The Soundness of Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Dr Abu Zayd

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Some people have written the following: “If everything in Bukhārī is authentic, then it would mean that a person should wake up and eat seven dates from Madīnah followed by drinking poison, in order to affirm the ḥadīth of Bukhārī that this would not harm him.” When our noble teacher Majd Makkī was sent these mocking words regarding the soundest book after the Book of God, he asked me for my thoughts.

It would appear from this person’s formulation of his words that he never intended a discovery of the truth nor any scholarly probe that could subject his words to scrutiny. Rather, he rushed to mockery in a foolish, frivolous and stubborn manner. Scholars refrained from refuting him simply out of respect for their own selves and to safeguard their precious time from pursuing frivolous ramblings of confused persons. But what pushes me to point out his flaws are two things: first, the question of our noble Shaykh Majd Makkī—for any question of his is a command for me; and second, the fact that we live in a time when ignorance is so widespread that I fear these foolish words may misguide laymen who have no deep comprehension of ḥadīth and its meanings. Therefore, I respond to him, while relying on my Lord, with the following:

The Meaning of Ṣaḥīḥ

It must be known first that ṣaḥīḥ is a specific scholarly term that is used for a ḥadīth report which is transmitted by upright and precise individuals through a chain of transmitters (isnād) without discontinuity or deception, and free of all contradictions, overt or hidden, that would affect its attribution to its source.

Within this scheme, the Ṣaḥīḥ compilation of Imām Bukhārī, as well as the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imām Muslim, represent the highest standard of authenticity. There simply is no single book of historical reports that is equivalent to them in their level of soundness, precision, and accuracy. Were their conditions or standards applied to any other book, those books would collapse while their failures became apparent.

Comprehending Ḥadīth Content

It is not hidden from anyone who has an understanding of the discipline of ḥadīth that verification of the soundness of a ḥadīth does not guarantee any claim regarding its contents. Thus, there has to be a serious and concerted effort to understand the content until you have exhausted all possibilities of arriving at the meanings and comprehension of its words. This demands that you compare all the differences in the textual content in an academic and accurate way.

For example, a ḥadīth could be ṣaḥīḥ while its content is abrogated. Proof of that is what Imām Muslim relates from Muḥārib b. Dathār from Ibn Buraydah from his father who said: the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, said: “I had previously prohibited you from visiting graves, but now you may visit them; and I prohibited you (from eating) the meat of sacrificed animals beyond three days, but now keep it as long as you like; and I prohibited you from the use of nabīdh (traditional drink made from dates/raisins) except that prepared in dry waterskins, but now drink it prepared in any utensil, but do not drink it when it becomes an intoxicant.”

It is also possible that a ḥadīth is ṣaḥīḥ while an error or mistake may arise in a specific portion of its content. An example of that is what Bukhārī said in the Book of Ghusl: Muḥammad b. Bashshār related to us: Muʿādh b. Hishām related to us: My father related to me: from Qatādah: Anas b. Mālik related to us: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, would visit all his wives in one round, during the day and night, and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas: “Did the Prophet have strength for that?” Anas replied: “We used to say that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was given the strength of thirty men.” And Saʿīd said on the authority of Qatādah that Anas had told him that they were nine in number.

So here Bukhārī had corrected the mistake contained in the first ḥadīth with the second ḥadīth which was used as a supporting evidence.

The vast majority of texts in the two Ṣaḥīḥ collections are fully applicable and not abrogated, and free of errors and mistakes. This is a prominent feature of these two books, as affirmed by all who are blessed to examine and experience them fully.

Types of Ḥadīth Content

You must place in their proper place all ḥadīth texts which are sound and fully applicable, and treat every other type accordingly. Types of ḥadīth content include:

  1. Those which elaborate on general rules found in the Qurʾān
  2. Those which contain a derivation of a principle found in the Qurʾān
  3. Those which originate a legal ruling which is not explicitly mentioned in the Qurʾān
  4. Those containing guidance and instruction concerning practical worldly matters such as food, drink, medicine, trade, economics, military matters and their likes.
How Are Texts Treated Differently?

It must first be understood that a ḥadīth can never alter or oppose a Qurʾānic ruling or detail in any way. If any ḥadīth contradicts the Qurʾān in a way that cannot be reconciled in some manner, then this is an indication of a mistake in its transmission. This is because the Prophet, peace be upon him, was protected from disobeying God, from opposing any part of the Qurʾān, and from presenting anything that would openly contradict reason in any way.

