Mursal ḥadīth (Arabic: حدیث مُرسَل) is a terminology in hadith sciences and diraya, referring to a hadith one or more transmitters of which are left out or omitted. There is a disagreement among scholars as to whether mursal hadiths are reliable. Some of them believe that all mursal hadiths are reliable, but many Shiite scholars believe in the unreliability of such hadiths, except in certain cases, such as the mursal hadiths of al-Mashayikh al-Thalatha (the Three Masters), the People of Consensus, al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, and so on.
One reason appealed to for the reliability of mursal hadiths is the reliability of transmitters of such hadiths and their refusal to transmit hadiths from unreliable people, and one reason for the unreliability of such hadiths is the uncertainty about the omitted transmitter, as well as some the transmission of some masters of hadiths from unreliable and unknown people (which undermines the reliability of omitted transmitters).
Different kinds of mursal hadiths have been enumerated, including "mu'allaq", "munqati'", "mujmal", "marfu'", and "mu'dal". Mursal hadiths are said to have been caused by the author's desire for brevity, the carelessness of scribers, and the destruction of some documents.
"Mursal hadith" is a terminology in diraya and hadith sciences. It is a kind of al-khabar al-wahid, which is usually classified under unreliable hadiths. It is a hadith one or more transmitters of which are not mentioned, and thus lacks continuity in its chain of transmitters. The omission might occur at the beginning, the middle, of the end of the chain. Sometimes the omitted transmitter is mentioned vaguely, such as "from a man", "from one of our companions", "from a number of people", "from some people" and the like.
In his Miqbas al-hidaya, Allama Mamaqani takes the above notion to be that of a general mursal hadith, which is contrasted to the specific mursal hadith, which refers to hadiths transmitted by Tabi'un directly from the Prophet (s), without having immediately heard them from him (thus one transmitter is omitted). He takes the latter to be the best-known notion of mursal hadiths among scholars, which is espoused by Sunni scholars as well. For instance, hadiths immediately transmitted from the Prophet (s) by Tabi'un such as Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Sirin, and Sa'id b. Musayyib. Some people take the former notion to be that of jurists and the latter that of muhaddiths. A mursal hadith is contrasted to a musnad hadith, which has a continuous chain of transmission up to the Prophet (s) or other Infallibles (a).
Reliability of Mursal Hadiths
The reliability of mursal hadiths has been a controversial issue among scholars. Here are some views about their reliability:
1. The unreliability of mursal hadiths: many Shiite scholars believe that such hadiths are not reliable, including jurists such as al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, al-'Allama al-Hilli, al-Shahid al-Awwal, al-Shahid al-Thani, and Ayatollah Khu'i. They argue that there is no way to establish the reliability of omitted transmitters. Moreover, masters of hadiths do not always transmit hadiths from reliable people, and they might make mistakes in their evaluations of a transmitter's reliability. Furthermore, there are different ways to establish a transmitter's reliability, and the master's way of doing so might not be acceptable to others. Sunni advocates of the view include Hajibi, 'Adudi, Baydawi, Razi, and al-Shafi'i. They dismiss mursal hadiths altogether as unreliable.
2. The unconditional reliability of all mursal hadiths: on this view, all mursal hadiths are reliable, regardless of who their transmitters are, companions or others, and regardless of whether one transmitter is omitted or more. Jurists who defend this view include Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi and his father. The reason for this view is that some masters of hadiths, such as Muhammad b. Abi 'Umayr, are highly reliable and do not transmit hadiths from unreliable people. Thus, their mursal hadiths are equivalent to musnad hadiths, since the omitted transmitter counts as reliable. Sunni advocates of this view include al-Amidi, Malik, Abu Hanifa, Abu Hashim, and their Mu'tazili followers.
3. Distinction: some scholars believe that if the omitted part of the chain of transmitters is mentioned as "more than one person" then it shows that the hadith was transmitted by more than one person, which provides greater assurance of its reliability. However, if it is mentioned as "from a man" or "from one of our companions" and the like, then it will not be relied on. Some Sunni scholars, such as al-Shafi'i, make the acceptance of a mursal hadith conditional upon the main transmitter being one of the prominent Tabi'un.
Sunni scholars also dispute over the reliability or unreliability of mursal hadiths. The majority of muhaddiths, jurists, and scholars of principles of jurisprudence reject a mursal hadith as unreliable because of its discontinuous chain of transmission, and the omitted transmitter being unknown or even unreliable. Others believe in the reliability of such hadiths because omitted transmitters are usually from companions, and since Sunni scholars take all companions to be righteous, they take these hadiths to be reliable.
Exceptions to the Unreliability of Mursal Hadiths
Some scholars believe that mursal hadiths are unreliable by default. However, there are exceptions to this, including:
- Identification of the omitted transmitter: if the omitted transmitter is identified and is known to be reliable, then the hadith can be relied on. This kind of hadith is in fact musnad, not mursal. Omitted transmitters can be identified through external evidence or from other chains of transmitters.
- The reliability of mursal hadiths supported by fame (shuhra): if the content of a mursal hadith has a practical or hadith-based fame, that is, if many jurists have acted upon it, then it will be reliable, although some scholars disagree over its reliability in such cases.
- The reliability of a mursal hadith supported by a consensus: if a hadith is not reliable in itself, but jurists have a consensus over acting upon its content, it will then become reliable.
- The reliability of a mursal hadith supported by principles: if a mursal hadith is supported by principles or general statements within the Qur'an and the Sunna, then it will be reliable.
- Mursal hadiths by the Three Masters: the Three Masters (al-Mashayikh al-Thalatha) are Muhammad b. Abi 'Umayr, Ahmad b. Abi Nasr al-Bazanti, and Safwan b. Yahya. Some scholars believe that mursal hadiths by these three masters are reliable. Moreover, if they transmit a hadith from a person, this is evidence that the person is reliable.
