His Early Years
Imâm al-muhaddithîn Hadrat Imâm Abû `Abdullâh Muhammad ibn Ismâ`îl al-Bukhârî was born on the 13th of the Islâmic month of Shawwâl, 194AH, in the famous city of Bukhara, of the land “beyond the canal” – present day Uzbekistan -. The father of Imâm Bukhârî, Ismâ`îl ibn Ibrâhîm ibn Mughîrah al-Ja`fî, was a great muhaddith and ascetic from whom he inherited his characteristics of literary zeal and excellence. During infancy his father passed away and his mother took on the entire responsibility of bringing him up. Imâm Bukhârî became blind at a young age. He had recourse to many famous and skilled doctors of his time but their treatments made no difference. His mother was a pious worshipper and a righteous woman. She cried out for help in the court of Allâh the Almighty, for her child and begged for the restoration of his eyesight. At last, “the river of mercy flowed over her,” and Almighty Allâh accepted her invocation. One night, she visited Ibrâhîm `alayhis-salâm in a dream and was told, “Allâh has restored the sight of your son because of your intense and beautiful invocations.” In the morning, as Imâm Bukhârî got up from his bed, glimmers of light reached out into his eyes.
Primary Education and Interest in Hadîth
When Imâm Bukhârî reached the age of ten and after acquiring his elementary education, Almighty Allâh inserted the interest in the science of Ahadîth into his heart and he obtained admission in the Hadîth class of Bukhara. He obtained his educations after vigorous study. A year later, he had such a good retention of the text and chains of transmission of Ahâdîth, that sometimes teachers got their corrections from him. Imâm Bukhârî had been acquiring religious education with competance and swiftness and at the tender age of sixteen, he had completely learnt by heart the books of `Abdullâh ibn al-Mubârak, al-Wakî` and other learned companions of al-Imâm Abû Hanîfa radiyallâhu `anhum.
The Visit to the Haramayn and the Commencement of His Ahâdîth Compilation
At the age of eighteen, He visited Makkah accompanied by his mother and elder brother, Ahmad ibn Ismâ`îl. After performing the pilgrimage, his brother returned with the company of his mother, but Imâm Bukhârî stayed there for further education. Meanwhile, he wrote a book called, Qadâyâ as-Sahâbah wat-Tâbi`în. After this he went to Madînah al-munawwarah to compile the famous book of Asmâ` ar-rijâl (Names of men of transmission) called, Târîkh al-kabîr, while sitting by the tomb of the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam during moonlight hours. Immediately after completing this, a series of imitations had begun. Muhammad ibn Yûsaf al-Furyâbî said that at the time he had copied Târîkh al-kabîr, Imâm Bukhârî did not yet have any facial hair.
Imâm Bukhârî travelled to cities far and wide for the transmission of Ahâdîth and had gained immense knowledge while sitting far from his own country for several years. He stated himself, “To seek knowledge, I travelled to Egypt and Syria twice, Basra four times, spent six years at the Hijâz and left for Kufa and Baghdad on so many occasions accompanied by Muhaddithîn.”
His Remarkable Memory
Imâm Bukhârî was a man with a very strong memory. When we look at his memory, it is as if his body from head to toe stored it. Seeing his memory, the memory of Abû Hurayrah radiyallâhu `anhu is rekindled in the hearts of Muslims. Hashid ibn Ismâ`îl states that in his childhood: “Imâm Bukhârî used to go with us to the Scholars of Basra to listen to Ahâdîth. All of us used to write Ahâdîth down, except Imâm Bukhârî. After sixteen days, we thought about it and we condemned Imâm Bukhârî saying that, ‘you had wasted so many days work by not writing down Ahâdîth.’ Imâm Bukhârî asked us to bring our notes to him. So we all brought our notes, upon which Imâm Bukhârî began to read Ahâdîth one by one from the top of his head until he narrated to us more than fifteen thousand! Hearing these, it seemed that Imâm Bukhârî was reteaching us all of the Ahâdîth we had noted.”
