ONE OF THE possible defects in a narration is a break, or missing link, in the chain of narration. In Mus ṭala ḥ Al-Ḥadîth (Al-Ḥadîth Al-Muʿanʿan), we discuss which Arabic conjunctions convey an actual meeting between one narrator and the next. Having established this, we can discuss the terms pertaining to missing links.
There are seven different types of narrations when it comes to missing links:
Mursal “(detached,” or “hastened”)
Mudallas isnâdan (concealed in its chain)
Mudallas taswîyatan (“concealed by way of equalizing”)
Mursal khafî (“concealed mursal-narration”)
Here, we look at the first two.
(1) Al-Hadith Al-Mu‘allaq (The ‘Hanging’ Hadith)
Meaning in Language and in the Science of Hadith
The Arabic word ‘muʿallaq’ refers to something that is ‘hanging,’ or ‘suspended’ in the air.
A narration that has one or more successive narrators omitted from the beginning of its chain. The part closest to the compiler of ḥadîth, Bukhâri for example, is called the ‘beginning’ because the reader begins tracing the ḥadîth from this point, backwards in time).
Connection between Linguistic and Terminological Meanings
The ḥadîth compiler (Bukhâri, Muslim…) tries to connect reports attributed to the Prophet ﷺ through a chain of successive narrators back to the Prophet ﷺ. We can analogize this to a person in a room trying to grasp a chain connected to the ceiling. Each link represents a narrator. If, however, there are one or more successive narrators missing from the lowest portion of the chain, then that chain would be hanging, or suspended, with a space between it (its lower links) and the person standing trying to take hold of it. It is for this reason that this type of narration is called muʿallaq (hanging).
The Forms of Al-Hadith Al-Mu‘allaq
Al-Ḥadîth Al-Muʿallaq can be a ḥadîth in which the entire chain of narrators is omitted. The compiler simply states: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said such and such.” Or, the mu͑ alliq (the one who is “hanging” the narration) might mention only the last narrator in the chain, which would necessarily be one or more of the ṣa ḥâba (Companions of the Prophet ﷺ).
An Example of Al-Hadith Al-Mu‘allaq
Bukhâri narrated a ḥadîth saying: “Abû Mûsa said: ‘The Prophet ﷺ covered his knees when ʿUthmân entered.’”
This ḥadîth is muʿallaq because Bukhâri omitted all of the narrators except (the Companion) Abu Mûsa Al-Ashʿarî.
Ruling on Al-Hadith Al-Mu‘allaq
Taʿlîq (hanging) is a defect in a narration. If the muʿallaq ḥadîth is not supported by the presence of another reliable narration of the same ḥadîth, then the muʿallaq ḥadîth is classified as ‘weak.’
The Mu‘allaq Ahadith of Bukhari and Muslim
There are many a ḥadîth that are muʿallaq in Bukhâri; however, they only occur in his subtitles and the introductions to his chapters. He intentionally “hung” these narrations so that they would not be confused with the authentic collection that was the aim of his book. Thus he would cite these a ḥâdîth only to make points or add some strength to an opinion. The majority of these muʿallaq a ḥâdîth are authentic. Yet there are some that have slight weakness, and these Bukhâri makes known.
In Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, there is only one ḥadîth that is muʿallaq and not connected elsewhere. Muslim did not consider this ḥadîth to be part of his collection, in the sense that it did not meet his criteria.
(2) Al-Hadith Al-Mursal (The ‘Let Go’ Hadith)
The muʿallaq ḥadîth is cut off from its narrators at the beginning of the chain (meaning its narrations later in time) while, conversely, the mursal ḥadîth is cut off from its narrators at the end (meaning near to the time of the Prophet ﷺ).
Meaning in Language and in the Science of Hadith
The Arabic word, ‘mursal’ refers to something set loose, or let go freely.
A chain of narrators in which the final link at the end of the chain [working backwards in time]—namely, the ṣa ḥâbi (Companion of the Prophet ﷺ)—is missing.
Connection Between Linguistic and Terminological Meanings
The chain of narrators, those transmitting the report from one person to the next, is like a line of people with a haltered horse (which represents the report). Each one hands the horse to the person next in line, but there is one person missing at the end of the line (who represents the Ṣa ḥâbî, or Companion of the Prophet ﷺ), before the final receiver (who represents the Prophet ﷺ).
Hence, the last person in the line (who represents the Successor, that is, the narrator from the generation following that of the Companions) points the horse toward the final receiver, covering the final human link in the line, thereby setting it free to run to the final receiver; namely, the Prophet ﷺ.
Thus a mursal ḥadîth is a ḥadîth that has been sent from the Tâbiʿi (pl. Tâbiʿîn—someone from the Successor Generation: The Muslims of the generation that directly followed or succeeded the Ṣa ḥâba)) directly to the Prophet ﷺ, omitting the Companion (the Ṣa ḥâbi) who was necessarily the report’s intermediary between the Successor and the Prophet ﷺ.
As we know, the Successors/ Tâbiʿîn had never met the Prophet ﷺ since they lived after his time, during the time of the Ṣa ḥâba / Companions—from whom the Tâbiʿîn heard the reports of the Prophet ﷺ and passed them on to succeeding generations.
Ruling on Al-Hadith Al-Mursal
Technically, the mursal ḥadîth is missing one of the conditions of an authentic ḥadîth, namely a complete recorded linkage back to the Prophet ﷺ.
However, there is a difference of opinion regarding the authenticity of the mursal report because it is assumed that the missing link is the ṣa ḥâbi—and all the Companions (Ṣa ḥâba) are unquestionably worthy of narration.
- This is because Allah and his Messenger ﷺ deemed them to be upright and the best of humanity.
- In addition, the Tâbiʿîn were praised by the Prophet ﷺ. For this reason, there is not as great a necessity when it comes to investigating their affairs in relation to the veracity of their religious commitment and thus their character in terms of reliability.
- Moreover, the Tâbiʿîn, due to their chronological closeness to the Prophet ﷺ and the fact that Hadith had not yet proliferated much, had no chains of narrators to memorize, and only a small number of Texts each.
- These realities are coupled with clear evidence that this generation had retained the great memorizing abilities that characterized the Arabs, more so than the latter generations.
So for these reasons, according to the majority of Hadith scholars, if the Tâbiʿi is a reliable narrator, such as Saʿîd ibn Al-Musayyab, then his ḥadîth are accepted and authentic.
There is a great deal of scholarly discussion on the mursal ḥadîth, which we will take up in coming writings, Inshâ’Allâh.
And Allah knows best.