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Muslim luminaries

Life & Work of Imam Bukhari (RA)

After sixteen years of exceptional hard work, his famous book had been completed. Despite the excessive number of traditions that the Imam had memorized, he only selected 7275 Ahadith, writes Manzoor Ahmad Dar

By the Star when it goes down, your companion is neither astray nor being mislead, nor does he say (Aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: He was taught by one Mighty in Power, endued with wisdom: For he appeared (in stately form) while he was in the highest part of the horizon: then he approached and was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; so did (Allah) convey the inspiration to his servant (conveyed) what he (meant) to convey. (An-Najam: 1-10)

The words of the prophet of Allah are not same as that of an ordinary person: he is inspired by Allah. His words have fragrance of divinity and as such should be preserved for all times to come, handled with sublimity and with due reverence. Whenever the issue of preservation of Ahadith of the Holy Prophet (SAW) will be discussed Imam Bukharis (RA) services will always be on the top.

Imam Bukhari

Imam al-Muhaddithn Hadrat Imam Abdullh Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari was born on the 13th of the Shawwl, 194AH, in the famous city of Bukhara, present day Uzbekistan. The father of Imam Bukhari, Ismail ibn Ibrahm ibn Mughrah al-Jaif, was a great muhaddith from whom he inherited his literary zeal and excellence. During infancy his father passed away and his mother took on the entire responsibility of bringing him up. Imam Bukhari became blind at a young age. His mother, who was a pious woman, prayed to Allah and begged for the restoration of his eyesight, Allah listened to her prayer and restored his eyesight.

At the age of eighteen he visited Makkah accompanied by his mother and elder brother, Ahmad ibn Ismail. After performing the pilgrimage, his brother returned with his mother, but Imam Bukhari stayed there for further education. Meanwhile, he wrote a book called, Qady as-Sahbah wat-Tabien. After this he went to Madnah al-munawwarah to compile the famous book of Asm ar-rijal (Names of men of transmission) called, Trkh al-kabr, while sitting by the tomb of the Holy Prophet (SAW) during moonlight hours. Muhammad ibn Yusaf al-Furyb said that at the time he had copied Trkh al-kabr, Imam Bukhari did not yet have any facial hair.

The problem of forging of Hadith

During the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), emphasis was on the penning down of Quran and as such the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) were simply committed to memory. Though on individual level there were some attempts to scribe the Hadith, e.g. Abu Hurayraha (RA) had made a private compilation. On official level the first attempt was made by Umar bin Abdul Aziz (RA) for the compilation of the Hadith. It would be erroneous to think that the Suhaba did not take pains for preservation of Hadith, in fact some of the Suhaba [Companions of prophet (SAW)] dedicated their lives to this cause. The reasons behind not writing down the Hadith during the life time of prophet Muhammad (SAW) is a different topic and needs a separate discussion.

The absence of any complete compilation of Ahadith encouraged some unscrupulous persons, in the later period, to attribute many sayings to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) which he never had said. These sayings got currency among people and soon it became difficult to differentiate the Sahih Ahadith from the forged ones. When the menace of forged Ahadith spread its ugly head, the Muhaddithin took upon them the task of maintaining the purity of Hadith literature. The Muhaddithin developed criterion by which to categorise the Ahadith into different categories like Sahih, Hassan, Ghareeb, Mauzu (forged) etc. It was made compulsory to narrate the Hadith with complete chain of narrators, then the Muhaddith would go into the credentials of each of the narrator in the chain and accordingly the Hadith would be categorized. Later on when the chain of narration began to be forged, the Muhaddithin would enquire whether the person narrating from had met him or not. The incompletion of the chain would raise doubts about the authenticity of the Hadith. Some of the Muhaddithin had developed the spiritual insight to identify a Hadith, for the Hadith had an aura of sublimity which is lacking in the words of the common human being. (It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: He was taught by one Mighty in Power)

Role of Imam Bukhari

Imam Bukhari had memorized over 200,000 traditions and written over 300,000. Unfortunately, some of these traditions were not genuinely authentic and were unreliable, for he was born at a time when traditions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) were being forged and distorted either to please kings and rulers or to corrupt the religion of Islam. Or to prove the superiority of one school of thought over the other or simply to achieve some private end.

Imam Bukhari decided to dedicate the rest of his life in compiling a book that would strictly comprise of authentic traditions. The Imams 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 Imams determination grew stronger after seeing himself in a dream, standing in front of the Noble Messenger of Allah (SAW). He had a fan in his hand and was driving away the flies from the Messenger of Allah (SAW). After relating the dream to numerous scholars who 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 (SAW). It was this dream that fuelled his determination to compile the book that the world recognizes today as Sahih Al-Bukhari.

There is a famous happening in the life of Imam Bukhari by which one can get an idea of how much care the Muhaddithin took in ascertaining the authenticity of the Hadith. One day Imam Bukhari heard that he could get information about a Hadith from a particular person. Imam Sahib went to that person so that he could get the requisite information. From some distance the Imam Sahib saw that the person had folded his garments and was beckoning his camel towards it and posing as if there were something in the fold. The animal, enticed by it, came forward and the person caught hold of the animal. Imam Sahib saw that there was nothing in the fold of his garments. He returned without meeting that person thinking how could he believe a person, in the matter of Hadith, who had deceived an animal.

After sixteen years of exceptional hard work, his famous book had been completed. Despite the excessive number of traditions that the Imam had memorized, he only selected 7275 Ahadith 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 Ahadith 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 Mueen

On 1st Shawwal 256 AH / 870 CE whilst on a journey from Kartank to Samarqand the great Imam Bukhari departed from this world.

(To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return).