Muhammad ibn Azhar Sajistânî says: “I used to go to Sulaymân ibn Harab accompanied by Imâm Bukhârî for listening to Ahâdîth. I used to write the Ahâdîth, but Imâm Bukhârî wouldn’t. Somone said to me, ‘Why doesn’t Imâm Bukhârî note the Ahâdîth down?’ I told him, ‘if you missed any Hâdîth in writing, you could obtain it from the memory of Imâm Bukhârî.'”
Imâm Bukhârî’s memory could be understood by knowing that if he glanced through a book, it would be committed to memory instantly. In his early period of acquiring knowledge, he memorised seventy thousand Ahâdîth and later in his life, this figure reached three hundred thousand. Of these, one hundred thousand were sahîh (rigorously authenticated) and two hundred thousand were not sahîh (hasan, da`îf, etc). Once he went to Balkh and the inhabitants desired that he should recite one Hadîth from each of his shaykhs. Then he orated from one thousand Shaykhs one thousand Ahâdîth.
Sulaymân ibn Mujâhid says: “One day I was present in the company of Muhammad ibn Salâm Baykandî. Muhammad ibn Salâm said, ‘If you had come earlier, I would have shown you the child who has seventy thousand Ahâdîth in his memory.’ Sulaymân stood up from his company and started looking for Imâm Bukhârî. Shortly he found him and asked, ‘Are you the one who has committed seventy thousand Ahâdîth to memory?’ Imâm Bukhârî replied, ‘I have learnt more Ahâdîth than this by heart. I even know the place of birth, death and residence of most of those companions from whom the Ahâdîth are narrated.”
His Extraordinary Intellect
Along with his extraordinary memory, he also had a very sharp intellect. He did not depend on pen and paper as much as he relied on his mind and memory. People examined the capabilities of Imâm Bukhâri in the science of Hadîth repeatedly but he always remained successful as a result of Allâh’s gift of intellegence and superb memory.
Hâfiz Ahmad ibn `Adî describes: “When the people of Baghdad had learnt that Imâm Bukhârî was due to arrive there, the Muhaddithîn of Baghdad decided to test him by changing the text and chains of transmission of one hundred Ahâdîth. They joined the chain of one Hadîth with the text of another and attached the chain of this Hadîth with the text of the prior. Like this, they mixed up the text and chains of transmission of one hundred Ahâdîth and gave these to people who would test Imâm Bukhârî with these.
“When Imâm Bukhâri arrived at Baghdad, the people held a gathering in his honour, in which most of the Ulamâ, nobles and public were present. One person stood up according to the plan and asked a question regarding a Hadîth with its altered chain of transmission. Upon this, a second person stood up and recited in similar manner. Like this, the people completed the hundred Ahâdîth and awaited Imâm Bukhârî’s reply. He said that he had not apprehended those Ahâdîth. When he saw that everyone had finished asking questions, he stood up and described the chain of transmission of the first Hadîth read and then gave its correct chain. Like this, he detailed the faulty chains on the Ahâdîth of all one hundred set up by the scholars. He had given the correct chains of transmission to every Hadîth. When he finished, the entire audience was full of praise and recognition of the superiority and greatness of Imâm Bukhârî.”
Hâfiz Abul-Azhar relates: “Once four hundred Muhaddithîn had gathered in the city of Samarqand to test Imâm Bukhârî. They did this by mixing up the transmissions of Syria with the transmissions of Iraq and the transmissions of Iraq with the transmissions of Syria. Similarly, they inserted the transmissions of the Haram (Makkah) into the ones of Yemen and vice versa. They did this to Imâm Bukhâri for seven days, but could not mislead him in text or transmission a single time. He had comprehensive knowledge in the science of Hadîth – all of the routes of a Hadîth were in his eyes if one with many chains was found. So Imâm Bukhârî had a good view of all of them. In that age, no one had more command over the different ways of transmission than Imâm Bukhârî.”
Yûsuf ibn Mûsâ Marûzî states: “I was sitting in the central mosque of Basra when I heard a voice saying, ‘O seeker of knowledge, Imâm Muhammad ibn Ismâ`îl has arrived. Whoever wants to receive Ahâdîth from him should present himself in his company.'” Marûzî says: “I saw a thin, weak young man near the pillar who was praying salât with extreme humbleness and humility and that was Imâm Bukhârî. As soon as the announcement was made, curious people from all directions began to gather around.”
