What does "Sunan" related to hadith books mean?

The Details of the Question

- ​What does Sunan mean?
- What does "Owner of Sunan" mean?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Sunan is the common name given to the books that collect the hadiths of decree.

Hadiths started to be gathered together and written in the first half of the eighth century (second century H); books were written on certain issues beginning from the second half of that century; Sunans appeared when the hadiths about decrees were compiled in the same order as fiqh books. 

"Kitabus-Sunan fil-fiqh" by Makhul b. Abu Muslim and "as-Sunan" by Ibn Abu Aruba are the first examples of this genre, which classifies hadiths based on their topics.

Sunans usually include hadiths about belief, worshipping, muamalat (transactions) and uqubat (penalties). The words, deeds and approvals the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) are included in those works along with the fatwas of the Companions and Tabiun.

The first two books of the six hadith books called "Kutub as-Sitta" written in the ninth century (third century H) are "Sahihayn" by Bukhari and Muslim; the other four books are Sunan books called Kutub al-Arbaa or"Sunan al-Arbaa" by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai and Ibn Majah.

There are also some other books known as Sunan that were compiled about a century earlier; the most famous ones among them are Kitabus-Sunan fil-fiqh (Sunanul-Awzai) by Awzai and Kitabus-Sunan by Ibn Abu Dhi‘b and Ibn Abu Zaida (Ibnun-Nadim, p. 281, 282).

Imam Shafii’s "as-Sunanul-Ma’thura" is among the important books of this genre.

Hadiths about the topic of creed (i’tiqad) are generally compiled independently by the name "Kitabus-Sunna"; among Sunan writers, only Abu Dawud included this topic as the 39th chapter of his book.

In the letter Abu Dawud wrote to the people of Makkah in order to introduce his as-Sunan, which included mostly hadiths about decrees, he states that he included only hadiths about decrees in his book and that he did not include the narrations related to asceticism and virtuous deeds. There are also weak narrations in the book along with sound hadiths.

Tirmidhi’s as-Sunan, which has an important place among "Kutub as- Sitta" because a great majority of hadiths it includes is regarded as sound, is called both "Sunan at-Tirmidhi" and "al-Jami’us-Sahih" (al-Jami’ut-Tirmidhi) since it includes hadiths related to the topics in other jami’ books.

According to the widespread view, in the book after Abu Dawud’s as-Sunan, when marfu hadiths are dealt with, mawquf and maqtu narrations are also mentioned.

Nasai chose the hadiths that he regarded as sounder from his big book called "as-Sunanul-Kubra" and compiled his book called "al-Mujtaba" (as-Sunan).

Ibn Majahs as-Sunan has a different property in terms of its chapters being listed based on fiqh. His book is regarded as more practical since it does not have repeated narrations in it. 

One of the other Sunans is Said b. Mansur’s book called "al-Musannaf"; it includes the information not included in the other resources about various topics in the period of the Companions along with hadiths about decrees. (published by Sa‘d b. Abdullah b. Abdulaziz Al-i Humayyid, I-V, Riyad 1414/1993)

Darimi’s as-Sunan (Musnadud-Darimi) resembles Bukhari’s "al-Jamius-Sahih" in that a hadith is repeated in relevant chapters.

Some hadith scholars include Darimi’s book among Kutub as-Sitta instead of Ibn Majah’s Sunan because weak narrators, shaz and munkar narrations are fewer in his book despite the existence of mursal and mawquf narrations and because ali narrations are included in the book. Daraqutni’s as-Sunan includes sound, hasan, weak and even mawdu narrations related to decrees. He mentions the degree of soundness of some hadiths but he does not express his view about most of them. 

Bayhaqi’s big book, as-Sunanul-Kubra, also known as "as-Sunanul-Kabir" should also be mentioned here. This book, which was arranged based on Shafii fiqh, includes many hadiths and statements of the Companions and Tabiun that do not exist in other hadith books. It was published together with "al-Jawharun-Naqi fir-raddi alal-Beyhaqi" written by Alauddin Ibnut-Turkmani, the Hanafi fiqh and hadith scholar, in ten volumes. (Haydarabad, 1344-1357)

The Sunans that convey the words, deeds and approvals the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to us and that generally contain marfu hadiths are not only the ones mentioned above. There are tens of more Sunans compiled by other scholars. (see Kattani, ar-Risalatul-Mustatrafa, 32-37)

As for the term Ashabus-Sunan, that is, "Owners of Sunan":

The term Ashabus-Sunan is a hadith methodology term used for the writers of hadith books of Sunan included in Kutub as-Sitta.

Those hadith compilations include hadiths about all deeds of worshipping from cleanliness to wills and hadiths about Islamic law.

The compilers of those hadith books are called Ashabus-Sunan, that is, Owners of Sunan.

When the term Ashabus-Sunan is used, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai and Ibn Majah, the famous compilers of Sunan, are meant in the first place.

However, those owners of Sunan are usually referred to as "Ashabus-Sunanil-Arbaa", that is Four Owners of Sunan.

The other owners of Sunan are also called "Ashabus-Sunan".

Every compiler/writer explains what the terms and signs used in his book mean in the part called Muqaddima (Introduction). The aim of the compiler/writer is understood from those explanations.

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