بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Shaykhs from whom He Transmitted
It is known that Imam Malik grew up in Madina al-Munawwara and that those who sought knowledge traveled there from all the regions of Islam because Madina had an unrivalled number of ‘ulama’ compared with the rest of the Muslim world. In Madina Malik met all the great men who had a major part in the transmission of hadith and the sayings of the Companions and the great Tabi’un. He found such a wealth of knowledge there that he did not need to travel anywhere else. He related from 900 shaykhs or more and with his own hand wrote down a hundred thousand hadith. His book, the Muwatta’, which we are discussing, contains 84 men of the Tabi’un, all of whom were people of Madina except for six. These six were Abu’z-Zubayr from Makka, Hamid at-Tawil and Ayyub as-Sakhtiyani from Basra, ‘Ata’ ibn Abi Muslim from Khorasan, ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jazari from Jazira (Mesopotamia) in northern Iraq, and Ibrahim ibn Abi ‘Abla from Syria. Malik is famous for the fact that he did not transmit from a number of ‘ulama’ whom he met, even though they were people of deen and correct action, because he thought that they did not transmit properly.
Al-Ghafiqi said that the number of his shaykhs whom he named (i.e. in the Muwatta’) was ninety-five.
The Transmitters who Transmitted from Him
In the introduction to Tanwir al-Hawalik, as-Suyuti says that so many people related from him that no other Imam is known to have had a transmission like his. He says that Abu Bakr al-Khatib al-Baghdadi devoted a book to those who transmitted from Malik and it included 993 men. Qadi ‘Iyad mentioned that he wrote a book on those who transmitted from Malik in which he enumerated over 1300 men. As-Suyuti said that he had enumerated the names of all of them in his Great Commentary. The transmitters of al-Muwatta’ alone are of a number which it is difficult to count.
Qadi ‘Iyad mentioned that the number of transmissions which he read or came across in the transmissions of his shaykhs reached twenty, and some of them mention thirty. Another thing that indicates the great number of the transmitters of the Muwatta’ is that Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “I head the Muwatta’ from about then of the companions of Malik who had mentioned it but I revised it with ash-Shafi’i because I found him to be the most correct of them.” Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah ibn Mayabi as-Shanqiti said in Ida’a al-Halik that Ibn Nasir ad-din ad-Dimishqi wrote a book about the transmitters of the Muwatta’ and he mentioned that there were seventy-nine. Among those who transmitted the Muwatta’ from Malik were his son, Yahya, and his daughter, Fatima.
The Position of the Muwatta’ and People’s Concern for It
In the introduction to Tanwir al-Hawalik, as-Suyuti said that ash-Shafi’i said, “After the Book of Allah, there is no book on the face of the earth sounder than the book of Malik.” In another statement he said, “No book has been placed on the earth closer to the Qur’an than the book of Malik.” In a third he said, “After the Book of Allah, there is no book more useful than the Muwatta’.” ‘Ala’ ad-din Maghlatay al-Hanafi said, “The first person to write in the Sahih was Malik.”
Ibn Hajar said, “The book of Malik is sound by all the criteria that are demanded as proofs in the mursal, munqati’ and other types of transmission.” Then as-Suyuti followed what Ibn Hajar said here and said, “The mursal hadith in it are a proof with him (ash-Shafi’i) as well because the mursal is a proof with us when it is properly supported. Every mursal in the Muwatta’ has one or more supports as will be made clear in this commentary (i.e. the Tanwir al-Hawalik). It is absolutely correct to say that the Muwatta’ is sound (sahih) without exception.”
Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr collected together all the mursal, munqati’ and mu’addil hadiths in the Muwatta’ and said that the total number of hadiths in the Muwatta’ which do not have an isnad are sixty-one. He stated that he found the isnads of all of them in other sources with the exception of four hadiths. The erudite scholar of hadith, Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah ibn Mayabi ash-Shanqiti says in Ida’a al-Halik that he had found witnesses for these four hadith and he then mentioned these witnesses. He said, “Some of the people of knowledge made these isnads complete.” He mentioned from Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr that there was no munkar hadith in the Muwatta’ nor anything fundamentally refuted. In Dalil as-Salik in the margin of Ida’a al-Halik he mentioned that Ibn Hajar retracted what he had previously said which was what had been followed by as-Suyuti. From this it is clear that everything in the Muwatta’ has an isnad. The people of knowledge rely on the hadith in it and transmit and record them in their books, including al-Bukhari and Muslim who transmitted most of its hadith and included them in their Sahih collections. The rest of the authors of the six books did the same as did the Imam of the hadith scholars, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and others.
It should be pointed out that the hadith of Malik are not confined to those he included in the Muwatta’. This is clearly shown by the hadiths we find transmitted from Malik in the two Sahih volumes which are not found in the Muwatta’. There is a hadith which al-Bukhari relates in the chapter on the description of the Garden: “The people there look at the people of the chambers from above them.” There is a second hadith related by Malik commentating on Surat al-Mutaffafin (83) where the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The Day when people stand before the Lord of the Worlds’ until one of them disappears immersed in his sweat up to his ears.” There is a third hadith related by Muslim in the chapter forbidding sadaqa to the family of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which he related from ‘Abdullah b. Muhammad b. Asma’ ad-Duba’I from his uncle, Juwayriya ibn Asma’, from Malik.
There are two areas which particularly interest people regarding the Muwatta’. One of them is its transmission and the other is its commentary and the discussion about its transmitters and the different expressions they use and so forth. As for interest in its transmitters, we have already shown how the seekers of knowledge in Malik’s time came from East, West, South, and North out of the desire to sit in his circle and take from him. Many of this group related the Muwatta’ from him and preserved it in their hearts or in writing. The men of the generation after their generation were also concerned with it.
We have enough evidence for what we say in the fact that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal related it first from ten men and then finally from Imam ash-Shafi’i. Similarly ash-Shafi’i first learned it in Makka and then went to Madina to Malik and took it directly from him. That is also what Yahya ibn Yahya al-Andalusi did – he first learned it in his own country from Ziyad b. ‘Abdullah Shabtun and then traveled from Andalusia to Madina and read it directly with Malik in the year in which Imam Malik died, may Allah have mercy on him.
As for interest in its commentary, discussion about its transmitters and whether the different versions are shorter or longer, and commentary on what is gharib in it and that sort of thing, people evince more interest in writing about these matters in the case of the Muwatta’ than they do for any other book of hadith. A great number of people have written about these things and some of them have composed several books. For instance, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr wrote three books – at-Tamhid, al-Istidkhar and at-Tajrid which is also called “at-Taqassi”. Qadi Abu’l-Walid al-Baji wrote three commentaries called al-Istifa’, al-Muntaqa, and al-Ima’. He wrote a fourth book on the different versions of the Muwatta’. Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti wrote two commentaries on it. One of them, called Kashf al-Mughatti, is voluminous, and the other is a summary called Tanwir al-Hawalik. He wrote a third book called Is’af al-Mubatta’ bi-rijal al-Muwatta’.
The most famous transmission of the Muwatta’ is that of Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi al-Andalusi so that when the name the Muwatta’ is used, it is this transmission that is referred to. There are about a hundred commentaries on it. This is what Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah ibn Mayabi ash-Shanqiti was indicating in the Dalil as-Salik when he said:
The most famous Muwatta’
If the truth be known
Is that of Imam Yahya al-Laythi.
Who else’s can be compared with his?
He also said:
It is the one which the critics comment and in
Whose luster the slaves find benefit.
There are about a hundred commentaries on it,
All of them about what it contains.
Another version of the Muwatta’ worthy of mention is that of Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani which has great distinction. It includes the transmission of many traditions intended to support his madhhab and the madhhab of his Imam, Abu Hanifa. Sometimes he mentions that Abu Hanifa agrees with Malik regarding the matter under discussion.
It appears that the Andalusians had a great deal of interest in the Muwatta’ as anyone will know who has studied the names of the ‘ulama’ who made commentaries on it or spoke about the people in it and its different versions or wrote on its gharib hadith.
It should also be noted that those who were interested in the Muwatta’ were not only Malikis or people from one particular region. They were from different groups and schools and from all parts of the Muslim world.
The Clarification of the Meaning of “Muwatta’”, Its Excellent Layout and Good Style
“Muwatta’” is a passive participle from the verb “tawti’a”. one says that the thing is smoothed (watta’a) and “I prepared the thing for you”. Ibn Mandhur said in al-Lisan, “In the hadith: ‘Shall I tell you of the one among you I love the most and who will sit closest to me on the Day of Rising? – Those who are easy-going (Muwatta’l-aknaf) who are friendly and bring people together’.” Ibn al-Athir said, “This comes from tawti’a which means to smooth and make lower. Thus Muwatta’ means the clear book which smoothes the way and is not difficult for the seeker of knowledge to grasp. It is also related that Malik gave his book this title because he read it to a group of the people of knowledge and they agreed with him about it (waata’a). In this case the name would be derived from muwata’a which means agreement. However, the first meaning is more likely because it is supported by the rules of derivation although both of them apply since the way is prepared and smoothed by it and people agree about it and admire it.
If you look at the Muwatta’ in an unbiased way, you will find that it prepares and smoothes the way and is easy to grasp, even though it is one of the oldest books now in our possession. No earlier book from the people of knowledge is known. Its author made it an example to be imitated, particularly in the way in which it is arranged.
We find that Malik begins with the chapters on acts of worship which are the pillars of Islam. He put the prayer first, it is being the greatest of the pillars. Since the prayer only becomes obligatory when its time comes, he began by talking about the times of prayer. Then he spoke about purity in all its forms because purification is obligatory after the time for prayer has come. Then he spoke about what it is obligatory to do in the prayer and what is not obligatory and things that can happen to people in the prayer. Then he spoke about zakat and so on until he had covered all the acts of worship. Then he spoke about the rest of the matters of fiqh and divided each chapter into small section so as to make it easier to grasp. He finished the book with a chapter called “General Matters” which contains various things which did not fit under the other headings, and since it was not possible to devote a whole chapter to each of them and he did not want to go on at length, he combined them and called it “General Matters”. As Ibn al-‘Arabi says, other authors found in this arrangement a new way of organizing their material.
What he did in the book as a whole he also did in certain chapters. For instance, at the end of the chapter on prayer, he has a section entitled “Prayer in General”. He also has a section on “Funerals in General”, “Fasting in General”, “General Chapter on what is not permitted of marriage”, and “General chapter on sales”, etc. This shows the excellence of the way he arranged the book and the precision of the system he used. This is so much the case that if one of us today, in this age of systems, wanted to organize it, it would be very difficult to come up with a better arrangement than the one it already has.
If the reader looks at the Muwatta’ with respect to its language, he will find that its language shows that the author was a pure Arab. His language has both force and simplicity. Its terms are neither odd nor hackneyed. His style is free of oversimplification, unnecessary complexity or triteness. Despite its length, the book does not contain any linguistic or grammatical errors nor any of the faults about which the scholars of rhetoric warn.
Consequently we do not find that any of those who have made commentaries on it or spoken about it, despite their great number and their different times, laces and backgrounds, directed any criticism at it on these grounds, neither in respect of what the Imam wrote himself nor in respect of the transmissions of Prophetic hadith and other traditions ascribed to the Companions and the Tabi’un. By that we mean that there is no criticism at all which cannot easily be answered. It is always possible for criticism to be made by people whose understanding is inadequate and who lack sufficient knowledge. “How many there are who find fault with a sound statement while their trouble is faulty understanding.”
The noble reader should also be aware of the fact that Imam Malik has other works than the Muwatta’ even though they are not as famous.
These works are:
- A letter on Qadar and refutation of the Qadariyya. He wrote it to ‘Abdullah ibn Wahb, one of his eminent students.
- A book on the stars and reckoning the passage of time and the stages of the moon.
- A letter on judgments which he wrote to some judges.
- A letter on fatwa which was addressed to Abu Ghassan Muhammad b. Mutarrif al-Laythi, one of his great students.
- A letter on the ijma’ of the people of Madina which he sent to Imam al-Layth ibn Sa’d.
- A book on the tafsir of rare words in the Qur’an.
- A letter on adab and admonitions which he sent to Harun ar-Rashid which is not acknowledged by a group of notable Malikis.
- A book called Kitab as-Sirr.
This introduction is only a drop in the ocean. It has not covered everything by any means but it has I hope mentioned a few salient points.
Allah is the One we ask for help and on Him we rely. May Allah bless our mater Muhammad and his family and Companions and grant them peace abundantly.
Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Mubarak
Head of the Shari’a Court
United Arab Emirates
Taken from Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas – The First Formulation of Islamic Law, translated by Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley.