At that time, Baghdad was the prime centre of education for Islamic learning and culture. Students and scholars from all over the Islamic empire came here to seek knowledge.

Ahmed’s mother did not prefer the family profession of military service for her son. Instead, she wanted him to become an Islamic scholar. When he was still a young boy, she registered him in a school. First, he memorized the Quran, and then he acquired knowledge of Arabic linguistics. Then he turned his attention to the art of writing. Ahmed himself states, “I was a young boy when I finished memorizing the Quran; at the age of 14, I started literary activities”. He had a truly exceptional memory. He never forgot what he read once.

After completing his basic education, he now turned to the science of Hadith. At the age of 16, he started attending the study circles of Imam Abu Yusuf (the most famous student of Imam Abu Haneefa) and took his first Hadith lesson in his class. After completing this course, he went to the most eminent scholars of Hadith and Fiqh in Baghdad for the next seven years to further his knowledge. Included among these were Hushaim Bin Basheer, Umair Bin Abdullah, Abdur-Rahman Bin Mehdi, and Abu Bakr Bin Ayyash.

Imam Hanbal had a burning desire for learning and this thirst for knowledge made him restless. He himself states, “Very often I wanted to leave for a Hadith class early morning and my mother would tug at the hem of my shirt. She did not appreciate my leaving the house at such an early hour. Only when we heard the Fajr call for prayer or saw the morning light would I be permitted to step out.”

After learning what he could from the prominent scholars of Baghdad, Imam Hanbal decided to travel to other places for the attainment of further education. First, he proceeded to Basra. After that, he advanced towards Hijaz. During his journey to Hijaz he met Imam Shaafai, from whom he acquired the knowledge of the principles of the Shaafai School of Thought, and the clarification of the Verses of Nasikh & Mansookh (those verses in the Quran that abrogate the orders in the previous verses). Imam Hanbal also heard the entire Mauta of Imam Malik.

Imam Hanbal had a passionate attachment to the Ahadith of the Prophet (SAW). He was willing to make any kind of sacrifices for the attainment of Hadith knowledge. In 198 Hijri, he made up his mind to go for Hajj, and further travel to Sana’a, Yemen to meet and benefit form the eminent scholar of Hadith, Abdur Razzaq. His companion and fellow student Yahya Bin Mueen also accompanied him on this journey. They had just reached Makkah and had embarked on the circumambulation of the Kaabah that they spotted the same Abdur Razzaq busy in his worship. Ibne Mueen approached him and requested permission to appear before him the next day for the recitation of Ahadith. He commented to Imam Hanbal, “Allah has relieved you from a weary journey, and the fret for provisions for travel and the hassle of commute to and from Yemen.” Imam Hanbal replied, “No, this is not the will of God. I had made an intention and I would have to break it if I heed your advice. We will proceed to Yemen as planned and hear the recitation of Ahadith there.”

The journey to Sana’a was an arduous one because of lack of sufficient resources. When he had nothing left to go by, his companions offered to help, but Imam Hanbal refused. He relied on the help of Allah alone, and worked as a laborer to earn money for his travel ahead. When he reached Sana’a, Imam Abdur Razzaq was shocked to see his condition and offered a bag of coins to him, but Imam Hanbal did not accept it. He stated politely, “I am grateful to Allah. I am fine in whatever state I am in.” The next two years passed under very stringent circumstances.

In spite of extreme poverty, he continued to travel to different places in pursuit of further knowledge. He journeyed to Basra and Hijaz five times each. He performed Hajj three times and each time he had no more than 20-30 dirhams at hand. The exhaustion involved in travel and the dearth of resources did not dampen his spirits. Carrying a heavy burden of books on his back, Imam Hanbal would go on journeying from place to place.

Besides the knowledge of Ahadith and their memorization, Imam Hanbal had a deep interest in the science of Fiqh and deduction of principles. He had promised Imam Shaafai that he would come to Egypt to learn the principles of derivation in matters of Fiqh. Similarly, he intended to go to Ray in order to learn from the scholar Jarir Bin Adbul Hameed. But he did not get the opportunity to travel. Imam Hanbal states, “I was very hopeful that even if I had ten dirhams I would travel to Ray. I would watch my companions move towards this destination. But due to poverty I could not embark on the journey.” Ibne Abi Hatim tells us that this was probably the reason why he did not travel to Egypt as well to meet Imam Shaafai again.

With the blessings of Allah and a profound passion for Islamic knowledge on his side, Imam Hanbal achieved an enviable position of great eminence among Islamic scholars. According to a conservative estimate, he knew hundreds of thousands of Ahadith by heart. To reach such a high status is by no means a small task. It needs persistent hard work and dedication. Imam Hanbal himself relates how he would attend the study circles of Yahya Bin Qitaan (an eminent student of Abu Haneefa). He would be so overawed by his great teacher that he dared not sit in his presence. From late afternoon to sunset, Imam Hanbal would keep standing while learning the science of Rijaal (character traits of the narrators of Ahadith).

[]The Study Circle of Imam Hanbal

Imam Hanbal did not occupy the seat of teaching until he felt that he had explored all avenues for higher learning. Finally, he felt capable enough to start his own study circle.

Imam Hanbal was forty when he started giving sermons on religion. Earlier, if an individual asked for his opinion on an issue, he would grant an answer. As his popularity grew, and people flocked around him in droves with questions that needed to be answered, he realized the need for an organized setup in a mosque. This is the way his class commenced, and the news of this arrangement spread far and wide throughout the Muslim world. According to a tradition, there would be 5,000 people present in one session. Out of these, 500 would be regular students, while the rest were either there for receiving guidance or would just come to observe the Imam in action after hearing of his personality and character. The session would last from late afternoon to sunset.

His class would have a solemn atmosphere. Imam Hanbal would avoid idle talk. In a history book a companion of the Imam describes the atmosphere in these gatherings, “In no other gathering did I find a poor and resource less person (like Imam Hanbal) given so much regard and respect as in the class of Imam Hanbal. The Imam was not very social and would only have limited interaction with people. He was soft spoken and considerate. He did not like impatience and haste. He was naturally inclined towards serenity and good conduct. When he would enter his class, he would keep silent until somebody asked him a question.”

A special quality of Imam Hanbal needs to be mentioned here. In spite of having amazing powers of retention, Imam Hanbal would not rely on his memory alone in matters of Ahadith. While a student, he would take detailed notes. He always thought that there was a possibility of memory failing, causing distortion to the words of Ahadith, which is a grave sin. He would obviously know the Ahadith by heart, but when questioned by a student he would refer to his books and take out the relevant Hadith. According to his son, Abdullah, “I have never seen my father quote a Hadith to anyone without a book – on the reliance of memory alone. Except for a few Ahadith which would hardly number a hundred in total.”

This extreme caution stemmed from the Imam’s high level of concern for the authenticity of every word uttered by the Prophet (SAW). It is a fact that Imam Hanbal had been blessed with the highest intellect and acumen supported by a phenomenal memory. Yet he would strongly advise his students to follow the same method and to never quote a Hadith from memory.

[]The Trial

In every period Allah has sent trials and tribulations to separate the impure from the pure, the weak in faith from the strong in faith. In his lifetime, the test faced by Imam Hanbal was that of the Quran being labeled as a creation of Allah. This doctrine was adopted by the Mutazilites, a heretical Muslim sect, who sanctified their intelligence above revelation from Allah. They espoused that the Quran which we have in the form of a book contains words. These words have meanings and sounds, uttered through the tongue. Hence the Quran which has a tangible form is a creation of Allah, and is like any other creation of Allah.

The doctrine of the “creation of Quran” gained popularity in the Abbasid reign when Mamoon-ur-Rasheed became the caliph after his father Caliph Haroon-ur-Rasheed. The new Caliph became influenced by the Greek philosophers and was inclined towards the Mutazalite school of thought. The Mutazalites relied on pure logic in matters of religion. The followers of this sect would present many arguments based on rationale regarding every issue. When the Caliph Mamoon-ur-Rasheed would hold debates pertaining to beliefs he would get impressed with their prowess in reasoning. To the extent that for the highest posts in the Islamic Empire, he would select men from among the Mutazalites. Slowly and gradually, he came to accept the Quran as a “creation of Allah” as explained and understood by this sect.

In order to propagate this new school of thought to the entire Muslim empire, Caliph Mamoon wrote to the Governor of Baghdad, asking him to test the viewpoints of the judges in his domain. If they accepted the Quran as a “creation of Allah”, they were to be left alone; otherwise their witness would not be recognized. A detailed report was prepared according to his orders and was presented to the Caliph. Then he summoned the seven most prestigious scholars of Baghdad and asked them for their opinion on the creation of the Quran. All the scholars agreed with the state opinion as they realized the gravity of the situation. This incident was heavily publicized among the masses so that their opinion could be influenced.

Then on the orders of Caliph Mamoon, another group of governors, Hadith scholars and Fiqh experts were summoned and questioned about their beliefs. The letter sent by the caliph was read out to these men of learning and the doctrine of the creation of the Quran was put across to them. Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal was also called and his opinion was sought on the issue. The Imam stated,” Quran is the word of Allah.” The governor of Baghdad, Ishaaq Bin Ibrahim asked if the Quran was a creation of Allah. The Imam again replied that it was the word of God and that was it. On repeated insistence on the governor’s part, Imam Hanbal quoted a verse from the Quran “There is nothing like God and He is All-Hearing and All-Seeing.” Upon hearing this verse, the governor inquired about the meaning of the qualities of All-Seeing and All-Hearing. The Imam answered that Allah is like what He has defined Himself to be. The governor again asked the significance of this verse. Once more he received the same answer from the Imam. Then, other scholars and dignitaries were questioned about their beliefs and all except a few stated that the Quran was the word of Allah.

