Mulla Ali’s Introduction to his book and the contentious issue of mursal hadith

Mulla Ali's Introduction to his book and the contentious issue of mursal hadith

Every introduction mentions the author’s purpose, plan and methodology in his book. As usual Mulla Ali starts with the basmallah and praise of Allah, then he praises Allah who made the scholars the heirs of the prophets and the awliyah and those for whom the angels in the sky make dua and the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, which is taken from a hadith.

Then he sends complete salwat and salam to the cream of all created beings, Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the most purified of creation, and to his family and the purified (tayibeen) and the righteous (al abrar), and those whom we follow and who guide us.

Then he goes on to say, the one who seeks refuge in the haram of Al Bari is himself, Ali ibn Sultan Muhammad al Qari, the Hanafi (as he belongs to the Hanafi school) and Hanafiya, which is a reference to Ibrahim (peace be upon him) who was Hanif (had pure tawheed of Allah). Then he mentions his father and asks Allah to shower them both with this generosity and kindness.

The virtues of studying fiqh

Mulla Ali says that it is well known among people of deep understanding that the knowledge of fiqh is one the top of the sciences one needs to learn. It is important both for the general public as well as the scholars, so we should devote ourselves to studying it, as its knowledge takes you to the highest levels. He quoted from the Quran:

  ۞ وَمَا كَانَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لِیَنفِرُوا۟ كَاۤفَّةࣰۚ فَلَوۡلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرۡقَةࣲ مِّنۡهُمۡ طَاۤىِٕفَةࣱ لِّیَتَفَقَّهُوا۟ فِی ٱلدِّینِ وَلِیُنذِرُوا۟ قَوۡمَهُمۡ إِذَا رَجَعُوۤا۟ إِلَیۡهِمۡ لَعَلَّهُمۡ یَحۡذَرُونَ ۝١٢٢

The believers shouldn’t all go to battle. From within every group, some should devote themselves to acquiring deeper knowledge (litafaqahu) of the Faith; to teach their people when they return. So they might be on their guard. (9:122)

The ayah uses the verb litafaqahu which means to seek fiqh in other words a deep knowledge especially fiqh. Then he quoted

وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِيٓ أَنشَأَكُم مِّن نَّفۡسٖ وَٰحِدَةٖ فَمُسۡتَقَرّٞ وَمُسۡتَوۡدَعٞۗ قَدۡ فَصَّلۡنَا ٱلۡأٓيَٰتِ لِقَوۡمٖ يَفۡقَهُونَ

And it is He who placed for you the stars that you may be guided by them through the darknesses of the land and sea. We have detailed the signs for a people who know.

Mu’awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah said:

وعن معاوية رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏:‏ ‏ “‏من يرد الله به خيرًا يفقه في الدين‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏متفق عليه‏)‏‏)‏

“When Allah wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of Deen.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said in a very famous though quite weak hadith:

One faqhi (jurist) is stronger than a thousand worshippers against the shaytan. (Tirmidhi and ibn Majah – weak)

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) also narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Some among my people will become learned in religion. They will recite the Quran and say to the rulers we will get some of their worldly goods. Withdraw from them. (ibn Majah – weak)

This hadith is saying that one who is close to rulers is like someone who wants to get something other than thorns form a cactus, so keep away from them. This hadith is showing the divorce between scholars of taqwa and scholars of knowledge, and rulers. They have never had a good relationship. Mulla Ali was one of those who disconnected himself from the palaces and the Emir. He would earn his living from writing two mushafs a year and lived as a Zahid (ascetic). He did not want to be close to people of authority.

