Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s opinion of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)

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Some Muslims accuse the Shias of fostering ill-will and animosity towards the companions and wives. They maintain the Shiite practice of tabarra from the companions and wives has no place in Islam. Also in their view tabarra hurts the cause of ettihad between the Muslims. So Shias must desist from tabarra to foster ettihad among Muslims. They maintain that the four caliphs – collectively called Al-Khulafa al-Rashideen – are beyond criticism and all Muslims must accept them. Rejecting them makes one a ‘rafizi’ – a taunt directed at the Shias.


Before criticizing Shias on tabarra and making tall claims about ettihad, Muslims should first see how their own leaders and so-called Imams have dealt with the topic of tabarra. If Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) is to be accepted and respected unconditionally like the other so-called caliphs, why do we find so many so-called scholars including the Imams of the Ahle Tasannun disparaging Ali (a.s.). These Imams and scholars are also ‘rafizis’ for rejecting Ali (a.s.). They openly practice tabarra like the Shias, only difference is they do tabarra from Ameerul Momineen – Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). While this may seem far-fetched to some Muslims, the following incident clearly dispels all doubts on the matter.

1. Ahmed ibne Hanbal’s view inciting hatred for Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.)
2. Why Ahmed ibne Hanbal was a nasibi
3. Ibne Taymiyyah was a Hanbali and a Nasibi
4. Why Ahmed ibne Hanbal has narrated virtues of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.)

Back to Top1. Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s view inciting hatred for Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)

Ahmed Ibn Hanbal (expired 241 AH) is one of four Imams of the Ahle Tasannun (also called Sunnis). His followers, the Hanbalis, adhere to his views and opinions on matters of fiqh (jurisprudence) and even beliefs. Today, the Hanbali school of thought dominates Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) among other countries.

A most interesting incident underlines Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s opinion on Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.):

Ali b. Hathram narrates – I was in a gathering of Ahmed Ibn Hanbal and there was a discussion about Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.). Then he (Ahmed Ibn Hanbal) said, A person does not achieve an elevated status unless he bears some hatred towards Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). Ali Ibn Hathram said, then I said, a person does not achieve an elevated status unless he loves Ali (a.s.) a lot. And in another narration Ali Ibn Hathram said, then they beat me and expelled me from the assembly.

  • Behar al-Anwar vol 49 pg 261 from Elal al-Shara’e

The incident underlines the animosity of Ahmed Ibn Hanbal towards Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and by extension to his infallible sons (a.s.).

One who bears malice to Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) and his sons (a.s.) is called Nasibi in traditions. In fact, the infallible Imams (a.s.) have declared that the Nasibi will never come out openly against Aale Muhammad (a.s.) and will in fact bear malice towards Shias instead, as a proxy for Aale Muhammad (a.s.). However, we see that Ahmed Ibn Hanbal has not shown any pretentiousness and openly bears enmity with Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).

The same hatred and hostility towards Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) has permeated down to his Hanbali followers. Is it any wonder then that today Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the capital of Hanbali thought – are in the forefront of the Nasibi ideology targeting Shias for their love of Aal-e-Muhammad (a.s.).

Back to Top2. Why Ahmed Ibn Hanbal was a Nasibi

There is a reason why Ahmed Ibn Hanbal harboured intense ill-will and hatred towards Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). Just like the Quraysh who despised Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) because he (a.s.) slew many of their elders in battles like Badr and Ohad, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s grandfather also fell victim to Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) sword.

Narrator reports – Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s enmity towards Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was due to the fact that his grandfather – Zul Thudaiyyah was killed by Ali (a.s.) on the Day of Nahrawan. He was among the chiefs of the Khwaarij.

  • Behaar al-Anwaar vol 49 pg 261 from Elal al-Shara’e

Back to Top3. Ibne Taymiyyah was a Hanbali and a Nasibi

Another point worth noting is that the spirit of Nasibi ideology was particularly evident in Ibne Taymiyyah – himself a Hambali. In the footsteps of his Imam – Ahmed ibne Hanbal, Ibne Taymiyyah also believed that it is necessary to bear enmity with Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) to achieve greatness.

Why else would he praise the Kharijis and Abdul Rahman b. Muljim (may Allah curse him) – the killer of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) – in his book Minhaaj al-Sunnah.

  • Minhaaj al-Sunnah, vol. 1 p. 68
  • Minhaaj al-Sunnah vol. 5 p. 47

Ibne Taymiyyah could not ignore the fact that his Imam – Ahmed ibne Hanbal descended from the Kharijis. So it is not altogether surprising to find him speak of Kharijis in glowing terms. It is also not surprising to find some much commonality between the extreme and misguided views of the Kharijis and the Salafis, also called the neo-Kharijis.

Back to Top4. Why Ahmed Ibn Hanbal has narrated virtues of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.)

The Hanbalis will be quick to defend their Imam by pointing out that Ahmed Ibn Hanbal has narrated many virtues of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) in books like his Musnad and Al-Fazail al-Sahabah. If he was a Nasibi he would not have documented the virtues.

Our primary response to this argument is that if the Hanbalis are serious about defending the honour of Ahmed ibne Hanbal then they should accept the documented virtues of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.). Many of the virtues reported by Ahmed ibne Hanbal place Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) at a position higher than any other companion, making him most worthy of caliphate and successorship. They why have the Hanbalis adopted others as their ‘caliphs’ superseding Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) in this regard?

Also documenting virtues of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) does not prove Ahmed Ibn Hanbal’s innocence. The virtues of Ali (a.s.) have been compared to the bright sun at mid-day. Only a liar or ignorant one would deny these virtues. In fact among the miracles of Ali (a.s.) is that more than a thousand years later, there is still record of his virtues notwithstanding the efforts of enemies like Muawiyah to first erase and then steal his virtues and pass them of as virtues of the companions to justify their caliphate.

An established fact cannot be rejected on the basis of another established fact, when it is possible for both to co-exist. For instance, the Quran talks of the Bani Israel finding mention of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in their books and even praying for his advent to end the tyranny of the disbelievers, but when the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) finally arrived, they disbelieved in him. (Surah Baqarah (2): 89)

Can anyone reject the Quranic verse citing contradiction that if the Jews indeed believed in the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) based on their scriptures then they should have believed in him (s.a.w.a.) even after his advent. And if they did not believe in him after his advent, then they never really believed in him in the first place.

Similarly Ahmed Ibn Hanbal despite being a Nasibi still had to document the excellence of Ali (a.s.) as Islamic belief and history is dotted by his innumerable virtues. Not mentioning Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) would leave gaps in Islam and any scholar worth his salt would find it impossible to explain the gaps.

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