A quite common slogan we often hear circulating is the most authentic book after the Quran is Sahih al-Bukhari. As frequented as it may be, is this phraseology appropriate, and if appropriate, is this agreed upon amongst scholarship? Whilst from a strictly academic, qualitative standpoint, this statement bears merit; there are those amongst scholarship who would shy away from it, in the standpoint of piety. Why so you ask? Well, the Quran is a book that is the direct speech of Allah as revealed from Him. Sahih al-Bukhari, while containing prophetic traditions at its highest grade, which as an entity is considered revelation, this does not negate that the book Sahih al-Bukhari, as an independent entity, is a book compiled and written by a human, albeit a scholastic and pious one. The question that eventually arises from this, is it appropriate to raise a book written by a human almost to the same level as a book that is the speech of Allah, to the extent the two books are mentioned in the same sentence? Is it appropriate to resemble the stature of the book of man to the Book of Allah? Again, some amongst scholarship have challenge with this, not from the standpoint of academics but from the standpoint of spirituality. Those who view this as challenging simply venerate Sahih al-Bukhari as the purest book developed by a human being, without any mention of the Quran. And of course, there is another body of scholarship that views no challenge with the slogan at all. Whether one venerated Sahih al-Bukhari as the purest book after the Quran or the purest book produced by humanity, the next question becomes does either statement represent the entire body of scholarship. The answer to this is either statement does not.
It would be more accurate to say this statement represents the majority of the body of scholarship, historically. The contender for this position of stature is Sahih Muslim. It is well circulated amongst academics the discussion over which of the two works is superior, Sahih al-Bukhari or Sahih Muslim, while all agree a Hadith agreed upon by both works represent the strongest degree of authority we have for a Hadith. Agreed upon here means agreed upon by both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim in wording or meaning, and by meaning occurs considerably more than by wording.
As for some of the reasoning behind the veil of this discussion:
al-Bukhari selected Hadith more authentic than Muslim and it contains more benefit.
Muslim gathered all routes for a Hadith in one location of his Sahih while al-Bukhari repeats the Hadith in varying portions and locations premised on the point he is looking to extract from the Hadith in a given circumstance.
From the conditions of al-Bukhari is the narrators within the chain of transmission have to be proven to have met whilst Muslim suffices with the narrators living within the same era and having the likelihood of having met as enough of an indication that they have in fact met.
al-Bukhari permits relaying a narration by meaning whilst Muslim adheres to the precise wording of the Hadith, for this reason precedence is given to the wording of Muslim over al-Bukhari.
Both al-Bukhari and Muslim have some critics throughout history as to whether they fulfilled their self imposed conditions for the quality of authenticity for each and every Hadith they have included within their works; of course there have been specialized scholars in the field who have worked to unveil the invalidity of these critics' claims. In this vein, the narrators al-Bukhari utilizes are critiqued less than the narrators selected by Muslim.
al-Bukhari reports 1341 Mu'allaqaat narrations whilst Muslim only reports one throughout the entire of his work. To be fair, of the 1341 Mu'allaqaat of al-Bukhari, he reports them all with a connected chain elsewhere in his work to the exclusion of 160 of them. A Mu'allaq Hadith is a narration where one or more narrators are omitted from the chain of transmission. When we speak to Sahih al-Bukhari and the criteria he set for his Sahih, we are speaking to the Hadith he collected to meet these criteria and not the Mu'allaqaat narrations. One might think of al-Bukhari's use of Mu'allaqaat as footnotes with the function of providing support or further clarity to the primary Hadith he is citing.
al-Bukhari relied solely upon his memory in recording the Hadith of his Sahih while Muslim relied upon his written records. Perhaps al-Bukhari would collect a Hadith in one country but not record it until he arrived in another country yet Muslim would record his Hadith in one place.
al-Bukhari provides highly intricate chapter headings for his Hadith that clearly display the height of his acumen and the depth of his jurisprudence while Muslim provides no chapter headings for his Hadith. The chapter headings of Sahih Muslim we are most familiar with are installations of an-Nawawi within his explanation of Sahih Muslim, whilst others have also provided their own unique chapter headings within their explanations. To be fair, due to Muslims fine arrangement of his Hadith in gathering Hadith of similar topics in one place, it is as though he arranged them by chapter heading even though none are present.
al-Bukhari was the first to compile a magnum opus solely focused upon collecting Hadith of the highest quality in one place.
Ultimately, scholarship examines the overall quality of manufacture and not merely the quality of chains of transmission, which ends in Sahih al-Bukhari being the higher quality work for the overwhelming majority of scholarship, historically to present, even if Abu 'Ali an-Naysaburi and others deem Sahih Muslim superior.
To be clear, the discussion here is not whether the Hadith of al-Bukhari and Muslim are sound, neither is it whether sound Hadith are revelation. The discussion is to what degree have they both gone above and beyond the standards of Hadith scholarship in their criteria for a sound Hadith. In light of this, quality in degree of authenticity, historically, is weighed against the veracity found within the Hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. In this regard, the highest quality of Sahih Hadith are seven (7):
Agreed upon by al-Bukhari and Muslim
Individually recorded by al-Bukhari
Individually recorded by Muslim
What meets the criteria of al-Bukhari and Muslim but not recorded by them
What meets the criteria of al-Bukhari individually but not recorded by him
What meets the criteria of Muslim individually but not recorded by him
Sahih but not meeting their criteria
One may wonder the benefit in differentiating between quality of Sahih Hadith when all seven (7) categories are Sahih and reach the status of being an authority to act upon. The wisdom comes to light under the topic of conflicting evidences within Usool al-Fiqh (id est Legal Theory). When conflicting evidences exist, the first step is to harmonize between both evidences so that each works together and can coexist. If this is not possible and the evidences can be dated, then the later dated evidence abrogates the earlier dated evidence. If the evidences cannot be dated, then precedence is given to the evidence bearing preponderance in quality, and this is where it becomes useful to know when one evidence is sounder than another, even if both evidences are Sahih. If preponderance is also not possible, then pausation of ruling is employed. And Allah knows best.
Kenneth "Aqil" Ingram II
Rabi' II 30, 1442 Anno Hegirae
December 15, 2020 Anno Domini