"I wrote this article nearly a decade ago. Though my research in Islamic theology has remarkably expanded in the past decade, I still hold this article dear to me. Something I wrote with great passion and zeal."
-Maasid Siddiq Ganai
The young boy insisted, “I want to write more Aḥādīth”. He had just written forty Aḥādīth which he listened from his teacher, Az-Zuhrī (رحمه الله). It was the day of Eīd and that didn’t stop
this lad from coming to the home of his teacher in order to seek knowledge. But forty Aḥādīth were more than sufficient for one day and so Imām Az-Zuhrī (رحمه الله) said to him, “go home, memorize these first and then we shall proceed”, the boy’s reply was surprising, “I have already memorized them”.
This young boy grew up to be called as the scholar of Ḥijāz and the Imām of Dārul Hijrah, He was Abū ‘Abdillah Mālik Ibn Anas Al-Aṣbahī. Born in 93 H in Madinah, Malik died there as well in the year 179 H. The Imām and Muḥaddith about whom Ash-Shāfi'ī (رحمه الله) said that,
“Had it not been for Mālik and Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyaynah, the knowledge of Ḥijāz would had disappeared”.
Born in a well-off family Malik (رحمه الله) did not need to work for a living. He was highly attracted to the study of Fiqh and ended up giving his entire life studying Fiqh.
He gained knowledge from Rabī’ah, from many of the great jurists among the Tābi'ūn, and so extensive was his study under the instruction of Az-Zuhrī, that he is considered to be one of his most famous students. He also heard much from Nāfi’, the free slave of Ibn ‘Umar. Those narrations that he related from Nāfi’ became well known, and according to the convention among some of the scholars of Ḥadīth, that chain is called the golden chain: Mālik from Nāfi’ from Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه)”[i].
Mālik grew up in a household which was engaged in the science of Traditions and Ḥadīth. His family was interested in the knowledge of the reports and traditions of the Companions and their fatāwá. Mālik was originally known as 'the brother of An-Naḍr', a brother of his who was esteemed for his knowledge. Then his own desire to seek knowledge grew to such an extent that people began to say, 'An-Naḍr, the brother of Malik.'[ii]
Imām Mālik (رحمه الله) held the Ḥadīth of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in such reverence that he never narrated, taught any Ḥadīth or given a fatwá without being in a state of ritual purity. Ismā'īl Ibn Abi Uways said; "I asked my uncle, Mālik, about something. He had me sit, made ablution, then said, 'Lā Ḥawla Walā Quwata Illā Billāh." He did not give any fatwá without saying it first."
Mālik would view fatwá as an important action that can have far reaching consequences. He, thus, used to be extremely careful about giving it to the extent that if he was not sure about a matter, he would not dare to talk. Al-Haytham said, "I once was with Mālik when he was asked more than forty questions and I heard him reply, 'I do not know,' to thirty two of them." Yet, he was the man about whom Ash-Shāfi'ī said,
"When scholars are mentioned, Malik is like a star among them."
Mālik said that he did not sit to give fatwá, until seventy scholars of the Madinah first witnessed to his competence in doing so.
His fame spread and scholars from different lands travelled to meet him and learn from him. He established a Ḥadīth gathering in the Prophet’s Mosque. He would conduct the sessions with dignity and decorum, wearing perfume and his best garment, and he would not raise his voice, in veneration for the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم).[iii]
When the Caliph Al-Manṣūr performed Ḥaj, he requested Mālik to write a comprehensive book of knowledge and thus Mālik came up with his collection of Aḥādīth, which he called Al-Muwaṭṭa' (The Approved). Mālik said,
"I showed my book to seventy scholars of Madinah, and every single one of them approved of it, so I named it 'The Approved'."
Later on Caliph Harūn Ar-Rashīd visited him during one of the many Ḥaj journeys he made; he heard Al-Muwaṭṭa', desired to hang up the pages of the book on the Ka’bah and to force people to apply it. Mālik opposed saying, “O leader of the believers, do not do so, for indeed the companions of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) differed in matters of jurisprudence; they became dispersed throughout the lands, and each one of them was in the right (meaning that each one of them ruled according to the proofs he had and according to the level of his understanding).” Then Ar-Rashīd desisted from carrying out his plans.[iv] This incident alone speaks volumes about the piety and righteousness of this noble Imām. By letting the Caliph force the people accept his rulings, he could have very well made his school of thought, the school of the whole Islamic nation. But he was above it all.
He would never even hesitate to change his rulings, even if he had uttered them in public, if proof to the contrary came to him from a reliable source. During the forty years in which he complied his collection Al-Muwaṭṭa', he would frequently make additions and subtractions in it and that is why today we have many versions of this book. Nevertheless, some scholars regard Al-Muwaṭṭa' in status above Saheeh Bukhari and Saheeh Muslim. “Their preference is based on Imam Malik’s status as a scholar and on his efforts in seeking out authentic narrations, not to mention the forty years he spent in authoring the book”.[v]
For Imām Mālik (رحمه الله) being flogged in public was better than giving a ruling which would contradict the statement of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم). And to this he testified with his flesh and blood when the governor of Madinah demanded and forced people to take the oath of allegiance to Caliph Al-Manṣūr, Imām Mālik (رحمه الله) issued a fatwa that such an oath was not binding because it was given under coercion. And for this the noble Imām was tied and beaten to such a degree that he couldn’t place his arms on his chest during his prayers.
Like all other virtuous Imāms, Imām Mālik (رحمه الله) also emphasized the fact that he was a human being and thus prone to error. He clarified that the only rulings which are in conformity to Qur'ān and Sunnah should be used. Ibn ‘Abdul Barr reported reported that Mālik once said,
“verily I am only a man, I err and am at times correct; so thoroughly investigate my opinions, then take whatever agrees with the Book and the Sunnah, and reject whatever contradicts them.”[vi]
Abandoning the human urge of self-praise and blind imitation, Imām Mālik (رحمه الله) made clear it to those around him and for the people yet to come that the Qur'ān and Sunnah is supreme authority in all matters and no opinion should be given precedence over them. It is surprising that all great scholars of Islam have emphasized this fact and yet this is the thing which is overlooked by most people. The scholar has to check and examine the proofs where as a lay-man has to follow the scholar. These statements on one hand speak volumes about the sincerity and piety of the scholars of Islam and on the other, serves the purpose of highlighting this key aspect of Islam.
The lives of scholars like Imām Mālik (رحمه الله has to be brought forward, studied and related to our young generation. In this age of disorder where we take fake people as our idols, it is of dire importance that light is illuminated on the real heroes. Those who revolutionized the world with their works and contributions while leaving the legacy of humility and selflessness behind. May Allāh (عز وجل) guide us the way he guides His pious slaves. Amīn
[i] The Sunnah and its role in Islamic Legislation, Dr Mustafa as-Sibaee, p 523
[ii] Imam Malik: His Life and Teaching by Muhammad Abu Zahra
[iii]The Sunnah and its role in Islamic Legislation, Dr Mustafa as-Sibaee, p 523-524
[iv] Ibid p 526, this incident is related by Abū Na’īm in Al-Ḥilyah
[v] Ibid p 527
[vi] Ibn 'Abdul-Barr, Jāmi' Bayān Al-Ilm, vol.2, p32.