Al-Hakim defines it 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 turn reports from the Prophet."|
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 gave 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 argument, their voices were raised until heard by the Messenger of Allah 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.
Al-Hakim 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 are well-established."|
The term musnad is applied also 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 Kufa and Musaddad b. Musarhad (d. 228) at Basra. 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.
However, if a link anywhere before the Successor (i.e. closer to the traditionist recording the hadith) is missing, the hadith is munqati'. This applies even if there is an apparent link, e.g. a reporter says, "A shaikh or a man reported to me ..." without naming this authority, or when an isnad is apparently muttasil (uninterrupted) but in reality a reporter is found not to have heard from his shaikh.
If the number of missing reporters in the isnad exceeds one, the isnad is mu'dal. If the reporter omits the whole isnad and quotes the Prophet 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 balaghat. For example, Malik says, "It reached me that the Messenger of Allah said ..."
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 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, both by Qur'anic injunctions and sayings of the Prophet.
However, opinions vary in the case where the Successor might have omitted the names of two authorities:
(i) The Marasil of elder Successors such as Sa'id b. al-Musayyab and 'Ata' b. Abi Rabah 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 immedeiate authorities are known through different sources; if not, they are rejected outright.
(ii) The Marasil of Successors and those who report from them are acceptable without any investigation at all. This opinion is strongly supported by the Kufi school of traditionists.
To be precise in this issue, let us investigate in detail the various opinions regarding the Mursal Hadith:
1) Ibn 'Abd al-Barr (d. 463) says that the opinion held by Imam Malik and all jurists of their school is that the Mursal of a trustworthy person is valid as proof and as justification for a practice, just like a musnad hadith.
To some jurists, such as the Malikiyya, the Mursal is better than the Musnad. Their reasoning is as follows:
|"the one who reports a musnad hadith leaves you with the names of the reporters for further investigation and scrutiny, while the one who narrates by way of Irsal, being a knowledgeable and trustworthy person himself, has already done so and the hadith is sound. In fact, he saves you from further research."|
2) Abu Hanifa (d. 150) holds the same opinion as Malik; he accepts the Mursal Hadith whether or not it is supported by another hadith.
3) Al-Shafi'i (d. 204) has discussed this issue in detail in his al-Risala; he requires the following conditions to be met before accepting a mursal hadith:
(i) In the narrative, he requires that one of the following conditions be met:
(ii) Regarding the narrator, he requires that one of the following conditions be met:
4) Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241), according to Ibn Qayyim, accepts mursal and da'if ahadith if nothing opposing them is found in a particular issue, preferring them to analogy. He classifies ahadith into sahih and da'if only rather into sahih, hasan and da'if, the preference of most later traditionists. Consequently, a da'if hadith may stand close to sahih in the opinion of Ahmad because of the grading of the Mursal Hadith in fourth position, unlike Malik who regards mursal as equal to musnad.
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 of a Companion who was not well-known among the Companions is unacceptable.
6) Abu Dawud (d . 275) accepts the Mursal with two conditions:
a) that no musnad hadith is found regarding that issue; and
b) that if a musnad hadith is found, it is not contradicted by the mursal hadith.
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 except in the case of elder Successors. He holds, on the basis of the Qur'an, that knowledge is based on what is heard and not on what is reported. In this regard, he quotes Yazid b. Harun who asked Hammad b. Laith:
"O Abu Isma'il! Did Allah mention the people 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 could devote themselves to studies in religion and admonish the people when they return to them, that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil)' (Q., 9:l22).
This concerns those who set off to seek knowledge, and then return to those who remained behind in order to teach them."
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."
9) Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 462) strongly supports the view of those who reject the Mursal except if it comes through elder Successors. 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."|
Al-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 through 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'ba and Sufyan al-Thauri; the remainder of each isnad is: Sufyan al-Thauri and Shu'ba --- Abu Ishaq --- Abu Barda --- the Prophet.
This isnad is mursal because Abu Burda, a Successor, narrates directly from the Prophet. However, al-Khatib 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 Burda --- Abu Musa --- the Prophet. The other two reporters narrate similarly, including the name of Abu Musa, the Companion from whom Abu Burda has reported.
Al-Khatib further proves that both al-Thauri and Shu' ba heard this hadith from Abu Ishaq in one sitting while the other three reporters listened to him in different sittings. Hence this addition of Abu Musa in the isnad is quite acceptable.
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.
11) Ibn Taimiyya (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 cease to accept his narration if it is proved that sometimes he reports from unknown authorities as well. All such mursal ahadith which go against the reports made by reliable authorities will be rejected completely."|
12) Al-Dhahabi (d. 748) regards the Mursal of younger Successors such as al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Zuhri, Qatada and Humaid al-Tawil as the weakest type of Mursal.
Later scholars such as Ibn Kathir (d. 744), al-'Iraqi (d. 806), Ibn Hajar (d. 852), al-Suyuti (d. 910), Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Wazir (d. 840), Tahir al-Jaza'iri (d. 1338) and Jamal al-Din al-Qasmi (d. 1332) have given exhaustive discussions about this issue, but none of them holds an opinion different to those mentioned above.