Imâm Ahmad was the most famous man in the Muslim world both before and after the fitanh during his lifetime. Imâm ad-Dhahabi even said that he had the largest Janazah that took place in that era. In just one day, 1.3 million people came to pray Janazah on him. SubhanAllaah! Just imagine how popular and beloved he was رحمه الله. He would cover his face when travelling to seek knowledge so people wouldn’t notice him. Look at the humility.
One day, he was travelling to ash-Shaam and on the way, he stops by a Masjid to spend the night. The guard of the Masjid tells him, ”You need to get out, the Masjid is closing”. “I have nowhere to go,” said Imâm Ahmad. “Ukhruj.. get out,” said the guard. Now, he could have said, “O, by the way, I am Imâm Ahmad,” but he didn’t. Instead, he, رحمه الله took his belongings and went to sleep on the steps of the Masjid. The guard came outside and told him to get off the steps and go somewhere else. Imâm Ahmad didn’t know what to do.
This guard then picks up Imâm Ahmad by his legs and drags him to the middle of the street and drops him.
A baker who owned a bakery across the street saw Imâm Ahmad and said, “You can stay in my bakery tonight. I’ll be doing some work .. you can come sleep here”. So he opens the way for him.
Imâm Ahmad (رحمه الله) observes this baker. He’s putting the dough together, putting it in the oven, and through every step of the process .. kneading, forming, baking etc., the man is saying:
‘SubhanAllaah, Alhamdulillah, Laa ilaaha ill Allaah, Allaahu Akbar …’
‘SubhanAllaah, Alhamdulillah, Laa ilaaha ill Allaah, Allaahu Akbar …’
‘SubhanAllaah, Alhamdulillah, Laa ilaaha ill Allaah, Allaahu Akbar …’
The entire night, he is making tasbeeh of Allaah سُبحانه وتعالى.
Imâm Ahmad is shocked. Think about it, how quickly people get tired of tasbeeh, yet this man is constantly doing dhikr at his workplace! This isn’t even Tahajjud or I’tikaaf or something. He then asks him, “How long have you been in this situation?” He says, “Which situation?” “Making tasbeeh of Allaah,” he said.
“My whole life,” said the baker.
Imâm Ahmad asks him a second question. “What have you seen from Allaah as a result of all this tasbeeh that you make?”
“I never made du’a to Allaah for anything except that He answered it,” said the baker.
Imâm Ahmad said, “SubhanAllaah! You never made du’a to Allaah for anything except that he gave it to you?”
And the baker repeated.. “I never made du’a to Allaah for anything except that He gave it to me … except for ONE thing.”
Imâm Ahmad (رحمه الله) said, “And what is that?”
He said, “To have a chance to see Imâm Ahmad!”
Imâm Ahmad (رحمه الله) is brought to tears. He embraces this man and says:
“SubhanAllaah… Here is Allaah! He brought you Ahmad, dragging him by his feet to your bakery ..if it wasn’t for you, I could have slept in peace at the Masjid”.
اذْكُر رَّبَّكَ فِي نَفْسِكَ تَضَرُّعاً وَخِيفَةً وَدُونَ الْجَهْرِ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالآصَالِ وَلاَ تَكُن مِّنَ الْغَافِلِينَ
“And remember your Lord within yourself in humility and in fear without being apparent in speech – in the mornings and the evenings. And do not be among the heedless.”
[Al- A’raaf 7:205]
إذا ما قال لي ربي .. أما استحييت تعصيني
وتخفي الذنب عن خلقي .. وبالعصيان تأتيني
If my Lord asks me
“Have you no shame in disobeying Me?
You hide your faults from My creation
yet full of sin you come to Me.”
فكيف أجيب يا ويحي .. ومن ذا سوف يحميني
So what will I answer? O’ Woe to me,
and who shall protect me do you see?
أسلي النفس بالآمال .. من حين إلى حين
I keep forestalling my soul
with thoughts of hope from time to time
وأنسى ما وراء الموت .. ماذا بعد تكفيني
It is essential to know that sins and acts of disobedience are, necessarily, very harmful. Their harm effects upon the heart are akin to the harmful effects of poison upon the body, though the effects vary in their levels and intensities. So is there any evil or harm in this world, or in the Hereafter, except that it is due to sins and disobedience?
So what was it that expelled the two parents [i.e. Adam and Eve] from Paradise; the home of delight, bliss, splendor and joy; to the home of pain, sorrow and misfortune?
