During the last years of Mālik’s life, he retreated from public life, even to the point of refraining from going to the mosque. The reasons why he did so are lost to history. This change of behavior started from the time that Muhammad b. `Abd Allah b. al-Hasan – the great-great grandson of `Alī b. Abī Tālib – rose up against the state. Ever since then, Mālik remained in his home. He did not accept invitations form people or even go out to attend funerals.
Al-Wāqidī describes how this tendency towards seclusion progressed:
At first, Mālik would offer prayers in the mosque, attend the Friday congregation, visit the sick, accept people’s invitations, and fulfil people’s rights. He went on like this for a while. Then, he stopped sitting in the mosque. He would get up and leave as soon as prayer was over. Then, he stopped visiting the sick and attending funerals, but he would still go to the next of kin and offer his condolences.
Then, he stopped mixing with people altogether, even to give condolences or observe neighbourly rights. He stopped offering prayer at the mosque, even the Friday prayer. When people spoke to him about this, he would tell them: “Not everyone is ready to speak about their inner feelings.” So people left it at that, out of their deep respect for him. Mālik died while in this state.
Ibn Kathīr writes:
Ever since Muhammad b. `Abd Allah b. Hasan rose up against the state, Mālik confined himself to his home. He visited no one, even to offer customary congratulations or condolences. It is said that he even stopped praying at the mosque and attending the Friday prayer. He would say: “Not everything that is known must be spoken aloud. Not everyone is able to justify their actions.”
No one really knows why he behaved like this, and opinion on the matter is divided. Some say that the time was one of civil strife and political discord which warranted a total retreat from public life. We have something related by Yahyā b. Zubayr which indicates this was indeed an issue for Mālik:
Mālik asked me: “Is it true that you and `Abd Allah b. `Abd al-`Azīz have retreated from public life?”
I said: “Yes.”
He said: “You have acted in haste. It is not yet time for that.”
I met Mālik again twenty years later, and he told me: “Now the time for that has come.” Thereafter, he retreated into seclusion and confined himself to his home.
It is also possible that his change of behaviour was triggered by the uprising of Muhammad b. `Abd Allah b. al-Hasan – known as “the pure soul” and the great-great grandson of `Alī b. Abī Tālib. He rose up against al-Mansūr in the year 145 AH. Al-Wāqidī said: “When Muhammad b. al-Hasan rose up against the state, Mālik confined himself to his home and did not come out until after Muhammad was killed.”
A third suggestion is that Mālik stayed at home due to an illness that caused him to suffer from indecent urinal drip. This was suggested by `Atīq b. Ya`qūb and Mus`ab b. `Abd Allah al-Zubayrī, who said:
A fourth opinion is that Mālik suffered internal injuries from the beating he had received and as a result suffered from uncontrollable gas.
The following account was related by Ibn Dīnār and Mus`ab b. `Abd Allah:
There was a man in Madinah whose reputation, favour, and philanthropy exceeded even that of al-`Umarī. People appealed to him to go to Mālik and speak to him about his avoiding the mosque and not attending the Friday prayer. So he went to Mālik and said: “Father of `Abd Allah, I wish to give you some advice.”
A fifth possibility is that he feared seeing wrongdoing being perpetrated that he would feel compelled to rectify. In support of this, al-Dhahabī relates from Abū Mus`ab that Mālik did not attend congregational prayers for twenty-five years. When asked what prevented him, he replied: “I fear seeing wrongdoing being perpetrated that I would be compelled to rectify.”
Mālik asked: “What is your advice?”
He said: “I do so for Allah’s sake, so do not get angry.”
Mālik said: “My nephew, what would give you occasion to make me angry?
He said: “It is advice for Allah’s sake.”
Mālik said: “Then do tell.”
He said: “Father of `Abd Allah, what keeps you from the Friday prayer and the other congregational prayers when you know the blessings of praying in congregation and the virtue of the Prophet’s mosque? Why don’t you visit your brothers when they are sick and attend their funerals? And why is it that whenever the ruler summons you, you hasten to see him?
Mālik replied: “I can tell that you feel I have serious shortcomings. As for my not attending congregational prayer, I swear by Allah that the mosque of Allah’s Messenger is to me the most beloved place on Earth. However, I have come to know that my presence causes other people discomfort. I do not visit the sick because those who are close to me know my chronic illness and the weakness I suffer from, and they have excused me. As for other people, it does not matter if I visit them. As for my going to the rulers if they summon me, this is my burden. If I did not do so, no Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger would still be observed in this land.
All five of these possibilities which were indicated by Mālik show that his concern was for the general welfare. Whatever the reason, we can be sure that Mālik took the decision he did after careful thought and after weighing the relative benefits and harms of remaining in the public eye or retreating into seclusion. Whether it was the general political strife, the spread of wrongdoing, or his awkward physical illnesses that compelled him the most, we must also appreciate how advanced age would limit his ability to cope with such things while remaining in the public eye, especially if we take into account his sensitivity to decorum and to maintaining a dignified presence at all times.
Different historians and biographers tend to favour one explanation over the others to account for his reclusiveness, but it is likely that all five factors together took their toll on Mālik and led him to act as he did.
His conduct throughout his life, the patience and fortitude he exercised, and his impeccable reputation, all compel us to assume the best about this behaviour of his. As Allah says: “Those who have believed and done righteous deeds – joy is theirs, and bliss their journey’s end.” [Sūrah al-Ra`d: 29]
We know that he spent the last years of his life in worship and devotion. Abū Bakr al-Awsī said: “For many years before his death, Mālik spent most of his time with the Qur’an. He would read it constantly and spend a lot of time weeping.”
Ibn Wahb relates to us that his sister was asked how Mālik spent his time at home. She answered: “He spent his time reading from the Qur’an and reciting its verses.”
“With Allah is the Decision”
Mālik passed away in the year 179 AH (795 CE) at the age of eighty-six. His last words were: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger. With Allah is the decision, both in what has passed and in what is to come.”
He was buried in Madinah’s famous graveyard, al-Baqī`. He was blessed to pass away in such a manner, with the profession of faith on his lips. Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever says ‘There is no God but Allah’ at the time of death will be admitted into Paradise.”
His funeral was attended by a huge number of people, including the most eminent religious scholars and worshippers. This is an indication of his stature in life and his genuine influence. He was well loved. His school of thought has become part of the very social fabric of society in the Muslim countries where it is widespread. His knowledge has benefited people from the time he began giving lessons at the tender age of twenty all the way up to the present day, and people all over the world will surely continue to benefit from him until the day when Allah inherits the Earth and all that is upon it.