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Map of the Muslim world. Hanbali (dark green) is the predominant Sunni school in Saudi Arabia.

The Hanbali (Arabic: حنبلي‎) school (madhhab) is a school of Fiqh (jurisprudence religious law) within Sunni Islam. It originated with Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855). However the jurisprudence doctrine was institutionalized by his students.

Hanbali jurisprudence is considered very strict and conservative, especially regarding questions of creed. The Hanbali school of jurisprudence is followed predominantly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the emirate of Abu Dhabi as well as minority communities in Syria and Iraq. The Hanbali school gave birth to the Wahhabi-Salafist movement. Historically the school was a minority and its propagation in Saudi Arabia was greatly aided by the 18th to early-20th century militancy of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Al Saud.


Ibn Hanbal was a disciple of Imam Al-Shafi‘i but later developed his own views on religious matters. Influenced by the debates of his time, he was known for rejecting Ijtihad (reasoned religious rulings) which he considered to be Kalam (science of discourse) and therefore associated it with the Mu'tazilis, which he despised. Ibn Hanbal was also hostile to Usul al-fiqh (principles of rulings in jurisprudence), which were established by his predecessors; Al-Shaf'i, Imam Malik and Abu Hanifa. He also linked these guiding principles to Kalam and philosophy. His guiding principle was that the Quran and Sunnah are the only sources of 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 Ijma (consensus) among the Sahaba and only followed it when it was unanimous.

Ibn Hanbal never composed an actual systematic legal theory on his own; the establishment of a systemic method was laid down by his followers after his death, however.[1] Much of the work of preserving the school based on Ibn Hanbal's method was laid by Abu Bakr al-Khallal, a student of five of Ibn Hanbal's students; his documentation on the founder's views eventually reached twenty volumes.[2] 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.[2]

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'a.[3] During al-Barbahari's leadership of the school in Baghdad, shops were looted,[4] female entertainers were attacked in the streets,[4] popular grievances among the lower classes were agitated as a source of mobilization,[5] and public chaos in general ensued.[6] 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 let to the Caliph Ar-Radi publicly condemning the school in its entirety and ending its official patronage by state religious bodies.[6]


Sources of law[edit]

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 prophetic tradition; the Hanbali school is known for its strong emphasis on verifying and utilizing the latter on equal ground with the former, whereas other schools granted the tradition a secondary role.[7]

Ibn Hanbal rejected the possibility of Ijma or religiously binding consensus impossible to verify once later generations of Muslims spread throughout the world,[7] 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 first generation of Muslims.[8][9] Later followers of the school, however, expanded upon 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.[9] Qiyas, or analogical reasoning, was likewise rejected as a valid source of law by Ibn Hanbal himself,[7][10][11] 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 likely due to his suspicion regarding the field of Usul al-Fiqh, or the foundations of Muslim jurisprudence, which he equated with Kalam.[12] In the modern era, Hanbalites have branched out and even delved into matters regarding the upholding of public interest and even juristic preference, anathema to the earlier Habalites, 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.[13]

Distinct rulings[edit]


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.[21] Hanbalism essentially formed as a traditionalist reaction to what they viewed as speculative innovations on the part of the earlier established schools.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[3] Similarly, the Andalusian theologian Ibn 'Abd al-Barr made a point to exclude Ibn Hanbal's views from the books on Sunni Muslim jurisprudence.[25] 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 as the expense of the Zahirites.[26][27] 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.[22]

Differences with other Sunni schools[edit]

Perhaps the most important difference with the other three mainstream Sunni school is the following of the Athari and Taqlid creed. Whereas the others largely follow the Ash'ari school of theology. Al-Ash'ari is vastly criticised in Hanbali literature, and some of it even labelled him an unbeliever. (see Takfir)

In terms of jurisprudence there are differences as well. 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 Hanablis. Where Hanbalis require a unanimous consensus, Hanafis tend to follow the consensus of Kufa and Malikis that of al-Madina. Hanbalis are somewhat more lax in accepting Hadiths (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal contains a few known fabricated Hadiths)[28] whereas Abu Hanifa tended to severely scrutinise Hadith because he lived in Kufa in the middle of the Shi'a/Sunna conflict. Other schools maintain that a religious ruling cannot be given with doubt, and thus do not follow in some cases, Hadiths which authenticity may be in doubt.

Zahiris, an almost extinct school, is sometimes seen as the closest to Hanbalis. 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 the 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.


The Salafi and Wahhabi movements largely descend from the Hanbali school, which they scrupulously follow in terms of theology. Much of their religious discourse is derived from the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, with contemporary Saudi clerics such as Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen and Ibn Baz.

