By Sheikh Ghulam Rasul Sa`idi
After the honorable Companions, Imam Al-Bukhari ranks as one of the most eminent scholars who have conferred endless bliss upon the Ummah. The greatest evidence of this is the book of Hadith he compiled, commonly known as Sahih Al-Bukhari, which is universally acknowledged as the most authentic book after the Qur’an.
His Early Years
Imam Abu `Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma`il Al-Bukhari was born on Shawwal 13, AH 194, in the famous city of Bukhara, present day Uzbekistan. The father of Al-Bukhari, Isma`il ibn Ibrahim ibn Al-Mughirah Al-Ja`fi, was a great scholar of Hadith and ascetics, from whom the son inherited the characteristics of literary zeal and excellence.
During Al-Bukhari’s infancy, his father passed away and his mother took on the entire responsibility of bringing him up. Al-Bukhari 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 worshiper and a righteous woman. She cried out for help in the court of Allah the Almighty, for her child and begged for the restoration of his eyesight. At last, “the river of mercy flowed over her,” and Almighty Allah accepted her invocation. One night, she saw Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) in a dream and was told, “Allah has restored the sight of your son because of your invocations.” In the morning, as Al-Bukhari got up from his bed, he saw glimmers of light.
Primary Education and Interest in Hadith
When Al-Bukhari was 10 years old and had acquired his elementary education, he became interested in the science of Hadith and obtained admission in the Hadith class of Bukhara. He studied vigorously. A year later, he had such good retention of the text and chains of transmission of hadiths, that sometimes teachers obtained their corrections from him. Al-Bukhari acquired religious education with competence and swiftness. At the tender age of 16, he had completely learned by heart the books of `Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak, Al-Waki`, and other learned companions of Imam Abu Hanifah.
Commencement of Hadith Compilation
At the age of 18, Al-Bukhari visited Makkah, accompanied by his mother and elder brother Ahmad ibn Isma`il. After performing the pilgrimage, his brother returned in the company of his mother, but Al-Bukhari stayed there for further education. Meanwhile, he wrote a book called Qadaya as-Sahabah wat-Tabi`in. After this, he went to Madinah to compile the famous book At-Tarikh al-Kabir.
Over a period of several years, Al-Bukhari traveled far and wide for the transmission of hadiths and gained immense knowledge. He stated, “To seek knowledge, I traveled to Egypt and Syria twice, Basra four times, spent six years at Hijaz, and left for Kufah and Baghdad on so many occasions accompanied by Hadith scholars.”
His Remarkable Memory
Al-Bukhari was a man with a very strong memory: It seemed as if his body, from head to toe, stored information. His superb memory reminds us of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him). Sulaiman ibn Mujahid said, “One day, I was present in the company of Muhammad ibn Salam. He said, ‘If you had come earlier, I would have shown you the child who has 70,000 hadiths in his memory.’ Sulaiman stood up from his company and started looking for Al-Bukhari. Shortly he found him and asked, ‘Are you the one who has committed 70,000 hadiths to memory?’ Al-Bukhari replied, ‘I have learned more hadiths than this by heart. I even know the place of birth, death, and residence of most of those Companions from whom the hadiths are narrated.’”
Also, Muhammad ibn Azhar As-Sajistani said, “I used to go to Sulaiman ibn Harb accompanied by Imam Al-Bukhari to listen to hadiths. I used to write the hadiths, but Imam Al-Bukhari wouldn’t. Someone said to me, ‘Why doesn’t Imam Al-Bukhari note the hadiths down?’ I told him, ‘If you missed any Hadith in writing, you could obtain it from the memory of Imam Al-Bukhari.’”
Glimpses of His Private Life
The father of Al-Bukhari, Isma`il ibn Ibrahim, was enormously rich and Al-Bukhari inherited a huge share of his wealth. He used to invest his wealth on the basis of silent partnerships (whereby the profits are shared equally but only one partner does the work). Abu Sa`id Bakr ibn Munir stated, “Once Abu Hafs sent some goods to Imam Al-Bukhari, and when traders learned of this, they came and offered 5,000 dirhams. He told them, ‘Come in the evening.’ A second group of traders came and offered 10,000 dirhams, but he told them, ‘I have already made an agreement with someone else. I do not want to change my intention for the sake of 10,000 dirhams.’”
Simplicity and Humbleness
Al-Bukhari was a simple and hard working person. He would carry out his affairs by himself. Despite having wealth and status, he always kept the minimum number of servants required and never indulged himself in this matter. Muhammad ibn Hatim Al-Warraq, who was one of his main disciples, said, “Imam Al-Bukhari 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 judgment, this act will be of benefit to me.’”
Warraq went on to say, “When we accompanied Imam Al-Bukhari on a journey, he would gather us in one room and would stay by himself in a separate room. Once I saw Imam Al-Bukhari get up between fifteen and twenty times during the night, and every time, he lit the lamp with his own hands. He took some hadiths out, marked them, and then placed his head on his pillow and lay 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.’”
Al-Bukhari set a good example in generosity. He would give 3,000 dirhams as a donation in one day. Al-Warraq said that Al-Bukhari’s earnings were 500 dirhams per month, and he would spend all of it on his students.
Fear of Allah
Al-Bukhari was bestowed with a high level of piety and righteousness. He feared Allah very much both inwardly and outwardly. He prevented himself from backbiting and suspicion and always respected the rights of others. Bakr ibn Munir related that Al-Bukhari said, “I am hopeful that when I meet my Lord, He will not take account of me because I never engaged in backbiting.”
Al-Bukhari was so vigilant in his worship that he would perform many supererogatory Prayers and fasts. He would complete the recitation of the whole Qur’an daily in the month of Ramadan and recite ten juz’ of the Qur’an deep into the night. He never became angry if mistreated by other persons, and he prayed for forgiveness for those who attributed evil to him. If he needed to correct any person, he would never embarrass him in public.
He died on the night of `Eid Al-Fitr, the first night of Shawwal, in the year AH 256. In 12 more days he would have been 62 years old. On that night, the sun of great knowledge, virtue, and blessings set, one whose knowledge and actions had enlightened the hearts and minds of the great intellects and people of Samarqand, Bukhara, Baghdad, and Nishapur. May Allah accept his tireless effort and shower his soul with mercy.