There will come a time where you will have to stand up to the truth even if everyone opposes you, just like Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal:
The muslim ummah used to be one community [united in their aqeedah] and their religion was upright during the reign of Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq and ‘Umar al-Faaruuq. When ‘Umar was martyred the door that prevented fitnah was broken, just as the Prophet had foretold it would be. It was then that evil started to appear and disunity appeared [amongst the muslims] and sects that declared the majority of the companions of the Messenger of Allah as disbelievers became apparent.
Until the Khaleefah al-Ma’muun came to power, he was a man of great intellect and great elquance, ordering the books of ancient Greece to be translated into arabic [i.e philosophy books] and a group amongst the Mu’tazilah [this is a deviant group] started influencing the Khaleefah and diverted him from truth to falsehood. And they made the idea of the Qur’aan being created [as opposed to the correct idea that the Qur’aan is the word of Allah and not created] look beautiful to him and they also started denying some of the names and attributes of Allah.
This in turn resulted in the fact that the Khaleefah orded the entire muslim Ummah to adopt these [deviant] ideas and he put the scholars under a [great] test. Even though all the leaders before him had been upon the guidance of the salaf and their manhaj.
Then he went out for Jihaad towards Rome and wrote to his men in Baghdaad to call people towards the idea of the creation of the Qur’aan, this was only a few months before his death. When his order reached Baghdaad the scholars of hadeeth were brought together and were told to accept that the Qur’aan was created but they refused.
So most of them were beaten severly and their income was cut off which led to many of them reluctantly accepting [i.e they were forced]. But Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal and Imaam Muhammad bin Nuuh both continued to refuse, they were then carried together on one donkey to the Khaleefah but on their way they got the news of his demise.
Al-Mu’tasim took over the leadership but Muhammad bin Nuuh passed away during the journey towards the new Khaleefah. Ahmad bin Hanbal offered the funeral prayer and then buried him. When they reached Baghdaad Imaam Ahmad was put into prison for about 30 months.
Afterwards the Khaleefah brought Ahmad out to debate with the leaders of the Mu’tazilah.
‘Abdur-Rahmaan bin Is-haaq [their leader] said to Ahmad ‘What do you say regarding the Qur’aan’? And Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal replied ‘The Qur’aan is from the knowledge of Allah, whoever assumes that the knowledge of Allah is created then he has left Islaam’ Where upon they [the Mu’tazilah] said ‘O leader of the believers he has called you a disbeliever and called us disbelievers!’
But the Khaleefah did not pay attention to them. And their debate went on for a very long time until al-Mu’tasim said ‘Woe to you O Ahmad! What is it you say!’ And Ahmad replied ‘O leader of the believers, give me something from the Book of Allah or a hadith from the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah so I can say [what you say] Ahmad bin Abee Dawuud [amongst the Mu’tazilah] said ‘And you do not speak except by these two things?’ [trying to ridicule the Imaam] So Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal said ‘And what is Islaam other then the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger?’
Ahmad bin Hanbal was brought out the next day for more debating and even for a third day and every day he was brought out to debate he won because these people had no knowledge of hadeeth instead they started denying the hadeeth of the Messenger of Allah. Throughout the debating the Khaleefah appeared soft towards Imaam Ahmad and said ‘O Ahmad, answer me regarding this [i.e say as we say] then I will make you amongst my closest people and I will free you of your chains with my own hands!’ Ahmad bin Hanbal replied ‘O leader of the believers give me a verse from the Book of Allah or a hadith from the Messenger of Allah so I can answer you [i.e say as you say]
Al-Mu’tasim wanted to free Ahmad at that point but then Is-haaq bin Ibraaheem [from amongst the Mu’tazilah] said ‘O leader of the believers, it is not wise for you to let Ahmad go and have him as an opponent’ This increased al-Mu’tasim in anger and he said ‘Seize him! [i.e Ahmad bin Hanbal] Drag him! Whip him!’ So two men where brought to whip the Imaam, one of them whipped him twice and the Khaleefah said ‘Tighten your grib, may Allah cut your hand off!’ [i.e hit harder] and the two men took turns in beating the Imaam until he fainted and became unconscious. This made the Khaleefah scared and ordered for his release [back to his family], in total Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal was whipped around about thirty times, but they were very severe whippings.
When the Imaam returned to his house a doctor came to see him and he started to treat him, cutting off the dead flesh from his body. When he was cured he forgave everyone for the ordeal except the deviants [i.e the leaders amongst the Mu’tazilah] and he used to recite the verse:
وَلْيَعْفُوا وَلْيَصْفَحُوا أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“but let them pardon and forbear. [For,] do you not desire that God should forgive you your sins, Verily God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace”
But he was put under house arrest and prevented from teaching hadeeth.
This carried on until al-Mu’tasim finally passed away and his son al-Waathiq took over the leadership. Yet al-Waathiq was even more severe then his father and the fitnah intensified upon the people of Baghdaad. And he sent a letter to Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal ‘Do not live in the same land nor city as me’ the Imaam then went into hidding.
When al-Waathiq passed away al-Mutawakil ‘ala Allah took over the leadership over the muslims and the people rejoiced for al-Mutawakil loved the Sunnah and its people and under his reign the fitnah finally stopped. He even sent a command across all the muslim lands ‘Let no one say that the Qur’aan was created’
Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal only lived a short while after this and passed away the year 241 AH.
May Allah have immense Mercy upon our beloved Imaam.
[Translation from: Duruus fil Qiraa-ah by Dr. F. Abdur-Rahmaan and Shaykh Ahmad ar-Raashid al-Ruhayli]