Abu Umamah Al-Bahili (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الأَعْلَى الصَّنْعَانِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا سَلَمَةُ بْنُ رَجَاءٍ، حَدَّثَنَا الْوَلِيدُ بْنُ جَمِيلٍ، حَدَّثَنَا الْقَاسِمُ أَبُو عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، عَنْ أَبِي أُمَامَةَ الْبَاهِلِيِّ، قَالَ ذُكِرَ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم رَجُلاَنِ أَحَدُهُمَا عَابِدٌ وَالآخَرُ عَالِمٌ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ فَضْلُ الْعَالِمِ عَلَى الْعَابِدِ كَفَضْلِي عَلَى أَدْنَاكُمْ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلاَئِكَتَهُ وَأَهْلَ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ حَتَّى النَّمْلَةَ فِي جُحْرِهَا وَحَتَّى الْحُوتَ لَيُصَلُّونَ عَلَى مُعَلِّمِ النَّاسِ الْخَيْرَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ غَرِيبٌ ‏.‏ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَمَّارٍ الْحُسَيْنَ بْنَ حُرَيْثٍ الْخُزَاعِيَّ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ الْفُضَيْلَ بْنَ عِيَاضٍ يَقُولُ عَالِمٌ عَامِلٌ مُعَلِّمٌ يُدْعَى كَبِيرًا فِي مَلَكُوتِ السَّمَوَاتِ ‏.‏

‘The superiority of the scholar over the worshiper is like my superiority over the least of you.’

‘Indeed Allah, His Angels, the inhabitants of the heavens and the earths – even the ant in his hole, even the fish – say Salat upon the one who teaches the people to do good.’ (Tirmidhi)

The reason why the scholars are given this high status is because they are people of deep knowledge who benefit people and do not keep knowledge to themselves. Unlike the ordinary worshiper whose benefit is limited to himself, the scholar takes knowledge from a private sphere to a public sphere and benefits others beyond themselves. Mulla Ali quotes another weak hadith which states the ink of the scholars is weighed by the blood of the martyrs. We do not need these weak hadith to make this point as there are plenty more authentic ahadith which show the virtues of seeking knowledge.

Science of Fiqh

After this introduction Mulla Ali moves to the core of the discussion on the science of fiqh, which essentially educates people on what is permissible and what is impermissible. It teaches them to distinguish between what is allowed and not allowed and is needed by every single person. We all need this knowledge just we need to breath for as long as breathe, and it is necessary for all people throughout time.

Mulla Ali quotes a hadith by Imam Daylami (who usually associated with weak narrations) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Whoever is increased in knowledge and this knowledge does not increase him in renouncing the dunya he is increased in being distanced from Allah. (Daylami – weak)

Though the meaning is beautiful, this is not a strong hadith and in fact is has been attributed to Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). It has been elevated to the prophet (peace be upon him), so it is a hadith marfu.

The debate over mursal hadith

Mulla Ali now moves on to the topic of debate among the schools, which is hadith al mursal. He refers to ‘our’ scholars (ulemauna) meaning the scholars of the Hanafi school and makes the statement that Hanafi scholars adhere to the Sunnah more than the other schools. This statement reflects what was happening at that time. 400 years on, it is still the case that the Hanafi school is accused by other schools for not using proper hadith and that their rulings are based on weak rulings or qiyas (analogy). In other words that they use their own intellect rather than relying on hadith. Mulla Ali is addressing this accusation, as scholars from the Hanafi school are still doing today. Mulla Ali argues that the Hanafi school follows the Sunnah more than other schools because it follows the salaf, (the first and second generation of believers) because they accept the hadith al mursal. What is a mursal hadith? We will explore this and its definition.

There are differences among scholars about mursal. Apart from sahih (authentic), hasan (good) and da’if (weak), there are over 60 different classifications of hadith in the science of hadith. One of these is hadith mursal, which the Hanafi school uses when it fulfils certain conditions. The debate about whether or not to use hadith al mursal only came about after the second century. In the early years there was no issue about it. It was accepted.

What is the definition of mursal hadith?

Scholars of usul al fiqh define mursal differently than scholars of hadith.

