Published in  
January 20, 2022

Cheat Sheet to the Hanbali Madhab

Imam Ahmad: His Life

His name is Abu Abdillah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal Ibn Hilal Ibn Asad ash-Shaybani from the tribe of Shayban (Bani Shayban). This is named after Shayban Ibn Dhuhl and he was from the tribe of Bani Bakr Ibn Wa’il Ibn Himb who was the offspring of Asad Ibn Rabi’ah Ibn Nizar Ibn Ma’ad Ibn Adnan. This means that Imam Ahmad was an Adnani Arab and his lineage meets that of the Prophet (ﷺ) at Nizar Ibn Ma’ad Ibn Adnan.

Imam Ahmad's family used to live in Khurasan prior to his birth. His mother left Marw (in modern-day Turkmenistan) whilst she was still pregnant with him and the family eventually settled in Baghdad. Imam Ahmad was orphaned around 1-3 years of age. His grandfather was the Governor for the Umayyid Caliphate and later for the Abbasid Caliphate at the border of modern day Iran and Turkmenistan. Imam Ahmad was born and died in Baghdad which was the seat of the Caliphate. He was born 20 Rabi al-Awwal 164 AH. He passed away on Friday, 10 Rabi al-Awwal 241 AH at the age of 77 years. His mother’s name was Safiyyah Bint Maymunah Bint Abdul Malik al-Shaybani.

The Mihna (Inquisition)

Imam Ahmad lived through 8 Abbasid Caliphs. Al-Mahdi, Al-Hadi, Harun Ar-Rasheed, Al-Ameen, Al-Ma’mun, Al-Mu’tasim, Al-Wathiq, Al-Mutawakkil. Imam Ahmad suffered under the rule of Al-Ma’mun, Al-Mu’tasim and Al-Wathiq. His persecution was brought to an end by Al-Mutawakkil.

The Mu'tazilah started propagating among the masses that the Quran was created. The scholars of hadith led by Imam Ahmad stood up against this. This episode lasted from 218 AH to 233 AH. The rulers were drawn in by the heads of the Mu’tazilah. From them Bishr Ibn Ghiyath al-Marisee. He propagated the evil doctrine of the Quran being created for forty years and wrote books on the subject. In the time of the Caliph Al-Ma’mun (d.218 AH), he got close to him and the hardships began. The trials of Imam Ahmed began in the time of the Caliph Al-Ma’moon (d. 218), continued throughout the caliphate of Al-Mu’tasim (d. 227 AH), then to his son, Al-Wathiq (d. 232 AH) and then it ceased during the reign of Al-Mutawakkil (d. 246 AH) who aided the Sunnah and punished the innovators who sought to harm the Scholars of Ahlus Sunnah.

Imam Ahmad mentioned about his ordeal, “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."

Abul-Fadl Salih 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 place throughout his body, and the marks of the lashing were clearly visible on his back until he died.”

Bishr Ibn Al-Harith Al-Hafee said: “He came out of the mihnah as red gold.” That he was tried just as gold is burned but it comes out purer and redder than before.

Imam Ahmad married twice but it needs to be noted that he didn’t marry till he reached the age of 40 because he wanted to free his mind and heart for knowledge. His first wife was Abbasa Bint al-Fadl who was the mother of his first child, Saleh. She passed away during his lifetime. Imam Ahmad said that they were married for 30 years and they didn’t have an argument.  When his wife passed away, he got married the next day. Later he married Raihanah from whom he had Abdullah.

Imam Ahmad had a concubine by the name Husn. From her he had al-Hassan, Muhammad, Saeed and Zaynab. Imam Ahmad died at the age of 77, yet this woman gave birth to Saeed, 50 days before the Imam passed away.

Imam Ahmad studied under the scholars of Baghdad. He started studying Hadith at the age of 16 (~179 AH). This was the same year Imam Malik passed away. Hammad Ibn Zayd, the Imam of Basra also passed away in the same year. Of his first teachers was Hushaim ibn Basheer under whom he studied from 180 AH to 183 AH. He learnt nearly 1000 ahadith from him with regards to Hajj. Then he travelled to Kufa, Basra, Makkah, Madinah, Yemen, Shaam, Northern Iraq.

Imam Ahmad himself narrates that he entered Basrah on five different occasions, and he counted the times and then said: “I missed out on Malik, but Allah replaced him for me with Sufyan Ibn Uyainah.” Imam Ahmad said: “I missed out on Hammad Ibn Zayd, Allah replaced him for me with Ismail Ibn Ulayyah.”

It was famously said, “O Abu Abdillah! Take it easy on yourself! You go out seeking knowledge (putting yourself through hardship), but it will come to you, InshAllah.” He replied: “I will continue to seek knowledge until I enter the grave!”

Imam Ahmad is an Imam in Hadith as well as an Imam in the Sunnah. Sunnah here means the Aqeedah of the Ahlus Sunnah. Such was his stature that he is called Imam of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah. He was also an Imam in Fiqh. His being an Imam of Hadith and Sunnah is a matter of ijma without any contradiction.

