Hadith meaning a ‘statement’ or ‘report’ is used as an Islamic term for the records kept of the words, deeds and sanctions of the Prophet Muhammad. Some scholars have also included in hadith the sayings and doings of the companions of the Prophet. In English very often in place of ‘hadith’ the term ‘traditions of the Prophet’ or simply ‘traditions’ is used.
The necessity of the hadith arose as it gives a full account of the life of the Prophet, and serves as the commentary to the Quran. The Islamic jurisprudence or law (called fiqh) considers hadith to be the second fundamental source in all legal rulings.
The Quran principally deals with basics. It is the hadith that gives the details and necessary explanations of the Quranic injunctions. For instance, the Quran says: ‘Regularly say your prayers.’ But it does not specify how this form of worship has to be performed. Not even the timings and raka’a (units of prayers) are clearly mentioned. We need the traditions to have full information on this.
Even after knowing the details, it may not be possible to follow the divine injunctions contained in the Quran, for not everything can be properly understood by words alone. Therefore God’s Prophet demonstrated before the faithful how the practice of worship was to be performed. He said to the believers: ‘Look at me, see how I worship, and follow me.’
Thus the Prophet, besides teaching the believers about the divine commandments in a theoretical way, also put these teachings into practice in all matters pertaining to religion. He himself practiced the divine injunctions scrupulously. His practice was not a private matter; it had the status of a detailed interpretation and application of the Quran. Once a companion asked the Prophet’s wife Aisha about the character of the Prophet. Aisha replied: ‘He was an embodiment of the Quran.’
The Quran repeatedly reminds us of the importance of hadith, enjoining us to strictly follow the Prophet:
‘…Obey God and obey the messenger…’ (4:58)
‘Whatever the messenger gives you, take it and whatever he forbids, abstain from it…’ (59:7)
‘And, truly, in the messenger of God you have a good example for him who looks to God and the Last Day and remembers God always.’ (33:21)
The Quran thus provides the fundamentals of religion. It is the hadith, which furnishes us with the necessary details and explanations. It is as if the Quran was the text and the hadith its commentary: the Quran being the theory and the hadith being the practice. Thus the Quran and hadith cannot be separated from one another. They are complementary to each other. Both are equally essential for the establishment of religion.