Al-Sihah al-Sitta

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Most Important Hadith Books
(The Four Books)
(The Authentic Six)

Al-Ṣiḥāḥ al-Sitta (Arabic: الصحاح الستة, literally: the Authentic Six) refers to 6 huge Sunni collections of hadiths. They are very reliable for Sunni Muslims and are considered as their most important religious sources after the Qur'an. Only two of these sources are entitled, "Sahih" (reliable) and the rest are entitled, "Sunan" (traditions), but all of them are called "Sihah" (plural form of "Sahih"). They include: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan Ibn Maja, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, and Sunan al-Nasa'i.

On the basis of Shiite, and even some Sunni, criteria for the evaluation of hadiths, some hadiths in these sources are unreliable, and even fabricated.

Sahih al-Bukhari


The full title of the book is al-Jami' al-musnad al-sahih al-mukhtasar min umur Rasul Allah (s) wa sunanih wa ayyamih. It is the most reliable book of hadiths for Sunni Muslims and their most reliable source of religious knowledge after the Qur'an. It was compiled and written by Muhammad b. Isma'il al-Bukhari (b. 194/809-10 d. 256/869-70) within 16 years from among 600,000 hadiths. It involves issues of beliefs and fiqh (jurisprudence).

Sahih al-Bukhari is organized into 97 books and 3450 sections. There are different accounts of the number of its hadiths.

If its repeated hadiths are counted, then the number of its hadiths amounts to, on Ibn Salah's count, to 7,275 hadiths, and if repeated hadiths are set aside, on his and al-Nawawi's counts, it amounts to 4000 hadiths, but according to Ibn Hajar, it amounts to 2,761 hadiths.

It is said that when al-Bukhari finished his book, he presented it to prominent Sunni figures and leaders of hadiths at the time, such as Ahmad b. Hanbal, 'Ali b. al-Madini and Yahya b. Mu'in, and they confirmed the reliability of all of its hadiths, except 4 hadiths.

Sunni Muslims agree that the most reliable book after the Qur'an is Sahih al-Bukhari and then Sahih Muslim.

Expositions and Commentaries

Over 100 expositions and commentaries are written for Sahih al-Bukhari; some of which are as follow:

  • Fath al-bari fi sharh Sahih al-Bukhari by Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani.
  • 'Umda al-qari fi sharh Sahih al-Bukhari by al-'Ayni al-Hanafi.
  • Irshad al-sari ila Sahih al-Bukhari by Shahab al-Din al-Qastalani.

Shiite Arguments for its Unreliability

According to the Shi'a, there are reasons to cast doubts on the reliability of Sahih al-Bukhari, including the following:

  • Al-Bukhari was contemporary with Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), but he did not transmit a single hadith from these two Imams or their preceding Imams (a). Al-Bukhari's bias was so strong that he did not transmit a hadith from children and companions of the Imams (a) neither, while there were prominent transmitters of hadiths among them. However, he transmits many hadiths from Khawarij despite his knowledge of their hostility to Ahl al-Bayt (a).
  • Some virtues of Ahl al-Bayt (a) are cited in Sahih Muslim, but al-Bukhari refused to cite them in his book.
  • There are many distortions in hadiths cited in al-Bukhari's book. For example, there are hadiths in Sahih Muslim which are cited in Sahih al-Bukhari with the same chains of transmitters, though in several different wordings (thus, yielding different hadiths).
  • Some hadiths in al-Bukhari's book are fractionated in a way that brings changes to their meanings.
  • Some hadiths are not cited with their exact words; rather they are rephrased in accordance with the way the transmitter understands them to mean.
  • There are some unreliable or fabricated hadiths in this book. Some researchers appeal to evidence and criteria of the science of hadith to show that some hadiths in this book are fabricated.
  • It is not true to attribute the whole book to the author.

Sahih Muslim

This book is known variously as al-Musnad al-sahih, al-Musnad, and al-Jami' al-sahih and was written by Muslim b. Hajjaj al-Nayshaburi (d. 261/875-6). After Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim is the most reliable and significant source of hadith for Sunni Muslims. Although it was written in the period of Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), it has not cited any hadiths from them.

Sahih Muslim consists of 54 books, which seem to have been organized by someone other than the author. The book contains 7,275 hadiths selected from among 300,000 hadiths.

Unlike Sahih al-Bukhari, there are hadiths in Sahih Muslim concerning the virtues of Ahl al-Bayt (a) and the endorsement of some Shiite beliefs and rulings, including:

Problems and Objections

  • Sahih Muslim is problematic with respect to chains of transmissions as well as the contents of some of its hadiths. In some hadiths, the transmitters between the author and the main transmitter are not mentioned (which is called "ta'liq" or suspension), and in some cases, the transmitter's comments are also cited (such a hadith is called "mudarraj" or "maqtu'"). Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani wrote the book, Wuquf 'ala ma fi Sahih Muslim min al-mawquf (knowing "mawquf" hadiths in Sahih Muslim), in which he mentioned 192 such hadiths. There are 14 cases of "ta'liq" in this book, as there are cases of "tadlis" in this book as well (that is, cases in which an unreliable transmitter is eliminated from a chain of transmitters or a reliable transmitter is added to it to make the hadith look reliable).
  • Moreover, there are fabricated hadiths in Sahih Muslim which seriously calls the reliability of this book into question.

