After memorising the Qur'an he devoted himself to memorising hadith, which was much encouraged in the environment of Madina. Malik went to the assemblies of scholars to write down what they taught and study it. He told his mother that he wanted to go and study, and she dressed him in his best clothes and turban and then said, "Go and write now." She said, "Go to Rabi'a and learn his knowledge before learning his adab."
Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn `Amr, al-Imam, Abu `Abd Allah al-Humyari al-Asbahi al-Madani (93-179), the Shaykh of Islam, Proof of the Community, Imam of the Abode of Emigration, and Knowledgeable Scholar of Madina predicted by the Prophet. The second of the four major mujtahid imams, whose school filled North Africa, al-Andalus, much of Egypt, and some of al-Sham, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, and Khurasan. He is the author of al-Muwatta’ ("The Approved"), formed of the sound narrations of the Prophet from the people of the Hijaz together with the sayings of the Companions, the Followers, and those after them. It was hailed by al-Shafi`i as the soundest book on earth after the Qur’an, nearest book on earth to the Qur’an, most correct book on earth after the Qur’an, and most beneficial book on earth after the Qur’an according to four separate narrations. Malik said: "I showed my book to seventy jurists of Madina, and every single one of them approved me for it (kulluhum wâta’ani `alayh), so I named it ‘The Approved’." Imam al-Bukhari said that the soundest of all chains of transmission was "Malik, from Nafi`, from Ibn `Umar." The scholars of hadith call it the Golden Chain, and there are eighty narrations with this chain in the Muwatta’.
Abu Abdullah, Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Amer al-Asbahee was born in Madinah in the year 93 A.H. (714 CE). His ancestral home was in Yemen, but his grandfather settled in Madinah after embracing Islam.
The Prophet said: "Very soon will people beat the flanks of camels in search of knowledge, and they shall find no-one more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable scholar of Madina." Al-Tirmidhi, al-Qadi `Iyad, Dhahabi and others relate from Sufyan ibn `Uyayna, `Abd al-Razzaq, Ibn Mahdi, Ibn Ma`in, Dhu’ayb ibn `Imama, Ibn al-Madini, and others that they considered that scholar to be Malik ibn Anas. It is also related from Ibn `Uyayna that he later considered it to be `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-`Umari. Al-Dhahabi said of the latter: "He possessed knowledge and good fiqh, spoke the truth fearlessly, ordered good, and remained aloof from society. He used to press Malik in private to renounce the world and seclude himself."
He was one of the most highly respected scholars of fiqh in Sunni Islam. Imam Shafi, who was one of Malik's students for nine years and a scholarly giant in his own right, stated, "when scholars are mentioned, Malik is like the star among them."
Abu Mus`ab said: "Malik did not pray in congregation [in the Prophet’s mosque] for twenty-five years. He was asked: ‘What is preventing you?’ He said: ‘Lest I see something reprehensible and be obligated to change it.’" Another narration from Abu Mus`ab states: "After Malik left the [Prophet’s] mosque he used to pray in his house with a congregation that followed him, and he prayed the Jum`a prayer alone in his house." Ibn Sa`d narrates from Muhammad ibn `Umar: "Malik used to come to the Mosque and pray the prayers and the Jum`a, as well as the funeral prayers. He used to visit the sick and sit in the Mosque where his companions would came and saw him. Then he quit sitting there, instead he would pray and leave, and he quit attending the funeral prayers. Then he quit everything, neither attending the prayers nor the Jum`a in the mosque. Nor would he visit anyone who was sick or other than that. The people bore with it, for they were extremely fond of him and respected him too much. This lasted until he died. If asked about it, he said: ‘Not everyone can mention his excuse.’
Born into a well-to-do family, Malik did not need to work for a living. He was highly attracted to the study of Islam, and ended up devoting his entire life to the study of Fiqh. He received his education in what was the most important seat of Islamic learning, Madinah, and lived where the immediate descendants and the followers of the companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, were living.
It is said that he sought out over three hundred Tabi’een or those who saw and followed the companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wasallam. Imam Malik held the hadeeth of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, in such reverence that he never narrated, taught any hadeeth or gave a fatwa without being in a state of ritual purity, Ghusl. Ismael ibn abi Uwaiss said, “I asked my uncle Malik – about something. He had me sit, made ablution, then said, ‘Laa hawla wala quwata illa billah.’ He did not give any fatwa without saying it first.”
