Imam Bukhari was called the Commander of the Faithful Hadiths, Amir al Muminin fi al Hadith, and his sahih collection of hadiths is known as the most authentic of all books after the Quran. His powers of retention were such that he was called Hafiz al Dunya, or the possessor of the most powerful memory in the world.
His name was Muhammad ibn Ismail, known also as Abu Abd Allah. He was born on the day of jumuah just after salah on the 13 Shawwal 194 A.H. at Bukhara, now a city in Uzbekistan. While still a small child, his father Ismail died and left him and his older brother Ahmed in the care of their mother.
His father was himself a narrator of some repute; Ibn Hibban mentioned him in his book of reliable narrators, Kitab al Thiqat, and recorded that Ismail had heard hadiths from Imam Malik, had shaken the hand of Abd Allah ibn Mubarak, and that the scholars of Iraq had related the hadiths they heard from him.
Evidently, in addition to his learning, Ismail was an industrious and upright man as well, he left his sons a good deal of wealth, all of which was carefully gathered by lawful means. Uhayd ibn Hafs reported, I went to see Ismail, the father of Abu Abd Allah at the time of his death. He said to me, I do not know of a single dirham in my wealth that is haram and not a single dirham that may be considered questionable.
At the age of ten years or even earlier Imam Bukhari began memorizing hadiths and sitting in the company of hadith narrators. Muhammad ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Imam Bukhari wrote, concerning those early years; I began to go regularly to al Dakhili and others. One day he (Sheikh Dakhili) said, as he was reading his hadiths to his students, Sufyan reported from Abu Zubayr from Ibrahim. I said to him, AbuZubayr never related anything from Ibrahim. But he rebuffed me, I replied, Go back to your original copy, if you still have it. So he went and looked at it and then came back and said, Alright! Then howis it supposed to read, young man? I said, It is actually Zubayr ibn Uday, and he narrated the hadith from Ibrahim. Then he (al Dakhili) took his pen and corrected his book, saying, You are right!
Hashid ibn Ismail and another person reported to Muhammad ibn Hatimthat when Imam Bukhari was young, he went to the same hadith lesson that the two of them attended on a regular basis. When they noticed that several days had passed and that the boy was not writing anything down, they asked him about it. He (al Bukhari) told them, You two have been here longer than I have. Why do you not tell me what you have written? They did so, and the total came to over fifteen thousand hadiths. When they finished reading, al Bukhari repeated from memory every word of every hadith they had read to him and asked them, Do you still think that I come here for nothing or that I am wasting my time?
In his early teens, Imam Bukhari memorized
the hadith collections of Abd Allah ibn Mubarak and learned the fiqh of
Waqi and of the Hanafi scholars in his area. In 210 A.H. he traveled
wit his mother and brother to Makkah for hajj. For the next year he lived
on his own in Medina and studied hadiths. He told Muhammad ibn Abi Hatim,
Then I spent five years in Basra with my books, going for hajj,
and then returning from Makkah to Basra. I never related hadiths unless
I knew the authentic from the objectionable and until I had studied the
books of the rational jurists (for what they had to say about those hadiths).
Thus began the great Imams career
of travel in pursuit of hadiths. During this time, he visited every important
center for learning in theMuslim world: Balkh, Merv, Nisabur, Rayy, Baghdad,
Basra, Kufa, Makkah, Madina, Wasit, Egypt, Damascus, Qaysariya, Asqalan,
Palestine, and Syria. He said I have written hadiths of one thousand
Mahmud ibn Nasr reported: I went to Basra, Syria, the Hijaz and Kufaand met scholars there. Whenever Bukhari was mentioned, every one of them stated that he was their better.
Hafiz Salih ibn Muhammad Jazarah reported: When Bukhari sat inBaghdad, I used to dictate hadiths to him. Twenty thousand people at a time would attend those sessions.
Another interesting aspect of his life was that he was an avid archer. His biographer wrote: He would often ride out to shoot arrows. I do now think I ever saw him, for as long as I accompanied him, miss the target more than twice. Otherwise he was always on target. No one ever beat him in a contest. Yet for all his learning, personal integrity, and righteousness, in the end he denied the opportunity to return to his home in Bukhara to pass his last days there. May Allah have mercy on him.
Sahih al Bukhari
Sahih al Bukhari is considered the
most authentic of all hadith collections. Few people are equipped to deal
with his works including this collection. In the traditional Islamic educational
system, for instance the study of this collection came only after the
The book is so full of technicalities
related to usul al hadith and ilmal rijal that a throughout knowledge
of those subjects is needed if this collection is to be appreciated fully.
Sahih al Bukhari is to be learned and lived and is an experience than
a book. In the traditional setting, there is a special place for the Bukhari
lesson and the students will sit on the ground in a semi circle around
the sheikh an the sheikh will interject his comments, corrections and
learned tafseer. Nothing will be left out, every hadith every narrator
It is no wonder that many scholars
were opposed to its translation in English. The majority of shuyukh had
no difficulty in accepting translation of the text of Quran into
local languages because the meanings of the Quran are clear and
no one who reads them with an open mind will go astray. But the hadith
literature is a different story. What results when an unprepared non-scholar
attempts to read the hadith literature is fitnah, in the sense that the
person would be so confused and overcome after taking such an uninformed
and one dimensional reading of that literature. This is bound to occur
Imam Bukhari left a great legacy of learning to generations of Scholars. His contributions to the preservation of the Sunnah were paramount. Unfortunately not all his works have survived the passage of time.
Here are some of his major works:
al tarikh al kabir, al tarikh al awsat, al tarikh al saghir, al duafa
al saghiral tawarikh wa al ansab, kitab al kuna, al adab al mufrad, rafaal
yadayn fi al salah, kitab al qiraah khalf al imam, khalq afal
al ibn, al tafsir al kabirkitab al
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