Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal: Shaikh-ul-Islam

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat, Intizar Ahmad

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (R.A) also known as Imam Hanbali, was a student of Imam Shafi’I (R.A). He is one of the well-known Islamic scholars and has been given title of Shaikh-ul-Islam (outstanding scholars of the Islamic sciences). Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (R.A) was an Imam in Fiqh, Hadith, and many other Islamic Jurisprudence. In reality, he is the founder of one of the four schools or rites of Islamic legal knowledge (fiqh) within the Sunni schools of law. As per different sources, Imam Ahmad performed pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) five times in his life. Imam’s full name is Aḥmad Ibn Moḥammad Ibn Ḥanbal Abu Abdullah Al-Shaybani who was originally from Baghdad. Imam’s grandfather, Hanbal, was the governor of Sarkhas during the Umayyad period. His father Muhammad was a soldier Abbasid Army in Khurasan. His tribe was Banu Shayban which was known for courage and chivalry. Imam Ahmad was descended from a pure Arabic lineage that coincided with the lineage of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) from Nizar Bin Maad Bin Adnan from the clan of Banu Bakr bin Wail. Imam’s mother was Safiiya Bint Maimoona, who was also from the tribe of Shayban from the clan of Banu Amir. Imam Ahmad was born in the Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 164 AH (780 AD) and was raised in Baghdad, Iraq. His father Mohammad died young at the age of thirty and Imam Ahmad was, therefore, raised as an orphan, which is the reason why he learned to be self-reliant from childhood. Imam Ahmed studied extensively in Baghdad after finishing his primary/elementary Islamic education (the Maktab), Imam began to attend study circles at higher level of Islamic education at the age of fourteen. In 179 AH (795 AD), Imam began to focus on studying Hadith. He started learning jurisprudence (Fiqh) under the celebrated Islamic scholar, Abu Yusuf, who was a renowned student and companion of Imam Abu Hanifa . Then Imam Ahmad remained student of Hushaim Bin Basheer until his death in 183 AH (799 AD). During his studies, he heard about the death of Imam Malik. He then went to Kufah where he became famous as an authority on reports narrated from Hushaim Bin Basheer. He memorized all the books of Imam Wakee Ibn Al-Jarah and was also taught by him. Imam Ahmad leaned Islamic law from Imam Al-Shafi’ee . Imam Ahmad began traveling through Iraq, Syria, and Arabia to collect hadiths. During his travel, he wrote down bout three hundred thousand Hadiths. He learned and wrote Hadith from more than 280 scholars including: 1. Yaqub Ibn Ibrahim Al-Ansari (better known as Abu Yusuf) 2. Imam Al-Shafi’ee 3. Hushaim Bin Basheer 4. Ibrahim Ibn Saad 5. Yahya Bin Saeed Al-Qattan 6. Abu Moḥammad Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah 7. Imam Yazeed Bin Haroon 8. Imam Wakee Ibn Al-Jarah and from other scholars at their time. It did not take long for Imam Ahmad to become widely known. More and more people started to become his students. People loved his teaching because he possessed wide knowledge about Islam and he was recognized as a highly pious man who spared no effort in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.
As reported by Imam Adh-Dhahabi (Full Name: Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Uthmaan ibn Qaymaaz Adh-Dhahabi) in his book ‘Siyar Alaam An-Nubala’ that sixty-six people have learnt different Islamic Laws, Fiqh, Hadith, Fatwas and other Islamic knowledge from Imam Ahmad and many other besides them. Imam Adh-Dhahabi also stated that there were more than fifty of Imam’s senior students who had wrote down numerous ‘Fatwas’ on various issues from Imam Ahmad. His most notably students include: 1. Abu Al-Hasan Ali Ibn Muhammad Al-Mawardi 2. Abu Bakr Al-Athram 3. Salih Bin Ahmad (Imam’s son) 4. Abdullah Bin Ahmad (Imam’s son) 5. Abu Dawood Sulayman (famously known as Abu Dawood) 6. Hambal bin Ishaaq and many other well-known scholars of that time. Imam Ahmad was a prominent Narrator of Hadith and Fatwas (ruling on a point according to Islamic law): When he was forty years old in 204 AH (220 AD), Imam Ahmad became a prominent figure in the field of Hadith and Fatwa. More and more people began to come to him from the neighboring cities for learning Islamic from Imam Ahmad. Imam Ahmad continued his work and narration of Hadith