The Flogging of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

It is written in Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal by Imam Abu al-Faraj al-Jawzi (r.a.), the following story about the great Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), founder of the madzhab that bears his name and defender of the ‘aqidah of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah.

The Abbasid caliphate under Mu’taswim continued the policies of his predecessor, Ma’mun and adopted the Mu’tazilite doctrine.  Like his half-brother, he also continued the mihnah, the inquisition where scholars were imprisoned, tortured and even killed.  He persecuted the scholars of Islam and pressured them to adopt the heretical doctrine of the Mu’tazilite sect.  One of the things the scholars had to do was proclaim that the Qur’an was Created and disavow it as the Eternal Speech of Allah (s.w.t.).

The very foundations of Islam were under attack and should all the great scholars have given in, the masses would have been corrupted.  And the greatest scholar of his time in Baghdad was none other than Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.).  He alone stood in the way of the ruler who sought to make this heresy the ‘aqidah of the ummah.

When neither bribery nor threats of wealth would get Imam Ahmad (r.a.) to proclaim this heretical belief, in 833 CE, the year of Mu’taswim’s ascension, Imam Ahmad (r.a.) was put to the question, to which he answered that the Qu'ran was uncreated.  Mu'taswim removed him from his post, imprisoned him, and had him flogged publicly until he was unconscious.

Imam Ahmad (r.a.) later said that during this ordeal, there came a moment where his resolve was about to break and he thought to himself that since his life was in danger and Islam, in such conditions allow one to lie about belief, he was about to relent and proclaim the heresy.  Just as he was about to fold under the pressure, he heard a man from amongst the onlookers shout, “Ya Imam!  I have taken eighteen thousand lashes of Mu’taswim over the years and it did not make me give up following Shaythan and leave thievery.  Do not let them make you leave the Truth.”

At that moment, he resolved never to give in and withstood so much whipping that he almost died.  Eventually, the persecution stopped when the people of Baghdad threatened to riot.  So Mu’taswim had Imam Ahmad (r.a.) released.  Imam Ahmad (r.a.) even managed to outlive his persecutor.  The mihnah was kept in force by another two caliphs but they never persecuted the scholars to that extent again.  It became a formality and the testimony of any person who did not subscribe to the Mu’tazilite ideology was inadmissible in court.  A few sincere words from a sinner saved the ‘aqidah of the Muslims.  We must never forget that.


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