Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Four Madhabs - The Hanbali School of Jurisprudence


The Founder: Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal RA (778-855 CE)

The scholar to whom this Madhab is attributed is Ahmad ibn Hanbal Ash-Shaybaani RA, who was born in Baghdad in the year 778 CE. He became one of the greatest memorisers and narrators of Hadith. Imam Ahmad RA studied Fiqh and Hadith science under Imam Abu Yusuf RA, the famous student of Imam Abu Hanifah RA, as well as under Imam Ash-Shafi'i RA himself. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal RA went through a series of persecutions under the Caliphs of his time due to their adoption of Mu'tazalite philosophy. He was jailed and beaten for two years by the order of Caliph Al-Ma'mun (ruled 813-842 CE), because of his rejection of the philosophical concept that the Holy Qur'an was created. Later set free, he continued teaching in Baghdad until Al-Waathiq became Caliph (ruled 842-846 CE) and renewed the persecution. Thereupon Imam Ahmad RA stopped teaching and went into hiding for five years until Caliph Al-Mutawakkil (847-861 CE) took over. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the inquisition permanently by expelling Mu'tazilite scholars and officially rejecting their philosophy. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal RA then continued to teach in Baghdad until his death in 855 CE.


Imam Ahmad's greatest concern was the collection, narration, and interpretation of Hadith. His teaching method consisted of dictating Hadith from his vast collection known as Al-Musnad, which contained over 30,000 Ahadith, as well as the various opinions of the Sahabah RA concerning their interpretation. He would then apply the Ahadith or rulings to various existing problems. If he could not find a suitable Hadith or opinion to solve a problem, Imam Ahmad RA would offer his own opinion while forbidding his students to record any of his own solutions. As a result, his Madhab was recorded, not by his students, but by his students' students.


1. The Noble Qur'an: There was no difference between the way Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal RA approached the Holy Qur'an and that of those who preceded him. In other words, the Holy Qur'an was given precedence over all else under all circumstances.

2. The Sunnah: Likewise, the Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW occupied the second most important source of evidence after the Qur'an. His only stipulation was that it be 'Marfu' narration i.e. attributed directly to the Prophet Muhammad SAW.

3. Ijmaa of the Sahabah RA: Imam Ahmad bin Hanbali RA recognised the consensus of opinion of the Sahabah RA, and placed it in the third position among the fundamental principles. However, he discredited the claims of Ijmaa outside the era of the Sahabah RA as being inaccurate, due to the vast number of scholars and their wide diffusion throughout the Muslim empire. In Imam Ahmad's opinion Ijmaa after the era of the Sahabah RA was impossible.

4. Individual Opinions of the Sahabah RA: If a problem arose in an area where the Sahabah RA had expressed conflicting opinions, Imam Ahmad RA, like Imam Maalik RA would give credence to all the various individual opinions. Because of that, there developed within the Madhab - many instances of multiple rulings for individual issues.

5. Hadith Da'if (Weak Hadith): For a ruling on a case where none of the previous four principles offered a ready solution, the Imam used to prefer to use a weak Hadith rather than apply his own deductive reasoning (Qiyas). However, this was on condition that the weakness of the Hadith was not due to the fact that one of its narrators was classified as a Fasiq (degenerate), or a Kadhaab (liar).

6. Qiyas: As a last resort, that is when no other major principle could be directly applied, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal RA would reluctantly apply the principle of Qiyas and deduce a solution based on one or more of the previous principles.


Imam Ahmad's main students were his own two sons, Saalih RA (died 873 CE) and Abdullah RA(died 903 CE).


The majority of the followers of the Hanbali Madhab are today mostly found in Palestine and Saudi Arabia. Its survival in Saudi Arabia, after almost completely dying out elsewhere in the Muslim world, is due to the fact that the founder of the 'Wahabi' revivalist movement, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab RA, had studied under the scholars of the Hanbali Madhab, and thus it unofficially became the Fiqh Madhab of the movement. When Abdul Aziz ibn Sa'ud captured most of the Arabian peninsula and established the Saudi dynasty, he made the Hanbali Madhab the basis of the kingdom's legal system.

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