Hadith is a tradition or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ including accounts of his routine daily practices, also referred to as “Sunnah.” After the Quran, it is the main source of guidance for all mankind, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

In the earlier days of Islam, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to be memorized by his companions (Sahaba’a). Apart from these sayings or verdicts given by the Prophet on a particular matter, his acts in daily life routine were also memorized by them for guidance and following them, commonly referred to as Sunnah. These traditions were transmitted to the coming generations from one person to the others.

There have been so many narrators of these Hadith and Sunnah right from the earlier days of Islam, who passed on these traditions and Sunnah to the next generations. However, no formal collection of Hadiths was compiled until the 9th century CE or 232 AH, when one of the renowned Hadith Scholars, Imam al-Bukhari compiled the first ever book of Hadith collection, known as Sahih Al-Bukhari (صَحِيحُ الْبُخَارِي). It is rated as the most authentic book of Hadith and is ranked as the first in the six authentic Hadith Books, commonly referred to as Al-Ṣiḥāḥ al-Sittah (الصحاح الستة), “the six authentic”.

Imam al- Bukhari – Biography

The author of the second holiest book for Muslims, after the Quran, Sahih Al-Bukhai, was born in Bukhara, situated in the current day’s Uzbekistan, on Friday, 13th of Shawwal 194 AH. His full name is Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ibrahim Ibn Al-Mughirah ibn Bardizyah Al-Jufri Al-Bukhari. His great-grandfather, Al-Mughirah, embraced Islam and settled in the Bukhara town. His father, Ismail was a renowned Islamic Scholar of his time but he died very early, when Imam al-Bukhari was just an infant.

Imam Al-Bukhari started learning Hadith from a very young age. At the age of 16, he had already memorized many Books of renowned Islamic scholars. Since Hadith was his favorite subject, he also studied and learned about the lives of various Hadith narrators, such as their date and place of birth and date and place of death, in addition to their reputation in society, being just and trustworthy or otherwise.

At the age of 18, he traveled to Mecca with his mother and brother to perform the Hajj. After performing the Hajj, his mother and brother returned to their hometown, but Imam al-Bukhari decided to stay there to seek further knowledge and education. He spent considerable time in Mecca and Medina. He also traveled to many other cities and countries to collect authentic Hadiths. He once mentioned that he visited many places to collect the Hadiths.

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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)

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His personality as a research scholar of Hadith is marked by his amazing memory, abstinence, humbleness, and fear of Allah. Additionally, he had a history of frequent traveling and struggling hard to collect and verify the authenticity of the Hadiths.

At 62, Imam al-Bukhari died on the 1st of Shawwal 256 AH, 870 CE, in Khartang, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. During the last phase of his life, the Governor, Khalid Bin Ahmed, expelled him from his hometown, Bukhara. Khalid Bin Ahmed asked Imam Bukhari to teach his son. Imam agreed but said he would have to attend his school (Madrassa, set by Imam Bukhari for teaching Hadith). The Governor got angry and ordered his expulsion from Bukhara. Imam Bukhari then shifted to the nearby village of Khartang. Although the Caliph punished the Governor for this act, Imam Bukhari spent his remaining life in the Village Khartang (Hartang) and died there. His Grave is in the same village, now a part of Uzbekistan.

His Teachers

During his frequent traveling to different cities in search of Hadiths, he met and remained under the fellowship of various renowned and notable Islamic Scholars. Here is a list of some of his notable teachers:

  1. Ali ibn Al-Madini
  2. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal
  3. Yahya ibn Maeen
  4. Mohammad ibn Yusuf Al-Firyabi
  5. Mohammad bin Yusuf Al-Baykandi
  6. Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh

His Students

He spent a considerable time of his life teaching Islamic knowledge, especially the Hadith, in his Madrassa in his hometown, Bukhara. He has a long list of students. Some of his renowned students are listed below:

  1. Muslim bin Hajjaj (famously known as Imam Muslim, the author of Sahih Al-Muslim).
  2. Abu Isa Mohammad Al-Tirmidhi (famously known as Imam At-Tirmidhi, the author of Jami Tirmidhi).
  3. Abu Abd-ur-Raḥman Aḥmad ibn Shuaib Al-Nasai (famously known as Imam Al-Nasai, the author of Sunan An-Nasai).
  4. Abdullah bin Abd-ur-Rahman Al-Darimi.
  5. Muhammad bin Nashr Al-Marwazi.
  6. Abu Hatim Ar-Razi.
  7. Abu Bakar bin Ishaq bin Khuzaimah.

