Imam Bukhari was called the “Commander of the Faithful Hadiths”, Amir al Mu’minin fi al Hadith, and his sahih collection of hadiths is known as the most authentic of all books after the Qur’an. 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 Isma’il, known also as Abu Abd Allah. He was born on the day of jumu’ah just after salah on the 13 Shawwal 194 A.H. at Bukhara, now a city in Uzbekistan. While still a small child, his father Isma’il died and left him and his older brother Ahmed in the care of their mother.
Hafidh Ibn Kathir and Hafidh Ibn Hajar al Asqalani both write:
Imam Bukhari had lost his sight in his days as a youth, and his mother used to pray to Allah vigorously for the return of her son’s sight. One night in her dream, she saw the Prophet Ibrahim, upon whom be peace, who told her that Allah had accepted her prayers because of her tears in them in front of Allah and her son’s sight would be return’. When Imam Bukhari awoke in the morning, his eyesight had returned.
[Tarikh Ibn Kathir, under biography of Imam Bukhari, and Muqadimah Fath al Bari, biography of Imam Bukhari]
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 Isma’il 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, Isma’il 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 Isma’il, 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 Isma’il and another person reported to Muhammad ibn Hatim that 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).I know of nothing considered essential, whether it be in regard to legislation, etiquette, or society that cannot be found in either the Book of Allah or the Sunnah of His prophet, peace be upon him.’
Thus began the great Imam’s 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 eighty people, all of whom were scholars of hadith.”
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 in Baghdad, 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 student had spent years learning the classical disciplines: the Arabic language, rhetoric and literature, the rational sciences of logic and philosophy, the legal disciplines of fiqh and usul al fiqh, the various Qur’anic sciences from tajwid to tafseer, and the study of usul al hadith. Only after the student masters these subjects was he allowed to attend the dars (lessons), usually given by the most learned and respected of all teachers on Sahih al Bukhari.
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 every chapter heading is discussed.
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 Qur’an into local languages because the meanings of the Qur’an 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 in translation
without the presence of a sheikh to guide him or her through the obstacles, that he or she would face a crisis in their religion.
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 du’afa al saghiral tawarikh wa al ansab, kitab al kuna, al adab al mufrad, rafa’al yadayn fi al salah, kitab al qira’ah khalf al imam, khalq af’al al ibn, al tafsir al kabirkitab al ashribah, kitab al hibbah, qadaya al sahabah wa al tabi’in wa aqawilihum, kitab asami al sahabah—-
1) Ibn Mubarak was a great muhaddith an a companion of abu Hanifah, his best work was kitab al zuhd and his love for jihad.
2) Kitab al Du’afa al Saghir, page 5
3) Kitab al Du’afa al Saghir, page 6
4) Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al Huffaz 1:556
5) Fadl Allah al Samad fi Sharh al Adab al Mufrad, introduction
6) Kitab al Du’afa al Sahgir
7) Kitab al Du’afa al Sahgir, page 7