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Al-Bukhari, the Peerless Hadith Master

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    Al-Bukhari, the Peerless Hadith Master

    A brief insight into his life and works...

    Imam Bukhari was called the "Commander of the Faithful in Hadith" (Amir al Mu'minin fi al Hadith), and his sahih collection of hadith is known as the most authentic of all such works. His powers of retention were such that he was titled 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 (Friday) just after prayer on the 13 Shawwal 194 AH 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.

    His father, Isma'il, was himself a narrator of some repute. Ibn Hibban includes him in his book of reliable narrators, Kitab al Thiqat, and recorded that Isma'il had heard hadith from Imam Malik, had shaken the hand of Abd Allah ibn Mubarak (another great scholar of the past), and that the scholars of Iraq had related the hadith they heard from him.

    Evidently, in addition to his learning, Bukhari's father 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. Ubayd 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 earlier Imam Bukhari began memorizing hadith 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 hadith to his students, "Sufyan reported from Abu Zubayr from Ibrahim." I said to him, "Abu Zubayr never related anything from Ibrahim." But he rebuffed me, I replied, "Go back to your original (manuscript) copy, if you still have it." So he went and looked at it and then came back and said, "Alright! Then how is 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!"

    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 AH. he traveled with his mother and brother to Makkah for Hajj. For the next year he lived on his own in Madinah and studied hadith. He told Muhammad ibn Abi Hatim, 'Then I spent five years in Basrah with my books, going for Hajj, and then returning from Makkah to Basrah. I never related a hadith 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 hadith). 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 hadith. During this time, he visited every important center of 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 the hadith of one thousand and eighty people, all of whom were hadith scholars"

    Mahmud ibn Nasr reported: "I went to Basra, Syria, the Hijaz and Kufa and 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 hadith 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 not 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."

    Although he is most famously know for his hadith collection, Sahih al-Bukhari, he also has a number of other important works that have been published in Arabic. Some of these are:

    Tarikh al-Kabir
    Tarikh as-Saghir
    Al-Adab al-Mufrad (available in English)
    Kitab ad-Du'afah as-Saghir
    Raf al-Yadayn fis-Salah (available in Urdu)
    Kitab Qira'ah Khalf al-Imam
    Khalq Af'al al-Ibad


    Note: I remember downloading sections of the above biography from the web some years ago but have since forgotten the URL. If anyone can provide it, i'd be most grateful. In any case, the biography is gathered from classical sources such adh-Dhahabi's Tadhkirat al Huffaz and Siyar al-Alam an-Nubula.