All praise is due to Allāh, we praise Him, seek His aid and His Forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allāh from the evils of our souls and the evils of our actions. Whomsoever Allāh guides there is none to misguide and whomsoever Allāh misguides there is none to guide. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh alone, without any partners and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.
To proceed: The following is an article regarding the life of the Imām of Ahlus-Sunnah, Abu Abdillāh Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (rahimahullāh). I took the liberty of expanding the article by adding verses from the Book of Allah, Ahādeeth of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), sayings of the scholars and maps so as to add to the richness of this tremendous subject.
A small amount of time cannot suffice for the tremendous life and history of this scholar – however, it suffices us that we choose from his life key moments. So if we are granted success in what we put forth then that is from Allāh, the Blessed and most High. And if we fall short, then the son of Adam is a being that is bound to fall short, and perfection is only with Allah, and in His Names and His Attributes. This Imam was an eminent personality, distinguished in rank and his status is not hidden from anyone. Even the one who does not know the details of his life, he knows for sure that he was a great scholar when his name is mentioned.
Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (rahimahullāh): he was Abu Abdillāh Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal Ibn Hilāl Ibn Asad ash-Shaybānee from the tribe of Shaybān (Banee Shaybān) who is Shaybān Ibn Dhuhl and he was from the tribe of Banee Bakr Ibn Wā’il Ibn Himb who was the offspring of Asad Ibn Rabee’ah Ibn Nizār Ibn Ma’ad Ibn Adnān; so he was Adnānee and his lineage meets that of the Prophet (ﷺ) at Nizār Ibn Ma’ad Ibn Adnān (rahimahullāh). This eminent scholar was born an orphan and he did not meet his father. His mother left Marw (in modern-day Turkmenistan) whilst she was still pregnant with him.
He was born in Baghdād and was raised there and was educated there, he settled there and likewise, he died there – may Allah have mercy upon him. He was born in Rabee’ al-Awwal in 164 AH and he died in Rabee’ al-Awwal 241 AH, and this too is from the amazing affairs. He lived for seventy-seven years. And this is known from others from the great scholars too such as Imam Al-Bukhāree who was born in Shawwāl and he died in Shawwāl (in 256 AH). And the scholars have stated that it is from the amazing affairs of the people of knowledge that the month in which they are born coincides with the month in which they die.
Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh) was raised as an orphan and it was his mother who raised him and cultivated him – and he turned out to be a man of excellence (by Allāh’s permission), and she nurtured him in the finest manner and raised him upon piety and virtue. Whilst he was still young, she was ardent in an utmost manner over his correct nurturing and upbringing – she taught him the best of manners. She made sure he studied and he memorised the Qur’an whilst he was still young, and Allah preserved him in his early years upon goodness. Then when he reached the age of sixteen, he started seeking the knowledge of Hadeeth. He remained earnest, serious and steadfast upon seeking knowledge from that time onwards. He ascended and he became an illustrious scholar, an imam in knowledge and reached his now well-known level of scholarship – as well as a model of an abstemious man (zāhid) of virtue who had little concern for worldly pleasures. He became a scholar skilled in the science of critical analysis of Prophetic narrations (an-naqd) – and later when the trial of the creation of Qur’an became widespread, he remained steadfast and patient – and in this period he attained renown for his perseverance and patience in the face of afflictions. And Allah put to trial in this time whoever He wished from His servants and chose them, so that His religion would be established by way of them, and because of their resolute stance.
It is by way of these luminaries in scholarship and steadfastness that His word is raised high. So He tests them and tries them, so the people see from them truthfulness and firmness upon the truth; and that the people see from them justice and mercy to humankind. So Allah made manifest His religion by way of Imām Ahmad. He made easy by way of him the path of those who seek the truth; He made clear by way of him the confusion of those in doubt and He established the proof by way of him upon the stubborn rejectors (mu’ānideen). And He (the Most High) crushed the innovations through him, and He made the Sunnah manifest by way of him – all of this with only a few helpers around him. And it is because of these amazing characteristics that he is given such a high station, and we invoke Allah’s mercy upon and hope for him a huge reward in the next life due to his aid of this Religion.
My brothers and sisters, do not be shocked at all of this praise of Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh) for if you were to gather together and follow up what the scholars have said about Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh) in praise, you would see before you volumes. All of this is from the favours of Allah (the Most High). The trustworthy (thiqah) Muhaddith, Abul-‘Abbās Muhammad Ibn Hussain Ibn Abdur-Rahman Al-Anmātee (rahimahullāh) said: “We were in a gathering with Yahyā Ibn Ma’een (d. 233H), Abu Khaithumah Zuhair Ibn Harb An-Nasā’ee (b. 160 d. 234H) the great hāfidh, and a body of the Major Scholars (al-kibār al-‘ulamā)…” And note that this term has been used from the earliest of times, Al-Kibār Al-‘Ulamā (the Major Scholars) and Al-Huffādh, i.e. the great memorisers and scholars of Hadeeth. He continued, “So they started praising Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. And they were mentioning his virtues in that sitting.” So someone said: “Do not be too plentiful in mentioning his praise over and over.” So Yahyā Ibn Ma’een (rahimahullāh, d.233) become angry, and he turned to the one who uttered that and said: “Being plentiful in the praise of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is too much?! Indeed, if we had a gathering just for the purpose of praising Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, we would still not be able to mention his virtues as are rightly due to him.”
Who said this? Yahyā Ibn Ma’een (d. 233). For this reason, there is no praise of Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh) that is too much and especially when it is upon the tongues of the likes of his peers from the scholars of guidance, those by way of whom Allah has raised His religion. So these terms, you find them in the sayings of the great scholars, from his own shaikhs who would praise him with these amazing words. Rather, even the shaikhs of his shaikhs would praise him! Abul-Waleed At-Tayālisee (b. 133, d.227) said, as has been narrated from him by Al-Bukhāree: “Had Ahmad been amongst the Children of Israel, they would have written for him a biography/volume.” Meaning, that he would have been mentioned in the volumes of their books and scriptures alongside the mention of the Prophets (ﷺ) and their disciples. They had, for example, the volume on the Prophet Dawood (ﷺ) and his discliples and so on. And Imām Ahmad said about him: “Abul-Waleed is precise in narrations. He was older than Ibn Mahdee by three years. Abul-Waleed today is the Shaikhul-Islām – there is no one who precedes him from the Hadeeth scholars.” (Siyar 10/342)
Imām Al-Bukhāree (d. 256) himself also narrated from Abul-Waleed At-Tayālasee that he said: “If Ahmad had been amongst the Children of Isrā’eel, he would have been the subject of an amazing story.” And this is why you find praise upon praise lavished upon Ahmad from the great and eminent scholars. So one should not think that this is going overboard with respect to him. Rather, consider and reflect over their words concerning Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh). From those words is the statement of ‘Alee Al-Madeenah (d. 235): “Ahmad is our master.” He also said: “No one has achieved after Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) that which Ahmad has achieved.” So Maymoonee (rahimahullāh) said to him: “Not even Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq? O Abul-Hasan!” He replied: “No even Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq.” Are you astonished at this saying? What was the reason behind this saying of ‘Alee Al-Madeenee? He explained it himself, saying: “Indeed Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq had helpers and supporters on the Day of Apostasy. As for Ahmad he had no helper and no supporter.” Ahmad was alone and isolated in the trial of the Qur’ān wherein people were compelled to say that it was created. ‘Alee Al-Madeenee (rahimahullāh) also said: “Allāh aided this religion at the hands of two men, and there is no third: Abu Bakr on the Day of Apostasy and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal on the Day of the Trial (concerning the Quran).” This is not to say at all that Ahmad is more virtuous than Abu Bakr (radiyallāh ‘anhu), rather only that Ahmad had no helpers when he stood firm, so he was put to trial and succeeded by Allah’s permission. There is no doubt, therefore, that Allah established His religion through Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in his era. Through each and every fitnah and trial Allah (the Most High) raises those will establish His religion.
Ibrāheem Ibn `Abdir-Rahmān al-`Adharee (rahimahullāh) said that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
يَحْمِلُ هَذَا الْعِلْمَ مِنْ كُلِّ خَلَفٍ عُدُولُهُ ، يَنْفُونَ عَنْهُ تَحْرِيفَ الْغَالِينَ ، وَانْتِحَالِ الْمُبْطِلِينَ ، وَتَأْوِيلِ الْجَاهِلِينَ
“This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation. They will expel from it the distortions of the extremists, the fabrications of the liars and the interpretations of the ignorant.” (A hasan hadeeth. Reported by Ibn Qutaibah in `Ayoonul-Akhbār, 2/118; al-Bayhaqee in Sunan al-Kubrā, 10/209; al-Ājurree in Ash-Sharee`ah, 1-2; See Mishkāt al-Masābeeh, 248.)
Ishāq Ibn Rāhooyah (d. 238) said: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is a proof between Allah and His servants in this world.” And as for Qutaibah Ibn Sa’eed Al-Baghlānee (d. 240), the Hāfidh, then his speech is extensive regarding Ahmad (rahimahullāh). He would say: “Ahmad is the Imām of the world.” On an occasion, he mentioned a group of the Tābi’een and mentioned Imām Ahmad along with them. So someone asked him: “You include Ahmad in your mention of the Tābi’een?” He responded: “Yes, amongst the greater Tābi’een!” So not only is he mentioned in the ranks of the Tābi’een but in the ranks of the greater Tābi’een! On another occasion, he said: “If Ahmad Ibn Hanbal had reached back into the era of Sufyān Ath-Thawree (d. 161H), Al-Awzā’ee (d. 157H), Mālik (d. 179H) and Layth Ibn Sa’d (d. 175), he would have been given precedence.” He also stated: “There is none who can be mentioned alongside Ahmad.” Meaning that when you mention Ahmad as a scholar, then mention him on his own [due to his level in knowledge and understanding, bravery and steadfastness]. He also commented: “If it was not for Ahmad, piety would have died out for there was none greater than Ahmad who served all of the Muslims. And it is a duty upon every Muslim to seek forgiveness for him.” That is because Allah preserved the Religion through his hands – Allah saved and protected the ‘aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah through him and that remained the case after him, but especially so in that time. And similar to this is the statement of Zakariyyah Ibn Yahyā As-Sājee Al-Basree (d. 307), the hāfidh and an Imām in ‘ilal (an expert in hidden defects found in the narrations), the author of the famous Kitābul-‘Ilal, who said: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in my view has more excellence than Mālik (d. 179), Al-Awzā’ee (d. 157), Ath-Thawree (d. 161H) and Ash-Shāfi’ee (d.204H).” So it was said to him: “Why?” He responded: “All of them had equals. As for Ahmad, he had no equal.” We say that because we know that Mālik was in Madeenah, Ash-Shāfi’ee at that time was in Iraq, Al-Awzā’ee was in Syria and Al-Layth was in Egypt – and all of them were near or amongst one another. Each of them was an equal to another in his region – Ash-Shāfi’ee was before that time in Egypt, and then he returned there and settled there. Each one in his country and region. As for Ahmad, he had no equal in any country or region. So all of these scholars were the proof of Allah established upon His creation, may He have mercy upon them all.
When Ahmad was beaten during the inquisition and he was imprisoned and the people remained silent through this out of fear, the scholar Bishr Ibn Hārith Al-Hāfee (d. 227), the zāhid who abstained from worldly pleasures, was asked: “Will you not speak out [regarding the Qur’an] just as Ahmad has spoken out?” What was his response, may Allah show him mercy? He said: “I do not have it in me to speak. Indeed, Ahmad has stood with the standing of the Prophets (peace be upon them).” Similar to this was stated by Yahyā Ibn Ma’een (d. 233): “They want us to be like Ahmad? No, by Allah! We are not like him and we don’t have the strength, for indeed he stood like the standing of the Prophets – and that is the favour of Allah, and He bestows it upon whom He wishes and Allah is the possessor of great bounty.”
Bishr al-Hāfee also said: “He was entered into a fire of tribulation and he came out of it as lustrous gold.” And in a narration, “He came out of it as red gold.” That is because when gold is put into the fire it gains lustre and radiance. The fire tries to consume it but it cannot, instead, the gold just becomes purer, radiant and lustrous. So during the trial of the creation of the Qur’an, Ahmad remained patient and content, and he knew that he was upon the truth. Those who are tried the most are Prophets of Allah, then those who resemble them the most:
عَنْ مُصْعَبِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، قَالَ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَىُّ النَّاسِ أَشَدُّ بَلاَءً قَالَ الأَنْبِيَاءُ ثُمَّ الأَمْثَلُ فَالأَمْثَلُ فَيُبْتَلَى الرَّجُلُ عَلَى حَسَبِ دِينِهِ فَإِنْ كَانَ دِينُهُ صُلْبًا اشْتَدَّ بَلاَؤُهُ وَإِنْ كَانَ فِي دِينِهِ رِقَّةٌ ابْتُلِيَ عَلَى حَسَبِ دِينِهِ فَمَا يَبْرَحُ الْبَلاَءُ بِالْعَبْدِ حَتَّى يَتْرُكَهُ يَمْشِي عَلَى الأَرْضِ مَا عَلَيْهِ خَطِيئَةٌ
Mus`ab Ibn `Umayr narrated from his father that a man said: “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people is tried most severely?” He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
“The Prophets, then those most resembling them, then those most resembling them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.” (At-Tirmidhi 2398)
So those who are most like them are those who proceed upon their methodology in calling to Allah and in calling to what they called to. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “No one has ever been harmed like I was harmed in the way of Allah.” (Hasan, reported by Ad-Daylamee, 4/51; See As-Silsilah, 2222)
Allah bestowed on Ahmad this favour of steadfastness in that era and no one shared these traits with him even though there were many great scholars in that time.
The second station we stop at with Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh) is his life in the pursuit of knowledge. We already mentioned that he was born in Baghdad and he was raised there. So his initial seeking of knowledge and specifically the knowledge of hadeeth and its sciences was from the scholars of Baghdād. Thereafter he travelled to the other lands in search of knowledge. So he travelled to Kufah, Basrah, Makkah, Madinah, Shām and to Yemen. He did not enter into any of these lands except that he took from the best of its scholars. He said about himself: “I started seeking hadeeth when I was sixteen years old. When Hushaim [Ibn Basheer Ibn Zādān Al-Wāsitee] died I was twenty years old. And I heard from Hushaim in the year 179 after the Hijrah.”
Hanbal Ibn Ishāq Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal (d. 273), who was the son of Ahmad’s paternal uncle, said: “Ahmad said: ‘I sought hadeeth in the year 179H and I was sixteen years old, and this was the first year in which I sought hadeeth. Then a man came to me and said, ‘Hammād Ibn Zayd has died,’ and Mālik had died in the same year.” So the year in which he started to seek hadeeth was the year in which Mālik and Hammād died (rahimahumullāh). Ahmad continued, “We were with Abdur-Razzāq as-San’ānee (b.126 AH – d.211 AH) [in Yemen] and the news of the deaths of [Sufyān] Ibn ‘Uyainah (d. 198), [Abdur-Rahmān] Ibn Mahdee and Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed reached us.” So from these statements, we gather where Imam Ahmad was and with whom.
Then he mentioned that he entered Basrah on five different occasions, and he counted the times and then said: “I missed out on Mālik, but Allah replaced him for me with Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyainah.” And Ibn ‘Uyainah shared with Mālik in taking narrations from Az-Zuhree (d. 124). Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyainah was an illustrious imām and a hāfidh. Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh) also said: “I missed out on Hammād Ibn Zayd (d. 179), Allah replaced him for me with Ismā’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah (d. 193).” So men will die, but the truth, the Sunnah and its carriers will remain.
عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِنَّمَا أَخَافُ عَلَى أُمَّتِي الأَئِمَّةَ الْمُضِلِّينَ قَالَ وَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم – لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي عَلَى الْحَقِّ ظَاهِرِينَ لاَ يَضُرُّهُمْ مَنْ يَخْذُلُهُمْ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ – قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى وَهَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ – قَالَ سَمِعْتُ مُحَمَّدَ بْنَ إِسْمَاعِيلَ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ عَلِيَّ بْنَ الْمَدِينِيِّ يَقُولُ وَذَكَرَ هَذَا الْحَدِيثَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم – لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي ظَاهِرِينَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ – فَقَالَ عَلِيٌّ هُمْ أَهْلُ الْحَدِيثِ
Thawbān (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Indeed what I fear most for my Ummah are the leaders of misguidance.” And Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “There shall never cease to be a group from my Ummah manifest upon the truth. They are not harmed by those who forsake them, nor by those who oppose them until the command of Allah comes and they are still like that.” Abu ‘Eesā said: ‘Alee al-Madeenee mentioned this hadeeth, and then said: “They are Ahlul-Hadeeth.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi no. 2229]
From these reports, we can see the desire of the early people of knowledge in seeking out the scholars with the shortest chains of narration and meet the best and the greatest of the scholars of the age. If one misses out on seeing a scholar of a particular land, then he looks to see who is the closest to his level, nobility, scholarship and rank, and heads out to him. They did not desire except the highest of those in station of knowledge and those with the shortest chains of narration. So seeking the highest in station is both general and relative. By relative, it is intended is descriptive highness; and that is that that you seek out the great scholars, the elders, the kibār – this is what is intended by seeking the highest scholars in relation to characteristics, that they possess traits that are not shared by others.
So Ahmad said: “I missed out on Mālik, but Allah replaced him for me with Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyainah (d. 198). I missed out on Hammād Ibn Zayd (d. 179), Allah replaced him for me with Ismā’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah (d. 193).” Ahmad, therefore, did not cease to be keen and desirous of meeting the major scholars and to take from them in every matter of Religion that he was capable of. And he exerted himself fully in seeking out the scholars and Imams and travelling to them such that it was said to him: “O Abu Abdillāh! Take it easy on yourself! You go out seeking knowledge [putting yourself through hardship], but it will come to you, inshā’Allāh.” He replied: “I will continue to seek knowledge until I enter the grave!”
We learn from this something important, and that is that these great distinguished scholars would not allow their fame to prevent them from changing their position, from being humble and sincere, and to seek out what they did not previously have knowledge of, or to seek out that which had previously passed them by, even if that was by learning from someone lesser than them. And this is what occurred with Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh), that he would write knowledge from some of his contemporaries and students to the extent that he wrote one hadeeth from Imam Abu Dawood (d. 275). And Abu Dawood (rahimahullāh) was overjoyed at that, knowing that Ahmad narrated from him, even though he himself was a great scholar and an Imam, yet he did not narrate this one hadeeth except from him.
Abdullāh (d. 290), the son of Imam Ahmad said: “My father left out to Tarsus (a city in south-central Turkey) walking…” this journey was not easy. Yet he went even further, he travelled to San’ā in Yemen walking, and he made Hajj five times, three of which he walked. He walked and walked and tired himself out, to the point that splits appeared in his feet. He experienced the weather and terrain change around him as he passed from one land to another as he travelled – so he would go out and seek knowledge even though it wore him out – seeking the knowledge of the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger through trusted chains of narration. Al-Hāfidh Ahmad Ibn Ibrāheem Ad-Dawraqee (d. 246) said to Ahmad: “O Abā Abdillāh! You have torn yourself apart in this journey you made to Abdur-Razzāq.” What was Ahmad’s response? He said to him: “It is the lightest of hardships compared to what I benefitted from Abdur-Razzāq [as-San’ānee].” The hardship seems light if you achieve what you desired, and you got to your goal – and he reached his goal, which was to get the shortest chain of narration reaching the Prophet (ﷺ). He said: “I wrote from Abdur-Razzāq (d. 211) his ahādeeth from Az-Zuhree (d. 124) from Sālim Ibn Abdillāh (d. 106) from his father (i.e. Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar). And I wrote from him the ahādeeth of Az-Zuhree from Sa’eed Ibn Al-Musayyib (d. 94) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him).”
Ahmad Ad-Dawraqee said, “When Ahmad Ibn Hanbal returned from Abdur-Razzāq, I saw him looking very weak in Makkah. He was clearly tired and exhausted. I spoke to him, and he said, ‘[This exhaustion] is insignificant compared to the benefit we have taken from Abdur-Razzāq.’”
He travelled to San’ā to write the hadeeth of two men, Sālim Ibn Abdillah (d. 106) from Ibn ‘Umar and Sa’eed Ibn Al-Musayyib (d. 94) from Abu Hurayrah. In this, he found joy and pleasure and a sense of pride. And no doubt he attained more than that too, but if he had only attained the narrations of these two great scholars, that would have made the journey worthwhile. Ahmad said regarding this: “The hardship and tiredness in travelling from Baghdad in Iraq to Sana’a in Yemen are small.” Look at the resolve of the man!
Imam Ahmad and Yahyā Ibn Ma’een left out to perform Hajj – so they resolved to perform Hajj and then to go out to Yemen to Abdur-Razzāq so as to take narrations from him. But that year Abdur-Razzāq (rahimahullāh) himself made Hajj. Imam Ahmad said: “We started our tawāf and we saw Abdur-Razzāq in tawāf! Yahyā recognised him because he knew him from before. As for me, I didn’t recognise him as I didn’t know him from before.” He continued: “So we made the tawāf and he made tawāf; and when he had finished he stood behind the Maqām [of Ibrāheem], prayed and sat. So when we too had finished, we came to him. Yahyā gave him salām and said to him, ‘This is your brother Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’.” So he greeted and gave him salām, and then said: “May Allah give him a long life, for I have not heard anything about him except that which brings me happiness.” Then he brought them close and sat with them for a while, and then stood, at which point Yahyā said to him: “We can have an appointment with you here tomorrow, inshā’ Allah.” So when Abdur-Razzāq left, Ahmad said to Yahyā: “Why did you take an appointment from the shaikh?” Yahyā said: “So we can meet him again and narrate from him and write from him. Allah has shown us mercy: a month to travel to Sana’a, another month to get back and expenditure on top! So this is sadaqah from Allah to you.” So Ahmad responded: “Allah is not the one who wants this, for indeed I made intention for His sake, so I will not change it. I will not narrate from him except in San’ā.” So he left after that for Sana’a and he bore the hardship of the journey until he reached Abdur-Razzāq As-San’ānee once more, and then he penned down hadeeth from him. And there is some differing about what occurred after Hajj. In one report from Imam Ahmad, it states that he went to San’ā straight after Hajj. In another report, it states that he returned to Baghdad, stayed there a while and then embarked upon the journey to Sana’a – and this was the preferred saying of Al-Bayhaqee (d. 458), and it seems to be more correct. The point is that Ahmad resolved to travel, seeking the Face of Allah, in order to seek the hadeeth of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) from Abdur-Razzāq in San’ā. He preferred not to combine that trip with Hajj, but to intend a separate journey in pursuit of knowledge to San’a so that his intention would be sound and pure. Who would do this, my brothers? The likes of this conduct which is established in the hearts; and Allah raises the possessors of such hearts and settles them in lofty stations. Allah raises their levels by way of this conduct and its likes in this world, and inshā’ Allāh, in the Hereafter their station will be greater with Allah (the Most High). Ahmad rejected this change of intention on the part of Yahyā Ibn Ma’een.
Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said:
كَثِيرِ بْنِ قَيْسٍ، قَالَ كُنْتُ جَالِسًا مَعَ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ فِي مَسْجِدِ دِمَشْقَ فَجَاءَهُ رَجُلٌ فَقَالَ يَا أَبَا الدَّرْدَاءِ إِنِّي جِئْتُكَ مِنْ مَدِينَةِ الرَّسُولِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لِحَدِيثٍ بَلَغَنِي أَنَّكَ تُحَدِّثُهُ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مَا جِئْتُ لِحَاجَةٍ . قَالَ فَإِنِّي سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ
مَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَطْلُبُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَلَكَ اللَّهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا مِنْ طُرُقِ الْجَنَّةِ وَإِنَّ الْمَلاَئِكَةَ لَتَضَعُ أَجْنِحَتَهَا رِضًا لِطَالِبِ الْعِلْمِ وَإِنَّ الْعَالِمَ لَيَسْتَغْفِرُ لَهُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَوَاتِ وَمَنْ فِي الأَرْضِ وَالْحِيتَانُ فِي جَوْفِ الْمَاءِ وَإِنَّ فَضْلَ الْعَالِمِ عَلَى الْعَابِدِ كَفَضْلِ الْقَمَرِ لَيْلَةَ الْبَدْرِ عَلَى سَائِرِ الْكَوَاكِبِ وَإِنَّ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ وَإِنَّ الأَنْبِيَاءَ لَمْ يُوَرِّثُوا دِينَارًا وَلاَ دِرْهَمًا وَرَّثُوا الْعِلْمَ فَمَنْ أَخَذَهُ أَخَذَ بِحَظٍّ وَافِرٍ
Kathir ibn Qays said: I was sitting with Abu Darda’ in the mosque of Damascus. A man came to him and said: “Abu Dardā, I have come to you from the town of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) for a tradition that I have heard you relate from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). I have come for no other purpose.” So Abu Dardā said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: If anyone travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the paths to Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge; the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and even the fish in the oceans will ask forgiveness for the scholar. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like that of the moon on the night when it is full over the rest of the stars. The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave behind neither dinār nor dirham, they only leave knowledge. And whoever takes it has taken an abundant portion.” [Abu Dawood 3641; Al-Albānee declared it to be saheeh]
For these reasons everyone from the imams of hadeeth in all of the various lands realised the goodness and the lofty station of Ahmad and would praise him even before they would meet him. Therefore, there emanated speech from these great and noble scholars, these huffādh, from the various lands in praise of Imam Ahmad – as if he was their close friend, and companion – may Allah have mercy on them all.
There is a report which its chain of narration from a person who was with Isma’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah (d. 193) in his gathering wherein someone made a comment that caused some of those present to laugh. Amongst those present was Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (rahimahullāh). Isma’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah saw him in the gathering and became angry with them and said: “You laugh in a gathering [of knowledge] where there is Ahmad Ibn Hanbal?” Meaning, it is not correct that you behave like this in the presence of such a man. Why? Due to what you know of his seriousness, and that he takes himself seriously and is firm willed – and he is one who has turned away from pleasures of the world. There is no doubt that laughing involves happiness but sometimes too much laughing can lay bare one’s soul and Ahmad was a man who was resolute.
So Isma’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah (rahimahullāh) became angry and said: “You laugh in a gathering [of knowledge] and with me is Ahmad Ibn Hanbal?” And this was even though Ahmad had said: “I missed out on Hammād Ibn Zayd, Allah replaced him for me with Ismā’eel Ibn ‘Ulayyah.” And this was the conduct of these scholars with their students – but of course, who were those students? The likes of Ahmad.
Nowadays, you sit in a gathering of knowledge (a dars), and a student is talking on his phone and answers his phone, he may look at a message on his phone and hold a conversation with his friend and he doesn’t know what the teacher is saying. So if you wish the teacher to give you worth and excellence, then give worth to the knowledge that is being taught in front of you. This is Isma’eel who Ahmad regarded as a replacement after Hammād Ibn Zayd (d. 179). And he gave Ahmad this honour. Why? Because Ahmad respected the gatherings of knowledge and gave them worth, and never took them as a joke – he did not see them except as serious gatherings, to the extent that his shaikhs hated that jokes be made in his presence, even if the joke or fun was one permissible and not harām. Khalaf Ibn Sālim (rahimahullāh): “We were in the gathering of Yazeed Ibn Hāroon (d. 206)…” and Yazeed Ibn Hāroon (d. 206) was a hāfidh and an eminent scholar, “and Yazeed Ibn Hāroon made a joke with the one who was reading the hadeeth to the shaikh, so Ahmad Ibn Hanbal started clearing his throat. But Yazeed Ibn Hāroon did not turn or look towards him, but said, ‘Who is clearing his throat?’ They said, ‘Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.’ So Yazeed (rahimahullāh) said, ‘Why did you not tell me that Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was in the gathering so that I would know not to crack a joke?’ And he said this while striking his hand on his forehead.” Why? Again because they knew how much Ahmad honoured the gatherings of knowledge and his respect and veneration of the hadeeth of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ).
So he would not see them except as serious gatherings, free from fun and jokes, and gatherings of respect, and having awe and reverential fear, and honour, and tranquillity and veneration for the hadeeth of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ). Ash-Shāfi’ee (d. 204) said: “I have not seen anyone more intelligent than two men: Sulaymān Ibn Dawood Al-Hāshimee (d. 219) and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” And when either one of the two entered a gathering, the people would be in awe of them – such a gathering would be one enveloped in awe, and tranquillity and that is because it would be known that these two, may Allah’s mercy be upon them, were from those the greatest in knowledge, giving it rightful honour and respect. Ahmad Ibn Sinān (d. 256) said: “I did not see Yazeed Ibn Hāroon (d. 206) give anyone more esteem than he gave to Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and I did not see him honour anyone more than he honoured Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. He would him seat him next to himself.” Meaning when Ahmad came to a gathering of hadeeth, he would sit him down next to himself, “and he never respected anyone more than his respect for Ahmad, and he would not joke with him.”
