This is the fourth article in a series based on the On Demand Course: The Hanafi Way: Lessons from Kawthari’s Fiqh Ahl al Iraq. It lays out the great defense of the Hanafi school in the 20th century by Imam Kawthari.
Hadith is that which is transmitted. What it relates to is the legislative example that is the Sunna (the way that is followed). The focus of the scholars of Fiqh is to look at what extent the meaning is established. However, the evidence has to be transmitted soundly.
They look at the levels of the meaning being established and how this relates to what else has been established by specific texts and decisive general principles.
The Mursal Hadith
The Hanafis accept the mursal hadith. This is a hadith in which there is a skip in the chain of transmission. Some may describe the mursal as the hadith in which a Companion is omitted. But if it was known a Companion was missing, there would be no point of disagreement.
The reality is that often in one generation, people narrate from their seniors as well as their peers. So a Follower (Tabi‘i) may narrate to another Follower, who may narrate to another Follower, etc.
Types of Mursal Hadith
One type is where a Follower ascribes a hadith to the Prophet (Allah bless him and gives him peace). But, a Follower by definition, did not meet the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Another type is where a follower of the follower (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in) relates from a Companion. By definition, they are those who met the Followers but did not meet the Companions. So again there is a missing link(s) in the chain.
Later Hadith scholars discounted the mursal. One of the reasons was the length of the chains by their time. Imam Tabari remarked that the rejection of mursal hadith among Hadith scholars generally came after the year 200AH. Certainly late in the second century. In summary, the Hadith scholars post Imam Shafi‘i did not accept mursal hadith.
Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, and early Hadith scholars however did accept the mursal. The Hanafis accept the mursal hadith on the condition that the one who is affirming the skip in the chain of transmission is trustworthy.
Imam Malik’s Muwatta is full of mursal hadiths. Likewise, Kitab al-Zuhd of Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak. There are many of these early books. Mursal hadith were widespread.
Imam Abu Dawud (the author of the Sunan) wrote a famous treatise to the people of Mecca. He mentioned that the scholars of the past acted upon the mursal, and used them as an evidentiary basis. He cites among them Sufyan al-Thawri, Malik bin Anas, and Al-Awza‘i. When Imam Shafi‘i came, he objected to their use.
It is understandable from the point that there was a significant difference in the first century, in the first half of the second century, and even the late second century, because the chains of transmissions were shorter. The longer they get, the more difficult it is to verify.
The issue of the mursal hadith is not an innovation of Abu Hanifa, His way was a continuation of what went before him, what was prevalent in his time, and also what was prevalent in the time of his students. Not just amongst the Hanafis but across the Umma. If the tests of consistency and coherence are applied to the mursal narrations used by the Hanafis, they pass.
This is a wider acceptance of hadith than you find amongst the traditionalists. It was frequent among the early generations to narrate hadiths with a missing link. If the scholar of Fiqh sees that the narrator who is doing irsal is trustworthy, and the hadith passes the tests of consistency, they would accept it rather than resort to analogy.
Reasons for Difference
Imam Abu Hanifa’s use of the mursal (with sound transmission) is based on his seeing the narration as sound. Others may believe it to be weak but that isn’t the case for Abu Hanifa. That is one reason for the difference.
A key distinguishing characteristic of Hanafi Hadith methodology is preferring the decisively established to what is not decisively established. The Hanafis look at how a text, whether through a continuous chain of transmission or with a mursal chain of transmission, which otherwise fulfills the criteria of sound transmission, fit into what is decisively established.
Hanafis distinguish between a text whose indication is decisive and a text that is non-decisive in its indication. They not only look at the specific text related to an issue but also the underlying principles.
The Hanafis understand the non-decisive text, if it goes against the decisive text, as being exceptional. It does not establish a principle. That is the initial assumption.
An example is that there’s authentic Hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) prayed two units and gave salams in a four-unit, silent prayer. A companion (Dhu al-Yadayn) asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “Was the prayer shortened or did you forget?” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) responded, “All that did not happen.” Then he got up and prayed two other units and they prayed with him.
We know decisively that you cannot speak in prayer. The Hanafis believe that the Hadith of Dhu al-Yadayn is earlier than the many texts that come later.
“This prayer of ours is not the place for ordinary human speech…” [Nasa‘i]
As well as various Quranic verses that came later. Allah says:
وَقُومُوا۟ لِلَّهِ قَـٰنِتِینَ
“And stand before Allah humble in adoration.” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 2:238]
The Hanafis are not rejecting the hadith. The transmission is one thing. It is a matter of what the meaning is that is understood.
There are reasons why they did this. Among them, there are a number of possibilities that can relate to non-decisive narrations. Even if it is soundly transmitted (as a singular transmission) it is possible that the narrator misunderstood.
- There may be context that needs to be looked into.
- It could be an exceptional circumstance.
- The narrator could be transmitting by meaning.
- Another meaning could fit better (confirmed by secondary evidence).
The Buyer and Seller
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said in the rigorously authentic Hadith, “The buyer and seller have the right of cancelling as long as they have not parted.”
The outward purport of this Hadith would be that either buyer and seller (even after the sale is made and while they are still together) could cancel the sale. The Hanafis considered that when a sale happens, the item of sale belongs to the buyer and the price belongs to the seller. It is known clearly that it is not permitted to transact or do anything with the property of another without their permission or agreement.
How is this Hadith to be understood? In the Arabic language tabayu‘ is a verbal noun. It can either relate to when you are engaging in the action or after the action. So the buyer and seller are literally mutabayi‘an when they are in the process of buying and selling (either in negotiation or when the offer has been made and not yet accepted). That is when they are literally buying and selling.
After the sale happens, they are only called mutabayi‘an in metaphorical usage. So during negotiation, a party can retract their offer and the other party does not have a right to object or there is the option to reject the offer. But there is no option of cancelling within the session (majlis) unless they agree to it.