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Is Sahih al-Bukhari Authentic? Part 1

27 January, 2017
Q I came to believe that the Quran is authentic, but how do we know that books like al-Bukhari and Muslim are authentic? I also heard that al-Bukhari's teacher, Ishaq ibn Rahaweih, was a Jew? What do you think?


Salam (Peace),

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question. Please find part one of the answer to your question below. Find the second and final part at the link here.

May I first of all congratulate you on your acceptance of the Quran as authentic.

For the Sahihain (Bukhari and Muslim), it is necessary to know the methodology they used and the level of research they employed in tracing hadith.

The Sahihain are considered the most authentic, precisely because the scholars who compiled them used the most stringent methodology before accepting any hadith.

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Before answering your question, may I suggest you read books on the lives of the Imams, for example Life and Work of Imam Bukhari translated by M. Rafiq Khan; and the books by Prof. M.M. Azmi such as Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature

Imam Bukhari laid down the strictest conditions for acceptance of hadith for his Sahih (authentic): 

  • The narrator must be of a very high grade of personal character and of a very high grade of literary and academic standard. 
  • There must be positive information about narrators that they met one another and the student learnt from the sheikh. 

It is difficult to obtain complete data about every scholar. In fact, we do not have complete information about any scholar’s list of students. There was a difference of opinion relating to this matter between Bukhari and Muslim.

In Muslim’s opinion, if two scholars lived together, where it was possible for them to learn from each other, even if we have no positive information about their meetings, we should accept their hadith, regarding their isnad (chain of narration) as unbroken, providing they were not practicing tadlis (following blindly).

Bukhari did not agree with this position. He insisted on positive evidence of learning and teaching. He did not consider even this condition sufficient and required further scrutiny in selecting authorities. 

Most of the authors of the six principal books of hadith did not describe their criteria in selecting the material, except for a sentence here and there, but it is possible to arrive at some conclusions from their writings. 

One of the persons who studied this subject (Hazimi) uses the example of Zuhri to give the explanation: 

  1. Narrators from Zuhri who possessed the high quality of itqan (accuracy), hifz (excellent memory), and a lengthy companionship with Zuhri, accompanying him even in his journeys. 
  2. The second group was ’adl, like the first group, but they didn’t spend sufficient time with Zuhri to be able to remember his hadith thoroughly and accurately and were placed a little below group 1. 
  3. Those who lived a long time with Zuhri like those in group 1, but have been criticized by the scholars. 
  4. Those who have been criticized by the scholars and who did not spend much of their time with Zuhri. 
  5. Those who are considered as weak narrators or not known to early scholars. 

In his sahih, Imam Bukhari mostly recorded the hadith narrated by the first group, but sometimes recorded the hadith of the second group as well. 

Imam Muslim sometimes recorded the hadith of the famous scholars of the third group as well.

It is interesting to note that Nasa’i and Abu Dawud quote frequently from the first, second, and third groups. Abu Dawud sometimes mentions hadith from the fourth group as well.

Tirmidhi records hadith from the first, second, third, and fourth groups; but he describes the weak narrators, a method not generally applied by Nasa’i or Abu Dawud. 

Many scholars criticized Imam Bukhari’s work. The criticism concerns about 80 narrators and some 110 hadith. The criticism showed that though these hadith were not mistaken or false, they did not measure up to the high standard set by Imam Bukhari.

A comparable example would be of a college which only accepted ‘A’ grade students, but which was found to have allowed a few ‘C’ grade students in. It seems that in accepting the narrations of these ‘lower’ grade scholars, Imam Bukhari had some other evidence, which satisfied him about the correctness of the hadith that he accepted. 

The number of hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari is around 9,082. But without repetition this number reduces to around 2,602. This is from a total of around 600,000 traditions that the Imam collected (all the above material is from Prof. Azmi’s books).

Imam Bukhari mentions that he learned from over 1,000 sheikhs and some scholars have put the number above 1,000 by 80. Every person Imam Bukhari heard a hadith from was his sheikh or teacher. 

Let us now look at some of his sheikhs/teachers: 

Several teachers of Imam Bukhari are such that they are equal to the sheikhs of Imam Malik and Imam abu Hanifa. These are: 

  • Imam Bukhari (1) Muhammad bin Abdullah Ansari (2) Humaid (3) Anas, the sahabi (companion of the prophet). 
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Makki bin Ibrahim (2) Yazid bin Abi Ubaid (3) Salma bin al-Akwa, the sahabi
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Ali bin Ayash (2) Hariz bin Usman (3) Abdullah bin Bisar, the sahabi
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Abu Noim (2) al-Aamash (3) al-Mokhzaram, the sahabi
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Ubaidullah bin Moosa (2) Maroof (3) Abut-Tufel an-Ali. 
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Khallad bin Yahya (2) Isa bin Tahman (3) Anas. 
  • Imam Bukhari (1) Osam bin Khalid (2) Hariz bin Usman (3) Abdullah bin Busr, the sahabi

After mentioning a few series of this kind, the muhaddithin (scholars of hadith) say that Imam Bukhari has also taken hadith from those who were of the same stature, as men of his class, who were the teachers of Imam Malik and Abu Hanifa. 

If we look at an example of the second person in one of these chains, that is, the teacher of Imam Bukhari, e.g. Makki bin Ibrahim, he is the disciple of Yazid bin Abi Ubaid and Jafar Sidiq.

He reports hadith from 17 tabeyees (children of those who knew Muhammad). He performed hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) sixty times. His main quality is that he is hafiz of the hadith and trustworthy. He is the sheikh of Imam Bukhari and Ibn Mayeen. 

Information is available about all these teachers. See, for example: Life and Work of Imam Bukhari op. cit. p. 23 

Please continue reading part two at the link here

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Difference Between Prophetic Tradition and Prophet’s Biography?

2 Authentic Books of Hadith

Do We Need The Hadith And The Prophet?

Life of Imam Bukhari