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Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal (Arabic: أحمد بن حنبل Ahmad bin Hanbal ) (780 C.E./ 164 AH - 855 C.E./ 241 AH ) was an important Muslim scholar and theologian. He is considered the founder of the Hanbali school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). His full name was Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal Abu `Abd Allah al-Shaybani (أحمد بن محمد بن حنبل أبو عبدالله الشيباني). His school stresses the importance of the Sunnah of the Prophet as a source of Islamic law (Shariah) and dislikes use of such tools as qiyas (analogy). Ibn Hanbal compiled an early collection of hadith (acts and sayings of Muhammad), the Musnad. His is the only school recognized in Saudi Arabia.
Ibn Hanbal is considered a defender of orthodoxy, or pure Islam, and is greatly admired for his courage in the face of persecution and imprisonment. He is sometimes described as the most conservative of the Four Imams (the four classical scholars after whom the Sunni schools of jurisprudence are named) but reluctance to rule on matters not explicitly covered by Qur'an or Sunnah leaves a lot of room for local regulations.
Ibn Hanbal was a modest man who placed his scholarship before wealth. When the secular rulers, dominated by worldly rather than by spiritual goals, tried to force their views onto the scholars, who were the guardians of the tradition, he resisted. His successful resistance would enable the Shariah, Islamic Law, to remain independent of the Caliphs. This established a healthy balance between the sacred and the secular and effectively protected the Muslim ideal, that of submitting the whole of one's life to God and His will.
Ahmed ibn Hanbal was born in Central Asia to Arab parents in 780 C.E. After the death of his father, he would move to Iraq and study extensively in Baghdad, and later used his travels to further his education. He was chiefly interested in acquiring knowledge of the hadith and traveled extensively through Iraq, Syria, and Arabia studying religion and collecting traditions of Muhammad.
His travels lasted several years. Upon returning home, he studied under Imam Shafi on Islamic law. Ibn Hanbal was very devoted to traditional views and was opposed to innovations in Islamic law.
The strength of his views was tested under the caliphs al-Ma'mun and al-Mu'tasim. During the mihna period, a kind of "inquisition court" was created to deal with people who would not profess certain doctrines that the Abbasid caliphs thought were correct. These doctrines were from the Mutazilite school of thought, and held that the Qur'an was created and not eternal. Ibn Hanbal was arrested and brought in chains before the court, and suffered a great deal. He patiently submitted to corporal punishment and imprisonment, and resolutely refused to abjure his beliefs. Caliph al-Ma'mun reportedly had Ibn Hanbal flogged. 
Under the rule of Al-Mutawakkil however, the policy of the government changed and Ibn Hanbal's trials came to an end. From then onwards he was accorded honor befitting his great knowledge and on several occasions he was invited to the court and granted a generous pension. Ibn Hanbal, however, turned down the offers due to his general dislike of being close to the rulers. He refused to visit his own son and uncle, or to pray behind them, because they had taken up posts under the Caliph. Al-Mutwakkil, knowing that Imam Ahmad would refuse to accept any gifts from him, instead presented some gifts to his son, Salih b. Ahmad. When it came to his knowledge, Imam Ahmad showed strong disapproval and refused to benefit in any way his son’s wealth. This period of Islamic history saw both the consolidation of the tradition of fiqh, and what amounted to a contest for power between the political or temporal rulers and the scholars. The latter claimed knowledge of the tradition, which carried with it the right to exercise legal authority. The rulers, who were not trained in fiqh tried to control the legal institutions and to substitute their own regulations for the canons of Islamic law. These aimed at consolidating their own power and wealth and often tried to side-line Islam. What emerged in practice was a type of separation of powers, or a system of checks and balances. The Caliphs were under, not above the Shariah, which was interpreted and protected by the scholars. Although removing a corrupt ruler was never easy, in principle this could be done. There are a number of examples in Islamic history when the ulema (scholars) have dismissed a ruler and substituted another. The issue of whether the Qur'an was created or uncreated was an aspect of this struggle; if created, some argued, it might have been created other than it was, which left more scope for human reason. Ibn Hanbal defended the "uncreatedness" of the Qur'an.
Among the works of Ibn Hanbal is the great encyclopedia of traditions called Musnad, compiled by his son from his lectures and amplified by supplements-containing over 28,000 traditions. His other works include Kitab-us-Salaat, (on the Discipline of Prayer) and Kitab-us-Sunnah, (on the Traditions of the Prophet).
Ibn Hanbal's fame spread far and wide. His learning, piety and unswerving faithfulness to traditions gathered a host of disciples and admirers around him. His teachings plus his books would lead his disciples to form the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. This is one of the four recognized schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. Many Sunnis felt that the Four Imams had achieved such a high grasp of the law that, after their deaths, nothing new could be added. Rather, the duty of subsequent generations is to comment on and to interpret the corpus of this legal legacy.
Ibn Hanbal died in Baghdad on July 31, 855 C.E.; it is said that over 800,000 men and 60,000 women attended his funeral.
All links retrieved September 6, 2012.
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