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Saheeh Muslim

The position of al-Bukhaaree's Saheeh in the literature is not, of course, unrivalled. Another Saheeh was being compiled almost simultaneously, which was considered its superior by some, its equal by others, and second to it by most. This was the Saheeh of Abul-Husayn 'Asaakir ad-Deen Muslim Ibn al-Hajjaaj Ibn Muslim al-Qushayree an-Neesaabooree known as Imaam Muslim.

As his nisbah shows, Muslim belonged to the Qushayr tribe of the Arabs, an offshoot of the mighty clan of Rabee'ah. His tribe had taken an important part in the history of Islaam after the death of the Prophet (sal-Allaahu 'alayhe wa sallam). Haydah of Qushayr is mentioned in the Isaabah as one of the companions, while Qurra Ibn Hubayrah, another Qushayree, was appointed by the Prophet (sal-Allaahu 'alayhe wa sallam) as walee in charge of the alms of his people. Ziyaad Ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan al-Qushayree is said to have killed a vast number of Byzantine troopers at the Battle of the Yarmook, in which he lost one of his legs.

After the great Islaamic conquests, various families of Qushayrees migrated from Arabia and settled in the new provinces, some in the west, and others in the east. Kulthoom Ibn 'Iyaad and his nephew Balj Ibn Bishr, who had served as governors of Africa and Andalus (Spain) respectively, settled down in a district near Qurtuba, Andalus (Cordoba, Spain). Another Qushayree family made their residence at nearby al-Beera, Andalus (Elvira, Spain). Others headed east, and settled in Khurasaan. Among them was one Zuraarah, who served as provincial governor for a time. His son 'Amr, and grandson Humayd Ibn 'Amr, settled down at Neesaaboor. From them our author was probably descended: the son of al-Hajjaaj, who was himself a hadeeth scholar of no mean repute.

Very little is known about Muslim's early life. It is said that he was born in 202 A.H. / 817 C.E., and that having learnt and excelled in the usual disciplines at a precocious age, focussed his attention on hadeeth. In its pursuit he travelled widely, visiting all the important centres of learning in Persia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. He attended the lectures of most of the great hadeeth scholars of his day, including Ishaaq Ibn Raahawayh, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, 'Ubaydullaah al-Qawaarifee Shuwayh Ibn Yoonus, 'Abdullaah Ibn Maslamah, and Hamalah Ibn Yahyaa. He settled down at Neesaaboor, earning a living from a small business, and devoted the remainder of his time to the service of the Prophetic Sunnah. He died in the year 261 A.H. / 874 C.E.

His character is said to have been admirable. His fearless loyalty to the truth is shown by his persistence in associating with al-Bukhaaree despite the political pressures brought to bear on the latter. Like al-Bukhaaree, he adhered to the usual Islaamic ethic of refusing to speak ill of anyone.

Like al-Bukhaaree too, he wrote a good number of books and treatises on hadeeth, and on related subjects. Ibn anl-Nadeem mentions five books by him on the subject. Haajee Khaleefah adds the names of many other works by him in the same field. In his Saheeh he examined a third of a million ahaadeeth, from which he selected only about four thousand, which the hadeeth scholars unanimously regarded as sound.

Like al-Bukhaaree, Muslim regarded a hadeeth as Saheeh only when it had been handed down to him through a continuous isnaad of known and reliable authorities, was compatible with other material established in this way, and was free from various types of deficiency. He adopted a threefold classification of ahaadeeth.

Firstly, there were those which had been related by narrators who were straighforward and steadfast in their narrations, did not differ much in them from other reliable narrators, and did not commit any palpable confusion in their reports.

Secondly, there were traditions whose narrators were not distinguished for their retentive memory and steadfastness in narrations.

Thirdly, there were the ahaadeeth narrated on the authority of people whom all or most hadeeth scholars declared were of questionable reliability. According to Imaam Muslim, the first group makes up the bulk of his book; the second is included as corroborative of the first, while the third is entirely rejected.

Because Saheeh Muslim's Book of Tafseer is neither complete nor systematic, the work is not considered a comprehensive collection (Jaami') like that of Imaam al-Bukhaaree. Despite this, Imaam Muslim strictly observed many principles of the science of hadeeth which had been to some extent neglected by al-al-Bukhaaree. He draws a distinction between the terms akhbaranaa and haddathanaa, and always uses the former in connection with the traditions which had been recited to him by his own teachers, assigning the latter to what he had in turn read out to them. He was more strict and consistent than al-Bukhaaree in pointing out the differences between the narrations of the various narrators, and in stating their character and other particulars. He also showed greater acumen in the arrangement of traditions and their asaaneed in his work, and in presenting the different versions of a single tradition in one place. He added a long introduction, in which he explained some of the principles which he had followed in the choice of materials for his book; and which should be followed in accepting and relating traditions.

Upon completing his Saheeh Imaam Muslim presented it to Abu Zar'ah of Rayy, a hadeeth scholar of great repute, for his comments. Abu Zar'ah inspected it closely, and Muslim deleted everything which he thought was defective, and retained only such traditions as were declared by him to be genuine.

Thus carefully compiled by Muslim, and proof-read by Abu Zar'ah the Saheeh has been acclaimed as the most authentic collection of traditions after that of al-Bukhaaree, and superior to the latter in the details of its arrangement. Some hadeeth scholars hold it to be superior to the work of al-Bukhaaree in every respect.

After Muslim, a number of other scholars also compiled Saheeh collections. These include Ibn Khuzaymah (died 311 A.H. / 923 C.E.), Abu Haatim Muhammad Ibn Hibbaan (died 354 A.H. / 965 C.E.), and others. None of them, however, ever gained the recognition and popularity which the Muslim community has accorded the definitive achievements of al-Bukhaaree and Muslim.