The jurisprudence school was started by the students of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. Despite being noted as exceptional jurist, Imam Ahmad detested that his opinions be written and compiled, fearing that it may swerve his students away from studying the sources of Law, the Quran and the Sunnah. Imam Ahmad sought to employ exceptional caution while formulating juristic opinions and issuing verdicts. This approach of prudence is demonstrated in the thought process applied by Ahmad in extrapolation of laws from the divine sources, which is as follows:
- Divine text (the Quran and the Sunnah) was the first point of reference for all scholars of jurisprudence, and in this, Ahmad was not an exception.
- Verdicts issued by the companions were resorted to when no textual evidence was found in the Quran or the Sunnah. Imam Ahmad, would likewise, never give precedence to a scholarly opinion or analogical deduction (Qiyas) over that of the Companions’, to the extent that if they were divided into two camps over an issue, two different narrations would similarly be documented from Imam Ahmad.
- In a case where the companions differed, he preferred the opinion supported by the divine texts (the Quran and the Sunnah).
- In instances where none of the above was applicable, Ahmad would resort to the mursal Hadith, with a link missing between the Successor and Muhammad or a weak hadith. However, the type of weak Hadith that Ahmad relied on was such that it may be regarded as fair hadith due to other evidences (Hasan li Ghairihi), not the type that is deemed very weak and thus unsuitable as an evidence for Law. This was due to the fact that, during his time, the Hadith was only categorised into ‘sound’ (sahih) and ‘weak’ (da’if). It was only after Ahmad, that al-Tirmidhi introduced a third category of ‘fair’ (hasan).
- Only after having exhausted the aforementioned sources would Imam Ahmad employ analogical deduction (Qiyas) due to necessity, and with utmost care.