Mālik was chronologically the second of the four renowned imams whose schools of law have endured. His full name was Mālik b. Anas b. Abī `Āmir al-Asbahī. He was born in 93 AH in Madinah in the same year that the eminent Companion Anas b. Mālik died.
It is narrated with a sound chain of transmission that [Sunan al-Tirmidhī (2680)]
His Authority as a Hadith Scholar
A number of scholars, including Ibn `Uyaynah and Ibn Jurayj have identified the hadith above with Imam Mālik. Certainly, Mālik fits the description, if we consider his character, personality, and leadership in the field of Islamic knowledge.
Mālik narrated from numerous Successors, numbering in the hundreds. They were, in turn, the students of the Prophet’s Companions. Al-Shāfi`ī said: “When it comes to the narration of traditions, Mālik was like a shining star.”
Ibn Ma`īn said, speaking about the extent of Mālik’s knowledge: “Mālik was one of the ways that Allah established His definitive proof upon His creatures.”
In turn, a vast number of people narrated hadith from Mālik, especially his famous compilation of traditions entitled al-Muwatta’, about which al-Shāfi`ī justly said: “I do not know of any book of scholarly knowledge on Earth more accurate than Mālik’s book.”
When al-Shāfi`ī made this statement, Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim had yet to be compiled. At that time, al-Muwatta’ was indeed the most authoritative collection of hadith, though it also contained the opinions of the Companions and Successors as well as a number of legal verdicts.
He also said: “Mālik and Ibn `Uyaynah were equals. Were it not for the two of them, the knowledge of Western Arabia would have been lost to us forever.”
Al-Shāfi`ī valued Mālik’s hadith immensely. He said: “If you come upon an authentic hadith from Mālik, seize it with both hands, for it is indeed a definitive proof.”
Sufyān b. Uyaynah said: “Mālik is a foremost authority.”
Both Yahyā b. Sa`īd al-Qattān and Yahyā b. Ma`īn said: “Mālik is the Commander of the Faithful when it comes to hadith.”
Ibn Wahb said: “We would all be lost without Mālik.”
Abū Qudāmah `Ubayd Allah b. Sa`īd al-Hāfiz said: “Mālik had the greatest knowledge of hadith of all people in his generation.”
At the same time, Mālik was a jurist whose legal school would spread throughout the world, especially in Egypt, North Africa and West Africa, where it is present today, as well as Muslim Spain. His school is also prevalent in the Sudan, and can be found in parts of Syria, Arabia, and Yemen. Historically, it was also to be found in parts of Iraq and Khorasan.
There’s a Lot of Good in All of Us
Mālik is the perfect example of a specialist. He realised that his particular gifts and aptitudes made him especially suited for serving Islam through the preservation and dissemination of religious knowledge. Mālik came in contact with people from all walks of life. Some were materialistic people who tried to call him away from the path of knowledge, but he averted his eyes from them, looking forward to Allah’s greater and more lasting reward. Others called him to volunteer for a tour of duty in the defence of the Muslim realm, but he saw that what he was involved in was better for him. There were many different kinds of duties, and it was imperative that some people fulfilled each duty for the preservation of the Muslim community, and Mālik considered it best for everyone to engage in what they excelled in.
He also met a number of ascetics like the renowned `Abd Allah b. `Abd al-`Azīz al-`Umarī, who encouraged Mālik to emulate his austere and reclusive lifestyle. Mālik gave `Abd Allah al-`Umarī his full attention and beseeched Allah’s blessings upon him, but he did not agree that it was better for him to shun the people. Mālik knew that it was his duty to actively engage with the community and show patience with the people.
Mālik wrote a letter to `Abd Allah al-`Umarī which included the following:
Allah has distributed vocations just like He has distributed His providence. Some people are blessed to excel in prayer, or in charity, to a level that they do not attain in fasting. Others are blessed to strive with their wealth and strength for Islam, but do not attain the same level in prayer. Likewise, the acquisition and dissemination of religious knowledge is one of the most virtuous of all activities, and I am pleased with what Allah has facilitated for me in this regard. I do not think that my involvements are less blessed than yours, and I expect that both of us are upon a lot of good. It is everyone’s duty to be contented with what Allah has apportioned for them. I wish you peace.
Mālik saw their paths as parallel paths, complementary but not competitive, analogous but not overlapping.