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Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥanbal Abū ʿAbdullāh Ash-Shaybānī (Arabic: احمد بن محمد بن حنبل ابو عبد الله الشيباني; 780–855 CE/164–241 AH), often referred to as Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal or Ibn Ḥanbal or Ibn Hambal or Ahmad Ibn Hambal for short, or reverentially as Imam Aḥmad by Sunni Muslims, was an Arab Muslim jurist, theologian, ascetic, and hadith traditionist. An enormously influential and vigorous scholar during his lifetime, Ibn Hanbal went on to become "one of the most venerated" and celebrated personalities in the tradition of Sunni Islam, within which he was often referred to by such reverent epithets as True Shaykh of Islam, Proof of the Faith, and Seal of the Mujtahid Imams. He has been retrospectively described as "the most significant exponent of the traditionalist approach in Sunni Islam," with his "profound influence affecting almost every area of" orthodox Sunni thought. One of the foremost classical proponents of the importance of using hadith literature to govern Islamic law and life, Ibn Hanbal is famous for compiling one of the most important Sunni hadith collections, the celebrated Musnad, an enormous compendium of prophetic traditions that has continued to wield considerable influence in the field of hadith studies up to the present time. Additionally, Ibn Hanbal is also honored as the founder of the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence, which is one of the four major orthodox legal schools of Sunni Islam.Having studied fiqh and hadith under many teachers during his youth, Ibn Hanbal became famous in his later life for the crucial role he played in the Mihna, the inquisition instituted by the Abbasid Caliphate al-Ma'mun towards the end of his reign, in which the ruler gave official state support to the Mutazilite dogma of the Quran being created, a view that contradicted the orthodox doctrine of the Quran being the eternal, uncreated Word of God. Suffering physical persecution under the caliph for his unflinching adherence to the traditional doctrine, Ibn Hanbal's fortitude in this particular event only bolstered his "resounding reputation" in the annals of Islamic history.
Throughout Islamic history, Ibn Hanbal was venerated as an exemplary figure in all the traditional schools of Sunni thought, both by the exoteric ulema and by the mystics, with the latter often designating him as a saint in their hagiographies. The fourteenth-century hadith master al-Dhahabi referred to Ibn Hanbal as "the true Shaykh of Islām and leader of the Muslims in his time, the ḥadīth master and Proof of the Religion."In the modern era, Ibn Hanbal's name has become controversial in certain quarters of the Islamic world. This is due to the influence some believe he had upon the Hanbali reform movement known as Wahhabism, which cites him 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," rich as medieval Hanbali literature is in references to saints, grave visitation, miracles, and relics. In this connection, scholars have cited Ibn Hanbal's own support for the use of relics as simply one of several important points upon which the theologian's opinions diverged from those of Wahhabism.
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