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The third century of the Hijra was the most fruitful period for the collection and development of hadiths of the Prophet (saw). During this period as many as six famous collections of hadiths popularly known as Sahih were written. There were Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sahih Tirmidhi, Sahih Abu Dawud, Sahih Nasa’i, and Sahih Ibn Majah.

 

All these collections are recognized by the Muslim world as authentic traditions. Of the six, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are held in the highest esteem by Muslim scholars around the world.

 

During this period conditions were very favourable for the collection of hadiths. A certain unanimity had been achieved on all disputed points, especially on questions of the principles governing hadith methodology as elaborated by Muslim scholars. Thus, the traditionists (hadith collectors) were able to proceed with confidence in the gathering of all such traditions as were generally accepted as reliable. 

 

The most outstanding of the rawis (reporters) of the hadiths were Hadrat Aishah, Hadrat Abu Hurairah, Hadrat Abdullah ibn Abbas, Hadrat Abdullah ibn Umar, Hadrat Ibn Mas’ud, Hadrat Anas ibn Malik, Hadrat Zaid ibn Thabit, and various others. Several collections of hadiths were compiled by these reporters which were then sifted, compared and finally approved by the traditionists. In the beginning hadiths were arranged according to their transmitters and not according to their contents. The Musnad of Imam hanbal is one of them. The greatest collection of traditions of this period is the Muwatta of Imam Malik.

 

However, at a later stage hadiths were rearranged more scientifically according to their contents. Such collections were referred to as Musannaf (arranged) as they were put into chapters in keeping with their subject matter.

 

The collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim were evaluated by the Muslim scholars as containing the most genuine traditions and were universally acclaimed as authentic. They were both

sorted out from a mass of circulated material on the sucject. Sahih Bukhari comes first for authenticity and Sahih Muslim comes second.

 

Al-Hajj Abul Hussain Al-Kushairi Al-Nishapuri, better known as Imam Muslim, was born at Nishapur in 202 AH and died in 261 AH (875 CE) and was buried at Nasarabad, asuburb of Nishapur. After completing his early education at Nishapur he set out to collect the hadiths that were destined to become his lasting legacy. He travelled extensively to collect hadiths in Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq and met and consulted some of the outstanding authorities in this field, including Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ishaq bin Rawaih, Imam Bukhari, Imam Yahya bin Yahya Tamimi, and Muhaddith bin Yahya Nishapuri. His students included Imam Tirmidhi, Imam Abu Bakr, Ibn Khuzaimah and Muhaddith bin Makhladi. That he was an Imamal-Hadith was recognized by all the great and leaned scholars of the Muslim world. Many great muhaddithin (hadith specialists) learned hadith from him. The well-known hadith expert Imam Abu Quraish says that out of the four great hadith memorizers Imam Muslim was one of them.

 

He also wrote a number of books on fiqh and other subjects. Of his many books, Kitab al-Jibdan,Kitab al-Mashaykh-i-Malik, Kitab al-MusnadulKabir and Jamiul Kabir are famous.

 

Imam Muslim collected hundreds of thousands of hadiths from his teachers and from other reporters. Then he sat down with other shaikhs of hadith of his time, compared his collections with those of others and consulted their opinions on each of his collections. Once they had approved his collections he entered them into his book. The renowned hadith memorizer of his time, Imam Abu Bakr al-Razi, read his collections, sifted through many of them and then allowed him to enter only those that he himself had approved.

 

(Prepared by Uztad Abdul Muhaemin Karim)