Some eminent Hanbali scholars who were contemporary of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab criticised his ways. Both movements differ from classic Hanbalism in some of their political views as well as in their Takfir of Shi'a and Sufis, an opinion over which Hanbali scholars differ. The course of action chosen by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab to spread his religious views (violence against disagreeing Muslims and the destruction of Shrines and graves) was also rejected by some of his contemporary Hanbali scholars.

Revival efforts[edit]

Since the Al Saud succeeded in annexing Mecca in 1926 and the discovery of oil, Hanbali school of theology has benefited from the sponsorship of the Saudi state. Theology students from all over the world are educated in Saudi Arabia following this school of theology and Saudi-funded Dawah succeeded in attracting new followers all over the world. Since the beginning of the 20th-century, the school has therefore gained more acceptance and diffusion in the Islamic world.

List of Hanbali scholars[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ I. M. Al-Jubouri, Islamic Thought: From Mohammed to September 11, 2001, pg. 122. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2010. ISBN 9781453595855
  2. ^ a b c d Abu Zayd Bakr bin Abdullah, Madkhal al-mufassal ila fiqh al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal wa-takhrijat al-ashab. Riyadh: Dar al 'Aminah, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Joel L. Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival During the Buyid Age, pg. 61. Volume 7 of Studies in Islamic culture and history. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1992. ISBN 9789004097360
  4. ^ a b Christopher Melchert, Studies in Islamic Law and Society, vol. 4, pg. 151. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  5. ^ Ira M. Lapidus, Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History, pg. 192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780521514415
  6. ^ a b Joel L. Kraemer, pg. 62.
  7. ^ a b c Chiragh Ali, The Proposed Political, Legal and Social Reforms. Taken from Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Sourcebook, pg. 281. Edited by Charles Kurzman. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  8. ^ Muhammad Muslehuddin, "Philosophy of Islamic Law and Orientalists," Kazi Publications, 1985, p. 81
  9. ^ a b Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, "The Doctrine of Ijma: Is there a consensus?," June 2006
  10. ^ Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse, pg. 32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  11. ^ Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 185. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  12. ^ Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 182. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  13. ^ "Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness, Chapter 2". Retrieved 2006-04-09. 
  14. ^ a b c d Imam Muwaffaq ibn Qudama. The Mainstay Concerning Jurisprudence (Al Umda fi 'l Fiqh).
  15. ^ Shaikh Tuwaijiri. pp. 18–19.
  16. ^ Al-Buhuti, Al-Raud al-murbi, p. 72.
  17. ^ Al-Mughni (1/524).
  18. ^ a b "Salat According to Five Islamic Schools of Law" from Al-Islam.org
  19. ^ Marion Holmes Katz, Prayer in Islamic Thought and Practice, p. 128, 2013
  20. ^ hi Mahmasani, Falsafat al-tashri fi al-Islam, p. 175. Trns. Farhat Jacob Ziadeh. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1961.
  21. ^ Mohammad Sharif Khan and Mohammad Anwar Saleem, Muslim Philosophy And Philosophers, pg. 34. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1994.
  22. ^ a b Francis Robinson, Atlas of the Islamic World Since 1500, pg. 29. New York: Facts on File, 1984. ISBN 0871966298
  23. ^ Yaqut al-Hamawi, Irshad, vol. 18, pg. 57-58.
  24. ^ History of the Prophets and Kings, General Introduction, And, From the Creation to the Flood, pg. 73. Trsn. Franz Rosenthal. SUNY Press, 1989. ISBN 9781438417837
  25. ^ Camilla Adang, This Day I have Perfected Your Religion For You: A Zahiri Conception of Religious Authority, pg. 20. Taken from Speaking for Islam: Religious Authorities in Muslim Societies. Ed. Gudrun Krämer and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2006.
  26. ^ "Law, Islamic". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  27. ^ Chibli Mallat, Introduction to Middle Eastern Law, pg. 116. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780199230495
  28. ^ Al-Dhahabi. Siyar a`lam al-nubala'. (The Lives of Noble Figures). pp. 522–524. "وله زيادات كثيرة في مسند والده واضحة عن عوالي شيوخه، ولم يحرر ترتيب المسند ولا سهله، فهو محتاج إلى عمل وترتيب...وعامته من أبي بكر القطيعي...ولم يكن القطيعي من فرسان الحديث، ولا مجودا، بل أدى ما تحمله، إن سلم من أوهام في بعض الأسانيد والمتون" 

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