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Musannaf hadīth collections are defined by their arrangement of content according to topic and constitute a major category within the class of all such works. Etymologically, musannaf is the passive particle of the Arabic verb sannafa, meaning to arrange by chapter, and so has the literal meaning of something that is sectionally arranged. Though the designation can thus apply to any text so ordered, and indeed has been used with respect to such distinct genres as fiqh (i.e. Islamic jurisprudence), in practice it is most typically applied to compilations of ahadīth.
Numerous hadīth collections are of the musannaf variety, including each of the 6 canonical Sunni ones. A less typical format is the musnad compilation, where content is arranged according to the original transmitter of the report, typically a companion of Muhammad.
Common section headings in musannaf collections (often referred to as kitābs- "books") include:
- Ahl al-Kitāb – "people of the book"- i.e. monotheists with Islamically-recognized scriptures- most typically Jews and Christians- and their legal and historical relations to Muslims
- Aqdiya – "adjudications [of rasul Allah- i.e. Muhammad]"; various legal cases in which Muhammad is presented as judge
- Fadā'il – "virtues", of Muhammad, preceding ("biblical") prophets, or less typically the companions of Muhammad
- Fadā'il al-Qur'ān-- "virtues of the Qur'ān"; includes the history of its revelation, glosses on its difficult vocabulary, practical issues related to its public recitation, exhortations to read it and obey its rulings
- Īmān – "faith"; concerning various aspects of Islamic dogma and theology
- Jihād – "striving [in holy warfare against infidels]"; the campaigns of Muhammad, usually presented for the purpose of exhorting "holy war" against infidels
- Manāqib – "virtues", of Muhammad, his companions, or various clans and individuals
- Qisas – "stories [of the prophets]"; elaborations on the lives and deeds of "biblical" prophets, often of a popular rather than 'ilmically-sound nature
- Siyar – "the law of warfare"; the campaigns of Muhammad, usually presented for their precedential value in formulating the rules of war
- Tārīkh – "world history", from the creation of the world to the career of Muhammad, considered the salvific moment toward which all history converged; in Shī'ī compilations (e.g. al-Kulīnī's) the lives of the 12 imāms may be included as well