And by their methodology you shall know them

People used to ask me to give a list of contemporary Hanbali scholars and whether Shaykh so-and-so is really a Hanbali or just some guy dropping names. I usually refused to answer these requests.

When asked this question again a few weeks ago over a plate of apple crisp and coffee, I explained that the more interesting question was how, in light of questionable claims, one could determine whether someone represents authentic Hanbali teachings. In simpler terms: a filter that only lets Hanbalis through.

The way we can tell whether someone represents a particular school is by comparing their legal methodology to the legal methodology of the school they claim to follow.

Each school has its own ideas about what evidence is useable, how individual pieces get interpreted, and how it fits together. Each school also has a set of issues that are not open to further interpretation. So this goes beyond simple usul al-fiqh since a researcher would also need to investigate how the person handles the school’s history. In the end: it’s more about principles than it is products.

Applied to the Hanbali school: someone who rejects the use of weak reports or legal analogy, or diverts from Imam Ahmad’s singular or explicit opinion on an issue (nass `alayhifi-hi riwayah wahidah), doesn’t sound like much of a Hanbali.

And as always: Allah Most High knows best.

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