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Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) and the Execution of the (Hypothetical) Apostate

Jacob Fareed Imam
p. 111-125


Les avis juridiques d’Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (m. 241/855), Akām ahl al-milal, compilés par Abū Bakr al-Ḫallāl (m. 311/923) n’ont jamais été traduits. Cet article espère attirer l’attention des chercheurs sur ce texte crucial pour comprendre l’approche ḥanbalite de l’apostasie, et lui donner la notoriété qu’il mérite en Occident. Dans cet article, je présente rapidement les différentes sections du livre, avant d’étudier comment ces Akām ahl al-milal pourraient nous aider à percevoir le climat culturel de la ville, et en particulier des habitants qui ne font pas partie des élites. Il s’agit donc d’une étude en « histoire sociale », pour reprendre l’expression consacrée par les chercheurs depuis les années 1960. Enfin, je propose une rapide introduction à la pensée d’Ibn Ḥanbal sur l’apostasie en islam, qui est le sujet de la dernière et plus longue partie de l’ouvrage.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Abū Bakr al-Ḫallāl, Aḥkām ahl al-milal min al-ǧāmiʿ li-masāʾil al-Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal.

1Some recent publications have begun to take note of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal’s (d. 241/855) responsa, Akām ahl al-milal, as compiled by Abū Bakr al-Ḫallāl (d. 311/923).1 As there has been some misdirected citations of this untranslated text, I would like to clarify a few things. In this article I will first briefly introduce the various sections of the book. Second, I will ask how this text might help us catch a glimpse at the cultural climate of the city and particularly of the non-elites in the society of its composition—what scholars from the 1960s onwards have called, “social history”. Thence I will provide a short introduction to Aḥmad’s treatment of apostasy from Islam—a topic to which the last and largest section of the book is dedicated.

  • 2 There is no English translation for this text and only a handful of secondary resources cite it—an (...)

2Aḥmad’s Akām ahl al-milal is a fascinating text that does not deserve the scant attention it has thus far received in the academy.2 In this compilation al-Ḫallāl concentrates on the legal status of non-Muslims, with particular interest given to immīs. The layout of the text progresses from a discussion of true faith at the beginning to signs of apostasy at the end. It is a holistic review of life in the polity for a non-Muslim.

  • 3  Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī adīth C (...)

3By the 10th century the adī collections of Buḫārī and Muslim were already in circulation.3 These texts begin with the five pillars before moving to interpersonal and broader cultural discourses. Al-Ḫallāl begins his compilation with a similar approach as he proceeds from The Book of Belief (al-Īmān) to The Book of Pilgrimage Rituals (al-Manāsik) to The Book of Zakāt. From here he deviates from the traditional path, instead coming to The Book on the Provisions of the immī. Though this order may seem jarring at first, this book follows on nicely from zakāt because it pertains to the laws on the ǧizya.

4Thence we find the beginning of the interpersonal transactions. The Book of Sales comes first. While we might expect a discourse on marriage and divorce if we were following Buḫārī, we instead come to The Book of Adjudicating between immīs. Chapters within this book include “A Christian testifies to a partnership and then testifies again after converting” and “A Jew who alleges a Muslim stole 1000 dirhams”. Testimony seems to be the common link between this book and the previous one. The Book of Marriage (al-Zawāǧ) and The Book of Divorce (al-Ṭalāq) come next, followed by The Book of Funerals. In Muslim literature and liturgy, the funeral (ǧanāʾiz) is a prayer. Buḫārī, Muslim, and Šāfiʿī place their discussion of funeral prayers at the end of the section on prayer before transitioning to zakāt, or pilgrimage in the case of Buḫārī. As the non-Muslim cannot participate in the life of prayer, naturally the discussion on funerals is not about ritual prayer but Christians and Jews dying. This section appropriately precedes The Book of Wills (al-Waāyā). This is a captivating book that discusses Muslims and non-Muslims inheriting from one another. The Book of Military Expeditions (al-Sīr) comes next, which follows the preceding section as this book discusses immīs fighting alongside Muslims. As with The Book of Wills, The Book of Military Expeditions considers Muslims benefitting from the free and unobligated beneficence of immīs.

