posted on Jun, 13 2016 @ 02:12 PM
A lot of muslims will take the easy route and say "Quran only". I cannot say that is WRONG, per se, but I don't believe it is the rightest way
I'll try to be short so as to assist in reading, but I'll also try to be comprehensive.
So during the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet would make a certain statement or perform a certain action, or even be notable in his inaction
to something. His followers followed his example in their day to day life and behaviour.
After Muhammad died, there was an oral tradition of remembering these (in a similar way to the oral tradition of the Quran). At some point, much after
the death of Muhammad, people got the idea to collect and compile all these narrations. Since the original people who had remembered these had all
died, the compilers went to their followers and their followers followers, and asked them.
So you have the "chain" at the start of the hadith (without which many scholars refuse to accept it as authentic) with something like "I heard Abu
Huraira narrate that the Prophet said..." or even to the level of "I heard one of the Followers say that Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet
did...". Now you might consider this a very suspicious and dangerous game of chinese whisperers, and so did the compilers, so they gave hadith a good
rating if there were multiple different sources with multiple different chains that said the same hadith. In more comprehensive hadith collections,
they have the same hadith repeated over and over with all the different chains or narrators, or sometimes even with after completing the text of one
hadith, having a line at the end saying something like "Aaisha added that the Prophet also said...".
So you have hadith of different levels of authenticity, depending on whether there is a link missing in the chain (one link wasn't living in the same
time as the following link, so they couldn't have heard it from them, for example), whether a link in the chain was known for being part in some
fabricated hadith, whether it contradicted another hadith that was better established, how many different chains of narrators there are, whether it
contradicts the Quran, etc. Using this approximate methodology, there are 2 major collections of Hadith followed by Sunni muslims (well, 6, but the
other 4 aren't at the level of the first two), and 4 major collections followed by the Shi'ites. Most of these books contain repeated hadith, although
some have hadith that are exclusive to specific books.
Whew, now that we're done with that, I should come to madhabs. Now a 'madhab' is basically a "school of thought" or school of interpretation. In the
modern world, there are 4 different "official" Sunni madhabs and 2 Shi'a madhabs (there are outliers like the wahabis and the Quran-only groups of
course. Sufis do not generally follow separate madhabs, they are usually part of one of the Sunni or Shia ones). In historical times, there were
numerous different madhabs. While an individual muslim may not necessarily adhere to any specific madhab, geographic distribution, tradition, what
teachers they have and what their family follows usually establishes some madhab of theirs.
The reason I bring up madhab is because each of these schools of thought interpret things differently. They all approximately accept the same Quran
and the same Hadith, but interpret them differently. It is usually stuff along the lines of how to stand while praying, whether eating shrimp is
allowed, and which specific hadith they use to justify their opinions. For example, one school of thought may say that X narrator is not so
trustworthy as Y, so they accept hadith with Y but not with X. Another may say that X hadith contradicts Y, but through logical deduction, X applies
to this and this, while Y applies to that.
Madhabs can be considered as shorthand sets of interpretations. So instead of dedicating their life to investigating the hadith and hadith
scholarship, many muslims simply subscribe to one of the madhabs. I guess the idea is that instead of investigating the Quran and Hadith and what they
mean and combining that information to come up with a unified understanding, for most people it is easier to just accept a pre-existing body of work
that has done that already.
So when someone (usually a non-muslim trying to denigrate Islam) tells you "Shariah law says this!" or "All muslims must do that!", they're almost
always talking nonsense, because there is no monolithic sharia law, only different interpretations.
Personally, I am not really a follower of any single madhab, but I regularly read up on their opinions when I pick up some new dimension of Islamic
jurisprudence. Likewise, I am not a hadith scholar, so I have to rely on their judgements. Following that, my understanding is that while hadith are
important, their importance does not trump the Quran, so if something is found conflicting, go with the Quran. Also, my approach to hadith is
different than my approach to the Quran. With Hadith, you have to have a well established understanding of the background of each narration, in what
context it was said, who said it, and how (or even if) it is applicable or it an be interpreted for today.
For example, there is a hadith that literally has just the Prophet saying "Vinegar is a good condiment". Now one could go the literal way and assume
that vinegar is a morally superior condiment. Or they could understand that the Prophet had sat down to eat, was enjoying food, and stated his
appreciation for vinegar. Or you could interpret the context and reach the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with vinegar (some muslim groups
today have objections to non-synthetic vinegar because it is made from alcohol), there is nothing wrong with dinner conversation (some people think it
is better to eat in silence), or that everything Muhammad ever said wasn't an edict from God (some people go to the extreme and think the instruction
to follow the Prophet's example extends to personal preferences and clothing and language spoken).
Sorry for the long post. Hope it was helpful!