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Traditions of the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down mostly orally for more than a hundred years after Muhammad's death in AD 632. Muslim historians say that Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (the third khalifa (caliph) of the Rashidun Empire, or successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been Muhammad's secretary), was the first to urge Muslims to write the Qur'an in a fixed form, and to record the hadith. Uthman's labours were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved soldiers, in 656. No sources survive directly from this period so we are dependent on what later writers tell us about this period.[11]

By the 9th century the number of hadiths had mushroomed. The wide acceptance that many of these traditions were fabricated stimulated the development for assessing Hadith.[12] Scholars of the Abbasid period were faced with a huge corpus of miscellaneous traditions, some of them flatly contradicting each other. Many of these traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic and which had been invented for political or theological purposes. To do this, they used a number of techniques which Muslims now call the science of hadith.

Shia and Sunni differences

The Sunni canon of hadith took its final form more than 230 years after the death of Muhammad (632 AD). Later scholars may have debated the authenticity of particular hadith but the authority of the canon as a whole was not questioned. This canon, called the six major Hadith collections, includes: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawood, Al-Sunan al-Sughra, Sunan al-Tirmidhi and Sunan ibn Majah. Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are considered the most reliable of these collections.[13]

In Shia hadith one often finds sermons attributed to Ali in The Four Books or in the Nahj al-Balagha. Shi'a Muslims do not use the six major Hadith collections followed by the Sunni. Instead, their primary hadith collections are written by three authors who are known as the 'Three Muhammads'.[14] They are: Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (329 AH), Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih by Muhammad ibn Babuya and Al-Tahdhib and Al-Istibsar both by Shaykh Muhammad Tusi. Unlike Akhbari Twelver Shi'a, Usuli Twelver Shi'a scholars do not believe that everything in the four major books is authentic.[citation needed]

Sunni and Shia hadith collections differ because scholars from the two traditions differ as to the reliability of the narrators and transmitters. Narrators who took the side of Abu Bakr and Umar rather than Ali, in the disputes over leadership that followed the death of Muhammad, are seen as unreliable by the Shia; narrations sourced to Ali and the family of Muhammad, and to their supporters, are preferred. Sunni scholars put trust in narrators, such as Aisha, whom Shia reject. Differences in hadith collections have contributed to differences in worship practices and shari'a law and have hardened the dividing line between the two traditions.

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