5The Book of Manumission, Expiations, Oaths, and Witnesses makes the shift from Muslim/non-Muslim cooperation at the beginning of the book to the failure of immīs to keep an oath at the end. From here, al-Ḫallāl moves to The Book of Punishments (udūd) followed by The Book of Blood Money (Diyyāt), which allows for a seamless transition from one to another.

6Next, we have on Conquests (Futū) and on Inheritance (Farāʾi). Whereas the books of Wills (Waāyā) and Military Expedition (Sīr) discuss the non-Muslims internal to the polis, the books of Conquests (Futū) and Inheritance (Farāʾi) deal with conquering and controlling non-Muslims external to the land. Following these books, come the books of Sacrifice (ʿAqīqa) and Slaughter (abāʾi), reasonably placed together before the Book of Etiquette (Ādab). The last book concerns apostasy (al-Ridda), which will be our focus at the end of this essay.

7All of these books transition well from one section to the next. It is quite clear that al-Ḫallāl, a member of the ahl al-adi, shares a common organisational order with Buḫārī, Muslim, and Šāfiʿī though his topics differ slightly from theirs. It seems clear that al-Ḫallāl was concerned with adopting the textual trends of his age.

  • 4 Sahner, Christian Martyrs, p. 61.

8The literary layout and context of this text is one thing, the source for the content is another. In his new and brilliant book, Christian Sahner infers that Aḥmad answers particular questions in his Akām ahl al-milal because those were the issues arising in 9th-century Baghdad.4 We know that some of what he discussed did generally occur in society—people did die, were buried, family members inherited their wealth, etc. But it is the more obscure questions that interest us, such as Chapter 85: “A Muslim marries a Christian woman and then divorces her three times. Then a Christian marries her, then divorces her. Is she able to remarry the Muslim?”

  • 5 Lest we attempt to draw a closer parallel than is possible, we ought to remember that ġulām in leg (...)
  • 6 Binggeli, Récits sur le Sinaï et Récits utiles à l’âme, p. 252 (Gk.), 567 (Fr.). This story i (...)

9We could fortify Sahner’s claim by demonstrating an intertextual correlation of Aḥmad’s discussion of a boy converting to Islam before he matures and later reverts to his original religion5 to the tale of George the Black. This young Christian was captured as a child. He renounced Christianity when he was 8 years old. Upon becoming an adult, George reassumed his Christian faith, though trying to hide the practice of his religion from his Muslim captors. He was eventually discovered and killed.6 One might suggest that the obscure Christian narrative (probably more common than to George) finds a place in Muslim legal discourse.

10That said, we should be more cautious than Sahner in stating that Aḥmad is in dialogue with the events around him. First of all, Aḥmad was not a judge and thus did not deal with everyday complaints. He was instead a legal scholar, which means his concerns are more methodological and theoretical than pragmatic and pertinent. For instance, he spends four chapters in his Akām on food laws as they pertain to Jews and Christians. While it may be the case that these discussions were based on true societal concerns, they more readily appear to be a gloss on Q V, 5:

11They ask you what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So, eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah”.

12Aḥmad also spends several chapters discussing marriage and divorce. It could be the case that divorce was very prevalent and repeatedly burdened the jurist. It could also be the case that these questions served as a manner to learn this jurist’s methodological approach, completely abstracted from reality. There are different legal questions that arise in regard to the end of marriage. Q II, 228‒229a, reads:

Divorced women remain in waiting for three periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allah has created in their wombs if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have more right to take them back in this [period] if they want reconciliation. And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. Divorce is twice.

  • 7 For the complexity of the discourse, see Imām Muḥammad al-Šaybānī, al-Siyar al-ṣaġīr, p. 205:

13From this text comes a whirlwind of legal discourse. There is a waiting period after divorce (ʿidda), which is measured in menstrual cycles. There is an additional waiting period for a wife after the death of her husband, which is measured in months. The matter of ʿidda causes many problems as not all women have periods: some are too young, some too old, and some are ill—having them too frequently or not at all. Additionally, the widow could also be pregnant.7 These variations demonstrate that the unit of measurement is intrinsically complex as it cannot be universal. It is difficult to articulate why one measures the waiting period in this way. These questions pertaining to the end of marriage are an unsettling and messy part of Islamic law and thus scholars gave substantial attention to it. Presumably they did not dedicate an extraordinary amount of contemplation to the issue because there was an epidemic of women getting divorced and running off with a new husband to the neglect of the waiting period.

