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We have to understand the background at this time in Baghdad. After a long and bloody rule, the Ummayad dynasty had come to an end and the Abbasid dynasty came to power. The power in Damascus also changed with this. Much time was spent by the new rulers in stamping out any rebellion and they tried their level best to do this in a peaceful manner as possible. They also fully supported the Ulama and the various faculties which were busy in compiling knowledge. With the result, as rebellion decreased, people began to breathe easy and the environment became so stable that people now began to concentrate on the acquisition of knowledge. Numerous books were written in this period and many books written by non Muslim were been translated into Arabic. There was hardly a branch of knowledge in which books were not written and compiled or translated.
Allama Zehbi explains, “In 143 ah, the Ulama began the task of writing material on the subject of Hadith, Fiqh, and Tafseer. In Mecca shareef, this was performed by ibn Juraih, In Madina shareef, Hadrat Imam Malik compiled the Mua’tta, in Syria, this was performed by Imam Awzaa’i, in Basrah by ibn Abi Arobah and Hammad bin Salamah, in Yemen by Mu’ammar, in Kufah by Imam Sufyan Thouri and in the Al Maghaazi, it is mentioned that books were written by Imam Abu Hanifah on the subject of fiqh and qiyas. After a while, this was continued by Haythim, Laith and ibn Labbiyah, after them by ibn Mubaarak, Abu Yusuf, ibn Wahb May Allah have mercy on them. Prior to this, the Ulama relied on their knowledge based on their memory.”
During the last days of the Ummayad period and the first days of the Abbasid period, within a span of about twenty five years, most branches of knowledge had been written about. Whether this was Ulum Naqliyah such as knowledge of the Quran, the hadith, fiqh, usul fiqh etc or whether it was Ulum Aqliyah such as algebra, maths, philosophy etc.
This was that period when the Mu’talizah were still in their infant state and they were also beginning to affect the power of the day. Most of these rulers including Mamun, Mu’tasim, Waasiq billah were people who were greatly affected by this different branches of knowledge such as philosophy and logics which were spreading across the country. In fact, they had the impression that the ‘intellect is the king’. In every little corner of the country, intense discussion and debate was taking place. People began to create all types of misleading information about the Quran and Hadith and other Islamic faculties trusting only upon their intellect.
It was at this dangerous time in Islamic history that the Almighty in His Infinite Mercy sent a shinning light to save this ummah in the form Hadrat Imam Ahmed bin Hambal May Allah have mercy on him. This was that star of Islam who gave his life but refused to accept the kufr belief that the Quran was a mere creation.
His name and family.
His full name is Ahmed bin Hambal and his title is Abu Abdullah. He was from a Arab tribe called the Bani Shaybaan. Imam Bahiqi May Allah have mercy on him and Shaikh Abu Abdullah Al Haakim May Allah have mercy on him have recorded his full family lineage. His blessed family lineage is said to join with that of the Holy Prophet May Allah have mercy on him with Nazaar bin Ma’ad bin Adnaan. It is said that Nazaar had two sons, Mudir and Rabee’ah. The Holy Prophet peace be upon him is from the offspring of Mudir and Hadrat Imam Ahmed bin Hambal May Allah have mercy on him is from the offspring of Rabee’ah.
His birth and education.
He was born in Baghdad shareef in 164 ah. and when he was only three years old, his father passed away. He was taken care of by his blessed mother.
He also memorized the Quran at a very young age and after studying Arabic grammar, he started to write and record various manuscripts. He himself admits that he learnt the Quran at a very young age and at the age of only fourteen, he started to write and record.
He was such an amazing child that others used to look at him and endeavour to make their children like him. In fact, most parents at that time had regretted spending so much of resources on their children, yet, they could not become a role model like Ahmed bin Hambal who was an orphan.
After he had become fully matured, he entered the classes of Imam Abu Yusuf May Allah have mercy on him and spent some time in his blessed company. He then turned to the study of hadith and he travelled for Hajj on five occasions. He also achieved immense knowledge from the Muhadditheen in the Hijaz. He also travelled to Basrah in search of knowledge and to Syria, Yemen, Kufah atc.
He studied and acquired knowledge of hadith for nearly forty years in different countries without complaining about the hardship he had to undergo. Such was his display of respect and reverence for the Holy Prophet peace be upon him that he only began to publicly teach others the science of Hadith when he was forty years old. In fact, ibn Jouzi relates an interesting story which is that once a person in his generation came to study hadith but the great Imam refused to teach him. This was in 203 ah. This person then approached Imam Abdur Razak bin Hummam May Allah have mercy on him in Yemen and when he returned to Baghdad shareef, he was shocked the see the great Imam teachings people Hadith. In fact, people were falling over each other trying to listen to his words. This gives the impression that he was now forty years old.
It is reported that after a short illness, the great Imam passed away on the day of Juma 12th of Rabi ul Awwal 241 ah. His age was seventy five. He was buried in the graveyard called Maqaabir Shuhadah or the cemetery of the martyrs. Countless people took part in his Janaza. According to Ameer Mohammed bin Taahir, the number of people who participated in this amazing Janaza is said to be 1.3 million. And in other reports, it is said to be close to 2 million. All the heads of governments were also present in his Janaza. His Janaza was performed by Mohammed bin Abdullah. Due to the immense crowd, his Janaza had to be performed many times over. Some people also had to read the Janaza at his grave. Such was the crowd in this procession that the actual burial only took place after Asar. In fact, some of his dis-tractors also had to admit that such was the crowd and the immense fervour of the public and the tremendous love they had for him, that the government was actually forced to call in the army to guard the cemetery where he was buried.
The Zuhd and piety of the great Imam.
His life was one of simplicity and a life of a true derwish. In fact, even ibn Katheer reports from Imam Abu Daud May Allah have mercy on him that in his gathering, no worldly talk was allowed. At the same time, the great Imam also never mentioned any wordily subject. He was also one of those who was given the position of the Chief Justice of Yemen, (Qadi), but he refused to accept this position. In fact, it is mentioned that he was strict in his zuhd and piety that he once refused to speak to his own uncle and also refused to perform his salah behind his son once, because they had accepted some gifts from the head of government. In like manner, once he did not eat anything for three days, he then took some flour from one of his friends on credit and somehow his family came to know of this.
They then prepared some bread and presented it it to him. He asked them about how come this bread was prepared so quickly. They mentioned that the oven of their neighbour was already hot and taking advantage of this, they had prepared the bread in his oven. When he heard this, he instructed them to immediately take the bread away and he refused to eat the bread. Imam Bahiqi May Allah have mercy on him reports that since this person was someone who used to accept gifts from the government, the great Imam refused to eat bread which was prepared in that oven! Imam Bahiqi May Allah have mercy on him also reports that numerous gifts and food was sent by the ruler Mutawakkil, but the great Imam refused to accept any of these gifts. In like manner, he refused to accept the gifts of anyone associated with the state. There are countless examples of this in the life of the great Imam.
His mashaaikh and teachers.
As we have already explained, he had travelled to many countries to acquire knowledge of fiqh and hadith from some of the greatest scholars of their era. Hence, the list of his teachers are very extensive. Ibn Jouzi has also enumerated the list of his teachers in an alphabetical order and they are nearly one hundred in number. We will present a few of them. In Baghdad shareef, his first teacher was Imam Abu Yusuf May Allah have mercy on him who was the student of Imam Abu Hanifah May Allah have mercy on him. After this, he began to study hadith. Among his famous teachers in this field are Imam Sufyan bin Ayniyah May Allah have mercy on him in the Hijaz, in Basrah it was Imam Abdur Rahman bin Mehdi May Allah have mercy on him, in Kufah, it was Imam Waaqeh bin Al Jarrah May Allah have mercy on him.
Ibn Katheer has also mentioned that one of his teachers was also Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. In fact, such was his love and respect for Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him that among the few items he left in this world, were two books of Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. One was a very old manuscript and the other was new. In fact, of we look at the extensive faculties of knowledge which he acquired, we can safely say that his mazhab was a set of principles which covered an area from Madina shareef to Iraq. This is seen in the fact that besides recorded evidence in his set of laws, there is also a sign of using ones intellect in his teachings. Hence, one cannot say that the great Imam was particularly influenced by anyone specific, although he did show immense respect and reverence for all the other Imams.
His Teachings and his circle of students.
Since his fataawah had reached many parts of the Muslim world, people came from all corners to seek knowledge from his blessed hands. In fact, in one report it is mentioned that at times, there were nearly five thousand students learning at once. Among them, nearly five hundred used to record his lessons. Since the only place in which these numbers could be accommodated was the Jamia Masjid, hence, it was agreed that this is where his lessons would be delivered from. As a matter of fact, some people who attended his lessons were not actually there to learn anything but merely to achieve barakah of the great Imam. The great Imam also had special classes in his residence for certain special students and these also included his sons.