Compilation of Sahih Al-Bukhari

During his stay at Mecca and Medina and while traveling to various cities, he came across various Hadith collections known as Sahih and Hassan (authentic and sound). Simultaneously, he realized that many weak (da’if) Hadith were narrated then. Hence, he felt the necessity of compiling an authentic collection of only the Sahih (authentic) Hadiths. He was inspired by his teacher, Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh, a Hadith Scholar. His teacher once said to him, “If only you would compile a book of only authentic narrations of the Prophet.”

So, he started working on the Hadith Collection during his stay at Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca. After some time, he moved to Medina and continued his research work in Masjid An-Nabavi. He completed his book Sahih Al-Bukhari once he returned to his hometown, Bukhara. The book was completed in the year 232 AH, 846 CE.

He Set Strict Conditions for Narrators of Hadith

While collecting Hadiths and verifying their authenticity, he set a very strict parameter for the narrators to qualify, adding the Hadith quoted by them in his Sahih. The conditions for the narrators were as under:

  1. The narrator must have the reputation of being “just”.
  2. He must have a strong memory. Additionally, the scholars knowing Hadith must have trust in the ability of the narrators to learn and memorize as well as their reporting techniques. In fact, this was a very strict condition, which made it possible to ensure the authenticity of the Hadiths.
  3. The chain of narrators (Isnad) must be complete and there should be no missing link.
  4. The consecutive narrators must have met with each other.

Following his self-imposed conditions, he managed to gather the most authentic set of Hadiths, which he compiled in his Book, “Al-Jami Al-Musnad Al-Sahih Al-Mukhtasar Min Umur Rasul Allah Sallá Allah Alayhi Wa-Sallam Wa-Sunanihi Wa-Ayyamihi” (الجامع المسند الصحيح المختصر من أُمور رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلّم وسننه وأيامه), which means “The shortened authentic (sahih) collection with isnads from the affairs of the Messenger, ﷺ, and His traditions and His days,” commonly known as “Sahih Al-Bukhari”.

After completing his work, he showed his book to Ali ibn al-Madini, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and Yahya ibn Ma’in for verification. They critically examined the content of his book and agreed on its authenticity. Thereafter, he continued traveling to various cities and spent his remaining life making slight amendments and revisions to his book to make it more authentic.

Sahih Al-Bukhari – The Content

The final version of Sahih Al-Bukhari comprises around 7563 authentic Hadiths, with repetitions, and around 2600 Hadiths without repetitions. These Hadiths were shortlisted by Imam Al-Bukhari out of some 600,000 (300,000, according to some researchers) he collected during his search for authentic Hadiths. That reflects the very high standard of authenticity set by Imam Bukhari to qualify a Hadith to be included in his Sahih. It is rated the most authentic Islamic Book after the Quran.

The book was written in Arabic and subsequently translated into different languages, including English, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, and many more. The oldest manuscript of Sahih Al-Bukhari available at this stage is said to have been written in 370 AH, 984 CE. However, the oldest full version of Sahih Al-Bukhari was printed in 1155 CE, 550 AH.

Compilation of Hadiths in Chapters Based on the Subject Matter

Sahih Al-Bukhari comprises 97 sub-books (Chapters). Hadiths related to a particular subject matter are included in the relevant chapter, such as Hadiths about Wudu are included in the Chapter named “Ablution (Wudu), and Hadiths on Hajj are collected under the Chapter named “Hajj (Pilgrimage),” and so on.

Since one Hadith may contain instructions about multiple subjects, the same Hadith may be found in different chapters. That results in the repetition of Hadiths multiple times under different headings. The distribution of Hadiths in different Chapters makes it easy for the reader to navigate to his desired Hadith based on the subject matter.

Conclusion

Sahih al-Bukhari is the most authentic and widely accepted by Muslims worldwide as the most trusted Hadith Collection. It is also referred to as the holiest book after the Quran. It comprises the most authentic (sahih) Hadiths collected by Imam al-Bukhari from different narrators. He collected more than 600,000 Hadiths, but after screening them under the strict conditions he set, he included 2600 Hadiths in his Book.

He spent his whole life on this esteemed work, from a very young age until his death at the age of 62. His work has received huge acceptance from different schools of thought within the Muslim world. This book has been a main source of reference for scholars.