Brief Biography of Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Abi ‘Amir al-Aswbahi (r.a.) is known as Imam Malik (r.a.), the Shaykh of Islam, the Proof of the Community, and Imam of the Abode of Emigration.  He was one of the most highly respected scholars of fiqh.  Imam ash-Shafi`i (r.a.), who was one of Imam Malik’s (r.a.) students for nine years and a scholarly giant in his own right, stated, “When scholars are mentioned, Imam Malik is the star.”  The Maliki madzhab named after him.  It is one of the four major schools of jurisprudence.  His full name was Abu ‘Abdullah Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Abi ‘Amir ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Harits ibn Ghayman ibn Khuthayl ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Harits.  His lineage was from al-Aswbahi, a royal tribe, a branch of Himyar in Yemen.  Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.) said that Imam Malik’s (r.a.) lineage goes to Ya’rab ibn Yashjab ibn Qahthan.  He was also known as Imam Dar al-Hijrah wa al-Madani because he remained in Madina the majority of his life.

Imam Malik (r.a.) was born the son of Anas ibn Malik (r.a.), not the famous swahabi, and A’aliyah bint Shurayk al-Azdiyyah, in Madina circa 711 CE.  His family was originally from the al-Aswbahi tribe of Yemen, but his great grandfather, Abu ‘Amir, relocated the family to Madina after converting to Islam in the second year after Hijrah, 623 CE.  According to al-Muwaththa’, he was tall, heavyset, imposing of stature, very fair, with white hair and beard but bald, with a huge beard and blue eyes.  According to Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.), Shaykh Sam’ani ibn Farhun (r.a.), and others, Imam Malik (r.a.) was born in 93 AH, due to the report of Shaykh Yahya ibn Bukayr (r.a.), one of the elder students of Imam Malik (r.a.).  Others have said he was born in 90 AH, and some say in 95 AH.  Shaykh Yaf’i (r.a.) reported, in Thabaqat al-Fuqaha’, that it was 94 AH.  Extraordinarily, he remained in the womb on his mother for more than the usual nine months.

Shaykh Mutarraf ibn ‘Abdullah al-Yasari (r.a.) said that the Imam (r.a.) was tall, well-built, fair complexion, blond-haired with large-eyes and nose.  He had a broad forehead with hardly any hair on it, a characteristic referred to as aswla’ by the Arab.  He shared this characteristic with ‘Umar (r.a.) and ‘Ali (k.w.).  He had a very profuse and thick beard that reached down to his chest.  He used to trim his moustache near the corners of his lips and said it was disapproved to fully shave them.  He followed the sunnah of ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) who used to pull his moustaches hair near the lips when he was in deep thought.  From this, it is established that ‘Umar (r.a.) had hair on both sides of the lips.  He used to wear very elegant and expensive clothing, usually white and frequently changing them.  He would put musk and other fragrances on his clothing.  He would wear his turban and have part of it come down underneath his chin and the tail of it between his two shoulders.  He would also wear a shawl-like garment that would cover the head and shoulders.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) had said, “Very soon will people beat the flanks of camels in search of knowledge, and they shall find no one more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable scholar of Madina.”  This is recorded in Sunan at-Tirmidzi as hasan swahih.  Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), Qadhi ‘Iyadh (r.a.), Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) and others related from Imam Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.), Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq (r.a.), Imam ibn Mahdi (r.a.), Imam ibn Ma’in (r.a.), Shaykh Dzu’ayb ibn ‘Imamah (r.a.), Imam ibn al-Madini (r.a.), and others that they considered that scholar to be Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.).

Imam Malik (r.a.) took advantage of the fact that he was contemporary to many of the tabi‘in to formulate his school of thought, which gave precedence to the acts of the people of Madina over the ahadits, if they were in conflict.  This was possible due to the sizeable amount of scholars and companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) residing in the city where Imam Malik’s (r.a.) reputation grew.  Imam Malik (r.a.), nevertheless, showed hesitancy in issuing religious verdicts, explaining in one of his more famous statements, “The shield of the scholar is, ‘I do not know,’ so if he neglects it, his statement is attacked.”

Living in Madina gave Imam Malik (r.a.) access to some of the most learned minds of early Islam.  He memorised the Qur’an in his youth, learning recitation from Imam al-Qurra’, Imam Abu Suhayl Nafi’ ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.), from whom he also received his sanad, or certification and permission to teach others.  Imam Nafi’ bin ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s (r.a.) recitation is the foundation of the entire ummah today.  He was the servant of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.).  He passed away in 169 AH.