Also, Malik saw fatwa as a sensitive, precise, and important action that can have far reaching results, and 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 Malik 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-Shafi’ee said, ‘When scholars are mentioned, Malik is like the star among them.’ Malik said that he did not sit to give fatwa, before seventy of the Madinah scholars first witnessed to his competence in doing so.
Malik became the Imam of the Madinah, and one of the most renowned Imams of Islam.
Imam Malik continued to serve the noble cause of education for 62 years. He died on 11th Rabi’ul Awwal 179 A.H, at the age of 86.
Teaching, which was looked upon as the noblest profession, was adopted by some of the greatest intellectuals that the world has ever produced including Aristotle and Plato, Ghazzali and Ibn Khaldun, Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik. The high reputation of Imam Malik as a scholar and teacher attracted people from the four corners of the Islamic Empire. Perhaps no other teacher ever produced such talented scholars who ascended the pinnacle of glory in different walks of life. Among the persons who benefited from his learning were Caliphs like Mansur, Medhi, Harun and Mamun; jurist like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Sufian Suri and Qazi Muhammad Yusuf; scholars like Ibn Shahab Zahri and Yahya bin Saeed Ansari; mystics like Ibrahim bin Adham, Zunnun Misri and Muhammad bin Fazil bin Abbas. According to reliable historical sources, the number of his students who acquired great name in life was more than 1,300. His classes were characterised by their serenity, discipline and by a high sense of respect exhibited by the students for their learned teacher. He never tolerated any indiscipline when he lectured on the Traditions of the Prophet (sws). Once, the Abbaside Caliph, Mansur who was discussing certain traditions with the Imam spoke a bit loudly. The Imam rebuked him by saying, ‘Don’t talk stridently when the Traditions of the Prophet (sws) are under discussion.’ He refused to discourse on the Traditions in the camp of the Caliph.
The Imam behind him more than a dozen works including his world famous Muwatta. His treatises deal with religious and ethical matters and Islamic jurisprudence. According to Shah Waliullah Muwatta, is a collection of the most authentic Traditions of the Prophet (sws) selected by Imam Malik after thorough investigation of their sources. The Imam compiled his book after a thorough verification and sifting of the Traditionals and included only those which he considered correct. The reliability of the reports and reporters was his chief consideration and he took pains to ensure that no incorrect report should find place in his book. Formerly, Muwatta included ten thousand Traditions, but in the revised edition, the Imam reduced the number of 1,720 only. This book has been translated into several languages and has sixteen different editions.
As a traditionals he occupies a unique place in the galaxy of talented scholars like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim who are well-known for collecting the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (sws) of Islam. He is said to have always avoided the company of a person who was not highly learned. According of Imam Hanbal, he was the only person to have such a distinction that he never reported a Tradition from a person unless he had fully satisfied himself. He was held in such high esteem by the later scholars that once someone enquired from Imam Hanbal about a certain reporter. He replied that the reporter must be reliable because Imam Malik had reported from him. Imam Malik experienced great hardship in quest for knowledge. Like Imam Bukhari, who had once to live on herbs and roots for three days, he too, had to sell the beams of his house in order to pay his education dues. He used to say that one cannot attain the heights of intellectual glory, unless faced with poverty. Poverty is the real test of man; it awakens in him the hidden energies and enables him to surmount all difficulties.
His contemporaries and later Traditionalists and religious scholars have formed a very high opinion about his intellectual attainments. According to Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi, there is no Traditionalist great than Imam Malik in the world. Imams Ahmad bin Hanbal and Shafi speak very highly of him as a Traditionlist. The learned Imam was also a great jurist; for more than 60 years he gave Fatwas in Medina.
Imam Malik is the connection of the entire Islamic Community to the knowledge of the Sunna as it was preserved by the scholars of the Prophet’s city, al-Madina. This reference-point of his school of jurisprudence is observed time and again in the Muwatta’ with the phrase: "And this is what I have found (or seen) the people of knowledge practicing." He was keenly aware of his mission as both the transmitter and the elucidator of the Sunna. This is characteristic of his students’ praise of him, beginning with al-Shafi`i’s famous sayings: "No-one constitutes as great a favor to me in Allah’s Religion as Malik" and "When the scholars of knowledge are mentioned, Malik is the guiding star." `Abd Allah ibn Wahb said: "Every memorizer of hadith that does not have an Imam in fiqh is misguided (dâll), and if Allah had not rescued us with Malik and al-Layth (ibn Sa`d), I would have been misguided." Abu Mus`ab recounts the following story:
I went in to see Malik ibn Anas. He said to me: "Look under my place of prayer or prayer-mat and see what is there." I looked and found a certain writing. He said: "Read it." It contained the account of a dream which one of his brothers had seen and which concerned him. Malik recited it [from memory]: "I saw the Prophet in my sleep. He was in his mosque and the people were gathered around him, and he said: ‘I have hidden for you under my pulpit (minbar) something good – or: knowledge – and I have ordered Malik to distribute it to the people.’" Then Malik wept, so I got up and left him.
