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IMAM Hambal
(164 A.H./780A.D. -- 241 A.H. / 855 A.D)
Jamil Ahmad


The grand Durbar of the greatest of the Abbaside Caliph, Mamunar Rashid, at Tarsus, was packed to its capacity. A frail bodied person, with a resolute look and a calm countenance, was carried forward by the guards through a long row of distinguished courtiers, officials and religious scholars. The person was Ahmad ibn Hambal who had been summoned by the Caliph, who, supported by several religious scholars tried to argue with Ahmad bin Hambal but the Imam was adamant and refused to change his views. He was therefore put behind the bars.

Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hambal, the founder of the Hambali School of Muslim jurisprudence, is one of the greatest personalities of Islam who profoundly influenced both the historical development and modern revival. The celebrated theologian, jurist and traditionalists, Ahmad ibn Hambal, was through his disciple Ibn Taimiya, the distant progenitor of Wahabism. He inspirited also in certain degree the conservation reform movement of the Salafiyya (Encyclopaedia of Islam).

Born at Baghdad on the Ist of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 164 A.H. (December 780) Ahmad ibn Hambal was an Arab, belonging to Bani Shayban of Rabia, who had played an important role in the Muslim conquest of Iraq and Khorasan. His family first resided at Basra. His grandfather Hambal ibn Hilal, Governor of Sarakhs, under the Omayyads had the headquarters at Merv. Ahmad’s father Muhammad ibn Hambal, who was employed in the Imperial Army in Khorasan, later moved to Baghdad, where he died three years later.

Ahmad, who had become an orphan at a very early age, inherited a family estate of modest income. He studied jurisprudence, Tradition and lexicography in Baghdad. There he attended the lectures of Qazi Abu Yusaf. His principal teacher was Sufyan ibn Uyayna, an authority on the School of Hejaz. Later, he was much influenced by Imam Shafii and became his disciple. From 795 A.D., he devoted himself to the study of Tradition and made frequent visits to Iran, Khorasan, Hejaz, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and even to Maghrib in quest of authentic Traditions of the Prophet (sws). He made five pilgrimages to the holy cities.

According to Imam Shafii, who taught Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) to Ahmad ibn Hambal, the latter was the most learned man he had come across in Baghdad.

The way Imam Ahmad ibn Hambal withstood the trials and tribulations of the Abbaside Calipsh for fifteen years on account of his opposition to the officially supported Mutazillite doctrine of the creation of Quran is a living tribute to the Imam’s high character and indomitable will, which immortalised him as one of the greatest men of the times.

The Abbaside Caliph, Mamoon-ar-Rashid, was much influenced in his last days by the  doctrines of Mutazillites, including that of the creation of Quran, and gave an official support to it. The distinguish religious leaders and divines, one after another, accepted the views of the Caliph. Imam Ahmad bin Hambal opposed this doctrine vigorously and suffered as a result, which immensely added to his popularity and immortalised him as one of the greatest men of all times.

The Abbaside Caliph, Mamoon-ar-Rashid died shortly after the imprisonment of Imam Ahmad. He was succeeded by Al-Mutasim, who summoned the Imam and asked the same question about the creation of Quran. Still he refused to accept the Mutazillite doctrine. So he was severely flogged and thrown into the prison. He was however allowed to return home after two years. During the reign of the succeeding Abbaside Caliph, Wasiq, he was not permitted to preach his faith and was compelled to live in retirement. All these hardships failed to detract him from the path of righteous.

The sufferings of the Imam ended when Al Mutawakkil became the Caliph. The Imam was invited and enthusiastically welcomed by the Caliph, who requested him to give lessons on Traditions to the young Abbaside Prince, Al-Mutazz. But the Imam declined this offer on account of his old age and failing health. He returned to Baghdad without seeing the Caliph and died at the age of 75 in Rabi-ul-Awwal of 241 A.H. (July 855 A.D.). He was buried in the Martyrs cemetery, near the Harb gate of Baghdad. ‘His funeral was attended by millions of mourners and his tomb was the scene of demonstrations of such ardent devotion that the cemetery had to be guarded by the civil authorities and his tomb became the most frequented place of pilgrimage in Baghdad’ (Encyclopedia of Islam).

Imam Ahmad laid greater emphasis on Traditions. His monumental work is Musnad, an encyclopaedia containing 28,000 to 29,000 Traditions of the Prophet (sws) in which the Traditions are not classified according to the subject as in the Sahihs of Muslim and Bukhari, but under the name of the first reporter. His other notable works are: Kitab-us-Salaat (Book of Prayer); Ar-radd alal-Zindika (a treatise in refutation of Mutazillites, which he wrote in prison); and Kitab-us-Sunnah ( in which he expounds his views).

Though the fundamental purpose of the Imam’s teaching may be seen as a reaction against the codification of Fiqh, his disciples collected and systematised his replies to questions, which gave birth to the Hambali Fiqh, the fourth School of Muslim jurisprudence.

The Hambali School, which was exposed throughout its history to numerous and powerful opponents came into prominence under the teachings of its greatest exponent, Imam ibn Taimiya, who denounced the veneration of saints and worshipping of tombs. Later, it was further developed by the Saudi Arabian reformer, Abdul Wahab, who greatly popularised it in Saudi Arabia.

(From The Hundred Great Muslims, Ferozesons Ltd, Lahore) 

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