Many Muslim’s experience with Sahih Bukhari is limited to a quiet phrase which references a hadith at its very end --- but for 300 students at Al-Maghrib Institute’s single-weekend seminar “Collector’s Edition: An Introduction to the Sahih of Imam Bukhari”, this small, unbecoming phrase came to life.
Under the guide of Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, dean of academic affairs at Al-Maghrib Institute, students glimpsed the humbling and jaw-dropping prowess of Imam Bukhari, as hadith collector, a visionary, and a luminary like no other. They analyzed hand-picked hadith from the Sahih’s many books varying from the ever-so-debated definition of travel to the tafsir of Surah al-Kauthar. And they time-turned into the past, returning to the present with increased appreciation of the Prophet Muhammad (sallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) and his Sunnah.
Of 7563 hadith, only a few dozen were covered and of 97 books, only 9 were covered. Yet, the seminar - held on the weekend of January 6th at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus - was multifaceted, it was practical, and it was moving.
It was Al-Maghrib at its best.
The weekend’s layout followed a similar rinse and repeat system: book, chapter heading, hadith, book chapter, hadith. But there was no monotony to his teaching style. To every chapter, Qadhi brought something new, covering topics from the evidence of creations other than ours to positions on poetry in Islam.
To every module, Qadhi shed new light on the methodology, style, and opinions of the amazing man behind the Sahih. To every discussion, Qadhi presented many opinions; and though he grazed only the surface, there was enough on the surface to see.
“We’re just taking a small flashlight and shining it here and there,” he said in Friday’s Free session open to the entire community, “The vast room is still left to be explored.”
But what we did explore was quite satisfying on its own.
In Friday’s session, we learned about the importance of the isnad - a hadith’s chain of narrators. We were even given a chance to become a part of this age-old verification system: by getting an ‘ijaazah for the first hadith of Sahih Bukhari if and only if we memorized it after learning its meaning.
Aside from the coolness of being armed with an ‘ijaazah, we got a glimpse into the biography of Imam Bukhari from his days as a young child to his death - requested by word of his own mouth to Allah (SWT). Through these stories, emerged a man with a stunning memory and exemplary character. He could memorize pages with one glance at them and even the combined scheming of 10 scholars to stump his perfect memorization of thousands and thousands of hadith in their entirety, would not damage him. He prized his honor and authenticity of hadith so much that even the thought of being question for 10,000 supposedly stolen coins of his would not prevent him in tossing them overboard.
And within his books, we witnessed Bukhari’s inner-self: a man who would go to “unrealistic lengths” (as said by Imam Muslim himself) to ensure the authenticity of a hadith, a man who ingeniously chose and placed ahadith, and a man who had used the Sahih not just as a hadith collection, but as a tool to express his opinion. As we would learn time and time again, “The fiqh of Imam Bukhari was in his chapter headings.” All of this in the midst of closer glimpses into the life, teachings, and ways of the Prophet (Salallahu ‘alyhi wa sallam), his companions, and Islam.
It is thus a class not just for the khateeb or a person with much knowledge about it Islam; rather it is a class for the the seeker of knowledge through the second-most prized source: our Sunnah. It took away my hesitation in studying hadith and substituted it with excitement, passion, and curiosity for more. As Sheikh Yasir said in the introduction of the seminar, this class is not one that will help you appreciate Bukhari - only one that will help you begin to appreciate him. That is why I end this piece with the hope that this is only a beginning.