Biography of Imam Bukhari (RA) (810-870)
“The most authentic book after the Holy Qur’an.” This is the conclusion that every learned religious Scholar came to. No matter how great these Scholars were, they were forced to unanimously agree that ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari’ is the most authentic work in Hadith literature ever compiled.
We seem to have heard a lot about the magnificence of this compilation, but how much do we really know about the person who actually compiled this book? How much do we know about the man who had spent endless years traveling to many lands in search of people who had picked up the gems that had fallen from the lips of the Noble Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) so that he may gather these precious gems and present them to the world in the form of ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari.’
I feel it necessary to express my indebted honour to have the opportunity to make an attempt of presenting a brief outlook on the life of this celebrated personality.
His name, ‘Abu Abdillah Muhammad Ibn Ismail Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Al-Mughirah Ibn Bardizbah Al-Bukhari.’ He was born on 13 Shawwal 194 AH / 810 CE after the Jumuah Salaah in Bukhara in the territory of Khurasan (West Turkistan).
Ismail, the father of Imam Bukhari, died during the Imam’s childhood leaving him along with a brother and sister in the care of his mother, where he was nourished with love and care.
Historians relate a remarkable incident that occurred during the Imam’s childhood. He had lost the use of both his eyes. Because of the endless prayers of his mother and the nights spent weeping, the Imam’s sight was miraculously restored. The Imam’s mother was informed by means of a dream in which the Prophet Ibrahim (alaihissalam) had appeared and said:
“Because of your bountiful and sacred prayers, Allah has returned the eyesight of your son.”
Imam Bukhari began to learn traditions (hadith) by heart at the age of ten. His intelligence was already showing at that age, for he is credited with having been able at an early age to correct his teachers.
It was at the age of sixteen, after having memorized the compilations of both Imam Waki and Abdullah Ibn Mubarak, that he made the pilgrimage to Makkah accompanying his mother and elder brother. Upon completing the pilgrimage, the Imam decided to remain in Makkah. He would spend the next six years in Hijaz (Makkah and Madinah) in the pursuit of Hadith (traditions). He traveled widely in search of traditions, visiting the main centers of knowledge, namely Basra, Kufa, Baghdad, Egypt and Syria. Iraq was the place where Imam Bukhari would occasionally return (Kufa and Basra were both historical ‘powerhouses’ of knowledge).
There are a great number of teachers from whom Imam Bukhari gained his knowledge. It is reported that the Imam has heard traditions from 1080 different people, all of whom were Scholars.
The Scholars who taught the Imam were the likes of Muhammad Ibn Salam and Muhammad Ibn Yusuf Baikandi, Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Musnadi, Ibrahim Ibn Ash’ath and even Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. However, he had mostly benefited from Ishaaq Ibn Rahway and Ali Ibn Madeeni.
Many a story has been told regarding the Imam’s remarkable memory. Many considered his memory to be inhuman! The Imam was able to repeat a hadith immediately after it was recited to him.
During his student years, whilst visiting Baghdad, he had memorized 15,000 traditions in sixteen days. There is another spectacular incident that also took place in Baghdad when the Imam had taken up temporary residence there. People had heard about the Imam’s extraordinary memory. They decided to test him to see if the Imam was worthy of the attributes that were being issued to him. One hundred different ahaadeeth were chosen that had their testimonials and text altered. These altered ahaadeeth were to be recited to Imam Bukhari by ten people. By now, a crowd had gathered to witness the outcome of this deliberate test. One by one, each altered tradition was recited. The Imam remarked at the end of each recital:
“Not of my knowledge.”
After all the traditions had been presented, the Imam demonstrated the power of his memory by correcting the testimonial and text of each tradition in order.
Imam Bukhari had memorized over 200,000 traditions and written over 300,000. Unfortunately, some of these traditions were not genuinely authentic and unreliable, for he was born at a time when traditions of the Holy Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) were being forged and distorted either to please kings and rulers or to corrupt the religion of Islam.
It was because of this reason that Imam Bukhari decided to dedicate the rest of his life in compiling a book that would strictly comprise of authentic traditions. The Imam’s mission was further strengthened when he was advised by his respected teacher, Sheikh-ul-Hadith Ishaaq Ibn Rahway to compile such a book that would exclusively contain ‘Sahih’ (authentic) Prophetic traditions.
The Imam’s determination grew stronger after seeing himself in a dream, standing in front of the Noble Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). He had a fan in his hand and was driving away the flies from the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). After relating the dream to numerous Scholars whom were experts in interpreting dreams, he was told that the dream meant that he would drive away and remove the false traditions that were claimed to have been heard from the Blessed Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). It was this dream that fuelled his determination to compile the book that the world recognizes today as ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari.’
Wherever the Imam went, the compilation of his book would remain constant. At times he was seen compiling his book in Bukhara. Others state that he was seen in Basra. It has also been stated that he was seen writing in both Masjid-ul-Haraam and the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam).
After sixteen years of exceptionally hard work, his famous book had been completed. Despite the excessive number of traditions that the Imam had memorized, he only selected 7275 ahaadith because these were the traditions that held strong testimonials as well as having no doubt in their authenticity. The above number consists of traditions that have been repeated. If the repeated ahaadith were to be excluded, the number of traditions will then become a total of 4,000. It is reported that the Imam would first have a bath then perform two rakat salaah and pray for guidance before inserting a new tradition to his book. The book was reviewed and approved of by great Scholars of his time including Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ali Ibn Madeeni and Yahya Ibn Mu’een.
The Imam had inherited a fair amount of wealth which he decided to spend in the path of Allah leaving him with no money. He would spend his days on one or two almonds.
In spite of the high status and respect that the Imam was worthy of, he would always search for ways however small they may be, to please Allah. There was one such incident where a man from a crowd inside a Mosque had noticed a feather in his beard. The man removed the feather and threw it on the floor. Imam Bukhari was aware of what the man had done, he looked around to make sure nobody was looking, bent down to pick up the feather and placed it in his pocket. The fact that he had just conducted an act of good had immensely pleased him.
There are lessons to be learned in the piety of Imam Bukhari and the enjoyment that he received from performing salaah. He was once performing the Zuhar prayer. After completing his prayer he began to perform his Nafl. The salaah was performed with complete devotion and composure. Once the salaah had been completed, the Imam turned to face his companions and lifted his shirt asking whether there was anything under it. The crowd saw a wasp fall out leaving seventeen places on the Imam’s body that were swollen and red. The companions were astonished and asked why he had not terminated his salaah, but the Imam replied with an answer that is worth pondering upon. He said that he had felt a certain pleasure in his salaah that made him carry on.
The Governor of Bukhara, Khalid Ibn Ahmad Al-Dhuhli requested the Imam to make visits to the Governor’s home in order to teach his children. The Imam refused, saying that it was an indignity to convey learning to people’s houses. The Imam stressed on the fact that he had greater respect for knowledge than people. A second request was made for the Imam to hold sessions strictly for the Governor’s children. The Imam again refused to give the Governor’s children preferential treatment. This second refusal enraged the Governor; the Imam was therefore expelled from Bukhara.
Hearing Imam Bukhari’s situation, the people of Samarqand invited him to their hometown. Unfortunately, the Imam again suffered opposition and was forced to make his way towards Khartank where he stayed with his relatives.
It was here in Khartank, where he spent his final Ramadhan and on 1 Shawwal 256 AH / 870 CE whilst on a journey from Kartank to Samarqand, that the great Imam Bukhari departed from this world (To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return). The body of this great man was buried in Khartank (May Allah shower blessings upon his soul).
We have come to the end of what I believe is not even a mere glimpse at the life of Imam Bukhari. Many detailed biographies have been written that should be studied in order to understand exactly why this man had been elevated to such a high status and the reason why the whole of the Islamic World attributed the titles, ‘Commander of the Faithful in Hadith’ and ‘Possessor of the most powerful memory in the world’ to him.
Lessons should be learned from the Imam’s steadfastness, piety and manners. May Allah strengthen our love for the beautiful traditions of the Chosen Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) and may Allah bless us and accept our efforts in the cause of Islam like He accepted the man who has left a mark on the pages of Hadith forever.