The Authenticity of Sahih Bukhari
Question: In some of your articles and answers published in this journal, you have pointed out that there are some problematic Ahadith in Sahih Bukhari. I have often heard Sahih Bukhari being considered as the second most authentic book after the Qur’an. If we are questioning the validity of Sahih Bukhari then is there no true authentic work of Hadith for the common person to read or consult?
Answer: Before I specifically answer your question, it seems appropriate to elaborate the mode of transmission of Ahadith and the criteria established by the scholars to ascertain their authenticity.
Ahadith are in fact reports that have been transmitted by individuals and therefore are scrutinized in the light of the criteria that mainly hinge upon the personality of those individuals and the interlinked chain that is established between them. Hence, the criteria may be summarized as:
i. Checking the individuals
Their brief explanation follows:
i. Checking the individual
Since at the core of this mode of transmission stands the personality of some individuals, it needs to be ascertained whether the transmitters had a good character and whether they were capable of retaining what they actually heard or observed. In addition, that they had the ability to comprehend and express things without distorting the message.
An interlinked chain needs to be established between the transmitters. They must be shown to be in direct contact and communication with each other. In this respect, their respective locations and their proximity in time are investigated. Any unreasonable break, be it of location or time, raises doubts as to the authenticity of a report.
Other corroborating reports are gathered to support the one at hand. It must be appreciated that as the significance of a report increases, it becomes imperative that it be corroborated by many other similar reports since any significant matter could not have been confined to a small number of people alone.
Thus, all the Hadith literature is judged in light of these criteria. As far as your question about Sahih Bukhari is concerned, it should be kept in mind that this collection is a research work of a Hadith scholar and like other accomplishments of human beings, cannot be devoid of the shortcomings to which all their works are subjected. Consequently, when the Ahadith contained in it are judged, some stand up to the criteria and some have to be declared da‘if or gharib. Thus, the question is not about the authenticity of Sahih Bukhari as a whole but about the individual Ahadith of which it is made up.
It must be appreciated that though the criteria delineated above provide a certain degree of reliability to a report, they can never substantiate its authenticity beyond a shadow of doubt. Just because a transmitter may have a highly good character, exceptionally good memory and outstanding ability to comprehend and express the facts and figures, it can never be claimed that he had an ‘infallibly’ good character, ‘unfailing’ memory and ‘perfect’ understanding. Furthermore, the expedition to collect information about those involved in the transmission of a report is another task that could never be fault free. It is for this reason that the authenticity of a Hadith cannot be substantiated beyond a shadow of doubt. Consequently, it is advisable to consult a scholar who is able to refer the issue at hand to the two fundamental sources of Islam, the Qur’an and Sunnah, and thereby guide the seeker accordingly.
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