There are a few unworthy people who raise a question on his position as an Imam of Fiqh. Their words are disregarded but are responded to accordingly to put the matter to rest. Not his students, but rather his teachers who were known fuqaha bestowed the title of faqeeh upon Imam Ahmad. Rather he is at the forefront of fiqh and not a mere muhaddith as some claim. Their false understanding arises because whenever Imam Ahmad was asked a question, he would narrate a chain of narration with a Hadith. He wouldn’t answer except that he had a chain of narration to back his answer.

Imam al-Shafi'i (d. 204 AH) said: “Ahmad is an imam in eight affairs: [1] an imam in hadith, [2] an imam in fiqh, [3] an imam in the Arabic language, [4] an imam in Qur’an, [5] an imam in poverty, [6] an imam in zuhd, [7] an imam in piety (wara’), [8] and an imam in Sunnah.”

Imam al-Shafi'i said to Imam Ahmad: “O Aba Abdillah, if a hadith is authentic with you, then teach me it so I may proceed with it and speak with it – whether it be from Kufa, or Sham or Basrah.” Does this eben needs further elaboration? This is Imam Shafi'i himself showering praise upon Imam Ahmad.

One of his other teachers, Abdur-Razzaq As-San’ani (d. 211 AH) said: “There were 4 who journeyed to me from Iraq, and they the heads in the field of hadith: Ash-Shadhakuni (Abu Ayub Sulayman Ibn Dawud) (d. 236 AH), and he was best of them in memorising hadith; Ibnul Madini (d. 235 AH), and he was the most knowledgeable concerning differing in hadith; Ibnul Ma’een (d. 233 AH), and he was the most knowledgeable concerning the rijjal (the narrators of hadith), and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and he gathered all that which has been mentioned (from the previous three).”

It is said the Imam Ahmad had memorized a million ahadith with their respective chains. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 752 AH) says the number is more. Abdullah Ibn Ahmad narrated on the authority of Imam Abu Zur’ah ar-Razi (d. 264 AH) that he used to say: “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal had memorised a million hadith.” So it was: “How do you know that?” He replied: “I mentioned to him chapter headings, and under each chapter heading he knew the hadith connected to it. So when he had gathered it together it came to million hadith.”

On another occasion, Imam Abu Zur’ah (d. 264 AH) 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.”

When Imam Ahmad was mentioned in the presence of Abu Bakr Al-Warraq (d. 240 AH) he said: “Imam Ahmad is our Imam, 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’.”

Imam Ahmad made Hajj 5 times in his life. Ibn al-Jawzi said of these 3 times was on foot. His son Abdullah reports that Imam Ahmad walked on foot to Yemen. Such was the Ikhlas and effort put in by this giant.

Other teachers include Yahya al-Kattan, Abdul Rahman al-Mahdi, Ibn Ulayyah, Ibn Harun and many others.

Imam al-Shafi'i (d. 204 AH) said, “I left Baghdad and did not leave behind me anyone more virtuous, more learned, more knowledgeable than Ahmad ibn Hanbal.”

The Muhaddith, Abul Abbas Muhammad Ibn Hussain Ibn Abdur-Rahman Al-Anmati said: “We were in a gathering with Yahya Ibn Ma’een (d. 233 AH), Abu Khaithumah Zuhair Ibn Harb An-Nasa’i (d. 234 AH), the great hafidh, and a body of the major scholars (al-kibar al-‘ulama). 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 Yahya Ibn Ma’een become angry, and he turned to the one who uttered that and said: “Being plentiful in the praise of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal is being too plentiful?! 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.”

Imam Bukhari records, Abul-Waleed At-Tayalisee (d.227 AH) said, “Had Ahmad been amongst the Children of Israel, they would have written for him a biography/volume.”

Imam Ali al-Madini (d. 235 AH) also said: “Allah 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 Inquisition.”

Regarding the inquisition, Imam Yahya Ibn Ma’een (d. 233 AH) said: “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.”

From the Imam’s way of teaching was that he would teach and narrate only from written sources so as to avoid any mistakes and be accurate in the narrations. Imam Abu Dawud says that the classes of Imam Ahmad were circles and gatherings of the Akhirah. There were no discussions of the dunya.

Most of Imam Ahmad's works are transmitted via:

Salih ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Hanbal ibn Ishaq
Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi (d. 275AH)
Ahmad ibn Muhammad better known as Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311 AH)
Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hani’ al-Athram
Abdu’l Malik ibn Abdi’l Hamid Mahran al-Maymuni
Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hajjaj al-Marwadhi
Harb ibn Isma’il al-Hanzali al-Kirmani
Ibrahim ibn Ishaq al-Harbi

From some of his other prominent students include:
Imam Bukhari - Author of Sahih al-Bukhari
Imam Abu Dawud - Author of Sunan Abi Dawud
Imam at-Tirmidhi - Author of  Jami’ at-Tirmidhi

When Imam Bukhari completed his Sahih, he chose Imam Ahmad to review it for him.

