Authenticating the Ascription of Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukhārī to its Author

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Tariq Pandor

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(Part 1 of a series of articles covering the authentication of the ascription of Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukhārī to its author, the value of the copy of al-Firabrī, and the explanation of some difficult hadiths in the Ṣaḥiḥ)

They said: Someone is raising questions that cast doubt on the ascription of the Ṣaḥiḥ to its author. He has based his doubt on the following:

  • the lack of existence of Imam al-Bukhārī’s (d. 256 AH) copy of his own book and the fact that it is not known where it disappeared to. 
  • the fact that the narrators from al-Bukhārī differed on some additions and subtractions to the book and on some word order.
  • the claim that al-Firabrī was accused of manipulating his copy.
  • the claim that no one verified al-Firabrī’s trustworthiness until Abu Saʿd al-Samʿānī (d. 562 AH), two centuries or more after the death of al-Firabrī.
  • that there are hadiths in al-Bukhārī which conflict with the Qur’ān and what is necessarily known of the religion and reason.

So please provide us with a critical academic response by which we may lift our doubts and remove our uncertainties, and by which our hearts may be satisfied with the Ṣaḥiḥ and our souls at rest.

I said: For this to be termed an accusation or suspicion or [even] delusion is more appropriate that for it to be termed a question, doubt or uncertainty. I will solve it in a series of articles, the first of which is on the ascription of the Ṣaḥiḥ to its author. I will focus my piece on five points which I will present clearly. They are:

  1. An investigation into the real reason behind the raising of doubts on Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukhārī,
  2. The difference between verifying the authenticity of a hadith and verifying the authenticity of the ascription of a book to its author,
  3. The evidences for the ascription of the Ṣaḥiḥ to al- Bukhārī, 
  4. Examples of the authentication of the ascription of authorship of other books, and
  5. The superiority of al-Bukhārī over these books.

They said: Tell us about the first point.

I said

1) An investigation into the real reason behind the raising of doubts on Ṣaḥiḥ al- Bukhārī

Know that authenticating and weakening hadiths requires [proficiency in] preservation of hadiths and reports, mastery of the principles and rules of the Muḥaddithīn, thorough acquaintance with hadith narrators (ʿIlm al-Rijāl), and knowledge of [the field of] hidden defects in hadith (al-ʿIlal), all accompanied with a level of fear of Allah which reminds one of the gravity of his responsibility in fulfilling this obligation. Most people are deprived of reaching this level of knowledge and bearing the responsibility it requires or they fall woefully short of it.  They are absolutely certain that if they profess to belong to this field and claim this position, authenticating and weakening hadiths, their lies will be clear to all and their flaws exposed. They are annoyed with hadiths in Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukhārī which clash with what they are accustomed to, conflict with their desires, and thwart their designs. Instead of being bold enough to judge these hadiths as fabricated or to deem them unfamiliar (munkar), anomalous (shadh) or weak (ḍaʿīf), and to substantiate that judgement with academic proofs and technical evidences, they find it easy to invent claims of doubts in the entire book. If doubt can be created in the book, it becomes convenient for them to choose the hadiths from the book with which they are pleased and to reject the hadiths they find objectionable.

They said: What is the second point?

I said:

2) The difference between verifying the authenticity of a hadith and verifying the authenticity of the ascription of a book to its author

Verifying the authenticity of a hadith depends on the strength of the chain of narration (sanad). This is agreed upon by people of knowledge and common across all [types of] reports – those of the Prophet, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, and those of others. There is no way to authenticate them other than by the soundness of their routes [to us] and their sources i.e. their chains of narration (isnads). 

Authenticating the ascription of a book of hadith or any other book to its author, however, depends on many factors, which may include the sanad in part or it may not. Of these factors are the fact that the ascription of book to its author was known in his lifetime and after his death, the fact that his students and their students circulated it amongst themselves and studied, researched and debated its contents, the fact that all scholars relied upon it and referred to it, the fact that its opponents responded to and refuted it, the fact that its manuscripts were plentiful, and the fact that its contents and style point to its author. Famous texts do not rely on isnads; rather, they rely on a collection of factors, study of which confirm the ascription of those texts to their authors.

And this is the secret behind why Bukhārī, who received the Muwaṭṭa – a book widely known to be from Mālik – via many isnads, some of them stronger than others, and who narrates its hadiths in his Ṣaḥiḥ from ʿAbdullah ibn Yūsuf al-Tinnīsī and from ʿAbdullah ibn Maslamah al-Qaʿnabī, when he needs to repeat a hadith more than once he might narrate it via Ismaʿīl ibn Abī Uwais, who is not of the same level as al-Tinnīsī or al-Qaʿnabī. Bukhārī only deemed that acceptable since the hadiths in the book (al-Muwaṭṭa) do not rely on Ismaʿīl. 

They said: What is the third point?

I said:

3) The evidences for the ascription of the Ṣaḥiḥ to al-Bukhārī

I am ashamed to live in a time in which one needs to prove the sun and its light, and to state the obvious. In any case, I will summarise for you these evidences in a series of points:

  1. Bukhārī’s pre-eminence in this field in the view of his teachers ʿĀlī al-Madīnī, Yaḥyā ibn Maʿīn, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, and others and his presenting of the Saḥiḥ to them.
  2. The widespread knowledge of the Saḥiḥ being from him amongst his contemporaries Abū Zurʿā al-Rāzī, Abu Ḥātim, Muslim, and others. In the introduction to Muslim, there is a clear allusion to it.
  3. The fame of the Saḥiḥ amongst his students and their students, continuing to this day. In the Jāmiʿ of Abu Īsā [al-Tirmidhī] (d. 179 AH), the book is referenced by name as al-Saḥiḥ or al-Jāmiʿ more than once.
  4. It’s circulation amongst academics as a source of study and critique. al-Nasaī (d. 303 AH) relied upon it for his chapter headings and hadith narrations in his Sunan, the imam of imams Ibn Khuzaimah (d. 311 AH) praised it, and al-Dāraqutnī and others critiqued it, at times agreeing with him at times and at times disagreeing. 
  5. The imams of hadiths’ narrating of the hadiths of the Saḥiḥ via their own chains (a genre known as al-Mustakhrajāt).
  6. al-Ḥakim’s review of the Saḥiḥ (al-Mustadrak) and al-Baihaqī’s and others’ references to it. 
  7. The spread of isnads of the book to Bukhārī up to this day.
  8. The eagerness of people in every century and in every land to receive the book from their teachers by way of audition (samāʿ), recitation (qirā’ah) and license to transmit (ijāzah).
  9. The multitude of records of audition (samāʿāt) for copies of the book, the number of which is a cause of astonishment and amazement. 
  10. The considerable multitude of manuscripts of the book, especially in the handwriting of the expert imams.
  11. The attention given by scholars in explaining, annotating, abridging, and deriving benefit from the book. 
  12. And above all of that is the fact that a source of influence is known by its impact. The book itself indicates its author by way of its hadiths, its supporting chains (mutābaʿāt), its “suspended” hadiths (muʿallaqāt), its chapter headings (tarājim), its chapter divisions (tabwībāt), and its order – with the exception of that which al-Firabrī and others have clearly noted as additions and which is known and cannot be mixed up with the rest. There is not a chapter heading in the book except that it bears witness to having emanated from al-Bukhārī.

They said: What is the fourth point?

I said:

4) Examples of the authentication of the ascription of authorship of other books 

Know that the writings and the output of Plato, Aristotle, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaibānī, Sībawai, al-Shāfiʿī, Ibn Jinnī, al-Fārābī, al-Farazdaq, Jarīr, al-Akhṭal, Bashshār ibn Burd, Abī Tamām, al-Buḥturī, al-Mutanabbī, al-Maʿarrī, Ibn Sīnā, al-Saʿdī, al-Rūmī, Ḥafiẓ al-Shīrāzī, and others, Muslim or otherwise, do not rely on chains of narrations (isnads). Rather, they rely on a series of factors, the majority of which have been alluded to in point two.

They said: What is the fifth point?

I said:

5) The superiority of al-Bukhārī over these books

Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī is superior to all these books in the authentication of its ascription to Imam al-Bukhārī. For in terms of all those things which come together in the writings of Aristotle, Ibn Sīnā, al-Fārābī and others that support the ascription of their authorship, they, and more, are to be found in Bukhārī’s text, making it superior. 

They said: We are convinced that the book is authored by Imam al-Bukhārī.

I said: We know the poetry of al-Saʿdī and al-Shīrāzī from that of others. People have invented things in their name and the deception has been exposed at the hands of critics. Likewise with the Urdu poets Ghālib, Iqbāl and Mīr Taqī Mīr – knowledge of the authentic from the false in their poetry is not hidden from the experts of literature and critique. People also fabricated things in the name of Waliyyullah al-Dihlawī and their falsifications were revealed. Once, a critical editor (muḥaqqiq) published a collection of treatises of Waliyyullah al-Dihlawī which was attacked by some. The issue was raised to Mawlana Abul Kalām Āzād who said: The language of these treatises loudly proclaims that is belongs to Shah Waliyyullah.  

I said: So, praise Allah, mighty and majestic is He, for this book, the likes of which have not been seen in the universe in terms of authenticity, strength, abundance of knowledge and fiqh, and inundation of wisdom.

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator