Short Biography of Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal
Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal is one of the prominent Islamic scholars and has been given title of Shaikh-ul-Islam (outstanding scholars of the Islamic sciences). He was an Imam in Fiqh, Hadith, and many other Islamic Jurisprudence. In fact, 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 diffent sources, Imam Ahmad performed pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) five times in his life.
1. His Name and lineage:
Imam’s full name is Aḥmad Ibn Moḥammad Ibn Ḥanbal Abu Abdullah Al-Shaybani. He 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 and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. He was born in the Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 164 AH (780 AD). 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.
2. His Early Studies/Education:
Imam Ahmed studied extensively in Baghdad. When he finished his primary/elementary Islamic education (the Maktab), Imam began to attend study circles at higher level of Islamic education at the age of fourteen. Then he began to focus on studying Hadith in 179 AH (795 AD).
3. His Further Studies/Education and His Teachers:
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)
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.
4. His Students:
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.
5. 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 (details of mihnah is given below).
6. His trials and imprisonment during 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 will the truth 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.
7. He narrated Al-Musnad to his sons:
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.).
8. His writings/work:
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.)]
9. His death:
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.
10. His respect for the Scholars:
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)."
11. Islamic Scholars view about him:
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."
"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 (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)
Yahya Bbn Main said,
“The people wanted us to be like Ahmad Bin Hanbal. No, by Allah! We are not as strong as Ahmad and we are not strong enough to follow the way of Ahmad."
May Allah have mercy on Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal and bless him for all his hard-work for the cause of Islamic Religion.