Imam Ahmad's 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, Imam al-Shafi'i (d. 204 AH) said, “Whoever hates Ahmad has disbelieved.” Rabi’ said to Ash-Shafi'i: “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 sahabah and whoever intends the sahabah 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.”

The Usul of the Madhab are 5:

There are 5 that are agreed upon and the rest differed upon:

1. Quran
2. Sunnah
3. Ijma
a. Ijma of the Sahaba
b. Unopposed opinion of a Sahabi
c. Either choose the stronger opinion that is closer to Quran and Sunnah or list all
4. Weak/Mursal Hadith - All Hasan (IT)
5. Qiyas

6. Istishab (Presumption of Continuity)
7. al-Masalih al-Mursalah (Consideration of Public Interest
8. Saad adh-Dharai (Blocking The Means To Evil)

The Quran and Sunnah reign supreme in the Madhab. As per Hanbali Usul, the Sunnah cannot abrogate an Ayah of the Quran. The Quran is stronger and the Ahadith are a level below that.

Next are the sahaba and their ijma. The sahaba are best placed to explain the Qur’an and Sunnah for they lived the Sunnah and the Quran was revealed among them. The Hanbali Madhab gives preference to the text narrated by the companion over the fatwa of the companion if there is conflict or contradiction between the two. This is when there is a difference of opinion between the sahaba.

Next level is to check if there is any of the narrations has been abrogated.

Next level is to give preference to one narration over the other.

Out of all these Imam Ahmad would prefer using those which were the most authentic or had the strongest isnad. If there is a difference between narrations, then the Hanabila turn to Ikhtilaf al-Haal (Differences because of Circumstances). They say that the differences occurred because of the different scenarios and there is no inherent contradiction.

If nothing can be found from the Quran, Sunnah or the Statements of the Sahaba, then Imam Ahmad would prefer these narrations over using qiyas or ijtihad. Hanabila use weak ahadith and not false or rejected (matrook) ahadith. What is meant here are those ahadith which are not very weak meaning not munkar or mawdu. There shouldn’t be anything else which may overpower this narration. Ex: A stronger narration. hadiths which Ahmad accepted were not necessarily matrook (rejected). Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyah stated that all the ahadith that Imam Ahamd used were in reality all hasan (reliable) ahadith. Before the time of Imam at-Tirmidhi, ahadith were either graded as sahih (authentic) or dhaeef (weak), and the weak included hasan (acceptable) and matrook (rejected) ahadith. The category of hasan, as we know it, was introduced by Imam at-Tirmidhi and later adopted by the scholars of Hadith. So a lot has to do with the use of terminology as well. Why is this an important distinction to make?

Observe carefully. Among the Imams who acted upon these ahadith were some of the giants in the field of Hadith like Imam Ahmad and his student, Imam Abu Dawud etc. They used weak hadith and they were absolutely aware of the status and the rulings attached to a certain hadith. Other scholars from the salaf also used mursal hadith as evidence. Even Imam Shafi'i who is said to have rejected the mursal hadith accepted the Marasil of Sa'eed ibn al-Musayyab.

To summarize, Imam Ahmad used to act upon 2 types of weak hadith:
1. A weak hadith which on its own may not be a proof, but it is supported by an external evidence or principle that supports its meaning
2. A weak report which comes very close to the level of Hasan but still falls slightly below it.

There must be some sort of evidence to aid or back this weak hadith which is under consideration. Imam Ahmad preferred the qiyas of the earlier generations in comparison to later opinions. Imam Ahmad resorts to it in necessity in the case of absence of the previous 4 usool. Ijma is accepted also but we see Imam Ahmad not actively pushing it for he was afraid people would use the opinion of the majority of the scholars and pass it off as an ijma.

As per Sheikh Dr.Faris bin Falih al-Khazraji, the origins of Hanbali Usul revolve around the following classical works:
1. Tahdhib al-Ajwiba of Ibn Hamid (d. 403 AH)
2. Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh of Ibn Shihab al-Ukbari (d. 428 AH)
3. Al-'Uddah of al-Qadhi Abu Ya'la (d. 458 AH)
4. Al-Tamhid of Abul Khattab al-Khalwadhani (d. 510 AH)
5. Al-Wadih of Ibn 'Aqeel (d. 513 AH)
6. Rawdat al-Nadhir of Ibn Qudamah (d. 620 AH)

