بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
People’s Praise of Him and Their Testimony that
He was the Greatest of the Imams in Knowledge
The notable ‘ulama’ at the time of Malik and those who came after him all agree about his pre-eminent worth and consider him to be a pillar of knowledge and one of its firm bulwarks, celebrated for his taqwa, his retentive memory, his reliability in transmission, and his ability in making fatwas. He was well-known for his turning towards true knowledge and away from what did not concern him, and for cutting himself off from the khalifs and amirs who would liberally bestow money on those men of knowledge who attached themselves to them. He had overwhelming respect for the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and this was considered enough by the notable men of hadith and fuqaha’ who related from him and used his transmission as a proof, putting it ahead of the transmission of many of his peers. They followed him in declaring different transmitters reliable or unreliable.
There is no disagreement on the fact that al-Layth, al-Awza’i, the two Sufyans, Ibn al-Mubarak, Shu’ba ibn al-Hajjaj, ‘Abd ar-Razzaq and other great ‘ulama’ like them transmitted from Malik. Imam ash-Shafi’i was one of his most prominent pupils as was Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the companion of Abu Hanifa. Qadi Abu Yusuf, who met and spoke with im, also related from him via an intermediary. It is also true that Abu Hanifa related from him as did a group of his shaykhs, including Muhammad ibn Shihab az-Zuhri, Rabi’a ibn Abi ‘Abd ar-Rahman, Abu’l-Aswad Muhammad ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman known as the ‘Orphan of ‘Urwa’, Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Ansari, Ayyub as-Sakhtiyani and others. There were none in their time greater than these men. Some of them were fuqaha’ and others were hadith relators. Most of them were both.
Those who came after them all related from Malik except for those who were prevented from doing so by circumstances. Why indeed should they not relate from him? Was not the Imam someone who combined justice, precision, examination, and criticism in his evaluation of men and avoided transmission from the weak? There is only one man he related from who is considered weak. He was ‘Abd al-Karim ibn Abi’l-Makhariq al-Basri and this only happened because he was not one of the people of Malik’s own land and Malik was deceived by his scrupulousness and the way he performed hajj.
If you have any doubts about what we have said, then look in any of the books of hadith and you will find the name of Malik constantly repeated by the tongues and pens of the transmitters. Enough for us is the frequent repetition of his name in the Sahih volumes of al-Bukhari and Muslim. The Kitab al-Umm, of Imam ash-Shafi’i, and his kitab ar-Risala both begin with the words, “Malik reported to us.” When the Musnad of ash-Shafi’i was compiled, it also began with the same words.
We find that Hafiz Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi began his great Sunan with the hadith “Its water is pure” which is from the transmission of ash-Shafi’i from Malik and from the transmission of Abu Da’ud from Malik. He mentioned that ash-Shafi’i said, “There is someone in the isnad whom I do not know.” Then al-Bayhaqi said at the end of it, “However, that which establishes the soundness of its isnad was the reliability Malik gave it in the Muwatta’.” These words indicate the position of Malik and that the people of his time and those after them, who were not partisan, acknowledged his pre-eminence in the preservation of hadith, in his ability to distinguish the sound from the weak, and in his knowledge of the science of men and their states, whether they were reliable or unreliable.
Those early Imams were not satisfied to remain silent about him, but spoke out using their tongues and their pens, clearly stating his eminence and the extent of his fame. In Is’af al-mubatta bi-rijal al-muwatta’, Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti said that Bishr ibn ‘Umar az-Zahrani said that he asked Malik about a man and he said, “Do you see him in my books?” He replied, “No.” Malik said, “If he had been reliable, you would have seen him in my books.” Ibn al-Madini said, “I never knew Malik to reject a man unless there was something wrong about his hadith.” Ibn al-Madini also said, “When Malik brings you a hadith from someone from Sa’id al-Musayyib, I prefer that to Sufyan from someone from Ibrahim. Malik only relates from people who are reliable.” Yahya ibn Mu’in said, “All of those from whom Malik ibn Anas relates are reliable except for ‘Abd al-Karim al-Basri Abu Umayya.”
Ahmad ibn Salih said, “I do not know of anyone who was more careful in his selection of men and ‘ulama’ than Malik. I do not know of anyone who has related anything wrong about anyone among those he chose. He related from people none of whom are rejected.” An-Nasa’i said, “The trustees of Allah over the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, were Shu’ba ibn al-Hajjaj, Malik ibn Anas and Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan.” He said, “Ath-Thawri was an Imam, but he related from weak men. It was the same with Ibn al-Mubarak.” Then he indicated the pre-eminence of Malik over Shu’ba and Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan. He said, “There are none among the Tabi’un trusted in the hadith more than these three, and none who had less weak transmissions.”
Isma’il ibn Abi Uways said, “I heard my uncle, Malik, say, “This knowledge is the deen, so look to those from whom you take your deen. I met seventy men who said, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said by these pillars…” and I did not take anything from them. Yet if any of them was to be trusted with the treasury, he would have been trustworthy. This is because they were not men of this business. But when Ibn Shihab came to us, we crowded at his door.” Yahya ibn Mu’in said from Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna, “Who are we in comparison to Malik? We merely follow in the tracks of Malik. We looked to see if Malik took from a shaykh. If not we left him.””
Ash-hab said that Malik was asked, “Should one take from someone who does not memorize, but is reliable and accurate in writing? Can hadith be taken from such a man?” Malik replied, “I fear that he might add to his books at night.” Al-Athrim said, “I asked Ahmad ibn hanbal about ‘Amr ibn Abi ‘Amr, the client of al-Muttalib and he said, ‘His transmission is excellent in my opinion. Malik related from him’” Abu Sa’id b. al-A’rabi said, “If Malik related from a man, Yahya ibn Mu’in declared him reliable.” More than one person was asked and said, “He is reliable. Malik related from him.”
Qurad Abu Nuh said, “Malik mentioned something and was asked, ‘Who related it to you?’ He said, ‘We do not sit with fools’.” ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “I heard my father mentioning this and he said, ‘There is no statement in the world more noble than this regarding the virtues of the ‘ulama’ – Malik ibn Anas mentioned that he did not sit with fools. This statement is not valid from anyone else except Malik.’”
In the Tadhkira al-Huffaz, adh-Dhahabi mentioned some of people’s praise of him, including the famous statement of ash-Shafi’i, “When the ‘ulama’ are mentioned, Malik is the star.” Ahmad ibn al-Khalil said that he heard Is-haq ibn Ibrahim (i.e. Ibn Rahawayh) said, “When ath-Thawri, Malik and al-Awza’i agree on a matter, it is sunna, even if there is no text on it.”
After mentioning much of the praise of the people of knowledge for him, adh-Dhahabi said, “I put Malik’s biography on its own in a section in my Ta’rikh al-Kabir. It is agreed that Malik had virtues which are not known to have been combined in anyone else. The first of them was the length of his life and extent of his transmission. The second was his piercing mind. The third was the agreement of the Imams that he is a proof, sound in transmission. The fourth is that they agree on his deen, justice and following of the sunna. The fifth is his pre-eminence in fiqh, fatwa and the soundness of his foundations.”
In Taqrib at-Tahdhib, Ibn Hajar says, “Malik ibn Abas ibn Malik ibn Abi ‘Amir al-Asbahi, Abu ‘Abdullah, al-Madini, the faqih, the Imam of the Abode of the Hijar, the chief of those who have taqwa and the greatest of those who are confirmed, of whom al-Bukhari said, ‘The soundest isnads of all are those of Malik from Nafi’ from Ibn ‘Umar’.”
This is just a brief collection of a few of the things that have been said about him by ‘ulama’ who do not follow the school of Malik. Their words in no way disagree with anything that has been written by the Maliki ‘ulama’ who follow him. The reader will be able to find a lot of what they have said in the books of Abu ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, the Tartib al-Mudarik of Qadi Abu’-l-Fadl ‘Iyad, and ad-Dibaj al-Madh-hab by Burhan ad-Din ibn Farhun, and other books of earlier and later writers.
Among the Malikis and others Imam Malik is known as the Imam of the Imams. It is easy to see why this is so. We know that those Imams whose schools, fatwas and transmissions are followed were his students, either directly or via an intermediary. Imam as-Shafi’i was one of Imam Malik’s most famous students and Imam Ahmad was one of the most famous students of as-Shafi’i. Muhammad ibn a-Hasan was one of the transmitters of the Muwatta’. Abu Yusuf also related it from Malik via an intermediary. One of the ‘ulama’ confirmed that Imam Abu Hanifa also related from him, and no objection was made to him for stating that. Some shaykhs like Ibn Shihab and Rabi’a related from Malik as we have already mentioned. We also mentioned that al-Layth, al-Awza’I, the two Sufyans and Ibn al-Mubarak related from him, and there is no disagreement about that. The ‘ulama’ of hadith who are famous for writing in that field, or from whom others have transmitted, transmitted from him. We say that today there is no scholar of the Islamic Shari’a who is not a student of Malik. That is because, first of all, it is not valid to count someone as a scholar of the Shari’a if he is ignorant of the Muwatta’, the Six Books, the Musnad of Ahmad and the rest of the books which are consulted in hadith. All of those who relate these books or some of them must relate from Malik. Therefore they must respect this Imam from whom they relate and acknowledge his position and ask for mercy on him.
One of the extraordinary things about the people who came to Malik for transmission is that there was not a single small region subject to the rule of Islam in his time but that a group of their noble sons set out to visit him. The number of those whose name was Muhammad who related from him was more than a hundred. The number of those called ‘Abdullah was about sixty, of those called Yahya about forty, and of those called Sa’id more than twenty. If you were to imagine his circle of study, you would find Andalusians, Khorasanis, Syrians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and others all siting in a circle around him with their different languages, colors, and clothing. It must have been an amazing sight. We do not believe that such a group has ever been gathered together at the feet of a scholar before or after him, in Madina or elsewhere.