The Successor of the great Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid became his second son al-Ma’mun, who reigned from 813 to 833. Al-Ma’mun was educated and much interested in knowledge. Whether for political reasons or not, as a caliph he was affected by a heretic group known as Mu‘tazilites.
Among many heretic views that Mu‘tazilites adopted was also the doctrine with regard to the nature of the Quran. While up until that time all Muslims believed that the Quran was the verbatim speech of Allah and His attribute, Mu‘tazilites, though a very small group, started to believe that the Quran is a creation of Allah. Even though it seems a technical or trivial disagreement, the consequences of this wrong view were very serious. Believing that the Quran is a creation of God as opposed to His word, this makes it susceptible to imperfection, changes, and alter.
The situation became even more serious when Al-Mam’un – the caliph himself, adopted this view and started in 827 to impose it on all Muslims. Thus, he started a campaign of persecution, executions, imprisonment and torture. Scholars were imposed by the caliph to adopt the doctrine of the createdness of the Quran. This inquisition was known as Mihna.
Among all scholars, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, the great scholar of hadith, the founder of Hanbali school of jurisprudence and with an undisputed scholarly reputation, stood his ground. He was threatened, imprisoned, tortured and whipped to death, but nothing could change his mind unless the caliph would back up his claim with evidence from the Quran or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Imam Ahmad had so many followers during that time to the extent that if he wanted to lead a revolt against the caliph, he could have done so, and perhaps he could have come politically triumphant out of that. However, he was a very peaceful person. He did not have any personal problems with the government. He simply valued the truth more than anything else.
The story of Imam Ahmad is one of the stories and biographies that has not only amazed me, but it has been the most inspiring one to me. He was a great scholar, but also he was a very wise man. He knew very well how dangerous governments are and what makes people give in and accept the terms of the power. For this reason, he preferred to live a poor life and never accept money from the government. Even when the inquisition ended and Imam Ahmad emerged victorious and his fame reached the whole Muslim Ummah, the other caliphs wanted to reward him financially, but he never accepted any money.
In my view, the story of Imam Ahmad should serve as a model for Muslims today who not only receive money from governments without even thinking what the consequences are, but there are Muslims who have become spies of governments, who are ready to do everything for money, even harming people.
Mercy be upon this great man!