Often ignored by Western investigators of Islam, perhaps because of its lesser accessibility, the hadith literature provides an important key to the puzzling lack of dissonance between the worldviews of official and popular Islam. After Muhammad, new content was given to the accepted form. That such recalling of Muhammad’s words and deeds took place on a massive scale is indicated by al-Bukhari’s activity, seven generations after the Prophet – he examined over 600,000 potential hadith of the Prophet and retained 7,397 as authentic.
The purpose of the hadith (both authentic and unreliable) seems to have been to comment on appropriate action in various political, societal and moral circumstances, to give expression to distinctive theological emphases among different groups of Muslims, and to make clear obscure parts of the Qur’an.
The hadith literature deals explicitly with areas largely untouched by the Qur’an, and expounds quite fully those facets of folk-Islamic belief and practice only vaguely hinted at in the Qur’an. The role of angels at the battles of Badr and Hunayn, and the command of Ishmael, in charge of the Gate of the Watchers at the entrance to heaven, are defined in hadith on Muhammad’s terrestrial and extra-terrestrial activities.
Apart from reinforcing a folk-Islamic cosmology, the hadith also justify many popular practices. They record, for instance, the kind of action considered proper when sickness is diagnosed as the result of the casting of the evil eye. Incantation is the treatment recommended by Muhammad.
The hadith give a rationale to folk-Islamic saviourship. They contain many references to prophets intercession on behalf of the sinful in their communities.
The hadith stand with the Qur’an as authoritative in the eyes of all but the strictest Islamic theologians. That strong inclusiveness helps to reduce any (expressed) dissonance between the alternative views of reality.