The actual title of the book commonly referred to as Sahih al-Bukhari, according to Ibn al-Salah, is: al-Jaami’ al-Sahih al-Musnad al-Mukhtasar min Umuri Rasooli-llahi wa sunanihi wa Ayyaamihi. A word-for-word translation of the title is: The Abridged Collection of Authentic Hadith with Connected Chains regarding Matters Pertaining to the Prophet, His practices and His Times. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani mentioned the same title, replacing the word umur (English: matters) with hadith.
Al-Bukhari traveled widely throughout the Abbasid Caliphate from the age of 16, collecting those traditions he thought trustworthy. It is reported that al-Bukhari devoted 16 years to sifting the hadiths he included in his Sahih from a collection of nearly 600,000 narrations.Sources differ on the exact number of hadiths in Bukhari's Sahih, depending on whether a hadith is defined as a Prophetic tradition or a narration of that tradition. Experts, in general, have estimated the number of full-isnad narration at 7,397, and without considerations to repetitions or different versions of the same report, the number of Prophetic traditions reduces to approximately 2,602. At the time when Bukhari saw the earlier works and conveyed them, he found them, in their presentation, combining between what would be considered sahih (correct) and hasan (good) and that many of them included daʻīf (weak) hadith. This aroused his interest in compiling hadith whose authenticity was beyond doubt. What further strengthened his resolve was something his teacher, hadith scholar Ishaq ibn Ibrahim al-Hanthalee – better known as Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh – had told him. "We were with Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh who said, ‘If only you would compile a book of only authentic narrations of the Prophet.’ This suggestion remained in my heart so I began compiling the Sahih." Bukhari also said, "I saw the Prophet in a dream and it was as if I was standing in front of him. In my hand was a fan with which I was protecting him. I asked some dream interpreters, who said to me, ‘You will protect him from lies.’ This is what compelled me to produce the Sahih."
The book covers almost all aspects of life in providing proper guidance of Islam such as the method of performing prayers and other actions of worship directly from the Prophet Muhammad. Bukhari finished his work around 846/232 AH, and spent the last twenty-four years of his life visiting other cities and scholars, teaching the hadith he had collected. In every city that Bukhari visited, thousands of people would gather in the main mosque to listen to him recite traditions. In reply to Western academic doubts as to the actual date and authorship of the book that bears his name, scholars point out that notable hadith scholars of that time, such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal (855 CE/241 AH), Yahya ibn Ma'in (847 CE/233 AH), and Ali ibn al-Madini (848 CE/234 AH), accepted the authenticity of his book and that the collection's immediate fame makes it unlikely that it could have been revised after the author's death without historical record.
During this period of twenty-four years, al-Bukhari made minor revisions to his book, notably the chapter headings. Each version is named by its narrator. According to Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in his book Nukat, the number of hadiths in all versions is the same. The most famous one today is the version narrated by al-Firabri (d. 932 CE/320 AH), a trusted student of Bukhari. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in his book History of Baghdad quoted Firabri as saying: "About seventy thousand people heard Sahih Bukhari with me".
Firabri is not the only transmitter of Sahih al-Bukhari. There were many others that narrated that book to later generations, such as Ibrahim ibn Ma'qal (d. 907 CE/295 AH), Hammad ibn Shaker (d. 923 CE/311 AH), Mansur Burduzi (d. 931 CE/319 AH) and Husain Mahamili (d. 941 CE/330 AH). There are many books that noted differences between these versions, the best known being Fath al-Bari.
Amin Ahsan Islahi, the notable Islamic scholar, has listed three outstanding qualities of Sahih al-Bukhari:
- Quality and soundness of the chain of narrators of the selected ahādīth. Muhammad al-Bukhari has followed two principle criteria for selecting sound narratives. First, the lifetime of a narrator should overlap with the lifetime of the authority from whom he narrates. Second, it should be verifiable that narrators have met with their source persons. They should also expressly state that they obtained the narrative from these authorities. This is a stricter criterion than that set by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj.
- Muhammad al-Bukhari accepted the narratives from only those who, according to his knowledge, not only believed in Islam but practiced its teachings. Thus, he has not accepted narratives from the Murjites.
- The particular arrangement and ordering of chapters. This expresses the profound knowledge of the author and his understanding of the religion. This has made the book a more useful guide in understanding of the religious disciplines.
Ibn al-Salah said: "The first to author a Sahih was Bukhari, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl al-Juʿfī, followed by Abū al-Ḥusayn Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj an-Naysābūrī al-Qushayrī, who was his student, sharing many of the same teachers. These two books are the most authentic books after the Qurʾān. As for the statement of Al-Shafi‘i, who said "I do not know of a book containing knowledge more correct than Malik's book," – others mentioned it with a different wording – he said this before the books of Bukhari and Muslim. The book of Bukhari is the more authentic of the two and more useful."
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani quoted Abu Jaʿfar al-‘Uqailee as saying, "After Bukhari had written the Sahih, he read it to Ali ibn al-Madini, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma'in as well as others. They considered it a good effort and testified to its authenticity with the exception of four hadith. Al-‘Uqailee then said that Bukhari was actually correct regarding those four hadith." Ibn Hajar then concluded, "And they are, in fact, authentic."
Ibn al-Salah said in his Muqaddimah ibn al-Ṣalāḥ fī ʿUlūm al-Ḥadīth:
"It has been narrated to us that Bukhari has said, 'I have not included in the book al-Jami’ other than what is authentic and I did not include other authentic hadith for the sake of brevity.'"In addition, al-Dhahabi said, "Bukhari was heard saying, 'I have memorized one hundred thousand authentic hadith and two hundred thousand which are less than authentic.'"
Ibn al-Salah also said: "The number of hadith in his book, the Sahih, is 7,275 hadith, including hadith occurring repeatedly. It has been said that this number excluding repeated hadith is 2,230." This is referring to those hadith which are musnad, those from the Companions originating from Muhammad which are authentic.
This Book was printed by Mu'assatur Risalaah in one huge volume on yellow paper. This print contains 1,904 pages.