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Mausoleum of Ismail al-Bukhari

In Hoja Ismail, a village 20km north of Samarkand, is one of Islam's holier spots, the modest Mausoleum of Ismail al-Bukhari (working hours 7am-8pm).  Al-Bukhari (AD 810-872) was one of the greatest Muslim scholars of the Hadith - the collected acts and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

After the Koran, the book most revered by Muslims is the collection of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) selected by, among others, Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Ismail Imam Al-Bukhari. Born in Bukhara in 810, the young boy showed a precocious talent for memorizing the traditions of Mohammed. At 16 he accompanied his mother and brother on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. They returned home without him, for Al-Bukhari was set on his chosen task of roaming the Islamic world in search of Hadith. His 97-book masterpiece took 16 years to compile from over 600,000 traditions, gathered from over 1,000 sheikhs. He would not insert a text without first washing and praying. In addition to Mohammed's life, Al-Bukhari explained the creation of heaven and hell.

Tomb of Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari
The tomb of Mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, the hadith scholar whose collection of Hadiths (traditions and sayings of the prophet) is the most respected and widely used book in Sunni Islam, second only to the Quran. Site is about 30 minutes outside Samarkand
Though his veracity and peerless knowledge were recognized in his lifetime, his popularity and independent spirit drew enemies in Persia that forced him back to Bukhara. Al-Bukhari wished to keep learning open to all who attended his mosque, so he refused private tuition for the Bukharan governor's children. "Knowledge should not go to the pupils," he said, "but the pupil must seek out knowledge." His subsequent expulsion brought him to the village of Hartang outside Samarkand. Depressed by his treatment, the old master was heard one night in 870 to pray for God to release him. Within a month he was dead.

Centuries of research have confirmed Al-Bukhari's work as the most reliable and respected collection of Hadith. As he never attached himself to a particular school, his mausoleum attracts pilgrims from around the world. Today one sees a complex dating back at most 200 years. Ongoing renovation expands this place of worship into a centre for international scholarship, though the bright restoration is not to every visitor's taste.

This peaceful place of pilgrimage contains a mosque, a small museum and two courtyards, the main one containing Ismail al-Bukhari's gorgeous tomb, made of yellow marble and inlaid with majolica. It's surrounded by an aivan, under which an imam usually sits, chanting prayers. The iwan's brightly painted ceiling uncharacteristically lacks red - supposedly to avoid communist associations.

It's essential to dress conservatively here, respect the calm and reverent atmosphere, and ask before you take photos. Reception and prayer rooms are spread around a hauz shaded by chinor trees. Through an archway beside the minaret is Al-Bukhari's tomb, beneath a blue-domed mausoleum.

The mausoleum is 25 kilometres north of Samarkand in Khodja Ismail Kishlak. To reach it take a tour, hire a taxi or enquire about pilgrim buses at the station. En route, between the Black and White rivers, is the Machtumi Azam complex in Dakhbed village. The name is an alternative for Sheikh Khodja Mohammed Kasani, a devout follower of Bukhara's Naqshbandi, who died here in 1542 aged 81. The large mosque, now heavily restored, was first built in 1613 by Yalangtush Bahadur, the Shaybanid ruler of Samarkand, said to rest in the raised dakhma ol marble gravestones in the cemetery behind.