Virtues of the Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal - Vol. 1

Virtues of the Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal - Vol. 1

Virtues of the Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal - Vol. 1

Virtues of the Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal - Vol. 1


Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 H/855 AD), renowned for his profound knowledge of hadith--the reports of the Prophet's sayings and deeds--is a major figure in the history of Islam. Ibn Hanbal was famous for living according to his own strict interpretation of the Prophetic model and for denying himself even the most basic comforts in a city then one of the wealthiest in the word, and despite belonging to a prominent family. His piety and austerity made him a folk hero, especially after his principled resistance to the attempts of two Abbasid caliphs to force him to accept rationalist doctrine. His subsequent imprisonment and flogging became one of the most dramatic episodes of medieval Islamic history. Ibn Hanbal's resistance influenced the course of Islamic law, the rise of Sunnism, and the legislative authority of the caliphate. tells the formidable life tale of one of the most influential Muslims in history.

Virtues of the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal is a translation of the biography of Ibn Hanbal penned by the Baghdad preacher, scholar, and storyteller Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 H/1201 AD). Volume One presents the first half of the text, offering insights into Ibn Hanbal's childhood, education, and adult life, including his religious doctrines, his dealings with other scholars, and his personal habits. Set against the background of fierce debates over the role of reason and the basis of legitimate government, Virtues of the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal tells the formidable life tale of one of the most influential Muslims in history.


Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, who died in the 241st year of the Muslim calendar, 855 according to the Christian one, is probably one of the most famous Muslims in history. Thanks to him, many came to believe that the only right religion was the one practiced at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad. To keep their community together in this world and gain salvation in the next, Muslims needed to live as the Prophet and his Companions had lived: to eat what they ate, wear what they wore, buy and sell only as they had done. “Is there anything I’m doing wrong?” one of Ibn Ḥanbal’s wives asked him a few days after they were married. “No,” he answered, “except that those sandals you’re wearing didn’t exist at the time of the Prophet” (62.7).

To live as the first Muslims had lived, it was necessary to know as much as possible about them. Reports of their words and deeds were repeated by one believer to another, along with the names of those who had passed these reports on. By Ibn Ḥanbal’s time, a proper report—called a Hadith—was expected to include a list of names beginning with the speaker’s source and ending with the person who had seen the Prophet or a Companion doing or saying whatever it was that one wished to know. After Ibn Ḥanbal was arrested during the Abbasid Inquisition, a well-wisher counseled him by citing the following Hadith:

We heard al-Layth ibn Saʿd report, citing Muḥammad ibn ʿAjlān, citing Abū
l-Zannād, citing al-Aʿraj, citing Abū Hurayrah, that the Prophet, God bless and
keep him, said: “If any ask you to disobey God, heed him not” (68.4).

What if a seeker could find no Hadith report about a particular question? in that case he might apply his own reasoning to the problem. Yet the scope for undisciplined individual effort was small and growing smaller. in Ibn Ḥanbal’s time, most Muslims no longer believed that they could simply judge as they thought best. For many, it was necessary to take into consideration all related Qurʾanic verses and Hadith reports, and then—using an increasingly complex system of legal reasoning—come up with a rule that seemed best to approximate God’s will. Yet Ibn Ḥanbal himself could not accept this approach. For one thing, the solution was to learn more Hadith reports, in the hope that one or another report would supply the information one needed. in practice, this solution placed great . . .

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