Imam Malik (r.a.) studied under various famed scholars, including Shaykh Hisham ibn ‘Urwah ibn Zubayr (r.a.) and Imam ibn Shihab az-Zuhri (r.a.).  Along with Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), the founder of the Hanafi madzhab, he learnt at the household of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) lineage, Imam Ja’far asw Swadiq (q.s.).  Some of Imam Malik’s (r.a.) other teachers include Shaykh Abu az-Zanad (r.a.); Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Zakwan (r.a.); Shaykh Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Answari (r.a.); Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Dinar (r.a.); Zayd ibn Aslam (r.a.), the former servant of ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.); Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr ibn Hazm (r.a.); Imam Sa’id ibn Abu Sa’id al-Maqbari (r.a.); Shaykh Sumayy (r.a.), the former servant of Abu Bakr (r.a.); Shaykh Ayyub Sakhtiyani (r.a.); Shaykh ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr (r.a.); Shaykh Tsawri ibn Zayd ad-Dabli (r.a.); Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Abi Ablah al-Maqdisi (r.a.); Shaykh Rabi’ah ibn Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.); Imam Humayd Ta’wil (r.a.) and Shaykha ‘Aishah bint Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqasw (r.a.),

Imam Malik (r.a.) had thousands of students.  Some hagiographers have mentioned so many.  Hafizh ibn Katsir (r.a.) and Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) and Qadhi ‘Iyadh (r.a.) have mentioned over 1,300 names who have narrated ahadits from the great Imam (r.a.).  Imam ad-Daraquthni (r.a.) mentioned 1,000.  Hafizh Abu Bakr al-Khathib al-Baghdadi (r.a.) mentioned 993.  Some of Imam Malik’s (r.a.) teachers were also later his students.  They include Shaykh Zuhri Abu al-Aswad (r.a.); Shaykh Ayyub Sakhtiyani (r.a.) Shaykh ar-Rabi’ah ar-Ra’iy (r.a.); Shaykh Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Answari (r.a.); Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abi Zi’ab (r.a.); Shaykh ibn Jarih (r.a.) and Shaykh al-A’amash (r.a.).  Some other amongst his eminent pupils included Imam Muhammad (r.a.); Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.); Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak (r.a.); Imam Layts ibn Sa’ad (r.a.); Imam Shu’bah (r.a.); Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (r.a.); Imam ibn Jurayj (r.a.); Imam ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.); Shaykh Yahya al-Qaththan (r.a.); Imam ibn Mahdi (r.a.) and Shaykh Abu A’asim an-Nabil (r.a.).

In the beginning of his quest for knowledge, Imam Malik (r.a.) did not have much means to acquire it properly so he sold the ceiling beams of his home to purchase books and papers.  After some time, Allah (s.w.t.) Bestowed upon him substantial wealth.  Imam Malik’s (r.a.) memory was extraordinary.  He himself said that anything he recorded in his memory would never be forgotten again.  It is reported that Imam Malik (r.a.) had the best memory in all of Hijaz.  In the knowledge of ahadits and fiqh. Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) said, “If Malik and ibn ‘Uyaynah where not here, the knowledge of Hijaz would be gone.”

Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) said, “There remains no scholar in Madina after the tabi’in comparable to Imam Malik in knowledge, jurisprudence, eminence, and memorisation.”

Imam Malik’s (r.a.) chain of narrators was considered the most authentic and known as Silsilah adz-Dzahab or “The Golden Chain of Narrators” by notable hadits scholars including Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.).  The silsilah consists of Imam Malik (r.a.), who narrated from Imam Nafi’ (r.a.), who narrated from ibn ‘Umar (r.a.), who narrated from Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).

He practiced extreme care in regards to narrating ahadits, and did not take ahadits from just anyone.  Imam Malik (r.a.) said, “I do not accept knowledge from four types of people: a person well-known to be foolish, even though all the other people narrate from him, a person involved in committing heresy and calling others towards the innovation in Diyn, a person who lies in regular conversation with people, even though I do not accuse him as liar in regards to ahadits, and a person who is pious worshipper or scholar, but does not properly and correctly memorise what he narrates.”

It was asked of Imam Malik (r.a.), “Why do you not take narrations from ‘Amr ibn Di’ar?”

He replied, “I went to him and I found him narrating ahadits to others while in a standing position.  So, I thought to myself that the ahadits of the Prophet (s.a.w.) is too great and majestic to take them in a standing position.”

