History Of Compilation Of The Sunnah | Sahih Muslim: A Brief Look At The Author And The Work (1) | Omar Abdl-Haleem

The Compiler

THE COMPILER OF this Hadith collection is Imâm Abû Al-±usayn Muslim ibn Al-±ajjâj ibn Muslim—or  “Muslim” for short. There is dispute about the year of his birth, but it is almost certainly between 200 and 206h, or 815 and 821ce. There is a report that cites the exact time of his death as 25 Rajab 261h (875), at 55 hijri years old.

Appended to his given and paternal names are the nisba (relational) names Al-Qushayri and Al-Naysâbûrî. The first reflects the Arab lineage of the emigrant tribe of Banû Qushayr, who are thought to have entered the region between 632 and 644, though Muslim himself is said to have been of Khûrâsâni descent—his ancestry, either through conversion or service, bound up with the Qushayr. He was born in Naysâbûr (Nishapur) when it was part of the Abbasid region of Khurâsân (Khorasan), today part of Northeastern Iran.

The Title of His Work

This major Ḥadîth work is known as ßa^î^ Muslim and was called by its compiler, Al-Musnad Al-ßa^î^ Al-Mukhtar min Al-Sunan bi Naql Al-¢Adl ¢an Al-¢Adl ¢an Rasûlilâh, or The Abridged, Supported and Authentic [Book of Narrations] Transmitted by Narrators of Upright Character and Precise Memory.

What Caused Him to Compile This Work—and the Number of its Ahadith

In the generations leading up to the third hijri century, particularly in the preceding era, when conflict between the Umawi and ¢Abbâsi powers ruling over Muslims was rife, weak a^âdîth circulated among the masses of Muslims. The Muslim public was not readily able to differentiate between authenticated and spurious prophetic reports. To help Muslims easily and reliably access a body of the Prophet’s authentic statements, acts, and approved behaviors, Muslim ibn Al-±ajjâj compiled a book of ^adîth that people could depend on.

One may also infer that Muslim, like Bukhâri and the other great mu^addithîn, both before and after him, were consciously preserving the Sunnah, or “way,” of the Prophet œ, knowing that they were, in fact, part of the great mechanism established by Allah to preserve Divine Revelation. For the Sunnah of the Prophet œ is a full part of Revelation, along with the Quran. Indeed, some scholars, like Ibn Al-Jawzi, have called Hadith the Sharî¢ah itself, for it illustrates and explains the Quran.

In the course of this quest on the part of Muslim, the Hadith expert, to compile an authentic, reliable account of the Sunnah by way of the Prophet’s traditions, he received through oral report and inscription, as many as 300,000 ^adîth narrations. These he studied assiduously, developing a set of criteria in the process for categorizing the authenticity of their reported narrations and the veracity of their Texts.

Muslim was, of course, working from the evolving criteria for evaluating reports attributed to the Prophet œ that other Hadith scholars before him, in his time, and after him were meticulously establishing. From these hundreds of thousands of reports, he selected about 12,000 for his compendium, which comes down to us as ßa^î^ Muslim (or, “Sahih Muslim”). We must take into account that he usually has several narrations for a single ^adîth, so when we count the a^âdîth without repetition in ßa^î^ Muslim, the number comes to something like 4,000.

Comparison between Bukhari and Muslim

Imam Bukhâri had similarly compiled his ^adîth work before Muslim did in order to provide people with a book of reports from and about the Prophet œ that they could depend on. It might seem at first that Muslim’s compilation is redundant. Not so. Rather, ßa^î^ Muslim has its own benefits and distinguishing characteristics.

Muslim’s conditions for a |a^î^ ^adîth were somewhat less stringent than Bukhâri’s from a certain perspective—though nevertheless, of a high standard. This allowed Muslim to include in his collection a large number of a^âdîth that Bukhâri did not include in his, but which were still impeccably reliable.

Also, Muslim’s ßa^î^ is an easier read than is Bukhâri’s. Bukhâri repeats a single ^adîth throughout his book in various and sometimes numerous places. Moreover, he often summarizes or breaks up the Text of a ^adîth in accordance with the categories that he systematically developed (often along fiqh lines).

Further, in many places it is difficult for the reader of Bukhâri; that is, it requires a certain expertise of the reader, to understand why Bukhâri placed a ^adîth in a certain category. Muslim, on the other hand, places all the narrations he has chosen for a particular ^adîth in one place and narrates the ^adîth as is without summarizing or dividing and dispersing its Text. Muslim’s work thus enables the reader to easily find a ^adîth and compare its narrations without having to search throughout the entire work.

Bukhari and Muslim in Comparison to Other Sahih Compilations

Bukhâri and Muslim were not the only ones to compile a |a^î^ collection (an authentic book of a^âdîth). Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn ±ibbân were two others who did so. However, Bukhâri and Muslim are distinguished from other |a^î^ works in four ways:

First: Other |a^î^s, though they include only acceptable a^âdîth, do not have as high a standard of authenticity for ^adîth narration as Bukhâri and Muslim.

Second: Other |a^î^ works did not gain unequivocal acceptance by either the scholarly community or the Muslim community in general as having achieved by way of their criteria irreproachable acceptability of reports.

This means that these other collections:

  • May contain occasional weak a^âdîth
  • Their criteria failed to assure undisputed authenticity
  • Their selections did not unwaveringly meet their criteria
  • Their exceptions for reports did not achieve a widespread concurrence of judgment for their inclusion

Third: The Bukhâri and Muslim volumes are two of the “Six Books” that form the principle collection of a^âdîth in Islam, whereas other |a^î^ books are outside of the Six Books.

Fourth: Bukhâri and Muslim are unanimously recognized as the most learned, talented, practiced, and dedicated scholars when it comes to the science of Hadith, in addition to their noted outstanding character and morality as human beings.

Furthermore, Bukhâri and Muslim are recognized as the foremost scholars of narration without question.

To be continued, Inshâ’Allah, in Part 2.


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Written By

Omar Abdl-Haleem is a fourth generation Muslim in America. He has a BA from Al-Azhar University in Usul Al-Din, specializing in Hadith, and was about to finish his Master’s Degree from Al-Azhar in Hadith, when he had to leave Egypt for safety reasons in the fall of 2013. He has translated most of Ibn Al-Jawzi’s book: Sayd Al-Khatir into English, which he intends to complete (some episodes of Omar’s translation of this book have appeared in Aljumuah Website). He is also working on a Hadith book for English speakers that explains and teaches Mustalah Al-Hadith (Hadith Terminology) in common terms. His Arabic is native, having studied in Egypt since he was 14, and then full time after completion of High School in the US. He is invaluable for AlJumuah in accessing scholarly texts. He intends to complete his graduate studies in Hadith.

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