Whenever discussion on the veracity of hadith as such and especially that of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim comes up, the antagonists quickly refer to al-Daraqutni’s criticism of these works widely understood to the two most authentic hadith compilations. In doing so they tend to suggest that rejection of hadith for spooky reasons that they have is not a new idea and even classical orthodox authorities did the same. Without a doubt their claim is sheer falsehood.
A learned contemporary scholar of hadith, Dr. Jonathan A.C. Brown has produced a paper on al-Daraqutni’s criticism of Bukhari and Muslim’s collections.
The title of the paper is: CRITICISM OF THE PROTO-HADITH CANON: AL-DARAQUTNI’S ADJUSTMENT OF THE SAHIHAYN
It should be read in full for due appreciation and understanding. However, here are some excerpts with emphasis added for the purpose of this post;
Unlike that in later critical works, al-Daraqutni’s tone in the Kitab al-tatabbu’ is overwhelmingly constructive, and he does not aim at challenging the overall authenticity (sihha) of the traditions collected in the sahihayn. As will be demonstrated, the Kitab al-tatabbu’ comprises a formal adjustment of narrations rather than a polemical criticism of any traditions that its author deemed problematic in the sahihayn. This explains the favourable light in which the Sunni tradition came to view al-Daraqutni’s work. Although al-Nawawi devotes a huge amount of energy to rebutting the scholar’s criticisms of Muslim’s narrations, he nonetheless places the Kitab al-tatabbu’ in the acceptable genre of mustadrak works. (p.17)
The nature of al-Daraqutni’s work does not stem from any inherent reverence for the Shaykhayn. Rather, it results primarily from the salient characteristic of his approach to Hadith: he addresses narrations and not traditions. He therefore does not criticize al-Bukhari and Muslim’s individual ahadith, but rather specific narrations of some traditions included in their two books. It would thus be wrong to state that al-Daraqutni criticized Muslim’s hadith in which the Prophet states ‘If I were to take someone from my community as a bosom companion (khalil), I would choose Abu Bakr’; he criticizes just one narration of that hadith, making no statement about the overall authenticity of that Prophetic tradition. In fact Muslim includes five other narrations of this tradition with a completely different isnad.This is the case for the vast majority of the traditions that al-Daraqutni mentions in his Kitab al-tatabbu’ . Both al-Bukhari and Muslim habitually included multiple narrations for a Prophetic tradition, and al-Daraqutni rarely has occasion to critique a lone narration.(pp.17-18)
Here we must note that at no point in the Kitab al-tatabbu’ does al-Daraqutni object to the theological, legal, or ritual content of any hadith. His criticisms do sometimes involve the texts of the reports, but only to the extent that they contain elements differing from other narrations. (p.26)
His focus on comparing and evaluating individual narrations without addressing their content meant that al-Daraqutni never overtly rejected any of the Prophetic traditions included in al-Bukhari’s and Muslim’s collections. As his æuvre demonstrates, al-Daraqutni was undeniably fascinated with the sahihayn. He clearly deemed them seminal embodiments of the Prophet’s Sunna, and his adjustment of them constituted an act of productive criticism.
Al-Daraqutni certainly never intended to alter the theological, ritual, or legal material of the Shaykhayn with his own opinions. Rather, we must understand al-Daraqutni’s objections to certain aspects of al-Bukhari’s and Muslim’s compilations through specific methodological developments within ilm al-hadith between the third/ninth and ninth/fifteenth centuries. (pp.36-37)
I hope this sheds some light on the actual nature of al-Daraqutni’s work and what the hadith rejecters of our day try to make of it.
And Allah knows best!