To deal with this topic it is necessary to know the position of the Prophet in Islam (peace be upon him), because the indispensability of Ahadith depends upon the position of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Analyzing the problem we can visualize three possibilities:
1. The duty of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was only to convey the message, and nothing more was required from him.
2. He had not only to convey the message but also to act upon it and to explain it. But all that was for the specified period, and after his death, the Qur’an is sufficient to guide humanity.
3. No doubt he had to convey the divine message, but it was also his duty to act upon it and to explain it to the people. His actions and explanations are a source of guidance forever. His sayings, actions, practices, and explanations are a source of light for every Muslim of every age.
Muslim scholars are of the unanimous view that only the third point is the correct assessment of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) position in Islam. The Qur’an contains dozens of reminders of the important position of the Prophet (peace be upon him). For instance, the Qur’an says:
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad, peace be upon him) you have a good example for him who hopes for (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. (Al-Ahzab 33:21)
According to this verse, every Muslim is bound to have a good example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as an ideal in life. In another verse, he has been made a hakam (judge) for the Muslims by Allah Almighty. No one remains Muslim if he does not accept the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) decisions and judgments as explained in Surah Al-Nisaa‚ (4:65).
The Qur’an is very clear in expressing its view on the position of the Prophet (peace be upon him). According to the Qur’an, the Prophet (peace be upon him) has four capacities, and he must be obeyed in every capacity. He is mu’allim wa murabbi (teacher and educator); he explains the Book; he is a judge; and he is a ruler. In all these capacities, he is an ideal example for the Muslims. I am quoting a few verses of the Qur’an just to give a hint of this topic:
Indeed, Allah conferred a great favor on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger (Muhammad, peace be upon him) from among themselves, reciting unto them His Verses (the Qur’an), and purifying them (from sins by following him), and instructing them (in) the Book (the Qur’an) and Al-Hikma [the wisdom and sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him], while, before that, they had been in manifest error. (Aal Imran 3:164)
O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger (Muhammad, peace be upon him), and those of you (Muslims) who are authority among you. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him), if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (An-Nisaa‚ 4:59)
In all these verses, the Qur’an has explained various aspects of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) personality. One can judge the importance of the Prophet (peace be upon him) from these verses. I am reminded of another important verse of the Qur’an, which is actually a verdict against those who do not believe in Ahadith as an authentic source of law:
And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad, peace be upon him), after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers’ way, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him Hell – what an evil destination! (An-Nisaa‚ 4:115)
The Qur’an, while pressing the Muslims to obey the Prophet (peace be upon him), goes a step further when it announces that the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is above all the limitations of time and space. He is the Last Prophet (peace be upon him) and is a Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) for the whole of humanity for all time to come. Ahadith is nothing but a reflection of the personality of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who is to be obeyed at every cost.
Dr. Hamidullah in his book, Introduction to Islam, explains: “The importance of Ahadith is increased for the Muslim by the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) not only taught but took the opportunity of putting his teachings into practice in all the important affairs of life. He lived for 23 years after his appointment as the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). He endowed his community with a religion, which he scrupulously practiced himself. He founded a state, which he administered as the supreme head, maintaining internal peace and order, heading armies for external defense, judging and deciding the litigations of his subjects, punishing the criminals, and legislating in all walks of life. He married and left a model of family life. Another important fact is that he did not declare himself to be above the ordinary law which he imposed on others. His practice was not mere private conduct, but a detailed interpretation and application of his teachings.