Imam Bukhari, rahimahullah, studied from over 1000 teachers. The best of them were also the greatest scholars of his time. This is an important point: in the previous generation, four scholars lived who were stars of hadith sciences. Imam Bukhari not only studied under all four of these masters of hadith sciences, but he became the main student or protege of all four scholars.
As teachers, in that time, each teacher would teach many students. Over time, one would rise up as the top student, the one who the teacher considered his protege; the one who would continue his teachers into the subsequent generation. It’s a rare feat for a protege to be the main student of more than one teacher; especially in this case, when all four lived in different cities.
These four teachers are:
- Ahmad ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali madhab)
- Yahya ibn Ma’een
- Ali ibn Al-Madini
- Ishaaq ibn Rahwayh
When Imam Ahmed met Imam Bukhari while the latter was in his twenties, and praised him greatly; the other three scholars are much more important, because they met Imam Bukhari when he was older, and spent much more time with him. Imam Bukhari wrote his prototype (Saheeh Bukhari v1.0) and showed it to the latter three shuyookh in order for them to give him critical feedback.
Realize that Imam Bukhari did not compile Saheeh Bukhari on his own; it represents a product of the greatest scholars of hadith of his time. He wrote a manuscript for each of them, each of which is a giant and a legend and his teacher.
Once they provided feedback, he collected all their feedback and incorporated it — so much so that, he tells his teachers, “if any of them objected to any hadith in my collection, I didn’t argue, I just removed it.” And he demanded the highest grade of ahadith, nothing less.
Also, Imam Bukhari narrated his saheeh to approximately 90,000 students over a span of 40 years. Remember, he lived before the printing press; he would narrate in front of his students, who would inscribe this information in their notes. And as authors tend to do, he would change certain things. He would change a hadith here or there (replace it with a similar hadith from a different chain, for example), shuffle around the order, tweak his chapter headings, and so on — thus creating muliple versions of Saheeh Bukhari.
We consider his main student to be Muhammad ibn Yusuf Al-Firabi; he was from the last batch of Imam Bukhari’s students, and he lived a long life; his represents the most authentic version of Saheeh Bukhari, and the version we read today.
What lessons can you derive from this piece of history? Post them in the comments and share it with us.
- Collector’s Edition: Sahih al-Bukhari. By Yasir Qadhi. 2012.