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Ḥanbalīyah: An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudential Sects

1- The Character of Ahmad b. Ḥanbal

Ḥanbalīyah is the fourth school amongst Sunni jurisprudential schools in terms of followers and appearance. It was founded by Abū ‘Abd Allah Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ḥanbal Shaybānī. He was born in 164 A.H in Baghdad, and memorized the Qur’an in childhood. He was an Arab in origin, and his grandfather was governor of Sarakhs. He started learning jurisprudence from Qāḍī Abū Yūsuf, but after a while inclined to Ahl al-Ḥadīth (adherents of ḥadīth). Ibn Ḥanbal, before being known as a leader in jurisprudence, was a leader in the articles of faith. His theological fame reached its apogee at the time of Mutawakkil, so that all Ahl al-Ḥadīth followed his school of theology at that time.

            Ibn Ḥanbal studied under Shāfi‘ī before Shāfi‘ī moved to Egypt, and was his prominent student. Insisting that the Qur’an is uncreated, he aroused Abbasid’s hostility towards him, and was imprisoned for 18 months at the time of Mu‘taṣim. However, when Mutawakkil came for power, Mutawakkil sympathized with him, and esteemed him so that he did nothing except in consultation with Ibn Ḥanbal.

            After separating from Shāfi‘ī, Ibn Ḥanbal laid the foundation of a new jurisprudential school. This school was established on five bases: the holy Qur’an, exemplary practice of the Prophet (S.A.W), fatwas of the Prophet’s Companions, words of some Companions that are compatible with the Qur’an, and all the weak ḥadīths. He was so extravagant with resorting to ḥadīths that the great scholars like Ṭabarī and Ibn Nadīm have not considered him as a mujtahid. Al-Musnad is the most important work of Ibn Ḥanbal that contains more than 30000 ḥadīths, and is published in six volumes. His some other works include Tafsīr al-Qur’an, Faḍā’il, Ṭā‘ah al-Rasūl, and Nāsikh wa Mansūkh. His most important jurisprudential work is a compilation of his fatwas answering the religious questions raised by his students, which is compiled by Ibn Qayyim (d. 751 A.H.), and is published in 20 volumes. Muhammad b. Ismā‘īl Bukhārī and Muslim b. Ḥajjāj Nayshābūrī are among his school’s pupils. He died in 241 A.H. in Baghdad.

2- Ḥanbalīyah after Ahmad b. Ḥanbal

By the appearance of Ash‘arī school of theology, Ḥanbalī theological school was superseded by it. However, many centuries later, Ibn Taymīyah (d. 728 A.H.) attempted to revive theological doctrine of Ibn Ḥanbal in the eighth century. Ibn Taymīyah was not satisfied with reviving, but he also introduced innovations in Ḥanbalī School. The innovations such as considering the trip intended to the Prophet’s pilgrimage as an heretical innovation, regarding supplication and benediction incongruous with monotheism, and rejecting many Ahl al-Bayt’s excellences that have been mentioned in Sunni six reliable collections, even in Ibn Ḥanbal’s Musnad. After his death, his disciple, Ibn Qayyim Jawzīyah (d. 8th century A.H.), followed his way, but this new Ḥanbalī movement could not endure against opposition of Islamic scholars and came to a standstill.

            This movement staged a comeback by Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb (1115-1206 A.H.). He was a follower of Ibn Taymīyah, and strongly objected to the ideologies of Shi’a and Sufism. He believed merely in the Qur’an and ḥadīth, and regarded having recourse to a servant of God as heresy and absolute polytheism.[1] New Ḥanbalism is a rigid ideology that considers the products of modern era, like photography, as a forbidden thing without having any reason from revealed text. Nowadays, Ḥanbalīyah with additional rulings by Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb (Wahhābīyah) is the predominant cult in Saudi Arabia.

3- Features and Sources

Ahmad b. Ḥanbal regarded Sunnah as prior over the Holy Qur’an, and while issuing fatwas leaned upon ḥadīths and Companions’ fatwas. He did not issue fatwa based upon expediency. Whenever he obtained a text contrary to expediency, he acted in contrary to Mālik and performed on the text, and in case there was no text against expediency, he took it as a base and did not run away from expediency, as Shāfi‘ī did. A weak ḥadīth and a mursal ḥadīth (a tradition transmitted by someone who has not heard it directly from the Prophet) were regarded reliable in viewpoint of Ibn Ḥanbal, and he preferred them to qiyās. He believed that qiyās is allowable merely in necessity.

4- Some Beliefs of Ḥanbalīyah

  • According to Ḥanbalī jurisprudence, mutual consent is the main factor in transactions, and every transaction is correct, except that there was a revealed text to nullify it.
  • Ḥanbalīs have a keen sensibility to ṭahārah (ritual purification) and nijāsah (ritual impurity), and are famous for this matter.
  • Adopting the principle of sadd al-dhirā’i‘ effected Ḥanbalī jurisprudence to be more extended. According to this principle, the decree of a main sentence permeates through its means, and the decree of a conclusion permeates into its premises.
  • The most notable feature of Ḥanbalīyah is their extreme concern over the principle of “enjoining the good and forbidding the evil”.
  • Ibn Ḥanbal believed in the outward meaning of the revealed texts expressing anthropomorphism, corporeality of God, or vision of God. He refused interpreting such ambiguous expressions by other revealed texts that are precise.
  • In the viewpoint of Ibn Ḥanbal, ṣaḥābī (the Prophet’s companion) carries a widespread meaning, including a person who was with the Prophet (S.A.W) even for an hour. He believed that someone who swears at a ṣaḥābī is not a true Muslim.
  • In spite of the above-mentioned beliefs, Ibn Ḥanbal regards Imam Ali’s (A.S.) caliphate as authoritative and religious. The excellences that Ibn Ḥanbal has counted in his Musnad for Imam Ali (A.S.) shows that he considered Imam Ali (A.S.) far superior to all the Prophet’s companions in virtue.
  • Ibn Ḥanbal regarded the selection of the Caliphs before and after him as a right thing. He believes in necessity of following the victorious ruler, even in the case of being cruel. Performing a Friday prayer after such a ruler or his agents is considered as a duty in the viewpoint of Ibn Ḥanbal, and repraying it is regarded as an innovation.
  • Ibn Ḥanbal believed that someone who fails to perform canonical prayer is an infidel, and killing him is obligatory.

