He is the true Imaam, and the Shaykhul-Islaam, Aboo ‘Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal Ibn Hilaal Ibn Asad Ibn Idrees Ibn ‘Abdullaah Ibn Hayyaan adh-Dhuhlee ash-Shaybaanee al-Marwazee, then al-Baghdaadee, one of the outstansing Imaams. His father was from the soldiers of Marw, he died as a youth, and Ahmad was raised as an orphan. And it is said that his mother departed from Marw and took him with her. He was born in Rabee’ul-Awwal in the year 164H.
The teacher, the Imaam, the Shaykhul-Islaam, Aboo ‘Uthmaan Ismaa’eel Ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan as-Saaboonee an-Naysaabooree – may Allaah be pleased with him – informed us as he came to us in Damascus, in Rajab of the year 432H, he said, ‘Aboo Muhammad al-Hasan Ibn Ahmad ash-Shaybaanee, commonly known as al-Makhadee, may Allaah be pleased with him, said in the year 387H, ‘Aboo Bakr ‘Abdullaah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muslim al-Isfaraayeenee informed us; reading: Abul-Fadl Saalih Ibn Ahmad Ibn Hanbal said, ‘I heard my father saying, ‘I was born in the year 164H, in the beginning of Rabee’ul-Awwal.”
He said: I heard saying, ‘My father said, ‘I studied hadeeth when I was sixteen years old.”
My father said, “And Hushaym died whilst I was a youth of twenty years. And I had memorized what I had heard from him. So people came to the door of Ibn ‘Uyaynah, and with him were the books of Hushaym. So he placed them in front of me and I said, ‘The isnaad for this is such and such.’ So al-Mu’aytee came, and he used to memorize, so I said to him, ‘I have answered him about what has come, and I know from hadeeth what I have not yet heard (being read by Ibn ‘Uyaynah). And I left for al-Koofah in the year in which Hushaym died, the year 183H. It was the first year in which I traveled. And ‘Eesaa Ibn Yoonus arrived in al-Koofah after me in the same year, and he did not perform Hajj after that.”
He said, “And the first trip that I undertook was to al-Basrah, in the year 186H. I said to him, ‘In which year should I go to Sufyaan Ibn ‘Uyaynah?’ He said, ‘In the year 187H.’ So we arrived, and Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyaad had already died, and it was the first year in which I performed Hajj.’ And Waleed Ibn Muslim performed Hajj in the year 191H, and in the year 196H. And I performed it in the year 197H, and I left in the year 198H. And I stayed with ‘Abdur-Razzaaq in the year 199H, and the deaths of Sufyaan and Yahyaa Ibn Sa’eed and ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Mahdee died in the year 198H.”
My father said, “If I had fifty dirhams with me, I would always travel to Jareer Ibn ‘Abdul-Hameed in ar-Rayyee. So some of our companions left and it was not possible for me to go, since I did not have anything with me.”
My father said, “And I left for al-Koofah. So I had milk in the house below my head. So I heated it and returned to my mother, may Allaah have mercy upon her, and I had not sought her permission.”
I heard Saalih, saying, ‘I said to my father, ‘A hadeeth could state ‘The Messenger of Allaah – may the prayers and peace of Allaah be upon him – said…’ However, a person may write, ‘The Prophet – may the prayers and peace of Allaah be upon him – said…’ He sai, ‘I do not see a problem in it.”
I heard Saalih saying, “When my father wanted to make ablution for the Prayer, he would not refuse anyone who wished to drink his water. He would drink with his hand. And I used to hear him reciting Sooratul-Kahf often. And whenever I felt ill, he used to take water in a drinking bowl, then he would recite over it. Then he used to say to me, ‘Drink from it and wash your face and hands from it.’ And whenever he went out to do the groceries, he would buy a bundle of wood and something else and he would carry it.”
Imaam ash-Shafi’ee (d.204H) – rahimahullah – said,
“I left Baghdaad, and I did not leave behind me a man better, having more knowledge, or greater fiqh (understanding), nor having greater taqwaa (piety) than Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.”
Aboo Dawood (d.257H) – rahimahullah – said,
“The lectures of Ahmad were sittings of the Hereafter. He would not mention in them anything of the worldly affairs; and I never saw him mention this world.”
‘Alee Ibnul-Madeenee (d.234H) – rahimahullah – said,
“Indeed Allaah aided this Religion through Aboo Bakr as-Siddeeq on the day of apostasy; and through Ahmad Ibn Hanbal on the day of the trial.”
Qutaybah Ibn Sa’eed (d.240H) – rahimahullah – said,
“If you see a man loving Ahmad, then know that he is a person of the Sunnah.”
And Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree (d324H) – rahimahullah – said,
“Our statement which we hold and take as our Religion is: Clinging to the Book of Allaah, our Lord the Mighty and Majestic, and to the Sunnah of our Prophet, Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and what is narrated from the Companions, the Taabi’een and the Imaams of Hadeeth. This is what we cling to, and also that to which Aboo ‘Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal – may Allaah enlighten his face, raise up his rank and grant him a magnificent reward – used to say, distancing ourselves from those who oppose his statement. Since he was the noble and complete Imaam, by whom Allaah made the truth clear, and removed the misguidance, and made the manhaj (methodology) clear, and through whom Allaah annihilated the innovation of the innovators, the deviation of the deviant and the doubts of the doubters. So may Allaah have mercy upon him, the foremost Imaam.” [al-Ibaanah ‘an-Usoolid-Diyaanah (no.24) of Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree]
Taajud-Deen as-Subkee (d.770H) – rahimahullah – said, “Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree is the foremost of Ahlus-Sunnah and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal…”
Ibraheem al-Harbee (d.285H) – rahimahullah – said,
“I saw Aboo ‘Abdullaah, and it was as if Allaah had gathered for him the knowledge of the earlier people and the later people.”
Abul-Fadl said, ‘And he presented to me the following will,
“With the Name of Allaah, the Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy,
This is what I – Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal – leave as a will. I testify that there is no true deity worthy of worship besides Allaah alone, without any partner. And that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. He sent him (صلى الله عليه وسلم) with the guidance and the true Religion so that it may overtake all other religions, even though the disbelievers may dislike it. And he should advise those who obey him from his family and his close relatives that they worship Allaah as worshippers, and praise him as those who praise, and that they sincerely advise the community of the Muslims. And I am pleased with Allaah as a Lord, and with Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as a Prophet. And ‘Abdullaah Ibn Muhammad, commonly known as Booraan, I gave him fifty deenaars, and he is truthful in what he says. So his money is to be paid by me from the proceeds of the house, if Allaah wills. So if I die, it will be given by my sons: Saalih and ‘Abdullaah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal. So they will give everything mentioned and eleven daraahim after my death towards whatever I have for Ibn Muhammad.
Witnesses: Aboo Yoosuf, Saalih and ‘Abdullaah, sons of Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal.”
Abul-Fadl, “And he used to exert himself in fasting and he would not eat fat. And before that, I would buy fat for him with one dirham, and he would eat from that for one month. So he left off eating the fat. And he continued to fast and work, and I thought he was putting that upon his body because he was safe.”
And Ibn Doorah said, ‘Ahmad used to be a person of fiqh, memorization and knowledge of hadeeth and fiqh, and piety and abstemiousness (zuhd) and patience. Indeed, Imaam Ahmad was tested by the statement of the creation of the Qur’aan. And he was taken to Baghdaad, shackled, and he was detained. And he used to pray with the people of the jail whilst he was shackled. So when Ramadaan occurred in the year 217H, and that was fourteen years after the death of al-Ma’moon, he moved up to the house of Ishaq Ibn Ibraaheem, the governor of Baghdaad. Then al-Mu’tasim ordered the freeing of Imaam Ahmad after his punishment and debate. And it was said that al-Mu’tasim was regretful and bewildered until the affair was rectified. Then al-Mu’tasim and his son joined al-Waathiq. So there emerged whatever emerged from the trial, and al-Waathiq ordered that he must not meet with Imaam Ahmad, nor should he live in a land or town where the Caliph is. So the Imaam went into a state of hiding for the rest of the life of al-Waathiq.
And during the Khilaafah of al-Mutawakkil, Allaah made the Sunnah manifest. And the Caliph wrote ordering the raising of the trial. And al-Mutawakkil ordered in the year 237H, that the Imaam be brought to him. And until Imaam Ahmad died, not a day would pass by, except that the messenger of Mutawakkil would come to him.
The Imaam died in the year 241H, on Friday on the twelfth of Rabee’ul-Awwal. So the people shouted and the voices were raised with weeping, to the extent that it seemed that the world shook, and the sidewalks and the streets were full. And the funeral procession went out after the people from the Friday Prayer. So the people at his funeral manifested the Sunnah and cursed the people of innovations. So Allaah made easy upon the Muslims through that whatever they had of troubles, when they the majesty and high rank of Islaam and the suppression of the people of deviance.
