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The Hanbali school (Arabic: ٱلْمَذْهَب ٱلْحَنۢبَلِي, romanized: al-maḏhab al-ḥanbalī) is one of the four major traditional Sunni schools (madhabs) of Islamic jurisprudence. It is named after the Iraqi scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855), and was institutionalized by his students. The Hanbali madhhab is the smallest of four major Sunni schools, the others being the Hanafi, Maliki and Shafi`i. The followers of Hanbali school are also referred as Ahl al-Hadith or Athari.
The Hanbali school derives sharia predominantly from the Quran, the Hadiths (sayings and customs of Muhammad), and the views of Sahabah (Muhammad's companions). In cases where there is no clear answer in sacred texts of Islam, the Hanbali school does not accept jurist discretion or customs of a community as a sound basis to derive Islamic law, a method that Hanafi and Maliki Sunni fiqhs accept. Hanbali school is the strict traditionalist school of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. It is found primarily in the countries of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where it is the official fiqh. Hanbali followers are the demographic majority in four emirates of UAE (Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman). Large minorities of Hanbali followers are also found in Bahrain, Syria, Oman and Yemen and among Iraqi and Jordanian bedouins.
The Hanbali school experienced a reformation in the Wahhabi-Salafist movement. Historically the school was small; during the 18th to early-20th century Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Al Saud greatly aided its propagation around the world by way of their interpretation of the school's teachings. As a result of this, the school's name has become a controversial one in certain quarters of the Islamic world due to the influence he is believed by some to have had upon these teachings, which cites Ibn Hanbal as a principal influence along with the thirteenth-century Hanbali reformer Ibn Taymiyyah. However, it has been argued by certain scholars that Ibn Hanbal's own beliefs actually played "no real part in the establishment of the central doctrines of Wahhabism," as there is evidence, according to the same authors, that "the older Hanbalite authorities had doctrinal concerns very different from those of the Wahhabis," as medieval Hanbali literature is rich in references to saints, grave visitation, miracles, and relics. Historically, the Hanbali school was treated as simply another valid interpretation of Islamic law, and many prominent medieval Sufis, such as Abdul Qadir Gilani, were Hanbali jurists and mystics at the same time.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the founder of Hanbali school, was a disciple of the Sunni Imam Al-Shafi‘i, who was reportedly a student of Imam Malik ibn Anas,:121 who was a student of the Ja'far al-Sadiq (a descendant of the Islamic Nabi (Prophet) Muhammad), like Imam Abu Hanifah. Thus all of the four great Imams of Sunni Fiqh are connected to Imam Ja'far from the Bayt (Household) of Muhammad, whether directly or indirectly.
Like Shafi'i and al-Zahiri, Ahmad was deeply concerned with the extreme elasticity being deployed by many jurists of his time, who used their discretion to reinterpret the doctrines of Quran and Hadiths to suit the demands of Caliphs and wealthy. Ibn Hanbal advocated return to literal interpretation of Quran and Hadiths. Influenced by the debates of his time, he was known for rejecting religious rulings (Ijtihad) from the consensus of jurists of his time, which he considered to be speculative theology (Kalam). He associated them with the Mu'tazilis, whom he despised. Ibn Hanbal was also hostile to the discretionary principles of rulings in jurisprudence (Usul al-fiqh) mainly championed by the people of opinion, which was established by Abu Hanifa, although he did adopt al-Shafi'i's method in usul al-fiqh. He linked these discretionary principles with kalam. His guiding principle was that the Quran and Sunnah are the only proper sources of Islamic jurisprudence, and are of equal authority and should be interpreted literally in line with the Athari creed. He also believed that there can be no true consensus (Ijma) among jurists (mujtahids) of his time, and preferred the consensus of Muhammad's companions (Sahaba) and weaker hadiths. Imam Hanbal himself compiled Al-Musnad, a text with over 30,000 saying, actions and customs of Muhammad.
