Imam Malik’s Early Years
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.
Born into a well-to-do family, Imam 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. Imam Malik 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 Imam Malik 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 Imam 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, Imam 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 Imam 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.
Imam Malik became the Imam of the Madinah, and one of the most renowned Imams of Islam.
Imam Malik’s Famous Muwatta
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, Imam 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 Imam Malik was arrested, found guilty of defiance, and publicly flogged.
Imam 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.