Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (رحمه الله)
By Abu 'Aaminah
Ibn Taymiyyah states [Majmū ‘l-Fatāwā 3/227-229]:
“People know there was alienation and animosity between the Hanbalīs and the Asharīs. I was of those who strived to reconcile the Muslims’ hearts and unify them, in emulation of the command to hold fast to Allāh’s Rope. I removed most of the alienation that existed in the hearts. I clarified that al-Asharī was one of the most noble of the speculative theologians (Mutakallimūn) to ascribe to Imām Ahmad, may Allāh have mercy on him, and those like him who support his way, as al-Asharī himself mentions in his books.
It is as Abū Ishāq al-Shīrāzī said, “The Asharīs only gained credence among people because of their attribution to the Hanbalīs”, and the early Imāms of the Hanbalīs – such as Abū Bakr Abd ‘l-Azīz, Abū ‘l-Hasan al-Tamīmī and their likes – mention his statements in their books. In fact, his status among the early [Hanbalīs] was like that of Ibn Aqīl among the later ones, except that Ibn Aqīl has a distinct status in knowledge of law (Fiqh) and its fundamentals (Usūl).
As for al-Asharī, he is closer to the fundamentals of Ahmad than Ibn Aqīl and follows them more closely, for the closer a person is to the predecessors (Salaf), the greater his knowledge will be of the rational and textual [sciences].
I would clarify this to the Hanbalīs and explain to them that al-Asharī, although he was a student of the Mutazilīs – he was the student of al-Jubbā’ī – he repented and inclined to the method of Ibn Kullāb. He then learned the fundamentals of prophetic tradition (Usūl ‘l-Hadīth) in Basra from Zakariyyā al-Sājī. Then, when he came to Baghdad, he learned other things from the Hanbalīs of Baghdad. This was his final state as he and his companions mention in their books.Likewise, Ibn Aqīl had been a student of the two Mutazilīs, Ibn ‘l-Walīd and Ibn ‘l-Tabbān. He then repented from that. His penance in the presence of al-Sharīf Abū Jafar is well known.
As thus, just as there are those among the followers of Ahmad who hate Ibn Aqīl and condemn him, those who condemn al-Asharī are not limited to the followers of Ahmad; rather, such people can be found in all groups.
And when I publicised the words of al-Asharī and the Hanbalīs saw it, they said, “This is better than the words of Shaykh al-Muwaffaq [Ibn Qudāmah]!” The Muslims rejoiced at the unification of the ranks.
I publicized what Ibn Asākir stated in his virtues (Manāqib) [of al-Ash’arī] that “the Hanbalīs and the Asharīs were united until the time of al-Qushayrī”, for when the [well-known] controversy (Fitnah) took place in Baghdad [at the time of al-Qushayrī], it caused disunity, and it is known that every group has followers who are [both] upright and astray.”