The Soundest Book

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Dr Abu Zayd

They asked: What is the greatest book?

I replied: After the Book of God, the greatest book undoubtedly is the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imām Bukhārī, entitled al-Jāmiʿ al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣar min Umūr Rasūlillāh wa Sunanihī wa Ayyāmihī. Nothing like it has ever been authored in Islam or any other tradition. It is a sound book of the highest quality, accuracy and precision. Among all works, it offers the greatest insights into understanding the Qurʾān, chains of transmission, ḥadīth sciences, fiqh, history and language. I have explained some of its unique characteristics in various articles which form a book entitled Madkhal ilā Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (‘Introduction to Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī’).

They asked: What is the soundest work?

I replied: Soundness is of various degrees, which I will summarize for the sake of ease into three levels: 1. the Ṣaḥīḥ compilations of Bukhārī and Muslim; 2. those ṣaḥīḥ (sound) reports that are not within these two collections but have been deemed such by Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Abū Dāwūd, Tirmidhī, and even by Bukhārī and Muslim in their other works; and 3. the ṣaḥīḥ reports deemed by individuals of the likes of Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Ḥibbān, al-Ḥākim and others.

They asked: What is the soundest of all these works?

I replied: It is enough for you what I mentioned that the soundest works after the Qurʾān are the Ṣaḥīḥ works of Bukhārī and Muslim.

They asked: Please inform us of the soundest one of the two.

I replied: I am afraid that your minds would not be pleased with my view on that and not be able to reflect deeply or delve into it further. And I am afraid you will accuse me of what I am innocent.

They replied: Please don’t fear anyone but God.

I replied: If you insist, then know that the soundest of the two is the book of Imām Muslim entitled al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣar min al-Sunan bi Naql al-ʿAdl ʿan al-ʿAdl ilā Rasūlillāh.

They replied: Why are you fond of bringing fringe, anomalous views (shādh) to the people of knowledge?

I asked: What is so anomalous about my view?

They replied: You have opposed the majority of this nation, past to present.

I replied: Did I not explain in my previous article that an anomalous opinion is different than an anomalous report? An anomalous report is one that is related by a reliable person which opposes a larger group of reliable people, while an anomalous opinion is one that opposes another that has stronger proofs without consideration for numbers. So please don’t oppose me by referencing the views of the majority, but rather, oppose me by presenting stronger proofs.

They said: The majority of the scholars of this nation did not adopt the view of preferring Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī over Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim except due to the evidences for that, which Ibn Ḥajar summarized in his work, Nuzhat al-Naẓar Sharḥ Nukhbat al-Fikr.

I asked: Bring me the reference.

They replied: Ibn Ḥajar stated:

“In the book of Bukhārī, those features which determine soundness are present in a more complete and stringent fashion than in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, and Bukhārī’s conditions are stronger and more correct than those in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.

As for his superiority from the perspective of connectedness of chain, Bukhārī stipulated the condition of narrators having met, even if it was documented only once, while Muslim sufficed with their being contemporaries.

His superiority in narrator integrity and accuracy is demonstrated by the fact that the narrators who have been disputed are in greater number in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim than in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī. Bukhārī does not relate their reports frequently, and when he does, they are usually from his own teachers from whom he has taken ḥadīth reports and has scrutinized their ḥadīth reports. Muslim does not do the same.

His superiority in anomalous and defective reports is demonstrated by the fact that Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī has fewer criticized reports than Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.”

I answered: His first point about the superiority of Bukhārī in connectedness of chains is not acceptable. The truth is that both Ṣaḥīḥ collections have the very same conditions of connectedness, as Imām Muslim has explicitly clarified in his introduction to his Ṣaḥīḥ. This was a matter that was agreed upon by proficient ḥadīth experts, with no differences. I have clarified this point in my introduction to Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and in various articles.

As for the other two points, he is indeed correct, for the disputed reporters are indeed greater in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim than in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, while disputed reports are fewer in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī than in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. But this does not prove the superiority of Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī over Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.

They asked: Why do you deny obvious facts based upon your own views? Is not revealing in your views a blameworthy and illogical matter?

I replied: Don’t rush me but listen to me patiently.

They replied: Ok, please bring forth your argument.

I replied: You should know that Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, as the author has indicated in his own introduction and is obvious to anyone who has looked into the book, includes three types of ḥadīth reports:

1. primary corpus ḥadīth (uṣūl), which are reports of primary-tier narrators in integrity and precision; 2. supporting ḥadīth (mutābaʿāt), which are reports of narrators of a similar level of integrity but lesser precision; and 3. defective ḥadīth reports (muʿallal), which are related by Muslim only to highlight their defects.

The ṣaḥīḥ reports are undoubtedly the primary corpus ones, which Muslim has exhaustively included in his work and bolstered with supporting narrations. As for the disputed narrators in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, they are primarily from the second-tier supporting reports, while the disputed reports of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim are mostly from the supporting or defective ḥadīth reports.

The disputed narrators among Muslim’s primary corpus reports are exceedingly rare. Moreover, these disputes concerning their status do not affect the soundness of their reports at all, but this is not the place to expound on this.

The summary of the matter is that Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim—i.e. its primary corpus material—is purer and sounder than Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī. I have only preferred Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim over Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī in the matter of soundness, while in all other matters, Bukhārī’s work is undoubtedly greater and far more outstanding.

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator