|Sahih Al Bukhari… one of the greatest if not the greatest literary works ever produced in the Islamic world. Second to the Quran, Sahih Al Bukhari is the most authentically transmitted book although some have tried and failed to scrutinize it. It’s name carries so much familiarity that it’s so hard for any Ahmed, Muhammad or Aisha to go any lecture and not hear it being referenced. The same goes for our schools and homes. It’s that famous and relevant. |
But why? Why is Sahih Al Bukhari so important to everyday Muslims such as you and I? And why is it the most quoted book in the Islamic world? Well to answer these pressing questions, we first need to go back in time and understand who the author is.
Imam Al Bukhari or Muhammad Ibn Ismail al Bukhari was born in 194 Hijri Bukharah in Khorasan which is modern day Uzbekistan. His father was a well educated respected man among his peers and family. He wasn’t a scholar of Hadith but he did dabble in Hadith here and there when he learnt under the hands of Imam Malik and others alike. Unfortunately for the Imam, his father had passed away soon after his birth. Fortunately, his family was middle classed and his father left a sizable inheritance for the Imam and his family to live from.
As a child, the Imam was distinguished from his peers and had accomplished what most didn’t. He had seen as a young lad a dream of him standing infront of the Prophet Muhammad swatting flies, protecting the Prophet. When he had told his sheikh about this dream, he said that the Imam will ward off fabricated Hadiths just like how he warded off those flies. That’s why by the age of 12 he had memorised seven thousand Hadiths along with all their chain of narration and by the age of 14 he had soaked up all the Hadiths he could in Bukhara. He had used up all the scholarship and knowledge in his local province, so when he had the opportunity to go to Makkah with his mother and brother, he couldn’t say no. At this time, Makkah had some of the most famous scholars teaching at the time. That’s why when his mother and brother wanted to leave, he wanted to stay. He wanted to stay and squeeze every drop of knowledge of the scholars.
For over a decade, Bukhari would float in and around Mecca and Medina. Excelling in academia at a very early age. In fact, at the age of eighteen he authored his own book, and not just any book, a nine page volume on the science of ‘Ilm al Rijal’ or the science of men. This science is generally considered one of the most advanced sciences in the field of Hadith as it deals with the biographies of the narrators of Hadith. Till this day this text is THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF REFERENCE for understanding the lives of narrators of Hadith. One thing to note about Imam Al Bukhari that most people don’t know is that he wasn’t just a specialist in Hadith, he was also a master of theology and Fiqh.
After he had exhausted the knowledge in the Hejaz, he then travelled to Baghdad, the capital of the Abasid Caliphate. It was there where he met the greatest Hadith scholar alive at that time, Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal. Imam Ahmed had praised Imam Bukhari, saying that he had never seen anyone from the entire province of Khorasan like him, although Imam Bukhari had not reached his peak scholarship at that time.
As a student, Bukhari was truly like no other, where all his peers would carry notes, Bukhari sat in his classes empty handed just listening. His notes were kept all in his head. It was very common and often that Bukahri would correct his teachers just from his memory. His legendary memory had reached far and wide. So one day some scholars had come together to test if the rumours were true and invite the Imam to a Hadith reading circle in the grand Masjid of Baghdad. The scholars recited 100 Hadiths in front of the Imam, only unbeknownst to him, the chains of narration of the Hadith were mixed and matched with the actual texts of the Hadith. So basically all the 100 Hadiths narrated seemed outwardly correct but were in fact completely wrong. Each scholar would read some hadith and ask the Imam if he knew them. He replied no for all 100 Hadiths. This looked quite awkward for a great scholar of Hadith like Imam Al Bukhari. However when the scholars were done with narrating, one by one, the Imam began to repeat all the incorrect Hadith in their order to the same scholar who narrated it and pointed out the exact error of narration. The entire Masjid was shocked and impressed to say the least. This account will cement the legendary preciseness of Imam Al Bukhari’s knowledge.
That’s not the only reason why Imam Al Bukhari is so famous. You see, the Imam was sitting in one of the teaching circle’s of his teacher Ishaq Ibn Rah, a respected scholar of Hadith. Ishaq mentioned that it would be such a good idea if somebody wrote a book concentrating only on the Sahih Hadith. This idea never left Bukhari and that’s when he wrote, Sahih Al Bukhari.
This task was so momentous that no one one before him had attempted such a feat. It took Bukhari 16 years to write. Five of those years were in Basra, Iraq and the final years were in Medina as he wanted to have the blessings of living in Medina. Bukhari had to sit down and sift through 600,000 Hadiths he had memorised and find the Hadiths that would pass his tough strict criteria so that it may fit perfectly in his book.
So what was the criteria that Bukharia set for himself? Well for one, Bukhari made sure that each and every one of the Hadiths had a connected chain. This means that every narrator in a chain of narration has heard directly from the narrator above him. So for example, Imam Malik narrates from Imam Nafi who narrates from Ibn Umar who narrates from the Prophet. Imam Malik is the student of Imam Nafi, Imam Nafi is the student of Ibn Umar and Ibn Umar heard from the Prophet. Because we can affirm that each narrator has met and directly heard from each other we can consider this a connected chain. Another condition is that the narrator must be trustworthy or reliable. Meaning he or she has to be a Muslim, mature, of sound mind and obediant to Allah. Also the narrator must be precise, meaning if he is orating the Hadith from memory then obviously his memory must be sharp and precise.One other condition is that the narrator of the Hadith must not contradict another known more trustworthy narrator of Hadith. Lastly, the Hadith must not have a hidden defect such as unknown narrators or it is undetermined whether the narrators met in the first place.
But the one condition that Bukhari set for himself in compiling the Sahih that set him apart from all other authors was that the narrators of a chain must prove that they have met. Bukhari never chose a Hadith that had more than five narrators who had proven that they had met. It’s because of these stringent conditions that Bukhari put place in the formation of Sahih Bukhari, that made it the most authentically compiled book after the Quran. One thing to mention about Sahih Al Bukhari is that he never wrote a commentary, not at least in the traditional sense. Imam Al Bukhari wrote the commentary in the chapter headings and sometimes including other Hadiths.
Overall, out of 600,000 Hadiths that the Imam had memorised, only 7,275 survived his tough stringent criteria, including repetitions. If that fact didn’t impress you, then here’s another that probably will. Imam Bukhari said: ‘For every single Hadith that I chose, I made wudu and prayed two Rakat in the Rawda of the Prophet for every single Hadith.’ That means that the Imam prayed 7,275 Istikhara prayers or a total of 14,550 Rakas before he completed the book.
All this work, dedication and sacrifice culminated in one of, if not the greatest works in Islamic history. Which is why the Imam was careful not to let any rumour or any distorted narrative tarnish his reputation and so discredit all his scholarly achievements. His character was exemplary to say the least. He was known to be so unconcerned with worldly matters that he would often be cheated of money and would forgive the cheats after the fact. Often sacrificing great sums of wealth so that there wouldn’t even be the slightest possibility of trading his akhira for his Dunyah.
Although Imam Bukhari was revered and loved by the people as he held an exemplary character, he wasn’t loved by all. Upon his return to Bukhara, all students flocked to his knowledge circles and classes. This left one scholar, Muhammad Ibn Yahyah Al thuhaly rather jealous as all his students had left him, including his his most prized student, Imam Muslim. Al Thuhaly had slandered Imam Al Bukhari calling him a heretic and that no one should learn under him. Seeing as Al Thuhaly was a local shiekh who was well regarded by all in Bukhara, this caused quite the commotion. Imam Al Bukhari was understandably deeply hurt by this.
At the same time of this religious drama, a political one ensued. Once the governor of Bukhara knew of Imam Al Bukhari’s arrival, he invited him to come to his palace and teach his children. The Imam respectfully refused when he said this knowledge is for Allah and it’s available for anybody to take it but I will not sell it to anyone. Time and time again, Bukhari refused to educate the governor’s sons in private and leave the rest of the people. The governor was very angry and rumours began to swell that Bukhari was about to be expelled. The situation became so tense that on Eid el-Fitr, Bukhari decided to leave his hometown. But before he left, he made a dua, he said: ‘Oh Allah, this Earth despite it’s vastness, it has become tight for me. So if you feel it better than take my soul now.’So when the Imam was walking out of the city, he died before he ever made it out in 256 AH. Today you can see his grave in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Ibn Khaldun said: “I listened from my teachers and different scholars that it is a debt on the Muslim Ummah to write a commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari.” Imam Al Bukhari has left an undeniable mark on the Muslim world. His memory was legendary and by modern day definition, he most likely had photographic memory. This is a rare gift given to him by Allah, but the Imam gave us a tip on how to memorise Hadiths that we might want to take note of. He said: ‘The way you keep Hadith memorised is by acting upon it.’ I ask Allah to make us of those who consistently practise the Sunnah of the Prophet. Ameen.