Sunni Muslims
July 2013 version


Non-Muslims are typically unaware that most Muslims believe and follow many additional things not found in the Qur'an, but in the collected traditions called hadiths. According to a footnote in one hadith translation, "These Ordinances constitute what is described as the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) and it has full legal force side by side with the Qur'an." (Sahih Muslim vol.4 p.1256 footnote). Sunnah means roughly "tradition", and Sunni Muslims are the 80 to 90% of all Muslims. Hadiths are the highest authority in Sunni Islam after the Qur'an.

To understand all of Islam, it is important to see the distinctives between Sunni Islam and other types. These divisions can be serious. For example, not only are Muslims today burning down churches in Egypt and Indonesia, but conservative Muslims have burned down mosques of other Muslims in the Sudan. Historically, early battles between the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and others were very bloody.

The Authoritative Collections of Hadiths

1. Bukhari (810-870 A.D. 256 A.H.) collected about 7,275 hadiths (3,000 to 4,000 independent sayings) (out of around 300,000 he knew of) that is almost universally recognized as "next only to the Qur'an in authority". Bukhari was nicknamed after the town of Bukhara in central Asia. All of this collection gives the ultimate claimed source of the hadith. Occasionally he gives multiple sources as saying the same. Bukhari gives many alleged miracles by Mohammed, though the Qur'an says Mohammed did no other miracles.

2. The Sahih Muslim, by Imam Muslim (817-875 A.D. 261 A.H.) is the second most authoritative collection, with 7,190 hadiths (4,000 independent sayings). He had a little different approach than Bukhari. He might repeat the same tradition 6, 10, or more times, one after another, many times with slightly different wording, based on the different sources claimed for the saying. Sahih Muslim gives an excerpt from a lost Sura of the Qur'an. It also gives many alleged miracles by Mohammed, though the Qur'an says Mohammed did no other miracles.

3. Abu Da'ud/Daw'ud/Dawud/Dawood al Sidjistani (817-888/889 A.D. 275 A.H.) has the third most authoritative collection of hadiths. After he finished his collection in 864/865 A.D. 241 A.H.) He submitted his collection to Ahmad bin Hanbal, who approve it. He collected 4,800 hadiths out of 500,000. His had the principle that "transmitters are considered trustworthy provided there is no formal proof to discredit them."

4. Abu' 'Isa Mohammed ibn 'Isa bin Sawra ut-Tirmidhi (825-892 A.D. 209-279 A.H.), a pupil of Abu Da'ud, has the fourth highest hadith collection, called the Jami. It has about 3,956 hadiths. This pupil of Bukhari was called Tirmidhi because he was born near the village of Tirmidh on the Oxus River. To clear up confusion, there was a famous Sufi mystic also nicknamed Tirmidhi, but they are not related.

5. Sunan Nasa'i (or Al Nasa) (830-915 A.D. 215-303 A.H.) later than the others, had a collection of 5,764 hadiths called the Suand that is of lesser authority.

6. Ibn Maja / Ibn-i-Majah (824-886/887 A.D. 273 A.H.) also had a collection of 4,341 Hadiths, but it is not as authoritative as the first four.

These six collections together are called Shiah Sitta. Beyond these early six collections are others. One Muslims writer said there was a seventh authoritative hadith collection called Muwatta' Malik. Other Sunni Hadiths are: Sunan al-Darimi, Musnad of al-Humaydi, Sunan al-Daraqutni and the Musnad  Ahmad ibn Hanbal

Yahya bin Sharaf ad-Din an-Nawawi (died 1278 A.D.) had 42 traditions called "the forty". It is memorized by children all over the world. Supposedly Mohammed said that whosoever knows these traditions Allah will raise up on the Last Day in the company of the jurists and the theologians.

Riyadh-us-Saleheen is a much later collection of 2,000 selected hadiths by Imam abu Zakariya yahya bin Sharaf an-Nawawi (1233-1277/1279 A.D.) He wrote a commentary on Bukhari and studied Sahih Muslim.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica mentions that Nawawi said some traditions were abrogated by the fiction of a higher tradition that was never written down.

