Died At Age: 75
Also Known As: Aḥmad bin Muḥammad bin Ḥanbal Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shaybānī
Born Country: Iraq
Born in: Baghdad, Iraq
Famous as: Jurist
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
father: Muhammed ibn Hanbal al-Shaybani
mother: Safia bint Maymunah al-Shaibania
children: Ṣāliḥ ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, ʻAbd Allāh ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal
Died on: 855
Who was Ahmad ibn Hanbal?
Ahmad ibn Hanbal was an Islamic scholar, theologian and one of the strictest followers of hadith traditionalism. He founded the Hanbali school of Islam law. His extensive knowledge of Quran and hadith, earned him the reputation of a prominent hadith scholar of all times. Hanbali, being one of the four primary orthodox schools of Sunni jurisprudence, preached a more traditionalist and literalism-oriented interpretation of the Quran and hadith. Ahmad ibn Hanbal picked up an argument with Caliph Abul-Abbas Al-Mamun who challenged his rights to rephrase such religious texts. He travelled to various countries and studied fiqh and hadith under many teachers and scholars. Al-Musnad, one of the most significant Sunni hadith collections, was assembled by him. His imprisonment along with other scholars in Baghdad during the ‘Mihna’ period was a momentous event in Islamic history.
Childhood & Early Life
Ahmad ibn Hanbal was born in Baghdad in the Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal in 164 AD to Muhammad and Safiiya Bint Maimoona. Both his parents belonged to the famous Banu Shayban tribe that was well-known for its courage and chivalry.
His grandfather was a governor of Sarkhas, while his father Muhammad was a soldier who fought for the Abbasid Army in Khurasan. Ahmad ibn Hanbal lost his father when he was still an infant and was raised in Baghdad, Iraq.
Upon completing the primary level of Islamic education, alternatively called the ‘maktab’, he began studying hadith or the sayings narrated by Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
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Education & Work
Renowned Islamic scholars, Abu Yusuf and Hushaim Bin Bashir, trained Ahmad ibn Hanbal in fiqh or jurisprudence. He then travelled through various cities of Iraq and Arabia such as Kufah, Basra, Mecca, Hejaz and Medina in order to compile hadiths of Prophet Muhammad.
He memorised and noted down hadiths from more than 280 scholars during his travel. Soon enough, his encyclopaedic knowledge established him as a well-known scholar of hadiths.
He was considered to be an authoritative figure amongst his followers for his tireless efforts to create the ‘al-Musnad’, an exhaustive compilation of hadiths.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal loved sharing his knowledge with others and hence, gained countless students. He not only trained them on different versions of Islamic traditions, but also inspired them to pursue his work. Many of his students emerged as future Islamic scholars who wrote fatwas on many occasions.
He continued to teach people from neighbouring countries as well. However, he had to leave Baghdad when the ‘Mihna’ or the period of religious persecution began in 833 AD. Baghdad ruler, Abul-Abbas Al-Mamun, ordered imprisonment and execution of those scholars who did not agree with his ideology.
In the view of Abbasid caliph Al-Mamun, the Quran was created, whereas masters like Ahmad ibn Hanbal preached that the Quran is the words of Allah. As a result, Ahmad ibn Hanbal was forcefully taken to prison in 833 AD and was incarcerated until the death of Al-Mamun’s successor, caliph Abu Isḥaq Al-Mutasim.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal went back to his hometown in Baghdad after he was released. Despite the ordeals and tortures that he faced in prison, he stood his ground and never abided by the ‘Mu’tazila’ theology.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the founder of the new school of Islamic law known as the ‘Hanbali Madhab’. The Hanbalis described the Quran as “uncreated Word of God” (kalām Allāh g̲h̲ayr mak̲h̲lūḳ).‘
Al-Musnad’ was narrated Ahmad ibn Hanbalto his sons and his cousin during 842 AD to 844 AD. It consists of 30,000 hadiths. In his pursuit to protect the orthodox Sunni dogma, Ahmad ibn Hanbal wrote a plethora of books.
He authored a book named ‘Resala Salat’, that speaks at large about the common mistakes in prayer. His other major writings included ‘Masaail’, a collection of fatwas by Imam Ahmad and ‘Al Ashribah’, an elucidation of forbidden beverages.
Family & Personal Life
Ahmad ibn Hanbal was married twice and had eight children. Two of his sons, Abdullah and Saalih carried on his legacy.
He journeyed on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca five times, out of which three times were solely on foot.
He passed away on 12 Rabi-ul-Awwa, or 2 August 855 AD approx. He was seventy-seven years old at the time of death. Around a million people attended his funeral prayer or ‘Janazah Salah’.
According to historians, Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s funeral prayer was a historic event as 20,000 Jews and Christians converted to Islam on the same day. He was buried in Baghdad, Iraq.