The Ahl al-Hadith (people of the traditions) appear to have developed out of a pious reaction to the assassination of Caliph Yazid b. Walid (d. 744). Prior to Yazid's assassination, scholars who emphasized hadith (traditions of the prophet Muhammad) as the primary source for interpreting the Will of God were disorganized and fairly removed from the widespread emphasis on applying varying levels of reason to the Qur˒an. Yazid's assassination was interpreted by more conservative groups as a revolution against the predestined plan of God. Whether or not the early Ahl al-Hadith were aligned with the Umayyad caliphate, as were many of the Jabriyya (advocates of predestination), it is clear that many understood Yazid's assassination as a sign of the general decay of the Muslim community, the blame for which they assigned to the uncontrolled use of personal opinion by the Ahl al-Ra y (people of considered opinion). After the Abbasid revolution (c. 720–750), the Ahl al-Hadith developed into the main group opposed to the dominance of the rationalist theology of the Mu˓tazilites. During the religious inquisition or Mihna (833–850) many of the Ahl al-Hadith were imprisoned for refusing to agree to the doctrine of the Created Qur˒an. Members of the Ahl al-Hadith, such as Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855), became important religious and social leaders due to their refusal to recant their beliefs in the eternal nature of the Qur˒an. After the Mihna, the Ahl al-Hadith led an anti-rationalist movement that forced advocates of rationalist thought underground. In the centuries following the initial triumph of the Ahl al-Hadith, a middle ground emerged that placed greater emphasis on a combination of reason and tradition. The Ahl al-Hadith formed a school of legal thought named after Ahmad Ibn Hanbal that continued to pursue legal methods that focused less on uses of reason and more on tradition. The Hanbali fixation on tradition led to a series of reform movements that have sought to "revive" the moral and ethical standards of the first generations of Muslims. The contemporary influence of Ahl al-Hadith ideology continues to be important for a number of diverse groups. Organizations such as the Indonesian Muhammadiyah and the Islamic Society of North America, as well as the violent al-Qa ida and Islamic Jihad, each bases its ideologies on ideas that emerged out of the Ahl al-Hadith and Hanbali movement over the last eight centuries.
Hallaq, Wael. A History of Islamic Law and Legal Theories. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Schacht, Joseph. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1950.
R. Kevin Jaques