Glimpses of his private life
1. Self sufficiency:
The father of Imâm Bukhârî, Muhaddith Ismâ`îl ibn Ibrâhîm was enormously rich and Imâm Bukhârî had inherited a huge share of his wealth. He used to give his wealth on the basis of silent partnership (e.g. if a person is in possession of a shop, the profits are shared equally, but only one partner does all the work). Abû Sa`îd Bakr ibn Munîr states: “Once Abû Hafs sent some goods to Imâm Bukhârî and when traders learnt of this, they came and offered five thousand dirhams. He told them, ‘Come in the evening.’ A second group of traders came and offered ten thousand dirhams, but he told them, ‘I have already made an agreement with someone else. Ido not want to change my intention for the sake of ten thousand dirhams.'”
2. Simplicity and humbleness:
From the point of view of his character, Imâm Bukhârî was a simple and hard working person. He would fulfill his own needs by himself. Despite having a lot of wealth and status, he always kept the minimum number of servants required and never indulged himself in this matter. Muhammad ibn Hâtim Warrâq, who was one of his main disciples, says: “Imâm Bukhârî was establishing an inn near the city of Bukhara and was placing the bricks with his own hands. I came forward and said ‘Leave the laying of the bricks for this building to me.’ But he replied, ‘On the day of judgement, this act will be of benefit to me.'”
Warrâq goes on to say: “When we accompanied Imâm Bukhârî on a journey, he would gather us in one room and would stay by himself in a separate room. Once I saw Imâm Bukhârî get up between fifteen and twenty times during the night and every time, he lit the lamp with his own hands. He took some Ahâdîth out, marked them and then placed his head on his pillow and laid on his couch. I said to him, ‘Why did you go through all this trouble during the night, when you could have woken me up [so that I could help you].’ He replied, ‘You are young and are in need of sound sleep and I did not want to disturb your sleep.'”
Just as he was generous with this wealth, he was also greatly generous with his heart. Sometimes, he would give three thousand dirhams as a donation in one day. Warrâq says that Imâm Bukhârî’s earnings were five hundred dirhams per month and he would spend all of it on his students.
4. Abstention (Zuhd)
Imâm Bukhârî kept himself away from all worldly desires and temptations. Sometimes, in his quest for knowledge, he passed his time eating dried grass (hay). Usually he would eat only two or three almonds in a whole day. Once he became ill and the doctors told him, “Your intestines have become dry because you have been eating dried leaves.” It was at that moment that Imâm Bukhârî told the doctor that he had been eating dried leaves for forty years and during this span of time he never even touched any kind of curry.
5. Fear of Allâh
He was bestowed with the highest rank of piety and righteousness. He feared Allâh very much inwardly and outwardly. He prevented himself from backbiting and suspicion and always respected the rights of others. Bakr ibn Munîr relates that Imâm Bukhârî said, “I am hopeful that when I meet my Lord, He will not take account of me because I never backbited.”
Imâm Bukhârî was so vigilant in his worship, that he would pray Nawâfil and keep fasts in abundance. He would complete the recitation of the whole Qur’ân daily in the month of Ramadân and also recited ten chapters of the Holy Qur’ân deep in the night. He would complete the Holy Qur’ân in the Tarâwîh prayers and always reciting twenty verses in each rak`at. He was very courteous, tolerant and gentle. He never became angry if mistreated by other persons and prayed forgiveness for those who attributed evil to him. If he needed to correct any person, he would never embarrass him in public.
His Arrival in Nîshâpûr and the issue of the creation of the Qur’ân
In 250 AH, Imâm Bukhârî decided to go to Nîshâpûr. After hearing this news, a wave of happiness spread among its people. In those times, Muhammad ibn Yahya adh-Dhuhlî was the head of the literary kingdom of Nîshâpûr. He advised and led the inhabitants of the city to gather together for the welcoming of Imâm Bukhârî. A huge crowd went to the outskirts of the city to receive Imâm Bukhârî, with extreme magnificence and honour. Imâm Muslim ibn Hajjâj says that in all his life, he had never seen such a reception ever given to a scholar or even a ruler.
