BUKHARI (d. 256/869) is famed throughout the Islamic world as the greatest practitioner in the field of hadith —textual reports of what the Prophet said, did or approved. Bukhari’s magnum opus, the Sahih, is, after the Qur’an, the most widely revered book in Islam. It is a compilation of the soundest of sound hadiths. The Prophet’s way (Sunna) is understood by Muslims as embodying both the ideal and practical reality of what the Qur’an enjoins. Accordingly, much of the edifice of rules and norms of the Islamic way of life is constructed around the hadith.
Most people read the Sahih as a transparent medium through which they can ‘hear the Prophet speak’. In reality, it is a highly sophisticated argument about how hadiths are verified, what meaning and authority they carry, and how far the practice of the Prophet can confidently be derived from them. When Bukhari wrote the Sahih, these were not settled questions. The book appeared at a turning-point in the history of Islamic scholarship, and helped determine its future direction.
In this remarkably lucid essay, the author disentangles Bukhari’s subtle handling and arrangement of his material, explaining how far his approach to questions about textual authenticity and authority differed from his predecessors and contemporaries. These are questions of abiding concern in all societies; they have a particular relevance and urgency for modern Islamic scholarship.
Ghassan Abdul-Jabbar is a hadith studies specialist. He did his PhD at the University of Chicago and post-doctoral research at Oxford University. He now works in Pakistan as an Islamic teacher in the peripatetic style described in this book.
This book is no. 6 in the ‘Makers of Islamic Civilization’ series, run by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Published jointly by Oxford University Press (Delhi) and I.B. Tauris (London), these books are written by specialists for the general reader. They are intended to serve as an introduction to pivotal Islamic thinkers and actors, whose works and legacy make up the pool of cultural experiences and resources on which contemporary Muslims continue to draw.
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