- Mursal hadiths by People of Consensus: the People of Consensus are eighteen companions of Imams (a) referred to by Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Kashshi within three groups. Many jurists believe that mursal hadiths by these people are reliable.
- 1. The first group include Zurara b. A'yan, Ma'ruf b. Kharrabudh, Burayd b. Mu'awiya, Abu Basir al-Asadi, Fudayl b. Yasar, and Muhammad b. Muslim who were companions of Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a).
- 2. The second group includes Jamil b. Darraj, 'Abd Allah b. Muskan, 'Abd Allah b. Bukayr, Hammad b. 'Uthman, Hammad b. 'Isa, and Aban b. 'Uthman who were companions of Imam al-Sadiq (a).
- 3. And the third group includes Yunus b. 'Abd al-Rahman, Safwan b. Yahya, Bayya' al-Sabiri, Muhammad b. Abi 'Umayr, 'Abd Allah b. Mughira, Hasan b. Mahbub, and Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Abi Nasr al-Bazanti who were companions of Imam al-Kazim (a) and Imam al-Rida (a).
- Mursal hadiths by al-Saduq: many scholars, including al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili, accept mursal hadiths by al-Shaykh al-Saduq as reliable. There are 2050 mursal hadiths in his Man la yahduruh al-faqih. However, some scholars such as al-Shahid al-Thani and Ayatollah Khu'i reject al-Saduq's mursal hadiths as unreliable. And some others, such as Muhaqqiq Damad and Imam Khomeini make a distinction between al-Saduq's mursal hadiths, taking some to be reliable and others to be unreliable.
- Mursal hadiths by al-Shaykh al-Tusi: some scholars, such as al-Fadil al-Miqdad, believe in the reliability of mursal hadiths transmitted by al-Shaykh al-Tusi because he only transmits hadiths from reliable persons.
- Mursal hadiths by Muhammad b. Idris al-Hilli: Ibn Idris was early jurist and a prominent Shiite figure. Some people believe that his mursal hadiths are reliable, because he had access to the early principles of hadiths.
- Mursal hadiths by reliable transmitters of hadiths: some people believe that if a reliable transmitter transmits a mursal hadith, the hadith will be reliable, regardless of whether or not he is one of the People of Consensus or one of the Three Masters of hadiths. The view has been defended by al-Shaykh al-Ansari.
- Mursal hadiths in al-Kafi: on this view, all mursal hadiths in al-Kafi are reliable. This view was defended by Muhammad Husayn Na'ini.
Kinds of Mursal Hadiths
Different kinds of mursal hadiths have been identified by scholars, the most important of which include:
- Explicit (jali) and implicit (khafi) or tadlis (concealment): sometimes the chain of transmitters of a hadith is fully or partially omitted, and can be easily discerned. This is "explicit irsal". However, there are hadiths the chains of transmitters of which prima facie seem continuous, but a careful look at the generations of transmitters reveals that one link of the chain is omitted.
- Omission of the whole chain of transmitters: there are hadiths whose chains of transmitters are fully omitted.
- Mu'allaq hadith: a hadith with an omitted transmitter at the beginning of its chain of transmitters.
- Munqati' hadith: a hadith with an omitted transmitter in the middle of its chain of transmitters.
- Mujmal hadith: a hadith in which the transmitter is not explicitly mentioned, but there is a vague phrase showing that the transmitter was omitted, such as "from one of our companions" or "from one of them".
- Marfu' hadith: the chain of transmitters of a hadith is omitted by the muhaddith, and is marked by a phrase such as "yarfa'uh" (literally: he elevates it, that is, he omits the whole or a major part of the chain). This is usually done for purposes of brevity. Some people believe that this kind of hadith is not limited to unreliable hadiths.
- Mu'dal hadiths: a hadith from the middle of whose chain of transmitters two or more transmitters are omitted. If one transmitter is omitted from the middle, it does not count as mu'dal.
- Vagueness in reference to the Imam: there are hadiths in which the Imam's name is not explicitly mentioned. Instead, the Imam is referred to by a certain attribute, such as "al-Faqih" (the jurist) and "al-Rajul" (the man) for Imam al-Sadiq (a) and Imam al-Kazim (a). There is a disagreement among scholars over whether such vagueness amounts to a hadith being mursal.
- Doubts about the transmitter: there are hadiths in which a transmitter is not certain who he had heard the hadith from, although he mentions a person who he thinks he had heard it from.
Reasons for the Existence of Mursal Hadiths
There are different reasons and causes for the existence of mursal hadiths. Here are some important reasons:
- The author's choice or attitude: some authors omit some transmitters in order to keep chains of transmitters short.
- Negligence of scribers: some hadiths are transmitted with a full chain of transmitters, but scribers omitted at least parts of the chain.
- No need for a chain of transmitters: some people believe that hadiths concerning moralities and stories do not need to have reliable chains of transmitters. They had better be from an Infallible, but there is no problem if they are not.
- The reliability of all hadiths: some early muhaddiths had an affirmative opinion of all transmitters of hadiths, and thus they regarded all hadiths to be correct. Therefore, they did not care about chains of transmitters.
- The destruction of documents: some people believe that some chains of transmitters were destroyed due to natural causes, such as wetness.
- Famous hadiths and books: some hadiths and books of hadiths were so famous that muhaddiths did not find it necessary to cite their chains of transmitters, and thus cited them in mursal ways.
- Oblivion: some mursal hadiths are caused by the oblivion of a transmitter in the chain. This can be intentional or unintentional. Some jurists believe that an intentional unjustified omission of a transmitter is makruh (reprehensible) or forbidden.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from حدیث مرسل in Farsi WikiShia.