Mulla Ali addresses this topic briefly without delving into it much detail, however we will elaborate this. Imam Hajar al Asqalani in his musnad al hadith (text on the sciences of hadith) defines hadith al mursal as a hadith which is missing a narrator at near the beginning of the chain of narrators, i.e. the name of the companion (sahabi) who heard the narration from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is missing. If a narration has come from a tabi’i, the next generation after the companions, then it is not possible that they heard the narration from the Prophet (peace be upon him) themselves as they did not meet him. There is a link in the chain which is missing. This link might not be the companion, but the tabi’i. In the famous poem al Baytounia, by Imam Baytouni which defines mursal as a hadith in which the name of the companion who heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) is missing but this is not a complete definition as in some cases the hadith is missing a taib’i.

The chain of transmitters became important in 2nd century

Until the 2nd century, mursal hadith were quoted and accepted in fiqh rulings by all schools. After that the Hanafi, Maliki accepted them but the Shafi refused. The Hanbalis accepted it in one narration and rejected it in another. Before the 2nd century people were not that concerned by the chain of narrators they were happy to write down and pass on narrations as long they emanated from the Prophet (peace be upon him). The narrators were well known to them but it was not until hadith began to be fabricated around the beginning of the 2nd century, that the practice of asking for the chain of transmitters became an important aspect of conveying the hadith.

What is the crux of the point of contention?

The argument has been going back and forth between the schools and scholars since the 2nd century. The Shafis started it by rejecting hadith al mursal.

Those who reject the hadith mursal say they are not reliable therefore you cannot base rulings on them. It is a debate over methodology.

One side considers the hadith acceptable with conditions, and the other side does not. However while the criteria which each schools has created to distinguish between reliable and unreliable hadith is their own methodology which they cannot impose on other schools.

Hanafis have gone down the route of accepting hadith mural from those tabi’een who they consider reliable and authentic, such as Sa’id bin Musayib (may Allah be pleased with him) who was a very trustworthy and reliable narrator.

How does the use of hadith mursal affect the rulings?

As an example, lets look at the ruling of the one who bursts out laughing during their salah. It is clear that their salah is invalid, but the question arises whether or not they need to renew their wudu.

In the Hanafi school if someone who is praying laughs out loud in his salah (qahqaha) – more than just smiling, he laughs audibly, the ruling is that you they have to renew their wudu because of the hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions to renew their wudu and salah because they broke the sanctity of salah by laughing.

The narration is authentic but mursal, so the Shafi school say that they cannot rely on the hadith so they do not deem renewing wudu necessary, only repeating the salah. This is how they differ. Imam Malik (93-179AH) who lived in the second century accepted these narrations with conditions, as did Abu Hanifa (70-150AH) before him. It is a divisive topic and a huge amount of scholarship has been done on this including masters and PhDs on the chains of transmission and acceptance or rejection of these ahadith and the consequent impact on fiqh rulings.

If the mursal hadith is missing the name of a companion but was narrated by a trusted and reliable tabi’i it is more than likely that he would not have invented the hadith. It is possible that he left out the name of the companion because it was well known who he was.

Imam Tabari (224 AH – 310AH) said scholars had a consensus to accept mursal hadith. There was no issue about it until the 2nd century when Imam Shafi rejected their use. Ibn Abdil Bar the 5th century scholar who said whomsoever accuses scholars of neglecting the Sunnah by using mursal hadith are completely wrong.

Mulla Ali is saying that they do not opt for analogy (qiyas) over the Sunnah, it is the other way round because they consider the mursal hadith first and use qiyas after. Ibn al Jawzi, Imam Ahmed and Khatib al Baghdadi all narrated them.

Mulla Ali counters the argument from the Shafi school that the missing narrator of the hadith makes it weak by saying that the subsequent narrator is strong and trusted and is not hiding the narrator because of his weakness.  