Development of The Hanbali Madhab

Level 1: المتقدمون – The Earliest Period

From the death of Imam Ahmad in 241 AH to the death of Sheikh Hassan Ibn Hamid in 403 AH.
Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi (d. 275AH)
Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hani’ al-Athram (d. 273 AH)
Abdu’l Malik ibn Abdi’l Hamid Mahran al-Maymuni
Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hajjaj al-Marwadhi
Harb ibn Isma’il al-Hanzali al-Kirmani (d. 280 AH)
Ibrahim ibn Ishaq al-Harbi (d. 285 AH)
Ahmad ibn Muhammad better known as Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311 AH) - Author of Al-Sunnah
Abu Muhammad al Barbahari (d. 319 AH)
Abu Bakr al Ajurri (d. 320 AH) – Author of Kitab al Shari’ah
Abul Qasim al-Khiraqi (d. 334 AH) – Author of Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi.
‘Abdurrahman Ibn Abi Hatim al Razi (d. 337 AH)
al-Hassan Ibn Hamid al-Baghdadi al-Warraq (d. 403 AH) – Abu Ya’la’s teacher

Level 2: المتوسطون – The Middle Period

This period ranges from 403AH to 884AH
Abu Isma’il al Harawi (d. 481 AH) – Author of Manazil al-Sa’irin
Abu al-Khattab Al Kalwadzani (d. 510 AH)
Abu al-Wafa Ibn Aqeel (d. 513 AH)
Abdul Qadir al Jilani (d. 561 AH)
Abul Faraj ‘Abdurrhaman Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH)
Taqi ad-Din ‘Abdul Ghani al Maqdisi (d. 600 AH)
Muwaffaq ad-Din Abdullah Ibn Qudammah (d. 620 AH)
Abul Barakat Majd ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 653 AH)
Najm al-Dīn Aḥmad bin Ḥamdān al-Ḥarrānī (d. 695 AH)
Najm al-Din al-Tufi (d. 716 AH)
Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 AH)
Shams al-Din Ibn Muflih al Maqdisi (d. 763 AH) – Author of Adab al-Shar’iyyah, Kitab Usul al-Fiqh, Kitab al-Furu'
Zaynuddin Ibn Rajab (d. 795 AH) – Author of al Jami’, Fath al Bari, Lata’if al-Ma’arif
Burhan ad-Din Ibn Muflih (d. 884 AH) – Author of al Mubdi fi Sharh Mughni

Burhan ad-Din Ibn Muflih (d. 884 AH) is the great grandson of the brother of the famous student of Ibn Taymiyyah, Shams al-Din Muhammad Ibn Muflih (d. 763 AH), the author of al-Furū'. Burhan al-Din marks the last of the middle period of the Madhab. Anyone who died before 884AH would be from that period. Ala'addin al-Mardawi who was his contemporary is counted among the Muta'akhirun instead of the Mutawassitun as he died in the year 885 AH. What a difference a year makes.

Level 3: المتأخرون – The Later Period

This period ranges from 885 AH till date.

Ala'addin al-Mardawi (d. 885AH) - Author of al-Insaf
Sharaf al Din Musa al Hajjawi (d. 968 AH) – Author of Zaad al-Mustaqni, Al-Iqna’ li Talibi-l Intifa
Ibn al Najjar al Futuhi (d. 980 AH) – Author of Muntaha al- Iradat
Mar’i Ibn Yusuf al-Karmi (d. 1033 AH) – Author of Ghayatul Muntaha, Dalil al Talib
Mansur Ibn Yunus al Bahuti (d. 1051 AH) – Author of Rawdatul Murbi, Sharhul Muntaha, Hāshiyah Al-Iqna’
Shams al-Din Muhammed bin Ahmed bin Salim As-Saffarini (d. 1188 AH) - Author of Lawami' Al-Anwar Al-Bahayyah
Abdul Qadir Ibn Badran Ad-Dumi (d. 1317 AH) - Author of Al-Madkhal ila Madhhab al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal

Scholars like Ibn Badran, Bakr Abu Zaid etc differ on the classification but this is the basic skeleton of the figure heads.

Ibn Muflih's al-Furu' is good for knowing the different positions. Ala'addin al-Mardawi is famously known as al-Murajjih (the one who gives the correct answer), al-Musahhih (the one who corrects matters), al-Munaqqih (the one who investigates and examines). He is the foremost specialist of this period. He set the foundation of the madhab for the next 500-700 years. al-Insaf not only mentions the different reports but it clarifies the Madhab and guides to the stronger positions within  the madhab. This is after his meta-analysis of 140 books of the Hanbali madhab.

The Timeline of the Madhab 

Imam Ahmad didn’t author a book of fiqh. Why? He wanted the focus to remain on the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger. The Imam wasn’t a person who sought fame and also maybe because he was prevented from teaching for a large period of time.

Abu Bakr al-Marroodhi (d. 275 AH) is one of the main transmitters. One of the most notable of his students was Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 310 AH). The Hanbali Madhab has a lot of scholars named Abu Bakr. These two students of Imam al-Marroodhi did immense service to the magnum opus of their teacher. Ghulam al-Khallal’s Zaad al-Musafir is one of the oldest books of fiqh in the madhab.

Al-Khallal was a student of five of Imam Ahmad’s direct students, including his son Abdullah.

