Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari

Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (810-870) was a Moslem traditionist. He was the compiler of the "Sahih," one of the six canonical collections of traditions (hadiths) in Sunnite Islam that report the sayings and actions of the prophet Mohammed.

Al-Bukhari was born at Bukhara into a family of Persian origin. At the age of 10 he began to memorize traditions. His prodigious memory became evident early for he is reported to have corrected his teachers and the traditions written down by his companions. At 16 he made the pilgrimage to Mecca and then stayed there and in Medina in order to hear the famous scholars of tradition. During the following 16 years he visited the centers of learning in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Persia, collecting as well as transmitting traditions.

Al-Bukhari claimed to have received traditions from over 1,000 traditionists, and his fame as a scholar grew rapidly. In Nishapur he attracted larger crowds than the leading scholar of tradition, who out of jealousy accused al-Bukhari of heresy. He had to leave and returned to Bukhara, where he completed his famous Sahih. Students came from all parts of the Moslem world to hear him. When the governor of the city asked al-Bukhari to give him and his children private lessons, al-Bukhari refused. The governor encouraged other scholars to charge al-Bukhari with heresy and expelled him from the city. Al-Bukhari left for Khartank, near Samarkand, where he lived until his death on Aug. 1, 870.


The "Sahih"

The title of al-Bukhari's collection of traditions, Sahih, means "sound," and it refers to his precept of including only traditions which he considered as being of certain authenticity according to his own rigid criteria. These criteria were mainly concerned with the reliability of the transmitters mentioned in the chain of transmission of the traditions leading back to the original relator and with the formal perfection of this chain. Al-Bukhari is reported to have chosen his "sound" traditions from among some 600,000. His collection contains 7,397 traditions with complete chains of transmission, of which 4,635 are repetitions. The great mass of the traditions relate sayings or actions of the prophet Mohammed, though a few relate statements of his Companions.

The work is divided into 97 books subdivided into 3,450 chapters, in which the traditions are arranged according to subject matter. The greater part deals with the ritual and legal matters of Islamic law, though some sections deal with questions of theology, Koran exegesis, and the life of Mohammed. Since many traditions were relevant to more than one subject, they were repeated in other chapters.

Al-Bukhari has sometimes been criticized for stretching the meaning of traditions for his purpose. A few chapters contain titles without traditions, indicating that he did not find any well-authenticated ones relevant to the subject. The titles show al-Bukhari to be independent in his doctrine of any of the Sunnite schools of the law. His work became authoritative for the traditions it contained, not for the views expressed by the author, and it is generally accepted by Sunnite Moslems as the most authoritative book after the Koran.


Further Reading on Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari

A complete translation of al-Bukhari's Sahih is available in French. There is an annotated English translation of a few sections by Muhammad Asad, Sahih al-Bukhari (1938). General works include A. Guillaume, The Traditions of Islam: An Introduction to the Study of the Hadith Literature (1924); U. Wayriffe, Arabica and Islamica (1936; rev. ed. 1940); and H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism: An Historical Survey (1949; 2d ed. 1953).