The Doctrinal Disagreement Among Hanbali Scholars

The Hanbali Athari doctrine represents an extension of what the companions and those who followed them with excellence were upon. Imam Ahmad’s stance during the tumultuous times solidified the school, increased its weight and presence in the Muslim community, and it continues, by the grace of Allah upon us, until our present day, despite the challenges it faces.

An examination of the creed of the Hanbalis through a comprehensive study reveals that Hanbali scholars are unanimous in the foundations of doctrine. The doctrinal works are available across their various generations, confirming this unity, from the early to the middle to the later scholars, despite their differences in some subsidiary matters.

This is not surprising as disagreements in certain doctrinal issues occurred even among the companions. Therefore, some deliberately depict the disagreement among scholars of the Hanbali school as if they are not in agreement regarding their beliefs, falsely claiming that this is a reason for the absence of a distinct Hanbali creed. And this is among the misconceptions cast upon the general public.

One of the issues that some highlight is the belief regarding the created nature of the Qur’an, which falls within the realm of perceived differences but does not negate the overall agreement on foundational beliefs. They unanimously affirm that the Quran is the Speech of Allah, with letters and sounds, distinct from created beings.

Among what they agree upon, and it is from the fundamentals, is that the Qur’an is the speech of Allah, with letters and sounds, uncreated. They also agreed that Allah is above His heavens istiwa’ upon His Throne distinct from His creation, nothing from His Essence is inside of His creation nor is anything from His creation inside of His Essence.

If it is said that the evidence for the absence of a specific Hanbali doctrine lies in the diversity of doctrinal orientations within the school, examples of this are Ibn ‘Aqil and Ibn al-Jawzi. Each of them represents a different doctrinal orientation.

We can respond to this from a number of ways:

First Response

When examining a single school of jurisprudence (fiqh), it becomes evident, upon careful investigation, that there is a prevailing opinion adopted by the scholars of that school. Although there may be internal disagreements within the school, the prevailing adopted opinion remains strong and the other opinions within the school do not represent the official position (mu’tamad) regardless of the strength of the opposing opinion(s). It is not from the scholarly approach to mention an opposing opinion within the school and attribute it to the school as the mu’tamad.

Regarding the creed of the Hanbalis in its fundamentals, there is no disagreement as previously mentioned. Issues such as the concept of tafwid [entrusting the meanings of Allah’s Attributes back to Him] is established among the Hanbalis as the mu’tamad, as stated by Imam Ahmad in the narration from Hanbal. Therefore, it is not a scholarly approach to make an opinion of a Hanbali scholar as representative of the [official] statement of the school [while ignoring the mu’tamad].

Second Response

As for Ibn ‘Aqil, he repented and recanted from everything he had written that included innovations. This was clarified by the Mufaqih Ibn Qudamah in his book Tahrim al-Nazar fi Kutub al-Kalam where he said:

“I have come across the disgrace of Ibn ‘Aqil, which he called “advice.” I pondered over what it entailed of repugnant innovations and hideous accusations against those traversing the clear and authentic path. I found it to be a disgrace for the one who said it, as Allah had exposed his shortcomings through it, revealing his flaws. Were it not for his repentance to Allah from it, his disavowal, and his turning away from it, seeking forgiveness from Allah for everything he had spoken of in terms of innovations, written with his pen, composed, or attributed to him – we would have counted him among the ranks of the heretics, associating him with deviant innovators. However, when he repented, turned back to Allah, and sought His forgiveness, it became necessary to bear witness to this innovation and misguidance, acknowledging that it existed before his repentance during the time of his innovation and heresy.

Then, after his repentance, he returned to the Sunnah, responding to those who criticized his initial statements with more eloquent words and a clearer system. He addressed the doubts mentioned with the best responses, and his discussions on this matter are numerous in the books of both bigger and lesser scholars and in individual parts. We possess many such works on this subject.

(Tahrim al-Nazar, pg. 23)

Ibn ‘Aqil’s book Juz’ fee Usool al-Deen is the best evidence of his repentance. In fact, the book is loaded with refutations and criticisms of the doubts of the people of innovation.

Third Response

As for Ibn Jawzi, then his orientation and choices do not represent the doctrinal Hanbali school and Hanbali scholars rejected him, clarifying that his statements in this regard are confused. They pointed out that he followed Ibn ‘Aqil [i.e. his views before his repentance]. Ibn Rajab said about him:

“A group of our scholars and imams, who are venerated and honored, criticized him for his inclination towards ta’weel in some of his statements. There is no doubt that his speech in this matter is confused and varied. Although he was knowledgeable about hadiths and narrations in this field, he lacked expertise in resolving the doubts of the theologians and clarifying their falsehoods. He greatly esteemed Ibn ‘Aqil and followed him in most of what he found in his statements, although he did refute him in some issues. Ibn ‘Aqil was skillful in kalaam but lacked complete experience in hadiths and narrations. Therefore, he became confused in this area and his opinions followed him in it. Ibn Jawzi followed him in it.”

(Dhayl Tabaqaat al-Hanabilah 2/487)

Fourth Response

What the Hanbalis have adopted in the matters of the fundamentals of belief has been explicitly stated in their books since the time of Imam Ahmad until today, through established narrations recorded in the historical works on the belief of the Hanbalis. In these works, they elucidate what Imam Ahmad and the scholars of the school have adopted.

Certainly, anyone who speaks about the beliefs of the Hanbalis without knowing their reality and without referring to the doctrinal compilations of the Hanbali school, without delving into them to comprehend their essence and making comparisons, whether they claim affiliation to the school like those who follow the teachings of Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah in affirmation [of the meaning of Attributes], or are adversaries of the school, will find inconsistencies in their understanding. This is because they have made their own beliefs the standard for the Hanbali creed, which is a mistake in determining scholarly matters, as discussed earlier.

Source: Sh. Faris Falih’s Sabeel al-Sadaad Sharh Lum’ah al-‘Itiqaad

The Impermissibility of Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil in Matters of Disagreement Among the Scholars

The rulings of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong only apply to matters that are agreed upon among scholars as being obligatory or unlawful. As for something that is differed upon, such as the issue under discussion, it is not permissible to condemn someone for doing it. It is, however, recommended for one to give sincere advice to such a person and to encourage him to adopt the more religiously precautionary position by extricating himself from the disagreement of the scholars.

The great scholar, the Proof of Islam, Imam Ghazali said in the Ihya during his discussion of the integrals and conditions of commanding the right:

“The fourth condition is that the matter being condemned be something that is condemnable without being subject to scholarly disagreement. Commanding the right and forbidding the wrong does not apply to anything that falls under the realm of scholarly disagreement. It is therefore not permissible for a follower of the Hanafi school to condemn a follower of the Shafi`i school for eating a lizard, a hyena, or meat upon which the name of Allah was not pronounced [even though such matters may be unlawful in the Hanafi school].”

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim:

“Scholars only condemn what is agreed upon [as being unlawful]. As for something that is differed upon, it may not be condemned because either (a) the conclusion of every mujtahid is correct—and this is the position adopted by many (or most) of the scholars of exacting verification—or (b) only one of them is correct but we don’t know with certainty which one is incorrect and [whoever he may be] he is not sinful [for reaching his incorrect conclusion].

However, if one encourages such a person to extricate himself from scholarly disagreement by way of giving sincere advice, then this is a good and praiseworthy thing when done with gentleness. This is because scholars agree that is encouraged to extricate oneself from scholarly disagreement when doing so does not result in contravening a sunna or falling into another disagreement.”

And Allah Most High knows best what the correct position is and to Him is the final return.

Source: The Ruling of Shaving and Shortening the Beard in the Shafi`i School – Qibla.com

How to Keep a Disagreement from Becoming an Argument

Today, we often come across Muslims who argue over very trivial issues. This is especially true when there is a healthy difference of opinion among the Muslim scholars, yet, you find some unqualified Muslims trying to force their version of  a religious opinion onto another. This often causes resentment and hatred between people. While Muslims are supposed to act like brothers and sisters, they end up acting like enemies. There is a fine line between respectfully disagreeing with someone in a polite manner, which a person has the right to do, and arguing with someone, which only leads to defensive behavior and a long, pointless debate in which neither side is able to convince the other that it is wrong.

It seems many Muslims have forgotten the advice of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on this issue:

“No people go astray after having been guided, but they resort to arguing.” (Tirmidhi)

“I guarantee a house in the surroundings of Paradise for a man who avoids quarrelling even if he were in the right, a house in the middle of Paradise for a man who avoids lying even if he were joking, and a house in the upper part of Paradise for a man who made his character good.” (Abu Dawud)

I came across a beautiful advice in the highly popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People [pgs. 120-122] by Dale Carnegie on this topic. He quotes from Bits and Pieces published by The Economic Press, saying:

  • Welcome the disagreement – Remember the slogan, “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.
  • Distrust your first instinctive impression – Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.
  • Control your temper – Remember, you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.
  • Listen first – Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.
  • Look for areas of agreement – When you have heard your opponents out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.
  • Be honest – Look for areas where you can admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.
  • Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully – And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say: “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Thank your opponents sincerely for there interest – Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents into friends.
  • Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem – Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting, ask yourself some hard questions: Could my opponents be right? Partly right? Is there truth or merit in their position or argument? Is my reaction one that will relieve the problem, or will it just relieve any frustration? Will my reaction drive my opponents further away or draw them closer to me? Will my reaction elevate the estimation good people have of me? Will I win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I am quiet about it, will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation an opportunity for me?

There is also another great article on this topic here.