Imâm Bukhârî began to deliver lectures on Hadîth in Nîshâpûr. At every session, a huge crowd always packed the area to listen and many included people who had arrived specifically to learn the science of Hadîth. However, some unpleasant people were envious about the reputation and popularity of Imâm Bukhârî. These people set up Muhammad ibn Yahya adh-Dhuhlî to become his opponent. In this incident, Muhammad ibn Yahya considered the pronunciation of the Qur’ân as eternal and was firmly rooted with this concept.
Once, a man approached Imâm Bukhârî and asked him whether the Qur’ân was created (makhlûq) or not created (ghayr makhlûq). Imâm Bukhârî paused for a while. The man insisted on a reply, upon which he was told, “The Qur’ân are the words of Allâh and they are not created (ghayr makhlûq).” The man posed some more questions about the words of the Qur’ân, upon which Imâm Bukhârî said, “Our actions are created and the pronunciation is one our actions.”
[Comment by G.F. Haddad: The above is inaccurately translated. It should read: “Muhammad ibn
Yahya considered the *pronunciation* of the Qur’ân as eternal…” and “Imâm Bukhârî said, ‘Our actions are created and the pronunciation is one our actions.'”
The disagreement was only over the pronunciation (lafz) of the Qur’an, not the words of the Qur’an, although lafz also means “wording.” Al-Dhuhli and other people close to the Hanbali madhhab considered that the pronunciation is uncreated just like the Qur’an itself. Others, like Bukhari and Muslim, also al-Karabisi the companion of al-Shafi`i and others considered the pronunciation created since it is part of one’s acts and acts are certainly created. There was no disagreement that the words of the Qur’an are not created since they are what is meant when we say that the Qur’an is Allah’s Speech.
What possibly reconciles the different views on this subject is that lafz is used by some to mean the revealed, uncreated words and contents of recitation, while others mean thereby the mere act of pronunciation, which is created; hence the extreme caution shown by some, such as Imam al-Bukhari, who fell short of saying: “Lafz is created” even though he used it in the second sense, since he said: “Lafz is an act of human beings, and our acts are created.” This lexical ambiguity is a proof of sorts that the differences on this particular question were largely in terminology rather than essence. Added to this is a fundamental difference in method around the appropriateness of such dialectic (kalam), which poisoned the air with unnecessary condemnations on the part of Imam Ahmad’s followers – and Allah knows best.]
After this, mass propaganda started against Imâm Bukhârî, which led to accusations that he believed the words of the Qur’ân to be created. When Dhuhlî heard these rumours, he disconnected his ties with Imâm Bukhârî and became his foe. He started warning people by announcing that they should not attend the lectures of Imâm Bukhârî. As a result, people refrained from sitting in his lectures, except Muslim ibn Hajjâj. At last, due to his disappointment, Imâm Bukhârî left the city of Nîshâpûr and returned to Bukhara.1
Banishment from his homeland
When the people of Bukhara learnt that Imâm Bukhârî was coming back to his homeland, they became extremely overjoyed and erected tents many miles outside the city to welcome him. They greeted him with splendour for his return. He established a school there where he spent a great deal of time teaching with satisfaction.
Even here, there were envious people who did not leave him alone. They met the governor of Bukhara, who was a representative of the Khilâfat `Abasiyya, Khâlid ibn Ahmad. They told him to call Imâm Bukhârî to his house and busy him with teaching his son. When the governor put this suggestion to Imâm Bukhârî, he was told, “I do not want to abuse knowledge and carry it to the footstep of the rulers. If anybody wants to learn, they should come to my school.” The governor replied, by stating, “If my son was to attend your school, he should not sit with ordinary people. You would have to teach him separately.” Imâm Bukhârî answered, “I cannot stop any person from hearing Ahâdîth.” Upon hearing this, the governer of Bukhara became angry with him and got a fatwa (verdict) from the time wasting opportunist (ibn al-waqt) `Ulamâ against Imâm Bukhârî to banish him from the city.