Imam al-Khallal’s student was Abu Bakr ibn Abdul Aziz who was famously known as Ghulam al-Khallal (d. 363 AH). Umar Ibn Hussain al-Khiraqi (d. 334 AH) is another of Imam Khallal’s significant student. His Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi which covers over 2300 legal issues is the most taken served of book in the madhab. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi said in al-Durr al-Naqi that his teacher ‘Izz al-Din al-Misri said, ‘The Mukhtasar of al-Khiraqi has 300 commentaries written on it. The greatest commentary is Ibn Qudamah’s al-Mughni. The way al-Khiraqi ordered the chapters in his Mukhtasar was the same way al-Muzani (the student of al-Shafi’i) ordered the chapters in his Mukhtasar.

The Ghulam of al-Khallal wrote in his copy of the book, ‘In his Mukhtasar, Al-Khiraqi disagreed with me in 60 legal issues.’ He didn’t mention which ones. Ibn Abi Ya’la says in al-Tabaqat: “I looked into the differences between the two (the opinions of Ghulam al-Khallal and al-Khiraqi) and found that it was 98.”

The students of Imam Ahmad put together the opinions that they had recorded from Imam Ahmad. Imam Abu Bakr al-Khallal collects all these different opinions and fatawa from the different students with their chains of narration and compiles them in a 20 volume book called, Jami’u-‘Ilmil-Imami Ahmad.

Al-Khateeb said in Al-Tareekh, “Al-Khallal gathered the various fields of the knowledge of Imam 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 madhab of Ahmad who gathered the likes of Al-Khallal.” Imam al-Dhahabi said: “When Al-Khallal died (in 311 AH), he was buried next to Al-Marroodhi (d. 275 AH).”

Abul Qasim al-Khiraqi took this book and rearranged them in the order of the Matn of a Fiqh book. This was called Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi. This was the first Hanbali book of Fiqh. Al-Khiraqi was the first Hanbali to be buried in Damascus.

An interesting anecdote is narrated from Ghulam al-Khallal. He told his family to prepare for his janazah for the coming Friday. His family inquired how he could say that. He told them that his teacher al-Khallal died on Friday and he was 78 years old. His teacher al-Marroodhi died on a Friday and he was 78 years old. His teacher Imam Ahmad died on a Friday and he was 78 years of age. Interestingly, he indeed died that Friday himself at the age of 78.

al-Hassan Ibn Hamid al-Baghdadi al-Warraq (403 AH) was the student of Ghulam al-Khallal and the teacher of al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la. He marks the end of the first level of the Hanbali scholars and his student marks the beginning of the middle level of the Hanbali scholars.

Abu Ya’la had two famous students of which one is famous within the madhab and the other is famous even outside the madhab. Abu al-Khattab Al Kalwadzani (d. 510 AH) is famous within the madhab. The other student was Ibn Aqeel (d. 513 AH) who was an encyclopedia who was a verifier for the madhab. He wrote the commentary on Alfiyyah Ibn Malik in Nahw as well. One point to note is that in terms of Aqeedah his positions were not always in line with that of Imam Ahmad.

One of Abu Ya’la’s students Abul Khattab al-Kalwazani authored al-Intisar and al-Hidayah. al-Hidayah become the relied upon (Mu’tamad) book of the Madhab. He was of the teachers of Abdul Qadir al-Jeylani. Other scholars of this period include, Abu Ismail al-Harawi, Abu Wafa Ibn Aqeel, Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi.

Abu al-Khattab and Ibn Aqeel were both teachers of Abdul Qadir al-Jeylani (d. 561 AH). Ibn Qudamah was 19 or 20 years old when Abdul Qadir died and he had managed to study from him for 50 days. He had come from Damascus to study along with his cousin Abdul Ghani al-Maqdisi. Abdul Ghani collected the information of the narrators of the 6 Books of Hadith. Another important figure in the same period, but slightly younger to Abdul Qadir was Ibn al-Jawzi (597 AH). The two young scholars from Damascus then went to study with Ibn al-Jawzi after the death of Abdul Qadir. All the scholars mentioned till here were from Baghdad.

Of the teachers of Imam Ibn Qudamah, 3 female Shaykhas stand out in particular. Khadijah an-Nahrawaniyyah, Shuhdah al-Katibah, and Nafeesa al-Bazzaza.

To add a bit to Imam Ibn Qudamah; he was, Abu Muhammad, Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Qudamah (Ibn Miqdaam Ibn Nasr Ibn Abdillaah Ibn Hudhayfah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ya’qoob Ibn al-Qasim Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Ismail Ibn Yahya Ibn Muhammad Ibn Salim Ibn `Abdillaah Ibn `Umar Ibn al-Khattaab al-Qurashi; al-Maqdisi; al-Jammaa`ili, then ad-Dimashqi; as-Saalihi.

He authored and laid out a curriculum for the Hanbali Madhab:
1. al-Umdah: Basic primer with one textual proof.
2. al-Muqni': he most famous of the 2 narrations/opinions from Imam Ahmad and that which is the most correct opinion attributed to the Imam.
3. al-Kafi: More opinions are presented here with the evidences of the madhab.
4. al-Mughni: Differences of opinion within and outside the madhab including the other madhaib.

