What is a typical course of study for the Hanbali mathab? What books should I read?
In Al-Madkhal Ila Mathab Al-Imam Ahmad, Sheikh `Abd Al-Qadir Ibn Badran suggests the following syllabus:
As for knowing the final word in the mathab, when it comes to smaller book, the preference in Sham is Nail Al-Ma’arib, and Al-Raudh Al-Murbi` in the Gulf. When it comes to larger books, Al-Iqna` and Munataha Al-Iradat and their commentaries are relied upon. Mar`i bin Yusuf has combined the two books in Ghayat Al-Muntaha, in the process reconciling the minor differences between them. Al-`Alama Al-Safarini when upon his death bed told his students: “You must study Al-Iqna` and Al-Muntaha, and whenever they differ you should refer to Ghayat Al-Muntaha.”
At this point someone might as about the place of Ibn Quddama’s Al-Mughni or `Ali Mardawi’s Al-Insaf Fi Ma`rifat Al-Rajih Min Al-Khilaf. The answer is that these books are indispensable in knowing the opinions and evidence in the mathaband in the case of Al-Mughni: other mathabs as well. But the mathab continued developing after these two imams, and later books are used for fatwa.
Allah be pleased with all of these and all other scholars. And may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon His Prophet, family, companions, and Muslims one and all. Amin.