The opinions of all these experts and learned men were documented and sent off to Caliph Mamoon-ur-Rasheed. Meanwhile, these men were detained till subsequent orders of the Caliph were received. After a few days, a stern letter arrived from him. It contained harsh statements against Imam Hanbal. The letter stated that the Caliph had read whatever had been written to him about the former, and that Ahmed Bin Hanbal should be told that the Caliph was fully aware of his views and opinions which were based on ignorance. And that he would have to bear the consequences. Likewise, the dispatch contained maligning statements regarding all the Hadith and Fiqh experts who had rejected the faulty doctrine. Each one was mentioned and ridiculed and held in contempt.

Now we come to that part of the letter which started a never-ending succession of persecution and torture. Caliph Mamoon wrote to the governor regarding all those men of learning whose names had been mentioned in the document, those that the Caliph had named and those whose names had not been given – that if they did not believe in the doctrine of “the creation of the Quran”, they should be tied with iron chains and brought to the Caliph accompanied by armed guards, with the exception of Bashar Bin Al-Waheed and Ibrahim Bin Al-Mehdi. They would be tested on their beliefs and if they did not compromise on their opinion, and were not apologetic for their line of thinking, their heads would be chopped off with a sword.

On hearing this fearsome order, all the scholars except Imam Hanbal, Sajjadah, Muhammad Bin Nuh and Qawariri chose the path of ease and accepted that Quran was the creation of Allah. This is permissible in Islam under extreme duress and to save one’s life. These men were allowed to go free. For the crime of speaking the truth, the above-mentioned four honorable men were chained and tied with ropes. Sajjadah and Qawariri buckled under pressure and they relented on their stance on the Quran. Now only two courageous and daring souls remained firm to their position. Ahmed Bin Hanbal and Muhammad Bin Nuh were both asked whether they would agree to the dogma under the sharp metal of the sword. They both replied in the negative. When there seemed no compromise in their stance, they were both sent to Tartoos. They had just traveled a little when news was received of Caliph Mamoon’s death. Till new orders were dispatched, Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal and his honorable companion Muhammad Bin Nuh were sent to prison.

Muhammad Bin Nuh had fallen sick during the course of the travel. His condition deteriorated in prison. The new orders required them to travel to Baghdad where they were to be presented before the new ruler, Caliph Mo’tasim Billah. On the way, Muhammad Bin Nuh succumbed to the illness and died a martyr for the sake of truth.

Now the sole person to continue on this tortuous path was Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal, whose feet were tied in iron chains as he was led to the dungeon of the caliph in the darkness of the night. He spent the whole night supplicating to his Lord, and prostrating and performing prayers. The next day, he was presented before the new caliph.

Mo’tasim himself lacked Islamic knowledge and wisdom so he blindly followed the will of his deceased brother Mamoon. He too tried to enforce the acceptance of the doctrine of the creation of the Quran across the Islamic empire. A special clause in the deceased’s will stated that Qazi Ibne Abi Dawood should be reinstated as the Advisor to the Caliph. This man was a Mutazalite of the first order and he controlled the affairs of the caliphate from the moment he had been appointed the Advisor to Caliph Mamoon. According to some historians, the letters dispatched by Mamoon were actually written by him. When the Caliph fell ill, he apparently convinced him to include this article in the will which continued to give him the same position after the death of Mamoon. Now this same Abu Dawood was comfortably entrenched in the court of Caliph Mo’tasim. In the same court also stood the great scholar of the Shaafai Fiqh, Abu Abdur Rahman Al-Shaafai. There was a hush and strange calm in the gathering as two men had just been beheaded before Imam Hanbal walked in.

The Imam entered the court unperturbed. His eyes swept across the room briefly and then rested on Abu Abdur Rahman. He turned to him and asked, “Do you remember any saying of Imam Shaafai on the topic of Masah (a ritual in ablution)?” The grim situation in the assembly, the presence of the Caliph, the blood seeping from the dead bodies – nothing could faze the Imam. Ibne Abi Dawood screamed in amazement, “Look at this man! His head is about to be chopped off, and yet he is inquiring about an issue of Fiqh!”

Then a dialogue commenced between Caliph Mo’tasim and Imam Hanbal in which the Caliph proved to be no match for the Imam. To the extent that he exclaimed, “Ahmed! If my predecessor (caliph Mamoon) had not arrested you, I would not have confronted you!” Then formal debate started which lasted for three days. The Mutazalite scholars tried to corner the Imam by bulldozing him with dozens of arguments but he refuted every single one of them with clear proofs from authentic sources. The Imam would insist on arguments based on the Quran and Sunnah. A day later he was thrown back into the dark dungeons of the Caliph. He himself states that looking at the turn of events, he had the premonition that something sinister would happen the next day. He tightened the belt holding his iron footholds and tucked it into his pants fearing that his pajamas might fall down and expose his body depending on the harsh circumstances that he might have to endure. Now the Imam was ready to face whatever treatment his perpetrators might mete out to him in the way of truth. The events that followed are captured in the writings of Abul-Kalam Azad:

“In the last ten days of Ramadan (which are dearer to Allah than any other), Imam Hanbal was made to sit in the hot, burning sun, in a state of fasting. The back that carried the burden of Prophetic knowledge was now at the mercy of a cruel tyrant. Imam Hanbal was severely whipped, with new executioners replacing the old ones after every two lashes. The Imam bore the pain with a smile and stuck fast to the truth for love of Allah and the Prophet’s Sunnah. Every strike of the whip brought the same protest on the Imam’s lips, ‘The Quran is the word of Allah, not His creation’. There was no complaint and no sigh of pain. The whip wielders were all around the Imam and Caliph Mo’tasim Billah himself stood near. He kept telling the Imam that he had greater love and respect for him than his own son. He begged him to admit to the Quran being a creation of Allah so that he could untie the Imam’s chains with his own hands. But this embodiment of truth and fountain of prophetic knowledge could only utter these words, ‘Show me some proof from the book of Allah, show me an argument from the Prophet’s Ahadith and I will admit what you ask me to. I know nothing else besides this.’

The Caliph would helplessly ask Qazi Ibne Abi Dawood and other Mutazalite scholars to debate and argue with Imam Hanbal. These gentlemen could not find any proofs from the Quran and Sunnah, however hard they tried. Ultimately all their arguments were based on mere reasoning and logic. The Imam would not accept their assertions and kept on demanding evidence from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).

When the Caliph ordered his men to start the flogging, there were a few Ahl-e-Sunnah scholars present in the court. They were the ones who had succumbed to the Caliph’s new way of thinking and did not have the courage to state their actual views and bear the brunt of their actions. They had the audacity to challenge the Imam on his stance and accused him of being stubborn. They argued that none of his other comrades had acted so rigidly. Imam Hanbal replied that this was no argument and that they should produce something from the Quran and Sunnah. In the state of fasting, which had begun with just a few sips of water, fresh executioners came forward and lashed the Imam with all their might. To the extent that his back smarted with wounds and sores and his blood was dripping all over his body.

After he had been whipped 19 times, Caliph Mo’tasim came to the Imam and asked him why he wanted to lose his life. He claimed to really care about the Imam. He begged him to leave his obstinacy. But a different astonishing state had overcome Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal. Devils in the guise of humans were gnawing at him, torturing him, and a man named Ajeef was constantly prodding him with his sword. He would sneer at the Imam and mockingly ask him whether he wanted to prevail over all those present. Another one would belittle him by pointing out that the Caliph was standing next to him and he had the audacity to disobey the great ruler. One sycophant reminded Caliph Mo’tasim that he was fasting and standing in the heat for so long. Mo’tasim again requested the Imam to give up his views on the state of the Quran. But Imam Hanbal would only reiterate his previous statement and the Caliph in anger would resort to orders of further flogging. This cruel state of affairs continued…

An eye witness writes that he gently prodded the Imam towards acceptance of the easy way out, since it was Ramadan and the Imam was fasting, and it is permissible to succumb to your enemies under duress. Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal paid not the slightest attention to his words. At one point, when he could not bear the thirst anymore, he asked for water. When water was presented to him, he took the bowl in his hands; he looked at it and then returned the bowl without drinking a sip from it. The condition of the Imam deteriorated and he fell down unconscious on his face.

The Imam himself states that when he regained consciousness, he observed that his iron fetters had been taken off. A few men offered him a drink of water. But he refused because he did not want to break his fast. From there, the Imam was brought to the mansion of Ishaaq Bin Ibrahim. It was time for Zuhr prayers. Ibne Sama’ah led the prayers and the Imam prayed behind him. Ibne Sama’ah was surprised to see the Imam praying while blood was oozing from his wounds. Imam Hanbal explained that he had done the same thing that the Leader of the Faithful, Umar Bin Khattab (RA) had done. He was leading the Fajr prayers when he was attacked by his murderer and in the same state he had completed his prayer.