Sheikh Abd Al-Qadir Ibn Badran suggested the following curriculum:
1. Ibn Balban’s Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat or al-Bahuti’s Al-ʿUmdah.
2. Marʿi bin Yusuf’s Dalil al-Talib or Ibn Qudamah’s Al-ʿUmdah.
3. Al-Bahuti’s Al-Raudh Al-Murbiʿ.
4. Al-Bahuti’s Sharh Al-Muntaha.
5. Everything written before al-Hajjawi.

Imam al-Dhahabi quotes, Imam ’Izz al-Din Abd al-Salam, ”Out of all the Islamic books for knowledge, I’ve not seen any equal to the Muhalla of Ibn Hazim or the Mughni of al-Sheikh Muwaffaq al-Din.”

Ibn Qudamah purified Imam al-Ghazali’s al-Mustasfa from all its weaknesses in his Rawdatun Nadhir. One who has studied these 5 books is an alim who is at the level of ijtihad. Sharafuddin Musa al-Hajjawi summarized al-Muqni’ called Zaad al-Mustaqni’. Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen has a 20 volume caommentary titled, Sharh al-Mumti’ explaining this book.

Another major scholar of this period was Majduddin Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 650 AH), the grandfather of Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He was a leading scholar who authored an explanation of al-Hidayah called al-Muharrar. It is said that when Muwaffaq and al-Majd agree on something then that is undoubtedly the madhab. When the Hanabila say “Shaykhan” then they are referring to Ibn Qudamah and Majduddin Ibn Taymiyyah. In reality, people relied so much on these 2, that people forgot the works of the scholars before them.

Taymiyyah was the name of a girl who became a scholar and matriarch of the illustrious  Taymiyyah family. al-Fakhr Ibn Taymiyah (d. 622 AH), who was the uncle of al-Majd, was the first heavy-weight of the Taymiyyah family. al-Majd himself learnt under him.

Aal Taymiyyah left Harran in 668 AH to Damascus. al-Majd had already died in 652 AH (before the fall of Baghdad) and Ahmad was just 6-7 years old at the time migrating with his father Abdul Haleem.

650 AH was a good year to die as in 655 AH, Baghdad succumbed to the onslaught of the Tartars. Baghdad which had been the seat of the Khilafa for nearly 500 years was never the same again. In 661 AH the famous Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 AH), the grandson of al-Majd was born. In 668 AH, the Taymiyyah family migrated from Harran to Damascus. Taqiuddin Ibn Taymiyyah studied with the nephew of Imam Ibn Qudamah, Ibn Abi Umar in Damascus. From this we see, Sheikhul Islam took the Hanbali madhab from the 2 main giants in the Madhab:
Chain 1: Ibn Taymiyyah from Shihab al-Din Abd al-Halim Ibn Taymiyyah from Abu al-Barkat Majd ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah
Chain 2: Ibn Taymiyyah from Ibn Abi Umar Qudamah from Muwaffaq ad-Din Abu Muhammad Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi

Sheikhul Islam explained books of his grandfather Majd ad-Din (Sharh al-Muharrar) and Muwaffaq ad-Din (Sharh Umdatul Fiqh (only till Book of Hajj)). He practiced Ijtihad in his application but when he authored the books, he stuck to the principles of the Madhab. Taqiuddin Ibn Taymiyyah called to going back to the works and sayings of Imam Ahmad. His students include giants like Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751 AH), Ibn Abdul Hadi (d. 744 AH), at-Tufi, Ibn Muflih (d. 763 AH), Ibn Kathir, ad-Dahabi etc.

Ibn Muflih authored an important book called al-Furu’ which contains within it all the previous works of the madhab.

In this period, many books on Usul al-Fiqh were authored. The madhab spread to Sham and other places. The final relied upon work of this period was whatever Ibn Muflih mentioned in his al-Furu’.

It became difficult for the madhab to survive in Baghdad with the growing influence of the Shia. This pushed the Hanabila to move West towards al-Sham. Palestine primarily became the hub of the madhab and later followed by Damascus. The madhab continued to be dominated by scholars from Damascus and Jerusalem. From the time of Ibn al-Najjar and al-Buhuti the Egyptians started taking in. The madhab never left al-Sham completely for Egypt. They still had a significant presence.

Imam al-Mardawi authored the famous, al-Insaf which was the commentary of al-Muqni’. He brought in this book all that came before him and then brings the correct position of the madhab. Anything that which he authenticated becomes the Madhab. Ibn Najjar and Musa al-Hajjawi served the works of Imam al-Mardawi. All those who come after this, rely upon 2 works. Ibn Qudamah’s al-Muqni’ and al-Mardawi’s Tanqih al-Mushbih’ fi Tahrir al-Muqni’. In this book al-Mardawi clarifies the differences of opinion and other matters which were mentioned in al-Muqni’. Imam al-Mardawi marks the beginning of the final stage of development the Hanbali madhab. He is given the title of al-Murajjih (the assessor), al-Musahhih (the corrector), al-Munaqqih (the investigator) of the madhab.