Scholars have divided hadith into sahih, hasan, da’if, mursal (missing a sahabi or tabi’i in the chain) and munqati (a narrator in the middle of the chain is missing) and mu’dal (two consecutive narrators are missing). Mulla Ali explained this is in more detail in his commentary on Ibn Hajar Asqalani’s book Sharh Nukhbatil Fikr, which is one of the most reliable texts in sciences of hadith.

Ultimately, it is a point of disagreement and we cannot abolish these differences. This is the flavour of what he is saying.

Mullah Ali stated that the early companions (ashabuna), meaning the companions of Abu Hanifa and the early Hanafi scholars, used the daleel in their rulings in their books and clarify what is sahih, hasan and dai’if.

In the 3rd century Imam at-Tahawi, the well-known authority in hadith who wrote Shahr Mana Athar and Mushkil al Athar and Abu Bakr ar Razi and Quduri which were huge books in daleel and hadith, but those who came after them relied on early evidences and quoted the rulings without the evidences. When they did this they were accused of relying on their own minds and not quoting the sunnah. Mulla Ali said it is not allowed to accuse their school of this habit of neglecting the sunnah. This is a false accusation.

Then he used this argument against them. He said look at the Shafi imam Abu Ishaq in his book Al Muhadda and Abu Haramain in his book An Nihaya quoted many weak narrations and it is himself saying this but Imam al Bayhaqi, their faqhi and muhaddith who pointed out the weaknesses. Then Imam Nawawi and Imam Mundhari commented and Imam al Haramain and al Juhayni also said there are weak narrations. Imam Haramain quoted a weak narration assuming it was a correct narration but Ibn Salah and Imam Nawawi pointed out its weakness. This is the nature of debates – defending and attacking.

The authentication (takhrij) of narrations

It is due to this accusation that the Hanafi school relies on its own intellect rather than evidence from the Sunnah that Mulla Ali will specifically mentioned the daleels and clarified and connected the narrations to those who quoted them and their sources, and put the references for the narrations. For instance, Marghinani mentioned many hadith in his book without quoting the sanad. Due to this, he was accused of using weak narrations. Imam Zayla in his book, Nasburaya which is six volumes collected all the narrations of Al Hidaya and gave the references for them all. This effort is known as takhrij (authentication).  There are series of books in each school which are dedicated to authenticating the narrations in the fiqh books of their school, these are known as kutub at-takhrij al hadith al fiqh. Examples of such books in the Hanafi school are Ad Diraya, Alam bin Qutulubugha, at Taleel wal Ihkbar, which is one of the books we worked on in the early years. We have similar books in the other schools to support the fiqh books with evidences.

In Fath Bal al Inaya, Mulla Ali summarised Naburaya by Imam al Zayla, which is a tremendous effort. As Al Nuqaya, the summary of Al Wiqaya, which is in turn the summary of Al Hidaya, the grandfather of al Wiqaya summarised the main ma’sa’il in the Hanafi school for his grandson.

Mulla Ali took this matn and made commentary (sharh) on it. It is not overly lengthy, but he has tried to clarify what is unclear and tried to solve the issues which are confusing. All this is accompanied by the daleel (evidences), the qiyas and ijma and the different options of different schools.

Mulla Ali ends by saying he hopes that he will be listed among the scholars who put their knowledge into action and will be resurrected with the perfect scholars. Then he finished his muqadimah (introduction) by saying by the support of Allah and His power He is sufficient for him and he relies on Him to guide him to the straight path.


Does the science of fiqh have any effect on aqeedah?

Fiqh does not influence aqeedah – these are two separate sciences and standalone topics. The scholars of fiqh have different opinions regarding acceptance and rejection of narrations. It is about different methodologies and rulings.

How important is it to follow one school of thought?

Is it compulsory to follow one madhab? It is recommended to learn one school and especially if your community is following one school it will be alien for you to follow a different school so follow your community otherwise you will be the lone sheep. It helps you to understand otherwise you have no one around to support you it is recommended.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.