A Glimpse at the Classic Works of Islam: Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

Abū al-Ḥasan Mālik al-Akhḍar
27 Shawwal 1439

“We were sitting with Isḥāq b. Rāhawayh, and he said, ‘If only you would compile an abridged collection of the Prophet’s authentic Sunnah.’ This suggestion remained in my heart, so I began to compile al-Jāmi’ al-Ṣaḥīḥ.”[i] It was this incident that prompted al-Imām Muḥammad b. Ismā’īl al-Bukhārī (رَحِمَه الله) to pen what scholars would describe as “the most authentic book after the Book of Allah.”[ii] Known simply as Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, the work’s full title is al-Jāmi’ al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Musnad al-Mukhtaṣir min Umūr Rasūl Allah wa Sunnatihi wa Ayāmihi (The Abridged Collection of Authentic Narrations Regarding Matters of the Prophet, His Practices, and His Times). The work comprises two-thousand six-hundred and two narrations without repetition, seven-thousand five-hundred and sixty-three with repetition. There are ninety-seven books in the Ṣaḥīḥ, including: Kitāb al-Waḥi (The Book of Revelation), Kitāb al-Imān (The Book of Belief), Kitāb al-‘Ilm (The Book of Knowledge), Kitāb al-Wudu (The Book of Ablution), Kitāb al-Ṣalāh (The Book of Prayer), Kitāb Faḍā’il al-Madīnah (The Book of the Virtues of Madinah), Kitāb Tafsīr al-Qur’an (The Book of Commentary on the Qur’an), Kitāb al-Nikāḥ (The Book of Marriage), Kitāb al-Ṭibb (The Book of Prophetic Medicine), Kitāb al-Tawḥīd, etc. Simply skimming the table of contents, one can see where “al-Jāmi’” comes from in the title, as the work covers all the different subjects of the Religion: creed, legislative rulings, etiquette, commentary of the Qur’an, history, etc.[iii] Each book is divided into correlating chapters. So, in Kitāb al-‘Ilm (The Book of Knowledge), for example, we find Bāb Faḍl al-‘Ilm (Chapter: “The Virtue of Knowledge”) and Bāb al-‘Ilm qabl al-Qawl wa al-‘Amal (Chapter: “Knowledge Precedes Statement and Action”).  These chapter titles indicate Imām al-Bukhārī’s fiqh. For instance, in Kitāb al-Wudu (The Book of Ablution), under the chapter heading “The Invalidity of Prayer Without Purification,” the author collects the narration of Abū Hurayrah (رَضِيَ الله عنه), who reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The prayer of the one who relieves himself is invalid until he performs ablution.” So, the chapter title and corresponding narration illustrate the Imām’s position on the matter.[iv]

Imām al-Bukhārī spent sixteen years working on his Ṣaḥīḥ. He traveled extensively throughout Egypt, Sham, Iraq, al-Ḥijāz, etc. to sit at the feet of more than a thousand scholars. Muḥammad b. Abū Ḥātim reports that al-Bukhārī said, “I recorded narrations from one-thousand and eighty people, all of them scholars of Ḥadīth.”[v] The most notable of his teachers were ‘Abd Allah b. Yusuf al-Tanīsī, ‘Alī b. ‘Abd Allah al-Madīnī, Qutaybah b. Sa’īd, et al. He then composed the book in the Prophet’s Masjid, between the Prophet’s minbar and his house, in “one of the gardens of Paradise.” It is also reported that he would not set down a narration in his Ṣaḥīḥ until he first made ablution and prayed two raka’ahs. After completing his Ṣaḥīḥ, Imām al-Bukhārī presented the final version to the scholars of Ḥadīth. It was met with universal approval. Al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr (رَحِمَه الله) stated, “The people of knowledge unanimously agree upon its authenticity.”[vi] Additionally, the great scholar and critic al-Ḥāfiẓ al-Dhahabī stated, “As for his Jāmi’ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, it is the most excellent of the books of al-Islam and the best of them after the Book of Allah…If a person traveled one-thousand farsakh (leagues) to hear it, his journey would not be in vain.”[vii] Al-Bukhārī would go on to relate his book to thousands of students, including his pupil Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Farabrī (رَحِمَه الله), who narrated the most widely used version of the book.

To aid readers and researchers, several scholars penned explanations and commentaries of Imām al-Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ. These scholars include Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Qasṭallānī, Ibn Mulaqqin, al-‘Aynī, Ibn Rajab, et al.[viii] But the most famous and beneficial of these explications is al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajr’s seminal work Fatḥ al-Bārī. When some of Imām al-Shawkānī’s students asked him why he didn’t author an explanation of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, he replied, “There is no hijrah (emigration) after al-Fatḥ.”[ix]

Al-Bukhārī related that he saw himself in a dream standing in front of the Prophet (ﷺ) fanning flies away from him: “I asked an interpreter [what it meant], and he replied, ‘You will defend him from lies.’”[x] May Allah reward this Imām abundantly for writing the utmost defense of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) Sunnah.


[i] Aḥmad b. ʿAlī b. Ḥajr, Fatḥ al-Bārī (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1379 AH), 6.
[ii] An authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ) narration fulfills five conditions: First, it has a connected, unbroken chain of transmission from beginning to end. Second, each narrator in the chain is trustworthy and upright, free from that which would affect his honor. Third, each narrator is precise in that which he reports. Fourth, the narration is free from hidden defects. Fifth, the chain’s narrators do not contradict more reliable narrators.
The question remains: Why is Imām al-Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ considered “the most authentic book after the Qur’an”? The answer lies in al-Bukhārī’s requirements. Beyond the aforementioned conditions, al-Bukhārī stipulated that there be definitive proof that each narrator heard narrations directly from his shaykh. This condition is stricter than those who simply required that the two narrators be contemporaries who in all likelihood met.
[iii] The most famous works in this genre are Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, and the Jāmi’ of al-Imām al-Tirmidhī (رَحِمَه الله).
[iv] These chapter headings, as al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajr states, have “astonished minds.”
[v] Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Dhahabī, Siyar ʿAlām al-Nubala, vol. 12 (Mu’assisah al-Risālah, 1405 AH), 555.
[vi] Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar b. Kathīr, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 11 (Beirut: Dar Iḥya al-Turāth, 1408 AH), 30.
[vii] Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 6 (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islāmī), 140.
[viii] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī has been translated into various languages. Perhaps the best-known work in English is The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhārī (Darussalam) by Muḥammad Muḥsin Khan.  
[ix] Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khān, al-Ḥiṭṭah fī Dhikr Ṣiḥāḥ al-Sittah (Beirut: Dar Kutub al-Taʿlīmiyyah, 1405 AH).
In this instance, the word “Fatḥ” has a double meaning. Imām Al-Shawkānī is alluding to the statement of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): “There is no hijrah after al-Fatḥ (the conquest of Makkah).” This ḥadīth is collected in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (no. 3686), on the authority of ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar (رَضِيَ الله عنهما). So, just as there was no longer a need to emigrate from Makkah after it became an abode of Islam, there was no longer a need to explain Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī after Fatḥ al-Bārī.
[x] ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād, ʿIshrūn Ḥadīthan min Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Madinah: al-Jamiʿah al-Islāmiyyah, 1409 AH), 13-14.

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