The Six Books of Islam ‘Kutub al-Sittah’

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While the Prophet was still alive, his words and deeds began to be narrated from person to person by word of mouth. These narrations were very important. They helped relay to men all of the revelations of Allah. The prophet would receive them through a variety of means and his mission was to pass them on to the people. The Godly Revelations received on the night of the mirajj and afterwards were reflected in the Holy Quran. The revelations received during the rest of the life of the Messenger of Allah, when God Himself spoke through the Prophet’s mouth, served to put together the Sunnah, i.e. a collection of separate short stories the Hadith.

The Prophet could not read or write. Neither could his companions. But there was no need of that whatsoever. The live word breathing with Allah’s Grace was far more important that dry letters committed to paper. Upon hearing the Prophet’s speech, his companions would relay it further. This is the way the Sunnah was born, the Holy Tradition of Islam.

As time went by, there arose the need to write down this tradition and stories. The number of narrators was growing steadily and the danger of losing authenticity became great. That is why in 200 years after the Hijra (the migration of Muslims headed by the Prophet from Mecca to Medina in 622), through the effort of the Hadith collectors, the muhaddith scholars, collections of them were put together, which began to be handed down from generation to generation from then on. The collectors had to do a challenging job of double-checking each narrator in line with a large number of parameters and ascertaining their connection with the original word of the Prophet.

Six of the Hadith collections compiled in this manner were recognised as the most authentic ones and were codified as the Hadith Canon acceptable to all of the Sunni Muslims. The compilation is attributed to the Muslim bibliographer and scholar Ibn Qaisarani (1056-1113). He was born in Jerusalem. He learned to read and write early on and took studies with the best teachers in Persia, Palestine, Baghdad. Ibn Qaisarani earned his living by book copying and by writing philosophical and social pamphlets for the contemporary rulers of Aleppo and Mosul. While copying the Hadith, he thought it would be a good idea to index them, i.e. to append to them a list of words and notions mentioned in a Hadith with reference notes as to where they can be found. He chose six Hadith collections out of all the collections available back then, with one of the collections, the Hadith of Ibn Majah, having been made part of the Canon exclusively through his personal will, since many scholars back then doubted its complete authenticity.

The indexed Hadith Code was named ‘Kutub al-Sittah’, the Six Books. It is also known as ‘Al-Sihah al-Sittah’, the Authentic Six.

The following Hadith collections (in the order of their importance and authenticity) are included into it, all of them authored by Persian scholars:

1) Sahih al-Bukhari

2) Sahih Muslim

3) Sunan an-Nasai

4) Sunan Abu Dawood

5) Sunan at-Tirmidhi

6) Sunan ibn Majah

Thus in 300 years after the Hijra, Sunnah Canon has appeared, subsequently recognised as authentic by all of the Sunni scholars and serving as the source of much of the Islamic doctrine because of its authenticity.