14We must also mention Aḥmad’s common confession that he does not know the answers to many question (lā ādrak) or his frequent failure to provide an answer and instead replying that there are various different opinions (itilāf). These answers suggest two things. First, they reveal a person holding his speculations close to the chest rather than exposing himself to the potential of a changing opinion. This is the sign of someone developing a following. Second, if these were pertinent legal matters, we might assume that he would speak up, but he often does not. Such are the responses of a theorist discussing the questions that theorists before him have considered. He is not creating new questions but contemplating old ones, potentially to demonstrate a new manner of answering them.

  • 8 “عَنْ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ أَمُسْلِمُونَ هُمْ؟ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ أَحْكَمْتَ الْعِلْمَ حَتَّى تَسْأَلَ (...)

15Returning to Sahner—who is the only scholar to use (or even address) Aḥmad’s Akām ahl al-milal as a source for social history—he could be helped by referring to Aḥmad’s hatred of impractical questions. Muḥammab b. Mufliḥ narrates a story of a man asking Aḥmad about Gog and Magog. Exasperated by this question, Aḥmad turns to the man saying, “Have you perfected knowledge that you ask me about this?”8

16When another man, similarly keen on nebulous speculation, began asking Aḥmad questions, the jurist replied: “Do not bother us about fabricated questions!” The man made the fatal error of posing yet another question to the scholar and Aḥmad became angry saying, “take what you benefit from and are in need of and beware of these new-fangled questions and deal with things for which there are adī”. It would be naïve to understand this statement in an absolutist way: that one should only contemplate things that occur in common experience. Rather, he wanted to limit over speculation and instead to “deal with things for which there are adī”. Specifically here, Aḥmad’s point is that there is no purpose to this question: that it is too obtuse.

  • 9 Abū Ḥanīfa: Imām Muḥammad al-Šaybānī, al-Mabsū, 4, p. 195. al-Šāfiʿī, al-Umm, 4, p.  310; Mālik b (...)

17Sahner does not attempt to justify his position with this claim. Instead he defends his position by citing Aḥmad’s teacher ʿAbd al-Razzāq (d. 211/827) and identifying shared concerns between the authors—concerns that span the regional differences between Yemen and Baghdad. ʿAbd al-Razzāq, however, was not the only person to address similar questions as Aḥmad—so, too, did Abū Hanifah, al-Šāfiʿī, and Mālik. For instance, let us return to the question of the boy who converts to Islam before he reaches puberty and then reverts to his original religion. All four of the great jurists are attributed with addressing this question.9 We will report their opinions below. For now, we must address the fact that not all of these questions in the responsa are limited to 9th-century Baghdad, and it is unlikely that these issues could have been so pertinent as to span the spatiotemporal boundaries of the four eponyms of the legal schools and their compilers.

  • 10 One might reasonably ask why the questions in the Akām are not pertinent to the society if they a (...)

18Thus, these questions were not necessarily bound to a particular time or a particular place. The questions’ obscurity and yet consistency in various places at various times seem to suggest an attempt to showcase methodological distinctions in answering the same questions in various ways.10

19Though the questions Aḥmad addressed were perhaps once pertinent—or maybe still pertinent at his time—we ought to have less confidence than Sahner shows when assuming the social context of these responsa. This point can be demonstrated further as we take a closer look at Aḥmad’s discussion of apostasy.

20In this section we shall examine three chapters of Aḥmad’s Akām ahl al-milal. Kitāb al-ridda is the longest and last book within the corpus and the three chapters we shall examine will provide us a holistic view of Aḥmad’s approach to apostates. I will first translate each section before commenting upon them.

Chapter 19 – When a boy converts to Islam while still pre-pubescent and then reverts from Islam

21ʿAbd al-Malik reported to me that he said to Abū ʿAbd Allāh [Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal]: “There is a boy who was in our land with his father and he converted to Islam while a boy of ten years old, or a bit more, and he was yet to mature through puberty (lam yablaġ)—what should happen to him?”

22Aḥmad said: “I accept his profession of Islam.”

