Hadith is the collection of the Prophet Muhammad’s statements and actions coupled with the statements and actions of his companions. They are believed to have been collected beginning 150 years after Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E., and it is the basis of jurisprudence for Islamic or Sharia law. To begin to understand Islam, one must understand what parts make up a hadith, how it is classified, and how it is legitimized to mold Sharia.
There are two parts to hadith. The first part is matn, which is the specific content or text of the statements and actions of Muhammad and his companions. The second part is isnad, which is the record of the chain of transmitters all the way back to Muhammad, similar to a family tree. Although an isnad containing Muhammad’s bloodline carries more weight, one does not have to be related to Muhammad to be a transmitter.
Muslims classify hadith in four different categories. The first three categories refer specifically to Muhammad. Awl are the transmissions of Muhammad’s statements, fi'liare the transmission of Muhammad’s deeds or actions, and taqrir are the actions or deeds of the Prophet’s companions or others that Muhammad has approved of. The fourth category of classification is qudsi, which are the Prophet’s words, inspired by Allah, that are not recorded in the Qur'an.
Once a hadith undergoes critical analysis, it becomes authenticated, lending legitimacy to Sharia by offering legal proof. The process begins when Muslim scholars complete a thorough examination of the isnad. They look for information about the transmitters and the transmissions and examine the matn in historical context. Once the analysis is complete, the hadith is given a rating as sahih (authentic), hasan (good), da’if (weak), and mawdu or batil (forged). If a hadith is found to be sahih or hasan, it is admissible as Sharia.
In addition to offering legal proof for Sharia, the authentication and interpretation of hadith has had significant influences on the different sects of Islam. Each sect of Islam views different collections to be the legitimate one. They decide which sayings to trust and which are unreliable. Hadith is also examined against the Qur'an and any statement that conflicts with the Qur'an is thrown out.
Muslims consider the Qur'an the Divine Word of Allah, and it is above all else in Islam. Hadith is second with believers trusting the words and deeds of Muhammad, so it helps to provide supplementation and clarification to the Qur'an. It provides to Muslims a window to look at the Prophet’s way of life and offer examples of what he did or said so they may follow in his footsteps.