Of all the works of Hadith, Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are regarded as the most authentic and authoritative books, after Al-Quran.
Indeed the very word “Sahih” means “authentic”. Sahih Al-Bukhari was compiled by Imam (leader) of Hadith, Muhammad Ibn Isma’eel Al-Bukhari, born 194H in Bukhara, central Asia. He traveled at an early age seeking knowledge to Hijaz (Makkah and Madeenah), Ancient Syria, Iraq, Egypt etc. He devoted more than 16 years of his life to the actual compilation of this work. He learnt from more than 1000 scholars.
It is said that Imam Al-Bukhari collected over 300,000 Hadiths and he himself memorized 200,000 of which some were unreliable. He wrote many books especially on the bibliography of Hadeeth narrators and other books on various issues of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). However, his book ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari’, stands out for being the most authentic book of Hadith. It was also the first book to contain only authentic Hadiths, while previous books contained authentic and non-authentic Hadiths, as well as sayings of the companions and others. Imam Al-Bukhari died in his hometown, Bukhara in the territory of Khurasan (West Turkistan), in the year 256H.
He grouped the traditions of the Prophet under various headings dealing with specific points of Islamic jurisprudence. In his time, the schools of law had been generally established and his objective was to catalogue the traditions he regarded as authentic in relation to their respective topics of jurisprudence.
Before he recorded each Hadith, he would perform ablution and offer a two-Rak’ah prayer and supplicate to Allah. Many religious scholars of Islam tried to find fault in the great remarkable collection, but all in vain. It is for this reason, they unanimously agreed that the most authentic book after the Book of Allah is Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Some facts about Sahih Al-Bukhari
1. It contains 7,275 Hadiths, which he chose from the large number of Hadiths that he had collected.
2. The number of complete unrepeated Hadiths is 2230.
3. All the Hadiths mentioned are authentic.
4. The conditions for accepting a Hadith were very stringent. Such as:
a) The chain of narrators must be linked, i.e. every narrator must have met his predecessor, (the man of whom he heard the Hadeeth from, up to the Prophet .)
b) For it to be enclosed in the Sahih, the narrators must be of the highest caliber regarding their piety, manners, memory, integrity, etc.
5. The book is not a mere book of narrations; it is essentially a course of study on Hadith, its derivatives, inductions and research.
6. Each one of its 97 chapters is headed by a relevant verse from the Quran that complements the meaning of the Hadiths quoted.
7. Finally, much more could be said about this monumental work, however, it is enough to say that many people have reached fame and achieved the highest qualifications by studying the book, researching it and commenting on it.
Sahih Muslim is the second most authentic book of Hadith after Sahih Al-Bukhari, compiled by Imam Muslim ibn Al-Hajaj Al-Nisapuri . Born in 202H and died in 261 H. He traveled widely to many countries such as Iraq, Hijaz, Ancient Syria, and Egypt to gather his collection of Hadeeth. He learnt from many scholars, most of which were Al-Bukhari’s teachers. He also learnt from the Imam Al-Bukhari himself and became his most loyal student. Like Imam Al-Bukhari, he wrote many books on the sciences of Hadith.
He, Allah have mercy upon him, sought not so much to complement the issues at stake in the fiqh (the lslamic jurisprudence) but rather to produce a collection of sound traditions, an authentic record, on which future studies of Hadith could be based.
Some facts about Sahih Muslim
1. The book contains 4000 non-repeated Hadiths and 12000 repeated ones.
2. Many narrations are mentioned in Sahih Al-Bukhari, but with different chain of narrators.
3. In every chapter more than one Hadith with the same meaning but with different chains and text are listed. The first Hadith in each chapter is the strongest, followed by weaker narrations in order to strengthen weaker narrations.
4. Excellent classification.
5. The book is forwarded by a detailed introduction about the basis of the sciences of Hadith.
Sahih Al-Bukhari is preferred over Sahih Muslim based on the authenticity of the Hadiths. Imam Al-Bukhari was more strict in selecting Hadiths (chains) than Imam Muslim . Besides considering all the conditions of a Sahih Hadith, Imam Al-Bukhari stipulated a further condition that a narrator should meet the person from whom he is narrating the Hadith.
Imam Muslim however, did not stipulate the evidence of meeting the narrator from whom he is narrating, but according to him, it is sufficient to accept the Hadith of a narrator if he lives in the same period and there was the possibility of meeting the narrator from whom he is reporting the Hadith. So, the condition of Imam Muslim was less strict than the condition of Imam Al-Bukhari.
While Bukhari’s compilation is considered the more reliable of the two, Muslim’s arrangement of his material has been recognized as superior, and rightly so. While Al-Bukhari made the traditions in his collection testify to his own schedule of various points of law, Muslim left them to speak for themselves.