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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 moves to Egypt, and was his prominent student. Insisting that the Qur’an is uncreated, aroused Abbasid’s hostility towards him, and he was imprisoned 18 months at the time of Mu‘taṣim. However, when Mutawakkil came to 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 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 Nasikh wa Mansūkh. His most important jurisprudential work is a compilation of his fatwas answering to 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 of his school’s pupils. He died at 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By the appearance of Ash‘arī school of theology, Ḥanbalī theological school was superseded by it.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 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 excellence that have been mentioned in Sunni six reliable collections, even 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 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 in merely the Qur’an and ḥadīth, and regarded having recourse to a servant of God as heresy and absolute polytheism. 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 gave Sunnah priority 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 the case of that 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 being extremist concerning 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 above mentioned beliefs, Ibn Ḥanbal regards Imam Ali’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 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 not performs canonical prayer is an infidel, and killing him is obligatory.

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