One of the amazing qualities of the great Imam is that he did not allow any books to be recorded about his teachings with the fear that people might record incorrect things about him. This is the reason that during his lifetime, no books on his teachings were recorded or prepared. Yes, certain books alluded to him during his lifetime were books on Ahadith which he did not object to. Some of the manuscripts prepared by him in his lifetime were Al Musnad, At Taarikh, An Naasikh wal Mansukh, Al Muqaddam wal Mu’akhar fi Kitaabillah, Fadaa’ile Sahaabah, Al Manaasik Al Kabeer, Al Manaasik As Sagheer, Kitaabuz Zuhd, Kitab Al Radd Alal Jaheemiyah, Kitaab Al Radd alaz Zanaadiyah. Besides these, there were other booklets which were prepared by the great Imam.
A mountain of patience and strength.
It is reported that the first person to claim that the Quran was a creation was someone named Jahad bin Dirham who was a kaafir in time of Ummayad era. In fact, once during the day of Eidul Adha, he was killed by Khalid bin Abdullah Al Qasra during an argument on the same issue. However, the poison which he created began to spread all over the Muslim world. Since various individuals were killed during the last part of the Ummayad dynasty who made this claim, their spread was a little restricted. However, during the Abbasid era, new branches of learning especially from Greek manuscripts began to spread and this greatly affect the Muslims. Obviously, these were not Islamic subject and were mostly based on corrupt teachings of philosophy and logic. In the shadow of these corrupt teachings, this fitnah about the Quran also began to spread and be accepted even by the people in power. In fact, this Mu’tazili influence left the masjids and actually entered into the courts of the new rulers and very soon, all of them had accepted this kufr of the Mu’tazali thinking that they were extremely modern in their thinking.
Mamun was someone who was considered moderate in his thinking and someone who deliberated on any decision. Due to his immense greed for power, he had overthrown his elder brother Ameen and snatched power. He ruled the Abbasid dynasty from 198 to 218 ah. Of course in the beginning he tried to be like his father and called many Ulama and eminent scholars to his court to show that like his father he was also a great patron of the learned. However, since he was once a student of Abu Hazeel Alaaf Mutazali, who was once a leader of this corrupt group, he was greatly influenced by the teachings of the Mu’tazali. Since they knew that he supported them in their kufr, the Mu’tazali also became brazen in their public outbursts and also began to sway the new leader in their direction. Bear in mind that since these people were highly learned in logics and philosophy, they were highly admired by the new ruler as well. In fact, they had so greatly influenced him that he even wrote a special note to anyone who succeeded him to make sure that this person kept Abu Abdullah Ahmed Abi Daud very close to him in all his decisions. This was one of the idiots that was highly respected among the Mu’tazali. When these kaafirs realised that they had now great influence over the state, they decided to reveal their real kufr in the form of calling the Quran a creation. In fact, they then began to openly condemn anyone who did not believe in this and one of their main targets always the great Imam.
In this manner, an immense mountain of oppression descended upon the great Imam. Mamun who was fighting the Romans in Tartus a few days before he could die actually ordered his head in Baghdad to arrest all those who refused to believe in the Quran being a creation. In this manner, the great Imam and Mohammed bin Nuh were arrested and placed in chains to be escorted to the battle front. However, as they were preparing to leave, news reached them that Mamun had died.
The brother of Mamun then took power. However, he was someone who was not very learned and generally considered as nothing but a soldier. Through him also, many parts of the world as far as Turkey were captured. Taking advantage of the mentality of Mu’tasim, the Mu’tazali again tried to influence the new leader. He then had the great Imam imprisoned and placed in chains. Such was the immense punishment given to the great Imam in jail that on most occasions, he actually fell unconscious. The guards used to actually poke him with their swords so that he could regain consciousness. When he regained consciousness, he was again whipped till he fell to the ground. However, in spite of this immense punishment, the great Imam refused to admit that the Quran was a creation. In 226 ah, Mu’tasim died and his son took control.
His name was Waasiq billah. Even though he did not continue to punish the great Imam in this manner, he placed him under house arrest. He was also refused to meet anyone and a public order was given that no one was allowed to meet the great Imam. This continued until Waasiq billah also died. The next person to gain power was Mutawakkil billah. With him, the Mu’tazali influence began to wane and the revival of sunnah began. Such is the manner of people who are able to withstand this oppression, the Mu’tazali died and the great Imam became the most famous Muslim of his era. Yet none of this, affected the great Imam and he continued to display immense humility and taqwah.
His greatness as a Muhaddith.
