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Academic Life of Al-Bukhari and his contributions to the sciences of Hadith


In Islam; knowledge always reverts back to two sources: the Quran and Sunnah. The Quran is the foundation of all Islamic sciences as it is considered unaltered. The hadith is the second source of guidance. Because the prophet (pbuh) lived 1400 years ago, how sure can we be that his sayings and actions were unaltered? People who are not familiar with the sciences of hadith may not understand its importance and think it would be subject to corruption. However because of the work of al-Bukhari, he protected the hadith from corruption due to his thorough and systemic way of verification of every saying of the prophet (pbuh). We are in the 21st century and we still benefit from the sayings of the prophet (pbuh).


Al- Bukhari was born in Bukhara and his father died while he was an infant and so his mother took care of him alone. At a tender age, he dedicated his time to study Islamic sciences.

He involved himself with lots of scholars to study hadith and fiqh jurisprudence. Ever since he was young, he was able to remember very long and complex chains of narrations of the hadith and he could digest very complex fiqh issues. A hadith cannot be authentic if the isnad is considered unreliable, and that was the part he excelled gracefully. As a teenager, he had concluded his studies in the city of Bukhara and he went to perform pilgrimage with his mother.

He lived in Mecca and Madeena for many years and kept collecting series of hadith from various scholars where he memorized the matn (text) and the isnad (chain) of the hadith. He didn’t only memorized the isnad but went further to advance his knowledge on the area known as ilm-al-rijaal (knowledge of men). As an adult he travelled to other countries like Egypt and Syria to continue with his studies and finally settled in Basra where he did his hadith compilation.


Imam al-Bukhari’s collection of hadith was a massive achievement and this cornerstone is irreplaceable. It was through his work that studies of hadith evolved into science that govern laws to protect the hadith from corruption and innovation. His collections were organized in such a way that it is used to deduce rulings on Islamic jurisprudence.

Al-Bukhari not only has the most authentic compiled hadith but he had the foresight to categorize it into the book of law which helps us to tell what is wrong from right involving our daily lives. This further makes us demonstrate our lives in accordance to the life of the prophet (pbuh). He had 97 books which were divided in different chapters. Each chapter had a ruling on fiqh and then under the chapter contains all the hadith he considers authentic.

The monumental task of al-Bukhari inspired many scholars particularly his students which led them to the collection of Sahih Muslim which is the next in rank of authenticity. Many orientalists condemn hadith claiming that the manner it was collected wasn’t reliable. This is because they have very shallow knowledge on this aspect but the great efforts of al-Bukhari in verifying the authenticity of hadith contradicts their claim. Due to his great contribution we can now tell the words or actions that can be clearly attributed to Prophet (pbuh) even 1400 years after his death.

Even though he has been authors of many works in the science of hadith, his most notable contribution was the collection of over 7000 hadith, known as Sahih-al-Bukhari which it took 16 good years for him to complete.

His own hadith methodology was a unique one and therefore he imposed strict conditions that must be complied with;

1. The narrators in the chain must be adl (just).

2. ‘All narrators in the chain must possess strong memory and all the Muhadditheen who possess great knowledge of ahadith must agree upon the narrators' ability to learn and memorize, along with their reporting techniques’.

3. There must be a complete chain without missing narrators.

4. The two consecutive narrators must have met physically in person. This is the condition he only applied so it made him unique.

He was very meticulous when giving attention to details concerning compilation of hadith. He had very strict rules for accepting of hadith as follows;

The chain of narrators was thoroughly verified before declaring hadith as authentic.

For example in the hadith;

We have heard from al-Humaydi Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr who said that he heard from Sufyan, who said he heard from Yahya ibn Saeed al-Ansari who said he was informed by Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Taymi that he heard ‘Alqama ibn Waqqas al-Laythi say that he heard ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab say on the sermon pulpit that he heard the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ say: ‘Actions are only by intentions’. (Khalid, 2005).

These 6 narrators were thoroughly inspected by the al-Bukhari. He did that by studying the lives of the people, where they lived, their character in great depth. Once can imagine what a task that would have been. If a person narrates from another, he made sure that they lived in the same place, at the same time and they have physically met to discuss the hadith.

This attribute made Imam al-Bukhari unique because other scholars did not require that both narrators must meet in person. So his stringent rules made him different.

Studying the lives of the narrators was an integral part of his methodology because he needed to make sure that they were trustworthy and reliable and so they will not corrupt or fabricate the text. The moment he discovers someone in the chain is not trustworthy or has sinned in the past, the hadith would be automatically discarded unless it is supported by a stronger chain. Imam Bukhari was the first scholar to make a systematic approach in his hadith classification. He classified the hadith into: Sahih, Hasan, Mutawatir, Ahad, Daif, or Maudoo. This later became the standard for all the other hadith scholars.

‘He often omits all or part of the isnad and in certain cases relies on weak authorities. The number of suspended (mu’allaq) and corroborative traditions in the book amount to about 1, 725’. (Philips B, 2003).

The above quote indicates that in addition to collecting sound hadith, his goal was also to impress the contents of the texts on the reader’s minds and to demonstrate the doctrine that could be drawn from them. He divided the whole work into over a 10 books which is further divided into different chapters of 3,450 and each chapter is under a heading. The headings constitutes his fiqh. They contain verses from Quran or texts from hadith. In most cases, the verses and the texts are in agreement while in other cases they have wider or smaller importance than the traditions that follow them and as such serve as a medium of interpretation of the tradtiions.

Sometimes they appear in an interrogative form which means the issue is undecided or he wanted to alert people on something that is wrong or forbidden. Sometimes the traditions don’t follow the headings and in this case he meant he is not aware of a genuine tradition attached to it. Sometimes he repeats the verses of a single hadith in other chapters in order to demonstrate more evidence towards the authenticity of the hadith. Sometimes he includes one part of the tradition in one chapter and the other part in a different chapter or divide the traditions that are suspended into mawquf and Marfa, he had an academic reasons for such which is clearly explained by commentators.


It will be very wrong to assume that Bukhari’s work is free from mistakes. The Muslim traditionalists have pointed all those mistakes out. According to them he became erroneous in judging how reliable some of the narrators were and therefore paid little attention to the possibly of the actual content they reported being correct.

‘Al- Daaraqutni tried to show the weakness of some two hundred traditions contained in the book in his work al-istidraak wa’l- tatabut, which has been summarized by al jazaa’iri in his tawjih al-Nazar’ (Philips B, 2003).

Despite the criticisms they have unanimously presented a tribute on general accuracy, carefulness and exactness used by Imam Al-Bukhari. He is the one responsible for elimination of all forms of corruption attributed to the science and Hadith. He was indeed a rare gem.


Abu H, (2005). On The Nature of Hadith Collections of Imam Al-Bukhari & Muslim. Riyadh: Research publishing Ltd.

Firas, A, (2013). Imam al-Bukhari and the Science of Hadith. Riyadh: Research publishing Ltd.

Khan, M, (2008). The Muslim 100. United Kingdom: Kube Publishing Ltd.

Muhsin K, (2015). Short Biography of Imam al Bukhari. South Africa: Isipingo publishing Ltd

Philips, B, (2003). The fundamentals of hadith studies. United Arab Emirates: Preston University Ajman publishing.

Saleh, A. (2005). The Effects of Muhadithins’ Methodologies in writing the prophetic Biography. Journal of Islamic Studies and culture, 3(1), 74-80.

Siddiqi, M, (1993). Hadith Literature. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society Publishing.

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