What follows is a curriculum for training in the Hanbali madhab based on my own experience and consultation with scholars in Arabia. Whilst there are a number of books to choose from, the following provides the best overview of the madhab, in my view.
Dalil al-Talib by Mar’i b. Yusuf (d.1033)
This text is still taught in mosques in Saudi Arabia, and students refer to Manar al-Sabil for evidences alongside Irwa’ al-Ghalil for takhrij by al-Albani. It is very clear and has quite a bit of detail not found in other books of a similar size. There is an easy audio commentary available online by Muhammad Ba-Jabir. This should be one’s starting place.
Zad al-Mustaqni’ by al-Hijjawi (d.968)
This splendid text is still widely taught here in Saudi Arabia and is based on al-Muqni’ by Ibn Qudamah. There is an easy audio commentary available online by Muhammad Ba-Jabir. Zad al-Mustaqni’ should be studied with al-Rawdh al-Murbi’ by Imam Mansur al-Bahuti (d.1051) whilst referring to the relatively recent (but excellent) hashiyat Ibn al-Qasim. Ibn ‘Uthaymin also has a brief hashiyah on it too. Recent commentaries have been written based on recorded audio classes conducted in Saudi Arabia by Ibn ‘Uthaymin and Muhammad Mukhtar al-Shanqiti, which are excellent, but do not reach the level of learning of al-Bahuti – the undisputed Imam of the Hanbalis of his time and a shaykh at al-Azhar in its golden age.
Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat by al-Bahuti (d.1051)
This is most likely the last book covered by students cover to cover with a teacher in private classes. It is a clear commentary on Ibn al-Najjar’s Muntaha al-Iradat, which clarifies the mu’tamad in the madhab, and has an ample amount of what a student needs. Traditionally, it was a reference for fatawa and one still finds it referenced in contemporary rulings.
al-Mughni by Ibn Qudama (d.620)
Al-Mughni is not really covered with a teacher anymore and is more of a personal reference. I have listed it as the last book here to cover for the standing that it has and the great benefit that studying it brings. Al-Mughni is Ibn Qudamah’s commentary on Mukhtasar al-Khiraqi, which is itself based upon the work of al-Khallal, the most active second generation Hanbali. Al-Khallal collected Imam Ahmad’s responses to legal questions from his immediate students in one book. This was then abridged by al-Khiraqi and commented upon by Ibn Qudamah in the suitably named al-Mughni (the Enricher). It was the final book in a curriculum designed by Ibn Qudamah to take one from beginner to master jurist, and has proved to be very popular among scholars of other madhabs, particularly the Shafi’is, of whom Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, al-Dhahabi, and al-Nawawi among others, held in in high regard. This book is not the final word in the madhab, but it does train one in fiqh in a way that other books do not.
There are a number of reference works which any Hanbali should have, however the following are perhaps the most essential.
Kashf al-Qina’ by al-Bahuti (d.1051) is the go to place for finding the mu’tamad position in the madhab.
al-Furu’ wa al-Tashih by Ibn Muflih (d.763) is a refreshing and influential approach to determining the soundest views.
al-Adab al-Shari’ah also by Ibn al-Muflih is an excellent book on contextualising fiqh
al-Insaf fi Ma’rifat al-Rajih min al-Ikhtilaf by al-Mardawi (d.885) is the encyclopedia of internal Hanbali differences, with the strongest view being highlighted.