Hadiths are mostly hearsay evidence of what Muhammad said and did, including his silent approval of actions taken in his presence (by way of lack of objection), as in the following where laughter ensued:
... Umar then came forward, and when he had asked and had been granted permission he found the Prophet sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He told that he decided to say something which would make the Prophet laugh, so he said, "Messenger of God, I wish you had seen the daughter of Kharija when she asked me for extra money and I got up and slapped her on the neck."
God's messenger laughed and said, "They are around me as you see asking for extra money."
Abu Bakr then got up, went to Aisha and slapped her on the neck, and Umar did the same to Hafsa ...
Sahih Muslim 9.3506
Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr, and Hafsa the daughter of Umar. Abu Bakr would succeed the Prophet. His short rein as the first caliph would be followed by the caliphate of Umar.
Hadiths are the holiest scriptures in Islam after the Koran and are an integral part of Islamic law. For example, in Revelation 4:34 the Koran grants a husband the right to beat his wife — "And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them." — but it is a saying of Muhammad which pretty much guarantees the wife-beater immunity from prosecution.
Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.
Abu Dawud 11.2142
Does it matter that Muhammad said she should not be beaten about the head?
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "If somebody fights (or beats somebody) then he should avoid the face."
Most hadiths were collected approximately 200 years after Muhammad's passing by men who travelled the land seeking people, who may have known of people who knew of people who were contemporaries of Muhammad, who could pass down to future generations what they remembered of what he said and did, or did not do.
The task of collecting and classifying the hadiths was mostly completed by the end of the 9th century. A fatwa was then issued declaring that all the knowledge about the nature of existence and whatever information humanity needed to know to conduct its affairs as God intended was in the Koran and the sanctioned collections of sayings and actions of Muhammad to which no further hadiths could be added.
The Pseudo-Science of Hadith Authentication
Sunni Islam considers the hadiths collected by six men — al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim, At-Tirmidi, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud and An-Nisa’i — as the “six canonical collections.” Al-Bukhari's (d. 870) collection of 7,275 hadiths is considered the most authoritative, and along with Imam Muslim’s (d. 875), is considered to be authentic (sahih) by Sunnis.
Shiites consider the recollections of the Companions of the Prophet suspect because they voted Abu Bakr, a good friend of Muhammad to whom he had given his nine-year-old daughter Aisha in marriage, his successor instead of Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Shiites have developed their own books of hadiths which are largely based on what members of the House of the Prophet reported: Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, his son-in-law Ali, and his grandsons Hasan and Husayn.
Bukhari’s hadiths are accepted as authentic without question in part because he is said to have collected over 600,000 but kept only approximately one percent as valid. Therefore, his scholarship in weeding out nonsense, erroneous recollections and outright lies is assumed to be beyond reproach.
In deciding that Bukhari's collection of hadiths was of unimpeachable quality, another assumption was made: that none of it contradicted the Koran. What to make of hadiths, such as the following, which appear to do just that?
Narrated Abu Dhar:
The Prophet asked me at sunset, "Do you know where the sun goes [at the time of sunset]?"
I replied, "Allah and His Apostle know better."
He said, ‘It goes till it prostrates itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then [a time will come when] it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west.
And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: 'And the sun runs its fixed course for a term [decreed]. That is The Decree of [Allah] The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing.’"
The Koran is unequivocal: the sun disappears in a sea of mud on which a flat earth appears to float and re-emerges the next morning on the other side.
18:86 Then, when he (Alexander the Great) reached the setting-place of the sun, he found that it sets in a spring of black mud and found, by it, a people. We said: “O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish them or show them kindness.”
This is where one must depend on an Islamic scholar to reconcile, for the untrained mind, the apparent contradiction, and to explain the ostensible nonsense.
The process by which the strength or weakness of a hadith is assessed is considered the Science of Hadith. The process, which involves the weighing of hearsay evidence to establish a level of credibility for the transmitters, has little in common with the type of empirical proof required in the physical sciences. What Islam considers a scientific method is really a methodology that mainly examines provenance to establish the validity of a statement made by Muhammad.
With the possible exception of a Mutawatir hadith (see explanation that follows), one of the narrators, of a reputable chain of narrators, had to have heard or seen Muhammad in action. An example of a hadith received by way of Abu Al Nauman, who said he heard it from Said ibn Zayd, who said he heard it from Ali ibn Zayd, who said he heard it from Jabir ibn Abdullah, is that Muhammad said: “Whoever has three daughters, cares and provides for them, and shows them mercy, will enter Paradise.”
A Mutawatir hadith is a saying or story remembered by a sufficient number of people to be considered sahih, i.e., authentic, the rationale being that a large number of people reporting the same thing could not be "expected to agree upon a lie." An example is the story told by Muhammad about the coming of the Mahdi, the "prophesied redeemer of Islam."
