In an interesting book, Wada' ar-Rasul li 'Ummatihi, Shaykh Al-Qahtani recalls the final words that Rasulallah said on his deathbed.
After living a life of Jihad, Da'wah, and Ibadah, Rasulallah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, gathered the people around him on his deathbed and said, "I have left two things that you shall not go astray after them so long as you stick to them: the Book of Allah and My Sunnah."
After Rasulallah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, moved onto Ar-Rafiq al-'Ala, the Ummah was tested with humans that tried to corrupt, discredit, or amputate the Sunnah from Islam.
And from the depths of the Ummah's men and women, Allah ta'ala - from His mercy to the Ummah of Muhammad - raised up warriors that would stand in the face of the most vicious of the enemies of the Sunnah.
From those people that Allah ta'ala raised was a young boy named Ahmad. Ahmad lived in Baghdad over a thousand years ago. On those cold wintery nights, his mother - the blessed Mu'minah that she was - would wake long before Fajr to warm the water for her son. Then - again long before Fajr - she would wake him to make Wudhu, then she would wrap him in shawls and off through the molten dark alleys of Baghdad they would carefully make their way to the Masjid.
There was no male to escort him (he was an orphan), so Ahmad's mother would take him that early so that he could get a good seat in the hadith halaqah after Fajr. Then she would wait for him long after the sun rose to safely escort him back home. Her son grew up to be one of these warrior defenders of the Sunnah, one of the four Imams of this Din, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
In his collection, Al-Musnad alone, he narrated from over 280 teachers.
He grew up under the shade of the Sunnah and he lived the Sunnah. It was reported that he said, "I've never written a hadith that I did not try to implement."
And he raised his children like this too. When you see other fathers throwing a baseball with their young Muslims that Allah entrusted them with, remember this example:
'Abdullah, Imam Ahmad's son, taught his students that when he was young his father would play with him, "Take any chapter you wish from the Musannaf of Waki'. Ask me any hadith and I'll tell you the chain of narrators, or tell me any chain of narrators and I'll tell you the hadith!"
He was challenged in his Din like few other humans have been challenged. His name remains engraved in our admiration till today - across hundreds of years, across thousands of miles, across thousands of nations - because of his love for the Sunnah and his stand against those that would seek to corrupt it.
Reading through his life, I came across an event that brought back sad memories. How do you feel when your father is swore at in public. Imam Ahmad once prayed 'Asr and he sat with his son in the Masjid alone with another man by the name of Muhammad ibn Sa'id al-Khuttali. Al-Khuttali then remarked, "Did you (O Ahmad) tell the people to boycott Zayd ibn Khalaf?" Imam Ahmad replied, "I received a letter from his people asking about his affair, so I replied explaining his Madhhab and what he has innovated (in the Sunnah) and commanded that they not sit with him." Al-Khuttali exploded in Imam Ahmad's face, red with anger, "I'm going to make sure you go back to prison. I'm going to have them crush your ribs." The vulgarity grew louder and louder. Imam Ahmad turned to his son, "Don't reply to what he says and don't speak to him."
Imam Ahmad took his sandals - Al-Khuttali swearing from behind his back - and told his son, "Tell the neighbors to not speak to him nor to reply him." Imam Ahmad stepped away as Al-Khuttali continued in the backround cursing and shouting profanity.
When the Khalifah Al-Mu'tasim heard that Imam Ahmad had not agreed with him and his court Muftis on a specific issue, they brought him and questioned him in the courtyard of the Khalifah. They would debate with him and like a gladiator with a spear he would hit back with bigger and stronger arguments. The Muftis would shout, "O Khalifah, he has done Kufr!" Until the Al-Mu'tasim was convinced and in came the executioners.
They stripped Imam Ahmad and each of the strongest guards would take turns lashing Imam Ahmad until he fell unconscious. Regardless of his state, they continued the lashing. The sun went down that day and Imam Ahmad had not relented in his faith. That day he became an icon for all followers of Sunnah.
Qutaybah said, "If you ever see someone that loves Imam Ahmad, know that they are a follower of the Sunnah."
Al-Hasan ibn Arafah narrated, "I visited Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal after he was whipped and tortured. I said to him, 'O Abu 'Abdillah, you have reached the station of the Prophets!' He said, 'Keep quiet. Verily, I saw nothing more than people selling their Din. And I saw scholars that were with me sell their Faith. So I said to myself, 'Who am I, what am I. What am I going to say to Allah tomorrow when I stand in front of Him and He asks me, 'Did you sell your Din like the others did?' So I looked at the whip and the sword and chose them.' And I said, 'If I die I shall return to Allah and say: 'I was told to say that one of Your Characteristics was something created but I did not.' After that, it will be up to Him - either to punish me or forgive me.' "
Al-Hasan ibn Arafah then asked, "Did you feel pain when they whipped you?" He said, "Yes, I felt the pain up to 20 lashes then I lost all feeling (they whipped him over eighty times). After it was over I felt no pain and that day I prayed Dhuhr standing."
[In fact he prayed as the blood soiled his clothes.]
Al-Hasan ibn Arafah started weeping when he heard what had happened. Imam Ahmad questioned him, "Why are you crying? I did not lose my iman. After that why should I care if I lose my life."
Qul lan yusibana illa ma kataballahu lana, huwa Mowlana, wa ala Allahi falyatawakkalil mutawakkilun.
Before - when Imam Ahmad was being led off to the Khalifah - people had tried to dissuade him from a most certain execution. His student: Al-Marrudhi had told him, "O teacher, Allah says, 'Do not kill yourselves.' " Imam Ahmad had replied, "O Marrudhi, go outside and tell me what you see." Al-Marrudhi went to the wall of the Khalifah's court and saw an ocean of students with their pens and scrolls in their hands.
Al-Marrudhi asked some of them, "What are you waiting here for?" They said, "We are waiting to see what Ahmad will say and then transcribe it." Al-Marrudhi went back to Imam Ahmad and told him what he had seen.
"O Marrudhi," he said, "what shall I gain by misguiding all those people?"
Imam Ahmad lived a life of poverty. When others eat lavishly remember there were days - as 'Abdur-Razzaq recalls - that Imam Ahmad would make a mistake in Salah. When 'Abdur-Razzaq inquired further he learnt that Imam Ahmad had not eaten for 3 days.
In this life of poverty, hardship and trials, 'Abdullah asked his father one day, "Abi when will we ever relax?" His father, one of the greatest revivers of the Sunnah, a role model for all Muslims, looked him in the eye and said, "With the first step we take into Jannah."
Rahimallahu Al-Imam Ahmad.