We refer to the book Sahih Bukhari many times. But have we ever cared to look into the life and persona of Imam Bukhari, who devoted his entire life to write this precious book?
By Jamil Ahmad
Few persons in the world have even been endowed with a proverbial memory. One of them is Bukhari, the greatest compiler of Hadith (narratives pertaining to the Prophet’s life and his sayings) that Islam has produced. He is said to have retained in his memory one million Ahadith with full details of all the different sources and reporters of each Hadith which came down to him. His Sahih Bukhari (collection of Hadith) is universally recognised as the most authentic collection of Ahadith of the Holy Prophet of Islam (Pbuh).
Abu‘abd Allah Muhammad ibn Isma‘il, later known as Imam Bukhari, was born in Bukhara on 13 Shawwal, 194 A.H. (July 21 810 A.C). The newly-born child had scarcely opened his eyes in the world when he lost his eyesight. His father was immensely grieved at it. His pious mother wept and prayed to God to restore the eyesight of her newly-born child. And by the Grace of God, the eyesight of the newly-born child was fully restored. He lost his father when he was still a child. He was brought up by his illustrious and virtuous mother. He began his study of the Hadith at the early age of eleven. In his 16th year, he made pilgrimage of the Holy places along with his mother and elder brother. There he attended the lectures of the great teachers of Hadith in Makkah and Madinah. He was still 18 years old, when he wrote a book on the decisions made by the Companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) and their followers.
His elder brother, Rashid ibn Isma‘il reports that the young Bukhari used to attend the lectures and discourses of learned men along with him and other pupils. But, unlike other pupils he never took notes of these discourses. They criticised him for not taking notes of the lectures and thus wasted his time. Bukhari did not give any reply. One day, being annoyed by their consistent criticism of his carelessness, Bukhari asked his fellow pupils to bring all they had noted down. By that time, his fellow pupils had taken down more than 15 thousand Ahadith. Young Bukhari, to the amazement of all, narrated all the 15 thousand Ahadith from his memory with minutest details which had not been noted down by the follow pupils.
Later, he started on a study pilgrimage of the world of Islam, which lasted 16 years. Of this period, he spent five years in Basrah, visiting Egypt, Hijaz, Kufa and Baghdad several times and wandered all over Western Asia in quest of knowledge and learning . During his travels he reported Ahadith from 80,000 persons. With the help of his exceptional memory he could retain these Ahadith with all their sources in his mind to be penned down at an opportune time.
The fame of young Bukhari had soon reached the distant parts of the Islamic world and wherever he went he was received with great veneration. People were wonderstruck by his deep learning and extraordinary memory. A large number of learned and pious men throughout the world of Islam became the disciples of young Bukhari. Darami, who was a spiritual teacher of Bukhari admits that his learned pupil had deeper insight into the Hadith.
Bukhari devoted not only his entire intelligence and exceptional memory to the writing of the momentous work, Sahih Bukhari, he attended to the task with utmost dedication and piety. He used to take bath and pray whenever he sat down to write the book. A part of this book was written by him sitting by the side of Prophet’s grave at Madinah.
Bukhari returned to his native place, Bukhara, at last and was given a rousing reception by the entire populace of this great cultural city. But he was not destined to live here for long. He was asked by the Ruler of Bukhara to teach him and his children the Ahadith of the Prophet at his Palace. This he declined and migrated to a town near Samarkand. Here he breathed his last on 30 Ramadan, 256 A.H. (31 August 870 A.C.)
The entire populace of the town and the vicinity came out to pay their last homage to one of the greatest sons of Islam. His grave is still a favourite place of Muslim pilgrimage. His monumental work, Sahih Bukhari established his reputation as one of the greatest compilers of Ahadith in Islam. It is said that Bukhari retained in his memory one million Ahadith of the Holy Prophet of Islam (Pbuh) with all the details of their sources and reporters. Out of the million Ahadith which he had learnt from some 80,000 reporters, he selected 7,275 Ahadith and, according to Ibn Hajar, 9,082 for his monumental work, Sahih Bukhari. He took 16 years to complete it. This monumental work of Bukhari has been acclaimed by thousands of scholars, and erudite theologians as a rare accomplishment. More than 53 commentaries, some of these in around 14 volumes, have been written on Sahih Bukhari.
This book is divided in various chapters, for which he had planned a complete scheme. In his selection of Ahadith, he exercised great prudence on his part. Bukhari is the author of about two dozen other books on religion, Islamic philosophy and history. But his monumental work is Sahih Bukhari, whose hundreds of commentaries and translations have appeared in different languages during the last one thousand years.