Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was born in the city of Baghdad during the month of Rabi-ul Awwal 164 A.H. His father passed away either before he was born or shortly afterwards, and it was his mother who diligently brought up the Imam.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s Education
He acquired his childhood education through the Maktab but even there his piety and scholarly character were recognised. Abu Afeef (r.a) has reported, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (r.a) was within our learning group at the Maktab. At that time he was very young, and we, as students were aware of his piety. Having completed his basic education at the age of 16, the Imam went on to study ahadith by attending the study circles of Qazi Imam Abu Yusuf (r.a).
Having acquired knowledge from the scholars of Baghdad, his zeal for learning took him to different parts of the world including Kufa, Basra, Yemen, Makkah, Madinah and Syria, to benefit from their great scholars. Sometimes, during long and difficult journies to acquire ahadith, the Imam had to resort to manual work in order to cover his expenses.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s Teachers
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal had many teachers, amongst the most prominent was Imam Shafiee (r.a) whom he met on several separate occasions and each time he took full benefit of the opportunity. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal commented, ‘Only after sitting in the Majlis of Imam Shafiee (r.a) did I understand and comprehend nasikh and mansukh hadith.’ One should remember, the Imam was an accomplished scholar even before he met Imam Shafiee.
It was only at the age of forty, in 204 A.H., the Imam began formally teaching hadith. Whilst his teachers were still alive he refused to teach and narrate hadith out of humility and respect for them. Imam Ahmad was acknowledged by the Ulama of his time as the Imam ul Hadith.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s books
Amongst his publications, the more famous are Kitab ul Musnad (based upon 30,000 ahadith), Kitab ul Tafseer, Kitab us Salaah, Kitab us Sunnah, Kitab un Nasikh and Mansukh and others.
The Imam dressed very simply and disliked clothes which created a false awe. He wore a turban, white clothes and a shawl. He never accepted gifts offered by rulers and the affluent out of caution.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal died on the blessed day of Friday in Rabi ul Awwal 241 A.H at the age 77, after a period of illness which lasted nine days. The news of the Imams death soon spread and after Jumuah more than 850,000 people performed his janazah prayer with the rows formed in the city, streets, bazaars and even on boats on the river Tigris. Even the non-Muslims mourned the passing away of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.