Was al-Bukhari a Mujtahid?
There is no question that al-Bukhari was a Mujtahid in the field of hadith but there
is some question whether al-Bukhari was a Mujtahid in the field of fiqh. The early
scholars did not discuss this question with respect to al-Bukhari.
Some of the later scholars, such as al-Qasimi and Tahir al-Jazairi, call him an
absolute Mujtahid (Mujtahid mutlaq).
Al-Bukhari did not write a work of usul al-fiqh or legal theory (although he did
touch on a few points related to usul al-fiqh in his Sahih) nor does it seem that
people took him as the leader of a new school of fiqh. For example, it was
al-Tirmidhis custom to record the opinions of the different jurists yet he only
quoted al-Bukharis fiqh opinion once. Furthermore, many of the early scholars of
hadith were so engrossed in the narration and compilation of hadith that they did
not have the time to also try to disseminate principles of legal theory or
jurisprudence and, therefore, some of them followed the leading Imams of fiqh of
For these reasons, scholars have tried to determine what school of fiqh Imam
al-Bukhari belonged to. Due to al-Bukharis fame and reputation, different scholars
have claimed him for their own school of fiqh. For example, ibn al-Qayyim and Abu
Yala include him as one of the followers of Ahmad; some even said that he was a
Hanafi since he was a student of ibn Rahawaih. The most popular opinion of the
later scholars, who were the ones who discussed this question, is that he was a
Shafi. Al-Subki and Sadiq Hassan Khan both consider him a Shafi. 
The Madhhab of the Ahl al-Hadith
Abdul Majeed shows that al-Bukhari, in particular, was following this particular
madhhab and it was based on the principles of this school of fiqh that he refuted
the ahl al-rai (people of opinion) like Abu Hanifa and others. Here are two
examples of the opinions of ahl al-rai that al-Bukhari attempted to refute in his
According to Abu Hanifa, khamr (wine or alcohol) is only what has been derived
from grapes and concerning which both a small or large amount is forbidden. If
intoxicating beverages come from sources other than grapes, the small amount that is
not intoxicating is not forbidden while the large amount that is intoxicating is
forbidden. Al-Bukhari included a number of chapters intended to refute this opinion,
showing that the word khamr applies to all intoxicating beverages and, hence, a
small or large amount of all those beverages are forbidden. The following are his
chapter titles concerning this matter: Alcoholic drinks may be prepared from
grapes and other things, Liquor prepared from honey, Alcoholic drink is that
drink which disturbs the mind, To drink
date syrup as long as it does not intoxicate. 
According to Abu Hanifa, the Friday prayer is only to be held in cities and not in
small villages. To refute this view, al-Bukhari included a chapter entitled,
Offering Friday prayer in villages and towns. 
In fact, it seems that al-Bukhari included an entire Book in the Sahih, the Book
of Tricks, just to refute the errant views of ahl al-rai on that topic. In that
book he uses the expression, Some people say fourteen times. Furthermore, all of
the hadith he presented in that Book can be found elsewhere in the Sahih; that is,
the Book was not added because of a relevant hadith, since there were no new hadith,
but only to refute some fiqh opinions that al-Bukhari objected to. 
1 Uthmani, p. 90.
2 Al-Mudhahiri, p. 55
3 Abdul Majeed Abdul Majeed, Al-Ijtihihat al-Fiqhiya Ind Ashab al-Hadith (1979), p. 641
pp. 577-580; also see pp. 598-640.
4 See Khan, trans., vol. 7, pp. 340, 342, 344 and 349
5 Khan, trans. Vol. 2, p. 7. Note that al-Bukhari has less criticism of ahl al-rai
than his teacher ibn Abu Shaiba. This is because some of ibn Abu Shaibas criticisms
are not as clear and al-Bukhari supported the opinions of Abu Hanifa in those cases.
Abdul Majeed concludes that al-Bukhari was more influenced by his teacher ibn
Rahawaih than his teacher ibn Abu Shaiba. Abdul Majeed, p. 580.
6 Abdul Majeed, p. 598 and p. 614.
(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at www.islamia.tv.)