The issue of the Hadith interests me both on the level of being a Muslim, and on the sociological & historical level. I haven't studied the issue enough to make up my mind about it, but I do know that a lot of questionable practices in Islamic communities are rooted in the Hadith, often with no support from the Qur'an. Another point is that often I come across Hadith that contradict the general spirit and message of the Qur'an. An example of these are the sexist Hadith one finds pretty often. It seems strange to me that the Qur'an gives women so many rights, and then there are Hadith that take them away; or that the Qur'an affirms that women are conscious beings, and then there are Hadith that treat us like objects.
I guess my main question is this: what role are Hadith supposed to play in the life of a Muslim? I definitely don't think they should be on the same level at the Qur'an, since after all, they were transmitted by human beings. I also don't think we should reject all Hadith, especially since we wouldn't know how to pray if it weren't for Hadith.
But is it okay to just focus on Hadith we like, and ignore ones we don't? How do we know if they are authentic? I also have a problem with the whole authenticating thing, because: the Hadith were compiled more than 200 years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh); they were transmitted by human beings, who are bound to make mistakes; who decided whether a transmitter was "pious, honest, etc"? Furthermore, most of the transmitters and collectors of Hadith were men, who lived in a very patriarchal society (so patriarchal that God had to constantly remind them of how to treat women). So how do we know that they didn't pick and choose certain Hadith?
Another point is that the Prophet (pbuh) is said to have told people not to record his sayings (ironically we know this from a Hadith), and all four caliphs that came after him were against Hadith being recorded or collected. A final point is that the Qur'an says that it is complete. What does this mean in terms of how we see Hadith and the role they play in our lives?
I recently read two pieces on Hadith that I found interesting. One is an article called "Does the Hadith have a solid historical basis?" by Abdur Rab. The other is an excerpt from "Islam" by Fazlur Rahman, who is an amazing scholar. He writes:
"Unless the problem of the Hadith is critically, historically and constructively treated, there seems little prospect of distinguishing the essential from the purely historical."
"What is necessary is to know the genesis and evolution of a given Hadith in order to reveal what function it did or was supposed to perform and whether Islamic needs do still demand such function or not."
I agree more with Rahman than Abdur Rab. I think we need to be very critical when approaching Hadith, and we also need to realize that most Hadith responded to the social context of that period, and may not make sense today.
I posted this about an hour ago, then had second thoughts and took it down, but then realized that I shouldn't censor myself. I really want to hear what everyone thinks, and if anyone has any advice.
Ooo and I also wrote a post below today, so don't forget to read that one too :D