Every now and then I get an email through this blog from someone who wants to begin studying the Hanbali school of fiqh but cannot understand Arabic. They are often eager to start right away and are looking for resources. I am going to share here what I usually tell them.
The first thing you need to understand is that if the Hanbali school is not the dominant school in your area, then it’s probably best not to study it but to stick to mastering the dominant school in your locality. This is what Hanbalis recommend. Why is this the case? This is in order to not cause confusion among the masses and keep harmony in the community. I would not recommend someone from Pakistan to study the Hanbali school, for example, because it is a dominant Hanafi country. Why be the odd ball out when there is no need to be?
The second thing to realize is that the most ideal thing when learning fiqh is to study with a teacher. Fiqh books are designed in that manner. They are not written for casual reading but written in a way to be studied with teachers. Try your best to find teachers in your own locality, who can teach you the Hanbali texts, or through online institutes that specialize in Hanbali texts.
If this is not possible, for whatever reason, then you should try to find YouTube videos of Shaykhs teaching the various texts of the school in English. Unfortunately, there is not much out there for Hanbali texts in English but it is growing. There are, however, a lot of resources available in Arabic for studying the school to an advanced level. So I would suggest the eager students of knowledge to make learning Arabic as part of their goal as well if they want to be serious.
Here is what I recommend for English only students:
Umdah al-Talib or Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat
Buy the book from Amazon and use Sh. John Starling’s explanation of it on his YouTube Channel. This is still in the process and he occasionally uploads new videos on it. At the time of this writing, he is in the Book of Prayer and has completed the Book of Purification. You can also use my notes on Akhsar as supplement to the study.
In English, nothing more advanced than the above is available as far as I know at the moment.
As a supplement, I would also purchase and read through the following two books:
If you go through the above and comprehend everything, it should give you a good grounding in the school for a beginner insha’Allah.
You should also delve into the Usool of the school. I have some information on that here.