The Sunan is Abu Dawud’s most important work. It has 4800 traditions selected from a mass of 50,000. It can be called one of the fundamental works on Hadith.
Imam Abu Dawud He compiled twenty-one books related to Hadith and preferred those ahadith which were supported by the practical example of the companions of the Prophet (SAW). As for the contradictory ahadith, he states under the heading of ‘Meat acquired by hunting for a pilgrim’: “if there are two contradictory reports from the Prophet (SAW), an investigation should be made to establish what his companions have adopted”. He wrote in his letter to the people of Makkah: “I have disclosed wherever there was too much weakness in regard to any tradition in my collection. But if I happen to leave a Hadith without any comment, it should be considered as sound, albeit some of them are more authentic than others”. Hadith Mursal (a tradition in which a companion is omitted and a successor narrates directly from the Prophet) (SAW) has also been a matter of discussion among the traditionists. Imam Abu Dawud states in his letter to the people of Makkah: “if a Musnad Hadith (uninterrupted tradition) is not contrary to a Mursal or a Musnad Hadith is not found, then the Mursal Hadith will be accepted though it would not be considered as strong as a Muttasil Hadith (uninterrupted chain)”.
The traditions in Sunan Abu Dawud are divided in three categories. The first category consists of those traditions that are mentioned by Imam Bukhari and/or Imam Muslim. The second type of traditions are those which fulfil the conditions of Imam Bukhari or Imam Muslim. At this juncture, it should be remembered that Imam Bukhari said, “I only included in my book Sahih Bukhari authentic traditions, and left out many more authentic ones than these to avoid unnecessary length”. He had no intention of collecting all the authentic traditions. He only wanted to compile a manual of Hadith. according to the wishes of his teacher Ishaq b. Rahaway (d. 238A.H.), and his function is quite clear from the complete title of his book Al-Jami’, al-Musnad, al-Sahih, al-Mukhtasar, Min ‘Umur Rasul Allah Wa-Sunanihi Wa-Ayyamihi. The word al-Mukhtasar (epitome), itself explains that Imam Bukhari did not attempt to compile a comprehensive collection. Imam Muslim said that he condensed his Sahih from 300,000 Sahih ahadith. This proves that there are many ahadith which are authentic in spite of their not being mentioned in either Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim.