In Defense of Imam al-Barbahari (d. 329H)

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Shehzad Sattar
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In Defense of Imam al-Barbahari (d. 329H)

Postby Shehzad Sattar » Wed Mar 22, 2017 12:04 am

In Defense Of Imam Al-Barbahari

An analysis of the defamation circulated against this illustrious scholar by the orientalists and the people of innovation

Hassan Somali, Imam of Germantown Masjid, Philadelphia

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy

In Defense of Imam al-Barbahari (d. 329H)[1]

In preparation for my class on Sharh al-Sunnah I came across a number of derogatory remarks directed towards the noble Imam, Abu Muhammad al-Barbahari (Rahimahullah). After a small amount of research, I discovered that this sentiment is prevalent among many Western academics. So I decided to briefly address these issues in defense of the honor of this Imam and to analyze the validity of these claims and their truthfulness.

The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayahi Wasallam) said:

    “Whoever defends the honor of his brother, then Allah will protect his face from the fire on the day of Resurrection.”[2]

I have divided these spurious claims into three categories:

    1. That which was mentioned as a disparagement but is actually considered to be praiseworthy and not blameworthy at all.

    2. That which contradicts what Imam Barbahari stated himself in his own works.

    3. That which opposes what the reliable and credible Muslim historians have stated.

1. That which is actually praiseworthy to the discerning eye

Joseph Norment Bell (1979, p. 49) said:

    “Now the Kitab al-Sunna of al-Barbahari was in part intended to furnish the unsophisticated majority among the followers of Ibn Hanbal with rules of thumb for identifying heretics.”[3]

Joseph Norment insinuates that the book Sharh al-Sunnah was unsophisticated and he explicitly accused the majority of the students of Imam al-Barbahari of being simpletons.

I. A similar accusation was made against the believers at the time of the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam) by the hypocrites:

    “And when it is said to them, ‘Believe as the people have believed,’ they say, ‘Should we believe as the foolish have believed?’ Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know [it] not.” [Al-Baqarah: 13]

II. Intelligence and sophistication that does not lead one to faith and compliance to the divine revelation is considered blameworthy, not praiseworthy. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (Rahimahullah) said concerning this:

    “A man may be [considered] to be from the most intelligent of the people and the sharpest of them in terms of perception, and Allah blinds him from the most obvious of matters; and a person may be from the most unintelligent of the people and the weakest of them in terms of perception and Allah, by His Will, may guide him to the truth of that which they differ. None has the might nor power except Allah. Whoever solely relies upon his perception, reasoning, intelligence and understanding, will be forsaken. That is why the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam) would frequently say: ‘O changer of hearts, make my heart firm upon your religion.’”[4]

Al-Dhahabi said:

    “May Allah curse intelligence without faith; and may He be pleased with simplicity with piety.”[5]

III. When you understand what the orientalists deem to be intelligence then your amazement at these allegations will cease.

Michael A. Cook et al. (2011, p. 261) said:

    “Ibn Qudamah’s and al-Barbahari’s statements indicate that the Hanbalis stood apart from many other Muslim thinkers in that they viewed ta’wil as illegitimate and integrated this attitude into their legal thinking as a moral liability rather than a moral asset.”[6]

Thus, they consider speculative theology and arbitrary figurative reading of the texts, explaining them contrary to their apparent meanings—even if this pertains to the Names and Attributes of Allah—to be enlightenment, and adherence to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam) to be retrogression.

In addition to the above example, the censure voiced against Barbahari due to him thwarting the spread of the Mu?tazilah and other deviant sects can also be included in this category.