5- Ḥanbalī jurists and jurisprudential books

  • Ahmad b. Ḥanbal, founder of the school,[2]
  • Khirqī, Abū al-Qāsim ‘Umar b. Ḥusein (d. 343 A.H.): al-Mukhtaṣar fī al-Fiqh,
  • Abū Ya‘lā (d. 458 A.H.): al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭānīyah, al-Mujarrad, al-Ta‘līq, al-Riwāyatayn,
  • Abū al-Khaṭṭāb Baghdādī=Maḥfūẓ b. Ahmad b. Ḥasan Kūdhānī (d. 516 A.H.): al-Hidāyah, al-‘Ibādāt al-Khams,
  • Ibn Qudāmah Muqaddasī=Muwaffaq al-Dīn Abū Muhammad ‘Abd Allah b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Qudāmah b. Miqdām b. Naṣr (d. 620 A.H.): Al-Mughnī, (a great compilation regarding concurrent jurisprudence inclining to the Ḥanbalī jurisprudence, in 12 chapters), ‘Umdah al-Fiqh, al-Muqni‘, al-Sharḥ al-Kabīr ‘alā Matn al-Muqni‘, al-Kāfī fī Fiqh al-Imām Ahmad b. Ḥanbal,
  • Abū al-Wafā’ Ali b. ‘Aqīl b. Muhammad Baghdādī (d. 513 A.H.): al-Tadhkirah, al-Funūn ( his most voluminous book), al-Fuṣūl=Kifāyah al-Muftī,
  • ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Ibrāhīm b. Ahmad Abū Muhammad Bahā’ al-Dīn al-Muqaddasī (d. 624 A.H.): al-‘Uddah fī Sharḥ al-‘Umdah (it is a commentary on ‘Umdah al-Fiqh, by Ibn Qudāmah Muqaddasī),
  • Ibn Abī ‘Umar Shams al-Dīn Ibn Qudāmah (d. 682 A.H.): al-Sharḥ al-Kabīr,
  • Abū al-Barakāt ‘Abd al-Salām b. Abū al-Qāsim b. Taymīyah (d. 652 A.H.): al-Muharrar,
  • Zarkishī, Shams al-Dīn Muhammad ‘Abd Allah (d. 772 A.H.): Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar Khirqī,
  • Abū al-Faraj Zayn al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān, known as Ibn Rajab (d. 795 A.H.): al-Qawā‘id al-Fiqhīyah,
  • Ibn Mufliḥ/ grandchild (d. 884 A.H.): al-Mubdi‘ fī Sharḥ al-Muqni‘,
  • ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Mirdāwī, Ali b. Sulaymān Muqaddasī (d. 885 A.H.): al-Inṣāf fī Ma‘rifah al-Rājiḥ min al-Khilāf ‘alā Madhhab al-Imām Ahmad (a compilation of inter sect differences), al-Tanqīḥ al-Mushbi‘, Taṣḥīḥ al-Furū‘,
  • Mūsā b. Ahmad b. Mūsā Ḥajāwī Muqaddasī (d. 968 A.H.): al-Iqnā‘ fī Fiqh al-Imām Ahmad b. Ḥanbal, Zād al-Mustaqni‘,
  • Ibn Najjār, Muhammad Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Futūḥī (d. 972 A.H.): Muntahā al-Irādāt fī Jam‘ al-Muqni‘ ma‘a al-Tanqīḥ wa al-Ziyādāt (it is a reliable recent book of Ḥanbalīyah that is the basis for issuing fatwas and judicial arbitrations),
  • Sheikh Mar‘ī b. Yūsuf Karamī (d. 1033 A.H.): Ghāyah al-Muntahā fī al-Jam‘ bayn al-Iqnā‘ wa al-Muntahā, Dalīl al-Ṭālib (an abridged of Muntahā al-Irādāt, Ibn Najjār),
  • Manṣūr b. Yūnus Bahūtī (d. 1051 A.H.): Kashshāf al-Qinā‘ ‘an Matn al-Iqnā‘ (al-Iqnā‘ is wrriten by Shams Ḥajāwī), al-Rawḍ al-Murabba‘ ( a commentary on Zād al-Mustaqni‘, Shams Ḥajāwī), Daqā’iq Awlā al-Nuhā al-Ma‘rūf (a commentary on Muntahā al-Irādāt), ‘Umdah al-Ṭālib (it is a short book),
  • ‘Uthmān Najdī (d. 1097 A.H.): Hidāyah al-Rāghib (a commentary on ‘Umdah al-Ṭālib, Bahūtī),
  • Mullā Ali Qārī (d. 1359 A.H.): Majallah al-Aḥkām al-Shar‘īyah, [3]

Neo Hanbalis (Salafites)

  • Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Ḥalīm b. ‘Abd al-Salām b. ‘Abd Allah, Taqī al-Dīn abū al-‘Abbās Namīrī ‘Āmirī known as Ibn Taymīyah, whose followers call him Sheikh al-Islam, too (d. 728 A.H.): Majmū‘ah al-Rasā’il al-Kubrā, al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā=Fatāwā Sheikh al-Islam (in five volumes),[4]
  • Shams al-Dīn Ibn Qayyim Jawzī (d. 751 A.H.): I‘lām al-Mawqi‘īn ‘an Rabb al-‘Ālamīn (in four volumes), al-Ṭuruq al-Ḥikamīyah fī Siyāsah al-Shar‘īyah, Zād al-Ma‘ād fī Hudā Khayr al-‘Ibād,


1- Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb was born in 1115 A.H. in ‘Unīyah, Najd. He learned Ḥanbalīyah, especially the opinions of Ibn Taymīyah and Ibn Qayyim Jawzīyah, in Damascus. Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb travelled to Baghdad and Baṣrah and then turned back with a new version of Ḥanbalīyah called as Wahhābīyah. He invited Muhammad b. Su‘ūd, who was ruling over the tribes of ‘Utūb and ‘Anzah, to Wahhābīyah. Ibn Su‘ūd accepted the cult of Wahhābīyah, and set Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb’s ideas as ideological standards of his government. He appointed Dur‘īyah as his seat of government, and waged many wars on neighboring cities to spread Wahhābīyah. People of Riyāḍ refused his call at that time, but after many years fighting were defeated, and Ibn Su‘ūd possessed Riyāḍ. His son, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Su‘ūd, came to power after his death. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, just like his father, struggled to spread Wahhābīyah and waged many wars. In 1215 A.H., 15000 Wahhābīs attacked Karbala for purifying this city from what they called as “polytheism symbols”. After plundering the treasury of Imam Hussein’s (A.S.) Holy Shrine, they destroyed it. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb’s ideas resulted in many bloody combats in Iraq, and murder of thousands of Shi’ites in Shi’ite dwelling regions of Iraq and Ṭā’if, as well as Sufi living areas in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey.

