Bukhārī, al-

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BUKHĀRĪ, AL- Abū ʿAbd Allah Muammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī (810870) was a Muslim scholar of adīth. Born in the central Asian city of Bukhāra, al-Bukhārī compiled one of the most authoritative collections on the words and deeds of the Prophet Muammad. According to the biographical accounts, he began the study of adīth at the age of 10, and was soon correcting his own teachers. At age 16 he made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and from there he traveled throughout Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Iran in the search for adīth that was traditional among many scholars of the day. It is claimed that he heard or collected 600,000 reports and that he spent sixteen years reducing these to around 3,000 "sound" reports for his most renowned work, al-Jāmiʿ al-aī (The Sound and Comprehensive Exposition).

Al-Bukhārī lived during a time in which many collections of information regarding the Prophet were being collected and evaluated and an intellectual struggle obtained, especially in Iraq and lands to the east, between those who favored adīth over and against individual reasoning (ra'y ) as the main source of Islamic law. Anecdotes about Muammad were found in accounts of his military expeditions and life in general (maghāzī, sīra ), as well as in books of jurisprudence that also contained legal discussions and nonprophetic material, but al-Bukhārī made his contribution to the collection of adīth proper. In this venture, the most important aspect of the adīth was not the content but rather the isnād, the list of names of informants who (preferably orally) passed on the saying. Many of the earliest works were musnad s, that is, organized according to the transmitter. Al-Bukhārī's aī was one of the first muannaf s, in which materials were organized according to topic. Sunnī Muslims eventually recognized six canonical adīth collections, of which the most authoritative are the two aī books of al-Bukhārī and his fellow Iranian contemporary al-Hajjāj (d. 853). (The remaining four are known as sunan, and are more restricted to legal and everyday issues.)

Although al-Bukhārī did not provide any explanatory introduction to his collection, he divided the material into approximately one hundred chapters treating matters of law, ritual, and theology, with numerous subheadings for individual topics or questions, often drawn from phrases in the Qurʾān or the adīth corpus itself. In some cases, subheadings appear without any corresponding adīth, presumably to indicate that no sound adīth existed on that topic. In many cases, al-Bukhārī inserted his own comments and opinions on the matters at hand, and frequently cited the same report (or a part thereof) under different subheadings as he saw fit. The ensemble was similar to a work of jurisprudence in aiming to provide a guide to all recognized aspects of Muslim dogma and praxis.

Al-Bukhārī's major work is not only vast but also meticulous. Although the work is arranged according to the content of the reports, the criteria for inclusion in the aī was nevertheless squarely based on soundness of the isnād, the chain of names indicating the source of the anecdote. A typical isnād will be something like "I heard from A that B informed him that C said." aī, or "sound," refers to a adīth whose chain of transmitters extends uninterrupted back to the Prophet Muammad himself, and is composed entirely of men of well-established reliability and honesty. Opinions could differ significantly on the question of whether a transmitter was reliable or not, and even the two canonical aīs of al-Bukhārī and Muslim works contain different material. The compiler's efforts extended then not only to the collection of prophetic reports but to the evaluation of their transmitters and their links. In addition to judging the character and reliability of the transmitters, it had to be ascertained that they lived in the appropriate era, and al-Bukhārī is said to have insisted that there be evidence not only that the chronology was correct but that successive informants had actually met each other at some point. Muslim, compiler of the other great aī, held that chronology sufficed.

According to an anecdote in the biographical accounts, a group of Baghdad scholars attempted to trick al-Bukhari into public error by changing the isnāds and contents of one hundred adīth. He listened, admitted he had not heard of these particular reports, then recited the correct versions back to his interrogators and suggested they had been confused. Apocryphal or not, these and similar stories indicate the nature of al-Bukhārī's talent: the mastery and memorization of countless adīth, with the precise wording of their contents and the details of their isnād s.

Like many classical Islamic works, the aī was the object of numerous commentaries, and subsequent scholarship dealt with every aspect of al-Bukhārī's compilation. Commentary was one of the ways in which the community continued to engage with its canonical works, and the process served both to preserve and to renew the work for subsequent generations. It also served as a tool in various disputes, as an authoritative work could be shown to support a particular sectarian viewpoint. Commentary on the aī has continued into the modern age.

However, his aī was not above criticism. Some of his inclusions are said to be less "sound" than he claimed, and he included a large number of adīth reports that did not meet his own standards, presenting them in part or without isnād in order to illustrate a point or support an argument. In the views of some commentators, these inclusions weakened the book's rigor and were even said to have helped contribute to the decline of rigorous isnād scholarship.

Whatever the comments on individual reports or on the details, the consensus of the Sunnī Muslim community has been that al-Bukhārī's aī is the most authoritative text in Islam after the Qurʾān. Like the scripture, there are even premodern accounts of the veneration of the physical copy of the book, that it protects its owner against hardship, that oaths were sworn on it, or that no ship with a copy on board will sink, and so on.

He also compiled a number of other books, most notably a biographical dictionary of adīth transmitters, but his renown rests mainly on his aī.


Burton, John. An Introduction to the Hadith. Edinburgh, U.K., 1994. Burton's book will not serve as an introduction to the adīth, but it does have some useful pages on al-Bukhārī.

Goldziher, Ignaz. Muslim Studies. London, 1971. One of the most comprehensive introductory discussions of al-Bukhārī's methods.

Khan, Muhammad Muhsin. The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari, 9 vols. Chicago, 1979. An English translation of the aī, but as it omits the isnād s and other supporting information, it does not accurately reflect the nature of the whole work.

Sezgin, Fuat. Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums. i, Qur'an-wissenschaften, Hadi, Geschichte, Fiqh, Dogmatik, Mystik. Leiden, Netherlands, 1967. Critical and extensive bio-bibliographical notice.

Siddiqi, Muhammad Zubayr. adīth Literature: Its Origins, Development and Special Features. Cambridge, U.K., 1993. Straightforward account of al-Bukhārī's life and scholarship, with very useful footnotes to more detailed primary and secondary sources.

Bruce Fudge (2005)