What is a Mursal hadith?

Mursal hadith

The Linguistic meaning: Something that has been set free, released or loosened.

Technical meaning: It is a hadith with a broken link in its chain of narration at the level of a companion. A follower (Taabi’ee) reported it directly from the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi was sallam).

Ruling of a Mursal Hadith: The scholars have differed over its ruling since this type of break in the Isnaad is unlike any other, since it will usually be a Companion and all of them are perfectly acceptable and so it does not matter that we do not know who he is.

Imam Muslim said, “The Mursal narrations according to me and the saying of the people of knowledge is that it is not evidence.”[1]

To be precise in this issue, let us investigate in detail the various opinions regarding the Mursal Hadith:

1) Imam Malik: Imam Malik’s opinion and all Maliki jurists opinions is that the Mursal of a trustworthy person is valid as proof and as justification for a practice, just like a Musnad hadith.13 This view has been developed to such an extreme that to some of them, the Mursal is even better than the Musnad, based on the following reasoning: “The one who reports a Musnad hadith leaves you with the names of the reporters for further investigation and scrutiny, whereas the one who narrates by way of Irsal, being a knowledgeable and trustworthy person himself, has already done so and found the hadith to be sound. In fact, he saves you from further research.”

2) Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 150): Held the same opinion as Malik; he accepts the Mursal Hadith whether or not it is supported by another hadith.[2]

3) Imam al-Shafi’i (d. 204): Has discussed this issue in detail in his al-Risalah he requires the following conditions to be met before accepting a Mursal hadith:

  1. a) In the narrative, he requires that one of the following conditions be met: that it be reported also as Musnad through another Isnaad; that its contents be reported as Mursal through another reliable source with a different Isnaad; that the meaning be supported by the sayings of some Companions; or that most scholars hold the same opinion as conveyed by the Mursal hadith.
  2. b) Regarding the narrator, he requires that one of the following conditions be met: that he be an elder Successor; that if he names the person missing in the Isnaad elsewhere, he does not usually name an unknown person or someone not suitable for reporting from acceptably; or that he does not contradict a reliable person when he happens to share with him in a narration.

On the basis of these arguments, al-Shafi’i accepts the Mursal narrations of Sa’id bin al-Musayyab, one of the elder Successors. For example, al- Shafi’i considers the issue of selling meat in exchange for a living animal: he says that Malik told him, reporting from Zaid b. Aslam, who reported from Ibn al-Musayyab that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) forbade the selling of meat in exchange for an animal. He then says, “This is our opinion, for the Irsal of Ibn al-Musayyab is fine.”[3]

4) Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241): Accepts Mursal and (other) Da’eef (weak) ahadith if nothing opposing them is found regarding a particular issue, preferring them to Qiyas (analogical deduction). By Da’eef here is meant ahadith which are not severely weak, e.g. batil, Munkar, or Maudu’, since Imam Ahmad classified ahadith into Sahih and Da’eef rather than into Sahih, Hasan and Da’eef, the preference of later Muhadditheen. Hence, the category Da’eef in his view applied to ahadith which were relatively close to being Sahih, and included many ahadith which were classed as Hasan by other scholars.18 Overlooking this fact has caused misunderstanding about Imam Ahmad’s view on the place of Da’eef ahadith in rulings of Fiqh and in matters of Fada’il al-A’mal (virtues of various acts of worship).

5) Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728): Classifies Mursal into three categories. He says, “There are some acceptable, others unacceptable, and some which require further investigation: If it is known that the reporter does so (i.e. narrates by Irsal) from reliable authorities, then his report will be accepted; if he does so from both classes of authorities, i.e. reliable and unreliable, we shall not accept his narration (on its own, without further investigation), for he is narrating from someone whose reliability is unknown; all such Mursal ahadith which go against the reports made by reliable authorities will be rejected completely.”[4]

Mursal narrations from the Sahabahs: What is correct that it is Sahih and is used as proof, since the companions rarely narrate from the Tabi’een and if they did they would say so. And if they do not say anything then they will be narrating from another companion and all of them are absolutely acceptable.

Therefore there are basically three sayings as regards the ruling of the Mursal:

1) Da’eef

2) Sahih, used as a proof

3) Acceptable with conditions

Ranks of Mursal Hadith:

1) Highest type of Mursal is a narration from a Sahabi who heard from the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi was sallam)

2) Then a Sahabi who only saw the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi was sallam) but not he from him

3) Then Muhkadram

4) Then the Mutqin (Precise narrator), such as Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyab

5) The narrator who use to carefully select his sheikh

6) Then the Mursal narrations of those who use to narrate from anyone

7) Mursal narrations from the younger Tabi’een

[1] Muqaddimah Sahih Muslim (1/24)

[2] As- Suyuti, 1:198.

[3] For the discussion in detail, see al-Shafi’i, al-Risalah (ed. Ahmad Shakir, Cairo, 1358/1940, pp. 461-470; English translation: M. Khadduri, 2nd ed., Islamic Texts Society Cambridge, 1987, pp. 279-284, where the mursal hadith has been translated as “interrupted tradition”).

[4] Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah an-Nabawiyyah fi Naqd Kalam al-Shi’ah wa ‘l-Qadariyyah (al- Maktabah al-Amiriyyah, Bulaq, 1322), 4:117.

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