Preface to Sezgin’s Work on the Sources of Sahih Bukhari


Dr. M. Fuad Sezgin

Admin’s Note: We are reproducing the English translation of the late Dr Muhammad Fuad Sezgin’s (1924 – 2018) preface to his book Buhârî’nin Kaynakları Hakkında Araştırmalar (A Study of Bukhari’s Sources), which was originally published in 1956. The preface gives a brief outline of the book. We will, in-sha’Allah, follow it with a review of this all-important work.

The Preface: About six years ago, while preparing a critical edition of the Arab philologist Abu ‘Ubayda’s (d. 210 A.H.) Majāz al-Qur’an, I established the fact that a rather considerable portion of that work had been quoted by Bukhārī. The fact that these quotations in Bukhārī, completely philological in nature as they were, were randomly scattered among the chapters [bābs] of a book on hadith devoted to the compilation of the Prophet’s words and sunna, provoked my interest to study Bukhārī from the following points of view: (a) his relationship to philological works and his methodology; (b) the degree to which his work (in this philological respect) resembled other compilations in this type of literature: and (c) the determination of whether or not his work was outside the proper scope of a classified work on hadith. It was also felt that a study of Bukhārī’s philological sources would indirectly shed light on some of the relationships between hadith-compilers and philologists in the first centuries of the Hijra.

At the outset, I realized that the problem of investigating the philological sources of a book on hadith –or of its sources in general, was a subject which had not previously been dwelled upon and that the results of such a study were entirely unforeseeable. In taking up the subject, I had planned to study Bukhārī’s work on the basis of the various information given in the commentaries, biographies, books on hadith methodology and other pertinent works which have been produced for centuries and to establish Bukhārī’s quotations from the earlier philologists. The results of such a procedure might not perhaps have seemed very promising: but we did know for certain that Bukhārī had used the Majāz al-Qur’an as a philological source. This fact could be ascertained by recourse to either the Majāz or to the information given us by the commentators.

Modern research undertaken from various viewpoints on the problems in Bukhārī and the other books on hadith, was more a discouragement than an aid for the scholar who would establish the sources of the hadith compilations – particularly, their philological sources. I say this because the conclusions of a study made sixty years ago on the hadith and the Islamic tradition [rivayet] have scarcely changed and the conviction still prevails that Bukhārī, like the other hadith compilers, was denied the possibility of using the pre-extent literature, and that he compiled the Ṣaḥīḥ from oral reports collected from the narrators [ravis] of the hadith whom he met in his travels through each of the various regions of the Islamic world. In contrast with this conviction is the fact that this same scholar did earn credit for having discovered the first written sources for the hadith, for, like some of his predecessors, he came across references to the effect that there were certain hadith documents in the first century of the Hijra. (He was, however, mistaken in his idea that Muslim scholars claimed that the hadith was entirely taken from oral materials.) The point is that although he accepts the existence of previous hadith documents, he nonetheless arrives at the conclusion that the material in the classified hadith works produced in the following centuries was gathered from the narrators’ [ravis’] oral reports.

The present work, entitled Studies on Bukhārī’s Sources, was begun under the influence of these prevailing concepts of our age. It was hoped, however, that in addition to Bukhārī’s oral materials, some of the philological sources which he most likely used would also be exposed. Under this influence our research was, for a while, heading in misleading directions. Our course did not become productive until it finally struck our attention that the Islamic tradition [rivayet] does not resemble other traditions [rivayets]: its special characteristic lies in the fact that the chain of authorities [ravis] contains written sources. With his new consideration in mind, the plan and purpose of this study, which was originally meant to establish Bukhārī’s philological sources, was ultimately changed. It accordingly became necessary to handle the sources for Bukhārī and the other hadith compilations, and even to some extent the general sources for Islamic history. Similarly, for proper illumination of our subject, sufficient cognizance had to be taken of such problems as the first recording and systemization of the hadith.

These problems are taken up in the first part of our book where we attempt to explain this special feature of Islamic tradition [rivayet] which has escaped attention, and which led to misleading conclusions in research. The first and second appendices at the end of this book are devoted to a bolstering of this thesis. The first appendix contains the results of an attempt undertaken to find the sources for a book of hadith by using its narrators’ [rivayet] chain. A general index of Bukhārī’s narrators [ravis] was prepared as an addition to this appendix; however, owing to technical difficulties this index does not appear in this edition. We feel that indices compiled of the narrators [ravis] mentioned in the writings of the second and third Islamic centuries are of great importance for establishing the sources of Islamic literature. Instead of considering the narration [rivayet] links as forgeries, we should rather evaluate the authors of the sources, or their authorized and competent narrators [ravis].

The second appendix has been devoted to establishing the relationship between Bukhārī and Imam Malik’s Muwaṭṭa, which may be considered the major source. To avoid increasing the bulk of this volume unnecessarily, we have dispensed with repeating the verbatim citations and have deemed it sufficient to refer to the pages in Bukhārī and the Muwaṭṭa. As a matter of fact, this comparison alone would be sufficient to refute any claim that Bukhārī was denied the possibility of using the pre-extent written literature.

When we considered Bukhārī’s sources from the viewpoint of their conformity to the usual concept of hadith literature, a divergence from the other hadith collections was noted in two important ways: (1) the hadith and khaber section, later called the ta‘līq, is about 1/8 of the total; and (2) there is abundant philological matter found among the hadith and chapter (headings?) [bāb]. These two features of the Ṣaḥīḥ have not met with a satisfying explanation: the standard eighth and ninth century (A.H.) commentaries were obscure on the matter of fixing Bukhārī’s relationship to the philological sources; nor have these problems in any way been the object of modern scholarship.

In the explanation for the sources for the khaber in the ta‘līq form –so important and prominent a quality of the Ṣaḥīḥ— a conclusion is reached which differs from the usual explanation in the hadith literature. To explain this characteristic, we have used the fact that the arrangement of the Ṣaḥīḥ’s chapters [bābs] has been adapted to the chapters [bābs] of previous compilations. Although the question of Bukhārī’s having followed the chapters [bāb] in previously extent literature is a subject of dispute among the commentators, it must, in our opinion, be accepted if we are to explain other important, although secondary difficulties in the book.

Bukhārī put aside the chain of narrations [rivayets] and included such expressions such as “qāla (he said) and “zakara” (he mentioned) on a large scale in his book. It can therefore be said that he did not remain faithful to his purpose of producing a book of hadith based on the isnāds going back to the Prophet. He can, in fact, be regarded as the first person to seriously shake the authority of the isnād. He was trying to make a kind of summary of the hadith collections which had so increased in his period, and reduced to a secondary degree the importance of the isnād which had come into being as contingent necessity in the first centuries of the Hijra. He must therefore be appreciated for having opened a new method in hadith literature. As long as we are discussing the subject, it may here be said that the conviction in our age that the isnād was first brought to a science by Bukhārī, can only be accepted as a rash judgment made from reading the Ṣaḥīḥ without any great care.

After obtaining these general and compelling ideas on Bukhārī’s sources, we turned to the study of the philological matter contained in the Ṣaḥīḥ. We took up the separate section entitled the Kitāb al-Tafsīr, since, while this type of material is found everywhere in the work, it is met with in its most concentrated form here, and the conclusions could apply to the other chapters as well. We collected together Bukhārī’s quotations, particularly from Abu ‘Ubayda and Farrā, and then examined the attitude of the commentators as to their ideas on the sources of this material and on the connections of this material with the Ṣaḥīḥ. While on the subject of pointing out the sources, we cannot pass without stating that we are greatly indebted to Ibn Ḥajar, who is incomparably superior to the other commentators.

The philological matter found scattered throughout the various chapters [bāb] of the Ṣaḥīḥ were almost all signalized by Ibn Ḥajar, and it is clear that in many places several of the commentators, including sometimes Ibn Ḥajar, did not find this material pertinent to the subject of the book. Nonetheless, it must be stated that in view of this feature they did not sufficiently question the appropriateness of the fame the Ṣaḥīḥ has secured in Islamic literature. Bukhārī, in his task of summarizing the pre-extent hadith literature, did not, in our opinion, remain bound to any specific plan of arrangement. He did handle a mass of the material, but he is, among his contemporaries, the one whose work is most devoid of a specific system. This lack of system, although found as well in the hadith and khaber portions, is best seen when the philological matter is studied. With this consideration in mind, the philological material is given verbatim in the third and fourth appendices where references are given to their location in the chapters [bābs] of the Ṣaḥīḥ.

After the exposition first of Bukhārī’s general sources and then of his philological sources, our study turned to the recensions [rivayet] of the Ṣaḥīḥ itself which were passed on to the succeeding generations. Bukhārī’s work, from the viewpoint of its recensions, has been the object of interesting study. There are several reasons for believing that some of the difficulties in the text relate to the Firabrī recension, and although the variants in the various readings have been carefully worked out, it must be said that this recension was ill-chosen in the first place. There is also the Nasafī recension, the superiority of which we know from its preserved portions in the commentaries. Despite all our efforts it has been impossible to secure a copy of the Ṣaḥīḥ based on this recension. If a copy were to be secured, we are sure that at least some of the problems found in the present text of Bukhārī would be cleared.

This study which has as its aim the investigation of Bukhārī’s sources, rather than giving a final form to the problems involved, should be regarded as an essay which would pose the problems and seek their solutions. In this connection, we hope that the errors which probably exist will be attributed to the original nature of this study; for there has yet been nothing which could have served as a guide, and we rely for our conclusions on the direct study of the sources. To this we should also like to note that in the short time between the completion of this study and going to press, new material came to hand which obliged us to make certain additions and changes. These additions furnished new proofs for the solutions we had established. Continued efforts and the criticism which will be made, will, we are sure, make a new edition necessary.

It is now my pleasant duty to thank my good friend, Bekir Kütükoğlu, for not sparing his valuable time in his assistance to me during the course of preparing this study— particularly in the task of establishing Bukhārī’s philological sources. I should also like to thank my good friend, Martin Dickson, for being kind enough to translate this preface into English.

Sezgin, M. Fuad, Buhârî’nin Kaynakları Hakkında Araştırmalar, (Istanbul: Ibrahim Horoz Basimevi, 1956) xi-xvi

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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