Book Review: A Study of Bukhari’s Sources by Fuat Sezgin

Buhârî’nin Kaynakları Hakkında Araştırmalar" (A Study of Bukhari’s Sources)
Format: HB
Published: 1956
Page Count: xxix + 406

Buhârî’nin Kaynakları Hakkında Araştırmalar (A Study of Bukhari’s Sources) by M. Fuad Sezgin

Published by Ankara University / Ibrahim Horoz Basimevi, Istanbul (1956)

Book review by: Waqar Akbar Cheema

Disclaimer: This review is based on an Urdu translation of the book. While it aims to provide insights, it is recommended to consult the original text, if possible, for a more authoritative and nuanced perspective. Any discrepancies or limitations in the translation or the reviewer’s analysis should be attributed to their respective sources, not the original work or its author. This disclaimer aims at encouraging further exploration and research on the subject matter.


Dr. M. Fuad Sezgin (1924 – 2018) titled his thesis “Buhârî’nin Kaynakları Hakkında Araştırmalar” (A Study of Bukhari’s Sources). He completed his Ph.D. degree at Istanbul University in 1954 and later published it in 1956 from Ankara University while serving as a professor there. The first edition of the thesis is available as a PDF on Ankara University’s website. However, as it is in Turkish, its significance couldn’t be fully appreciated. Currently, there are no translations of the book in Arabic or English. Recently, however, Dr. Khalid Zafar Ullah from Pakistan has published its Urdu translation and critical analysis under the title Imam wa Sahih Bukhari kay Maakhadh: Naqidana ja’iza (Lahore/ Faisalabad: Maktaba Islamiyya, 2022). The book includes an English translation of the author’s preface, which is reproduced here.

In the preface, the author describes how he initially began with certain assumptions but eventually discovered evidence for Muhammad b. Isma‘il Bukhari (d. 256/870), the author of the exemplary collection of authentic hadith reports, utilizing written sources. These findings effectively counter attempts to undermine the authority of hadith in the Islamic tradition.

A quick glance at the contents

In the first chapter of the book, the author focuses on the initial written sources of Hadith. He discusses the terminology used in hadith transmission, such as “Haddathana” (narrated to us) and “Akhbarana” (informed us), and how these terms relate to the utilization of pre-existing written compilations of hadith. The author clarifies that the use of these terms does not contradict the claim of utilizing written sources but rather aligns with the practices of early hadith transmitters.

The author presents evidence from the statements of early narrators to demonstrate that terms like “Akhbarana” were used for both oral transmission and written correspondence. The distinction made by later scholars between these terms was not always present in the practices of early narrators. By addressing this fundamental issue, the author challenges the perception of incongruence between the usage of these expressions and the utilization of written sources.

To support his argument, the author refers to instances where reliance upon earlier written sources were noted by various commentators. For example, based on Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani’s (d. 852/1449) statement, the author mentions Bukhari’s utilization of Humaidi’s (d.219/834) book “Al-Nawadir” in the Chapters on Knowledge (Kitab al-‘Ilm). Similarly, citing Ibn Hajar he presents an example of Bukhari’s narration from Musnad of Ishaq bin Rahawayh (d. 238/853). The author also mentions that Bukhari was criticized for using written compilations from certain Syrian narrators, further supporting the argument of Bukhari’s reliance on written sources.

Dr. Sezgin’s observations include references to specific incidents that imply the presence of written sources. For instance, he notes the mention of a blank space in a report from one of Bukhari’s teachers, indicating the presence of a written source (Hadith 5990).  He refers to the instance where Bukhari narrated from Muhammad ibn Bashar (d. 252/866) through written correspondence (Hadith 6673). The author also highlights a mu’allaq report of Malik b. Anas (d. 179/895) in Sahih Bukhari, which was transmitted from a manuscript of Ibn Wahb’s (d. 197/813) recension of Muwatta and cites al-Zurqani (d. 1122/1710) mentioning Bukhari’s reliance on al-Tunisi’s (d. 218/833) recension of Muwatta.

However, the author suggests that Bukhari’s use of written compilations based on Muwatta, rather than direct quotations from Muwatta itself, is more probable. Finally Dr Sezgin seeks to dispel the notion that Bukhari was unique in utilizing prior written collections and mentions that Muslim b. Hajjaj (d. 261/875), Abu Dawud (d. 275/889), and al-Shafi’i (d. 204/ 820) were also known to have used written sources, as acknowledged by both Muslim scholars and Orientalists.

The second chapter of the book, titled “Sources of Quranic Exegesis in Sahih Bukhari,” focuses on the examination of exegetical citations found throughout Sahih Bukhari. The author specifically emphasizes the material found in Kitab al-Tafsir (Chapters on Qur’anic commentary). The author maintains his hypothesis that Bukhari extensively relied on pre-existing works in writing. He argues that prior to Bukhari, authors of hadith compilations did not dedicate separate sections for exegesis in their works. This sets Bukhari apart from other works, as it contains a significant quantity and diverse nature of exegetical and linguistic material, surpassing even the subsequent authors in this aspect. The chapter explores how Bukhari’s inclusion of such material contributes to the distinctiveness of his compilation.

The exegesis attributed to the companions (sahaba), the followers (tabi‘in), and later scholars are categorized separately, and it is pointed out that Bukhari did not mention any chains of transmission for these statements, even though many of these statements were transmitted through chains of narrators by authorities such as ‘Abdul Razzaq San‘ani (d. 211/827) before him and Tabari (d. 310/923) and Ibn Abi Hatim (d. 327/938) after him. Moreover, he notes, there is evidence of Bukhari’s access to the sources that transmitted these statements. Therefore, the author believes that Bukhari had intentionally quoted such material sans isnad. In this chapter, the author discusses the exegesis and philological statements of Abu ‘Ubaida (d. 209/823) and Farra’ (d. 207/822) separately. Firstly, it is mentioned that Abu ‘Ubaida, whose real name was Ma’mar, was mentioned in Sahih Bukhari as Ma’mar only, which made it difficult to determine his identity for quite some time. Ibn Hajar writes that before having perused Abu ‘Ubaida’s work, he too believed that Ma’mar there was Ma’mar b. Rashid (d. 153/770). Subsequently, however, he came across Ibn al-Tin (d. 611/1214) and Nawawi (d. 676/1277) confirming that he was in fact Abu ‘Ubaida.

According to the author, the material from Abu ‘Ubaida’s Majaz al-Quran in Sahih Bukhari was not organized in a specific order. Quotations were mentioned at various places, sometimes including unnecessary and irrelevant passages. Additionally, some passages related to the interpretation of the Quran were not arranged according to the sequence of the Quranic text. This disorganized arrangement puzzled many commentators of Sahih Bukhari, including Ibn Hajar.

Ibn Hajar attempted to provide some explanations for this situation, attributing it to either specific reasons or the mistakes of scribes. However, Qastalani (d. 923/1517) and ‘Aini  (d. 855/1451)expressed more critical views, with Qastalani even describing it as frivolous. Sounding similar ‘Aini, however, acknowledged that the material was useful.

The author argues that the inability of Ibn Hajar, a renowned commentator, to suggest a coherent relevance for such material in many instances supports the contention that Bukhari simply followed the practices of earlier authors. The author suggests that the patterns and conditions proposed by later scholars regarding the arrangement of exegesis in Sahih Bukhari were largely imaginative.

The author notes that Farra’s identity was also initially obscured in Sahih Bukhari because he was referred to by his first name, Yahya. Early commentators like Khattabi  (d. 388/998) did not address this issue. However, it was Ibn Hajar who determined that the individual referred to as Yahya was indeed Farra’. Kermani (d. 786/1384), on the other hand, mistakenly attributed these statements to Yahya b. Saeed (d. 144/761-762). ‘Aini recognized Farra’ as the correct attribution much later.

After establishing the identities of Abu ‘Ubaida and Farra’, the author explores the relevance of their statements in Sahih Bukhari and their placement within the text. This chapter aims to establish a connection between the exegesis quotations found in Sahih Bukhari and the statements from these two earlier written sources, based on the opinions of commentators. The author further traces these statements exhaustively in appendices III and IV of the book.

The third chapter of the book is titled “Transmissions of Al-Jami’ al-Sahih.” Within this chapter, the author delves into the history of different recensions of Sahih Bukhari, their comparison, and related matters. It is noted that among the thousand narrators, the names of only five have been preserved, and even among them, the transmissions through only two are well-known. These transmissions are attributed to Firabrī (d.320/932) and Nasafi (d. 295/908). However, since the sixth century AH, only Firabrī’s recension remained widely circulated. Nasafi’s recension, on the other hand, was once the most popular for two centuries after Bukhari, with even Khattabi basing his commentary on it, but it gradually lost prominence.

Several reasons are discussed for the preference of Firabrī’s recension over Nasafi’s. One reason suggested is that Nasafi likely did not have the opportunity to directly hear a portion of Bukhari’s narrations in Sahih. Additionally, Firabrī’s transmission was carried forward by at least nine narrators, while Nasafi’s recension had only two. Concerns about unregulated additions to Nasafi’s recension also influenced the preference. However, Nasafi’s recension was considered superior in certain aspects, such as the preservation of important details and the absence of excessive repetition of narrations. By considering these factors, along with subsidiary recensions of Firabrī’s transmission, the author concludes that overall, the Nasafi transmission was regarded as superior.

Moving forward, the author proceeds to address the issue of scribal variations found across recensions in Sahih Bukhari, emphasizing that they are generally of a trivial nature. These include cases like adding surnames to distinguish narrators from their namesakes. The author highlights Bukhari’s criteria and provides an example to refute unrealistic and overly simplistic suggestions that have been made in this connection. It is noted that even commentators such as Ibn Hajar have on occasions, acknowledged the incorrectness of such suggestions. Furthermore, it is stated that since Sahih Bukhari and other books did not explicitly outline their methodology, many attributed methodologies and approaches are not definitive.

Lastly, the critiques of Sahih Bukhari are mentioned, underscoring that its esteemed position is the result of centuries of criticism, debate, and scrutiny. The consensus of the Muslim community has elevated Sahih Bukhari to a high status, further validating its significance.


While the three chapters of Dr. Sezgin’s work demonstrate its originality, the information provided in the appendices showcases the meticulousness and thoroughness of his study. The first appendix presents essential details in the form of flow diagrams, mapping out the lineage of Bukhari’s teachers and their respective teachers. This demonstrates the author’s dedication and hard work, especially considering the task was accomplished without the aid of computers and indices, highlighting the author’s commitment to studying Sahih Bukhari extensively.

The second appendix focuses on the comparison between Malik’s narrations in his Muwatta and their presence in Sahih Bukhari. This comparison adds an interesting and significant dimension to the theories presented in the first chapter, providing a logical complement to the overall analysis. The third and fourth appendices specifically delve into the references from Abu ‘Ubaida’s Majaz al-Quran and Farra’s Ma’ani al-Qur’an found in Sahih Bukhari. These appendices serve as supplementary material that further enriches the content discussed in the second chapter.

Highlights and observations

Dr. Sezgin’s research has undoubtedly challenged common assumptions and dismantled the notion of a purely oral tradition spanning centuries. He has presented compelling evidence from tradition that makes it impossible to overlook Bukhari’s utilization of pre-existing written sources. However, it is important to note that claiming Sahih Bukhari was entirely compiled from written hadith collections “from beginning to end” lacks concrete evidence and appears speculative, to say the least. The author’s suggestion that if Bukhari did not directly rely on the Muwatta in the context of Malik’s narrations, he instead used written compilations from his teachers or their teachers’ works based on the Muwatta, seems farfetched. There is no historical proof of such unknown written collections, nor any explicit statements from Bukhari supporting this claim. Therefore, it is more appropriate to consider the possibility that written sources, including the Muwatta of Malik, were utilized alongside the oral tradition based on the principles of narration. Nonetheless, the author’s research effectively challenges the assertions made by Orientalists and modern skeptics regarding the reliability of the hadith corpus.

The author makes intriguing inferences. For instance, from an account of Bukhari presenting his Sahih to his teachers, Yahya b. Ma’in, Ibn al-Madini, and Ahmad b. Hanbal, who vouched for its authenticity, the author concludes that the book was compiled before the passing of Ibn Ma’in in 233/848. Bukhari himself died in the year 256/870..

Dr. Sezgin also provides a count of exegetical statements attributed to companions that are mentioned without an isnad (chain of narrators) under specific chapter headings. He identifies a total of 194 such companion statements, with 187 attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 68/687). The remaining 7 statements come from four other companions. Additionally, he examines the statements from the Followers (tab’in) and finds a total of 214, with 144 attributed to Mujahid b. Jabr (d. 104/722). Among the subsequent generation, only two individuals, the two Sufyans, have such statements mentioned. Ibn ‘Uyaina (d. 198/814) has 10 statements, while Thawri (d. 161/778) has only 1. It is worth noting that no edition of Sahih Bukhari has provided numbering or a count of these statements thus far.


This original study warrants full appreciation and critical analysis, particularly the author’s argument regarding the use of written sources in the compilation of Sahih Bukhari. Further exploration and examination of Bukhari’s teachers and their methodology in transmitting hadith reports, comparing them with their appearance in Sahih Bukhari, would shed light on the extent of reliance on written sources. Similarly, investigating the variations across different recensions of Sahih Bukhari would be an intriguing area of research. Such endeavors are likely to uncover additional information and contribute to a more nuanced and captivating discourse surrounding hadith and its intricacies.

About the author

Waqar Akbar Cheema

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