Ibn Hanbal never composed an actual systematic legal theory on his own, though his followers established a systemic method after his death.[self-published source] Much of the work of preserving the school based on Ibn Hanbal's method was laid by his student Abu Bakr al-Khallal; his documentation on the founder's views eventually reached twenty volumes. The original copy of the work, which was contained in the House of Wisdom, was burned along with many other works of literature during the Mongol siege of Baghdad. The book was only preserved in a summarized form by the Hanbali jurist al-Khiraqi, who had access to written copies of al-Khallal's book before the siege.
Relations with the Abbasid Caliphate were rocky for the Hanbalites. Led by the Hanbalite scholar Al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Barbahari, the school often formed mobs of followers in 10th-century Baghdad who would engage in violence against fellow Sunnis suspected of committing sins and all Shi'ites. During al-Barbahari's leadership of the school in Baghdad, shops were looted, female entertainers were attacked in the streets, popular grievances among the lower classes were agitated as a source of mobilization, and public chaos in general ensued. Their efforts would be their own undoing in 935, when a series of home invasions and mob violence on the part of al-Barbahari's followers in addition to perceived deviant views led to the Caliph Ar-Radi publicly condemning the school in its entirety and ending its official patronage by state religious bodies.
Like all other schools of Sunni Islam, the Hanbali school holds that the two primary sources of Islamic law are the Qur'an and the Sunnah found in Hadiths (compilation of sayings, actions and customs of Muhammad). Where these texts did not provide guidance, Imam Hanbal recommended guidance from established consensus of Muhammad's companions (Sahabah), then individual opinion of Muhammad's companions, followed in order of preference by weaker hadiths, and in rare cases qiyas (analogy). The Hanbali school, unlike Hanafi and Maliki schools, rejected that a source of Islamic law can be a jurist's personal discretionary opinion or consensus of later generation Muslims on matters that serve the interest of Islam and community. Hanbalis hold that this is impossible and leads to abuse.
Ibn Hanbal rejected the possibility of religiously binding consensus (Ijma), as it was impossible to verify once later generations of Muslims spread throughout the world, going as far as declaring anyone who claimed as such to be a liar. Ibn Hanbal did, however, accept the possibility and validity of the consensus of the Sahaba. the first generation of Muslims. Later followers of the school, however, expanded on the types of consensus accepted as valid, and the prominent Hanbalite Ibn Taymiyyah expanded legal consensus to later generations while at the same time restricting it only to the religiously learned. Analogical reasoning (Qiyas), was likewise rejected as a valid source of law by Ibn Hanbal himself, with a near-unanimous majority of later Hanbalite jurists not only accepting analogical reasoning as valid but also borrowing from the works of Shafi'ite jurists on the subject.
Ibn Hanbal's strict standards of acceptance regarding the sources of Islamic law were probably due to his suspicion regarding the field of Usul al-Fiqh, which he equated with speculative theology (kalam). In the modern era, Hanbalites have branched out and even delved into matters regarding the upholding (Istislah) of public interest (Maslaha) and even juristic preference (Istihsan), anathema to the earlier Hanbalites as valid methods of determining religious law.
Ibn Hanbal taught that the Qur'an is uncreated due to Muslim belief that it is the word of God, and the word of God is not created. The Mu'tazilites taught that the Qur'an, which is readable and touchable, is created like other creatures and created objects. Ibn Hanbal viewed this as heresy, replying that there are things which are not touchable but are created, such as the Throne of God. Unlike the other three schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi), the Hanbali madhab remained largely traditionalist or Athari in theology and it was primarily Hanbali scholars who codified the Athari school of thought.
The Hanbali school is now accepted as the fourth of the mainstream Sunni schools of law. It has traditionally enjoyed a smaller following than the other schools. In the earlier period, Sunni jurisprudence was based on four other schools: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Zahiri; later on, the Hanbali school supplanted the Zahiri school's spot as the fourth mainstream school. Hanbalism essentially formed as a traditionalist reaction to what they viewed as speculative innovations on the part of the earlier established schools.