23I said: “How would you justify this?”

  • 11 Al-Ḫallāl cites Abū Dawūd, op. cit., p. 459.

24He said: “I would hit him in order to make him pray if he was a child of ten.” Then he said: “I would separate him in the bed.”11

25I said: “And what of his apostasy?”

26He said: “I would come between him and apostasy” (aūlu baynahu wa bayna al-irtidād).

27He said: “It would be better that someone beat him and imprison him.”

28He said: “What would you do to him? Would you kill him?”

29“No, I would not kill him because he was not yet an adult and I would not put orders on him against his apostasy.”

30Aḥmad’s justification that the child was indeed a Muslim lies in the fact that he was at an age at which he was bound to pray. At ten years old, one’s prayer is necessary or accepted, and either would show that the child’s belief is also accepted. The child would also be separated from his siblings in bed. The purpose of this separation is twofold: to help the child have no immoral thoughts and no immoral action with his siblings. Yet there is only sin once the child is legally responsible. The child was separated only because he is seen to be partially responsible. If it is the case that he was partially responsible then he is legally responsible to believe—and therefore, his belief is valid.

31At the very least, there is a demonstration of partial responsibility over his actions and his faith. There are two sides of the legal obligation found in this adī: belief and responsibility for that belief. Here we find the making of an analogy and a legal derivation. We must notice that Aḥmad does not quote a adī stating that if someone converts prior to puberty then he is legally bound to the decision, nor is the person asking the question necessarily expecting a adī in response. The questioner comes to him posing a question already posed to jurists down the centuries—he merely wants to hear how Aḥmad would solve the hypothetical legal predicament.

32For this first question, it is perhaps worth contrasting Aḥmad’s opinion with those of the other three major jurists in regard to this question to glean their methodological differences.

  • 12 Mālik, Mudawwana, 1, p. 256.

33Saḥnūn at-Tanūḫī writes: “Have you considered if a young boy apostatises, before he attains puberty, should his slaughter be accepted? Should he be prayed over, in Mālik’s opinion? He should not be prayed over nor should his meat be eaten.”12

  • 13 Al-Šāfiʿī, al-Umm, 4, p. 310.

34Al-Šāfiʿī answers the same question in this regard: “This boy has neither attained puberty, nor has he reached 15 years of age, but he decided to convert as a immī and I prefer to call him a Muslim… However, it goes against analogy to say this, as conversion to Islam should be done after puberty or after someone is 15 years old.”13

  • 14 Al-Mabsūṭ, 4, p. 195.

35Abū Ḥanīfa: “A boy who has yet to reach maturity is taken into the protection of a man and he is considered a Muslim, yet after he becomes a Muslim the guardianship must be renewed.”14

36These judgements do not include a transition period wherein a child slowly begins to take responsibility of his belief and adherence to it. They favour a black-and-white transition period rather than the period of partial responsibility found in Aḥmad’s discourse. The adī leads Aḥmad to call the boy a Muslim, but he recognises a dynamism in the boy between maturity and immaturity, unfound in the others as it pertains to this question. Whereas we may think, and often correctly, that the Hanbalī methodology is less subtle than the others, we may be surprised to find it has a unique rigor of its own.

Chapter 223 – What was recorded from the Prophet: “Kill him who converts (baddala) from his religion.”

371196: Yūsuf b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Iskāfī said that al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥasan reported that he asked Abū ʿAbd Allāh about the man who has Jewish and Christian neighbours who converted to Islam and then apostatised.

38He said: “Raise the matter to the Qādī.”

39He asked: “And what about the people who become Muslim and they do not pray the congregational prayer (yašhadu ǧamāʿa)?”

40Aḥmad said: “They should be beaten and the matter taken to the sultan.”

411197: al-Marūḏī reported to us that Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Ǧaʿfar was asked about the apostates from Islam.

42He said: Saʿīd from Qatāda and Ayyūb, from Ibn ʿAbbās who reported to us that the Messenger of God said: “Kill him who converts from his religion.”

431198: Muḥammad b. ʿAlī reported to us saying that Ṣalāḥ reported that he asked his father about the statement regarding apostates.

44He said, “My father said, ‘real substitution (al-tabdīl) is to be steadfast in širk. If he repents then it is not real substitution (tabdīl).’”