Imâm Bukhârî was distressed at the thought of being banished from his homeland. Not even a month passed, before the Khalîf of Baghdad dismissed the governor of Bukhara, Khâlid ibn Ahmad adh-Dhuhlî. The governor was expelled from his palace in extreme disgrace and dishonour, being mounted on a she-ass and then thrown into prison, where he died in a space of a few days. Similarly, all the supporters of the governor also died in disgraceful ways.
After returning from Bukhara, Imâm Bukhârî decided to travel to Samarqand. He was still many miles from the city, when he heard that the people there had two veiws about him. So he decided to stay at a village along the way called “Kharteng”. Here, he made the following invocation one night after the late-night prayer: “O Allâh, the Earth despite its grandeur is becoming narrow and is troubling me greatly. So take me back to You.” After this invocation, he became ill. Meanwhile, the people of Samarqand sent a messenger to bring him there. Bukhârî got up and was ready to travel, but his strength gave way. He began to invoke Allâh at length, then he took to his bed and his soul passed away to his Lord – may Allâh have mercy on him. An indescribable amount of perspiration came out of him even after he consigned his life to the Creator of life. When this abated, he was shrouded. He died on the night of `Îd al-Fitr, the first night of Shawwâl in the year 256 AH. He had reached the age of 62 years, less twelve days. On this night, the sun of great knowledge, virtue and blessings had set, whose knowledge and actions had enlightened the hearts and minds of the great intellects and people of Samarqand, Bukhara, Baghdad and Nîshâpûr.
His acceptance by Allah’s Messenger sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam
Imâm Bukhârî devoted his entire life, in the search for the way of life given by the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam, in acting upon his sayings and researching into this science. His each and every action was a fragment of the way of the Messenger. Warrâq stated: “In a dream, I once saw Imâm Bukhârî walking behind the Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam and his feet would fall exactly where the feet of the blessed Prophet had fallen.”
Farbarî stated: “Once in a dream, I met the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam and he asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ I replied, ‘To Muhammad ibn Ismâ`îl [al-Bukhârî].’ He then said, ‘Go, and give him my salâm.'”
Just as the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam had happiness with Imâm Bukhârî during his lifetime, he was also pleased with him after his death. Concerning this, `Abd al-Wâhid ibn Âdam Awaysî stated: “I saw the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam in my sleep standing with a group of his Companions. I asked, ‘O Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam, who are you waiting for?’ He replied, ‘For Bukhârî.’ After a few days I heard the news of Imâm Bukhârî’s passing away. He had died at the very moment that I saw the Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam in my dream.”
The baraka of Bukhârî’s maqam
The Janâzah prayer was performed over Imâm Bukhârî and his body was covered with soil. A beautiful musk smell exuded from the earth of his grave which lasted for several days. People from far and wide began to visit it in astonishment and also took handfuls of earth from his grave for blessings (tabarruk).
Abul-Fath as-Samarqandî relates: “two hundred years after the death of Imâm Bukhârî, a drought struck Samarqand. The people made the istisqâ’ prayer and invocations but rain did not fall. A saintly man came to the judge (Qâdî) of the city and gave him some advice. He said: ‘With the people of the city, go to the grave of Imâm Bukhârî and invoke Allâh the Exalted there to give you rain. Perhaps Allâh will accept our invocations and give us rain.’ The judge of the city accepted this advice with delight and proceeded to go to the grave. The people followed him and upon arrival, he prayed for rain in front of them at the grave. People wept and also sought the intercession of the one who was in the grave. At that moment, clouds gathered and Allâh sent such heavy rain that those who were in Kharteng could not reach Samarqand for seven days because of the rain’s abundance.
Imâm Bukhârî was not only a scholar, worshipper, a devotee and a prosperous man, but he always feared Allâh and shone with the love of the Messenger sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam. The virtuous outpourings he gave to the world during his life are still being given today and as the Muslim Ummah goes about its daily acts of worship, they realise how important the role played by Imâm Bukhârî was. He compiled and circulated the Ahâdîth of the Prophet wherever possible and Allâh spread his status to every corner of the world. It is a fact that as long as the traditions of the Holy Prophet sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam (qîla and qâla) are mentioned in gatherings, lights and blessings will shower onto the grave of Imâm al-Bukhârî from the skies of the Most Merciful.