Ranks of the four books of Sunan

Q: Is the book Al-Mustadrak, which is written by Al-Hakim Al-Naysabury on the Two Sahih (authentic) Books of Hadith (i.e. Al-Bukhari and Muslim), more reliable with regard to the correctness of Sanad (chain of narrators) than the four Sunan of Abu Dawud, Al-Nasa'y, Al-Tirmidhy, and Ibn Majah or vice versa? Which is more correct with regard to Sanad: Musnad (Part No. 5; Page No. 50) Imam Ahmad or Al-Mustadrak? Is the Muwatta' by Imam Malik more correct with regard to Sanad than the four Sunan and Al-Mustadrak? Or are they equal? Is it permissible for Muslims to follow a Hadith stated in any of the classified and reliable books of Hadith if proven to be Sahih (a Hadith that has been transmitted by people known for their uprightness and exactitude; free from eccentricity and blemish)? Or should they present it to be examined by scholars first? How can we do this?

A: All praise is due to Allah Alone and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger, his family, and Companions. To commence: Firstly, we recommend you to refer to the beginning of Muqaddimat Ibn Al-Salah on the sciences of Hadith, the first part of Fath Al-Mughith - which is a commentary on Alfiyyat Al-`Iraqy on the sciences of Hadith - or the first part of Al-Taqrib by Al-Suyuty which is a commentary on Al-Tadrib by Al-Nawawy These references will enable you to know the classification of the quoted Hadith books and the superiority of each of them to the other. This will definitely be more useful to you. Secondly, whoever is qualified to perform Ijtihad (juristic effort to infer expert legal rulings) and has scientific ability and power to deduce religious rulings from legal evidence, is permitted to refer to the texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah to understand religious rulings in addition to referring to the Imams' opinions on relevant issues. This will help them gain accurate understanding and know the truth without contradicting unanimity. Otherwise, they should refer to scholars and seek their guidance in knowing the religious rulings they need.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.