451199: Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Muṭar said: Abū Ṭālib reported that he asked Abū ʿAbd Allāh about the statement of the Prophet: “Kill him who converts from his religion.

46“Why is there nothing in the adī about asking someone to repent (istatāba)?”

47He said: “You are correct that it is not in the adī. This is because the one who changes his religion is the one who becomes steadfast in the constitution of his religion.”

48Whoever converts from his religion and becomes firm in his decision and does not return, then [the scholars] say: “If he is steadfast in his substitution, then he is to be killed.”

491200: Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad reported to us saying that Bakr b. Muḥammad reported to us from his father from Abū ʿAbd Allāh who said: “The Messenger of God said: ‘Kill him who converts from his religion.’”

50I said: “What do we mean by substitution?”

51He said: “That he becomes steadfast in it. He is asked to repent and if he does then he is not steadfast in his substitution.”

52I said: “Is it your opinion that he should repent thrice?”

53He said: “Yes. I rely on the adī of ʿUmar and from the adī of the Prophet:

54‘Kill him who converts from his religion.’ It is not real substitution while he is willing to return (ǧiʿ ) and say, ‘I have become a Muslim.’”

55From the partially responsible child we turn to the fully culpable adult. The first assumption that we find is the fact that managing an apostate is to be a local matter, as it is the Qādī whose jurisdiction he falls under. The one who refuses to pray in the mosque probably refers to a forthcoming discussion on the zanādiqa (chapter 48). This is a more pressing issue as they easily lead Muslims away. For this, the case is raised to the sultan.

56Apostasy is most famously remembered during the Ridda Wars and years of mass reversion during the reign of Abū Bakr. This pericope makes a subtle allusion to this traditional narrative as Aḥmad conflates the term shirk with that of kufr. Presumably he does not intend to limit the heresy to širk. This is a fitting conflation for the people of the adī to make.

57As a quasi-literalist, Aḥmad must find a way to infuse some subtlety into the adī, as it does not say anything about repentance, tawba. In chapter 19, we saw that Aḥmad created an intermediate period of semi-responsibility for children, but he does not have that luxury here. Instead, rather than merely stating that all apostates must immediately be killed, Aḥmad provides tabdīl with a complex definition: a determined and permanent decision never to become Muslim again.

58With this definition, it then becomes necessary to ascertain beyond doubt the apostate never intends to return to Islam. Otherwise, if there is some remnant of Islam left within him, then the judge would put him to death unjustly. Only if he truly is steadfast in his apostasy ought he be put to death. This point is emphasised again in the last line: huwa ǧiʿ. The use of the active participle suggests future action to yet again stress that the apostate must not be harmed unless there is total certainty that he will not repent. In order to uncover the Prophet’s intention, this absolutist approach must replace the rationalist position with a linguistic one.

Chapter 229 – A man joins enemy territory (dār al-arb), or he apostatises right here [in dār al-islām] what is the judgement for his wife and how do we deal with this before the waiting period expires?

59Muḥammad b. ʿAlī reported to me saying that Mihnā said: “I asked Abū ʿAbdallāh about a man who apostatised and entered enemy land.”

60He said: “His wealth is held back so as to see what will become of him. Perhaps he will return or maybe he will die.”

61I said to him: “In regard to his wife, should she stay with him?”

62He said: “I do not know.”

63I said: “Is his wife not like his wealth? Is it not appropriate for her to stay with him?”

64He said: “But God says: ‘Do not hold the ties of disbelieving women.’”

65I said: “Is this your understanding of the verse?”

66He said: “I do not know”

67But I saw that he disliked that a woman should be restrained by her apostate husband.

681243: Abū Bakr al-Marūḏī reported to me saying, it was said to Abū ʿAbdallāh: “What is the saying of the one who has entered the house of Islam? What about his wife? ”

69He said: “He has joined enemy territory and he has become firm in his širk.”

70Then he said: “There is a difference of opinions about her situation, especially when he returns with someone else.”

71I said: “What do you incline to?”

72He said: “I do not know about the different opinion.”


74I asked Abū ʿAbdallāh about a man who entered enemy territory and became a Christian. His wife completed two menstrual cycles and then he returned when his wife was in her third menstrual cycle—is she still his wife?

75Abū ʿAbdallāh said: “She is his wife as long as she is in the waiting period.”

76At this point in Kitāb al-ridda, Aḥmad has determined that a woman should receive capital punishment for apostasy just as much as a man. He continues to teach an egalitarian model here. Instead of denying that a woman is her husband’s possession, he attempts to derive an answer to the question by means of a adī that sets men at liberty to divorce their disbelieving wives. When asked directly if that was his tafsīr on the verse, Aḥmad confesses that he does not know the adī tradition well enough to provide a definitive answer. Instead he provides a personal element, stating that he would prefer for a woman be unbound from a husband. In the later section, Aḥmad is faced with a similar question and yet provides a more definitive answer. But the most remarkable aspect of this passage is his willingness—or, perhaps more accurately, his longing—to apply a adī written for men to women. His attempt to answer questions by way of analogy allows us an insight to his approach to apostates: whether a man or a woman, they ought to be treated similarly by the code of faith.

77Al-Ḫallāl has designed the book not only to move seamlessly from one section to another, but also to pattern after the texts slowly developing into authoritative positions. As engaging as the topics are, it is difficult to discern which issues amongst them truly occurred in 9th-century Baghdad. As some of the discussions had their origins in a purely theoretical context, it is complicated to discern when, if ever, the issues were manifested. The fact that multiple jurists with great spatiotemporal diversity were all asking the same questions cannot suggest that they were all facing the same reality. Apostasy, for instance, was not such a widespread event that the largest section of Akām ahl al-milal should deal with it. Nonetheless, Aḥmad’s schematic for punishing apostates was intricate and subtly dazzling. He sets the foundation of apostasy as a failure in one’s responsibility to protect his or her faith, as we saw with the discussion of the young boy. Lest we think that apostasy could arise by passivity, Aḥmad’s lexical semantics revealed that apostasy demanded a genuine resolve never to become Muslim again. Most of all, men do not receive preferential treatment within this schematic. Aḥmad’s treatment of apostasy is dynamic, consistent to his methodology, and fair to all believers.

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Primary Sources

al-Ḫallāl (d. 311/923), Abū Bakr, Aḥkām ahl al-milal min al-ǧāmiʿ li-masāʾil al-Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Sayyid Kisrawī Ḥasan (ed.), Bayrūt, Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1994.

Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), Mudawwana, Bayrūt, Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 4 vols., 1994.

al-Maqdisī (d. 763/1362), Muḥammab b. Mufliḥ, al-Ādāb al-šarʿiyya wa-l-minaḥ al-marʿiyya, Bayrūt, Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 3 vols., 1999.

al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820), Muḥammad b. Idrīs, al-Umm, Bayrūt, Dār al-Maʿrifa, 8 vols., 1990.

al-Šaybānī (d. 189/804), Imām Muḥammad, al-Siyar al-ṣaġīr, Bayrūt, al-Dār al-Muttaḥida li-l-Našr, 3 vols., 1975.

al-Šaybānī (d. 189/804), Imām Muḥammad, al-Aṣl, Bayrūt, Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012.

Secondary Sources

Binggeli, André, Anastase le Sinaïte: Récits sur le Sinaï et Récits utiles à l’âme. Édition, traduction, commentaire, PhD dissertation, sous la direction de Bernard Flusin, Université Paris IV, 2001.

Brown, Jonathan, The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadīth Canon, Leiden, Brill, 2007.

Friedmann, Yohanan, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Halev, Leor, Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society, New York, Columbia University Press, 2011.

Hoyland, Robert G, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, Princeton, NJ, Darwin Press, 1997.

Melchert, Christopher, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law, 9th–10th Centuries C.E., Studies in Islamic Law and Society, Leiden, Brill, 1997.

Melchert, Christopher, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2006.

Papaconstantinou, Arietta, McLynn, Neil B. and Schwartz, Daniel Louis, eds. Conversion in Late Antiquity: Christianity, Islam, and Beyond, Farnham, Surrey, Ashgate, 2015.

Sahner, Christian C., Christian Martyrs and the Making of an Islamic Society in the Post-Conquest Period, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2015.

