“If knowledge were located in the Pleiades (a constellation of stars), the Persians would surely attain it”–Prophet Muhammad
It is a little known fact that all six of the authors/compilers of the major books of Sunni ḥadīth—works that are together known as the Siḥāḥ al-Sitta—were of Persian/Iranian origin. Interestingly, these eminent figures are only six of hundreds of other Iranian scholars who were central to the shaping of the Sunni religious and intellectual tradition. In a scheme of early medieval Islamic history which is dominated by Arabo-centrism and in a contemporary world in which the association between Iran and Shi’ism is so central that one cannot think of one without the other, this fact of the Persian or Iranian origin of some of the most important figures of authority in Sunni Islam becomes increasingly relevant in challenging the dominant narratives and assumptions which continue to pervade the historical understanding (and contemporary vision) of Islam and Iran. It also emphasizes that some of the most important developments in traditionist Sunni scholarship in the medieval period occurred on the Iranian plateau.
(In this context, Iranian origin is intended to convey that these individuals were 1) descended from the indigenous inhabitants of the Iranian plateau; and 2) were Persian-speaking)
1) Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mughīrah ibn Bardizbah al-Ju‘fī al-Bukhārī (810–870), originally from Bukhara (located in modern-day Uzbekistan)
2) Abū al-Ḥusayn ‘Asākir ad-Dīn Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj ibn Muslim ibn Ward ibn Kawshādh al-Qushayrī an-Naysābūrī (815–875), originally from Nishapur (located in modern-day Iran). There appears to have been a difference of opinion about his exact origins, with Shams al-Dīn al-Dhahabī affirming the strong possibility that his family were Persian “mawālī” (clients) of Qushayr, while other scholars (such as Ibn al-Athīr and Ibn al-Salāh) assert that he was actually an Arab member of that tribe. The usual inclusion of the name Kawshādh within his lineage strongly suggests, at least to me, that he was descended from Persian mawālī. Moreover, even some of those scholars asserting that he belonged by blood to the tribe of Qushayr state that his family had migrated to Iran nearly two centuries earlier (following the conquest), suggesting a large degree of intermarriage with the indigenous population.
3) Aḥmad ibn Shu`ayb ibn Alī ibn Sīnān Abū `Abd ar-Raḥmān al-Nasā’ī (829–915), originally from Nasā (located in modern-day Turkmenistan)
4) Abū Dawūd Sulaymān ibn al-Ashʿath al-Azdī al-Sijistānī (817–889), originally from Sijistan (located in modern-day Iran). There is a difference of opinion on this scholar with some scholars asserting that he was partially descended from the tribe of Azd while others have claimed that his family were “mawāli” (clients) the Arab tribe of Azd, hence the tribal nisbah.
5) Abū ‘Īsa Muḥammad ibn ‛Īsa al-Sulamī al-Ḍarīr al-Būghī al-Tirmidhī (824–892), originally from Termez (located in modern-day Uzbekistan)
6) Abū ʻAbdillāh Muḥammad ibn Yazīd Ibn Mājah al-Rabʻī al-Qazwīnī (824–889, originally from Qazvin (located in modern-day Iran). His family were “mawāli” (clients) the Arab tribe of Rabī’a, hence the tribal nisbah.