The Classification Of Hadith: According To The Links In The isnad


Al-Hakim defines a Musnad (“supported”) hadith as follows: “A hadith which a traditionist reports from his shaikh from whom he is known to have heard (ahadith) at a time of life suitable for learning, and similarly in turn for each shaikh, until the isnad reaches a well- known Companion, who in turn reports from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).”8

By this definition, an ordinary Muttasil hadith (i.e. one with an uninterrupted isnad) is excluded if it goes back only to a Companion or Successor, as is a Marfu` hadith which has an interrupted isnad.

Al-Hakim gives the following example of a Musnad hadith: We reported from Abu `Amr `Uthman b. Ahmad al-Sammak al-Baghdadi === Al-Hasan b. Mukarram === `Uthman b. `Amr === Yunus — al-Zuhri — `Abdullah b. Ka`b b. Malik — his father, who asked Ibn Abi Hadrad for payment of a debt he owed to him, in the mosque. During the ensuing argument, their voices were raised until heard by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), who eventually lifted the curtain of his apartment and said, “O Ka`b! Write off a part of your debt” – he meant remission of half of it. So he agreed, and the man paid him.

He then remarks,

“Now, my hearing from Ibn al-Simak is well- known, as is his from Ibn Mukarram; al- Hasan’s link with `Uthman b. `Amr and the latter’s with Yunus b. Zaid are known as well; Yunus is always remembered with al-Zuhri, and the latter with the sons of Ka`b b. Malik, whose link to their father and his companionship of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) are well-established.”9

The term Musnad is also applied to those collections of ahadith which give the ahadith of each Companion separately. Among the early compilers of such a Musnad were Yahya b. `Abd al-Hamid al-Himmani (d. 228) at Kufah and Musaddad b. Musarhad (d. 228) at Basrah. The largest existing collection of ahadith of Companions arranged in this manner is that of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241), which contains around thirty thousand ahadith. Another larger work is attributed to the famous Andalusian traditionist Baqi b. Makhlad al-Qurtubi (d. 276), but unfortunately it is now untraceable.

Mursal, Munqati`, Mu`dal, & Mu`allaq

If the link between the Successor and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is missing, the hadith is Mursal (“hurried”), e.g. when a Successor says, “The Prophet said …”.

However, if a link anywhere before the Successor (i.e. closer to the traditionist recording the hadith) is missing, the hadith is Munqati` (“broken”). This applies even if there is an apparent link, e.g., an isnad seems to be Muttasil (“continuous”) but one of the reporters is known to have never heard ahadith from his immediate authority, even though he may be his contemporary. The term Munqati` is also applied by some scholars to a narration such as where a reporter says, “a man narrated to me …”, without naming this authority.10

If the number of consecutive missing reporters in the isnad exceeds one, the isnad is Mu`dal (“perplexing”). If the reporter omits the whole isnad and quotes the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, directly (i.e., the link is missing at the beginning, unlike the case with a Mursal isnad), the hadith is called Mu`allaq (“hanging”) – sometimes it is known as balaghah (“to reach”); for example, Imam Malik sometimes says in Al-Muwatta’, “It reached me that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said …”

Example of a Munqati`hadith

Al-Hakim reported from Muhammad b. Mus`ab === al-Auza’i — Shaddad Abu ‘Ammar — Umm al-Fadl bint al-Harith, who said: I came to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said, “I have seen in a vision last night as if a part of your body was cut out and placed in my lap.” He said, “You have seen something good. Allah Willing, Fatimah will give birth to a lad who will be in your lap.” After that, Fatimah gave birth to al-Husain, who used to be in my lap, in accordance with the statement of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). One day, I came to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and placed al-Husain in his lap. I noticed that both his eyes were shedding tears. He said, “Jibril came to me and told me that my Ummah will kill this son of mine, and he brought me some of the reddish dust of that place (where he will be killed).”

Al-Hakim said, “This is a Sahih hadith according to the conditions of the Two Shaykhs (i.e. al-Bukhari & Muslim), but they did not collect it.” Al-Dhahabi says, “No, the hadith is Munqati` and Da`if, because Shaddad never met Umm al-Fadl and Muhammad b. Mus`ab is weak.”11

Example of a Mu`dalhadith

Ibn Abi Hatim === Ja`far b. Ahmad b. al-Hakam al-Qurashi in the year 254 === Sulaiman b. Mansur b. ‘Ammar === `Ali b. `Asim — Sa`id — Qatadah — Ubayy b. Ka`b, who reported that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “After Adam had tasted from the tree, he ran away, but the tree caught his hair. It was proclaimed: O Adam! Are you running away from Me? He said: No, but I feel ashamed before You. He said: O Adam! Go away from My neighbourhood, for By My Honour, no-one who disobeys Me can live here near Me; even if I were to create people like you numbering enough to fill the earth and they were to disobey Me, I would make them live in a home of sinners.”

Ibn Kathir remarks, “This is a Gharib hadith. There is inqita’, in fact i’dal, between Qatadah and Ubayy b. Ka`b, may Allah be pleased with them both.”12

Authenticity of the Mursalhadith

There has been a great deal of discussion amongst the scholars regarding the authenticity of the Mursal hadith (pl. Marasil), since it is quite probable that a Successor might have omitted two names, those of an elder Successor and a Companion, rather than just one name, that of a Companion.

If the Successor is known to have omitted the name of a Companion only, then the hadith is held to be authentic, for a Successor can only report from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) through a Companion; the omission of the name of the Companion does not affect the authenticity of the isnad since all Companions are held to be trustworthy and reliable, by both Qur’anic injunctions and sayings of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).