Such was his status as a Muhaddith that Abu Zar’a admits that the great Imam knew thousands and thousands Ahadith by memory. This was also admitted by Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him. Qadi Abul Husain Mohammed bin Abi Ya’la admits that without doubt, the great Imam was considered as the Imam fil Hadith in his era. Obviously, one of his greatest works in this field was the Musnad and prior to explaining this, we will explain a little of the background to this field. Before this, there was no plan to place the Ahadith in any specific manner. All the hadith mentioned by one companion was placed in one chapter and this continued for another companion.
The Musnad of the great Imam was something else. It was a compilation of his extensive travels and the immense knowledge of hadith he had acquired. He had started to compile this masterpiece in 180 ah and continued to his last days in this world. Hadrat Shamsudeen Jazari explains, “When the great Imam started this masterpiece, he recorded it on different pages. He then divided this into different chapters. It was then collated into one single book. However, after this, the great Imam passed away. He had however made his special students and family members listen to the original before he could pass away. This also proves that the actual Musnad was not compiled by him.
This was completed by his eminent son. Even though this was something completed by his son and his close students, yet there is no doubt that the Muslim world owes a great debt to the Imam for this immense ocean of knowledge. His son reports that once he asked his father, “Why have you stopped the process of this being made into a book.” His father replied, ‘This book has been written for the guidance of people. When there is a difference of opinion among people in matters of sunnah, then people would turn towards this as guidance.”
Besides the Musnad, we have already mentioned other books of the great Imam but if one looks at all of these books, we will find that they have been based on the various Ahadith which he had collected. In fact, in all his writings, his books and his lectures, he used to emphasize the Ahadith and this clearly proves him immense status as a Muhaddith. In fact, even though he was one of the greatest jurist of his era, yet such was his influence on the science of hadith that people forget this part of his life and include him among the list of the Muhadditheen. This was mentioned by ibn Jareer Tabari and also Muqaddasi. However, there is no doubt that side by side with being an authority on hadith, the great Imam was also a great jurist. Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him explains that, “There are ten attributes which made Imam Ahmed bin Hambal the leader in his era. They were Hadith, Fiqh, language, Quran, faqr, zuhd, taqwah, piety and following the sunnah.”
This great attachment to hadith was also explained by Abdul Wahab Warraaq when he was asked about the great Imam, he mentioned, “I have never seen someone like him.” When he was asked the reason for this, he replied, “he was such a person that if a thousand questions were asked of him, he used to reply, ‘hadath na” or ‘akhbar na’. In other words, he used to only answer using the words of the Ahadith.
The Usul of the great Imam in matters of Fiqh.
Ibn Jouzi has mentioned that the great Imam had five principles in Usul. However, Allamah Abu Zahra mentions four of them. They were the Quran, the Sunnah, the fatwah of the Ashaab and Qiyas. However there are certain who object to this and mention that the great Imam never performed Qiyas. However, there is no doubt that he did in fact practise Ijtihad because he was called upon to answer many questions. There are people who say that the great Imam never performed Qiyas but only relied on the hadith. This is incorrect. Their mission is to make it look like Qiyas is a bid’ah in religion. Yet, as we have already proven, this was something which was practised even during the time of the blessed companions. Yes, there is no doubt that the great Imam did practise caution in presenting his Qiyas and when it was done, the basis was on the evidence of the hadith which was in front of him. Even the student of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him, namely Imam Mazani May Allah have mercy on him admits that when Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him was asked about Qiyas, he did give permission for this to be performed. We have also mentioned that the great Imam was also a student of Hadrat Imam Shafi May Allah have mercy on him and was noted his piety and steadfastness. There is no reason to think that he was unaware of the view of his eminent teacher.
His respect for holy relics in Islam.
There is no doubt that the new poison in our midsts being the salafi are people who continue to take the name of the great Imam in their corrupt teachings yet they deliberately forget to mention that the great Imam was also someone who used to show immense respect for the holy relics of Islam. It is mentioned that when these people used to take the great Imam to one side so that they could remove his kurta to be whipped, they used to find a small pouch which was sewn on one corner of his kurtah. Someone asked him what this was, and he replied that this was the most valuable piece of item he had in his life. He mentioned to them this was the blessed hair of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him was which given to him by ibnul Fadl bin Rabee as a gift.
This is the one of the greatest reasons that the greatest of their era became even more great. They left a legacy to the Muslims of the future that if they wanted to also have respect in this world, they had to show the same respect and reverence for the blessed tabbarukaat of Islam.