Simonsohn, Uriel, “Conversion, Apostasy, and Penance: The Shifting Identities of Muslim Converts in the Early Islamic Period”, in Conversion in Late Antiquity: Christianity, Islam, and Beyond, Arietta Papaconstantinou et al. (eds.), New York, Routledge, 2015, p. 197-218.

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1 Abū Bakr al-Ḫallāl, Aḥkām ahl al-milal min al-ǧāmiʿ li-masāʾil al-Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal.

2 There is no English translation for this text and only a handful of secondary resources cite it—and they do so briefly: Leor Halev, Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society, p. 53; Simonsohn, “Conversion, Apostasy, and Penance: The Shifting Identities of Muslim Converts in the Early Islamic Period”, p. 198; Sahner, Christian Martyrs under Islam Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World, p. 83; Sporadic mentions are found throughout Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition, p. 171‒189.

3  Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī adīth Canon, p. 99–153.

4 Sahner, Christian Martyrs, p. 61.

5 Lest we attempt to draw a closer parallel than is possible, we ought to remember that ġulām in legal literature of this period merely means “boy” and not “slave boy”.

6 Binggeli, Récits sur le Sinaï et Récits utiles à l’âme, p. 252 (Gk.), 567 (Fr.). This story is briefly referred to in Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, p. 351–352.

7 For the complexity of the discourse, see Imām Muḥammad al-Šaybānī, al-Siyar al-ṣaġīr, p. 205:

304 - قلت أرايت الْمَرْأَة إِذا ارْتَدَّت فِي مَرضهَا فَمَاتَتْ فِي عدتهَا هَل لزَوجهَا مِنْهَا مِيرَاث قَالَ نعم إِذا مَاتَت وَهِي فِي الْعدة قلت وَمن أَيْن اخْتلف ارتدادها فِي الْمَرَض وارتدادها فِي الصِّحَّة قَالَ إِذا ارْتَدَّت فِي الْمَرَض فَهِيَ عِنْدِي بِمَنْزِلَة الفارة من الْمِيرَاث فَإِذا انْقَضتْ عدتهَا قبل أَن يَمُوت فَلَا مِيرَاث لَهُ مِنْهَا.

See also Mudawwana, 2, 5. Though this text was compiled by Saḥnun b. Saʿīd b. Ḥabīb at-Tanūḫī, who was a contemporary of Aḥmad, he wrote from Tunisia. This is a substantial distance from Baghdad—especially to be asking the same legal questions:

قَالَ مَالِكٌ: يُطَلِّقُهَا مَتَى شَاءَ لِلْأَهِلَّةِ أَوْ لِغَيْرِ الْأَهِلَّةِ، ثُمَّ عِدَّتُهَا ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَكَذَلِكَ الَّتِي قَدْ يَئِسَتْ مِنْ الْمَحِيضِ، قَالَ مَالِكٌ: وَالْمُسْتَحَاضَةُ يُطَلِّقُهَا زَوْجُهَا مَتَى شَاءَ وَعِدَّتُهَا سَنَةٌ قَالَ ابْنُ الْقَاسِمِ: كَانَ فِي ذَلِكَ يَطَؤُهَا أَوْ لَا يَطَؤُهَا وَلَهُ عَلَيْهَا الرَّجْعَةُ حَتَّى تَنْقَضِيَ السَّنَةُ فَإِذَا انْقَضَتْ السَّنَةُ فَقَدْ حَلَّتْ لِلْأَزْوَاجِ إلَّا أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهَا رِيبَةٌ فَتَنْتَظِرُ حَتَّى تَذْهَبَ الرِّيبَةُ فَإِذَا ذَهَبَتْ الرِّيبَةُ فَقَدْ مَضَتْ السَّنَةُ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهَا مِنْ الْعِدَّةِ قَلِيلٌ وَلَا كَثِيرٌ وَقَدْ حَلَّتْ لِلْأَزْوَاجِ قَالَ مَالِكٌ: وَهِيَ مِثْلُ الْحَامِلِ يُطَلِّقُهَا زَوْجُهَا مَتَى شَاءَ إلَّا أَنْ يُعْرَفَ لَهَا قُرْءٌ فَيَتَحَرَّى ذَلِكَ فَيُطَلِّقُهَا عِنْدَهُ ابْنُ وَهْبٍ عَنْ يُونُسَ بْنِ يَزِيدَ وَابْنِ أَبِي ذِئْبٍ عَنْ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ أَنَّهُ قَالَ: يُطَلِّقُ الْمُسْتَحَاضَةَ زَوْجُهَا إذَا طَهُرَتْ لِلصَّلَاةِ ابْنُ وَهْبٍ وَيُونُسُ بْنُ يَزِيدَ عَنْ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ أَنَّهُ قَالَ فِي الْمَرْأَةِ تَطْلُقُ وَقَدْ أَدْبَرَ عَنْهَا الْمَحِيضُ أَوْ شُكَّ فِيهِ فَقَالَ: إنْ تَبَيَّنَ أَنَّهَا قَدْ يَئِسَتْ مِنْ الْمَحِيضِ فَعِدَّتُهَا ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ، كَمَا قَضَى اللَّهُ، وَقَدْ كَانَ يُقَالُ يَسْتَقْبِلُ بِطَلَاقِهَا الْأَهِلَّةَ فَهُوَ أَسَدُّ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَنْ يُطَلِّقَ مَنْ قَدْ يَئِسَ مِنْ الْمَحِيضِ، فَإِنْ طَلَّقَ بَعْدَ الْأَهِلَّةِ أَوْ قَبْلَهَا اعْتَدَّتْ مِنْ حِينِ طَلَّقَهَا ثَلَاثَةَ أَشْهُرٍ ثَلَاثِينَ يَوْمًا كُلَّ شَهْرٍ، وَإِنْ مَضَتْ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ قَبْلَ أَنْ تَحِلَّ فَقَدْ حَلَّتْ ابْنُ وَهْبٍ قَالَ يُونُسُ وَقَالَ رَبِيعَةُ تَعْتَدُّ ثَلَاثِينَ يَوْمًا مِنْ الْأَيَّام.