When it is established that a particular ḥadīth does not contradict the Qurʾān, then it becomes obligatory to act upon it and follow that ḥadīth according to its type. In other words, if a ḥadīth clarifies what is in the Qurʾān or facilitates its application, then the believer must humble himself and submit to it willingly, without finding any sort of hesitation within himself regarding its contents.

Worldly Experiential Matters Found in Ḥadīth Texts

Most worldly experiential matters which are found in ḥadīth reports represent the ijtihād (personal reasoning) of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in his capacity as a sincere and trustworthy adviser. He spared no effort in guiding his ummah to that which would rectify it and set its affairs right, within the limits of his knowledge and experience, and keeping in mind the needs and requirements of his people.

From his sincerity, trustworthy nature, kindness and humility, was that whenever he learned of a mistake he corrected that immediately. Muslim relates in the Book of Virtues from Rāfiʿ b. Khudaykh who said: the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, arrived in Madīnah while the people were pollinating their palm trees. He asked, “What are you doing?” They replied, “We have been grafting them like this,” whereupon he said, “It may perhaps be good for you if you do not do that.” So they abandoned this practice and the date-palms began to yield less fruit. They mentioned that to him, and he said, “Know that I am a human being, so when I command you about a thing pertaining to your religion, accept it, but when I command you about a thing based on my personal opinion, keep it in mind that I am a human being.”

His Consideration of the Extent of his Companions’ Knowledge and Experience

Whenever he advised his Companions concerning matters related to food, drink, or medicine, he would take into consideration the extent of their knowledge and experience. When you order people to oppose the customs and traditions of their time, then it becomes a case of mandating upon people that which they would be incapable of. An example of this type is the ḥadīth which was questioned about, which was related by Bukhārī and Muslim from Saʿd b. Abī Waqāṣ that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Whoever eats seven ʿajwah dates of Madīnah, no magic or poison shall harm him.”

This ḥadīth does not mean that people should eat these dates followed by drinking poison, while believing that it would not harm them. That would be a faulty understanding and a case of implicating the ḥadīth with a meaning it does not contain. The meaning is that the Prophet, peace be upon him, intended to lift the spirits of his Companions, who were greatly worried about their enemies’ efforts to harm them by means of magic and poisoning. The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not want them to waste their time endlessly discussing the intrigues of the Jews and others, for God was enough to put an end to their intrigues. So he suggested to them the best types of dates of Madīnah because of the healthy nourishment they contained. He was essentially combining religious medicine (worship and reliance on God) and physical medicine (the best nourishment available for them).

There is no doubt that beliefs have a powerful effect upon treatment, such that many doctors, who are neither Prophetic nor pious, can prescribe medications for diseases without possessing any evidence for their effects, and yet they still manage to benefit others. This is well-known by experience. Then what about the prescriptions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, whom people believed in and recognized as a trusted adviser? In fact, they loved him more than their own-selves, parents, children or anyone else for that matter.

This ḥadīth contains two matters concerning the Prophetic sunnah of guidance: to advise people truthfully and sincerely, and to guide them to that which was most suitable for their time and place. It was not to advocate ʿajwah dates except for the people of Madīnah of that specific time. As for people in other places and eras, it is not for them to treat themselves with ʿajwah dates. Rather, they are to pursue those medicines and treatments that which is most appropriate for their time and place. Only when they do that are they following the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him.

The Prophetic Example in Worldly Matters

It should be entirely clear, without any misgivings, that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was distinguished by his absolute sincerity to God and sincere counsel towards his people. No doubt this also included his guidance and instructions concerning worldly matters. He treated people with the most refined character and best conduct, a lofty status which could not be reached by anyone else. He represented a true model for scholars and wise persons, in that when they counsel people in their worldly matters, they should follow his practice of sincerity of purpose, good counsel, character and conduct.

Love for the Prophet

Because of his being adorned with great sincerity to His Lord, genuine care for his ummah, elevated character and virtuous conduct in his interactions with people, the ummah in return loved him in a way that was unparalleled. Surely love for him is a part of faith. Therefore, people honored him and respected all of his instructions, even those that touched on worldly matters. As for those of his instructions which they could not completely comprehend, they still strove to place them in a position that was appropriate to his noble status (i.e. they treated his worldly instructions like his religious instructions). This was a lofty position that God does not grant save to the believer, the one with an abundant share (i.e. the Prophet).

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