Hadith and Its Significance in Islam

By Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Muslim Scholar—Canada

The Arabic word hadith basically means "an item of news, conversation, a tale, a story, or a report," whether historical or legendary, true or false, relating to the present or the past. However, like other Arabic words (e.g. salah, zakah), its meaning changed in Islam. Starting from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), his stories and communications dominated all other forms of communication. Consequently, the term Hadith began to be used almost exclusively for reports that spoke of the Prophet's actions and sayings. In what follows, we will shed light on the aspects that show the significance of Hadith in Islam.

The Prophet's sayings and actions were primarily based on revelation from Allah which consequently should be considered a fundamental source of guidance immediately after the Qur'an. Allah in the Qur'an says concerning the Prophet,

(Nor does he (Muhammad) speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed.) (An-Najm 53:3–4)

Therefore, Hadith represents a personal source of divine guidance that Allah granted His Prophet, which is similar in its nature to the Qur'an itself. The Prophet reiterated this point in one of his recorded statements,

"Indeed, I was given the Qur'an and something similar to it along with it." (Abu Dawud)

The preservation of the Qur'an was not restricted to protecting its wording from change. Were that the case, its meanings could be manipulated according to human desires, while its wording is maintained. However, Allah also protected the Qur'an's essential meanings from change by entrusting the explanation of the meanings of Qur'an to the Prophet himself. In this respect, Almighty Allah says,

(With clear arguments and scriptures, and We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect. ) (An-Nahl 16:44)

Therefore, if one is to understand the meanings of Qur'an, one must consider what the Prophet said or did regarding it. For example, in the Qur'an, Allah commands the believers to offer salah (obligatory Prayers) and pay zakah (obligatory charity) in Surat Al-Baqarah, (Chapter 2 of the Qur'an) verse 43. However, in order to obey these instructions correctly, one must study the methodology of the Prophet in this regard.

Among his many clarifications concerning salah and zakah, Allah's Messenger instructed his followers saying, "Pray as you saw me pray" (Al-Bukhari). Moreover, there are a number of authentic hadiths in which the Prophet gave specific instructions concerning the items and quantities on which zakah was due, as well as the time when it is due. For example, `Ali ibn Abi Talib quoted Allah's Messenger saying,

Hadiths are essential for the smooth running of the law courts in an Islamic state.
"Whenever you possess two hundred dirhams and a year passes on them, five dirhams are to be paid for them. You are not liable to pay anything until you possess twenty dinars and a year passes on them, in which case half a dinar is due. Whatever exceeds that will be counted likewise. And no zakah is payable on wealth until a year passes on it." (Abu Dawud)

One of the primary duties of the Prophet was to judge between people in their disputes. Since his judgments were all based on revelation, as stated earlier, they must be considered a primary source of principles by which judgments are carried out in an Islamic state. Allah also addresses this responsibility in the Qur'an saying,

(O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day; this is better and very good in the end. ) (An-Nisaa' 4:59)

Thus, hadiths are essential for the smooth running of the law courts in an Islamic state.

Moral Ideal
Because the Prophet was guided by revelation in his personal life, his character and social interactions became prime examples of moral conduct for Muslims until the Last Day. The following Qur'anic verse draws attention to this fact:

(Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar.) (Al-Ahzab 33:21)

Consequently, the daily life of the Prophet as recorded in Hadith represents an ideal code of good conduct. In fact, when the Prophet's wife `A'ishah was asked about his conduct, she replied, "His character was the Qur'an" (Authenticated by Al-Albani).

Preservation of Islam
The science of narration, collection, and criticism of Hadith was unknown to the world prior to the era of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). In fact, it was due in part to the absence of such a reliable science that the messages of the former prophets became lost or distorted in the generations that followed them. Therefore, it may be said that it is largely due to the science of Hadith that the final message of Islam has been preserved in its original purity for all times. This is alluded to in the following Qur'anic verse,

(Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.) (Al-Hijr 15:9)

<span class="footNote" style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-language: AR-EG"><span class="footNote"><span class="footNote" style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-language: AR-EG">Based on the author's book <i>Usool Al-Hadith.</i></span></span></span>
Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips was born inJamaica, but grew up in Canada, where he accepted Islam in 1972. He completed a diploma in Arabic and a B.A. from the College of Islamic Disciplines (Usool Ad-Deen) at the Islamic University of Madinah in 1979. At the University of Riyadh, College of Education, he completed a M.A. in Islamic Theology in 1985, and in the department of Islamic Studies at the University of Wales, he completed a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology in 1994.

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