The Imam’s Legacy
To understand this story we must realize who Imam Bukhari is.
Imam Bukhari is best known to us by the hadith collection bearing his name: Sahih Bukhari. After the Quran itself, his work is among (if not) the most relied upon text by Muslims worldwide.
From a young age Imam Bukhari was a strong student of Islam. He lived in a time where the entire Muslim community faced a great need: collections of hadith1 gathered together, organized and expertly sorted by topic, each report thoroughly verified and authenticated.
He saw this need and dedicated his life to fulfill it and serve the Messenger’s legacy, peace and blessings upon him.
Thus began Imam Bukhari’s task. The first step of this journey was… actual journeying. He travelled a lot throughout his life and faced physical hardship. He journeyed across the widespread lands of Islam where the Companions and their followers had spread out and taken their hadith with them. He spent many years learning from the best scholars of many cities.
Then, he worked hard to investigate and authenticate the reports he collected. This is a precise, thorough science that requires a sharp mind and deep knowledge. His memory was beyond photographic, too.
He then selected some of the best of all the hadith he knew, and sorted all them into and within chapters and sections based on their jurisprudential [fiqh] benefits. This showcased his deep understanding of Islam along with a mastery of the Arabic language (remember, he wasn’t an Arab!).
All the above is just about his Sahih—it doesn’t even begin to cover his influence on the field of Hadith overall!
Imam Bukhari introduced techniques and approaches for hadith verification and collection that all after him would learn from and follow. He also taught some of the best scholars of hadith who would come after him—you may recognize them: Imams Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, and Nasa’i. Allah have mercy upon them all and their teachers.
All said and done, Sahih Bukhari was the product of a lifetime of work that would improve the entire field of hadith, produced by one of the greatest hadith scholars ever.
And when he completed this masterpiece, out of humility Imam Bukhari did not even put his name in the title. Instead he named it, The Short Collection of Authentic, Fully Transmitted Hadith from the Affairs, Tradition and Days of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and send him peace (it’s a bit less wordy in Arabic).2
Allah Almighty ensured that he got recognition for his work in this life, and will in the next, too, by His permission.
In Light of the Story
Returning to our story, Imam Bukhari could prove that all the money belonged him. His false friend had claimed that the 1,000 gold coins belonged to him—but if questioned he wouldn’t be able to explain any other details.
What type of coins are in the pouch? Which areas are they from? Which year were they minted? What’s written on each? How many of each type of coin are there?
On the other hand, Imam Bukhari knew all those details and even more because it was his money. He could call the crew and passengers and prove to everyone that the money belonged to him.
But remember, he was a scholar of hadith. In this field, a person’s own honesty and reputation is judged severely. If someone has a single blemish on their record, a single claim of dishonesty, it stains their reputation and trustworthiness (to a degree matching the evidence, of course).
For someone like Imam Bukhari, a collector and narrator of tens of thousands of hadith, the scrutiny and background checks would be extra harsh. His expertise and mastery earned him plenty of jealous opponents, too. If he got into a public dispute with a man who claimed he stole 1,000 coins – no matter how much the Imam could prove the truth – a permanent question mark would be placed next to his name. Everything he had ever done would be open for question.3
Imam Bukhari knew this. And so he prioritized his life’s work for the religion of God over any fortune of money, and threw it all away.
For any normal person, it would’ve been fine to publicly dispute the thief’s claim. But for someone in Imam Bukhari’s position things are different. More than showing us a direct example of what to do, this story teaches us the internal values of the Imam, demonstrates the intense rules in the field of hadith, and lets us appreciate the heavy hardships and sacrifices made by hadith scholars.
By inspiring him to throw away the money, Allah protected his true wealth. More than that, Allah gave Imam Bukhari what the richest people in the world can only dream of: genuine recognition, along with the love and prayers of millions of people today and throughout history.
Who is it that shall loan to God a goodly loan [for His cause], so that He shall multiply it for him, such that for him there shall be a gracious reward [awaiting in the Hereafter]? (Surah al-Hadid, 57:11) 4
Some versions of the story mention 10,000 coins, others set the number at 500. Some mention the purpose of this trip as business and trade. Others say he was going to study in that land and took the money so he would have total freedom to focus. But the details of this story makes no difference to its benefit for us.
This story and reflection is part of the Stories of the Righteous project, which shares narratives that inspire reform, faith and piety in all who read them—trying to fulfill our need for righteous company in a time when it’s hard to find
A hadith is whatever is ascribed to the Prophet, prayers and peace upon him, from speech, action, reports or characteristics. ↩︎
Much of this discussion is from: A New Curriculum in the Sciences of Hadith by Dr. Sharaf Qudah (Arabic: المنهاج الحديث في علوم الحديث). Some points are from other places, though everything mentioned is a well known point. ↩︎
In fact, until this day Imam Bukhari is among the most scrutinized Muslims. His work is relied upon by Muslims so much, that those who wish to criticize Islam resort to looking into Imam Bukhari’s character as a possible gateway to critiquing the entire religion. These efforts fall flat, however. ↩︎
As translated by Dr. Zaki Hammad. ↩︎