However, opinions vary in the case where the Successor might have omitted the names of two authorities (since not all the Successors were reliable in matters of Hadith). For example, two widely-differing positions on this issue are:

  1. the Marasil of elder Successors such as Sa`id b. al-Musayyab (d. 94) and `Ata’ b. Abi Rabah (d. 114) are acceptable because all their Marasil, after investigation, are found to come through the Companions only. However, the Marasil of younger Successors are only acceptable if the names of their immediate authorities are known through other sources; if not, they are rejected outright.
  2. the Marasil of Successors and those who report from them are acceptable without any investigation at all. This opinion is supported by the Kufi school of traditionists, but is severely attacked by the majority.

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

  1. The opinion held by Imam Malik and all Maliki jurists 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.”14
  2. Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 150) holds the same opinion as Malik; he accepts the Mursal Hadith whether or not it is supported by another hadith.15
  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. In the narrative, he requires that one of the following conditions be met: that it be reported also as Musnad through another isnad; that its contents be reported as Mursal through another reliable source with a different isnad; 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. 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 isnad 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.16On the basis of these arguments, al-Shafi`i accepts the Irsal of Sa`id b. 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-Musayyib is fine.”17
  4. Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241) accepts Mursal and (other) Da`if (weak) ahadith if nothing opposing them is found regarding a particular issue, preferring them to qiyas (analogical deduction). By Da`if here is meant ahadith which are not severely weak, e.g., BatilMunkar, or Maudu`, since Imam Ahmad classified ahadith into Sahih and Da`if rather than into SahihHasan and Da`if, the preference of most later traditionists. Hence, the category Da`if 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`if ahadith in rulings of Fiqh and in matters of Fada’il al-A’mal (virtues of various acts of worship).
  5. Ibn Hazm (d. 456) rejects the Mursal hadith outright; he says that the Mursal is unacceptable, whether it comes through Sa`id b. al-Musayyib or al-Hasan al-Basri. To him, even the Mursal which comes through someone who was not well-known to be amongst the Companions would be unacceptable.19
  6. Abu Dawud (d. 275) accepts the Mursal under two conditions: that no Musnad hadith is found regarding that issue; or that if a Musnad hadith is found, it is not contradicted by the Mursal hadith.20
  7. Ibn Abi Hatim (d. 327) does not give a specific opinion about the Mursal hadith. However, he did collect an anthology of 469 reporters of hadith, including four female reporters, whose narratives were subjected to criticism due to Irsal. This collection is known as Kitab al-Marasil.
  8. Al-Hakim (d. 405) is extremely reluctant to accept the Mursal hadith except in the case of elder Successors. He holds, on the basis of the Qur’an, that knowledge is based on what is heard (directly), not on what is reported (indirectly). In this regard, he quotes Yazid b. Harun who asked Hammad b. Laith: “O Abu Isma`il! Did Allah mention the Ahl al-Hadith (scholars of Hadith) in the Qur’an?” He replied, “Yes! Did you not hear the saying of Allah, If a party from every expedition remained behind, they 21 could devote themselves to studies in religion and admonish the people when they return to them, that thus they may guard themselves (against evil)’ (Qur’an, 9:l22). This concerns those who set off to seek knowledge, and then return to those who remained behind in order to teach them.”22 Al-Hakim then remarks, “This verse shows that the acceptable knowledge is the one which is being heard, not just received by way of Irsal.”23
  9. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 462) strongly supports the view of those who reject the Mursal except if it comes through an elder Successor. He concludes, after giving a perusal of different opinions about this issue, “What we select out of these sayings is that the Mursal is not to be practised, nor is it acceptable as proof. We say that Irsal leads to one reporter being ambiguous; if he is ambiguous, to ascertain his reliability is impossible. We have already explained that a narration is only acceptable if it comes through a reporter known for reliability. Hence, the Mursal should not be accepted at all.”24Al-Khatib gives the following example, showing that a narrative which has been reported through both Musnad and Mursal isnads is acceptable, not because of the reliability of those who narrated it by way of Irsal but because of an uninterrupted isnad, even though it contains less reliable reporters:The text of the hadith is: “No marriage is valid except by the consent of the guardian”; Al-Khatib gives two isnads going back to Shu`bah and Sufyan al-Thauri; the remainder of each isnad is:Sufyan al-Thauri and Shu`bah — Abu Ishaq — Abu Burdah — the Prophet.This isnad is Mursal because Abu Burdah, a Successor, narrates directly from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). However, al-Khatib further gives three isnads going back to Yunus b. Abi Ishaq, Isra’il b. Yunus and Qais b. al-Rabi’; the remainder of the first isnad is:Yunus b. Abi Ishaq — Abu Ishaq — Abu Burdah — Abu Musa — the Prophet.The other two reporters narrate similarly, both of them including the name of Abu Musa, the Companion from whom Abu Burdah has reported. Al-Khatib goes on to prove that both al-Thauri and Shu`bah heard this hadith from Abu Ishaq in one sitting while the other three reporters heard it in different sittings. Hence, this addition of Abu Musa in the isnad is quite acceptable.25
  10. Ibn al-Salah (d. 643) agrees with al-Shafi`i in rejecting the Mursal hadith unless it is proved to have come through a Musnad route.26
  11. Ibn Taimiyyah (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.”27
  12. Al-Dhahabi (d. 748) regards the Mursal of younger Successors such as al-Hasan al-Basri, al- Zuhri, Qatadah and Humaid al-Tawil as the weakest type of Mursal.28

Later scholars such as Ibn Kathir (d. 744), al-`Iraqi (d. 806), Ibn Hajar (d. 852), al-Suyuti (d. 911), Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Wazir (d. 840), Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi (d. 1332) and Tahir al- Jaza’iri (d. 1338) have given exhaustive discussions about this issue, but none of them holds an opinion different to those mentioned above.