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:
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].
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.
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)
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