[Biography mainly taken from the Seeratul-Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal by Saalih Ibn Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d.266H), from the book, The Creed of the Four Imaams]
Q: How can a person not make Taqleed and still at the same time follow the teachings of one of the madhhabs – Hanafi, Maaliki, Shaafi and Hambali (may Allah have mercy on them all). Did Allamah Ibn Baaz (rahimahullah) follow the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hambal (rahimahullah), yet he did not do Taqleed?
Firstly: The followers of the madhhabs are not all the same. Some of them are mujtahids within their madhhab, and some are followers (muqallids) who do not go against their madhhabs in any regard.
Al-Buwayti, al-Muzani, al-Nawawi and Ibn Hajr were followers of Imam al-Shaafa‘i, but they were also mujtahids in their own right and differed with their imam when they had evidence. Similarly Ibn …Abd al-Barr was a Maaliki but he differed with Maalik if the correct view was held by someone else. The same may be said of the Hanafi imams such as Abu Yoosuf and Muhammad al-Shaybaani, and the Hanbali imams such as Ibn Qudaamah, Ibn Muflih and others.
The fact that a student studied with a madhhab does not mean that he cannot go beyond it if he finds sound evidence elsewhere; the only one who stubbornly clings to a particular madhhab (regardless of the evidence) is one who lacking in religious commitment and intellect, or he is doing that because of partisan attachment to his madhhab.
The advice of the leading imams is that students should acquire knowledge from where they acquired it, and they should ignore the words of their imams if they go against the hadeeth of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam).
Imam Abu Haneefah (rahimahullah) said: ’This is my opinion, but if there comes someone whose opinion is better than mine, then accept that.“
Imam Maalik said: ’I am only human, I may be right or I may be wrong, so measure my words by the Qur‘aan and Sunnah.“
Imam Al-Shaafa‘i said: ’If the hadeeth is saheeh, then ignore my words. If you see well established evidence, then this is my view.“
Imam Ahmad said: ’Do not follow me blindly, and do not follow Maalik or al-Shaafa‘i or al-Thawri blindly. Learn as we have learned.“ And he said, ’Do not follow men blindly with regard to your religion, for they can never be safe from error.“
No one has the right to follow an imam blindly and never accept anything but his worlds. Rather what he must do is accept that which is in accordance with the truth, whether it is from his imam or anyone else.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:
“No one has to blindly follow any particular man in all that he enjoins or forbids or recommends, apart from the Messenger of Allaah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam). The Muslims should always refer their questions to the Muslim scholars, following this one sometimes and that one sometimes. If the follower decides to follow the view of an imam with regard to a particular matter which he thinks is better for his religious commitment or is more correct etc, that is permissible according to the majority of Muslim scholars, and neither Abu Haneefah, Maalik, al-Shaafa‘i or Ahmad said that this was forbidden.”
Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa, 23/382.
Shaykh Sulaymaan ibn …Abd-Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
Rather what the believer must do, if the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) have reached him and he understands them with regard to any matter, is to act in accordance with them, no matter who he may be disagreeing with. This is what our Lord and our Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) have enjoined upon us, and all the scholars are unanimously agreed on that, apart from the ignorant blind followers and the hard-hearted. Such people are not scholars.”
Tayseer al-…Azeez al-Hameed, p. 546
Based on this, there is nothing wrong with a Muslim being a follower of a certain madhhab, but if it becomes clear to him that the truth (concerning a given matter) is different from the view of his madhhab, then he must follow the truth.
Bismillaah Al-Hamdulillaah wa salatu wa salaamu ‘ala rasulullaah
Abul Hasan Malik – reading from the works of Shaikh Muhammad ibn Hadee al-Madkhalee (hafidhahullaah) – gave a khutbah under the heading “Boycotting the People of Innovation and Desires.”
Addressing those who leave the path of the Salaf to compromise with ahlul-bidah, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Hadee al-Madkhalee (hafidhahullaah) said:
Some of them try to make excuses (for leaving Ahlus-Sunnah [The Saved Sect] and joining Ahlul-Bid’ah) (saying), “If I don’t do this, I’ll find some harm in the University. Maybe, I will not get accepted.” Or “maybe I won’t get my Masters.” Or whatever it may be from their statements. If I don’t do these things, the organization that I am with, I will find some harm within my organization.