Wahhābīyah was pertaining to Su‘ūdī royal court sect during last 50 years. Later on, an extremist group called al-Qaida or Takfīrī Salafīs (Jihadi Salafīs) appeared and caused a schism in Wahhābīyah. Wahhābī great scholars, like ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Bāz and Ibn Jabrayn, called Shi’ites rāfiḍī (heretics) and allowed killing them. They regarded Shi’ites worse than followers of other religions, who may be killed and plundered with impunity. These fatwas resulted in the murder of thousands of Shi’a men, women, and even children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. The Wahhābīs living in India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which form the central core of al-Qaida force, in fact, are the followers of Daywbandī Sunnite, but they are united with Su‘ūdī Wahhābīs by reason of opposing to religious rituals (such as visiting the tombs of the dead, etc.) and hostility towards Shi’as.

2- His student, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Hānī, known as Athram, the author of al-Sunan is famous, too.

3- Some other important jurists and jurisprudential books of Ḥanbalīyah are as follows:

  • Sharīf Hāshimī (d. 470 A.H.): al-Irshād,
  • Ibn Sunaynah Sāmirī, Naṣīr al-Dīn Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah (d. 616 A.H.): al-Mustaw‘ab,
  • Ibn Ḥamdān Ḥarrānī (d. 695 A.H.): al-Ri‘āyah al-Kubrā, al-Ri‘āyah al-Ṣughrā,
  • Ibn Mufliḥ/ father (d. 763 A.H.): al-Furū‘, al-Nukat wa al-Fawā’id al-Sunnīyah ‘alā Mushkil al-Muḥarrar ( by ‘Abd al-Salām b. Taymīyah)
  • Shawwaykī, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad (d. 939 A.H.): al-Tawḍīḥ fī al-Jam‘ bayn al-Muqni‘ wa al-Tanqīḥ,
  • Ibn Bulbulān (d. 1083 A.H.): Akhṣar al-Mukhtaṣirāt, Mukhtaṣar al-Ifādāt,
  • Shaybānī Taghlibī (d. 1135 A.H.): Nayl al-Ma’ārib Sharḥ Dalīl al-Ṭālib,
  • ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ba‘lī Ḥalabī (d. 1192 A.H.): Kashf al-Mukhaddarāt (a commentary on Akhṣar al-Mukhtaṣirāt),
  • Raḥībānī (d. 1243 A.H.): Maṭālib awlā al-Nuhā fī Sharḥ Ghāyah al-Muntahā,
  • Ibn Ḍawyān (d. 1353 A.H.): Manār al-Sabīl,
  • Ibn Qāsim (d. 1392 A.H.): Ḥāshīyah,
  • Balīhī (d. 1410 A.H.): al-Salsabīl,

4- Ibn Taymīyah, however, held the rank of ijtihād in Ḥanbalī jurisprudence, but his fatwas were not in agreement with any of the four Sunni legal schools (i.e. Mālikīyah, Ḥanafīyah, Shāfi‘īyah, and Ḥanbalīyah). One of his first works was the book of “al-‘Aqīdah”, which was intended as inadmissible and unconventional among Sunnis. He has criticized and rejected many theological beliefs of Ash‘arīyah in that book. He was an adherent of narration and ḥadīth, and a bitter enemy of Shi’ite and Sufism. Ibn Taymīyah was expelled from Damascus because of his deviant beliefs, which were strongly contrary to all Islamic sects, and scholars of the time just about excommunicated him. In addition, the scholars of Mecca and Medina condemned him, and prohibited him from entering these cities. Ibn Taymīyah authored Minhāj al-Sunnah al-Nabawīyah to refute Minhāj al-Kirāmah (by ‘Allāmah Ḥillī) with the intention of defending people of the Sunnah and criticizing Shi’a beliefs.

The article was written by Hujjat al-Islam Mujtaba Elahi Khorasani (Teacher of Advance Level of Mashhad Seminary) and Translated by Sayyid Dilawar Ali Naqavi  (Seminary Member, Researcher, English Translator and M.A. Student in Quranic Interpretation and Sciences).

About Alireza Mosaddeq

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