2. That which opposes what Imam al-Barbahari has stated in his own works

GF Haddad, an infamous Sufi and self-proclaimed disciple of Nazim al-Qubrusi[7], wrote:

    “The worst controversy attached to al-Barbahari and his group by far was their anthropomorphist[8] teaching on the bases [sic] of weak narrations attributing limbs to Allah. Ibn al-Athir relates the Caliph al-Radi’s edict against the Hanbalis in the year 323.”[9]

The accusation of anthropomorphism [Tashbih] is a blatant lie, as Imam al-Barbahari said in Sharh al-Sunnah:

    “May Allah have mercy upon you! Know that speculative speech about the Lord, the Most High, is a newly invented matter and is an innovation and misguidance. Nothing is to be said about the Lord except what He, the Mighty and Majestic, described Himself with in the Qur’an and what the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam) explained to his Companions. So, He, the Mighty, is One: "There is nothing like Him and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.”[10]

And he said:
    “No one says about the attributes of the Lord, the Most High, 'Why?' except one who doubts about Allah, the Blessed and Most High.”[11]

The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam) said:
    “If people were given according to their claims, then people would claim the wealth and blood of men.”[12]

Another accusation that the orientalists and the people of innovation labeled against Barbahari was that he was an anarchical agitator, leading a mob of vigilantes who went around meting out punishments to the sinners and heretics without recognition of the jurisdiction of the rulers or the rule of law. Yet again this opposes what this Imam stated in his own words, because recognition of the jurisdiction of the Muslim leaders and the obligation to refer such matters to them is recorded and stressed in Sharh al-Sunnah. This allegation could also be included in the third category from the perspective that Hafiz Ibn Kathir attributed this type of behavior to a body of zealous commoners, who lived during that time, and not to any of the scholars of the Sunnah.[13]

3. That which opposes what the reliable and credible Muslim historians have stated

Zoltan Szombathy (2013) said:
    “One of the most repulsive historical characters of the Buyid period, a certain Hanbalite zealot called al-Barbahari (d. 329/941).”[14]

Michael Cook (2003, p. 103) said:
    “In early tenth century Baghdad, the Hanbalite Barbahari was manifestly a demagogue[15].”[16]

The historian Ibn al-Athir in his book al-Kamil Fi al-Tarikh also transmits some dubious allegations, which many of the orientalists and people of innovation have just parroted, but this appears to be a result of his aversion towards Ahl al-Sunnah and him opposing them as it pertains to certain creedal issues. An indication that Ibn Athir might have been prejudiced on account of some of his own beliefs is that his brother is known to also have Ash?ari inclinations and Shaykh Taqi al-Din al-Hilali criticized him[17] due to his figurative interpretation of some of the attributes of Allah in his book Gharib al-Hadith.

    “Indeed in their stories, there is a lesson for men of understanding. It (the Quran) is not a forged statement but a confirmation of Allah’s existing Books [the Taurah (Torah), the Injil (Gospel) and other Scriptures of Allah] and a detailed explanation of everything and a guide and a Mercy for the people who believe.”

It is clear that some human historical accounts are fabricated and invented, and there are methodical guidelines to identify when this occurs.

An important stipulation is that the historian must be known for his integrity and not allow his religious or political orientation to cause him to lie or be unjust. That is why Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:

    “That is why the testimony of Ahl al-Sunnah upon the other sects of this nation is acceptable, in opposition to the people of innovation and desires like the Khawarij and the Rafidah, because with them is oppression and transgression.”[18]

Abu Muhammad Ibn Hazm said:
    “Know, that falsely attributing a statement to anyone whether it be a non-Muslim, an innovator or someone in error, which he did not explicitly say, is a lie upon him; and it is not allowed to lie on anybody.”[19]

Therefore, these reckless remarks and questionable occurrences are unacceptable and to be rejected outright, as they contradict the version of events documented by credible Islamic historians such as Ibn Kathir, al-Dhahabi and others.

Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir said, when talking about Imam Barbahari:
    “The scholar, the abstainer, the Hanbali jurist, the admonisher…He was stern against the people of innovation; and he was held in high regard by the elite and the masses.”[20]

The renowned scholar and historian, Ibn Kathir has nothing but praise for Imam Barbahari. He acknowledged his virtue and considered his efforts in exposing the heretics of his era a commendable act.


Imam al-Barbahari was upon the methodology and creed of Imam Ahmad and the other Imams of the Salaf, which is based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is the sole reason that a number of Western academics and innovators attempt to vilify al-Barbahari and the Hanbalis in general.

It should be noted that we do not claim infallibility for our scholars, but as Imam al-Tahawi stated:

    “And the early scholars from the first generations and their successors, the people of good and [those who adhere to] the narrations, and the people of understanding and discernment, are only to be mentioned with good [words]. Whoever speaks ill of them is not on the correct path.”[21]

Furthermore, if someone makes a claim, then they must substantiate it with solid evidence, and not rely upon hearsay.

May Allah have mercy upon this noble Imam and all of the scholars of the Sunnah, and may He bless us to walk upon their path and to die upon Islam and the Sunnah.

Hassan Somali 2/3/2016


[1] He is the Imam, Abu Muhammad, Al-Hasan b. ?Ali b. Khalaf al-Barbahari. He was born in the year 252H and died 329H. Al-Sam?ani mentioned in al-Ansab (1/307) that the word Barbahari is an ascription to Barbahar, which is a herbal medicine imported from India. His biography can be found in Siyar A?lam al-Nubala (24/258-260) of al-Dhahabi.

[2] Tirmidhi (no. 1931) and others. Shaykh Albani declared it to be authentic in Sahih Sunan al-Tirmidhi (no. 1931).

[3] Joseph Norment Bell. 1979. Love theory in later Hanbalite Islam. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[4] Dar’ Ta?arud al-?Aql Wa al-Naql (9/34).

[5] Siyar A?lam al-Nubala (14/62).

[6] Cook, M.A. et al. 2011. The Islamic Scholarly Tradition: Studies in History, Law, and Thought. Leiden: Brill.

[7] Nazim al-Qubrusi, the spiritual leader of GF Haddad, claimed in a recorded sitting that the pen is lifted from him and that Allah gave him permission to revile the Salafis and so-called Wahhabis. How can we accept anything from a group of individuals who claim that they have been given divine permission to insult and curse their adversaries?

SunniPureIslam (2011) Nazim Haqqani Al Naqshbandi no longer accountable to Allah. Available at: [Accessed: 3 February 2016].

[8] Ibn Mubarak stated “If a person says to you, ‘O Mushabbih,’ then know that he is a is a Jahmi.” Majmu? al-Fatawá (5/393)

[9] Haddad, G.F. 2002. Some of the Contemporaries and Colleagues of Imam Ahmad [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 3 February 2016].

[10] Sharh al-Sunnah, p. 31-32. Translation of our noble brother, Abu Talhah (Rahimahullaah).

[11] Sharh al-Sunnah, p. 32.

[12] Bukhari (4522) and Muslim (no. 3234). The wording is that of Muslim.

[13 Bidayah (11/157).

[14] Szombathy, Z. 2013. Libertinism in medieval Muslim society and literature. London: Gibb Memorial Trust.

[15] Defined in the Oxford dictionary as: A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

[16] Cook, M. A. 2003. Forbidding wrong in Islam: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[17] Muhammad Taqi al-Din al-Hilali said:
“I used to believe that Ibn al-Athir was Salafi in matters of creed and far from Ta'til (denial of the attributes of Allah) and Tajahhum (the way of the Jahmiyah), as I saw the later scholars who were engaged [in authorship] quote from his book Sharh Gharib al-Hadith. However, when I saw his explanations of the beautiful names of Allah, I found him to be from the wretched Jahmiyah, who deny [the Attributes of Allah].” Sabil al-Rashad (6/269)

[18] Majmu' al-Fatawá (15/298).

[19] Al-Fasl Fi al-Milal (5/33).

[20] Al-Bidayah Wa al-Nihayah (15/137).

[21] Aqidah al-Tahawiyah (p. 30).
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