But the reality is opposite to what they say. The truth is that no harm was going to come to them. They construe things. And the door of ta`weel (interpretation) is expansive. Once one starts making interpretations, how far can one go. No harm has come to him, but he imagines this. He puts it in his mind [convinces himself] that if he doesn’t do these things [compromise with ahlul-bidah], some harm will come to him and he’ll be destroyed.
May Allaah have mercy on our pious predecessors who understood the likes of these things, and therefore were extremely firm against it. Because this kind of person [who desires to leave the truth for falsehood, sell his religion] is dangerous to others, if he remains upon the Sunnah. He becomes a proof for everyone who wants to deviate. That individual, with his excuses and falsehood, becomes an excuse for everyone who tries to deviate and intends to deviate from the straight path. They use him as a hujjah (evidence, proof). This is IF he remains upon the Sunnah, but the majority of those – the likeness of whom we have mentioned – end up becoming like the people of desires.
Abu Bakr al-Marroodi, the companion of Imam Ahmad ibni Hanbal [d.241H], mentioned about Ahmad ibni Hanbal [The Imam of Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah in his time] that Yahya ibnu Ma’een (the great imam of hadeeth) entered upon Imam Ahmad ibni Hanbal and gave him salaams. Imam Ahmad did not return the salaams to Yahya ibni Ma’een.
Imam Ahmad did not return the salaams to Yahya ibni Ma’een. Yahya ibni Ma’een was a great Imam of hadeeth, from the leaders of the People of Hadeeth, but at the time of the fitnah when the people were falsely saying, “The Qur`an is created,” Yahya ibni Ma’een was from those who when threatened [with beating], he gave in and said, “The Qur`an was created,” not believing it, but he said it so he wouldn’t be beaten. And because of this, Imam Ahmad lam yarud ‘alaihi salaam (did not return the salaam to him).
[Now, I want to make mention of this, ikhwaan, I’m going to tell you a story to show you who Yahya ibni Ma’een was. Someone came to Ahmad ibn Hanbal and said, “I have some narrations; in them are errors (mistakes), so can you point them out for me. What did Imam Ahmad say? “It is upon you to go to Abu Zakariyah (who was Yahya ibnu Ma’een). For indeed, he knows the error in hadith. So this is an imaam – a great scholar of hadith, and imam of the Sunnah – whom Imam Ahmad originally told the people to go to beyond the shadow of a doubt. So do not be in doubt who this man was.]
Shaikh Muhammad ibn Hadee continued: “And who is like Yahya ibn Ma’een? But the point is this: he gave salaam to Imam Ahmad, and Imam Ahmad did not return the salaam. Imam Ahmad took an oath that he would never speak to those who spoke in the fitnah of the [deviated, invented belief] of the creation of the Qur`an. So he was fulfilling his oath, ikhwaan. Yahya Ibnu Ma’een was from those mutaa`awaleen. So Imam Ahmad did not give him the salaam. Listen to [read] this story; in it are so many benefits.
So Yahya began to make excuses for himself before Imam Ahmad ibni Hanbal. He said, “Ya Aba ‘Abdillaah (O father of ‘Abdillaah) Hadith ‘Ammaar. (What about the hadith of ‘Ammaar ibnu Yaasir?)”
‘Ammaar was the companion of the Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), who when the mushrikin (polytheists) beat him and punished him and told him to deny the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), he denied the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) [on the tongue only]. Then, he went to the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and told him what happened. The Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said to him:
“How do you find your heart?” He said: mutama`inna bil eeman (strong in faith). Then the Prophet told him: fa idha ‘addu fa ‘udd (if they do the same thing to you, then do the same thing again).
We have to listen to the fiqh that Imam Ahmad extracted from this affair. So Yahya ibnu Ma’een brought this narration to Imam Ahmad as a hujjah (evidence) to defend himself. And he mentioned the ayah:
Whoever disbelieved in Allaah after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith… (An-Nahl 16:106)
After mentioning that ayah and the narration of ‘Ammaar, Imam Ahmad did not respond to him and he turned his face away from him – toward the wall. He didn’t respond and looked away from him, so Yahya left and said, “Uff” [an expression of disgust]. Yahya said, “We make excuses and he doesn’t accept them from us. And Allaah said: Whoever disbelieved in Allaah after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith… (An-Nahl 16:106)”
Then he sat outside the door of Imam Ahmad. He didn’t leave. He waited until Abu Bakr Marroodi (the narrator of this narration) left the house of Imam Ahmad, and Yahya asked him, “What did Ahmad say? Did he say anything?” Abu Bakr Marroodi said, “Na’aam (yes)!” Yahya asked, “What did he say?”
