The Hanbali Madhab
After the death of Imam Ahmad, his students traveled across the Muslim world along with the responsa (Masa’il) of Ahmad concerning theology, jurisprudence and traditions. From the foremost of his students are: his two sons, Salih and Abdullah, Hanbal ibn Ishaq, al-Marrudhi, al-Kawsaj, Ibn Hani, Abu Dawud (compiler of Sunan Abu Dawud), al-Athram, Abu Zur’ah al-Razi, Abu Hatim al-Razi, ‘Abdul-Wahhab al-Warraq, al-Tirmidhi and many others.
However, it was not until al-Khallal traveled the Muslim world, collecting the responsa of Imam Ahmad from his students scattered across the Khilafa, that the Madhab of Imam Ahmad was compiled in an organised form. This vast compilation became known as al-Jami’, which is still used in the 8th Islamic century by Ibn Taymiyah and his contemporary Hanbali jurists.
This collection was then summarized into a short treatise on the Fiqh of Imam Ahmad by the Baghdadi-Hanbali jurist al-Khiraqi, which became known as Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi. This treatise was the first Fiqh manual ever written in the Madhab, and its first ever commentary was also written by its very author, thus, making al-Khiraqi the first author of a Fiqh manual in the Madhab, the first one to write a commentary on a manual, and indeed the first Hanbali to comment on his own manual.
The summarized treatise on Fiqh by al-Khiraqi proved to be the most important contribution to Hanbali Fiqh, with over 300 commentaries, according to Yusuf b. ‘Abd al-Hadi, which even today remains an excellent introductory manual to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. The famous commentaries to al-Mukhtasri include, but are not restricted to: a commentary by Ibn Hamid, then al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la, then Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi, whose commentary, famously known as al-Mughni, is considered to be a timeless masterpiece.
The Hanbali Usool al-Fiqh can be understood through a basic list of the 5 main sources it uses:
- Al-Nass which includes the Qur’an and accounts from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that are rigorously- or well- authenticated (respectively:sahih, hasn)
- A fatwa from one of the Companions when the other Companions (Allah be well pleased with them one and all) are not known to differ with it
- When there is a difference of opinion between the Companions (Allah be well pleased with them one and all), then whichever one is closest to the Qur’an and sunna; if it was not clear which opinion was closest, then he would mention that there is a difference of opinion without being convinced [of the superiority of any particular one]
- Hadiths that are mursal, where one of the tabi`in (someone who met at least one of the Companions (Allah be well pleased with them)) ascribes a hadith to the Prophet without mentioning the narrator(s) between himself and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); Hadiths which are weakly authenticated(da`if) when there is nothing to refute it, however there is disagreement concerning the meaning of “dha`if” here
- Analogical reasoning (qiyas)
But as Imam Muhammad Abu Zahrah points out in his book concerning Imam Ahmad, the picture is a just bit more complicated than that. As a minimum, we can add the following to the list:
- Al-Istishab: which is projecting a known ruling into the past or present
- Al-Masalih Al-Mursala:which is looking at the public interest
- Al-Thar`i: which is giving something the ruling of that which is leads to