What was it that expelled Iblees [i.e. Satan] from the heavenly realms, causing him to be rejected and cursed; transforming him both inwardly and outwardly, so that his form became ugly and hideous – his inner form more hideous than his outer – replacing his nearness with remoteness, mercy with curse, his beauty with ugliness, from being in Paradise to being in the blazing Fire, from having faith to being an unbeliever, from having the patronage and friendship of Allaah, the Praiseworthy Guardian, to being the greatest enemy and opponent, from glorifying and praising Him to committing acts of unbelief, shirk, lies, deception and shamelessness, from being adorned with faith to being clothed in the garment of unbelief, sinfulness and disobedience, causing him to reach the deepest depths of despicability, plunging down in the sight of Allaah as far as it is possible to plunge; causing the anger of Allaah the Exalted to be upon him, making him an outcast – despised and humiliated – so that he became a leader for every sinner and criminal, becoming pleased with leadership for himself, after having reached the station of worship and nobility?
“O Allaah, we seek refuge in You from opposing Your command and falling into what You have forbidden.”
- What was it that caused the people of the earth to drown, to the extent that the water rose above even the mountaintops?
- What was it that caused the violent winds to overcome the people of ‘Aad, such that it flung them down dead upon the face of the earth – as if they were lopped-off palm trunks – and it destroyed whatever dwellings and crops it came across, thus making them an example for nations until the Day of Resurrection?
- What was it that caused the piercing shrieks to be set loose upon the Thamood people, such that their hearts were severed within their very bodies, by which they all perished?
- What was it that caused the town of the homosexuals to be raised up and turned upside down, such that they were all destroyed? Then stones from the sky pelted down upon them so that they suffered a combined punishment, the like of which was not given to any other nation! And for their brothers will be its like; and it is not far off from the transgressors!
- What was it that caused the clouds of punishment to overcome the people of Shu’ayb, such that when these clouds were above their heads it rained scorching fire upon them?
- What was it that caused the Pharaoh and his people to be drowned in the ocean, and caused their souls to be transported to the Hellfire, so their bodies drowned and their souls burned?
- What was it that caused Qaaroon, his dwelling, wealth and family to sink down into the earth?
- What was it that caused the destruction of those generations after Noah, and how they were afflicted with various punishments that caused their annihilation?
- What was it that caused the destruction of the companions of Yaa Seen, with the clamorous shout, which destroyed them?
- What caused there to be sent against the Children of Israa’eel enemies of great strength and might, plundering their homes, killing their men, enslaving their women and children, burning their dwellings, seizing their wealth, and then returning again a second time, destroying what was rebuilt after the first onslaught?
- What was it that caused the various types of punishments to be set loose upon the Children of Israa’eel? Killing them, enslaving them, destroying their land and at times causing them to be oppressed by kings, whilst at another time causing them to be transformed into apes and swine – and finally the Lord took an oath that:
“He would certainly keep on sending against them, until the Day of Resurrection, those who will inflict them with a humiliating torment.”
[Soorah al-A’raaf 7:167]
Imam Ahmad said: al-Waleed ibn Muslim related to us; that Safwaan ibn ‘Amr related to us; that ‘Abdur-Rahmaan ibn Jubayr ibn Nufayr related; from his father, who said:
“When Cyprus was conquered and its people were dispersed and they started weeping to each other, I saw Abud-Dardaa sitting alone and weeping. So I said to him: O Abud-Dardaa! What makes you weep on this day that Allaah has granted strength and honor to Islaam and its people? So he said: Woe be to you O Jubayr! How insignificant the creation becomes to Allaah when they turn away from His command. In front of us is a nation who were evidently powerful and who had dominion, yet they abandoned Allaah’s command, so look what has become of them.”
 ‘Alee ibn al-Ja’d said: Shu’bah ibn ‘Amr ibn Murrah informed us; I heard Abul-Bukhtaree say:I was informed by someone, who heard the Prophet (sallalalhu alaihi wa-sallam) saying:
“The people will not perish, until they have no excuse left for themselves.”
 Imaam Ahmad reports in his Musnad, from the hadeeth of Umm Salamah, who said: I heard Allaah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) saying:
“When acts of disobedience become widespread in my Ummah, then Allaah may send punishment upon them all from Himself” So I said: O’ Allaah’s Messenger! Even if there are righteous people amongst them that day? So he replied: “Indeed!” So I said: How will that be? He replied: “They will be afflicted with what afflicts the people, then they will move on to the forgiveness of Allaah and His good pleasure.” 