When you sit in the company of your shaikh, do not joke in his presence. They would not joke in front of Ahmad out of their respect for him. When Ahmad fell sick, Yazeed Ibn Hāroon (d. 206) set out to visit him. So Ahmad was asked about that, “Why is Yazeed Ibn Hāroon paying you a visit alongside his greatness as a scholar, whilst you are his student?” So Ahmad replied: “I was with him in Wāsit, and I would sit close to him when he was narrating and he knew me…” meaning, he knew him by his face, “So one day he said: ‘Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed narrated to us saying: I heard (sami’tu) Sālim Ibn Abdillāh [Ibn ‘Umar]…’ So I said to him: ‘It is not like that, rather it is: Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed said that (anna) Sālim narrated…’ So Yazeed Ibn Hāroon entered his house and he looked into his book and it stated ‘Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed said: anna (that) Sālim narrated…’ but it did not state ‘Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed said: I heard (sami’tu)’.” So the chain of narration did not come with the wording indicating that Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed “heard”, rather it stated: “Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed that Sālim…” which may carry the meaning that Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed heard from Sālim Ibn Abdillah or it may mean that there is a disconnect in the chain of narration. So Ahmad did not accept that Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed heard directly from Sālim Ibn Abdillāh, and that’s why he said: “It is not like that.” So Yazeed Ibn Hāroon asked: “And why is that?” So Ahmad replied: “Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed said: anna (that) Sālim narrated….” It was for that reason Yazeed Ibn Hāroon went to his home and took out his book and looked into it and found it was just as Ahmad had said. So he returned back to his class and said: “Who corrected me?” He knew who it was by face, but wanted to know his name. They responded: “It was Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” He said, “Change it to as he said it, and write it down as he said it, for he is correct.” Thereafter, any time there was some narrating of hadeeth, he would draw Ahmad close and say: “O son of Hanbal, come closer, here, here,” until he had him sitting right next to him. So this occurred when he recognised the amazing memory of Ahmad, and his precision in narrating, likewise his good character and his gentle manner in correcting his shaikh. So this why he had a lofty station in the eyes of Yazeed Ibn Hāroon and would respect none like he respected Ahmad and he would not joke in front of him, and he would not honour anyone like he honoured Ahmad (rahimahullāh). There is plenty that can be said in this affair – and even the books written about Imam Ahmad cannot be enumerated. Maybe the best of what has been written is in the Tāreekh of Ibn Asākir, i.e. Tāreekh Dimashq, wherein he wrote a long biography – and likewise there is the work of Ibn al-Jawzee.
After this, we mention something of his memory, his knowledge, the strength of his understanding, fiqh and precision. Abdullāh Ibn Imam Ahmad narrated on Abu Zur’ah ar-Rāzee (d. 264) that he used to say: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal had memorised a million hadeeth.” So it was: “How do you know that?” He replied: “I mentioned to him chapter headings, and under each chapter heading he knew the hadeeth connected to it. So when he had gathered it together, it came to million hadeeth.” And the intent of that is: that the chains of transmission may be repeated for the same hadeeth. So if one hadeeth comes through a hundred chains of transmission, then it would be counted as a hundred hadeeth. So one text (matn) could be a gathering of sixty or seventy texts and they may have a hundred chains of transmission. Al-Bardha’ee (rahimahullāh) said to Abu Zur’ah (d. 264): “So who is the greater memoriser, you or Imam Ahmad?” He answered: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” He asked: “How do you know that?” Abu Zur’ah replied: “I found the books of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: and it did not say at the beginnings of the sections (the ajzā): ‘This is the hadeeth of so-and-so.’ Nor did it say at the beginnings of the narrations (ahādeeth): ‘So-so-so narrated to us.’” Meaning: for example, this section is from Ibn Shāmookh, this section is from Mutayad, this section is from Abu Nu’aym Fadl Ibn Dukayr (all narrators of hadeeth) – so here it was not written on the front of the section that: “These are the hadeeth of so-and-so.” And inside each section also: there was not a mention of the conditions of the narrators, e.g. so-and-so narrated (haddathanā), meaning the terms he used to narrate the hadeeth from the author of the book of hadeeth back to the Messenger (ﷺ). Abu Zu’rah said: “Ahmad memorised all of that and I did not have the strength to do that.” It is necessary to write at the beginning of each section (juz) that ‘these are the ahadeeth of so-and-so’ otherwise it will cause confusion and mixing. But Ahmad knew that this was the hadeeth of so-and-so and within the sections, he did not write ‘haddathanā so-and-so that akhbaranā so-and-so’ – he knew and memorised that this hadeeth came from my shaikh so-and-so, so he would merely write the shaikh of his shaikh. Abu Zur’ah said: “I couldn’t do that.” Meaning after a time I may forget from whom I had heard a hadeeth. And as for Ahmad (rahimahullāh), he would remember all of that. On another occasion, Abu Zur’ah (rahimahullāh) said: “The books and writings of Imam Ahmad were appraised after his death and they found them to fill twelve saddle-loads of a riding beast, and Ahmad had put all of what they contained to his memory.” So just this topic is immense, and Ahmad was no doubt astonishing in this affair in terms of his hifdh (memory) and precision, alongside his fiqh and understanding.
Part 4: His fiqh was born testified to during his own lifetime.
Abu Bakr Al-Khallāl (d. 311) narrated from Abul-Qāsim Ibn Hubbuk who said: “Most people think that Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is remembered mostly due to the inquisition and the trials surrounding the tribulation of the creation of the Qur’an – but that is not the case. Indeed, if Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was asked about an affair, it was as if the knowledge of the world was before his eyes.”
The point is that Ahmad was given his lofty station due to knowledge and his desire to pursue it with zeal and that he would take it from the best of those who possessed it, and endeavour in every way possible and by any means available to him in order to attain it. So then when the trial of the Qur’an began, it only increased him in repute because the fact is that he was already well known and famous. This is why Abul-Qāsim said: “Most people think that Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is remembered mostly due to the inquisition and the trials surrounding the tribulation of the creation of the Qur’an – but that is not the case. Indeed, if Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was asked about an affair, it was as if the knowledge of the world was before his eyes.”
Ibrāheem Al-Harbee (d. 285 AH rahimahullāh) said: “I reached three men the likes whom I have never seen. It is not possible for any women [after them] to give birth to likes of these men: Abu ‘Ubayd Al-Qāsim Ibn Sallām (d. 224 AH) – I have no comparison for him except a mountain into whom a soul was blown!…” and this was due to his strength of knowledge and firmness, “and I saw Bishr Ibn Al-Hārith Al-Hāfee – I have no comparison for except of a man who is composed of intellect from his head to his feet, and I saw Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and I saw that Allah had gathered for him the knowledge of the early and later scholars, in every field. Allah gives that whom He wishes and He withholds it from whom He wishes.”
Abdur-Razzāq As-San’ānee (d. 211) said: “There were four who journeyed to me from Iraq, and they are the leaders in the field of hadeeth: Ash-Shādhakoonee (Abu Ayoob Sulaymān Ibn Dāwood, d. 236), and he was best of them in memorising hadeeth; Ibnul-Madeenee (d. 235), and he was the most knowledgeable concerning differing in hadeeth; Ibnul-Ma’een (d. 233), and he was the most knowledgeable concerning the rijjāl (i.e. the narrators in the chains of hadeeth), and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and he gathered all that which has been mentioned.”
Today they say: Yahyā Ibn Ma’een is the most knowledgeable concerning differing that has occurred concerning the narrators and leave off Ahmad. They say: ‘Alee Al-Madeenee is the most knowledgeable regarding differing in hadeeth and hidden defects, and they leave off Ahmad. In memory, they Ash-Shādhakoonee and again they leave out Ahmad. They forget that Ahmad is the most knowledgeable in the science of rijāl (narrators), and the most knowledgeable in ikhtilāf regarding hadeeth. Abdur-Razzāq is the one who said: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, he gathered all that which has been mentioned [in the previous three scholars].” And that is true concerning Ahmad (rahimahullāh), and to further prove the point, Imām Ash-Shāfi’ee (rahimahullāh d. 204H) said: “I left Baghdad and did not leave behind me anyone more pious, or with more taqwā, nor with greater understanding, nor having more knowledge than Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” Al-Harmalah narrated this from Ash-Shāfi’ee.
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
“Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” [Al-Mujādilah: 11]
عَنْ حُمَيْدِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ مُعَاوِيَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم – مَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “If Allah wants good for somebody, he makes him understand the Religion.” [Bukhāree, no. 71]
Al-Muzanee (d. 264) narrated from Ash-Shāfi’ee (d. 204) that he said: “Three from the scholars are from the amazing ones of the era: the first is an Arab who is unable to make i’rāb (grammatical deconstruction) of even a word…” and that was due to his poor grammar, and who was that? “…that is Abu Thawr (d. 240). The second: a non-Arab, who never makes a grammatical error in any single word, and that is Al-Hasan Az-Za’farānee (d. 260H). The third: a young man who, everything he utters is attested to as being correct by the great scholars, and that is Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” This is the witness and praise of Ash-Shāfi’ee for the people of knowledge. Ahmad himself said: “Ash-Shāfi’ee is like the sun for the world.”
Abu Ahmad bin ‘Adee (d. 365) said: I heard Muhammad bin ‘Abdillaah as-Sairafee ash-Shaafi’ee (d. 330) saying to them, i.e. to his students: “Take a lesson from these two: Husayn al-Karabeesee (d. 248) and Abu Thawr (d. 240). The knowledge of Abu Thawr was not even a tenth of Husayn in his knowledge and memorisation – but Ahmad spoke against al-Karabeesee in the issue of the utterance of the Qur’an (whether it is created or not), so he fell [in rank] – and he praised Abu Thawr [for his adherence to the Sunnah] so he rose [in rank].” [Tabaqaat ash-Shaafi’yyeen of Ibn Katheer and Tabaqaat ash-Shaafi’iyyah al-Kubraa of al-Subkee]
Why was he raised, because of his steadfastness, and Al-Karabeesee was refuted due to his innovation and misguidance. So, the affair returns back to steadfastness upon the truth and acting upon it, even if one’s knowledge is lesser. Imām Al-Barbahāree (d. 329H) stated:
“Know that knowledge is not merely about narrating a great deal and having plentiful books. Rather the scholar is the one who follows and adheres to knowledge and the Sunnah even if his knowledge is lesser and his books are few. And whoever opposes the Book and Sunnah, then he is a person of innovation even if he has much knowledge and plentiful books.” [no. 104]
In his commentary of this, Shaikh Sālih Al-Fawzān stated: “So long as he is an innovator, his knowledge will not benefit him, even if he has an abundance of knowledge, is well-versed and learned. If he is not a follower of the Messenger (ﷺ) and he merely acts upon the sayings of this one and that one then there is no benefit in his knowledge and he does not benefit from his books. Allāh, the Most High, said regarding the Jews:
مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ حُمِّلُوا التَّوْرَاةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا
‘The example of those who were entrusted with the Torah and then did not take it on is like that of a donkey who carries volumes of books.’ [Al-Jumu’ah: 5] The one who has a vast library of books yet he abandons acting, or is an innovator, then such a one is like a donkey who carries books upon his back but does not benefit from them.”
Al-Barbahāree also said:
“Know that there has never been a heresy (or innovation) except from the ignorant rabble who follow anyone who screams out to them. They bend with every wind that blows, so anyone who is like that has no Religion. Allāh, the Mighty and Majestic, said, ‘They did not differ until after the knowledge came to them, [and then they differed] due to envy between themselves.’ They are the wicked scholars, the people of greed for this world and innovations.” [no. 102]
Al-Marwazee (rahimahullāh), from the great Scholars and companions of Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal (rahimahullāh) said: I departed to go see Al-Karabeesee, at the time when he was of good standing, for he used to defend the Sunnah and demonstrate support for Abu ‘Abdillaah (Ahmad Ibn Hanbal). So I said to him: ‘Indeed, the people wish to present this book Al-Mudalliseen to Abu ‘Abdillaah (Ahmad bin Hanbal). So it is best that you regret what you wrote or I will inform Abu ‘Abdillaah. So he said to me: ‘Indeed, Abu ‘Abdillaah is a righteous man, a man of his status has been granted the ability to attain the truth. And I am very pleased that my book will be presented to him. Abu Thawr, Ibn ‘Aqeel and Hubaish have already asked me to destroy this book, but I refused and said to them: Rather, I will intensify my promotion of it!’ So he persisted in that and he refused to go back on what he wrote in it. So I brought the book to Abu ‘Abdillaah (Imaam Ahmad), while he was unaware of who authored it. And in the book, there was some disparaging of Al-A’mash and support in favour of al-Hasan Ibn Saalih. And there was written in it: ‘If you say that Al-Hasan Ibn Saalih took the views of the Khawaarij, then this Ibnuz-Zubair is truly the one who has accepted the views of the Khawaarij!’ So when it was read to Abu ‘Abdillaah Ahmad bin Hanbal (rahimahullāh), he said: ‘This book compiles, for those who oppose (the Sunnah), that which they are not able to use as substantial proof. Warn the people about this book!‘ And he renounced it.’” [Sharh ‘Ilal-ut-Tirmidhee (2/806-808)]
Rabee’ Ibn Sulaymān said that Ash-Shāfi’ee said: “Ahmad is an imam in eight affairs:  an imam in hadeeth,  an imam in fiqh,  an imam in the Arabic language,  an imam in Qur’an,  an imam in poverty,  an imam in zuhd,  an imam in piety (wara’),  and an imam in Sunnah.” Indeed, he spoke the truth just as Ibn Abee Ya’lā (d. 458) and others have commented on this saying of Ash-Shāfi’ee. Truly, the whole life of Imam Ahmad was a life of scholarship and knowledge – and his worship revolved around these matters. Ibn Abee Ya’lā (rahimahullāh) stated: “Imām Ash-Shāfi’ee spoke the truth in his encompassing the scholarship of Ahmad to these affairs.” And Allah, the Most High, said:
قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَ كَّرُ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
“Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding.” [Az-Zumar: 9]
So this is the great status of Imām Ahmad in knowledge, and speech concerning him is not contradicted by anyone, to the extent that the Muslims are in agreement regarding his leadership in the field of hadeeth. As-Shāfi’ee (rahimahullāh) said to Ahmad: “O Abā Abdillāh, if a hadeeth is authentic with you, then teach it to me so I may proceed with it and speak with it – whether it be from Kūfā, or Shām or Basrah.”
On an occasion, Ash-Shāfi’ee came to Ahmad in Baghdad and said to him: “O Abā Abdillāh, I was in a gathering with the people (scholars) of Iraq and we spoke about various [religious] issues…” and then he mentioned them, “If only I had for one of the points discussed a hadeeth.” So Ahmad gave him for that one point three hadeeth with their chains of narration and authenticity. Ash-Shāfi’ee (rahimahullāh) said to him: “May Allāh give you reward and recompense you with good.” So this proves his hifdh in the field of hadeeth – and Ash-Shāfi’ee was his Shaikh, who was a eminent scholar and was a great hāfidh himself, except that in this affair, it escaped him. So, Ahmad was stronger than him in hifdh, and in both there is greater scholarship. May Allah have mercy upon them.
In the arena of fiqh, Imām Ahmad disliked that his words be penned down on their own, and he would say, “Don’t blindly follow me, don’t blindly follow Ash-Shāfi’ee, nor Al-Awzā’ee, nor Athawree, nor Mālik – rather you should take from where we took.” He also said: “I am astonished at a people who know a chain of narration and its authenticity, yet they leave off the hadeeth and go to the opinion of Sufyān, or Al-Awzā’ee, or Mālik. All of them may have an opinion, but the proof lies in the [Prophetic] narrations.” So he commanded with following the revelation and not the opinions of men that contradict it:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ أَوَ لَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُ هُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ
“And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?” [Al-Baqarah: 170]
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, so then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Āli Imran: 31]
اتَّبِعُوا مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُم مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا مِن دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۗ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَذَكَّرُونَ
“Follow, [O mankind], what has been revealed to you from your Lord and do not follow other than Him any allies. Little do you remember.” [Al-A’rāf: 3]
Imām Ahmad honoured and respected the hadeeth of the Prophet (ﷺ), and he raised high the station of the narrations of the Messenger (ﷺ). Allāh brought forth for him students that heard his speech and they recorded it in books. His major students recorded his words in works known as Al-Masā’il. Abu Bakr Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Al-Marroodhee (d. 275) narrated his sayings in his Masā’il – and he was from his earliest students, the one who closed his eyes upon his death and washed him, and no one would precede him in front of Ahmad. His son, Sālih (d. 265) narrated from him too, Abdillāh narrated from him, Abu Bakr Ibn Hānee Al-Athram (d. 260) narrated from him, Abu Dawood (d. 275) narrated from him – a good body of his students narrated him – Ishāq Ibn Mansoor Al-Kawsaj (d. 251) narrated from him. They all narrated from his statements in fiqh and his rulings to the extent that there came along al-Imām, al-hāfidh, Abu Bakr Al-Khallāl (b. 243 d. 311) – Adh-Dhahabee said that it is possible he saw Ahmad as a young boy, but he learned much from Al-Marroodhee – so al-Khalāl gathered the statements and rulings that were narrated from the students of Ahmad, and likewise, from students of the students of Ahmad – he gathered them into a work and put them into order and gave them chapter headings – and this is a huge and immense book called Jāmi’u ‘ilm al-Imām Ahmad. Yet still, Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728) said: “There is much that is missing from it.” But this is truly an immense gathering of the speech, fiqh and rulings of Imām Ahmad. Ibnul-Qayyim (d. 752) said in his time, centuries later, “We have managed to attain even more than what is in that work [of Al-Khallāl]…” meaning more than what Al-Khalāl gathered in his Jāmi’. Ibnul-Qayyim continued, “…and what has reached us from the speech of Ahmad him is forty volumes, handwritten,” and not all of it is the writings of Al-Khalāl (ﷺ). This is what reached Ibnul-Qayyim. Al-Khateeb said in Al-Tāreekh, “Al-Khallāl gathered the various fields of the knowledge of Imām Ahmad. He sought it out, travelled to gather it, he wrote it down, he authored books. There was no other from those who took on the responsibility of gathering the madhhab of Ahmad who gathered the likes of Al-Khallāl.” Adh-Dhahabee said: “When Al-Khallāl died (in 311H), he was buried next to Al-Marroodhee (d. 275).”
It is the likes of these scholars for whom even the fish seek forgiveness and the ants in their nests, inshā’Allāh.
وَإِنَّ الْعَالِمَ لَيَسْتَغْفِرُ لَهُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَوَاتِ وَمَنْ فِي الأَرْضِ وَالْحِيتَانُ فِي جَوْفِ الْمَاءِ
“The inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and even the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the scholar.”
As for the fiqh of Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh), then it was built upon the Book of Allah, and upon the Sunnah of His Messenger (ﷺ), upon the Hadeeth and upon the Āthār. Then after that, he employed al-Qiyās, finding a close analogy to a new situation from the revealed texts. Ahmad was the most well-versed in the Hadeeth of Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ), and in the Qur’ān too. He has a Tafseer of the Qur’ān covering a hundred and twenty thousand ahādeeth. He was an expert in the abrogated and what abrogates (an-Nāsikh wal-Mansookh), and he knows what was revealed before and after in terms of āyāt and ahādeeth. He has a refutation of the Jahmiyyah in that which they take from the Qur’ān of the ambiguous and unclear verses in order to misguide the people.
So does this not prove that he was a scholar of the Qur’an and Sunnah? How can he not be an ‘ālim when he has a Tafseer encompassing one hundred and twenty thousand ahādeeth? Then let one say what he wishes to say after that! Added to that is that there was not a person who reached his station in memorisation of the narrations and sayings of the Sahābah (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) and all of this has been born witness to by the greats Imams of hadeeth (ﷺ).
So he is an imam in all three of these: Qur’an, Hadeeth and Āthār – so what remains? Nothing remains after that except Qiyās. And Qiyās is nothing but a branch of these three. So if a person does not know the Qur’an, Sunnah and Āthār, then upon what is he going make Qiyās and issue Fatawā. When Ash-Shāfi’ee debated Muhammad Ibn Hasan in this point: “I implore you by Allah, who is more knowledgeable of the Qur’an? My companion (Mālik, d. 179) or yours (Abu Haneefah, d. 150)?” Muhammad Ibn Hasan replied: “Your companion,” meaning, Imām Mālik (d. 179). Ash-Shāfi’ee continued: “And who is more knowledgeable of the hadeeth of the Messenger (ﷺ)? Our companion or your companion?” He replied again, “Your companion (i.e. Mālik).” Ash-Shāfi’ee said: “Then nothing else remains except Qiyās. And if a person is not a scholar of the Book of Allah and of the Sunnah of the Messenger (ﷺ), then upon what will he make Qiyās?” So without a doubt, Ahmad ibn Hanbal was an imām in fiqh.
When Imam Ahmad was mentioned in the presence of Abu Bakr Al-Warrāq (d. 240) he said: “Imām Ahmad is our Imām, and he given is precedence, with us, in everything.” It was said: “Based upon what do you say this?” He replied: “He was asked questions in 60,000 matters and I was listening, and he did not answer a single one of them except that he would say: ‘So-and-so narrated to us’ or ‘so-and-so informed us’ (haddathanā and akhbaranā).” He brought narrations, not opinions – all based upon proofs beginning with haddathanā or akhbaranā.
So if this does not prove his fiqh, then what is fiqh? Ahmad himself said: “Is there Fiqh except with Hadeeth?” He was an Imām of the Arabic language, he was precise in speech without any errors in grammar – and his book Radd ‘alal-Jahmiyyah shows his command of the Arabic language because the Jahmiyyah use the language to deceive the masses with their innovations. He was an Imam in the Qur’an, Abdullah Ibn Ahmad (d. 290) said: “My father would finish the Qur’an two times in a week. One reading he would finish in the days and one during the nights.”
So this shows he was a scholar of the Qur’an, alongside what we stated of his Tafseer of the Qur’an. He was an Imām in zuhd, no doubt, and there are numerous examples of this: he had a building from which he used to receive an income (of dirhams) that was his right through inheritance from his wife. So the building got damaged, and Abdullah his son repaired it; thereafter Ahmad would not accept any more money from it, saying: “Abdullah has corrupted it.” Why? Because he was afraid that Abdullah had repaired it from wealth received from the ruler. So the wealth now received from it may have become mixed with someone else’s wealth.
Abu Bakr Al-Maymoonee (d, 274) mentioned that he got up one day to go and read the book of Imam Ahmad, Az-Zuhd to him. When he came to his house, Ahmad opened the door to him, so Al-Maymoonee entered. After he entered he took out a cushion, and he brought out his straw mat that was worn out; so Al-Maymoonee placed the pillow on one side of the straw mat. Ahmad said to him: “What is this?” He replied: “This is for you that you may sit on it.” So Ahmad said to him: “[Reading] Az-Zuhd is not correct except with Zuhd, so move this.” And he continued to sit on the ground, the earth itself. So this is Zuhd from him and acting upon it: “Zuhd is not correct except with Zuhd.” He had a worn-out straw mat and on one side a pillow – Al-Maymoonee did this because Ahmad was his shaikh, out of respect for him; he was an ālim, an imam. But he refused it and said, “take this away” and sat on the ground with no mat.
He, of course, he was an Imām of the Sunnah and there are multitudes of narrations to show this – they are well-known and famous. And the status of Ahmad reached a point that hatred of him necessitated heresy (zandaqah). And this was due to the fact that his name became associated with the Sunnah such that when the Sunnah was mentioned in his time, it was Ahmad that they connected it to. For this reason, Ash-Shāfi’ee said (rahimahullāh), “Whoever hates Ahmad has disbelieved.” Rabee’ said to Ash-Shāfi’ee: “You apply the title of disbelief upon a person due to hatred of Ahmad?” He replied: “Yes. I apply the title of kufr upon him. The one who hates Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is a stubborn rejecter of the Sunnah, and whoever stubbornly rejects the Sunnah intends [evil for] the Sahābah and whoever intends the Sahābah hates the Prophet (ﷺ), and whoever hates the Prophet (ﷺ) has disbelieved in Allah the Mighty.”
So, for this reason, it was said, “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal himself became a test for all the people, and by the love of Ahmad you come to know the one who holds fast. If you find one demeaning Ahmad, then know that his hidden condition will become manifest.”
Ishāq Ibn Rahooyah (d. 238) said, “Had Ahmad not given and sacrificed himself, Islam would have passed away.” And we already mentioned the saying of Alee Al-Madeenee (rahimahullāh): “Indeed Allah gave support to this Religion by way of two men and not a third and he mentioned the two…” Likewise the saying of Yahyā Ibn Ma’een (d. 234): “They want from us that we be like Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. No by Allah! We are not able to be like Ahmad or to take the path Ahmad took.” So that was an excuse for him. The strength that Allah gave to Ahmad, and the patience He gave him to bear the opposition, we were not able to bear it.
Sālih Ibnul-Imām Ahmad said: “Then the people were put to trial, and those who refused to consent were threatened with imprisonment. So all of them consented except four: my father, Muhammad Ibn Nooh, Al-Qawāreeree and Al-Hasan Ibn Hammād Sajjādah. Then these last two consented, and so my father and Muhammad Ibn Nooh remained in prison for some days. Then the order came from Ma’moon that they were to be brought in chains together.”
‘Abbās Ad-Dooree said: I heard Ja’far Al-Anbaree say, “I crossed the Euphrates to meet Ahmad… I said to him: ‘Today you are an imām whom the people follow. So, by Allāh, if you consent to the saying that the Qur’ān is created, then the rest of the people will consent to it. But if you refuse, then many people will refuse. So even if the man (i.e. Ma’moon) doesn’t kill you, you will still die, and death is certain. So fear Allāh and do not consent.’ So Ahmad began to weep and say, ‘Māshā’Allāh.’ Then he said, ‘O Abu Ja’far, repeat it to me.’ So I repeated it, and he was saying, ‘ Māshā’Allāh.‘”
Ahmad (rahimahullāh) said, “I did not see anyone alongside his young age and knowledge, who better stood firm for Allah’s sake, than Muhammad Ibn Nooh. I hope that his actions were sealed with good [upon his death]. One day, he said to me, ‘O Abu Abdillāh, for Allah! For Allah! You are not the same as me, you are a man who is followed. The people stretch forth their necks towards you to see what you will do. So fear Allah and be firm for His sake.’ Then he died, and I prayed over him and buried him.”
Sālih Ibn Ahmad (rahimahullāh) mentioned that his father was arrested, chained and imprisoned in the general prison population and he would lead the prayer in his chains, then in Ramadān of 219H he was moved to the house of the deputy of Baghdād, Ishāq Ibn Ibrāheem – and that was 14 months after the death of Ma’moon. Hanbal said: “He was imprisoned in a stable in Baghdād. He was severely restricted in his imprisonment and fell ill in Ramadān. Then he was moved to the general prison. He remained in prison for about 30 months. We used to come to him and he read the book Al-Irjā to me and other books whilst in prison. I saw him lead the prayer in chains.”
Sālih Ibn Ahmad said that Imām Ahmad said, “I was taken out and placed upon a riding beast still in my chains. There was nobody to hold me, so more than once I nearly fell off upon my face due to the weight of the chains. I was brought to the palace of Al-Mu’atasim and put in a room. Then I was placed in a separate building and the door was locked upon me, it was the middle of the night and there was not even a candle [for light]. I wanted to make wudoo, so I reached out my hands and found a container of water and a basin. So I made wudoo and prayed. Then in the morning I took out the drawstring of my trousers and tied my chains with it so I could carry them, and I secured my trousers. Then a messenger of Mu’tasim came and took my arm and entered me upon Mu’tasim whilst I was holding up the chains with the drawstring.”
In that gathering was the innovator, the Mu’tazilee, appointed as the Qādee, Ahmad Ibn Abee Duwād (d. 239H) and a large number of his companions. They started refuting and debating with Ahmad and inciting the Caliph against him. Sālih said, “Ibn Abee Duwād was looking angrily at my father, and my father said, ‘One would speak and I would rebut him, and another would speak and I would rebut him. Then when one of them was cut off, Ibn Abee Duwād would butt in and say, ‘O Ameerul-Mu’mineen, by Allāh! He (i.e. Ahmad) is astray, leading others astray, an innovator!'” And the incriminations and attacks upon Ahmad would continue.
Hanbal said that Ahmad said, “They sought to say such evil things as a proof against me that my heart cannot retain them, nor can my tongue be brought to repeat them. They rejected the narrations – I did not imagine they were upon this until I heard it from them. They raised their voices against me saying, ‘This opponent says such-and-such.'” They said, “O Ameerul-Mu’mineen, he is resembling Allāh to the creation!”
Muhammad Ibn Ibrāheem Al-Booshanjee said, “Some of our companions narrated to me that Ahmad Ibn Abee Duwād tried to speak to Imām Ahmad, but he would not turn to him, so Al-Mu’tasim said, ‘O Ahmad will you not speak to him (i.e. to Ibn Abee Duwād)?’ So Ahmad said, ‘I do not know him to be from the people of knowledge such that I should speak to him.'” Sālih said that Imām Ahmad kept saying, “O Ameerul-Mu’amineen, give me something from the Book of Allah, or the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger, so I may speak accordingly.”
Al-Booshanjee continued, “Ibn Abee Duwād said to Imām Ahmad, ‘The Ameerul-Mu’mineen has sworn that he will lash you again and again, and then cast into a place where you will not see the sun; but if he consents I will free him with my own hands.'” But Ahmad did not alter his position. They would debate him in the court of the Caliph, insult him, demean him and threaten him. Then they would cast him into his cell again. In the night they would not let him rest, they would awaken him and debate him. He would go hungry and thirsty.
