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Imām Malik
Jamil Ahmad

During his visit to Medina, the celebrated Abbasied Caliph Harūn-ar-Rashīd, wished to attend the lectures of Muwatta (collection of Traditions) delivered by Imām Malik. He sent for the Imām who sermonised him: ‘Rashid, Tradition is a learning that used to be patronised by your forbears. They had utmost regard for it. If you don’t venerate it as the Caliph, no one else would. People come in search of knowledge but knowledge does not speak people.’ At last the Caliph himself came to attend the lectures of the Imām, which were attended by all classes of people. Harūn wanted others to leave the class, but the Imām opposed it saying, ‘I cannot individual’. Hence, the great Caliph as well as his sons had to sit along the common people and listen patiently to the Imām’s illuminating discourse on the Traditions of the Prophets (sws).

Medina, the seat of Islamic learning in those times, boasted of some of the greatest intellectuals of the age. One of them was Imām Malik, a great traditionalist, who left behind him ineffaceable marks in the sphere of Arabian learning. His Muwatta occupies an outstanding place among the rare collections of Traditions, Islamic history as the originator of Maliki School of Jurisprudence which exercised great influenced on the contemporary and later generations of Islam, particularly those inhabiting Africa and Spain. With his indomitable will, courageous and incorruptible. Soul, he never yielded even to the highest authorities of the state. The Imām belonged to a class of early Muslims, whose life would always serve as a beacon light for those who strive for the realisation of nobler and higher virtue in the world.

Malik ibn Anas, belonged to a respectable Arab family which held important social status before and after the birth of Islam, his ancestors who were converted to Islam migrated to and settled in Medina. His grandfather, Abū ‘Amir was first in his family to embrace Islam in 2 A.H. The date of Imām’s birth is a disputed point among the historians. Ibn Khalikan has given 95 A.H., and he was thirteen years younger than his illustrious counterpart Imām Abū Hanifa. He received his education in Medina, which in those times was the highest seat of learning in the vast Islamic Empire and houses most of the distinguished Companions of the Prophet (sws). He, therefore, had no need to go out of Medina in quest of knowledge. His grandfather, father and uncle were all Traditionalist, who coached the young Imām in Traditions and other branches of knowledge. Other illustrious intellectual luminaries who taught the young Imām were Imām Jafar Sadiq, Muhammad bin Shahab Az Zahri, Nafeh, Yahya bin Saeed and Rabi Rayi.

Imām Malik continued to serve the noble cause of education for 62 years. He died on 11th Rabi’ul Awwāl 179 A.H, at the age of 86.

Teaching, which was looked upon as the noblest profession, was adopted by some of the greatest intellectuals that the world has ever produced including Aristotle and Plato, Ghazzali and Ibn Khaldun, Imām Abū Hanifa and Imām Malik. The high reputation of Imām Malik as a scholar and teacher attracted people from the four corners of the Islamic Empire. Perhaps no other teacher ever produced such talented scholars who ascended the pinnacle of glory in different walks of life. Among the persons who benefited from his learning were Caliphs like Mansūr, Medhī, Harūn and Mamun; jurist like Imām Abū Hanifa, Imām Shafī, Sufian Suri and Qazi Muhammad Yusūf; scholars like Ibn Shahab Zahri and Yahya bin Saeed Ansari; mystics like Ibrahim bin Adham, Zunnun Misri and Muhammad bin Fazil bin Abbas. According to reliable historical sources, the number of his students who acquired great name in life was more than 1,300. His classes were characterised by their serenity, discipline and by a high sense of respect exhibited by the students for their learned teacher. He never tolerated any indiscipline when he lectured on the Traditions of the Prophet (sws). Once, the Abbaside Caliph, Mansūr who was discussing certain traditions with the Imām spoke a bit loudly. The Imām rebuked him by saying, ‘Don’t talk stridently when the Traditions of the Prophet (sws) are under discussion.’ He refused to discourse on the Traditions in the camp of the Caliph.

