A brief biography of Al-Imâm Ahmad bn Hanbal [d. 241 Hijrah] – may Allâh bestow mercy on him

Friday 11-Nov-2022, 2:45PM / 1184

His Excellence, Virtues and Achievements

[Recorded by Ibn Katheer in al-Bidâyah Wa an-Nihâyah]

He was Ahmad bn Muhammad bn Hanbal bn Hilâl bn Asad Abu Abdillâh Ash-Shaybâni. His father brought him from Merv while he was still inside his mother's womb. His mother gave birth to him at Baghdad in the month of Rabîul-Awwal in year 164 Hijrah. His father died while he was thirty years old thus he came under the care of his mother.

Abu Abdillâh Ahmad bn Hanbal died on Friday 12th day of the month of Rabîul-Awwal in year 241 when he was seventy-seven years old. May Allâh bestow mercy upon him.

In his tender age, he used to attend the sittings of Al-Qâdi Abu Yûsuf (pupil of Imâm Abu Hanifah). Then he stopped from that after which he began to hear hadith narrations.

Ahmad bn Hanbal travelled round the cities and regions; he heard narrations from the scholars of his time who used to honor and hold him in high esteem as he learnt from them.

Our Shaykh (Al-Mizzî) mentioned the names of his teachers two times in his Tahdhîb in an alphabetical order; so also he mentioned those who narrated from him.

Al-Haafidh Abu Bakr Al-Bayhaqî said: Ahmad bn Hanbal mentioned in the Musnad and other books narration from Ash-Shâfi'î.

I say: The number of narrations Imâm Ahmad narrated from Abu Abdillâh Ash-Shâfi'î had been found out to be about twenty hadith. And the best of what we have narrated from Imâm Ahmad from Imâm Ash-Shâfi'î from Mâlik bn Anas from Az-Zuhrî from AbdurRahman bn Ka'b bn Mâlik from his father who said: The Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – said:

'The soul of a believer will become a bird that attaches itself to the Tree of Jannah until it will return to his body on the Day He will cause it to resurrect.'

[Al-Imâm Ahmad (3/455) (number 15351); and At-Tirmidhî (number 1641); Ibn Mâjah (number 1449). Ash-Shaykh Al-Albâni declared the chain of Al-Imâm Ahmad to be authentic in As-Sahîhah (2/730)]

Then Al-Bayhaqî brought a statement of Imâm Ahmad as regard Al-Îmân (Faith); that it is made up of speech and action, it increases and decreases. So also his statement with regard to Al-Qur'ân – that it is Speech of Allâh uncreated. So also his disavowal of whoever says: 'My voice when I recite the Qur'ân is created;' that is, with regard to the Qur'ân.

Al-Bayhaqî said: On that, Abu Ammârah and Abu Ja'far said our teacher, Ahmad As-Sirâj, narrated from Ahmad bn Hanbal that he said: 'My voice when I recite the Qur'ân is created' is an heretical statement. He cited proof in Allâh's Statement:

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"Not a word does he (or she) utter, but there is a watcher by him ready (to record it)." [Qâf: 18].

He said: 'Voices are human speeches.'

Other than the two men have narrated from Ahmad that he said: 'How the Qur'ân is rendered (by humans) is not created but our actions are created.'

I say: Al-Bukhâri established this meaning (that voice rendering the Qur'ân is created); he said that in Af'âlul-Ibâd ('Actions of Slaves'). He also mentioned it in his Sahîh; he cited as a proof the statement of the Messenger of Allâh:

'Beautify the Qur'ân with your voices.'

[Abu Dâwud (number 1468), An-Nasâ'î (number 1016); Ibn Mâjah (number 1342); Ahmad (4/283, 18024); Ad-Dârimî (number 3500). Authenticated by Al-Imâm Al-Albâni in As-Sahîhah: 2/414]

This is why more than one scholars of Sunnah have said: 'The Speech is the Speech of the Creator while the voice is the voice of the reciter.' That is what Al-Bayhaqî established too.

Al-Bayhaqî mentioned a statement of Imâm Ahmad establishing the fact that Allâh would be seen in the Hereafter; and he cited as the proof the hadith of Suhayb regarding seeing (Allâh on the Day of Resurrection). [Muslim (number 181), At-Tirmidhî (2552), Ibn Mâjah (187) and Ahmad (4/332, 18356).]

That the believers will see Allâh on the Day of Resurrection 'is an additional favour to them.'

So also is the statement of Imâm Ahmad regarding negation of likening Allâh with His creation and refraining from engaging in argumentation (over issues like that); so also is clinging unto what has come in the Book and Sunnah in terms of the reports from the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – and his Companions – may Allâh be pleased with them all.

