After the Qur’an there are books of hadith which we as Muslims follow. By far the most common and well-known book of hadith was compiled by a man by the name of Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ibrahim Ibn Al-Mughirah ibn Bardizyah Al-Jufri Al-Bukhari. Every Muslim has at some point heard his name at some point in their life whether it be through family or a Jumuah khutbah. An interesting fact is that he was ethnically a Persian, not Arab. Yet he impacted the ummah and future generations in such a positive way. He was able to clear many misconceptions and eradicate ignorance.
Why is he called Imam Bukhara? Bukhara happens to be the name of an ancient city in what is today Uzbekistan. He hailed from that city, hence he became known as Imam Bukhari.
He was born on Friday 13 of Shawwal 194 AH (after Hijrah). His father was also an alim and learned from some of the most famous scholars including Imam Malik ibn Anas. Imam Bukhari’s father died when he was just a baby and his mother took on the responsibility of bringing him up, and what a magnificent job she did in raising such a renown and respected leader of the deen. Imam Bukhari began studying hadith when he was very young. At the age of 16, he had memorized many books of of famous scholars. At the age of 18, Imam Bukhari took a journey to Makkah with his mother and brother to perform Hajj. His brother and mothers returned to Bukhara, however Imam Bukhari stayed there for further education. He spent 2 years in Makkah and learned hadith and other religious studies from Islamic scholars in Makkah. Following that he went to Madinah to learn more about fiqh, and Islamic jurisprudence for 4 years. After his stay in the Hijaz, he ventured east to Basra and then to Kufa and finally Baghdad. After leaving Iraq he visited Egypt and Syria. He even said,
“To seek knowledge, I traveled to Egypt and Syria twice, Basra four times, spent six years at the Hijaz (Makkah & Madinah) and left for Kufa and Baghdad on so many occasions accompanied by Muhaddithin (Hadith collectors or Hadith Experts).”
Many stories have been told about Imam Bukhari’s struggle in collecting hadiths. He travelled to many different places just to gather hadith. Imam Bukhari had an extremely strong memory from an early age. In fact, his memory was considered to be inhuman. In his early period of acquiring knowledge, he memorized close to 70,000 hadith and later in his life he had memorized 300,000 hadith. His brother stated,
“Imam Bukhari used to go with us to the scholars of Basra to listen to Hadiths. All of us used to write Hadiths down except Imam Bukhari. After some days, we condemned Imam Bukhari saying that, you had wasted so many days work by not writing down Hadiths. Imam Bukhari asked us to bring our notes to him. So we all brought our notes, upon which Imam Bukhari began to read Hadiths one by one from the top of his head until he narrated to us more than fifteen thousand Hadiths. Hearing these Hadiths, it seemed that Imam Bukhari was re-teaching us all of the Hadiths we had noted.”
He did not depend on pen and paper as much as he relied on his sharp memory which Allah (swt) gifted him with. Subhan’Allah such an amazing gift.
Imam Bukhari had written many books during his life. His work was not only centered around hadith, but also other Islamic sciences such as Tafsir, Fiqh, and tarikh (history). However, by far, his most famous book is the collection of hadith entitled Al-Jami as Sahih, popularly known as Sahih al-Bukhari.
There is a unique story about compilation of this book. It is said that one night, Imam Bukhari saw the Messenger of Allah (saw) in his dream. He was standing in from of Prophet Mohammad (saw), having a fan in his hand and driving away the flies from the Messenger of Allah (saw). Imam Bukhari then asked the meaning of the dream from interpreters of dream. They interpreted the dream that he (Imam Bukhari) will destroy and erode the lies that are included in a number of hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (saw). This dream encouraged him to write the book Al-Jami As-Sahih (Sahih Al-Bukhari). Imam Bukhari was very careful in compiling the Hadith. According to Al-Firbari, one of his students, he heard Imam Bukhari said:
“I compile the book Al-Jami As-Sahih in the Grand Mosque (Majid Al-Haram), Makkah and I did not include a hadith except after istikhara prayer of two rakahs, ask Allah (swt) for help, and after believing that the hadith is truly authentic.”
Imam Bukhari studied, in details, the lives of narrators, to make sure they were trustworthy and would not fabricate or change the wording of a hadith. If he discovered that someone in a chain openly sinned or was not considered trustworthy, that hadith was immediately discarded and not included in his book unless a stronger chain for it existed. The process of compiling this book was carried out by Imam Bukhari in Makkah and Madinah and it took him 16 years to compile this book. Although he had memorized a large number of hadiths, he only chooses 7,275 hadiths for this book and there is no doubt about the authenticity of these hadiths.
After many years, Imam Bukhari returned to his hometown of Bukhara. The people greeted with great zeal. Imam Bukhari established a madrassa in the city where he taught many students. Once the governor of Bukhara, Khalid ibn Ahmed called Imam Bukhari to his house and asked Imam Bukhari to teach his son. In response, Imam Bukhari replied,
Once the governor of Bukhara, Khalid bin Ahmed, called Imam Bukhari to his house and asked Imam to teach his son. Imam Bukhari, in response to the offer, replied:
“I give greater respect to knowledge rather than to people, for it is they who are in need of the knowledge and it is they who should seek it.”
The governor said:
” If my son was to attend your madrassah, he should not sit with ordinary people’s children. You (Imam Bukhari) would have to teach him separately.”
Imam Bukhari answered:
“I cannot stop any person from hearing hadiths.”
Upon hearing this, the governor got angry at him and ordered Imam Bukhari out of Bukhara. He then settled in Khartang (today known as Hartang) which is very close to Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
After this incident and some other reasons, the khalifah in Baghdad dismissed the governor, Khalid ibn Ahmed. He was expelled from his palace in extreme disgrace and dishonor and then was thrown into prison, where he died after few days. Expulsion from his hometown caused painful aches inside him. He spent the rest of his days in Khartang. On 1 Shawwal, 256 AH (after Hijrah), Imam Bukhari passed away at the age of 62. He was buried in the same town.
Many scholars praised him.
Al-Hafiz ibn Rajah Al-Hanbali said about Imam Bukhari:
“He (Imam Bukhari) is one of Allah’s signs walking on the Earth.”
Abu Abdullah bin Hammad Al-Marwazi said:
“Imam Bukhariis the Faqih (Islamic jurist expert in Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic Law) of this Ummah.”
Abu Bakr Mohammad ibn Ishaq ibn Khuzaymah said:
“I have never seen underneath the sky one who is more knowledgeable and memorizer of the Hadith of the Messenger of Allah (saw) than Imam Bukhari.”
Subhan’Allah. May Allah (swt) accept from him.