Life of Imam Bukhari – An Explanation of ‘Kitab al Dua’ from Sahih Bukhari Pt.1 – Dr. Yasir Qadhi


Imam Bukhari’s Memory in the Test of Baghdad

Imam Bukhari, rahimahullah, was tested a few times in his life. One of the early tests, which really showcases the powerful memory that Allah blessed him with, occurred as follows.

While in his twenties, imam Bukhari’s fame spread over much of the Muslim world — something rare in the time before internet, before email, before YouTube, our modern era where news travels almost instantenously.

As he arrived in Baghdad, word of his arrival spread, and the scholars of Baghdad devised a test for imam Bukhari — to prove to the world that he’s not that good.

During that time, to learn ahadith, you travel to the scholars of ahadith, sit in their halaqaat, and listen. They dictate ahadith to you. If a scholar comes from far, he brings exotic ahadith that nobody heard before; all the students (and other scholars) benefit from learning it from him.

Also, as a student of knowledge, someone who studies ahadith for a while, you quickly learn the “usual” or common ahadith that go around; such as the first hadith in Bukhari, that actions are by intentions.

Instead of exotic ahadith, the ten scholars each decide to narrate ten common ahadith each — but with a twist. Instead of narrating the hadith normally, with the chain, they would swap chains of authentic ahadith.

This is a very delicate point of the science. Most of the introduction to the science of hadith deals with features that weaken a hadith, and most of those features have to do with narrators in the chain. In this case, they took 100 authentic ahadith, each with an authentic chain, and transplanted the chain to a different hadith.

On the surface, it appears that they’re honouring imam Bukhari, by inviting him to their circles to learn and teach. But really, they had a more sinsiter motive.

Imam Bukhari arrives. The first scholar steps up and narrates his first hadith with a different chain. Imam Bukhari says, “Maa 3indiy,” (“I don’t have it” or “I don’t know it”). And again for the second hadith. And the third. And all ten.

The students start wondering. Imam Bukhari doesn’t know these basicahadith?

The second scholar steps up, and the same scene repeats. And the third, and fourth, all the way to the tenth.

At this point, the students are very confused. These are all simple, straight-forward (appearing) ahadith.

Imam Bukhari figured it out. So his turn to speak arrives. He tells the first scholar: “you narrated the first hadith with chain this-and-that. The correct chain is this.” And he corrects the first hadith. And the second. And the tenth; all the way to the last of the 100.

And everyone in the masjid of Baghdad, the key center of learning of ‘ilm at that time, sees this occur in front of them.

Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) comments: “It’s not surprising that Imam Bukhari saw through their chain-swapping, for he is a master; nor is him knowing the correct isnad that surprising, because he’s memorized these hadith in the past.

“But what’s really interesting is that he memorized the 100 ahadith, with chains, the first time he heard them, and narrated them back in the same order.

It’s very clear that Allah blessed him with a photographic memory.

And thus, imam Bukhari’s popularity and reputation only grew, and he soared through the first test.

What lessons can you extract from this story to apply to your life?Please post a comment and share it with us.


  • Collector’s Edition: Sahih al-Bukhari. By Yasir Qadhi. 2012.

A Legend in the Making: Imam Bukhari’s Early Life

Imam Bukhari, rahimahullah, is now a well-known scholar because of hissaheeh collection of ahadith. It took him years to finish. But, this was not the beginning of his fame; in fact, the Muslims and scholars saw, from an early time, his intellectual strength and capability; he achieved fame well before he completed his most famous book.

Now, let us breeze through some details about the early life of this great scholar.

A Mistake in the Chain: Age 11

Imam Bukhari began to sit in circles of knowledge early — as early as eleven years of age. To sit in these circles, you need to first memorize the Qur’an; so we know he memorized it quite early in his life.

In those early days of Islam, the society and culture was still very much based out of oral tradition — people would memorize and narrate more than they would write. At that time, for a teacher to appear with written notes would be an embarrassment; teachers always taught from memory.

As Imam Bukhari sat in class, the teacher made a mistake in the name of one narrator of the chain. Imam Bukhari pointed this out. His teacher, embarrassed, consulted his notes; and sure enough, found that he made a mistake in the name of the narrator.

Even from age 11, Imam Bukhari accumulated fame; not just as a parrot memorizer of information, but as an analytical mind. We see here that he thought critically about the chain of narration (which is how he found the mistake.)

Labayka Allahumma Labayk: Age 16

At age 16, Imam Bukhari’s mother took him and his older brother for Hajj. Upon his arrival in Mecca, Imam Bukhari loved the city — not just the ‘ibaadah, the rites of Hajj and umrah, but the knowledge.

The greatest centers of Islamic learning during his time included Mecca and Medina. Hajj is something you do once in a lifetime. The trip itself takes several months; you might never come again. Scholars normally stayed a minimum of five to six months, if not several years, before returning home. And scholars congregate from around the world, every year, to these two cities.

Halaqaat (teaching circles) of knowledge abounded everywhere, with scholars from Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, etc. and all over the world, all exchanging and trading knowledge. It was normal to spend 4-5 years there before returning home.

So what does this mean for Imam Bukhari? As a student of knowledge, Mecca became one of the best places you can visit. You don’t have to travel to seek knowledge — scholars come to you, in Mecca and Medinah. The international scholarship mesmerized Imam Bukhari.

He begged his mother to allow him to stay, and seeing his excitement, she agreed; his older brother accompanied her home. (This is how we know hehas an older brother — from this incident; he has no known other siblings.)

Also, Allah blessed Imam Bukhari’s mother with wealth; she could afford to not have her son work. This enabled him to study the deen full time; he only returned home at the end of his life.

His First Book: Age 18

At age 18 (the age we normally finish high school and start university), Imam Bukhari completed his first book, entitled “Qadaayah As-Sahaba” (rulings of the sahaba). Other books followed; by age 19, he wrote At-Tareekh Al-Kabeer, one of the most important books on the science of hadith until today; he completed all nine volumes by age 19.

At-Tareekh Al-Kabeer literally translates to “The Big History.” History, to Imam Bukhari, included the names of narrators of hadith. This nine volume compendium documents the names of every single narrator of hadith from the time of rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) to Imam Bukhari’s time.

That’s a lot. And this is one of the most advanced sciences within the science of hadith, called “Ilm Al-Rijaal” (knowledge of men). In Medinah U, they study this topic in a full class. Imam Bukhari, at age 18-19, wrote a foundational book in his field; we still use that book as a reference today — even scholars in their sixties and seventies, use 18-year-old Bukhari’s book to figure out who narrators are.

Slowly but surely, his fame and aptitude spread. And no doubt, Allah blessed him with many blessings, including his aptitude in memorization; he had a very clear, strong, photographic memory — as we mentioned in the story of his test in Baghdad. He would read a page once, and memorize it, immediately.

That summarizes the early life of Imam Bukhari. He also travelled extensively during his early years; he sought knowledge in Mecca and Medinah, as well as Baghdad, Kufa, Egypt, and other major cities and major learning centres.

And that summarizes the early life of Imam Bukhari, rahimahullah.

Lessons from Imam Bukhari’s early life:

  • Invest in youth development. Youth can change the world.
  • Encourage youth to be creative and explore interesting ideas.
  • Let youth develop in areas they find interesting and are passionate about.
  • Be humble as a teacher; you are not above your students are not above rectifying you.
  • As a teacher, allow students to speak with confidence, and express arguments that differ with yours
  • Post your own gems and lessons in the comments!


  • Collector’s Edition: Sahih al-Bukhari. By Yasir Qadhi. 2012.

Imam Bukhari’s Teachers: Four Legends

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:

  1. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali madhab)
  2. Yahya ibn Ma’een
  3. Ali ibn Al-Madini
  4. 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.