Sunan Abi Dawud

The author of Sunan Abi Dawud is Sulayman b. Ash'ath, known as Abu Dawud al-Sajistani (d. 272/885-6). The book contains 5,274 hadiths of 40 jurisprudential books. Topics such as al-Mahdi (the Book of the Mahdi), al-Malahim (the Book of the Great Battles), and the jurisprudential issue of Rida' al-Kabir (who was made prohibited through breastfeeding an adult) are discussed in this book.

Many hadiths which are cited in Abu Dawud's book, are rejected or called into question by other Sunni scholars. Some prominent Sunni scholars believe that there are many unreliable, and even fabricated, hadiths in Sunan Abi Dawud. In his book, al-Mawdu'at (fabricated hadiths), Ibn al-Jawzi has mentioned some fabricated hadiths in this book. Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani wrote a book called Da'if Sunan Abi Dawud (weak hadiths in Sunan Abi Dawud). He holds that there are over 800 unreliable hadiths in this book. Moreover, he believes that there are about 50 "munkar" or denounced hadiths (hadiths whose contents are not accepted by the majority of Muslims) and about 50 "shadhdh" or irregular hadiths (ones which are transmitted by a reliable person but goes against another hadith which is transmitted by a more reliable person).

Sunan al-Tirmidhi

Sunan al-Tirmidhi was written by Muhammad b. 'Isa al-Tirmidhi (d. 279/892-3), a student of al-Bukhari. It has 46 books. Some of its hadiths are fabricated and it contains false attributions to the Prophet (s). Hafiz b. al-Jawzi and some other prominent Sunni figures have explicitly said that some hadiths in this book are fabricated.

Hadith al-Thiqlayn, the occasion of the revelation of al-Tathir Verse, as well as virtues of Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) are cited in al-Tirmidhi's book. The citation of such hadiths in the book led Ibn Taymiyya to attack the book. Thus, the book is not considered as reliable by Wahhabis and advocates of Ibn Taymiyya.

Some distortions seem to have occurred in hadiths regarding the virtues of Imam Ali (a) cited in Sunan al-Tirmidhi. For example, the Hadith of Madinat al-'Ilm which is cited in Jami' al-usul by reference to Sunan al-Tirmidhi cannot be found in the present version of al-Tirmidhi's book.

Sunan al-Nasa'i

Sunan al-Nasa'i, also known as al-Sunan al-Kubra, was written by Abu 'Abd al-Rahman Ahmad b. 'Ali b. Shu'ayb al-Nasa'i (d. 303/915-6).

There are many unreliable hadiths in al-Nasa'i's book. In his Zad al-ma'ad fi huda khayr al-'ibad, Ibn Qayyim has mentioned hadiths from al-Nasa'i's book which were rejected by prominent Sunni scholars with respect to their chains of transmitters, contents, or both.

In his book, Sahih wa da'if Sunan al-Nasa'i, Nasir al-Din al-Albani has considered over 80 hadiths in Sunan al-Nasa'i to be unreliable with respect to their chains of transmitters, and over 300 hadiths to be unreliable in general.

In an answer to questions regarding the reliability of all hadiths in his book, al-Nasa'i said: "it is not the case that all hadiths in this book are reliable." He later selected reliable hadiths of his book and called it al-Mujtaba (selections) or al-Sunan al-Sughra.

Sunan Ibn Maja

Sunan Ibn Maja was written by Muhammad b. Yazid b. Maja al-Qazwini, known as Ibn Maja (d. 273/886-7). The book contains about 4000 hadiths, 428 of which are reliable, 199 of which are good, 613 of which are unreliable, and 99 of which are rare (contrary to established views).

According to al-Sanadi, a commentator of Sunan Ibn Maja, there are about 400 hadiths in this book which are unreliable with respect to their chains of transmitters. There are so many unreliable and fabricated hadiths in Ibn Maja's book that some prominent Sunni scholars held that the book should be excluded from "al-Sihah al-Sitta". They believed that Ibn Maja's book does not deserve to be one of the "Sihah". They included Malik b. Anas' al-Muwatta' in al-Sihah al-Sitta, instead.

Many Sunni scholars believe that Ibn Maja's book is rife with fabricated and unreliable hadiths. Al-Albani in his book, Da'if Sunan Ibn Maja, and 'Abd al-Baqi in his Miftah al-Sunan, have criticized Sunan Ibn Maja.

Reliability of al-Sihah al-Sitta among Sunni Muslims

The 6 books known as "al-Sihah al-Sitta" are the most reliable sources for Sunni Muslims with regard to the principles of the Islamic beliefs, jurisprudential rulings, the exegesis of the Qur'an, and the history of the early period of Islam. They rely on hadiths cited in these books in their scholarships. Thus, it has been widely accepted by them that whatever is cited in al-Sihah al-Sitta is reliable.

For them, Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are more reliable than the other two. They take all hadiths in these two books to be reliable and acceptable, taking any doubts about their hadiths to be contrary to the consensus.

However, some Sunni scholars believe that there are unreliable and even fabricated hadiths in al-Sihah al-Sitta. They have written books to identify such hadiths.

The Shiite View on al-Sihah al-Sitta

According to Shiite scholars, there are both reliable and unreliable hadiths in these books. They hold that some hadiths in these books are contrary to trivialities of the reason and the Qur'an. Thus, each hadith should be evaluated after an examination of its chain of transmitters and content.

But if all hadiths in these books are reliable, they should all be treated as having the same value with respect to their chains of transmitters and contents.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken form صحاح سته in Farsi WikiShia.