Skip to main content

Hanbali School of Law


One of the four approaches to Sunni Muslim law, called schools.

The Hanbali School of Law takes its name from Ahmad ibn Hanbal (died 854), a major theologian of the ninth century. He was a fierce opponent of the Muʿtazila, a school of religious thought that flourished under the Abbasids. Ibn Hanbal emerged victorious in the mihna (inquisition), led by the Abbasid caliph al-Maʾmun and the rationalist theologians against the traditionalists who upheld the doctrine that the Qurʾan is not the created but the eternal word of God. Ibn Hanbal's career as a dogmatic theologian, coupled with the fact that he did not elaborate a complete system of law, gave him and his immediate followers the reputation of being a theological rather than a legal school (madhhab). Indeed, the school's first complete work on positive law, alMukhtasar, appeared as late as the beginning of the tenth century, at the hands of Abu Qasim al-Khiraqi (died 946).

Being strict traditionalists, the Hanbalis of the ninth century rejected the rationalist elements of what had by the end of the century become the mainstream legal theory (usul al-fiqh). Later Hanbalis, however, gradually adopted the main elements of this theory, and by the eleventh century, their legal theory finally came to accept usul al-fiqh as elaborated by the Shafiʿi School of Law and Hanafi School of Law. Thus, it took the Hanbali school nearly two centuries after ibn Hanbal's demise to develop into a full-fledged school of law.

Two centuries later, the celebrated Hanbali jurist and theologian Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya (died 1328) even subscribed to a theory of istihsan (juristic preference), advocated by later Hanafis and vehemently opposed by early traditionalist Shafiʿis and Hanbalis.

There were several figures who dominated the history of Hanbalism. Among the prominent names are al-Khiraqi, Ibn al-Farra, Ibn Aqil, Abd al-Qadir al-Jili (died 1166), Abu al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi (died 1200), Ibn Taymiyya, and his disciple Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (died 1351), to name only a few. Distinguished as a major figure in Islamic religious history, Ibn Taymiyya was involved in the study of law, theology, philosophy, and mysticism and was engaged in the politics of the Mamluk state. He wrote at length against the Shiʿa, the philosophers, the logicians, and the pantheistic Sufis, though he himself belonged to the mystical school of Abd al-Qadir al-Jili.

Ibn Taymiyya's thought exercised significant influence on Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (died 1792), who, with the assistance of Ibn Saʿud, founded Wahhabism, an ideology that has sustained the Saudi state during the last two centuries. Saudi Arabia remains the principal country that applies Hanbali law. Nevertheless, the writings of ibn Taymiyya and ibn Abd al-Wahhab still continue to influence the Muslim reform and religious movements in the Middle East, from Rashid Rida (died 1935) to the Muslim Brotherhood.

See also abd al-aziz ibn saʿud al saʿud; abd al-wahhab, muhammad ibn; hanafi school of law; muslim brotherhood; rida, rashid; shafiʿi school of law.


Makdisi, George. "Hanbalite Islam." In Studies on Islam, translated and edited by Merlin L. Swartz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

wael b. hallaq

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hanbali School of Law." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . 18 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Hanbali School of Law." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . (February 18, 2019).

"Hanbali School of Law." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved February 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.