Intro

The Hanbali school is the fourth orthodox school of law within Sunni Islam. It derives its decrees from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, which it places above all forms of consensus, opinion or inference. The school accepts as authoritative an opinion given by a Companion of the Prophet, providing there is no disagreement with another Companion. In the case of such disagreement, the opinion of the Companion nearest to that of the Qur'an or the Sunnah will prevail.

History and Development

The Hanbali school of law was established by Ahmad b. Hanbal (d.855). He studied law under different masters, including Imam Shafi'i (the founder of his own school). He is regarded as more learned in the traditions than in jurisprudence. His status also derives from his collection and exposition of the hadiths. His major contribution to Islamic scholarship is a collection of fifty-thousand traditions known as 'Musnadul-
Imam Hanbal'.

In spite of the importance of Hanbal's work his school did not enjoy the popularity of the three preceding Sunni schools of law. Hanbal's followers were regarded as reactionary and troublesome on account of their reluctance to give personal opinion on matters of law, their rejection of analogy, their fanatic intolerance of views other than their own, and their exclusion of opponents from power and judicial office. Their unpopularity led to periodic bouts of persecution against them.

The later history of the school has been characterised by fluctuations in their fortunes. Hanbali scholars such as Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) and Ibn Qayyim al-Jouzia (d.1350) did display more tolerance to other views than their predecessors and were instrumental in making the teachings of Hanbali more generally accessible. The Shaf'i school is considered the easiest school and the Hanbali is considered the hardest in terms of social and personal rules.

Hanbaliyyah Today

From time to time Hanbaliyyah became an active and numerically strong school in certain areas under the jurisdiction of the 'Abbassid Caliphate. But its importance gradually declined under the Ottoman Turks. The emergence of the Wahabi in the nineteenth century and its challenge to Ottoman authority enabled Hanbaliyyah to enjoy a period of revival. Today the school is officially recognised as authoritative in Saudi Arabia and areas within the Persian Gulf.

The government of Saudi Arabia vigorously enforces its prohibition against all forms of public religious expression other than that of those who follow the government’s interpretation and presentation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam.

This is despite the fact that there are large communities of non-Muslims and Muslims from a variety of doctrinal schools of Islam residing in Saudi Arabia. Under the Hanbali interpretation of Shari’a law, judges may discount the testimony of people who are not practicing Muslims or who do not have the correct faith.

Legal sources report that testimony by Shi’a is often ignored in Saudi courts of law or is deemed to have less weight than testimony by Sunnis. The explanation of Saudi officials is that their Hanbali school of Islam religiously mandates that they deny other religions the right to function openly on the Arabian Peninsula despite this being a right that is protected in international law.

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