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As is known, there are six major books of ahadith used in Sunni jurisprudence. The Shi'a typically don't treat these collections with such esteem, and instead give preferential treatment to four of their own books of ahadith.

I understand that the Shi'a and the Sunni can have very different ideas about who is considered a reliable narrator of any given hadith, which would account for a significant disparity between the two corpora. In addition, there is a general Shi'a rejection of the idea that any book compiled by fallible men can be considered "sahih", which flies directly against Sunni opinions of the books of Bukhari and Muslim.

However, given that any individual hadith would need to be tried for authenticity regardless of the compilation it is in, why then would Shi'a jurisprudence so prefer the Shi'a compilations rather than the Sunni compilations; if my understanding is correct, each and every such volume would still be treated as a mixture of weak and authentic ahadith.

I am passingly familiar with the Sunni method of determining the health of a hadith, typically by analyzing the isnad and judging the reliability of each individual narrator and whether any links in the chain are missing, as well as comparing it against similar ahadith transmitted via alternate routes. If Shi'a jurisprudence uses a similar method for handling ahadith, with the exception that a narrator considered reliable by the Sunni may be rejected by the Shi'a and vice-versa, then I don't understand the need for such disparate collections of ahadith.

Is there a fundamental difference in the collection and analysis of hadith literature which would necessitate entirely different books thereof? If not (or even if so), why is there so little apparent co-mingling of the Shi'a and Sunni ahadith?

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    can you support your question with some evidence from shia scholars about rejecting the six collections (completely)? shia reject considering them completely authentic not rejecting the collection entirely. also shia has different view about personality of writers of Bukhari and Muslim collections. and reliability of writer of a hadith book is different of reliability of narrators of hadith and better to be asked in separate question. this question is very general and needs long answer but InshaAllah I write a summary answer. – Battle of Karbala Sep 19 '12 at 4:07
  • @ahmadi I have rephrased the question a bit; it's not so much about Shi'a outright rejecting any collections as it is about how little apparent overlap there is between the two corpora. – goldPseudo Sep 19 '12 at 4:45
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    Clicked on one of the needles, which increased your reputation by 10^1. Thank you for the well written question. – Noah Sep 19 '12 at 5:40
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The short answer is that the difference in the content of hadith, too, stem from the same significant questions of Islamic political doctrine that originally divided the two sects.

For Shia scholars Shia and Sunni hadith has no difference and with the same methods of checking authenticity are checked. If a hadith is known to be authentic, it is used, but if not, it is left, whether it is recorded by Shia or Sunni scholars. Shia scholars do not reject Sunni hadith books completely,but say every individual hadith (from Shia or Sunni) should be investigated for authenticity.

Shia scholars use authentic hadith from Sunni hadith book in their works and books. For example, the hadith from Sahih Muslim and other Sunni hadith books are used in Imam Khomeini books, and the books of many other Shia scholars.

Please note there are different methods of determining the health of a hadith and this makes some conflict in scholars about considering a hadith authentic or not. This conflict exists in Shia scholars. For example, a Shia scholar may consider a hadith and other inauthentic due to different methods of determining the health of a hadith and this may lead to different fatwa an a subject.

The main fundamental difference of Shia and Sunni is conflict in Imamat which is a very big conflict and this conflict makes big different in every aspect of Islam including hadith collections, Madhab, prayers, beliefs and everything else. There are tens of thousands of hadith that accepting them as authentic in fact means accepting Imamat as a pillar of Islam and in a way are related to Imamat. So those kind of hadith are totally censored in main Sunni hadith books but still many of them can be found in many Sunni hadith books.

Sunni scholars are different about recording hadith related to Imamat and it depends on the relation of that scholar to King of his time and pressures of King of times on scholars. In fact Imamat is opposite of Kings. If a Kings accept Imamat in fact is accepting himself is not qualified for governing Islamic society so no King will never accept Imamat (if accept he is not a King anymore) and this causes Kings always controlled scholars and hadith books to do not write anything related to Imamat.

In Shia view a good hadith narrator for Sunni Kings and hadith recorders is who be silent about Imamat and Caliphate and support power of Sunni Caliphs and Kings even if that narrator is from Kharijates. Instead if a narrator oppose Sunni Caliphs and Kings he should not be used as narrator even if he is Imam Ali a.s. or Imam Sadiq a.s. unless their hadith not talking about Caliphate.

After Malik the golden age of hadith started and Sunni collections were written in this age.

This is some of views of Shia scholars regarding 6 main Sunni hadith collections:

1- Sahih Bukhari (year 194-256): the Sunni hadith recorders have had many exaggerations about this book while this book narrates hadith from Kharijates and Nasibi people. But from Imam Sadiq a.s. and next Imams who Bukhari was living at their time even one hadith is not narrated. His ancestors were Zoroastrian and first one of their family who converted to Islam was his 3th father Mughayrah. When Bukhari was child his father died and left a wealth that he used for travels for collecting hadith. Firstly he was respected by scholars of Nishabur but later due to his serious conflicts with Muhammad Ibn Yahya Nishaburi (the Grand Hadith Sheykh of Nishabur) he was forced to immigrate from his city.

2- Sahih Muslim (year 204-261): although this book has advantages that Bukhari book does not have but is in lower rank and popularity.

3- Sahih Abu Dawood: its ahadith are mostly about Sunni Fiqh.

4- Sahih Abu Isa Muhammad Ibn Isa Tarmazi: he was the first one who categories ahadith in 3 category of Sahih, Hasan, Zaif instead of 2 category.

5- Sahih Ahmad Ibn Shoaib Nesai.

The last 4 are called Sunan also because the terms considered for Sahih hadith by first two are not considered in these 4.

6- Sahih Muhammad Ibn Yazid Ibn Abdullan Ibn Majeh Ghazwini: some consider Sunan Darami higher than this book and consider it as 6th Sahih.


References:

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This is an old question and the OP might have already developed a more informed opinion during the intervening years but I thought I may provide some added value after my answer to a recent question Differences Within Religion

The methodology is roughly the same (evaluating isnad), but the difference is which source individuals inform the hadith books which is in turn influenced by which source individuals they consider to be reliable or authoritative. These individuals can be the companions, the tabi'in and next generations which included the first hadith collectors and scholars. Since these individuals were politically and theologically divided, this was reflected in divide between the scholarship descending from them.

All of this has led to formation of two hadith corpora with disparate content which even a priori can imply the following facts:

  • There must have been people with sharply different understandings of Islam at least in certain important areas
  • There must have been deep social fault lines very early in history that have caused knowledge of these two disparate understandings of Islam to be also funneled into two separate groups so that each group comes to produce and possess a very different hadith corpora with little intermingling.

When we look at history and the two hadith corpora we see that this has really been the case.

One version of Islam is that of the mainstream ruling political and scholarly elite (Sunni Islam). The other is that of a minority that has been pretty much an underground movement for most of its early history (Shia Islam).

This sociopolitical divide is quite consistent with the theological divide. If these two competing schools had sharply different understandings of Islam, then the difference would have inevitably resulted in difference and conflict in real life, hence the sociopolitical divide. It only happens the divide has been lopsided, one group being the majority, the other being a minority that has survived its inferior historical conditions.

Now to corroborate this thesis just look at who the two schools quote most of their hadith from but also check the actual sociopolitical positions of those source individuals in the early Islamic history. You will clearly see that the two groups of source individuals also fall on the opposite sides of the very early sociopolitical divides in the Ummah after the Prophet: on one side is the ruling companions, on the other side most of the Banu Hashim especially Ali and his associates, and then the Umayyads. I have more closely identified some of these opposite key source individuals in my answer to Why Shia and Sunnis Salat is different.

Now because absolute and total political division whereby two socio-ideological groups get fully sealed off from one another is seldom possible in real life, you expect that at least a small part of the competing narratives from these two opposite source individuals would have found their way into the opposite cannon of tradition, potentially enabling the two sects to sometimes cite the rival source material in support of beliefs that are otherwise clearly articulated in their own source material, even though this appears to be often the case only one way not the other way around in the Islamic sectarian debate.

However one shouldn't still underestimate the extreme depth of this divide. Indeed some of the themes and ideas in Shia sources are completely unheard of outside the sect. This is consistent with the practice prescribed by the Shia source individuals: the Shia Imams have been recorded urging their close disciples not to promote their doctrines publicly, to even scold those of their followers who occasionally did causing public controversy and/or political backlash from the rival majority. Taqiyya hence became a strategy of a school that had characteristics of an underground movement for most of its early history, but it also explains why there would be little trace of unique doctrines of this school outside their own social venue and sources.

TL;DR

The causes of the disparity in the two canons must be quite obvious: two competing socio-ideological groups produced two competing understanding of Islam and the origins go all the way to the early companions and tabi'een. This indicates a very genuine social and intellectual divide that existed since the time of the Prophet, not an artificial difference that was later constructed by Muslims as some people believe.

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