In al-Siyar (11/238), al-Dhahabi reports from Abu Ja’far al-Anbaari:
When Ahmad was taken to al-Ma’moon, I was told about it, so I crossed the Euphrates and found him sitting in an inn, where I greeted him. He said, “O Abu Ja’far, why did you go to the trouble (of coming here)” I said, “Listen to me, today you are the leader and the people are following you. By Allaah, if you accept that the Qur’aan is created, a lot of people will go along with that, but if you do not, then neither will they. Even if this man (al-Ma’moon) does not kill you, you will still die, because death is inevitable, so fear Allaah, and do not go along with (al-Ma’moon)? Ahmad began to weep and said, “Ma sha Allaah” Then he said, “O Abu Ja’far, say it again,’ so I said it again, and he kept saying, “Ma sha Allaah.”
With regard to his being taken to al-Ma’moon, Imaam Ahmad said: “We reached al-Rahbah at midnight, and a man came to us and said, “Which of you is Ahmad ibn Hanbal” He was told, “This man.” He said to the camel-driver, ‘Slow down.’ Then he said, “Listen to me, why should you worry if you get killed here and go to Paradise” Then he said, “May Allaah be with you,” and left. I asked about him and I was told, “He is an Arab from the tribe of Rabee’ah who deals with wool in the desert. He is called Jaabir ibn ‘Aamir, and they say good things about him.” (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 11/241).
In al-Bidaayah wa’l-Nihaayah, it says that a Bedouin said to Imaam Ahmad: “Listen to me, you are a representative of the people, so do not be bad news for them. You are the leader of the people today, so beware of doing what they are asking you to do, lest you bear their sins on the Day of Resurrection. If you love Allaah, then bear this with patience, for the only thing standing between you and Paradise is your being killed.” Imaam Ahmad said: “His words strengthened my resolve not to do what they were asking me to do.” (Al-Bidaayah wa’l-Nihaayah, 1/332).
It was reported that Imaam Ahmad said: “I never heard any stronger words at that time than what a Bedouin said to me at Rahbat Tawq, a village between al- Raqqah and Baghdaad on the banks of the Euphrates. He said, “O Ahmad, if they kill you for the truth, you will be a shaheed (martyr), and if you live, you will be praised.” And so my heart grew strong.” (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 11/241).
Imaam Ahmad said of the young man Muhammad ibn Nooh, who accompanied him at that time of trial: “Even though he was so young, he had such great knowledge, and I never saw anyone who adhered more firmly to the command of Allaah than Muhammad ibn Nooh, and I hope that his end was good.
He said to me one day, “O Abu ‘Abd-Allaah, you are not like me. You are a man whom people follow, and they are straining their necks to see what you will do, so fear Allaah and adhere to His commands.? Then he died, and I prayed the janaazah (funeral) prayer for him and buried him.” (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 11/242)
Even his fellow-prisoners, whom Imaam Ahmad used to lead in prayer in chains, had a role to play in helping him to stand firm. One day when he was in prison, Imaam Ahmad said, “I don’t care about being in prison ? it is no different from my home ? or about being killed by the sword, but I am afraid of the trial of being whipped.? One of the other prisoners heard him and said, “Don’t worry, O Abu ‘Abd-Allaah, it is only two lashes of the whip, then you don’t feel where the rest fall.” It was as if this reassured him and calmed him down. (Siyar A?laam al-Nubala?, 11/240)
Al-Ma’mun adopted this belief, and came to torture Ahmad bin Hambal, so that he would do the same. al-Ma’mun died, al-Mu’tasim continued in torturing him, and he took a stand for Allah – the Mighty and Exalted – in which he honored this religion. Eighteen years, and three rulers who tortured him so that he would accept and endorse the belief of the Qur’an being created, but, he refused. Then came al-Wathiq, who reversed all that had happened in terms of the affair of the creation of the Qur’an. He wanted to honor Ahmad bin Hambal publicly, but, Imam Ahmad refused. So, he sent for his sons and showered them with gifts, which they accepted. When Ahmad bin Hambal learned that his sons had accepted the gifts of al-Wathiq, he built a wall between his home and theirs, boycotting them.
One day, Ahmad bin Hambal became sick. So, his doctor instructed him to roast a ear of corn in the oven and eat it. So, he bought the corn, and asked that it be roasted. So, it was taken to the oven of his uncle, Salih. When it was brought back to Ahmad, he asked: “Where did you roast it?” They said: “In the oven of your uncle, Salih.” He said: “I will not even taste it, as his wealth has been mixed with the gifts of the ruler.”
As a result, it got to the point that even the jinn would fear him!
A crazed girl was brought to al-Wathiq, so, he said: “Send her to Ahmad bin Hambal.” When she was brought to Ahmad, they asked him: “Please cure this crazed girl for us!” So, he began to speak to the jinni that had possessed this girl, saying: “Get out of this girl! Get out of this girl!” But, it didn’t come out. He continued, saying: “Get out, or I’ll – and Ahmad began to threaten the jinni – ” and the jinni came out, saying: “O Ahmad! You feared Allah, so, everything is afraid of you! You feared Allah, so, everything is afraid of you!”
The jinni waited until Ahmad bin Hambal eventually died, and it returned to possess the girl once again. So, they brought the girl to a shaykh – who, as it was said, is more like us than Ahmad bin Hambal – and he began to speak to the jinni, saying: “Get out, or I’ll…” Suddenly, the jinni began to laugh, saying: “Ahmad bin Hambal has died; Ahmad bin Hambal has died…””
“Abstain from the dunya, and Allah will Love you. Abstain from what is with the people, and the people will love you.”
[‘Fi Dhilal Surat at-Tawbah’; p. 195-196]