He is the true Imaam, and the Shaykhul-Islaam, Aboo ‘Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal Ibn Hilaal Ibn Asad Ibn Idrees Ibn ‘Abdullaah Ibn Hayyaan adh-Dhuhlee ash-Shaybaanee al-Marwazee, then al-Baghdaadee, one of the outstansing Imaams. His father was from the soldiers of Marw, he died as a youth, and Ahmad was raised as an orphan. And it is said that his mother departed from Marw and took him with her. He was born in Rabee’ul-Awwal in the year 164H.
The teacher, the Imaam, the Shaykhul-Islaam, Aboo ‘Uthmaan Ismaa’eel Ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan as-Saaboonee an-Naysaabooree – may Allaah be pleased with him – informed us as he came to us in Damascus, in Rajab of the year 432H, he said, ‘Aboo Muhammad al-Hasan Ibn Ahmad ash-Shaybaanee, commonly known as al-Makhadee, may Allaah be pleased with him, said in the year 387H, ‘Aboo Bakr ‘Abdullaah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muslim al-Isfaraayeenee informed us; reading: Abul-Fadl Saalih Ibn Ahmad Ibn Hanbal said, ‘I heard my father saying, ‘I was born in the year 164H, in the beginning of Rabee’ul-Awwal.”
He said: I heard saying, ‘My father said, ‘I studied hadeeth when I was sixteen years old.”
My father said, “And Hushaym died whilst I was a youth of twenty years. And I had memorized what I had heard from him. So people came to the door of Ibn ‘Uyaynah, and with him were the books of Hushaym. So he placed them in front of me and I said, ‘The isnaad for this is such and such.’ So al-Mu’aytee came, and he used to memorize, so I said to him, ‘I have answered him about what has come, and I know from hadeeth what I have not yet heard (being read by Ibn ‘Uyaynah). And I left for al-Koofah in the year in which Hushaym died, the year 183H. It was the first year in which I traveled. And ‘Eesaa Ibn Yoonus arrived in al-Koofah after me in the same year, and he did not perform Hajj after that.”
He said, “And the first trip that I undertook was to al-Basrah, in the year 186H. I said to him, ‘In which year should I go to Sufyaan Ibn ‘Uyaynah?’ He said, ‘In the year 187H.’ So we arrived, and Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyaad had already died, and it was the first year in which I performed Hajj.’ And Waleed Ibn Muslim performed Hajj in the year 191H, and in the year 196H. And I performed it in the year 197H, and I left in the year 198H. And I stayed with ‘Abdur-Razzaaq in the year 199H, and the deaths of Sufyaan and Yahyaa Ibn Sa’eed and ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Mahdee died in the year 198H.”
My father said, “If I had fifty dirhams with me, I would always travel to Jareer Ibn ‘Abdul-Hameed in ar-Rayyee. So some of our companions left and it was not possible for me to go, since I did not have anything with me.”
My father said, “And I left for al-Koofah. So I had milk in the house below my head. So I heated it and returned to my mother, may Allaah have mercy upon her, and I had not sought her permission.”
I heard Saalih, saying, ‘I said to my father, ‘A hadeeth could state ‘The Messenger of Allaah – may the prayers and peace of Allaah be upon him – said…’ However, a person may write, ‘The Prophet – may the prayers and peace of Allaah be upon him – said…’ He sai, ‘I do not see a problem in it.”
I heard Saalih saying, “When my father wanted to make ablution for the Prayer, he would not refuse anyone who wished to drink his water. He would drink with his hand. And I used to hear him reciting Sooratul-Kahf often. And whenever I felt ill, he used to take water in a drinking bowl, then he would recite over it. Then he used to say to me, ‘Drink from it and wash your face and hands from it.’ And whenever he went out to do the groceries, he would buy a bundle of wood and something else and he would carry it.”
Imaam ash-Shafi’ee (d.204H) – rahimahullah – said,
“I left Baghdaad, and I did not leave behind me a man better, having more knowledge, or greater fiqh (understanding), nor having greater taqwaa (piety) than Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.”
Aboo Dawood (d.257H) – rahimahullah – said,
“The lectures of Ahmad were sittings of the Hereafter. He would not mention in them anything of the worldly affairs; and I never saw him mention this world.”
‘Alee Ibnul-Madeenee (d.234H) – rahimahullah – said,
“Indeed Allaah aided this Religion through Aboo Bakr as-Siddeeq on the day of apostasy; and through Ahmad Ibn Hanbal on the day of the trial.”
Qutaybah Ibn Sa’eed (d.240H) – rahimahullah – said,
“If you see a man loving Ahmad, then know that he is a person of the Sunnah.”
And Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree (d324H) – rahimahullah – said,
“Our statement which we hold and take as our Religion is: Clinging to the Book of Allaah, our Lord the Mighty and Majestic, and to the Sunnah of our Prophet, Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and what is narrated from the Companions, the Taabi’een and the Imaams of Hadeeth. This is what we cling to, and also that to which Aboo ‘Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal – may Allaah enlighten his face, raise up his rank and grant him a magnificent reward – used to say, distancing ourselves from those who oppose his statement. Since he was the noble and complete Imaam, by whom Allaah made the truth clear, and removed the misguidance, and made the manhaj (methodology) clear, and through whom Allaah annihilated the innovation of the innovators, the deviation of the deviant and the doubts of the doubters. So may Allaah have mercy upon him, the foremost Imaam.” [al-Ibaanah ‘an-Usoolid-Diyaanah (no.24) of Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree]
Taajud-Deen as-Subkee (d.770H) – rahimahullah – said, “Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree is the foremost of Ahlus-Sunnah and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal…”
Ibraheem al-Harbee (d.285H) – rahimahullah – said,
“I saw Aboo ‘Abdullaah, and it was as if Allaah had gathered for him the knowledge of the earlier people and the later people.”
Abul-Fadl said, ‘And he presented to me the following will,
“With the Name of Allaah, the Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy,
This is what I – Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal – leave as a will. I testify that there is no true deity worthy of worship besides Allaah alone, without any partner. And that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. He sent him (صلى الله عليه وسلم) with the guidance and the true Religion so that it may overtake all other religions, even though the disbelievers may dislike it. And he should advise those who obey him from his family and his close relatives that they worship Allaah as worshippers, and praise him as those who praise, and that they sincerely advise the community of the Muslims. And I am pleased with Allaah as a Lord, and with Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as a Prophet. And ‘Abdullaah Ibn Muhammad, commonly known as Booraan, I gave him fifty deenaars, and he is truthful in what he says. So his money is to be paid by me from the proceeds of the house, if Allaah wills. So if I die, it will be given by my sons: Saalih and ‘Abdullaah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal. So they will give everything mentioned and eleven daraahim after my death towards whatever I have for Ibn Muhammad.
Witnesses: Aboo Yoosuf, Saalih and ‘Abdullaah, sons of Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal.”
Abul-Fadl, “And he used to exert himself in fasting and he would not eat fat. And before that, I would buy fat for him with one dirham, and he would eat from that for one month. So he left off eating the fat. And he continued to fast and work, and I thought he was putting that upon his body because he was safe.”
And Ibn Doorah said, ‘Ahmad used to be a person of fiqh, memorization and knowledge of hadeeth and fiqh, and piety and abstemiousness (zuhd) and patience. Indeed, Imaam Ahmad was tested by the statement of the creation of the Qur’aan. And he was taken to Baghdaad, shackled, and he was detained. And he used to pray with the people of the jail whilst he was shackled. So when Ramadaan occurred in the year 217H, and that was fourteen years after the death of al-Ma’moon, he moved up to the house of Ishaq Ibn Ibraaheem, the governor of Baghdaad. Then al-Mu’tasim ordered the freeing of Imaam Ahmad after his punishment and debate. And it was said that al-Mu’tasim was regretful and bewildered until the affair was rectified. Then al-Mu’tasim and his son joined al-Waathiq. So there emerged whatever emerged from the trial, and al-Waathiq ordered that he must not meet with Imaam Ahmad, nor should he live in a land or town where the Caliph is. So the Imaam went into a state of hiding for the rest of the life of al-Waathiq.
And during the Khilaafah of al-Mutawakkil, Allaah made the Sunnah manifest. And the Caliph wrote ordering the raising of the trial. And al-Mutawakkil ordered in the year 237H, that the Imaam be brought to him. And until Imaam Ahmad died, not a day would pass by, except that the messenger of Mutawakkil would come to him.
The Imaam died in the year 241H, on Friday on the twelfth of Rabee’ul-Awwal. So the people shouted and the voices were raised with weeping, to the extent that it seemed that the world shook, and the sidewalks and the streets were full. And the funeral procession went out after the people from the Friday Prayer. So the people at his funeral manifested the Sunnah and cursed the people of innovations. So Allaah made easy upon the Muslims through that whatever they had of troubles, when they the majesty and high rank of Islaam and the suppression of the people of deviance.
[Biography mainly taken from the Seeratul-Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal by Saalih Ibn Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d.266H), from the book, The Creed of the Four Imaams]