8 “عَنْ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ أَمُسْلِمُونَ هُمْ؟ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ أَحْكَمْتَ الْعِلْمَ حَتَّى تَسْأَلَ عَنْ ذَا؟”

Muḥammab b. Mufliḥ al-Maqdisī, al-Ādāb al-šarʿiyya wa-l-mina al-marʿiyya, 2, p. 72.

9 Abū Ḥanīfa: Imām Muḥammad al-Šaybānī, al-Mabsū, 4, p. 195. al-Šāfiʿī, al-Umm, 4, p.  310; Mālik b. Anas, Mudawwana, 1, p. 256.

10 One might reasonably ask why the questions in the Akām are not pertinent to the society if they are phrased in the non-hypothetical? Especially as this jurist was famous for not considering hypothetical issues, cf. Melchert, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, p. 10. In response, I would first question that the text does not use hypotheticals. Often we find streams of qāla, qāla, qāla, as the inquisitor follows up with, “but what if… but what if?” Second, even if certain matters are actually occurring in the Hanafī context the jurists still leave the question in the hypothetical to emphasize the creativity of rational thought. For instance, “If (law anna) a man falls into a river and does not want to do his ablutions, then he should wash in the river, and he will be cleansed”. This is a common occurrence, yet the question is posed in the remote conditional, rather than the open conditional. In juxtaposition we find Aḥmad’s common response of “I do not know” in what may be understood as a demonstration of his intent to adhere to the sunna to answer questions: al-Mabsūṭ, 1, p. 114. In other words, it would only be a hypothetical inquiry if the Prophet had never considered it an issue. If Muhammad in the Qurʾān or the adī had considered something a predicament, then Aḥmad would feel free to contemplate the idea.

11 Al-Ḫallāl cites Abū Dawūd, op. cit., p. 459.

12 Mālik, Mudawwana, 1, p. 256.

13 Al-Šāfiʿī, al-Umm, 4, p. 310.

14 Al-Mabsūṭ, 4, p. 195.

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Jacob Fareed Imam, « Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) and the Execution of the (Hypothetical) Apostate »MIDÉO, 34 | 2019, 111-125.

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Jacob Fareed Imam, « Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) and the Execution of the (Hypothetical) Apostate »MIDÉO [En ligne], 34 | 2019, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2019, consulté le 23 septembre 2023. URL :

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Jacob Fareed Imam

University of Oxford

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