Allah (SWT) has bestowed Islam with an able scholarship as a manifestation of His promise for its preservation. They havedevoted their entire lives to protect the pristine creed of Islam from all the deviations and stood against tyranny, philosophical aberrations and ‘intellectual’ condemnations to exemplify what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the most unaltered manner, truly qualifying themselves as the ‘heirs of the Prophet’. Amongst the pinnacles of such Islamic scholarship is AhmadibnHanbal (RA), the eponym of the Hanbali school of thought.
Ahmadibn Muhammad ibnHanbal al-Shaybaani al-Marwaazi, also known as Imam Ahmad, was born in Baghdad in 780 CE and belonged to Banu-Maazin tribe. His father’s early death led his mother to shoulder the responsibility of his upbringing. Several anecdotesportray the young orphan as literate, highlymoral, and reasonable in his conduct. An incident to exemplify his God-fearing attitude at a very young age is when he refused to act as an informant on his uncle’s behalf. Despite inheriting from his father, he lived a modest life with his mother. Ahmad established a family in his thirties with Abbaasaa who bore him one child. After her death, he married Rayhaana who bore him another child.
The real test of Ahmad’s devout scholarship came during the time of mihna(inquisition) when Caliph Ma’mun publicly accepted the rationalist (Mu’tazilite) position and pressurized the traditional scholarship to accede to it. This inquisition persisted for the next two successors of Ma’mum for a period of three years until it was finally put down by Caliph Mutawakkil, thereafter, returning to the mainstream belief. Despite being tortured and incarceratedobstinately, Ahmad did not yield to the innovativeprinciples (the mainstay of which was the false premise of Qur’an’sCreatedness)cogently promulgated during this time. Instead, he kept on pointing to the fallacies in the unorthodox doctrines and upheld the pristine banner of Islamic creed. Pointing out to his endurance duringmihna, Holtzman notes, “AhmadibnHanbal was putunder the bellows and emerged [as pure]as a bar of red gold”. The great defender of Islam left this world at the age of seventy-seven. His funeral was attended by millions of people, the like of which is rarely witnessed.
Ahmad started his early educationin Baghdad under various teachers. At the age of fifteen, he began hadith studies under Ibrahim ibn‘Ulayya and then, under all the major scholars of hadith in Baghdad for four years. He also studied Islamic Jurisprudence from Abu Yusuf, one of the main students of Abu Hanifah (RA). At the age of 19, his interest in hadith sciences made him to leave Baghdad in search of knowledge to various centers of hadith such as Basrah, Kufah, Yemen and Hijaz. He is known to have studied under reputable teachers such as ‘Abd al-Rahmaanibn Mahdi of Basrah, Waqi’ibn al-Jarraah, and YahyaaibnSa’id al-Qattan.
Ahmad returned back to Baghdad at the age of thirty to study fiqh and usulal-fiqh under Imam Shafi’I (RA) and the two maintained a very close relationship. Ahmad dedicated most of his time in studying and teaching hadith, which attracted him a large number of students.Holtzman notes, “Ahmad regarded religious knowledge as derived from theQur’an and Hadith anddisapproved of the use of reasoning inreligious matters. He did, however, allowhimself a certain degree of reasoning”. Ahmad’s pursuit of knowledge for no less than forty years made him an authority in various disciplines of Islamic studies such as hadith, Qur’an, fiqh, Arabic language, etc.
His travel throughout the centers of hadith and his interactions with many scholars led him to collect more than 800,000 hadiths, a portion of which he collected in his Musnad, one of his most celebrated works.In the field of jurisprudence, he developed upon the heritage left by the earlier scholars such as Abu Hanifah, Maalik, Shafi’i and many others. In the field of Qur’an, he authored various works in exegesis, sciences of abrogation, and recitation. He became an expert of Arabic language, mastering over grammar and poetry. He wrote on various theological problems through an orthodox approach using proofs from the Qur’anand sunnah. Fihristibn an-Nadim mentions thirteen of these books, some of which are mentioned below:
This humongous collection of hadiths, arranged according to the names of the original transmitters, forms Imam Ahmad’s most important work. It contains nearly 30,000 hadiths which have been sifted through a huge collection of 800,000 hadiths, though not all of them being genuine or reliable. It is said that he continuously kept on adding and deleting hadiths to his collection till his death, after which the task of arrangement fell to his son Abdullah, who took utmost care in maintaining the integrity of his father’s collection. Ahmad was not strict in the verification of authentic hadith, as a result of which some portions of his Musnad were declared to be forged. This, however, did not undermine the status of the collection which occupies an important position in hadith literature till date.
Al-Masa’il (The responsa)
This is a collection of his responses to various questions posed to him by his students and others. Ahmad attempted to respond strictly using the hadiths and in absence of any legal Islamic text, he left the questions unanswered.
Kitaabaz-Zuhd (The book of renunciation)
Imam Ahmad’s exemplary ascetic approach is evident from the collection of his notes regarding renunciation in which he presents the models of renunciation of various Prophets and provides moral justification for the same.
Kitaab al-wara’ (The book of piety)
It contains the lessons of piety and God-consciousness derived from the Qur’an and Hadith.
Al-radd ‘ala al-zanaadiqawa al-jahmiyyah
This book on Islamic creed refutes the innovative doctrines of various deviant sects (mainly Mu’tazilah) in a rational way.
Kitaab as-salaah (The book of prayer)
This short work of Ahmad deals with twenty-six things that are important for the validity of the prayer
Fadhaail as-sahaabah (The virtues of the companions)
This is a book regarding the virtues of the companions and was written primarily as a rebuttal for the Rafidha.
Imam Ahmad (RA) was an epitome of Islamic scholarship. A staunch proponent of Islam as left by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).He nearly sacrificed his life in support and defenseof the pure principles of Islam. His contribution to, singlehandedly, ward off the influence of rationalistsdoes not find an equal in the pages of history. It was thus said, “andwere it not for Ahmad and how he sacrificed himself, meaningon the day of the trial concerning the Qur’an, then Islamwould have departed”. Indeed, he is an example of what Allah (SWT) mentionsin the Qur’an, “Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge”
(Author is Junior Engineer at JKSPDC and is Pursuing Islamic Studies at IOU. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)