Fiqh us-Sunnah (1985-1992) is a more modern and systemized collection, of which I have 5 volumes.

Here are the number of pages:hadiths per topic.



Sahih Muslim

Fiqh us-Sunnah

Business, money

301: 546

73 : 409


Dress, veils

98 : 179

42 : 248



61 : 111

55 : 286


Food, drink

170: 281

15 : 86



84 : 149

0 : 0


Healing, patients

82 : 502

22 : 135




90 : 377



21 : 37

33 : 158


Merits of persons


127: 157



185: 324

144: 584



433: 815




70 : 84

48 : 173


Taxes and alms

69 : 105

57 : 227


Teaching, Qur'an




War, Jihad,booty


69 : 181


Washing rituals

87 : 170

26 : 145







80%: 85%

83% : 83%


Shi'ites might note that while the hadiths directly refute Shi'ite Islam ('Ali not the successor, no special teaching, etc.) the hadiths were only collected over two centuries after Mohammed's death.

The Importance of the Hadiths

"This part of the hadith is clearly indicative of the fact that the Hadith is the indispensable key to the correct understanding of the Holy Qur'an, because as the bearer of Revelation, the Holy Prophet was best fitted and, therefore, divinely authorized to interpret and explain the implication of the Holy Qur'an."

(Sahih Muslim vol. 1 p.72 footnote)

In fact, one hadith indicates that Mohammed himself knew of the hadiths! Bukhari vol.1:98 p.79 says, "I [Mohammed] have thought that none will ask me about it before you [Abu Huraira] as I know your longing for the (learning of) Hadiths." Maybe Mohammed did a miracle of prophesying here.

Abu Huraira's Memory

"Narrated Abu Huraira: I said, 'O Allah's Apostle! I hear many narrations from you but I forget them.' He said, 'Spread your covering sheet.' I spread my sheet and he moved both his hands as if scooping something and emptied them in the sheet and said, 'Wrap it.' I wrapped it round my body, and since then I have never forgotten a single Hadith." Bukhari vol.4:841 p.538. See also vol.9:452 p.332, Sahih Muslim vol.4:6083-6085 p.1329-1330.


On one hand, the hadiths were collected over 200 years after Mohammed's death. On the other hand, the different collections act as a cross-reference on each other and are more or less independent (except that Tirmidhi studied under Bukhari.) In addition, there are four early biographers of Mohammed who wrote slightly earlier than the Hadith collectors.

Al-Wahidi/Wakidi (died 823 A.D.)

Ibn Sa'ad (died 845 A.D.)

Ibn Isaq/Ishaq (died 767 A.D.)

Ibn Jair al-Tabari (lived later, dying in 923 A.D.)

These also serve as a cross-check. Some might think Abu Huraira's memory was just a made-up hadith, like many others are universally acknowledged to be. So the issue is not whether a hadith collector or biographer made something up, but rather did they accept as genuine a bogus hadith. Sunni Muslims themselves admit there might be some small errors in the Hadiths, because the wording is different. However, they do not believe small errors that crept in invalidate the teaching of the hadiths.

Some Hadiths were abrogated, according to the titles in Sahih Muslim vol.1 no.682 p.195-197

Some Early Sunni Schools

Al-Awza'i (died 774 A.D.) emphasized the living tradition over legal hadiths. His school was supplanted by the Malikites.

The Thawriyya, started by Sufyan al-Thawri (716-778 A.D.) emphasized the hadiths over living tradition. They had two hadith collections that are now lost. The Thawriyya were supplanted by their adversaries the Hanafites.

The Mu'tazilites were founded by Wasil ibn Ata. They said that reason the most important. the attributes of God are not entities beside God. They explained away anthropomorphisms about God. The Mu'tazilites said the Qur'an was created and they emphasized human responsibility. They were skeptical of hadiths (remember this was prior to Bukhari and others sifting through the hadiths.) The Mu'tazilites were out of favor starting in 849 A.D.

Ash'ari (873-935 A.D.), was a former Mu'tazilite, was key in developing the logic of the Sunni schools.

The Zahiriyya/Dawudiyya "the literalists" were started by Dawud Khalaf (died 882 A.D.). They rejected human reasoning, although they accepted analogies.

The Kadarites said man has power over his own actions vs. predestination. One early leader, Ma'bad al-Juhani, was executed for his teaching in 699 A.D.

The Murjiites (postponers) emphasized never judging anyone, - even the corrupt Umayyad rulers.

The Jahizites were a Mu'tazilite sect started by Abu 'Uthman 'Amr ibn Bahr ul-Jahiz (d.1869). Jahiz means "the man with prominent pupils in his eyes".

Other early commentators on the Qur'an were Ibn al-Jauzi (d.598 A.H.) and Ibn Jahar (d. 852A.H.).

Main Sunni Schools Today

The Hanifi/Hanafi school was started by Abu Hanifa (died 150/767 A.D.). It was systematized by his two disciples Abu Yusuf (died 797 A.D.) and Mohammed al-Shaybani (died 805 A.D.) Abassids and Ottomans generally followed the Hanifites, and it is the most popular today.

The Malikite school came from Malik ibn Anas (709/715 - 179/795 A.D.). They are in Africa today.

The Hanbalites are the smallest school. They were started by the very conservative Ahmad ibn Hanbal (died 855 A.D.). Their interpretations are in general the most literal. According to Islam 2nd edition p.131, they were diametrically opposed to the Mu'tazilites, who emphasized the justice of God to the detriment of his omnipotence.

The Shafi'ites, mainly in Indonesia today, were started by Al-Shafi'i (died 819/820 A.D.), who came from the Malikite school. He stressed four bases of authority in order: the Qur'an, traditions of the Hadiths (sunna), consensus (ijma) accepted by all Muslims, and finally analogy/original thought (ijtihad and qiyas). There is no mention about asking God for guidance. Later the other schools accepted these four bases too. Mohammed allegedly said, "My people will never agree in an error", so whatever all Muslims agree on must be true.

Pharisees or Not?

Sunni Islam can remind one of the Pharisees in Jesus' time, being very concerned with every detail of the law, but neglecting a love relationship with God. This view is mentioned and rejected in the English translation of Sahih Muslim volume 3 p.1116 footnote to no.5031. But what do you think?

"Anas reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) breathed three times (outside the vessel) in the course of a drink and said: It is more thirst-quenching, healthier and more wholesome. Anas said: So I also breathe three times in the course of a drink." Sahih Muslim volume 3 no.5030 p.1118.

"Ibn 'Abbas reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: When any one of you eats food he should not wipe his hand until he has licked it himself or has given it to someone else to lick." Sahih Muslim volume 3 no.5037 p.1119.

"Ibn 'Abbas was asked about a man who pointed with his finger while supplicating [asking in prayer], and he said, 'This is sincere devotion.' Says Anas ibn Malik, 'That is imploring.' Mujahid maintains 'Doing this hinders Satan.' According to the Shaf'iyyah, one points with the finger only once, when saying 'except Allah' in the statement bearing witness. The Hanifiyyah raise the finger in the denial part of the statement (there is no god) and put it back down during the confirmation part (except Allah). The Malikiyyah move the finger to the left and right until they finish the prayer. The Hanbaliyyah point with the finger every time they mention Allah, as a reflection of the oneness of Allah, and they do not move it." Fiqh us-Sunnah vol. 1 p.158.

The First Caliphs

Abu Huraira narrated that Mohammed said after Mohammed died they were to obey the caliphs. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4:2871 p.203

1. Abu Bakr caliph from June 8, 632 - 634 A.D. to his peaceful death in 634 A.D. He was the father of Mohammed's wife 'Aisha. He punished many defectors from Islam.

2. 'Umar/Omar bin al-Khattab born c.581 A.D. caliph from 634 A.D. to his assassination in 644 A.D. by a Persian slave with a poisoned dagger. 'Umar at one time offered to Mohammed cut off the head of his daughter, Hafsa, one of Mohammed's wives. 'Umar conquered Syria from 635-637 A.D., Persia in 637 A.D., and Egypt from 639-642 A.D. He ordered the great library of Alexandria destroyed. The books that had things contrary to the Qur'an should be burned. The books that had things in the Qur'an were unnecessary. It took months to burn the 700,000 books. He is noted for saying, "Prevent the women from learning to write! Say no to their capricious ways."

3. 'Uthman bin 'Affan caliph from 644 A.D. to his assassination in 656 A.D. when a rebel Muslim force attacked Medina. A revolt began against him in 655 A.D. in Kufa. He re-issued a "standardized" Qur'an.

4. 'Ali bin Abu/Abi Talib (born c.600 - became caliph 656 - assassinated 661 A.D.) When 'Ali became caliph he captured 'Aisha as he crushed a revolt of 3,000 at the Battle of the Camel, killing the generals Talha and Zobair. Kufa was his capital. After Fatima died, 'Ali had 8 wives and 33 children.

5. Mu'awiya I, 'Uthman's cousin, became caliph before 661 A.D. after 'Ali was conned out of the Caliphate. Mu'awiya raised his cousin's bloody shirt as a banner, saying 'Ali had not done enough to bring the assassins to justice. At the Battle of Siffin near the Euphrates in July 657 'Ali's forces were winning when Mu'awiya's warriors put pages of the Qur'an on the end of their spears and said Muslims were not to fight each other. Abu Musa was the arbitrator picked by 'Ali and 'Amr ibn-el-Ass was the arbitrator for Mu'awiya. 'Amr persuaded Abu Musa that in the interests of peace neither should be caliph. So both were deposed, and then 'Amr made Mu'awiya the caliph! Kharijites tried and failed to assassinate Mu'awiya and 'Amr, but they got 'Ali on January 24, 661 A.D. with a poisoned weapon.

6. Yezid/Yazid I (corrupt) (60/680 - 64/683 A.D.) (or 683-686 A.D.) Some do not accept as legitimate.

7. Abd al-Malik 683-705 A.D. put down the revolt of Abdulla bin Zubair (son of one of 'Aisha's rebels) in 683 A.D. by sacking Mecca. A fire broke out in the Ka'aba and the sacred meteorite cracked. He made Arabic the official language in 696 A.D.

The Abbasids in 747-750 A.D. under Abu al-Abbas al-Saffah ousted the Umayyads. (al-Saffah means the blood spiller.) Every Umayyad heir was beheaded except Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to Spain.

'Ali Did Not Have Special Knowledge

Bukhari Hadith vol.9:50 "Narrated Abu Juhaifa : I asked 'Ali, 'Do you have anything Divine literature besides what is in the Qur'an?' Or, as Uyaina once said, 'Apart from what the people have?' 'Ali said, 'By Him Who made the grain split (germinate) and created the soul, we have nothing except what is in the Qur'an and the ability (gift) of understanding Allah's Book which He may endow a man, with and what is written in this sheet of paper.' I asked, 'What is on this paper?' He replied, 'The legal regulations of Diya (Blood-money) and the (ransom for) releasing of the captives, and the judgment that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever).'" ["anything Divine literature" is original grammar]

'Ali was not Mohammed's successor according to Bukhari vol.5:736 p.525

Not All Sunnis Practice All the Hadiths

If a Sunni Muslim in the west wanted to live consistently with the hadiths, among other things, they would have to do the following.

Veils are required for all Muslim women Sahih Muslim vol.2 no.2789 p.606-607. Veils are unnecessary for slaves though. Sahih Muslim vol.2:3325,3328 p.721-722

Muslims are also forbidden to sell wine, idols, and pork. Sahih Muslim vol.3:3840 p.828-830. This presumably would preclude working in a store where you sold alcohol, sausage, etc.

Sahih Muslim says that Muslims are not supposed to play chess (4:5612 p.1222). Muslim men cannot wear silk (4:6038 p.1314), such as silk ties, or wear yellow clothes (3:5173-5178 p.1146). Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3714 and footnote 3168 p.1053; vol.1 footnote 535 p.277 also say men cannot wear silk or brocade. When Khalid bin Sa'id came to Mecca wearing a silk robe, they tore it up. al-Tabari vol.11 p.75. All Muslims cannot drink from gold or silver vessels. Games of chance are forbidden according to Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3687 p.1047. Bukhari vol.7:133 p.101 says that women are not to have wigs of artificial hair. No pictures of people or animals according to Bukhari vol.4:447-450 p.297-299. However, Mohammed wore silk brocade during battle. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4:2819 p.174

Abu Dawud vol.3 no.4920 p.1375 says Muslims are not supposed to play backgammon.

What of the Earliest Traditions?

Sunni commentators in the Hadiths stress that the Qur'an itself is not sufficient. It requires the interpretation of the hadiths to know the meaning. However, Sunnis actually reject tradition. For example, Shi'ites have a collection of Hadiths too, Mullah Muhammad Bakir Madjlisi (1627-1698 A.D.) made one. The Sunnis use their hadith collections though, and the Sunnis are much earlier, only a couple of centuries after Mohammed.

But why do they reject the earlier traditions which agree with the Bible. From about 97 A.D. on, there are preserved abundant Christian traditions of the reliability of the Bible. Early church fathers wrote extensively, and they loved to quote scripture. Why not study the traditions of Jesus too?

For that matter, why do Sunnis reject the reliability of the Bible, when we have preserved Bible manuscripts from 100 A.D., 125-175 A.D., and a fragment from about 117-138 A.D. Many Muslims are not even aware of the Bible manuscript evidence. Two reasons you hear from Muslim apologists are manuscript variations, and differences in accounts. They are entitled to a clear Christian answer to both of these questions, and here it is.

Manuscript Variations

We are sure of about 97% of every word in the New Testament. Most of the differences are spelling, phrasing, and none of them affect Christian doctrines. Two of the largest manuscript variations are the end of Mark, and the story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman. While both probably are a part of the original Bible, that is not the point here. These passages do not affect Christian doctrine, and we should compare this with the Muslim situation. The Qur'an has a sura which was lost, according to Sahih Muslim vol.2 no.2286 p.500,501.

Bukhari Hadiths documenting that Qur'anic verses are missing are vol.4 book 52 no.57 p.45; vol.4 book 52 no.62 p.48, vol.4 book 52 no.69 p.53; vol.6 book 60 no.510,511 p.479-480.

There were various versions of the Qur'an, some with two more suras than other versions. Caliph 'Uthman tried to solve that problem by ordering everyone to turn in their Qur'an, and he would issue a "standardized" version.

So both the Qur'an and the Bible have manuscript issues. The Bible has manuscript variations, where there is no change in doctrine and we know the variations, while the Qur'an has variations that change doctrine, a lost piece, as well as variations.

Differences in Accounts

The Gospel writers give four accounts of Jesus' life. Each writer provides additional details that other writers do not, and they have different emphases. For example, we believe Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience, while Luke was mainly to a non-Jewish one. But they are not contradictory, and you can see a complete harmonization on the web at

The different collections of hadiths also have many different minor details. Likewise there were four early biographers of Mohammed. They too have different details, and there is nothing surprising or scandalous about that. One thing they all agree upon though, is that Mohammed originally had verses in Sura 53 saying the intercession of Allah's daughters (idols) was to be hoped for. In contrast, there are no gospel account differences or manuscript variations saying to hope in other gods, unlike Mohammed's early biographers wrote there is in the Qur'an.

So if the textual manuscript issues are less significant in the Bible than the Qur'an, and you want to follow traditions, then follow the early and most reliable traditions, and trust God that HE can preserve the meaning of His message.

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