Taken from the Classes of Muhaddith Tariq Ewadullah | Transcribed by Osman Umarji
Students of knowledge often have a propensity for thinking very highly of themselves, and may begin giving legal verdicts and criticizing the supposed mistakes of scholars during the infancy of their quest for knowledge. The point is not to begin slamming such individuals, as most of them realize their mistakes as they get ankle deep in the ocean of knowledge about the realities of our heritage and scholarship. However, due to the fact most of us born and raised in the West have no idea about our history; we have not developed an appreciation or respect for the brilliant minds that illuminated our legacy and built it upon unshakable pillars.
All of us have heard of Imam Bukhari and his masterpiece, Saheeh al Bukhari, which after the Quran is the most authentic and accepted book in the entire ummah. However, we may not be aware that not only was he the most prolific hadith scholar in the history of the ummah, but he also authored a number of other texts which are considered amongst the most important in the field of hadith. Just a few of them are Al Tareekh al Kabeer, Al Tareekh al Awsat, Al Tareekh al Sagheer, Al Du’afaa al Kabeer, Al Du’afaa al Sagheer, Kitab al Kuna, and many more. The mentioned books contained detailed biographies on Hadith narrators, including their names, nicknames, titles, dates of birth and death, and his opinion on their scholarship, memory, honesty, and much more.
There are people today and throughout history who have said “Who is Bukhari? So he put together some authentic hadith in a book. What’s the big deal?”
Let’s just look at one incident and marvel at his greatness. When he decided to travel to Baghdad, as it was then the center of learning and many of the greatest scholars of the ummah resided there, amongst them Imam Yayha ibn Maeen and Ahmed ibn Hanbal, people in Baghdad got really excited. The masses were ecstatic that Bukhari, who had become a legend all over the Islamic world, was coming to visit and they all came out to greet him and honor him. However, some of the hadith scholars of Baghdad had other ideas. They wanted to test him and find out if the legend of Bukhari was the real deal. They hatched up quite a plan. They had ten hadith scholars each bring ten different ahadith. Then they gathered all 100 hadith together, and they mixed each matn and sanad (A hadith is comprised of two components. The matn is the actual text of the hadith, and the sanad is the entire chain of narrators). So they made a hadith cocktail, mixing every matn with a different sanad. Then they wrote ten mixed up ahadith on each page. When Bukhari came into town, everyone had gathered and was in high spirits, cherishing such an opportunity to meet and hear the most outstanding scholar in the world. The scholars greeted him warmly and in front of all the people of Baghdad they began to ask him about the ahadith which they compiled. The first of the ten narrators got up and said, “Do you know this hadith?” and he began to read the first hadith. Bukhari calmly said “I have not come across such a hadith with that sanad and matn.” Then the narrator continued and read the all ten of his hadith to which Bukhari gave the same response to each time. Next, the second man got up and read his hadith, and this continued till all ten scholars read all ten of their hadith. Similarly, Bukhari responded that he was not aware of any of the hadith that were presented to him. Naturally, the people who gathered began to think to themselves, “What’s up with that? He doesn’t know any of these hadith?” However, after patiently listening to all 100 hadith, Bukhari said, “Where is the 1st narrator? Stand up!” As for your first Hadith, his the Sanad is with the 3rd guy, his 4th hadith. As for your 2nd hadith, the matn 5th guy, 7th sanad, 3rd Hadith, 10 guy, 1st Hadith. He did it for all 10 people, all 100 hadith. Everyone witnessed his genious.
We may never see another man like Imam al Bukhari, who was amongst those chosen by Allah to preserve the words of His Prophet. What we can do, however, is to begin to follow in his footsteps, and put to memory the ahadith of the Prophet, which are full of guidance, advice, and wisdom. Knowledge is what is inherited from the Prophet, and what could be better than to commit to memory and live by his sacred words. With all the confusion today surrounding various Islamic ideas, practices, and acts of worship, areturn to the hadith will surely take us out of the fog and into the clear, pristine practice of our noble Prophet and his companions.