The Mahdi, a man named Muhammad b. `Abdullah and a descendant of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) through Fatimah [his daughter], who will be the Leader (Imam, Khalifah) of the Muslims, rule for seven years and fill the world with justice and equity after it had been filled with tyranny and oppression. He will also fight the Dajjal along with Jesus son of Mary ...
The Concept of the Mahdi among the Ahl al-Sunnah (Sunnis) [has the support of] 69 later scholars who wrote in support of the concept, compared to 8 scholars who rejected the idea. The hadith prophesying the Dajjal (False Christ), a one-eyed man who will have miraculous powers and will be followed by the Jews, and the return of Jesus Christ son of Mary (peace be upon them), who will descend in Damascus and pray behind the Mahdi, kill the Dajjal at the gate of Lod in Palestine, break the Cross, kill the Pig, marry and have children and live for forty years before dying a natural death, are Mutawatir in meaning.
The Mahdi in a hadith:
Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The Mahdi will be of my stock, and will have a broad forehead a prominent nose. He will fill the earth will equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny, and he will rule for seven years."
Abu Dawud 36.4272
An authentic or good, i.e., hasan, hadith is a legal precedent even if the source narrator is unsure of where and when he heard it. Was it at the festival of ul Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, or ul Ad-ha, which commemorates the end of the Hajj?
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
On Id ul fitr or Id ul Adha Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out to the Musalla. After finishing the prayer, he delivered the sermon and ordered the people to give alms. He said, "O people! Give alms." Then he went towards the women and said. "O women! Give alms, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were you (women)."
The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the reason for it?"
"He replied, "O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray."
Then he left. And when he reached his house, Zainab, the wife of Ibn Masud, came and asked permission to enter.
It was said, "O Allah's Apostle! It is Zainab."
He asked, 'Which Zainab?"
The reply was that she was the wife of Ibn Mas'ub.
He said, "Yes, allow her to enter."
And she was admitted. Then she said, "O Prophet of Allah! Today you ordered people to give alms and I had an ornament and intended to give it as alms, but Ibn Masud said that he and his children deserved it more than anybody else."
The Prophet replied, "Ibn Masud had spoken the truth. Your husband and your children had more right to it than anybody else."
A weak, i.e., da’if, hadith is one where there is a break in the chain of transmission and/or the integrity of the narrator(s) is suspect, or simply not enough people remember hearing about it. A weak hadith can still be considered a legal precedent depending on the circumstances and the school of Islamic law.
Where the Companions of the Prophet are concerned, if the chain of narrators through the pseudo-science of hadith authentication is judged to be reliable, then the scholarship ends with the first person to claim to have heard it from a close friend of Muhammad. The assumption is that whomever Muhammad chose as a confidant must have been trustworthy. To question what the Companions claim to have witnessed Muhammad saying or preaching is to question the very validity of a legal system based on immutable precedents derived from hearsay evidence and assumptions about what was said and done two hundred years earlier.
It is not always clear, to the layperson, what precedents can be found in many convoluted hadiths. For example:
Narrated Abu Humaid As-Sa'idi:
We took part in the holy battle of Tabuk in the company of the Prophet and when we arrived at the Wadi-al-Qura, there was a woman in her garden.
The Prophet asked his companions to estimate the amount of the fruits in the garden, and Allah's Apostle estimated it at ten Awsuq (One Wasaq = 60 Sa's) and 1 Sa'= 3 kg. approximately).
The Prophet said to that lady, "Check what your garden will yield."
When we reached Tabuk, the Prophet said, "There will be a strong wind tonight and so no one should stand and whoever has a camel, should fasten it." So we fastened our camels.
A strong wind blew at night and a man stood up and he was blown away to a mountain called Taiy,
The King of Aila sent a white mule and a sheet for wearing to the Prophet as a present, and wrote to the Prophet that his people would stay in their place (and will pay Jizya taxation.)
When the Prophet reached Wadi-al-Qura he asked that woman how much her garden had yielded. She said, "Ten Awsuq," and that was what Allah's Apostle had estimated.
Then the Prophet said, "I want to reach Medina quickly, and whoever among you wants to accompany me, should hurry up."
The sub-narrator Ibn Bakkar said something which meant: When the Prophet (p.b.u.h) saw Medina he said, "This is Taba." And when he saw the mountain of Uhud, he said, "This mountain loves us and we love it. Shall I tell you of the best amongst the Ansar (i.e. helpers, people of Medina who assisted the Muslims who fled Mecca)?"
They replied in the affirmative.
He said, "The family of Bani-n-Najjar, and then the family of Bani Sa'ida or Bani Al-Harith bin Al-Khazraj. (The above-mentioned are the best) but there is goodness in all the families of Ansar (Helpers, people of Medina who assisted the Muslims who fled Mecca)."
You could not call yourself a Prophet if you did not make prophecies. Most of what Muhammad had to say about the future had to do with the portents of the End Times and what would take place on Judgement Day, alongside a scattering of predictions of a more personal nature. Like most prophecies that are said to have come to pass, a flexible interpretation by those who believe is a prerequisite to their validation. Example:
Some of the wives of the Prophet asked him, "Who amongst us will be the first to follow you (i.e. die after you)?"
He said, "Whoever has the longest hand."
So they started measuring their hands with a stick and Sauda's hand turned out to be the longest.
(When Zainab bint Jahsh died first of all in the caliphate of 'Umar), we came to know that the long hand was a symbol of practicing charity, so she was the first to follow the Prophet and she used to love to practice charity. (Sauda died later in the caliphate of Muawiya).
Crime and Punishment
The Koran often defines the crime and the punishment with the sayings of Muhammad filling in the details. For example, Allah said in Revelation 17:33, “Whoever is killed unjustly, We have given his heir the power [to demand satisfaction]; but let him not exceed the limit in slaying, for he will be the victor.”
Satisfaction does not have to be attained through a murder for a murder if the family of the deceased is willing to accept monetary compensation for the loss of a loved one, which Muhammad set at a maximum of 100 camels.
And intentional murder shall be punished according to talion law (Law of Retaliation); where the murderess intention is not clear and the victim is killed using a club or a stone it will cost the perpetrator one hundred camels as blood money. Whoever demands more is a man from the time of ignorance.
From a translation of the Prophet’s last sermon by Islamic scholar and author Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah’s [1908-2002]
5:38 As for the thieves, whether male or female, cut off their hands in punishment for what they did, as an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty and Wise.
It is Muhammad who established a low threshold at which Allah’s horrific punishment for stealing is to be applied.
The Prophet said, "The hand should be cut off for stealing something that is worth a quarter of a Dinar or more."
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah curses the thief who steals an egg (or a helmet) for which his hand is to be cut off, or steals a rope, for which his hand is to be cut off."
Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:
The Prophet cut off the hand of a thief for stealing a shield that was worth three Dirhams.
Muhammad as an example of swift prejudicial justice:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
A girl wearing ornaments, went out at Medina. Somebody struck her with a stone. She was brought to the Prophet while she was still alive.
Allah's Apostle asked her, "Did such-and-such a person strike you?"
She raised her head, denying that.
He asked her a second time, saying, "Did so-and-so strike you?"
She raised her head, denying that.
He said for the third time, "Did so-and-so strike you?"
She lowered her head, agreeing.
Allah's Apostle then sent for the killer and killed him between two stones.
In another account of the same incident it is unclear who questions the girl until she tells whoever what they want to hear; that it was a Jew who is then brought to Muhammad who then questions him until he confesses.
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
A Jew crushed the head of a girl between two stones, and the girl was asked, "Who has done that to you, so-and-so or so and so?" (Some names were mentioned for her) till the name of that Jew was mentioned (whereupon she agreed).
The Jew was brought to the Prophet and the Prophet kept on questioning him till he confessed, whereupon his head was crushed with stones.
Allah said "kill them wherever you find them", Revelation 2:191. An uncomfortable truth about hadiths is the normalcy they bring to "killing them wherever you find them."
Narrated Jarir bin 'Abdullah:
Allah's Apostle has never refused to admit me since I embraced Islam, and whenever he saw me, he would smile.
(In another narration) Jarir bin 'Abdullah narrated: There was a house called Dhul-Khalasa in the Pre-Islamic Period and it was also called Al-Ka'ba Al-Yamaniya or Al-Ka'ba Ash-Shamiya.
Allah's Apostle said to me, "Will you relieve me from Dhul-Khalasa?"
So I left for it with 150 cavalrymen from the tribe of Ahmas and then we destroyed it and killed whoever we found there. Then we came to the Prophet and informed him about it. He invoked good upon us and upon the tribe of Ahmas.
Narrated 'Abdur-Rahman bin 'Auf:
I got an agreement written between me and Umaiya bin Khalaf that Umaiya would look after my property (or family) in Mecca and I would look after his in Medina…
On the day (of the battle) of Badr, when all the people went to sleep, I went up the hill to protect him. Bilal saw him (i.e. Umaiya) and went to a gathering of Ansar (Muslims of Medina) and said, "(Here is) Umaiya bin Khalaf! Woe to me if he escapes!"
So, a group of Ansar went out with Bilal to follow us ('Abdur-Rahman and Umaiya). Being afraid that they would catch us, I left Umaiya's son for them to keep them busy but the Ansar killed the son and insisted on following us.
Umaiya was a fat man, and when they approached us, I told him to kneel down, and he knelt, and I laid myself on him to protect him, but the Ansar killed him by passing their swords underneath me …
1,001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet, Boreal Books, 2020