 Ad-Daa’ wad-Dawaa’ (pp.65-67).
 Reported by Imaam Ahmad in az-Zuhd (i/86) with an authentic (saheeh) chain of narration
 Reported by Ahmad (4/260) and Abu Daawood (no.4347) with an authentic chain of narration.
 Reported by Ahmad (6/304) and one of its narrators is Layth ibn Abee Sulaym, who is weak. However the hadeeth is established due to further supporting narrations. Consult Silsilatul-Ahaadeethus-Saheehah (no.1372) of Shaykh al-Albaanee
Imâm Ahmad had two sons, ‘Abdullâh and Sâlih, whom were half-brothers. Sâlih relates that “A man saw my father carrying a mihbarah (a wooden inkwell that students used to carry along with their pens) and said, ‘O Abâ ‘Abdillâh! You are the Imâm of the Muslims!’ ”
This man spoke like this since he was surprised to see Imâm Ahmad carrying his mihbarah as the young students would carry it, or indeed that he would still read books, or shoulder the same responsibilities that the youth did. Note also how all the people were fascinated by him (by Imâm Ahmad), even the elders of the people!
Imâm Ahmad replied with a statement that nullified this man’s whole understanding. He said: “I will be with the mihbarah all the way to the maqbarah (graveyard).”
What did he mean? He meant, “I will be busy with knowledge until I die.”
Another narration mentions that he said this same statement on a separate occasion to another group of people: “As for me, I will seek knowledge until I am placed in the grave.”
When the time of his death came near, he said to those around him:
“Relate to me the statement of Hushaym.” (Hushaym was Hushaym ibn Bashîr, Imâm Ahmad’s first teacher. He met him in the year 179AH, when he began seeking knowledge at the age of 16) So they read to him what he had requested. This narrated tradition mentioned that Ibn Sîrîn used to dislike a person groaning from pain. At that time, Imâm Ahmad had became very ill and he used to groan due to the pain yet when they informed him that Ibn Sîrîn used to dislike groaning at such a time, he did not groan again until he died.
This is the reality of his statement, “I will seek knowledge until I am placed in the grave,” meaning, “I must continue benefiting from knowledge.”
So if you have left your youth behind and become a teacher or an educator, or a lecturer or professor in the university, or an author, and you say, “I have finished seeking knowledge,” know that this is the situation of someone who does not know the reality of his affairs.
Al-‘Ilm is knowledge of what? It is knowledge of the Speech of Allah and the speech of His Messenger, peace be upon him. Has anyone reached a level of awareness of the meanings of the Speech of Allaah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, and also the statements of the scholars explaining the Book and the sunnah, a level of awareness that is sufficient?
No one has reached that level. No one who has the right intention and a proper heart has reached that level. Regarding this, Imâm Ahmad said, “With the mihbarah all the way to the maqbarah.” He was addressing everyone, advising us to continue seeking knowledge and not to give it up for any petty reason.
In the study circles of our mosques we have seen a great number of students who are eager to learn for two months, and then they abandon it. Three months or so only. What is this?! Some of them seek knowledge for 3, 4, 5, or 7 years and then they abandon it. Why is that? Is it because the lure of the world has come to you, so you are finished and now you head off into the world? Is it because a position was offered to you and you took it? Is it because you have reached a certain status, you have become a school director or professor in the university? For this you reason you have stopped seeking knowledge? No! You must continue seeking knowledge until you die. This is what will correct the society’s problems, if their scholars take this advice. As for the students of knowledge, then they must hold fast to this advice, “With the mihbarah all the way to the maqbarah.”
He must stay with his book until he dies – reading, learning, memorizing, reviewing, teaching, until his end.
What are the people saying these days? “The rulings related to prayer, we know them, no problem.” If you asked them about many of the rulings, you will find that they do not know them. Why is that? It is because they have become satisfied with the knowledge they have, even delighted that they have the knowledge they have. We ask Allah that He excuses us and that He is pleased with us.
If you asked them about affairs even greater than the prayer, issues of creed, issues of tawhîd, you will find that they have not fully grasped the issues, and they used to be students of knowledge! Why is that? Because they were negligent, and thus abandoned it.
Knowledge is honor, if you abandon it, it will abandon you. If you take the task seriously, you will be given some of it, from what Allaah has decreed for you.
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]