A Section on His Asceticism, Renunciation, Humility – may Allah be pleased with him

Al-Bayhaqî narrated in the route of A-Muzzannî from Ash-Shâfi'î that he said to Ar-Rashîd : 'Indeed Yemen is in need of a (good) judge.'

Ar-Rashîd said: 'Get a man (for us) and we shall appoint him over the city (as its judge).'

Then Ash-Shâfi'î hesitatingly talked to Ahmad bn Hanbal about it who vehemently refused and rather told Ash-Shâfi'î: 'I have only taken time to come to you because of knowledge which has become scarce in the world; will you now command me to become a judge? If not for (your) knowledge, I will refrain from talking to you from today.'

Then Ash-Shâfi'î became shy from him.

It was reported from Ahmad that he would not pray behind his uncle, Is'hâq bn Hanbal, nor behind the person's son, and he would not talk to them, because they accepted offer of wealth from the Sultân.

Abdullah, the son of Imâm Ahmad, said: 'My father stayed (in the military) camp with the Caliph for about sixteen days without eating any food except a quarter of sawîq (a mixture of wheat and barley); he would break his fast every three night upon a safah (another type of food) from him until he returned to his house; and when he did so he was not himself for about a month; his two eyes had gone into their sockets.'

Al-Bayhaqî said: 'The Caliph would hold a lavish banquet while Ahmad would be there (upon an invitation) but he would not eat anything from it.'

Abu Dâwud said: 'The sittings of Ahmad were mainly about mention of the events of the Hereafter; nothing among the matters of the world would be mentioned. I have never seen Ahmad mentioned the world.'

Al-Bayhaqî reported that Ahmad was asked as to the meaning of Tawakkul (reliance on Allâh), he then said: 'It is cutting all forms of hope from people while in a state of desperation.' Then he was asked as to the proof for that. He replied by saying that Prophet Ibrâhîm (alayhi salaam) was such that when he was thrown into fire inside a vault, Jibrîl came to him and asked him whether he could meet his need, Ibrâhîm (alayhi salaam) replied by saying Jibrîl did not have the power to do that. Jibrîl then told him to ask Whom he rested his need. Ibrâhîm (alayhi salaam) then said: 'The more beloved of the two matters to me is the one more beloved to Him.'

On the authority of Abu Ja'far Muhammad bn Ya'qûb As-Saffâr who said: 'We were with Ahmad in Samara then we said: 'Supplicate to Allâh for us.''

Then he (Imâm Ahmad) said: 'O Allâh verily You know that we know that You are indeed for us more than we love so make us always upon what You love.' Then he kept quiet.

We said: 'We need more (of the supplication).'

He said: 'O Allâh, we ask You with the Ability with which You said to the heavens and earth: "Come to Us willingly or unwillingly. They said: We come willingly;" O Allâh make us meet Your Pleasure; O Allâh we seek refuge in You from neediness to other than You; we also seek refuge in You from servitude to other than You; O Allâh, do not make the favour too much for us lest we transgress and do not withhold it grossly from us lest we forget. Bestow Your mercy and wide provision as plentiful for us in our life; and richness from Your bounty.'

Ismâ'îl bn Is'hâq As-Sirâj said: 'Ahmad bn Hanbal said to me: 'Can you show Al-Hârith Al-Muhâsibî to me when he comes to your house?'

I replied: 'Yes I can; and I was happy for that.' Then I went to Al-Hârith and told him that I would love him to come to my house that night with his comrades. Al-Hârith replied that they were many but said I should get dates and food ready for them.

When it was after Maghrib they arrived. Imâm Ahmad had preceded them to the place and had gone to sit in a room where he would be able to see them and hear their talks but they would not be able to see him.

Thus when they observed the Ishaa Prayer, they did not observe any prayer after it but all came and sat before Al-Hârith in all quietness and their heads hanged down as if birds were upon their heads.

It was about middle of the night when a man among them asked Al-Hârith about a matter thus he began to talk over the matter and what related to it in terms of taking little of this life, avoiding doubtful things and exhortation. Then some began to sob, groan and convulse.

Then I climbed to Imâm Ahmad in the room (where he was sitting) and I found him crying too until he nearly collapsed. The people cried till daybreak.

When they wanted to take their leave, I asked Abu Abdillâh his opinion of them but he replied: 'I have not seen  anybody talked about taking little from the world like this man and I have not seen people like his comrades but despite that I counsel you that you should not join them!'

Al-Bayhaqî said: 'What that means is that he detested his taking them as companions because Al-Hârith bn Asad, even though he was an ascetic, he had some knowledge of the scholastic theology with him which Ahmad detested; or that Ahmad hated that the man should join them because he might not be able to cope with what they were upon in terms of asceticism and avoiding doubtful matters.'

Translated by Ishaaq bn AbdirRaheem, Aboo Aamir

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