The third century of the Hejira has been the most congenial period for the collection and development of Prophet’s Traditions in the Muslim world. During this period as many as six well-known collections of Traditions, popularly called as ‘Sahih’ (authentic collections) saw the light of day. These included the “Sahih’ Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.
During this period, conditions were extremely favorable for the collection of Traditions. A certain unanimity had been attained on all disputed points, particularly on questions of law and doctrine and a definite opinion regarding the value of most Traditions had been formed by the well-known Muslim scholars. It was, thus, possible to proceed and collect all such Traditions which were generally accepted as reliable.
The most outstanding reporters of the Traditions had been Hazrat Aisha, Hazrat Abu Huraira, Hazrat Abdullah ibn Abbas, Hazrat Fatima az-Zahra, Hazrat Abdulla ibn Umar, Hazrat Abdulla ibn Masood, Hazrat Zaid ibn Sabit, Hazrat Uns ibn Malik and Hazrat Saeed ul Maseeb al-Makhzoomi, Several collections of Traditions were prepared by different scholars through these reporters. In the beginning, Traditions were arranged according to their transmitters and not according to their contents. The best known of such collections is the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The best collection of Traditions of this period is the Muwatta of Imam Malik.
But, later the collections of Traditions were arranged according to their contents, more scientifically and conveniently. Such collections arranged according to chapters are called Musannaf (arranged). Six such collections of Traditions universally recognized by the learned Muslims as Sahih (authentic) appeared during the Third century A.H. These are the collections of (1) Imam Bukhari (died in 256 A.H.–870 A.C.), (2) Imam Muslim (died in 261 A.H.-875 A.C.), (3) Al Dawood (died in 275 A.H.-888 A.C.), (4) Al Tirmizi (died in 279 A.H.892 A.C.), (5) Al Nasai (died in 303 A.H.-915 A.C.), and (6) Ibn Maja (died in 273 A.H.-886 A.C.). These books are recognized as authentic Traditions. Of these, the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are held in high esteem in the Muslim world, ranking only second to the Holy Quran.
The merit of the collections of Imam Bukhari and Muslim lies not in the fact that they had been able to sort genuine Traditions out of a mass of circulating material on the subject, but because their collections were universally acclaimed as genuine, particularly by the learned and orthodox Muslims. The Sahih Muslim (authentic collection of Traditions by Imam Muslim) is considered only second to Sahih Bukhari.
Al Hajjaj Abul Husain Al Kushairi Al Nishapuri, better known as Imam Muslim, was born at Nishapur in 202 A.H., 817 A.C. or 206 A.H., 821 A.C. and died in 261 A.H., 857 A.C., and was buried at Nasarabad, a suburb of Nishapur.
After completing his education, Muslims set out to collect Traditions for his memorable work on the subject. He traveled extensively to collect Traditions in Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq and consulted some of outstanding authorities on the subject, including Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ishaq ibn Rahuya. His Sahih is said to have been compiled out of more than three lakh Traditions collected by him. He also wrote a number of books on Fiqh traditionists and biographies, which are not extant at present.
His outstanding collection of Traditions, Sahih Muslim, is distinguished from other such collections in the matter that it is sub-divided into chapters. It is not difficult to trace in the order of Traditions in Muslim’s Sahih a close connection with corresponding ideas of Fiqh.
Secondly, Muslims has paid particular attention to Isnads (chain of authentic reporters) which “serve as an introduction to either the same or to slightly different Main (text). Muslim has been praised for his accuracy regarding this point.” In other respects, Bukhari’s Sahih is superior to Muslims, a fact which has been accepted by his great admirer, Al-Nawawi, who has written a copious commentary on Muslim’s Sahih, which itself is a work of immense value on Muslim Theology and Fiqh.’
Imam Bukhari has added copious notes to his chapters, which are not found in Muslim’s book. But both contain Traditions not only relating to the canon law but also many ethical, historical, and dogmatic traditions.
Muslim has written a learned introduction dealing with the Science of Traditions to his outstanding work, Sahih Muslim. The work, consisting of 52 chapters, deals with common subjects of Traditions-the five pillars of religion, marriage, barter, slavery, hereditary law, war, sacrifice, manners, and customs of the Prophet and the Companions and other theological subjects. The book opens with a chapter, giving a complete survey of the early theology of Islam and closes with a short but comprehensive chapter on the Holy Quran.