The caliph Abu Ja`far al-Mansur had forbidden Malik to narrate the hadith: "The divorce of the coerced does not take effect" (laysa `ala mustakrahin / li mukrahin talâq). Then a spy came to Malik and asked him about the issue, whereupon Malik narrated the hadith in front of everyone. He was seized and lashed until his shoulder was dislocated and he passed out. When he came to, he said: "He [al-Mansur] is absolved of my lashing." When asked why he had absolved him, Malik replied: "I feared to meet the Prophet after being the cause for the perdition of one of his relatives." Ibrahim ibn Hammad said he saw Malik being carried up and walking away, carrying one of his hands with the other. Then they shaved his face and he was mounted on a camel and paraded. He was ordered to deprecate himself aloud, whereupon he said: "Whoever knows me, knows me; whoever does not know me, my name is Malik ibn Anas, and I say: The divorce of the coerced is null and void!" When news of this reached Ja`far ibn Sulayman (d. 175) the gGovernor of Madina and cousin of al-Mansur, he said: "Bring him down, let him go."
Imam Malik held the hadith of the Prophet in such reverence that he never narrated anything nor gave a fatwa unless in a state of ritual purity. Isma`il ibn Abi Uways said: "I asked my uncle û Malik û about something. He bade me sit, made ablution, sat on the couch, and said: la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah. He did not give a fatwa except he said it first." Al-Haytham said: "I heard Malik being asked forty eight questions, to thirty-two of which he replied: ‘I do not know.’" Abu Mus`ab reported that Malik said: "I did not give fatwas before seventy scholars first witnessed to my competence to do it."
Malik’s ethics, together with the states of awe and emotion which were observed on him by his entourage, were no doubt partly inherited from great shaykhs of his such as Ja`far al-Sadiq, Ibn Hurmuz, and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. He visited his shaykh Ibn Hurmuz (d. 148) every day from morning to night for a period of about eight years and recounts: "I would come to Ibn Hurmuz, whereupon he would order the servant to close the door and let down the curtain, then he would start speaking of the beginning of this Umma, and tears would stream down his beard." The Maliki shaykh Ibn Qunfudh al-Qusantini (d. 810) wrote:
It was the practice of the Pious Predecessors and the Imams of the past that whenever the Prophet was mentioned in their presence they were overwhelmed by reverence, humbleness, stillness, and dignity. Ja`far ibn Muhammad ibn `Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib would turn pale whenever he heard the Prophet mentioned. Imam Malik would not mention a hadith except in a state of ritual purity. `Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr al-Siddiq would turn red and stammer whenever he heard the Prophet mentioned. As for `Amir ibn `Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr ibn al-`Awamm al-Asadi (one of the early Sufis), he would weep until his eyes had no tears left in them. When any hadiths were mentioned in their presence they would lower their voices. Malik said: "The Prophet’s sacredness (hurma) is in death is as his sacredness was in life."
Qutayba said: "When we went to see Malik, he would come out to us adorned, wearing kuhl on his eyes, perfumed, wearing his best clothes, sit at the head of the circle, call for palm-leaf fans, and give each one of us a fan." Muhammad ibn `Umar: "Malik’s circle was a circle of dignity and courtesy. He was a man of majestic countenance and noblity. There was no part for self-display, vain talk, or loud speech in his circle. His reader would read for all, and no-one looked into his own book, nor asked questions, out of awe before Malik and out of respect for him."
When the caliph al-Mahdi sent his sons Harun and Musa to learn from Malik, the latter would not read to them but told them: "The people of Madina read before the scholar just like children read to the teacher, and if they make a mistake, he corrects them." Similarly when Harun al-Rashid with his own two sons requested Malik to read for them, he replied: "I have stopped reading for anybody a long time ago." When Harun requested the people to leave so that he could read freely before Malik, the latter also refused and said: "If the common people are forbidden to attend because of the particulars, the latter will not profit." It is known that Malik’s way in the transmission of hadith, like Ibn al-Musayyib, `Urwa, al-Qasim, Salim, Nafi`, al-Zuhri, and others, was `ard ("reading by the student") and not samâ` ("audition from the shaykh"), although the student states by convention, in both cases: "So-and-so narrated to us."
The caliph Harun al-Rashid said to Malik after hearing his answers to certain questions he put to him: "You are, by Allah! the wisest of people and the most knowledgeable of people." Malik replied: "No, by Allah! O Leader of the Believers." He said: "Yes! But you keep it hidden. By Allah! If I live, I shall put your sayings in writing like the mushafs are put down in writing, and I shall disseminate them to the ends of the world." But Malik refused.
When one of the caliphs manifested his intention to replace the Prophet’s wooden pulpit with a pulpit of silver and jewels Malik said: "I do not consider good the hindrance of the people from access to the Prophet’s relics." (lâ ara an yuhrama al-nâsu athara rasulillah.)
In the Muwatta’: "Shaving the moustache is an innovation." It is elsewhere related that Malik himself was tall, heavyset, imposing of stature, very fair, with white hair and beard but bald, with a huge beard and blue eyes; he "detested and condemned" shaving of the moustache, and he always wore beautiful clothes, especially white.
Narrated by Ibn Abi Zayd: "The turban was worn from the beginning of Islam and it did not cease to be worn until our time. I did not see anyone among the People of Excellence except they wore the turban, such as Yahya ibn Sa`id, Rabi`a, and Ibn Hurmuz. I would see in Rabi`a’s circle more than thirty men wearing turbans and I was one of them; Rabi`a did not put it down until the Pleiades rose and he used to say: ‘I swear that I find it increases intelligence.’ Jibril was seen in the image of (the Companion) Dihya (ibn Khalifa) al-Kalbi wearing a turban with its extremity hanging between his shoulder-blades." Ashhab said: "When Malik wore the turban he passed it under his chin and let its extremity hang behind his back, and he wore musk and other scents."
He is the author of al-Muwatta’ (”The Approved”), formed of the sound narrations from the Prophet together with the sayings of his companions, their followers, and those after them. Malik said, “I showed my book to seventy scholars of Madinah, and every single one of them approved it for me (kulluhum wata-ani alayh), so I named it ‘The Approved’.”
Imam Bukhari said that the soundest of all chains of transmission was “Malik, from Nafi, from Ibn Umar.” The scholars of hadeeth call it the Golden Chain, and there are eighty narrations with this chain in the Muwatta. Malik composed al-Muwatta in the course of forty years, having started with ten thousand narrations until he reduced them to their present number of fewer than 2,000.
Like all scholars of Islam, Malik was famous for his piety and integrity. He courageously stood up, and was prepared to suffer, for his convictions. When the governor of Madinah demanded and forced people to take the oath of allegiance to Khalifah al-Mansour, Imam Malik issued a fatwa that such an oath was not binding because it was given under coercion. He based this opinion of the hadeeth, “The divorce of the coerced does not take effect” (laysa ala mustakrahin talag). This resulted in many people finding courage to express their opposition, but the Imam was arrested, found guilty of defiance, and publicly flogged.
Ibn `Abd al-Barr said that Malik was the first who compiled a book formed exclusively of sound narrations. Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi said: "The Muwatta’ is the first foundation and the core, while al-Bukhari’s book is the second foundation in this respect. Upon these two all the rest have built, such as Muslim and al-Tirmidhi." Shah Wali Allah said something similar and added that it is the principal authority of all four Schools of Law, which stand in relation to it like the commentary stands in relation to the main text. Malik composed it in the course of forty years, having started with ten thousand narrations until he reduced them to their present number of under 2,000.
al-Muwatta’ (”The Approved”),
The first formulation of Islamic Law based on the behaviour of the people of Madinah during the time of the great Companions, Al-Muwatta is the blueprint for a just and radiant society: the earliest, clearest, cleanest record of early Islam. It is divided into 61 books on different subjects, each book containing many ahadith. The numbering system used by Malik is consecutive per book
Malik’s followers and disciples developed a Fiqh school, Madh-hab, based on his Ijtihad which came to be known as the Maliki Madh-hab. This Madh-hab spread in North Africa, al-Andalus, much of Egypt, and some of al-Sham, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, and Khurasan. Today, Malikis are mostly found in North and West Africa, Egypt, Sudan and the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
On Monday 14th of Rabi-ul-Awwal 179 A H., Imaam Malik (R.A) took leave from this world in the city of Madinah and is buried in the famous al-Baqie cemetery.