The adherents of one of the four schools of Islamic law (Arab. madhāhib, sing. madhhab), who played an important role in propagating opposition to Frankish rule in the Levant. Hanbalī scholars served this cause while acting as propagandists of jihad (holy war) in the courts of local rulers, as popular preachers (some of whom joined the army on military campaigns), as authors of religious treatises of various genres, as emissaries to the caliphal court in Baghdad, and, in one case, as a leader of an emigration of villagers from Frankish Outremer to Muslim-ruled territory.
The Hanbalī school struck roots in Syria and Palestine in the eleventh century with the establishment of Hanbalī communities in Damascus, Jerusalem, Harran, Baalbek, and Mt. Nablus. It is considered to have been founded by the Baghdadi Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855), who preached a strict reading of the letter of the law, literal interpretation of theological maxims in the Qur’ân, rigid mores, an ascetic lifestyle, and material independence from rulers. Ibn Hanbal’s followers, especially between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, clashed with Shī‘ites, with adherents of schools of speculative theology (the Mu‘tazila and Ash‘ariyya), and with any individual or group they considered heretic or corrupt. Hanbalīs stood in the forefront of the political-religious movement ofSunnī restoration, initiated in the court of the ‘Abbāsid caliph in face of the Shī‘ite-Buyid occupation of Baghdad in the eleventh century, which was taken up by the Zangid and Ayyûbid rulers of Syria in the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries.