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Ibn Hanbal and al-Muhāsibī: A Study of Early Conflicting Scholarly Methodologies

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Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal's repudiation of al-Hārit b. Asad al-Muhāsibī has long been noted by a number of contemporary works and of these, the contributions of Smith, van Ess, Abū Ġudda, al-Quwatlī, Melchert and al-Barr have all been productive. Most of these works, however, provide no more than a general overview of this dispute and there is a consensus of sorts—as many classical works would also suggest—that the reason for Ibn Hanbal's rejection of al-Muhāsibī was based on the latter's utilisation of scholastic theology (kalām). Although this appraisal may well be true, the exact nature of Ibn Hanbal's denunciation of al-Muhāsibī is far from straightforward. Indeed, upon a thorough examination of classical Arabic sources a variety of other possibilities emerge. Therefore, it is the goal of this article to examine such works to reconstruct the nature of the debate surrounding the dispute between these two renowned personalities of Islam's formative period and discuss the possible reasons behind the conflict that existed between them, so as to shed further light upon the historical and intellectual development of the early Muslim, scholarly community as a whole.

Affiliations: 1: American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


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