The Imām behind him more than a dozen works including his world famous Muwatta. His treatises deal with religious and ethical matters and Islamic jurisprudence. According to Shah Waliullah Muwatta, is a collection of the most authentic Traditions of the Prophet (sws) selected by Imām Malik after thorough investigation of their sources. The Imām compiled his book after a thorough verification and sifting of the Traditionals and included only those which he considered correct. The reliability of the reports and reporters was his chief consideration and he took pains to ensure that no incorrect report should find place in his book. Formerly, Muwatta included ten thousand Traditions, but in the revised edition, the Imām reduced the number of 1,720 only. This book has been translated into several languages and has sixteen different editions.

As a traditionals he occupies a unique place in the galaxy of talented scholars like Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim who are well-known for collecting the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (sws) of Islam. He is  said to have always avoided the company of a person who was not highly learned. According of Imām Hanbal, he was the only person to have such a distinction that he never reported a Tradition from a person unless he had fully satisfied himself. He was held in such high esteem by the later scholars that once someone enquired from Imām Hanbal about a certain reporter. He replied that the reporter must be reliable because Imām Malik had reported from him. Imām Malik experienced great hardship in quest for knowledge. Like Imām Bukhārī, who had once to live on herbs and roots for three days, he too, had to sell the beams of his house in order to pay his education dues. He used to say that one cannot attain the heights of intellectual glory, unless faced with poverty. Poverty is the real test of man; it awakens in him the hidden energies and enables him to surmount all difficulties.

His contemporaries and later Traditionalists and religious scholars have formed a very high opinion about his intellectual attainments. According to Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi, there is no Traditionalist great than Imām Malik in the world. Imāms Ahmad bin Hanbal and Shafī speak very highly of him as a Traditionlist. The learned Imām was also a great jurist; for more than 60 years he gave Fatwas in Medina.

Imām Malik was known for his integrity and peity. He always lived up to his convictions. Neither fear nor favour could ever deflect him from the right path. He was among the members of the glorious society of early Islam who could not be purchased and whose undaunted courage always proved as a guiding star for the freedom fighters.

When he was aged twenty-five, the Caliphate passed into the hands of the Abbasids caliph Mansūr who was his colleague. Mansūr highly respected him for his deep learning. The Imām however, favoured the Fatimid Nafs Zakriya for the exalted office of the Caliph. When he learned that the people had taken the oath of fealty of Mansūr, he said that since Mansūr had forced people to do so, the oath was not binding them. He quoted a Tradition of the Prophet (sws) to the effect that a divorce by force is not legal. When Jafar, a cousin of Mansūr, was posted as Governor of Medina, he induced the inhabitants of the Holy city to renew their oath of allegiance to Mansūr. The Governor forbade him not to publicise his Fatwa in respect of forced divorce. Highly principled and fearless as he was, the defied the Governor’s orders and courageously persisted in his course. This infuriated the Governor, who ordered that the Imam be awarded 70 stripes, as punishment. According, seventy stripes were inflicted on the naked back of the Imām which began to bleed. Mounted on a camel in his bloodstaind clothes, he was paraded through the streets of Medina. This brutality of the Governor failed to cow down or unnerve the noble Imām. Caliph Mansūr, when apprised of he matter, punished the Governor and apologised to the Imām.

Once, Caliph Mansūr sent him three thousand Dinars as his travelling expenses of Baghdad, but he returned the money and refused to leave Medina, the resting place of the Prophet (sws)

In 174 A.H Caliph Harūn-ar-Rashīd, arrived in Medina with his  two son Amīn and Mamūn. He summoned Imām Malik to his durbar for delivering a lecture on Muwatta. The Imam refused to comply with his orders. Arriving in the durbar, the told the Caliph, ‘Rashīd! Traditions in a learning cultivated and patronised by your ancestors, if you don’t pay it due respect, no one else would,’ This argument convinced the Caliph, who, along with his two sow, then chose to attend the class taken by the Imām.

The Imām was reputed throughout the world of Islam for his self-control and great patience. One a band of Kharijis armed with swords forced their way into a mosque of Kufa, where he was praying, All persons scampered away from the mosque in panic but he sayed there undismayed. It was customary with all those who waited on Caliph Mansūr in his durbar to kiss his hands but Imam Malik never stooped to his humiliation. On the other hand, he paid highest regards to the learned people and once, when Imām Abū Hanifa came to see him, he offered him his own seat.

Muslims inhabiting Western Arabia, exclusively subscribe to the Maliki sect.

(Courtesy: Hundred Great Muslims, Ferozesons)

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