|During the period under discussion, the Hanbalites adopted an unflinchingly dogmatic stance with regards to matters of belief. They chose to accentuate their differences with other groups and resorted to aggressive means in place of reconciliatory methods. The followers of Ahmad b. Hanbal insisted on the position which asserted that the contents of the Quran and sunnah must be implemented completely and according to their outward sense. In their opinion, any theological investigation or discussion of religious issues was considered as innovation (bid`ah) which was to be thwarted at all cost. Here, the Traditionalists joined forces with Ahmad in combating the theologians and advocating a stance which deemed intellection in religious issues as makruh (reprehensible). They believed any such activity to be a possible source of deviation. They advocated strict adherence to the immediate sense of religious texts, since, in their view, this precluded all possibilities of committing mistakes. They held the use of reason to be a heretical innovation and held up the Quran and sunnah as the sole means of attaining faith.
The Traditionalists, owing to their peculiar views on the subject of divine attributes (sifat; sing. sifat), were the stark examples of the type of tendency whose followers came to be known in Islam as the Sifatiyyah. The Sifatiyyah did not make any distinctions between the attributes of essence (dhat) and the attributes of action (fi`l), and were averse to all interpretation. For instance, they considered the attribution of yadd (hand) to God to imply an actual hand, and went as far as disavowing knowledge of any type since they viewed human knowledge as defective. According to the Sifatiyyah, the Quran is the word of God and the word of God is not created. However, they did deem the articulation of the Quran in letters as being pre-eternal.
Some Traditionalists embraced such extreme positions with regards to the non-essential and accidental attributes of God that they came to be labeled by their adversaries as the Hashwiyyah (Literalists). These Literalists, following in the footsteps of their Sifati forerunners, asserted attributes for God and went so far as ascribing to Him motion, limit, direction, and the like. In other words, they approached a position of anthropomorphism (tajsim). They insisted on their position of tashbih (anthropomorphism) to the point that they not only believed in the beholding a vision of God in the hereafter, but also in the present world. They held the only means of acquiring the knowledge of truth to be through imitation and not intellection, which they deemed as unlawful (haram). To them ta’wil was an interpretation that was to be carried out within the bounds of the outward meaning of the Holy Quran. The followers of this method, whose treatment of the divine attributes in anthropomorphic ways had prompted others to dub them as the Mushabbahah and Mujassamah, had in actuality abandoned any theological or intellectual discussion of the Quran. They held to the view that considered gaining knowledge of things not to be the duty of man, whose only responsibility is absolute obedience to God. Thus, they assumed attributes for God which were similar to those of humans.
The culmination of the above view manifested in the teachings of Ibn Karram (d. 255 AH), the founder of the anthropomorphist sect of Karramiyyah. Ibn Karram viewed God as having body and substance and residing in the heaven. Though this idea first appeared in the middle of the 3rd century, it did not reach its final development until the 4th century AH. The Karramiyyah held views which were diametrically opposed to those of theologians and thus became the source of much conflict and division in the Islamic world. In fact, the Karramiyyah of Khurasan managed to surpass the Hanbalite in their factiousness.
The Traditionalist tendency, which was later called Salafite, persisted among the Hanbalites. However, no figure of lasting significance appeared among them until the first half of the 5th century AH when Qadi Abu `Ali b. Farra’ consolidated the movement through his writings. His views were in essence a reiteration of those of the founder of Hanbalite religion. He often echoes Salafite views and those of hard-line Hanbalites on the divine attributes, the vision of God, the Holy Quran, the Scale (mizan) and the Path (sirat). He also embraced a literalist approach averse to the interpretation of the outward meaning of the text. He considered faith as comprising confession in words, knowledge of heart, and action by limbs (jawarih). He held that a grave sinner was one whose faith was defective. Such a person was deemed by him to be a believer (mu’min) because of his faith, and a profligate (fasiq) because of his commitment of kabirah.
Next in line to Ibn Farra’ was Ibn Jawzi. He was an eminent Hanbalite preacher and teacher who displayed an unflinching opposition to those of different viewpoints, from the Shi`ites and Kharijites, whom he deemed as infidels, to even the Sunnis whose views he found to be in less than complete conformity with those of his own. He considered theological speculation as reprehensible (makruh) and avoided the company of its practitioners. He also proscribed all attempts at a rational comprehension of religious matters.