Then in the day, they would repeat the process again. Al-Booshanjee said that Ahmad said, “Then when the gathering became prolonged, Mu’tasim called him to one side and said, ‘Woe to you O Ahmad! Consent so that I may free you with my own hands.’ So I replied to him as before. Then he cursed me, and said, ‘Seize him, drag him and strip off his outer garment.’ So I was dragged and my outer garment was removed… Then Al-Mu’tasim sat upon his chair and said, ‘Bring the flogging posts and the whips.’ So the posts were brought and my arms were stretched, and someone behind me said, ‘Seize the two pommels of the frame and hold them tightly,’ I didn’t understand what he had said, and so [as they pulled], my arms became dislocated.” He continued, “When Al-Mu’tasim saw them tie Ahmad to the flogging posts, and he saw how he remained resolute, he felt like relenting but Ibn Abee Duwād kept inciting him and he provoked him to continue with the lashing.” Sālih said that his father said, “Each of the punishers would come forward and lash me twice and Al-Mu’tasim said, ‘Lash him severely, may Allah cut off your hands [if you don’t].’ Then one would move aside and another would step forward and lash me twice, and each time Al-Mu’atasim would say, ‘Lash him severely, may Allah cut off your hands.’ Then after they had given me seventeen severe lashes, Al-Mu’atasim came up to me and said, ‘O Ahmad, why are you killing yourself? By Allah, I feel sympathy for you, and one of the Caliphs men poked me with the hilt of his sword saying, ‘You want to get the better of all of these people?’ Another said, ‘O Ameerul-Mu’mineen, I will personally take the responsibility of his blood, so kill him.'” Then the whipping continued with force, “until eventually, I lost consciousness. When I came around and the chains had been removed from me, a man who had been present said, ‘We threw you down on your face, and threw a mat upon your back and trampled upon you.’ Yet I was not aware of that. They brought me gruel and said, ‘Drink it and vomit.’ So I responded, ‘I will not break my fast.'”
Sālih said, “Then he was left alone; and allowed to return home. He had remained in prison from the time he was taken until he was lashed and then released, for twenty-eight months. One of the two men who were alongside him said, ‘O son of my brother, may Allah have mercy upon Abu Abdillah, for by Allah I have never seen anyone like him.”
Hanbal said that Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh) said, “I became unconscious a number of times, and when the lashing stopped I came around. When I became limp and dropped, the lashing was halted and this happened a number of times. I heard Al-Mu’tasim say to Ibn Abee Duwād, ‘I have earned a great sin for what I have done to this man.’ So he replied, ‘O Ameerul-Mu’mineen , he is, by Allah, a disbeliever, a mushrik. He has committed shirk in more than one way.’ He continued speaking till he dissuaded him from what he wanted to do because he had wanted to release me without lashing me, but Ibn Abee Duwād and Ishāq Ibn Ibrāheem would not leave it at that.”
Abul-Fadl Sālih said, “He was eventually released and allowed home and was taken to the cellar. One who specialized in wounds and their treatment was brought in, and he said, ‘I have seen men who have received a thousand lashes, but I have never seen a case as bad as this.’ His face had been struck more than once. He had to remain flat upon his face for as long as Allah willed [due to the wounds upon his back]. The man said to him, ‘There is some hanging and torn flesh which I must cut.’ So he brought an iron tool [like tongs] and would hold the flesh with it and cut it with a knife and Ahmad bore all of this, only raising his voice with the praise of Allah – and he was cured. However, he continued to feel pain in places throughout his body, and the marks of the lashing were clearly visible on his back until he died.”
(Much of Part 7 can be found in the biography of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal in from the book, Foundations of the Sunnah, Salafi Publications)
The trial of the Qur’an lasted from 218H to 233H. The rulers and Caliphs were drawn in by the heads of the Mu’tazilah. From them Bishr Ibn Ghiyāth Al-Mireesee (d. 218); his father was a Jew who embraced Islam. Bishr studied Fiqh with Abu Yoosuf, he narrated hadeeth from Hammād Ibn Salamah and Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyainah (d. 198H). Then he was affected by the Mu’tazilah and became one them. He called to the doctrine of the Qur’an being created for forty years and wrote books on the subject. In the time of the Caliph Al-Ma’moon (d.218H), he got close to him and the hardships any the people of Sunnah began. Bishr was refuted by the Hadeeth scholars of Baghdād. From the most famous refutations is that of ‘Uthmān Ibn Sa’eed Ad-Dārimee (d. 280) called, Naqdu ‘Uthmān Ibn Sa’eed ‘alal-Mireesee al-Jahmee al-‘Aneed. The trials began in the time of the Caliph Al-Ma’moon (d. 218) the son of Hāroon Ar-Rasheed (d. 193H, who was upon the Sunnah), then throughout the Caliphate of the brother of Al-Ma’moon, Al-Mu’tasim (d. 227), then to his son, Al-Wāthiq (d. 232H) and then it ceased during the reign of Al-Mutawakkil (246H) who aided the Sunnah and punished the innovators who sought to harm the Scholars of ahlus-Sunnah. Allah the Most High said:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ,” and then remained steadfast – there will be no fear upon them, nor will they grieve. Those are the companions of Paradise, abiding eternally therein as reward for what they used to do.” [Al-Ahqāf: 13-14]
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ
نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ
نُزُلًا مِّنْ غَفُورٍ رَّحِيمٍ
وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِّمَّن دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ” and then remained steadfast – the angels will descend upon them, [saying], “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised. We were your allies in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. And you will have therein whatever your souls desire, and you will have therein whatever you request. As accommodation from a [Lord who is] Forgiving and Merciful. And who is better in speech than one who invites to Allah and does righteousness and says, “Indeed, I am of the Muslims.” [Fussilat: 30-33]
Hanbal said, “I heard Ahmad say, ‘Everyone who spoke against me, then I have pardoned them except for an innovator – and I have pardoned Abu Ishāq, meaning, Al-Mu’tasim.”
So today there are those who take an example from Imām Ahmad, and they emulate Imām Ahmad in holding steadfast, and they follow his path and methodology – so they are accused of being mutashaddideen, harsh, severe, strict, and ghullāt (extremists)! And some of those who ascribe themselves to Salafiyyah accuse those who emulate Imām Ahmad with insults such as, “they think they are incarnations of Ahmad”. No one said to you, “I am Ahmad Ibn Hanbal” or his “incarnation”. Rather they traverse the path of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. And Yahyā Ibn Ma’een himself said, “We’re not able to be like Ahmad.” So likewise, brother, if you yourself are not able to be like Ahmad, then don’t close the door upon the one who tries to be like him. If man pursues that way, tries and is sincere, then Allah will aid him in that. Allah said regarding this Ummah:
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. And it is they who are successful.” [āli-‘Imrān: 104]
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ ۗ
“You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.” [āli-‘Imrān: 110]
I see that most of these who make these cutting remarks against the people who take to the path of Ahmad intend by that belittlement, insult and attack upon them. And this is due to the fact those who follow the path of Ahmad criticise the opposers of the Manhaj of Imam Ahmad and the firm stances of Imām Ahmad. So when they criticise them for opposing the methodology of Imam Ahmad, they retort and insult, “Look these incarnations of Ahmad. They think they are Ahmad.” Some of the people have started saying that! And I have been there in the gathering with the one who said it. He said, “They wish the people to all follow the way of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and I am not able, and it is not possible for me.” I corrected him, and said to him, “That’s wrong, rather we wish more than that for them! We want that they follow the path of Muhammad (ﷺ), that was the path traversed by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (rahimahullāh).”
Ahmad is an Imām and we say this without reservation. How is it possible for those who claim to follow the Sunnah, consider themselves to be upon the truth and guidance, and to be upon the guided path to then attack the Salafis with these foul insults. No doubt, the one who utters these words about those who seek to emulate Ahmad in his steadfastness upon the Religion is either, 1) an ignoramus who just parrots everything he hears without understanding or, 2) a person with evil intents.
Yahyā Ibn Ma’een said what he said, alongside his great eminence as a scholar of the Religion: “We are not able to be like Ahmad.” As for you my brother, no one forbids you, so you can say: “I’m not able and I fall short.” But then you attack and demean the one who pursues the path of Ahmad and the path of the scholars of guidance, the Imāms of the Sunnah, the one takes hold of himself and becomes resolute and earnest to follow the correct path, and refuses the path of being wishy-washy which is the path of tamayyu’ (compromising the truth and cavorting and flirting with ahlul-bid’ah) – then your attacks are wrong and out place. Do not look at your own deficiency and your straying away for what is correct and build upon that your desire to take account of others because they’re not like you! That is not allowed.
Abdul-Wahhāb Al-Warrāq (d. 251) from the companions of Ahmad, stated: “Abu Abdillah is our Imam and he is from the rāsikheen fil-‘ilm (firmly-grounded in knowledge). So when I will stand tomorrow before Allah, the Blessed and Most High, and if he asks me: ‘Who did you follow?’ I will respond: ‘Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.’
Bishr Ibn Al-Hārith Al-Hāfee said: “He came out of the mihnah (the trial of the creation of the Qur’an) as red gold.” That he was tried just as gold is burned but it comes out purer and redder than before.
Furthermore, Abdul-Wahhāb Al-Warrāq (d. 251) stated: “If you see a man attacking or reviling the students of Ahmad, know that he is not upon the Sunnah.” Why? Because those who wish to attack Ahmad cannot do so as they will be exposed for what they truly are, but what about the students? Those who follow Ahmad? They speak against them. As for Ahmad, if they were to speak about Ahmad, then everyone displays outward praise for him, but as for his students and his companions, then attacking them is easier. By attacking his companions, they seek a way to attack him.
A narration was reported from him with a sound chain of narration by Ibn Bannā (rahimahullāh) in his Radd ‘alal-Mubtadi’ah and by Ibnul-Jawzee (d. 597) in his Manāqib Imām Ahmad that Abdul-Wahhāb Al-Warrāq (d. 251) stated: “If you see a person speaking against the companions of Imām Ahmad then suspect him, for he is a person of evil, and he is not a person of Sunnah.” And that was the era of the people philosophical rhetoric (ahlul-kalām), and some of them would say deceptively: “Ahmad is a righteous man but he has been put to trial and deceived by some of his students.” So what do they intend by the companions of Ahmad? They intend in reality Ahmad himself. The ones who attacks them is not a person a Sunnah – rather the one who takes from Ahmad and follows the path of Ahmad, then he is upon the Sunnah, inshā’Allah.
As for saying that they may have erred in an issue, then yes, that is possible, but as for attacking them and reviling them, then just as Abdul-Wahhāb Al-Warrāq (rahimahullāh) stated: “Suspect him! For he an evil person, he not a person a Sunnah.” Allah made manifest, apparent and victorious the students and companions of Imām Ahmad due to them following his way, because Ahmad’s path was the path of Sunnah. So we say that Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh), Allah blessed him in that which he was given in his da’wah to the Sunnah, and his aid of it and his steadfastness and firmness upon it – and his being put to trial due to that, and remaining patient upon the truth – then Allah made his students and those who followed him to be established upon the Sunnah, by Allah’s favour upon them and His Mercy, and He protected them from bid’ah. So in every age and era, it is the likes of these that are ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah. So when the term Hanābilah is used then the intent is ahlus-Sunnah – to the point that even if a person was not upon the fiqh of the Hanābilah but he adhered to the Sunnah, he would be called Hanbalee as a mockery and revilement, but is does not harm them, alhamdulillāh.
Every person has those who inherit from him, so these scholars inherited from Imam Ahmad and they inherited the Sunnah of the Messenger (ﷺ), since he was from the Imams of the Sunnah and a scholar. And the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets. The Prophets do not leave behind as inheritance Deenārs and Dirhams, they leave behind knowledge as inheritance, and that, for this Ummah, is the knowledge of the Prophet (ﷺ) is his Sunnah.
وَإِنَّ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ وَإِنَّ الأَنْبِيَاءَ لَمْ يُوَرِّثُوا دِينَارًا وَلاَ دِرْهَمًا وَرَّثُوا الْعِلْمَ فَمَنْ أَخَذَهُ أَخَذَ بِحَظٍّ وَافِرٍ
“The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinār nor dirham, they only leave knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.” [Abu Dawood 3641. Al-Albānee declared it to be saheeh]
And Ahmad is an inheritor of that, and the inheritors of Ahmad are the inheritors of the Sunnah. So even if there entered something from innovations later on, amongst some of the Hanābilah, the vast majority remained upon the Sunnah, and all praise is for Allah.
For this reason, Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728) said: “The Hanābilah are known as the people who are least of all to fall into innovations.” And that because of the effect of this great Imām upon those who took from him to the point that there is ijmā’ upon the fact that his ‘aqeedah and usool (fundamentals) were sound and in agreement with the Book and Sunnah. And alongside that he received praise and there is plentiful speech that commended him and his stances and his adherence and his goodness, and the scholars are all agreed by consensus upon the praise of Imām Ahmad, and they are the witnesses of Allah upon the earth.
Sufyān ath-Thawree said, “The Angels are the guardians of the Heavens and the People of Hadeeth are the guardians of the Earth.” [Sharaf As-hābul-Hadeeth of Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdādee] So how can Ahmad not be considered the Imam of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah when the love of him is a sign that a person is upon the Sunnah and hatred of him is a sign that he is an innovator.
Qutaybah Ibn Sa’eed (d. 240) said: “If you see a man loving Ahlul-Hadeeth, the likes of Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed (d. 143), Abdur-Rahmān Ibn Mahdee (d. 198), Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241H), Ishāq Ibn Rāhooyah (d. 238) – and he mentioned a group of others – know that he is upon the Sunnah and whoever opposes them, then know he is an innovator.” (Al-Lālikā’ee 59)
Alee Ibn Khalaf said: “I heard Al-Humaidee (d. 219) say: ‘As long as I remain in the Hijāz, Ahmad (d. 241) remains in Iraq and Ibn Rāhooyah (d. 238) in Khurasān then nobody will overcome us!”
Ahmad Ibn Sinān Al-Qattān (d. 259) said: “There is not in the world an innovator except that he hates the People of Hadeeth, so when he innovates, the sweetness of hadeeth is stripped from his heart.”
So no one loves Ahmad and his companions and the Imams of Sunnah except every person of Sunnah and none hates them except every munāfiq and zindeeq. It reached a stage whereby if a person wished to make apparent his love of the Sunnah and his adherence to it, he would proclaim his love for Imam Ahmad and claim attachment to him and his ‘aqeedah. How can it not be the case that Imam Ahmad is the Imam of Ahlus-Sunnah when we see his students and students of his students, and their amazing efforts and works, their writings and authorships, their da’wah and defence of the Sunnah?
So Allah raised him and honoured him, even through his companions, his students and the students of his students, and all those Imāms who took to his path and were inspired by him. So whenever it was it was said: “these are the companions of Ahmad” – it evoked in the hearts love and respect and veneration of them – and when it is said: “Ahmad and his companions,” it means Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah: those who enjoin the good, forbid the evil, oppose bid’ah and refute the people of bid’ah – and the mention of their names has become widespread in this arena. And how strange and unfortunate it is that there are those who criticise and belittle those who seek to follow and emulate the way of Ahmad and his companions. So what were the students and companions of Ahmad doing except following and emulating him in his steadfastness upon the Sunnah? It was Ibn Warrāq who rightly stated: “If you see a person speaks against the companions of Imam Ahmad then suspect him, for he is a person of evil, he is not a person of Sunnah.”
It was mentioned to the Caliph, Al-Ameerul-Mu’mineen, Al-Mutawakkil ‘Alallāh (d. 246), after the death of Imām Ahmad, and this was reported in ‘At-Tabaqāt al-Hanābilah’ volume 1: “The companions of Imam Ahmad went to ahlul-Bid’ah and controversy and evil has come about between them…” because they enjoined them with good and the Sunnah, and they forbade them from evil and innovation in religion, until there occurred between them fitnah. So he said to the one who brought him this news: “Do not bring me any news concerning them again. Unleash their hands and aid them, for indeed they and their companion (i.e. Ahmad) are the masters and chiefs of the Ummah of Muhammad.” Meaning: do not hold them back, rather upon you is to aid them and support them, not that you speak against them or that you complain to me about them that I should prevent them or punish them. This is a righteous leader, and this is the correct stance towards those who follow the path of Ahmad, to aid, to respect, to honour them, and to make du’ā that Allah grants them success. But you hear them complain today as they did before: “They are bringing fitnah to the people and bringing about harm, they are severe and harsh” Why? Because they enjoin the Sunnah and forbid bid’ah, and refute ahlul-Bid’ah. They don’t like this, so they mock and insult saying: “He wants to be the reincarnation of the character of Ahmad.”
Such a person wishes to criticise the methodology and the stance of Imam Ahmad, but they are not able to attack Ahmad so they attack those who follow his way and take to his methodology, so as to the take people away from desiring to be like Ahmad, “If you see a person who speaks against the companions of Imam Ahmad then suspect him, for he is a person of evil, he is not a person of Sunnah.” The person of Sunnah is happy they they are strong, and well-known and widespread because that means that the Sunnah is manifest. The Sunnah does not gain strength or become manifest, or become well known except by way way those who carry it.
يحمل هذا العلم من كل خلف عدوله ينفون عنه تحريف الغالين وانتحال المبطلين وتأويل الجاهلين
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation. They remove from it the distortions of those who go beyond bounds, the lies of the falsifiers, and the false interpretations of the ignorant.” [Al-Bayhaqee, vol. 10/209, Al-Albānee declared it saheeh in his notes on Mishkāt Al-Masābeeh, no. 348]
So those who attack its carriers of the Sunnah, and attack those who emulate the likes of Ahmad and his Companions – and they criticise them and belittle them and mock them, then, in reality, they are evildoers – and none opposes them except a makhdhool, a betrayer and one who forsakes the people of truth, an innovator just as the Imams of Sunnah have stated. And Ahlul-Hadeeth, Ahlul-Haqq are not harmed by those who oppose them.
And Qutaybah Ibn Sa’eed (d. 240) said: “If you see a man loving Ahlul-Hadeeth, the likes of Yahyā Ibn Sa’eed (d. 143), Abdur-Rahmān Ibn Mahdee (d. 198), Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal, Ishāq Ibn Rāhooyah – and he mentioned a group of others – know that he is upon the Sunnah and whoever opposes them, then know he is an innovator.”
Muhammad Ibn Yahyā Al-Azdee said: “Indeed we speak with saying Abu Abdillah Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, for indeed he is our Imam and he from the remainder of the believers, and we do not oppose him and we are well-pleased with him as an Imam, and we are free from anyone who opposes him, for indeed none opposes him except a mubtadi’ and makhdhool (i.e. an innovator and a betrayer of the people of Sunnah).”
Ibn Bannā reports with a chain of narration in his Ar-Radd ‘alal-Mubtadi’ah, “There is not amongst the companions of Imam Ahmad a single weak person [in terms of his religion], every one of them was strong.” So it upon the servant of Allah to fear Allah with respect to Ahlus-Sunnah, and those who carry the Sunnah, and those who aid the Sunnah, and those who respect the Sunnah, and likewise those callers to the Sunnah. So if a person himself is too weak to stand up then he must not aid those who have enmity against the people of truth. He should suffice himself with his own weakness and say: “I am not able, I don’t have the strength,” and leave others to suffice with the matter at hand. Allāh is the one who singles out and chooses whomever He wishes for this task of spreading and defending the Sunnah and refuting ahlul-bid’ah. So it was Ahmad, his students and those similar to them who were guided by Allah and granted success, they are the ones who stood courageously upon the Sunnah and in defence of it – and Allah has commanded us to follow that way.
I ask Allah by His Names and Attributes that He makes me and you from those who aid His religion; that He establishes and makes us and you steadfast upon the Sunnah of His Messenger (ﷺ) – and that He utilises me and you in calling to it, and aiding it, and to establish firmness upon it, and to aid those who call to it.