Sharafuddin Musa al-Hajjawi (d. 968 AH) who was a Mufti in Damascus complied these both together in al-Iqna.  Ibn Najjar al-Futuhi (d. 980 AH) who was a Qadhi in Egypt compiled Muntaha al-Iradat which did the same service to the above 2 works.

Imam Mansur al-Buhuti is called the explainer of the Madhab. He wrote commentaries and explanations of the books. al-Muqni’ is very authoritative in the madhab. Nearly everything that comes later in the madhab is in one way or the other related to it. This is till we had al-Iqna and Muntaha al-Iradat.

When it comes to larger books, Al-Iqna` and Munataha Al-Iradat and their commentaries are relied upon. Mari’ bin Yusuf has combined the two books in Ghayat Al-Muntaha, in the process reconciling the minor differences between them. Al-`Alama Al-Safarini when upon his death bed told his students: “You must study Al-Iqna` and Al-Muntaha, and whenever they differ you should refer to Ghayat Al-Muntaha.”

al-Iqna and al-Iradat till date have become the main and relied upon manuals for judiciary etc. The wording in al-Iqna is easier to understand in comparison. If there is any difference between the 2, then scholars give preference to Muntaha al-Iradat. After this period scholars either explained these books, combined between them or summarized them etc. al-Futuhi himself has an explanation of al-Iradat.

Imam al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH) explained al-Iqna' Kas-shaaf al-Qina' and explained Muntaha al-Iradat in Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat. Imam Mar`i bin Yusuf combined the two books in Ghayat Al-Muntaha.

The 2 main books that the Hanabilah depend on for judgements today are:
1. al-Iqna’ by Imam Musa al-Hajjawi
2. Muntaha al-Iradat by Imam Ibn Najjar

Zaad al-Mustaqni is the summary of al-Muqni. Became very famous and also a part of the curriculum in many schools. Dalil al-Talib is like a summary of Muntaha al-Iradat. This was explained in Manar as-Sabeel. The evidences in Manar as-Sabeel were authenticated and put together by Sheikh al-Albani in Irwah al-Ghaleel. What al-Iqna and al-Iradat agree upon, then this is the final position of the Madhab. If they differ, then as per Imam Mar'i al-Karmi, preference is given to Ghayahal-Muntaha to establish the final position.

Zaad has more issues as compared to Dalil. Dalil al-Talib has more Shuruh and Hawashi, but the reason for that is probably the following:
1. Sheikh Mari’i taught the book multiple times in his lifetime, something al-Hajjawi did not do to the same extent.

2. Sheikh Mari’i taught at al-Azhar, meaning that copies of his book were preserved in its library, and easily accessible to scholars from around the world. Al-Hajjawi did not have this opportunity.

3. Before he published the final draft, he had many scholars in his era, from different madhahib & backgrounds review the book, and many wrote in praise of it. This made the book known amongst scholars, even from other Madhahib and different lands. Al-Hajjawi did not do this.

4. Sheikh Mari’i lived after al-Muntaha and al-Iqna were written, meaning the Mu’tamad was officially codified. During al-Hajjawi’s time, this was not the case. Both Ibn al-Najjar and al-Hajjawi were alive at the same time, and read each others books. Yet, they disagreed. Al-Hajjawi criticized al-Mardawi in some opinions, and disagreed with them, which is why he wrote al-Iqna. When al-Hajjawi goes against the Madhhab in particular issue in al-Iqna’, he usually does the same in Zad as well (because he believes that is the Madhhab).

5. Sheikh Mari’i read Zad, as well as Muntaha, Iqna’ and the other works and benefitted from them all. So his book will inevitably be more precise and better organ

Why did no one explain Zaad besides Imam Mansur al-Buhuti? The scholars say: If Sheikh Mansur al-Buhuti explains a book, no Hanbali after him dares to explain it.
- He explained Zaad, and no one after him explained it.
- He explained al-Muntaha, and no one after him explained it.
- He explained al-Iqna’, and no one after him explained it.

Hanbali Fiqh Study Progression

We have highlighted the curriculum set out by Imam Ibn al-Qudamah and Sheikh Abd Al-Qadir Ibn Badran previously. Keeping in mind the students, today, the following progression can also be considered.

Level 0
- Furu' al-Fiqh by Imam Yusuf bin Abdul Hadi (d. 909 AH)
- Bidayat al-Abid by Imam Abd al-Rahman al-Ba'li (d. 1192 AH)
- Qaddumi's Primer by Imam Musa al-Qaddumi (d. 1336 AH)

Qaddumi's primer is heavily summarized based on Dalil al-Talib.

Level 1
- Umdatul Fiqh by Imam Ibn Qudamah (d. 620 AH)
- Umdat al-Talib by Imam al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH)
- Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat by Imam Ibn Balban (d. 1083 AH)  

Master either Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat or Umdat al-Talib and then go through Umdat al-Fiqh if need be.

Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat is abridged from Kafi al-Mubtadi by its author himself. It's comparatively authored after the other two meaning the author would have had more refined, codified, and verified content to work with.

Umdat al-Talib's speciality is that it is a standalone work by the refiner of the madhab, Imam al-Buhuti unlike Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat which is an abridgement. Umdat al-Fiqh was comparatively older and hence the latter texts were more refined.

Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Samih AbdelWahab advised, "The purpose of this stage is to understand the explicit meaning of the text, as well as the implied meanings, and to be able to answer text based questions and real case scenarios based on the text. Take good notes. Ask any questions which are not clear and write them down. Repeat that chapter ten times before you move on to the next chapter, and teach to a friend. If you don’t have someone to teach it to, teach it to the wall or to a tree. Review weekly everything you have learned from the beginning of the book following the same process. When you reach the end of the book, you will still review what you previously took recently, and you will want to review the entire book with your notes monthly. This means will go over that matn 12 times in one year. When you move on to another matn, you will do the same, and the second matn will replace the first, eventually, but gradually. You will notice that you’ve mastered this book and can comfortably answer any questions regarding any of it. But the key is not to leave a single chapter or a single sentence until you have fully comprehended it: its explicit meaning, its implied meanings, and how it is applied in a real life scenario.The repetition and review is for mastery. Another good idea is to write comprehensive questions for every sentence or portion of the book, and the answers on the back of that sheet, taken straight from the book or your polished notes. Then you can quiz yourself and make sure you are able to answer all the questions.'

Level 2
- Zaad al-Mustaqni' by Imam Musa al-Hajjawi (d.968 AH)
- Dalil al-Talib by Imam Mari b. Yusuf al-Karmi (d.1033 AH)

For Dalil al-Talib, one can refer to Hashiyah Ibn Awadh primarily and supplement it with the reading of Nayl al-Ma'arib and Manar al-Sabeel.

- al-Rawdh al-Murbi' by by Imam al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH)

Some scholars suggest the study of al-Rawdh directly instead of Zaad. This is coupled with the study of the Hashiyah of Ibn Qasim.

Level 3

-al-Muntaha al-Iradat by Imam al-Fatuhi (d. 980 AH)
This is coupled with the study of its commentary Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat by Imam al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH).

- Kashaf al-Qina’ an Matn al-Iqna’ Imam al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH)

At this level students also read al-Furu’ wa al-Tashih and al-Adab al-Shariah by Imam Ibn Muflih (d.763 AH).

Level 4

- al-Mughni by Imam Ibn Qudamah (d. 620 AH)

Al-Mughni is Ibn Qudamah’s commentary on Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi, which is itself based upon the work of al-Khallal. This is generally read along with hould be cross-referenced with al-Insaf by Imam al-Mardawi (d. 885 AH).

Hanbali Usul al-Fiqh Study Progression

As per Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Samih Abdelwahab, the progression to be followed is:

Level 0
- The Nadhm of Al-Waraqāt by Al-‘Imrīti with the Hanbali additions of Sheikh Amir Bahjat, the commentary of Al-Waraqat by Sh. Abdullah Al-Fawzān

Level 1
Imta’ Al-‘Uqool bi Rawdat Al-Usul by Sheikh Shaibat Al-Hamad (a nice summary of Radwat An-Nadhir)

Level 2
- Rawdat An-Nadhir by Imam Ibn Qudamah and the commentary by Imam Ibn Badran
- Mukhtasar At-Tahreer, Imam Ibn An-Najjar and it’s commentary also by the author, Sharh Al-Kawkab Al-Muneer
- Mukhtasar Ar-Rawdah (Al-Bulbul) by Imam At-Tufee and its commentary also by the author

Level 3
- At-Tahreer by Imam al-Mardawi and its commentary also by the author called At-Tahbeer


The author of Manazil al-Sa’ireen, Imam Abu Isma'il al-Harawi said:

أنا حنبلي. ما حييت فإن أموت
فوصيتي للناس أن يتحنبل

"I am a Hanbali as long as I live, and when I die,
My legacy to the people is to become Hanbalis."

Many wonder why the followers of the Hanbali Madhab have always been fewer than the followers of rest of the madhaib. Some even claim that the small following is indicative of the weakness of the Madhab.

However, the truth is quite to the contrary, as one of the Hanbalis said:

يَقُولُونَ فِي أَصْحَابِ أَحْمَدَ قِلَّةٌ
فَقُلْتُ لَهُمْ: إِنَّ الكِرَامَ قَلِيلٌ

They say of the followers of Ahmad: How few they are!
Thus I said to them: Surely the noble ones are always few!

Imam al-Qurtubi reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab heard a man saying,

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْنِي مِنَ الْقَلِيلِ

“O Allah, make me among the few.”

Umar said, “What is this supplication?” The man said, “I refer to the saying of Allah the Exalted: And few of my servants are grateful.” (34:13) Umar said, “All of the people know better than you, O Umar!”

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