Marroodi said: I heard him say: Hadeeth ‘Ammaar. Hadeeth ‘Ammaar. [Meaning are you going to use the the hadeeth of ‘Ammaar?] Then Ahmad mentioned the ayah: Whoever disbelieved in Allaah after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith… (An-Nahl 16:106)
Imam Ahmad was rejecting Yahya’s use of this hadeeth and ayah as a hujjah (proof) for his actions.
Listen to (read) what Imam Ahmad extracted from this narration. He said,
“As for ‘Ammaar, what comes in the narration is: Ammaar said: ‘I passed by the mushrikeen (polytheists), and I found them cursing you and belittling you. So I forbade them and rebuked them for doing this. Then they beat me.’
But as for you, when they told you they were going to beat you, you gave in. They didn’t actually beat you; they just said they were going to beat you, and you answered (gave in). You were not beaten. They said they were going to beat you, and you gave in.
(In other words, as for ‘Ammaar, he was actually beaten. And then after the suffering that he couldn’t take any more, then he said this. As for you, you didn’t even get beaten. They threatened you, and you said “khalaas” (that’s it, I’m giving in).)
So Yahya ibnu Ma’een said [this ikhwaan, is Insaaf (justice)]:
“Lillaahi Darruk, ya Aba ‘Abdillaah” (Allaah has given you success, oh Abu ‘Abdillaah). “Murr, ya Aba ‘Abdillaah” (Do as you must do, oh Abu ‘Abdillaah). This was Yahya ibnu Ma’een, whom Imam Ahmad had just refused to give salaam and shunned.
If someone says a word about us – even if it is the haqq (truth) regarding us – we turn from them and curse them and speak evil of them. But the imams of the Sunnah “Murr, ya Aba ‘Abdillaah.” Where are we from these individuals of the Salaf-us-saleh. Yahya said, “Do as you must do, oh Abu ‘Abdillaah, for I do not know of anyone under the heavens more knowledgeable (having greater fiqh in these affairs) than you Imam Ahmad. This is after Imam Ahmad turned away from him, and refused to return the salaam to him.
Look at the difference: ‘Ammaar was beaten after he rebuked them. And the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: if they repeat this, you say the same thing. But as for you, it was said, “we’re going to beat you, and you answered (gave in) immediately.”
So as for these who leave Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah and leave the people of guidance, and say, “They’re going to harm me if I don’t do this, that or the other. So they go [give in] immediately; no harm has even touched them yet. They haven’t even spoken out first, and then found some harm. They just shut up (gave in) immediately. So they sell their religion for the dunya (wordly life). So look at the justness and fairness of Yahya ibnu Ma’een, who said to Ahmad, “Say what you need to say.” This is the true fiqh of the religion of Allaah.
So these people have sold the religion for the dunya for (a reason) that they only imagined, due to their weakness. They sell their Religion. So nothing remains from them from the Deen, and their dunya will not be established for them. So they go with the people of bid’ah and hizbiyah, and become soiled with the filth of bid’ah and hizbiyah, and have left their brothers and the scholars and have become of those people of bid’ah.
Ash-Sha’bee (rahimahullaah) narrated that the Salaf used to say:
“Do not ask anyone after three matters: who he enters and leaves with; whom he walks down the street with; and whom he sits with.”
So if you see who a man walks with, whom he sits with, and whom he companions, what do you want to know about him after that?
Article originally from brother Maher Attiyeh
Students of religious knowledge, especially those who focus on Islamic Law, soon become aware of the great variety of opinions and the vast amount of disagreement that exists on most Islamic legal issues. Students react in different ways. Some try to explain away the differences as being due to a lack of knowledge, believing that with access to the right information, all of these disagreements will just go away. Others becomes suspicious of the scholars and blame disagreements on the vested interests impiety, and insincerity of those who hold certain opinions.
Alas, this is not true.
You will find the most knowledgeable of people, the greatest religious scholars, and the most sincere, unbiased individuals, disagreeing among themselves.
Consider the disagreements that Prophet Muhammad’s Companions had with each other. Even during the Prophet’s lifetime, there were disputes. On one occasion, a feud erupted between the inhabitants of two adjacent neighbourhoods in Madinah inhabited by the clan of Banū `Amr b. `Awf.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) spent so much time brokering a reconciliation between them that he was delayed in going to the the congregational prayer and Abū Bakr led the prayer instead. [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (684) and Sahīh Muslim (421)]
At the time of the Prophet’s death, the Muslims experienced their first great controversy, disagreeing about who should lead them. The native inhabitants of Madinah nominated Sa`d b.`Ubādah after conferring together in the assembly room of Banū Sā`īdah. Afterwards, the Companions all agreed to appoint Abū Bakr as the leader of the Muslims, afyer they learned that the prophet (peace be upon him) had instructed that the person to lead them should be from the tribe of Quraysh.
When the wars of apostasy broke out in Arabia during Abū Bakr’s reign, there was considerable disagreement regarding whether it was permissible to fight against all of the breakaway rebel tribes or only those tribes which openly denounced Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Abū Bakr was resolved to fight against all the rebellious tribes, and was ultimately able to persuade the other leading Companions, including `Umar, that he was correct in this policy . He thereby succeeded in uniting the Muslims in the cause against the apostate rebels.
This was the case with a number of crises and challenges that the Muslim community faced during the era of the Companions. At first, they disagreed and then usually in the major issues they were ultimately able to arrive at a consensus. As for disagreements on legal matters and the finer points of religious knowledge where there is no clear or decisive evidence, those disagreements persisted.. If disagreement was normal for the best generation of Muslims, how can it not be the case for those who came after them?
Even if we concede — purely for argument’s sake — that sincerity coupled with greater religious knowledge will lead to the resolution of all disagreements, this only assures us that disagreements will be on the rise! People, taken as a whole, will always be subject to incomplete knowledge and to outright ignorance. There will always be those who are weak of understanding, or insincere, or biased.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us: “Each generation will be better than the one that comes after it, until the day you return to your Lord.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (7068)]
At the same time, there are some students who have a predilection for controversy, relishing disagreement for its own sake, regardless of whether or not there is a legitimate basis for it. This is also not the right attitude to have. Disagreements cause tension and should not be sought after or capitalised upon for trivial reasons. When someone has a disagreement with a classmate, co-worker, relative, or neighbour on some matter, consider how often it leads to a lawsuit, or to estrangement between them.
People can become part of a controversy simply by quoting the opinion of this person and the disagreement of that person. They can become preoccupied with some minor point of debate at the expense of more serious and relevant matters that deserve their attention.
There is a story about the great jurist and legal scholar Ahmad b. Hanbal which illustrates this point nicely:
A young man named Abū Ja`far Ahmad b. Habbān al-Qatī`ī approached Ahmad b. Hanbal and asked him: “Can I perform ritual ablutions with limestone-saturated water?”
Ahmad replied: “I dislike this practice.”
The young man then asked: “Can I perform my ritual ablutions with the runoff water from soaking beans?
Again, Ahmad replied: “I dislike this practice.”
The young man then asked: “Can I perform my ritual ablutions with water infused with safflower?
Yet again, Ahmad replied: “I dislike this practice.”
At this point, the student got up to leave. Ahmad, gently tugged on his shirt to bid him to stay. Then he asked the young man: “Do you know the supplication you should say when you enter the mosque?” The man remained silent. Then Ahmad asked: “Do you know the supplication you should say when you leave the mosque?” Again, the young man could not answer.
Then Ahmad said: “Go and learn these things.”
Ahmad showed his understanding of interpersonal dealings by politely answering all of the young man’s questions before doing anything else. These questions were all about uncertain matters where no one’s opinion was sure to be correct. They were not essential, inviolable religious teachings.
The way Ahmad answer is quite telling. He chose his words carefully, saying: “I dislike this practice.” This humility is reminiscent of another great jurists way of answering, Abū Hanīfah, who used to say: “This is my opinion. It is the best I can come up with, if anyone comes with something better, I will give up this opinion for that better one.”
Finally, Ahmad used a very tactful and indirect approach to explain to the young man that it is wrong for a novice student of religion to be preoccupied with controversial trivialities. This is why Ahmad waited for the young man to finish with all of his questions, and then gently tug his shirt when he showed his readiness to leave. He asked the young man relevant questions about the supplications he needed to be aware of. When the young man could not answer, Ahmad did not scold him. He just told the man that needed to go and learn these things. In this gentlest of ways, Ahmad was actually telling the young man saying: “Do not pursue controversial and contentious issues. You are not qualified for that. Busy yourself for the time being with practical matters that will help you practice your faith, until you reach the level of a serious student of religion.
One of the indispensable skills a student of knowledge must have is to be able to gauge the proper value of things, to know what is important and what is trivial.
As the Qur’an says: “And for all things Allah has appointed a due proportion.” [Sūrah al-Talāq: 3]