and Fatwas till 218 AH (832-833 AD). He did not leave Baghdad until the time of Mihnah. The Mihnah‎, also known as Miḥnat Ḵẖalaq Al-Quran, refers to the period of religious persecution instituted by the Abbasid Caliph Abul-Abbas Al-Mamun in 833 AD. During this period, Islamic scholars were punished, imprisoned, or even killed unless they conformed to the self-made and false Al-Mutazilah theology by some people at that time. The policy lasted for fifteen years from 833 to 848 AD and was widely supported by the most caliphs of that time. Caliph Al-Mamun declared his view that the Quran was created and tried to impose this false-understanding of his on people including scholars. This was a testing times for true Islamic Scholars and jurists. However along-with Imam Ahmad, many true scholars remained steadfast in their view that the Quran is the words of Allah and was not created. He was taken to caliph Al-Mamun in chains but when he reached Al-Raqqa (currently located in Syria) in 218 AH (833 AD), news of death of Al-Mamun came and caliph Abu Isḥaq Al-Mutasim became successor of Al-Mamun. However, Al-Mutasim did not show any kindness towards scholars and therefore, Iman, Ahmad remained in prison in Baghdad until the death of Al-Mutasim in 225-226 AH approx. (842 AD). Abu Jafar Harun Al-Watiq became successor of Al-Mutasim and revived the policy/practice of testing scholars regarding the issue of the Mihnah‎. However, Imam Ahmad was released with the condition to go back to his hometown in Baghdad. Imam Ahmad isolated himself from people and remained in his house until the death of Al-Watiq in 232 AH (847 AD). Abul Faḍl Jafar Al-Mutawakkil became caliph, successor of Al-Watiq and issued orders of stopping testing of scholars in 234-235 AH. Among the things he said during the time of Mihnah: “lf the scholar remains silent on the grounds of dissimulation and the ignorant do not know when the truth will be manifested?” It was during this testing time that he had made a promise to Allah that he would not narrate any Hadith in complete form until his death. This doesn’t mean that he gave up completely on discussing issues of knowledge. He spent the rest of his life discussing Islamic Law (fiqh), reports and the biographies of hadith narrators until his death in 241 AH.
lmam Ahmad had stopped teaching hadith since 225 AH. He did not narrate any Hadith except to his two sons Abdullah and Salih. It was a free time for Imam and he narrated his great book Al-Musnad to his sons and his paternal cousin Hanbal bin Ishaq during 225 to 227 AH (842 -844 AD approx.). Imam Ahmad had plenty of writings. Among his works are: 1. Al-Musnad: (This book contains 30,000 hadith). 2. Resala Salat: (A small book on common mistakes in prayer) 3. Masaail: (Collection of fatwas issued by Imam Ahmad) 4. Al Ashriba: (Explanations about unlawful beverage/drinks) 5. Fadhail Al-Sahabah: [This book is about the virtues of the companions of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.)] Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal died on Friday, 12 Rabi-ul-Awwa, 241 AH (857 AD approx.) at the age of seventy-seven in Baghdad, Iraq, after brief illness of 9 days. He is also buried in Baghdad (as reported by Abu Al-Hasan Al-Marwadhi). As per sources, his Janazah Salah (Funeral Prayer) was attended by approx. one million people, among those, 60,000 were women. Historians also state that 20,000 Christians and Jews converted to Islam on that day of Imam’s funeral. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (R.A) at the end of his life he told a story about going to Basrah, “One day (when I was old) I did not know why I was eager to go to one of the cities in Iraq – where did Imam Ahmad go to Basrah.” There were no appointment with anyone in the city, he left alone to go to the city of Basrah. He narrated “When I arrived there, it was in Isha’ time. I joined the congregational prayer in the mosque, my heartfelt calm, then suddenly I wanted to rest.”After the prayer and congregation broke up, Imam Ahmad wanted to sleep in the mosque, that was when s mosque’s keeper came to meet him while asking, “What happens Shaykh, what do you want to do here?Term “Shaykh” in the Arabic tradition can be used for 3 calls, can be for parents, rich people or knowledgeable people. The call of the Shaykh given to Ahmad was meant for parents, because Imam Ahmad was seen as an old man.The keeper did not know that the one he was talking to was Imam Ahmad, and Imam Ahmad did not introduce who he was.
In Iraq, everyone knew who Imam Ahmad, a great ulama and expert in hadith, had memorized a million hadiths, very pious and zuhud.At that time there were no cameras and social media technology like now, so people did not know his face, only his name that was already famous. Said Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (R.A) “I want to rest, I am a traveler.”“Cannot do that, you cannot sleep in the mosque.”Imam Ahmad continued his story saying, “I was pushed around by the person told to get out of the mosque. After leaving the mosque, the mosque door was locked. Then I want to sleep on the terrace of the mosque. ”When he was lying on the terrace of the mosque, the keeper came again, this time angry at Imam Ahmad. “What else do you want, Shaykh?” Asked him.“I want to sleep, I’m a traveler,” Imam Ahmad answered.Then the keeper said, “Not In the mosque, it is not permissible, on the terrace of the mosque it must also not be.”Imam Ahmad was expelled. He then said “I was pushed up to the streets”.Close to the mosque there was a bread seller in a small house functioned to making and selling bread. This bread seller was processing bread dough, while watching the incident of Imam Ahmad being pushed around by mosque keeper, the baker called from far away “Come Syaikh, you can stay at my place, I have a place, even though it’s small.”“Good”, said Imam Ahmad. Imam entered his house, sat behind the baker who was making bread, still by not introducing who he was, only said as a traveler. This bread seller has a behavior that can be considered unique, if Imam Ahmad invites to speak, he answers. If not, he keeps making bread dough while reciting Istighfar, Astaghfirullah. When putting salt saying istighfar, breaking eggs with istighfar, mixing wheat, said istighfar. Always said istighfar. Imam Ahmad continued to pay attention. Then Imam Ahmad asked “How long have you been doing this?”The person replied “O, Shaykh, I have been doing it for almost forever. 30 years now. I have done this since then.” Imam Ahmad asked, “What is the result of your actions? (reciting istighfar)” The person answered “Blessings. There is nothing I need but God will grant it to me. Everything I ask to God, is immediately granted “. The Prophet (pbuh) said “Whoever keeps istighfar, then Allah will make the way out for him from all problems and Allah will give rizki from ways he does not expect.” Then the person continued “All were granted by God except one, still one that God has not granted.” Imam Ahmad was curious and then asked “What is that?” The bread seller answered “I asked Allah to be met with Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal.”A moment later Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said, “Allahubar, Allah has brought me far from Baghdad going to Basrah and even pushed by the mosque’s keeper to the the road because of your istighfar. ”The seller of bread was shocked, praising Allah, apparentl y in front of him was Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal.
Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal has a great respect for Islamic Scholars, especially Scholars of Hadith. His respect for the scholars can be judged from his saying: “Whoever holds the scholars of Hadith in high esteem, the Prophet of Allah (S.A.W.) will hold him in high esteem, whoever looks down on them will have no value in the eyes of the Prophet of Allah (S.A.W.) because the scholars of Hadith are the most knowledgeable about the way of the Prophet of Allah (S.A.W.) (Sunnahs).” Imam Ali Ibn Al-Madini, the great teacher of Imam Al-Bukhari said: “Truly, Allah supported this religion with Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (R.A.) the day of the apostasy (Ar-Riddah), and he supported it with Ahmad Ibn Hanbal the day of the Inquisition (Al-Mihnah).” Imam Al-Shafi’ee said about Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal: “I left Baghdad and did not leave behind me anyone more virtuous, more learned, more knowledgeable than Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.” “Ahmad Bin Hanbal was a leading scholar in many fields; in Hadith, in Fiqh, in Quran, in asceticism, in piety and in knowledge of Sunnah.” Abdul Malik Al-Maimooni used to say: “My eyes never saw anyone better than Ahmad Bin Hanbal and I have never seen anyone among the scholars of Hadith who shows more respect for the sacred limits of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, if (a report) is proven to be Saheeh and I have never seen anyone more keen to follow the Prophet’s (S.A.W.) Sunnah than him.” AI-Marwadi said: “I said to Ahmad, “How are you this morning?” He replied, “How would anyone be whose Lord is demanding that he carry out the obligatory duties and his Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) is demanding that he follow the Sunnah and the two angels are demanding that he mend his ways and his nafs (soul, the psyche, the ego) is demanding that he follow its whims and desires and Iblees (satan) is demanding that he commit immoral actions and the angel of death is watching and waiting to take his soul and his dependents are demanding that he spend on their maintenance?” Qutaibah bin Saeed said: “When Al-Thawri died, piety died; when Al-Shafi’ee died, proper adherence to the Sunnah died; when Ahmad died, innovation (bidah) emerged.” (narrated by Imam Al-Nawawi) . May Allah (SWT) award us all with the same strong will-power to sacrifice this world for hereafter which HE granted to Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (Aameen).

(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)

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