1. What are the Hadith and how are they connected to the Koran?
The Koran as a text is presumed to be the direct word of God transmitted through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad and thereby to mankind. What the Koran says is not open to negotiation. Because Muslims consider it to be the direct word of God, it has a particular binding quality. However, the Koran does not address every facet of life. For that, Muslims go to the secondary source, which is the Hadith. And the Hadith are reports about what the Prophet did or said or thought or felt, reports, in other words, that help to give Muslims a sense of how the basic guidelines in the Koran were actually applied and lived by the Prophet himself.
The Hadith were compiled a few generations after the Prophets death on the basis of what was remembered by the community and especially people who were connected to him at the time. They were considered canonical. There was a tremendous amount of discussion and of skepticism that surrounded scholars attempts to establish what were legitimate Hadith. A Hadith will begin with a chain of transmissionso and so was told by so and so, who was the wife of the Prophet, that he did this on this occasion. And then it will contain the actual report that could be anything from three sentences to three pages long.
The Hadith are the testimony of individuals who are close to the Prophet, but who have often different recollections of what he might have said or done on any occasion. So what that leaves us with is texts and sources that reflect the accepted authority of women in the Prophets time and a variety of different perspectives on what might have happened in the early Muslim community. That women are acknowledged as authors of canonical religious texts is unique to Islam.
At the time these Hadith were compiled, there was a lot of debate about what was considered acceptable or unacceptable material to put in these collections. Part of the debate revolved around whether or not women could even be considered authorities because by the 800s, Islamic society had expanded into much more patriarchal cultural zones. Fortunately, they hadnt hardened to the point where even the women of the Prophets family were considered unreliable on the basis of their gender. That subsequent generations of women could make the same claims for the same kinds of authority is certainly not the case.
The Hadith are very valuable because they give us snapshots of what life might have really been like. And on the important issue of gender relations, it tells us something about a very different kind of role that Muslim women played in the early Islamic period from what theyre presumed to play today. Where theyre clearly looked at as religious authorities, involved in the politics of the day.