As Muslims, we are usually brought up being taught that any report from Sahih Al-Bukhari is definitely authentic. Unfortunately, very few of us have the privilege of actually understanding why this is the case. Rather, we often end up blindly accepting what we are told by our predecessors without any further inquiry.
However, I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be the case: we have a variety of compelling and objective arguments as to why we, as Muslims, deem the book a reliable and authentic primary historical source. These arguments are not far-fetched nor are they difficult to grasp, but they have been unfortunately swapped with sensational tales that do the book and its author little service.
In this article, I will present a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, and I will illustrate the numerous indicators we may take into account when asserting the authenticity of that hadith. This individual case study serves to give the reader a glimpse into the intense scrutiny reports from Sahih Al-Bukhari have gone through prior to the canonization of the book.
The report in question is a hadith transmitted by Al-Bukhari in his Sahih, where he says:
Isma’il [b. Abi Uwais] told us that Malik told him, from Abu al-Zinad, from Al-A’raj, from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The Hour shall not commence until a man shall pass by another man’s grave and say: I wish I were in his place.” (Bukhari 9: 58)
There are several aspects that must be considered when evaluating this report:
- Bukhari’s Earlier Sources
- The Report’s Chain of Transmission (Isnad)
- Corroborating Evidence
I. Bukhari’s Earlier Sources
Contrary to what many may assume, Bukhari (d. 256 AH) was not the first muhaddith to compile a hadith collection. Rather, Bukhari was preceded by a plethora of earlier muhaddithin who authored their own collections, such as: Imam Malik (d. 179 AH), ‘Abdurrazzaq Al-San’ani (d. 211 AH), Al-Humaydi (d. 219 AH), Ibn Abi Shaybah (d. 235 AH) and others. In fact, Bukhari relied upon these earlier works when compiling his Sahih; thus, one will find him extensively quoting these authors throughout his book.
The hadith in question today is a good example of this phenomenon. As seen in the hadith’s chain of transmission, Bukhari transmits this report through the renowned 2nd century muhaddith, Malik b. Anas. We also know that Malik had compiled his own hadith collection, Al-Muwatta’, around a century prior to Bukhari’s death.
How is this relevant to the hadith in question today?
Essentially, we have the opportunity to evaluate Malik’s hadith collection in search of this report. If we can find this report in Malik’s Muwatta’, then we can ensure that Bukhari has honestly and accurately retained and documented this hadith.
After a quick search, I was able to confirm that Malik did in fact transmit this exact hadith in his Muwatta’.In it, one finds this hadith transmitted with the same isnad:
Malik, from Abu Al-Zinad, from Al-A’raj, from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The Hour shall not commence until a man shall pass by someone’s grave and say: I wish I were in his place.” (Malik 2:339)
Thus, we can observe Bukhari’s accuracy and honesty when quoting earlier texts.
II. The Report’s Chain of Transmission:
As shown earlier, this report can be authentically traced back to the Muwatta’ of the 2nd century muhaddith, Malik b. Anas. From there, he transmits the hadith through 2 main intermediaries between him and Abu Huraryah: Abu Al-Zinad and Al-A’raj.
Abu Al-Zinad is the renowned Medinite muhaddith, ‘Abdullah b. Dhakwan Al-Qurashi. He was a well-known reliable and trustworthy transmitter. Numerous muhaddithin acknowledged his reliability in the context of hadith transmission. For example, the great hadith critic, Abu Hatem al-Razi, described him saying:
He was a reliable transmitter (thiqah) and jurist who was acceptable in his hadith. He was upon the Sunnah. Reports can be established through him as long as the transmitters from him are reliable. (Ibn Abi Hatem 5:49)
Ibn Hajar, in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, quotes 16 hadith critics praising Abu Al-Zinad and approving of his status as a reliable transmitter. (Ibn Hajar 2: 329)
The next transmitter is Al-A’raj, ‘Abdurrahman b. Hormuz al-Madani. Similarly, Al-A’raj was an eminent, reliable and trustworthy hadith transmitter. Renowned muhaddith and historian, Ibn Sa’d, described him saying;
He was a reliable transmitter (thiqah) who had transmitted many hadiths. (Ibn Sa’d 5:283)
Ibn Hajar quotes 5 hadith critics verifying his status as a reliable transmitter. (Ibn Hajar 2:562)
Thus, it is evident that the transmitters in Bukhari’s isnad are well-known, reliable and trustworthy transmitters of hadith. In fact, Bukhari reportedly held the belief that this chain of transmission: Abu al-Zinad → Al-A’raj → Abu Hurayrah , was one of the most authentic isnads to Abu Hurayrah. (Al-Hakem 53)
Asides from the fact that this report can be authentically traced back to earlier primary sources and that it is transmitted through a sound and reliable chain of transmission, it also possesses another quality that furthermore substantiates its authenticity: corroborating evidence.
This report is transmitted in tens of other primary sources, asides from Sahih Al-Bukhari. Some of these sources transmit the report with the same isnad as Bukhari, and others transmit it with independent chains of transmission. I have constructed an Isnad Diagram demonstrating the sheer amount of corroborating evidence that exists for this report in Bukhari’s Sahih.
Diagram 1. Bukhari’s Chain of Transmission Along with Multiple Corroborations
As seen in Diagram 1, multiple corroborations exist for Bukhari’s report (marked with the blue star). These corroborations allow us to cross-examine Bukhari’s report and search for any potential errors on his part. In this case, the corroborating evidence furthermore substantiates the authenticity of this hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari. Three other authors have transmitted the same report with the exact same chain of transmission as Bukhari. Similarly, the report has been transmitted through other independent authentic chains of transmission back to Abu Hurairah, further affirming our case.
There are many valid indicators and evidences we may take into account to demonstrate the fact that that this hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari can be authentically traced back to the Prophet ﷺ. The report’s existence in earlier primary sources, sound chain of transmission and corroborating evidence all attest to this reality. This hadith is merely an example amidst thousands of similarly authentic hadiths in Sahih Al-Bukhari. Hopefully, this article can give the reader a glimpse into the nuanced, critical and extreme scrutiny reports from Sahih Al-Bukhari have gone through across the centuries.
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