Children, whether at home or at school, need to learn that they have rights that need to be respected and everyone else equally has those rights. They need to see consistency and fairness in the way their elders and those in authority treat them. This inculcates in our children a sense of justice and a sense of security.
This was a lesson in childrearing that the great scholar Mālik b. Anas taught more than one caliph.
When the Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd visited Madīnah, he brought his children with him and went to meet Mālik. He said: “Read to us some lessons.”
If the Caliph had expected Mālik to be flattered and show his children preferential treatment, he was gravely mistaken.
Mālik replied: “By Allah, I haven’t read lessons to anyone for many years now. Instead, people read before me what they have.”
Then Hārūn al-Rashīd said: “Have the people leave your assembly so I can read before you.”
Mālik replied: “If the general public is to be denied on account of some special people, then those special people will not benefit.” Then, to avoid an incident, Mālik told Ma`n b. `Īsā to read before the Caliph.
He was not the only Caliph who learned this lesson at Mālik’s hand.
When the Caliph al-Mahdī intended to visit Madinah, he sent ahead a sum of three thousand gold coins with the message: “The Commander of the Faithful wishes you to accompany him to the City of Peace.”
When the Caliph arrived in Madinah later that spring, Mālik told him: “Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Madinah is better for you, if you only knew.’ I have not touched the money that was sent me.”
This was a bold stance to take with the Caliph. Equally bold is where he said: “I swear by Allah, whenever I met with one of those kings, Allah removed from my heart any sense of awe for them before I even reached them.”
When the Caliph al-Mahdī arrived in Madinah, Mālik conducted himself in the same manner.
The Caliph sent his two sons Hārūn and Mūsā, to have Mālik read lessons to them. Mālik did not receive them. When the two boys told the Caliph what happened, he went to speak to Mālik personally.
Mālik said: “Commander of the Faithful, knowledge is given to those who are ready to learn.”
In this case, there was no incident that Mālik needed to defuse. This is because al-Mahdī was a sensible man and knew that Mālik was right.
He said: “Mālik has spoken the truth.” He then turned to his sons and said: “Go to him properly.”
They went forth in a well-behaved manner with their tutor, who said to Mālik: “Read to us.”
Mālik said: “Here in Madinah, the student reads to the scholar in the same way that children read lessons to their tutor. If they make a mistake, he corrects them.”
They went back to al-Mahdī, who then summoned Mālik, whereupon Mālik said to him: “This knowledge has come to us from other men, O Commander of the Faithful. These men were Sa`īd b. al-Musayyib, Abū Salamah, `Urwah, al-Qāsim, Sālim, Khārijah b. Zayd, Sulaymān b. Yasār, Nāfi`, `Abd al-Rahmān b. Hurmuz. After them, there were Abū al-Zinād, Rabī`ah, Yahyā b. Sa`īd, and Ibn Shihāb. All of them, without exception, had their students read to them and not the other way around.”
The Caliph said: “These people are certainly a good example to follow.” He then turned to his sons and said: “You two go to him and read to him.”
They did as their father told them and sat along with the other students and read their lessons to Mālik just like everyone else.
This Caliph was a sensible man who knew the value of religious knowledge and understood what Mālik was doing. By having his sons sit with everyone else, he was teaching them to respect those who possess knowledge and to value what they learn from them.
This is one reason why Mālik always took care to show impeccable manners, exhibit good taste, maintain his appearance, and act in a dignified manner that would have been becoming of a king, all the while remaining humble and tolerant in his dealings with others.