Few persons in the world have ever been endowed with a proverbial memory. One of these was Imam Bukhari, the greatest Traditionist that Islam has produced. He is said to have retained in his memory one million Traditions with full details of all the different sources and reporters of each Tradition which came down to him. His “Sahih Bukhari”(Collection of Traditions) is universally recognized as the most authentic collection of Traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail, later known as Imam Bukhari, was born in Bukhara on Shawwal 13, 194 A.H. (July 21, 810 A.C.) He was the grandson of a Persian, named Bradizbat.
The newly-born child had scarcely opened his eyes in the world when he lost his eyesight. His father was immensely grieved by it. His pious mother wept and prayed to God to restore the eyesight of her newly-born child. During her sleep, she dreamt Prophet Abraham, who said: “Be pleased, your prayer has been accepted by God.” When she got up, 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 Traditions 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 Traditions in Makkah and Medina. He was still 18 years old when he wrote a book, “Kazayai Sahaba wa Tabain.”
His elder brother, Rashid ibn Ismail reports that the young Bukhari used to attend the lectures and discourses of learned men of Balkh along with him and other pupils. But, unlike other pupils, he never took notes of these discourses. They criticized him for not taking notes of the lectures and thus wasting 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 then 15 thousand Traditions. Young Bukhari, to the amazement of all, narrated all the 15 thousand Traditions from his memory with minutest details which were not noted down by the pupils.
He then started on a study pilgrimage of the world of Islam, which lasted 16 years. Of this period, he spent five years in Basra, visiting Egypt, Hejaz, Kufa, and Baghdad several times and wandered all over Western Asia in quest of knowledge and learning. During his travels, he reported Traditions from 80,000 persons, and with the help of his exceptional memory, he could retain these Traditions 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. These included Sheikh Abu Zarah, Abu Hatim Tirmizi, Muhammad ibn Nasr, Ibn Hazima, and Imam Muslim.
Imam Darami, who was a spiritual teacher of Imam Bukhari admits that his learned pupil had deeper insight into the Prophet’s Traditions. He was the wisest among the creation of God during his time.
Imam Bukhari devoted not only his entire intelligence and exceptional memory to the writing of this 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 the learned Imam, sitting by the side of Prophet’s grave at Medina.
Imam 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 Traditions of the Prophet at his Palace. This he declined and migrated to Khartanak, a town near Samarkand. Here he breathed his last on Ramzan 30, 256 A.H. (August 31,870 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, whose “Sahih Bukhari”, ranks only second to the Holy Quran. His grave in Khartanak is still a favorite place of Muslim pilgrimage.
His monumental work, Al Jami-al-Sahih, popularly known as Sahih Bukhari established his reputation as the greatest Traditionist in Islam. It is recognized as the most authentic source material on Sunnah.
It is said that Imam Bukhari had retained in his memory one million traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam with all the details of their sources and reporters. Once his religious teacher, Sheikh Ishaq ibn Rahu urged that someone might collect in a book, the most authentic Traditions of the Prophet of Islam. Imam Bukhari promised to fulfill his teacher’s wish. Out of the million Traditions which he had learnt from 80,000 reporters, he selected 7,275 Traditions and, according to Ibn Hajar, 9,082, for his monumental work, Sahih Bukhari. He took 16 years to complete it.
This monumental work of Imam Bukhari has been acclaimed by thousands of traditionists, and erudite theologians as the best work on Prophet’s Traditions. More than 53 commentaries, some of these in 14 volumes, have been written on Sahih Bukhari.
This book is divided according to the chapters of Fiqh, for which he had planned a complete scheme. In his selection of traditions, he showed the greatest critical faculty and in the editing of the text he tried to obtain the most scrupulous accuracy. Yet he did not hesitate to explain the material, at places, in short notes, which is quite distinct from the text and throws light on the environment obtaining at that time.
Imam 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 more than one thousand years. It is respected and recognized as the most important and essential book in the world of Islam after the Holy Quran.