According to different traditions, Imam Hanbal was held captive and tortured for 18 to 28 months. At last, after the Mutazalite scholars had exhausted all their arguments and inflicted all methods of torture known to them, and still failed to convince or overwhelm the Imam, he was released. Imam Hanbal reached home with his body bruised and battered, and his wounds bleeding. After some time, when he felt strong enough to go to the mosque, he again sat on his old seat to resume his discourses. Soon after, Caliph Mo’tasim passed away.

We can only pity Mo’tasim for his misfortune and wretchedness that the monumental offense of causing anguish to the leading Imam of his time fell into his lot. Till the Day of Judgment his name will be cast in black ink and he will be defamed for his contemptible treatment of the Imam. On the contrary, this proved to be a source of blessing for Imam Hanbal whose ranks will be elevated in paradise, if Allah so wills, because he bore all the atrocities meted out to him with the utmost fortitude. The truth is that good and bad are only a footstep away from each other. If a person takes a step forward he may be raised up to the level of the highest creation, and if he takes a step backwards, he may sink to the depths of humiliation.

After the death of Mo’tasim the next Caliph was Wasiq. He realized that if he continued to carry out harsh persecution against the Imam, it would intensify the rising support of the masses for the great scholar. Thus, he did not inflict any physical suffering on the Imam but he issued an order to the effect that Ahmed Bin Hanbal would not be able to meet anyone. This house arrest was implemented so stringently that the Imam was not even allowed to step out to the mosque for his prayers. The round of discourses once again was discontinued. This would commence only after the death of Wasiq. After 14 years of persecution and agony, when the Imam sat again in the mosque to resume his study circle, the admiration of the masses had increased tremendously. He now had a massive following who loved him for the extreme sacrifices he had undertaken for the establishment of truth. Regarding this trial, his son speaks out, “My father always used to pray for a particular man. He used to ask for forgiveness for this Abul Haisam. I asked him who this person was. My father replied, “When I was being taken away in chains by the soldiers of the Caliph and also being flogged, I met a man on the way. He said to me, ‘Do you recognize me? I am the famous thug Abul Haisam. My name is listed in the royal prison. If I count the whippings only, I must have endured 18,000 lashes on my back on various occasions. But look at my determination. The moment I am freed I steal again. Listen, how astonishing my steadfastness is in the obedience of Satan. I would therefore be disappointed if a man of your stature broke down in his resolve in the path of Allah.’ This advice of Abul Haisam went straight to my heart.”

[]Scholar Par Excellence in Hadith and Fiqh

As long as there is life on earth, Ahmed Bin Hanbal’s name will be etched in the echelons of history for his immense contribution to the Science of Hadith. He started the work of compilation of Ahadith in 180 Hijri when he was merely 16 years old. Then on, he dedicated his time to this cause. In his last years, he collected all the numerous writings in one place and divided them into different sections. In this way, they took the shape of a final draft for a book. Then he gathered together his learned sons and a few other esteemed scholars, and dictated to them this immense work which had taken him a lifetime to accumulate. Unfortunately he was not able to give any final shape to his book and death came before he could organize his work into a whole.

By and large, Imam Hanbal was against classifying and arranging the Ahadith compiled by him. But when his son inquired and persisted, he replied, “I have written this book for people’s guidance. Whenever there is a conflict regarding the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW), they will refer to this book.”

This compilation of the Imam has been given the name Al-Musnad. This book has been penned by his son Imam Abdullah as a narrative from his father. Imam Abdullah also took measures to propagate this work of genius among the Muslim masses. Imam Hanbal would only include in his volume the Ahadith of selected, trusted narrators. Once he related the method of his selection of Ahadith to his son Abdullah, “O son! You are familiar with my technique of selecting Ahadith that I never contradict any Hadith even though it may be weak, unless I come across a strong authentic Hadith relating to the same matter.” Based on this principle, we find in the Musnad both strong and weak Ahadith. Imam Hanbal would discard a weak Hadith from his compilation if he found an authentic Hadith on the same topic contradicting it.

Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal was such an expert in the Science of Ahadith that even his former teacher Imam Shaafai would, at times, refer to him for help and would admit that his knowledge of Ahadith is more profound than Imam Shaafai’s.

Imam Hanbal is better known as a scholar of Hadith than an expert on Fiqh, but looking at judgments pronounced by him on various issues confronting Muslims, we can easily deduce that he was a great scholar of Fiqh as well. Although the Imam used to dislike his rulings being copied and noted down. He had the notion that people might become careless regarding the importance of Ahadith if they started concentrating on books with rulings on different issues.

When Imam Hanbal was surrounded by hordes of people who needed help in resolution of contemporary issues, he was forced to pronounce judgments which would aid them in their decision-making. However, he would insist that these rulings were based on need and should not be recorded, printed or propagated. Nor should they be made the basis for future rulings. But his students kept on pressurizing him to relax his stance. Ultimately he agreed to their humble requests to print his verdicts on various issues for distribution among the masses.

