Mālik faced a severe trial in his life. He held the view that a divorce, if its pronouncement was uttered under duress, did not take place. He taught this openly in his study circle. This had been the view of the Prophet’s Companion Ibn `Abbās.
Some of Mālik’s rivals went to the Caliph al-Mansūr (or his officials) and said: “Mālik means by this that the oath of allegiance the people give to you is invalid if they do so grudgingly.”
As a result, Mālik was summoned and flogged at least forty lashes. Mālik was beaten until his arm suffered permanent injury, so that afterwards he would always cradle one hand in the other.
This was all because Mālik insisted on narrating Ibn `Abbās’s statement: “There is no divorce for one who is under duress.” The account of Mālik’s persecution varies in its details from one historian to another. The most detailed account is that of Abū al-`Arab al-Tamīmī who provides more than one chain of transmitters back to Mālik’s students relating what happened:
There was a great agitation in Madinah during the reign of Abū Ja`far. In response, Abū Ja`far dispatched his cousin Ja`far b. Sulaymān al-`Abbāsī to quell the uprising and have Madinah’s citizens renew their oath of allegiance. When he arrived, he dealt harshly with those who had moved against the Caliph’s rule, routing them. He then imposed on the people to openly swear their allegiance to the Caliph.
At that time, Mālik b. Anas was the most prominent and distinguished person in the region. Whenever someone is blessed by Allah with knowledge, intelligence, dignity, or good character, that person will inevitably be envied. How, then, must it be for someone who is blessed with all four of those qualities? Ever since Mālik was young, he inadvertently displaced from renown and leadership those who had up to then been enjoying a preeminent place in society, simply because of the gifts that Allah had blessed him with to such a greater degree than He had blessed anyone else. This made some people violently envious of him, eager to move against him whenever they had the chance.
These people conspired to send someone to Ja`far and say to him: “Mālik is issuing verdicts to the people that their oaths of allegiance are not binding, because you are forcing them to do so against their wishes.”
Ja`far then sent someone whom Mālik would not suspect to ask him that question in private. Mālik answered him in full trust and confidence. No sooner had he done so than he was arrested by the officers of Ja`far b. Sulaymān and brought before him in a disgraced and humiliated state, where Ja`far ordered him to be whipped seventy lashes.
After the unrest was quelled and the people gave their oath of allegiance, the news reached the Caliph Abū Ja`far al-Mansūr how Mālik was beaten. He was loath to hear this and very displeased. He sent a message to Mālik inviting him to come to him in Baghdad. Mālik declined the invitation, writing a letter to him asking to be excused from going to Baghdad and giving some excuses why he could not travel.
This historian also gives us an interesting account of what transpired soon afterwards:
The person who physically beat Mālik b. Anas was Ja`far b. Sulaymān’s deputy in Madinah. Afterwards, Ja`far and his deputy had a falling out over a few issues, and Ja`far had him beaten, and then had his hair and beard shaven off to humiliate him further.
Someone then said to Mālik: “Ja`far b. Sulaymān beat that deputy of his and shaved off his hair and beard and then paraded him like that before the people.”
Mālik said: “What do you want from this? Do you think we are supposed to go and gloat at him in malicious joy? I look forward to blessings from Allah that far surpass such satisfaction. I also look forward to Allah punishing him far more severely than what he has already gotten.”
The historian al-Fasawī gives us that deputy’s name: “I have heard from Makkī b. Ibrāhīm that Mālik was beaten in the year 147 AH, and the man who beat him was Sulaymān b. Ja`far b. Sulaymān b. `Alī. He told me that he flogged him seventy times.”
The modern biographer, Abū Zahrah, makes the following observations about this incident in the well-known book of his which is simply entitled Mālik:
It appears that when Madinah’s citizens saw their preeminent scholar and jurist being punished in such a humiliating way, it made them despise the Abbasid regime and their political appointees. The people were especially incensed that they had made an example of an innocent man who had never done anything to incite the unrest and who did not participate in it in any way. He did not transgress the limits of propriety in issuing legal verdicts.
He did not waver in his opinions or behaviour after being punished. He was just as he had been before. He resumed giving lessons as soon as he recovered from his injuries, but he never spoke to incite people or encouraged them to get involved in the unrest. This made the people even more incensed with their rulers, and made those rulers realize what a bitter deed they had done.
This was especially true for the Caliph Abū Ja`far al-Mansūr. It appears that he had not ordered the flogging nor was he happy about it. This is why, when he visited Western Arabia, he went Mālik and made his apologies to him.
The account that Mālik gave of this meeting shows us how much the Caliph Abū Ja`far revered Mālik, and how Mālik’s clemency and tolerant nature matched his stateliness and dignity.
Abū Zahrah then quotes the following account from Mālik:
Abū Ja`far had enjoined upon me to go to him when he came during the pilgrimage season. When I went to see him, he said to me: “I swear by Allah besides whom there is no other god, I never commanded them to do that to you. I did not even know about it. The people of Mecca and Madinah will always be prosperous as long as you are living among them. You are the one I credit with keeping them from punishment. Through you, Allah has spared them from a severe military crackdown. They are so easily incited to strife.
“I swear by Allah, I had thereafter commanded that the man be taken from Iraq by camel and confined in a small cell and have his infamy proclaimed, and I resolve that he will be punished many times over what you had to endure at his hands.”
Mālik replied: “May Allah pardon the Commander of the Faithful and bless his abode. I have already forgiven that man for the sake of his kinship with Allah’s Messenger and his kinship with you. May Allah pardon you and preserve you.”
Ibn Hibbān narrated that when Mālik was beaten, he wiped the blood from his back and went to the mosque and prayed. Then he said: “When Sa`īd b. al-Musayyib was beaten, this is what he did.”
Al-Wāhidī observed: “Ever since that time, Mālik’s status continued to increase to ever-loftier heights.”
Al-Dhahabī said: “This is what happens when a person endures persecution for something praiseworthy. It elevates that person’s status among the believers.”