Historically, the school's legitimacy was not always accepted. Muslim exegete Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, founder of the now extinct Jariri school of law, was noted for ignoring the Hanbali school entirely when weighing the views of jurists; this was due to his view that the founder, Ibn Hanbal, was merely a scholar of prophetic tradition and was not a jurist at all. The Hanbalites, led by al-Barbahari, reacted by stoning Tabari's home several times, inciting riots so violent that Abbasid authorities had to subdue them by force. Upon Tabari's death, the Hanbalites formed a violent mob large enough that Abbasid officials buried him in secret for fear of further riots were Tabari buried publicly in a Muslim graveyard. Similarly, the Andalusian theologian Ibn 'Abd al-Barr made a point to exclude Ibn Hanbal's views from the books on Sunni Muslim jurisprudence. In al-Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun—himself a Qadi in Egypt during the Mamluk-era—also noted that the following of this school was rare and stated that this is due to the fact that they largely reject Ijtihad as a whole.
Eventually, the Mamluk Sultanate and later the Ottoman Empire codified Sunni Islam as four schools, including the Hanbalite school at the expense of the Zahirites. The Hanafis, Shafi'is and Malikis agreed on important matters and recognized each other's systems as equally valid; this was not the case with the Hanbalites, who were recognized as legitimate by the older three schools but refused to return the favor.
In comparison to the Hanafis and the Malikis, in the absence of a consensus, the opinion of a Sahabi is given priority over Qiyas (which early Hanbalis rejected) or al-'urf, which is completely rejected by Hanbalis. Where Hanbalis require a unanimous consensus, Hanafis tend to follow the consensus of Kufa and Malikis that of al-Madina.
Zahiris, a less mainstream school, is sometimes seen as the closest to Hanbalis and Hanafis. However the similarities are only true for early Zahiris who followed the Athari creed. The branch that was largely instigated by Ibn Hazm which developed in al-Andalus, al-Qarawiyyin and later became the official school of the state under the Almohads, differed significantly from Hanbalism. It did not follow the Athari and Taqlid schools and opted for "logical Istidlal" (deductive demonstration) as a way to interpret scripture that wasn't clear literally. Hanbalis rejected kalam as a whole and believed in the supremacy of the text over the mind and did not engage in dialectic debates with the Mu'tazila. Ibn Hazm, on the other hand, engaged in these debates and believed in logical reasoning rejecting most of Mu'tazila claims as sophists and absurd. Ibn Hazm, also scrutinised hadith more severely. He adopted an attitude where he'd reject hadiths if he discovered something suspicious about the lives of those who reported it, or in the case where a person in the Sanad is not a widely known figure. In doing so, he was aided by his vast historical knowledge.
Sufism, often described as the inner mystical dimension of Islam, is not a separate "school" or "sect" of the religion, but, rather, is considered by its adherents to be an "inward" way of approaching Islam which complements the regular outward practice of the five pillars; Sufism became immensely popular during the medieval period in practically all parts of the Sunni world and continues to remain so in many parts of the world today. As Christopher Melchert has pointed out, both Hanbalism and classical Sufism took concrete shapes in the ninth and early tenth-centuries CE, with both soon becoming "essential components of the high-medieval Sunni synthesis." Although many Hanbali scholars today, identifying themselves with the Salafi and Wahhabi contemporary movements within Hanbalism, shun Sufi practices such as the veneration of saints at their tombs, which they deem heretical innovations in the religion, it is important to recognize that the Hanabali school of Sunni law has, in fact, had a very intimate relationship with Sufism throughout history, with such controversies only manifesting themselves after the eighteenth-century, once the movement of Wahhabism became the primary form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.
There is evidence that many medieval Hanbali scholars were very close to the Sufi martyr and saint Hallaj, whose mystical piety seems to have influenced many regular jurists in the school. Many later Hanbalis, meanwhile, were often Sufis themselves, including figures not normally associated with Sufism, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah. Both these men, sometimes considered to be completely anti-Sufi in their leanings, were actually initiated into the Qadiriyya order of the celebrated mystic and saint Abdul Qadir Gilani, who was himself a renowned Hanbali jurist. As the Qadiriyya order is often considered to be the largest and most widespread Sufi order in the world, with many branches spanning from Turkey to Pakistan, one of the largest Sufi branches is effectively founded on Hanbali fiqh.
The Hanbalite madhhab, in contrast, largely maintained the traditionalist of Athari position.