Sahih Bukhari Was Written for Scholars, Not Laymen

It is important to note that many of the famous Hadith works we know of were not written for the average Muslim, rather they were written for scholars well versed in the study of hadith.

Books like Riyadh-ul-Sālihīn, Imam al-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith collection, Shamāil al-Tirmidhi etc may require a scholar to explain parts of, but they seem to be largely written for the average Muslim to benefit from in mosques and homes.

Some later collections like the Mukhtasar al-Zabīdi, Umdatul-Ahkām, Mishkāt al-Masābīh and Bulūgh al-Marām occupy an intermediate space more appropriate for students and classrooms.

As for the famous collections of al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi, Al-Nisaī, Ibn Mājah, Abu Dawūd and the Muwatta, these books were written for scholars and specialist students of hadīth. They were the assumed audience for these books. Not only do the Hadith require prerequisite fiqh knowledge to put together, but often the way they are written requires some decoding. There is a reason why they are usually the last thing to be studied in seminaries, not the first.

It’s actually ironic that one of the trickiest (if not the most) of these books to interpret is the Sahīh of Imam al-Bukhari. It’s not too uncommon to find the book in the shelf of a pious Muslim household. But it’s not a book you can just pick up and read.

Here are 5 simplified features of Imam al-Bukhari’s book that demonstrate this difficulty. There is a lot more detail that can be mentioned here, but this is a good start.

1) Not all Hadith mentioned in the book are part of the Sahīh. Part of the text are the Sahīh narrations for which the book was written, but there are also mu’allaqāt (Hadith that don’t mention their isnād to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم), and statements of the companions that are mentioned for various reasons. These reasons can require some deciphering.

2) Some Hadith are mentioned in an incomplete form, others are repeated with different isnāds across different chapters. Again the reasons for this can vary. Sometimes it can be used to demonstrate a benefit for the student of Hadith, other times for a student of fiqh, sometimes for both. Sometimes it’s to refer to expected ‘common knowledge’ that a student of Hadith would be expected to have.

3) The chapter headings are very carefully and deliberately chosen. As is often mentioned, Imam al-Bukhari’s fiqh is in his chapter headings. Sometimes these chapter headings demonstrate pointers and alerts for students of Hadith in that chapter.

4) Sometimes Imam al-Bukhari mentions narrations in the Sahīh which are commentary on narrations not even included in his book. A student of Hadith may not understand this point (unless their teacher points it out to them) until they encounter the narration being alluded to in another collection.

5) There is some difference of opinion on a small number of the sahīh hadith in Bukhari as some senior scholars of Hadith like Imam al-Daraqutni have pointed out. This is despite the fact that for the most part the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim as a whole have met the approval and acceptance as authentic collections of Hadith by Sunni scholars.

When you put these five together, as well as the required prerequisite of fiqh, merely picking up the book and looking up a Hadith without knowing how to use it or put the contents of the Hadith together is a bad idea.

This is not to say we should not have a regular and consistent exposure to the words and wisdom of our beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. But we must use the texts that are appropriate for our level so we do not risk misunderstanding our texts and our religion. And of course the subject of Sīrah is always open to everyone.

– The Usuli (source)


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