[]The Principles of the Hanbali School of Thought

The Fiqh of Imam Hanbal is based on Ahadith and sayings of the Companions of the Prophet. He did not write any book on Fiqh nor dictated any topic to his students on Fiqh issues. However, the students of Ahmed Bin Hanbal would write down his pronouncements and get them signed by him for validation.

The Hanbali School of Thought has many distinguishing features but the most striking element is that Imam Hanbal tried his best not to introduce any new concept f his own, but would derive his rulings from the statements of the Companions of the Prophet or a preceding religious scholar. He knew the gravity of introducing something new in religious matters (bidah). Hence we see that most of the rulings issued by the Imam are founded on Ahadith or judgments of the highly esteemed Companions. His knowledge of this area was comprehensive and awe-inspiring. Imam Hanbal would frown upon answering hypothetical questions (about events or situations that have not yet happened).

Another important feature of the Hanbali School is adherence to this guiding standard in the case of Haraam and Halaal: whatever had been declared Haraam by Allah in his book or forbidden by the Prophet (SAW) is Haraam; the rest all falls within the category of Halaal. This principle has given a lot of flexibility to the Hanbali School of Thought.

The Hanbali school not only considers the obvious, apparent aspects of the issue at hand, but it also delves into the causes, objectives and results as well. This praiseworthy trait is less prominent in any other school of law.

To conclude, we can say that although the Hanbali School of Thought is based strictly on Ahadith and rulings of the Companions and those that followed them, yet it is open and flexible to the requirement of the situation.

[]The Impact of the Hanbali School of Thought

The Hanbali School of Thought was pre-dominantly prevalent in Iraq in the very beginning. But the rigidity and unyielding attitude of the Hanbali scholars slowed down its progress. In the 4th century Hijri, the Hanbali School made its way into Egypt but the Egyptian rulers were more inclined towards the Shaafai School of Thought. Hence it did not become established there. When the era of the Ayyubi rulers ended in Egypt, this provided an impetus to the spread of the Hanbali Fiqh. Other Muslim countries also had followers of this school but in small numbers. The people of Najad accepted the teachings of this Fiqh at the hands of Imam Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahab in the 18th century and thereafter the Saud clan, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, firmly established it in the whole of Hijaz. To date, the sovereigns of Saudi Arabia follow this school of thought.

[]The Lifestyle of Imam Hanbal

Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal was possessed with the desire to acquire knowledge and serve his religion. With such an aim, he obviously required a running income to support his family and religious pursuits. His father had left behind a meager amount and in addition to that he had some shops that he rented out to eke out a living. It was against his nature to accept gifts from people or take favours from them, and he preferred to earn money through hard labour. No work was below his dignity. If he could find no other work, the Imam would carry heavy burdens on his back to earn some income. When things were really looking down, he would resort to sifting from the thrown-away vegetables lying in fields. If this was not possible, Imam Hanbal would take a loan as the last resort and later return it. Quite often, the lender would not wish to take it back, but the Imam would insist as he was an honorable man.

Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal was very stringent and careful about the source of his income. He would ensure that there was no doubt about the legitimacy of the income. He was so hard on himself that he would not accept a monthly stipend from the ruling governor despite the need, which other scholars would gladly accept. Prior to the trial of the Creation of the Quran, Caliph Mamoon had granted a hefty sum to all the scholars of Hadith and all were known to have accepted the amount according to their need, with the exception of Ahmed Bin Hanbal. He was the only one who did not even glance at the money.

An incident is related in Beehiqi in this regard. Imam Shaafai once mentioned to Caliph Haroon Rasheed that a judge was needed in Yemen. Haroon replied that the Imam was the best person to select a judge. Imam Shaafai agreed to look for a suitable person and brought up the issue with Imam Hanbal, declaring that he did not consider anyone more suitable for the position than Ahmed Bin Hanbal. This was the time when Imam Hanbal was a student of Hadith at Imam Shaafai’s school. Imam Hanbal strictly opposed his teacher’s suggestion. When he insisted, Imam Hanbal, despite the respect he had for his teacher, replied that if he ever brought up this topic again, he would never find Ahmed Bin Hanbal at his doorsteps.

The caliphates of Mo’tasim and Wasiq were extremely painful for the Imam physically as well as mentally. He did not back off from his position in support of the truth. But when Caliph Mutawakkil assumed the leadership of the Muslim empire, he became a follower of Imam Hanbal. Now a different kind of trial started. He showered the Imam with hordes of gifts and money. The Imam refused to accept money from the treasury. Then he was told to accept the endowment and give it away in charity with his own hands. He refused this offer as well because it was the job of the government to spend from public treasury in charity, and not his.

There came an instance when Imam Hanbal received information that his enemies poisoned the Caliph Mutawakkil with stories of the Imam being against the caliphate. Once a minister from the court wrote to Imam Hanbal and stated that the Caliph had sent him a sum of money as a gift. And the Imam was required to appear in court before the Caliph to accept a tribute. The minister requested the Imam not to refuse to appear in the presence of the Caliph or return the money. He felt that the enemies of Imam Hanbal would score a victory over him if the Imam denied the order of the Caliph. After receiving this letter, the Imam hesitantly accepted the gift and made his son Swaleh responsible for distributing it among the poor immediately.

At last, the Caliph was convinced of Imam Hanbal’s sincerity and piety. Now if anyone would present a case against the Imam he would state that even if Caliph Mo’tasim reappeared from his grave before him with a complaint against Ibne Hanbal he would not believe him. The Caliph now left it to the Imam’s discretion to accept or reject his overtures.

Once, on the orders of the Caliph, Imam Hanbal was invited to stay in the royal military camp. Everyday, lavish meals were laid out before him. The Imam’s response was to fast on a regular basis and he would open his fast with a mere barley drink which he had kept with him in his travel bag. Because of insufficient nutrition, the Imam became haggard and weak. He also became susceptible to asthmatic attacks. This state of affairs secured him a release from the opulent royal encampment and he was permitted to go back home.

Once his son inquired about his hesitation to use the money sent to him by the Caliph. At this the Imam replied, “Son, I do not believe that accepting gifts from the Caliph is Haraam. But to accept them would be to taint the spirit and piety of one’s soul.”

In different traditions, we find special mention of two sons of the Imam – Swaleh and Abdullah. Both would stay by their father’s side and the Imam would make a conscientious effort for their education and upbringing. Swaleh remarks that whenever a devout and learned person would visit his father, he would always call his son to meet him. The Imam desired that his son should also be devout and virtuous, and follow the footsteps of these pious people.

The younger son Abdullah was also inclined towards the study of Ahadith since he was a child. The Imam comments on his son, “God has granted special knowledge of the Science of Hadith to my son, such that he reminds me of what I forget.”

When the sons of Ahmed Bin Hanbal started to accept the official endowments granted by the Caliph, the Imam tried his best to prevent them. When they refused to agree with him, the Imam said, “Why do you accept this money when the borders of the country are lying vacant and need security, and the booty of war is not being distributed fairly among the poor?”

After this incident Imam Hanbal stopped dining at his sons’ houses as he considered this source of wealth to be dubious. His son Swaleh had a big family to support and he was also a generous man. When he was offered the post of a judge in Tartoos, he accepted it and then started to cry, “Allah knows that I would not have accepted this position had I not been in debt and supporting a big family. Nevertheless, I thank God for this opportunity.”

Imam Hanbal would not accept even small favours from anyone. His son Swaleh comments, “My honorable father would not even request anyone to get him some water for his ablution. He would himself draw water from the well for his needs.”

In personal matters, Imam Hanbal would handle the most difficult of issues with a cheerful countenance and with the utmost patience. Once he differed from an opinion of Imam Abu Haneefa. An irate man who was biased in favour of Imam Abu Haneefa exclaimed in anger, “The urine of Abu Haneefa is superior to an underling like you!” He left in a spate of fury, then returned and apologized for his atrocious behaviour. He explained that he had unintentionally let off steam and said words that he did not mean. The Imam replied that he had already forgiven him.

The life of Ahmed Bin Hanbal is a praiseworthy example of adherence to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). He himself states that he never penned down a Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) that he did not abide by. That is indeed a tall order considering that he recorded thousands of Ahadith.

In addition, Imam Hanbal had a quiet dignity about him and an awe-inspiring personality. The atmosphere in his class was one of respect and deference. His students and other listeners would hesitate to oppose him or argue with him, despite the fact that the Imam did not mind disagreements.

In spite of a noble character and abundant religious knowledge, the Imam was very humble at heart. His modesty was such that he would often say, “I would like to go to Makkah and hide in one of the valleys there so that no one could find me.” Sometimes he would envy the ones whom Allah had not granted fame and distinction. His companion Yahya Bin Mu’een affirms his humility by his statement, “I never came across any person like Ahmed Bin Hanbal. For 50 years I have been associated with him. In this long period, we never saw him demean anyone or show the slightest sign of arrogance.”

How did Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal develop these extraordinary qualities? We can get an insight into his personality by the kind of answers he would give. When someone asked him what is strength and power, the Imam replied, “Forsaking the very thing that you crave for and which is your ultimate desire.” He meant that one should have complete control over one’s desires and animal instincts. This response provides a clue to the resolve and determination in the Imam’s personality. Once a companion of his, Yahya, swore upon God that the Imam had extraordinary strength of character, and that others could not walk on the same path as him.


Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal fell fatally ill at the age of 77 years in 241 Hijri. Crowds of people would throng his house to inquire about his health. The Caliph appointed a guard outside his door and appointed messengers to keep him informed about the Imam’s failing health. Ahmed Bin Hanbal died on Friday, the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal after remaining ill for nine days.

The entire population of Baghdad wanted to participate in the funeral proceedings. The Imam was wrapped in shrouds made by young innocent girls. All necessary items for his last ablution ritual were purchased from the market. Even the water for bathing was purchased and nothing was taken from his sons’ households. The shrouds sent by the governor of Baghdad were politely returned with gratitude. Thus we see that the same level of caution was exercised during his funeral as he would exhibit during his lifetime.

His funeral procession was a true sight to behold. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were streaming down the streets of Baghdad. The Imam was laid to rest at Asr time, although the procession had left for the graveyard in the morning. According to traditions, 600,000 to 700,000 mourners participated in the funeral procession.

It is said that this was the biggest funeral procession that Baghdad had ever seen. Mukhtar Masood in his book Avaz-e-Dost (The Voice of a Friend) compliments Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal in these words:

“Some people are blessed with such a life that they become martyrs of honour while still being alive. The people belonging to this tribe are ranked as living martyrs, and their leader’s name is Ahmed Bin Hanbal. During the reign of Mamoon he was tied with ropes and chains. During Mo’tasim’s era he would be lashed until he passed out, and prodded with a sword to regain consciousness. Wasiq kept him in solitary confinement. When he became old, persecution gave way to such respect and honour that remains fresh in people’s heart after a thousand years have passed. When the Day of Judgment comes, it won’t be surprising if the forehead glows due to prostration, and the back may become even brighter on account of the lashes he endured. On the same back that rulers use to whip, people happily carry loads of several generations and centuries. Actually, courage is a state of mind and sacrifice is endorsement of this state. Courage is a way of adoption and sacrifice is a way of rejection. If one manages to live through a perfect combination of adoption and rejection, his whole life is considered Jihad and his death is termed martyrdom.”


[] Reference books

p<{color:#000;}. Hayat-e-Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal by Mohammad Abu Zahra; translation by Raees Ahmad Jafry

p<{color:#000;}. Seerat A’imma-e-Arba by Raees Ahmad Jafry

p<{color:#000;}. Tazkira A’imma-e-Arba by Islam-ul-Haq Mazhari

p<{color:#000;}. Aila-i-Kalimatul Haq ki Riawayat Islam Main by Mian Mohammad Afzal

p<{color:#000;}. Dawat-o-Azeemat kay Roshan Sitaray by Abad Shah Puri

p<{color:#000;}. Hadith ki Chay Mustanad Kitabain by Khwaja Abdul Hai Farooqi

p<{color:#000;}. Hadith o Fiqh by Nuzhat Raees

p<{color:#000;}. Avaz-e-Dost by Mukhtar Masood

[] About the Author

Naima Sohaib, 40, is the author of “Tareekh-e-Islam ki Azeem Shaksiat”, a 500-page book in Urdu about twenty most prominent Muslim scholars, reformists, revivalists and caliphs of the last 1400 years, including several from the twentieth century. The book is written in easy language, punctuated occasionally by pertinent and thought-provoking comments by the author.

Naima has a Masters in Islamic Studies from University of Karachi and did her B.Sc. in Mathematics from Lahore College for Women. She has also authored several storybooks for children. She lives in Karachi with her husband and four daughters.

[] About the Translator

Eeman Asif Misbah, 45, is the English translator of the original Urdu book. She converted from Hinduism in 1996 after studying Islam for several years. Her passion to seek knowledge about great personalities of Muslim history led her to the present translation work. She is an avid reader of Islamic books.

Eeman is an MBA from Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. An expert in human resource management and general administration, she worked in the financial sector before her marriage. She lives in Karachi with her husband and two children.

Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal

Founder of the Hanbali school of thought, Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal attained the heights of scholarly knowledge at a young age and he was widely acclaimed by contemporaries in the Islamic world. He traveled far and wide to study Hadith and Fiqh. The task of collecting Ahadith took him to Kufa, Basra, Makkah, Madinah, Yemen and Syria. Many a journey was covered on foot and without sufficient resources to cover the travel cost. His most famous work is Al-Musnad that contains about 30,000 Ahadith. Imam Hanbal’s greatness is not only due to his scholarly achievements.  When faced with the task of standing up for the truth which meant challenging the ruler of the time, he demonstrated extreme courage and determination. He was persecuted, lashed, imprisoned and put in solitary confinement, but he never wavered from his stance. History remembers him as a courageous and dedicated intellectual whose work has benefited Muslims for centuries.

  • ISBN: 9781370444809
  • Author: Naima Sohaib
  • Published: 2016-08-22 09:50:15
  • Words: 8809
Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal