Imam Bukhari: His Life and Works part 1


His Early Years

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ibrahim al-Bukhari al-Jufi was born in 194 A.H. in the city of Bukhara .[1] His father Ismail was a well-respected scholar and was one of the students of Hammad ibn Zaid, and Imam Malik. Unfortunately, he died when his son Muhammad was quite young. He did, though, leave his son a good fortune such that he was able to spend most of his time in learning and did not have to worry about financial matters.

He began his studies at a very young age, studying the Qur’an and other essential topics, as was the practice of his day. But from his youth, he was especially attracted to the study of hadith. By the age of ten, he was reading the available works; by the age of sixteen, he had memorized the works of Waki and Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak and he was familiar with the opinions of the Iraqi jurists.

According to ibn Katheer, he could look at a book just once and memorize its contents.[2]

In order to help him memorize the chains of the hadith; he used to research the narrators, discovering when exactly they lived, where they lived, who they studied from and so on. In this way, the names in the chains were no longer simply names of strangers, but became the names of people whom al-Bukhari was intimately familiar with.

Abu Bakr al-Madini said,

  “I was in Naisaboor with Ishaq ibn Rahawaih and Muhammad ibn Ismail [al-Bukhari] was in the gathering. Ishaq passed by a hadith that mentioned Ata al-Kaikharani instead of a Companion. Ishaq said, ‘O Abu Abdullah [al-Bukhari], what was Kaikharan?’ He said, ‘A city in Yemen. Muawiya sent a Companion to Yemen and Ata heard two hadith from him.’ Ishaq said to him, ‘It is as if you actually witnessed these people.’”

According to his own narrative, he began to attend the lectures of the local scholars around the age of ten. He attended al-Daakhili’s lectures in Bukhara. One time he heard al-Daakhili read a hadith with the chain, “Sufyan from Abu al-Zubair from Ibrahim.” He told the lecturer that that was a mistake. Obviously, al-Daakhili was taken by surprise by being refuted by such a youngster. Al-Bukhari stated that the correct chain was al-Zubair ibn Adi from Ibrahim because al-Zubair had never recorded hadith from Ibrahim. He told al-Daakhili to check his original if it was available to him. Al-Daakhili admitted his mistake. Al-Bukhari was eleven years of age when that incident took place.

At the age of sixteen he left Bukhara with his mother and brother to perform the pilgrimage to Makkah. After the pilgrimage, he stayed in Makkah and this became his first real journey in search of knowledge. This occurred after he had gained whatever knowledge he could in his homeland.

He stayed for some time in both Makkah or Madina. It was at this time that he began his writing career. In Makkah, he wrote his Tarikh al-Kabeer which is a biographical work concerning the narrators of hadith.

Concerning his travels, al-Bukhari himself once said, “

  I visited al-Sham [Syrian- Palestine region], Egypt and al-Jazira [between Syria, Iraq and Turkey] twice. Four times I went to Basra. I stayed in the Hijaz for six years. And I do not know how many times I visited Kufa and Baghdad along with the scholars of hadith.”

It was in Baghdad that al-Bukhari met Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Ahmad ibn Hanbal was always very pleased with al-Bukhari and he was disappointed whenever he left Baghdad to return to Bukhara. Ahmad had great praise for the scholarship and exactitude of the somewhat younger al-Bukhari.[3]

Al-Bukhari’s Teachers

Al-Bukhari recorded hadith from 1,080 scholars. Ibn Hajr wrote that al-Bukhari’s teachers are divided into five categories[4]:

The first category is those scholars who narrated hadith from the Tabieen (Followers, one generation removed from the Companions), these included Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Ansar who recorded hadith from Humaid al-Taweel, Makki ibn Ibrahim and Abu Asim al-Nabil both who heard from Yazid ibn Abu Ubaid, and Nuaim who heard hadith from al-Amash.

The second category of scholars is those people of the same generation as the first category but who did not have the fortune of receiving hadith from trustworthy Followers. This category includes the following of al-Bukhari’s teachers: Adam ibn Abu Iyas, Saeed ibn Abu Maryam and Ayyub ibn Sulaiman ibn Bilal.

The third category is the “intermediate” category. These scholars did not meet any of the Followers but they received hadith from the leading scholars of the generation immediately following that of the Followers. These teachers include Sulaiman ibn Harb, Qutaiba ibn Saeed, Ali ibn al-Madini, Yahya ibn Maeen, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq ibn Rahawaih, Abu Bakr, and Uthman ibn Abu Shaiba and so on. Imam Muslim also met many of these scholars and recorded hadith from them.

The fourth category is really al-Bukhari’s colleagues in learning hadith although they started studying just prior to al-Bukhari. Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Dhuhli, Abu Hatim al-Razi, Abd ibn Humaid and Muhammad ibn Abdul Rahim Saaiqa would fall into this category. From these people, he used to record hadith that he did not hear directly from their teachers (who were also al-Bukhari’s teachers) or the hadith that he did not find with anybody else.

The fifth category is those people who were younger in stature or age than al- Bukhari whom he recorded from due to some benefit in their narrations. This category includes Abdullah ibn Hammad al-Amali and Abdullah ibn Abu al-Aas al-Khawarizmi.

By narrating from those scholars, al-Bukhari was applying the statement of Waki;

  “A person does not become a real scholar until he records from those older than him, those of the same age and those younger than him.”

In Sahih al-Bukhari, there is one hadith from al-Bukhari’s student al-Tirmidhi (who is famous for his own collection of Sunan). Al-Tirmidhi was very proud of this fact and he boasted about it.

Those who learned from al-Bukhari include al-Tirmidhi (of Sunan fame), al-Nisai (of Sunan fame), Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (of Sahih fame), ibn Khuzaima (of Sahih fame), Abu Zara al-Razi (an expert in illah) and Abu Hatim al-Razi (the author of al-Jarh wa al-Tadeel).


1 Most of this biographical information comes from Ahmad ibn Hajr’s introduction to Fath al -Bari, Hady al- Sari (Riyadh: Dar al -Ifta), vol. 1, pp. 477-493. The interested reader may also consult Taqi al-Din al- Mudhari, Al-Imam al-Bukhari: Imam al-Huffadh wa al-Muhadditheen (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1988); Abdul Ghani Abdul Khaliq, Al-Imam al-Bukhari wa Sahihuhu (Jedda: Dar al-Manara, 1985).

2 Imad al-Din ibn Katheer, Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al -Ilmiyya, 1985), vol. 11, p.25

3 At the same time, Ahmad’s name may only be found twice in Sahih al-Bukhari. The reason for that, as ibn Hajr explains, is that in al-Bukhari’s early trips to Baghdad he was able to meet many of Ahmad’s own teachers and get their hadith directly from them. In al-Bukhari’s later trips to Baghdad, after Ahmad faced his inquisition, Ahmad was no longer occupied with narrating hadith and therefore al-Bukhari did not have the opportunity to receive many different hadith from him. That is why, in Sahih al-Bukhari, al-Bukhari often recorded hadith from Ali ibn al-Madini but not Ali’s colleague Ahmad ibn Hanbal. See Ahmad ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari (Riyadh: Dar al-Ifta), vol. 9, p. 132.

4 Ibn Hajr, Hady al-Sari, p. 479.


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