He would take great caution and narrate only from authentic and reliable sources.  Even other great scholars and companions of his time bore witness to this.  Imam Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.) said, “May Allah have Mercy upon Malik.  He is extremely critical of the men,” meaning in regards to the chain of narrators of a hadits.  He also said, “Malik only used to narrate to others authentic ahadits.  He would not report except from the most reliable narrators.  I do not see Madina but in decrease after the death of Malik.”

One of his greatest pupils, Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) said, “When Imam Malik was in doubt over a hadits, he would totally disregard it.”

Eminent narrators in Imam Malik’s (r.a.) al-Muwaththa’ include, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Yusuf at-Tunisi (r.a.); Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Muslimah al-Qa’nabi (r.a.); Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Wahhab al-Miswri (r.a.); Imam Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laytsi (r.a.) and Imam Abu Musw’ab az-Zuhri (r.a.).

In fiqh, Imam Malik (r.a.) surpassed his contemporaries in Madina.  Shaykh Wahb ibn Rashid (r.a.) said, “I have never seen someone with the knowledge of deducing from the Qur’an as Malik, along with his great recognition of strong and weak narrations.”

Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Luhay’ah (r.a.) said, “I asked an-Nadhr ibn ‘Abd al-Jabbar who has a saying after Rabi’ah in Madina?  He replied, ‘al-Ghulam al-Aswbahi.’”  “al-Ghulam al-Aswbahi” is another nickname of Imam Malik (r.a.)

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) said, “I compared Imam Malik to Awza’iy, ats-Tsawri, Layts, Hammad, and al-Hakam in knowledge, and he is the leader in hadits and fiqh.”

Imam Malik (r.a.) adhered to a textual interpretation of ahadits in relation to Allah’s (s.w.t.) Attributes.  Imam ad-Daraquthni (r.a.) related that Imam Malik (r.a.) was asked about the Attributes of Allah (s.w.t.), and he answered, “Pass them on as they come.”

Qadhi ‘Iyadh (r.a.) related that Imam Malik (r.a.) was asked whether people would see Allah (s.w.t.) given the narration, “And some faces shall be shining and radiant upon that day, looking at their Lord.”

Imam Malik (r.a.) answered, “Yes, with these two eyes of his.”

And when his student replied, “There are a people who say he will not be looking at Allah, that ‘looking’ means a ‘reward,’”

Imam Malik (r.a.) answered, “They lied; rather they will look at Allah.”

Imam Malik (r.a.) only learned from those known for their purity, piety and trustworthiness, who excelled in memorisation and jurisprudence.  The teachers mentioned in al-Muwaththa’ were from all in Madina.  He narrated ahadits from 95 of them.  This achievement ensured that all the knowledge of Madina was now in one place, earning him the title, Imam Dar al-Hijrah.

Imam Malik (r.a.) narrated ahadits and taught from the age of 17 to about 79.  He gave service to the teachings of the Prophet (s.a.w.), giving lessons on fiqh and issuing fatawa for 62 years of his life.  Before Imam Malik (r.a.) would narrate or dictate ahadits to others, he would perform wudhu’ or take a bath, put on his best and most expensive clothing, groom himself, put on musk or another fragrance and then proceed to the gathering with the utmost dignity and respect.  In every gathering, incense and sandalwood would be burnt continuously until the lesson was over.  In Imam Malik’s (r.a.) gatherings, there would always be plush and expensive mats or carpeting spread out on the floor and when he arrive, there would be pin-drop silence out of the respect for him.  In these gatherings, the students would sit around the Imam (r.a.), just like how a king’s servants would gather around his throne.

Imam Malik (r.a.) was extremely cautious in regards to issuing fatawa.  Shaykh ar-Rabi’ah ar-Ra’iy (r.a.) reported, “We were with Imam Malik when a man entered upon us and asked Imam Malik, ‘Abu Abdullah!  Tell me about the verse:

The Beneficent One, Who is Established on the Throne. (Surah ThaHa:5)

How is He established?’

Imam Malik (r.a.) was immediately overwhelmed and lowering his head he started poking the earth with a twig, and continued in this state until he was entirely soaked in perspiration.  Then raising his head, he said, ‘The how is incomprehensible; the Establishment is not unknown; belief in it is compulsory; asking about it is an innovation; and I do not think that you are anything but a person of innovation.’  Then he commanded that the man be shown out.”

On another occasion, a delegation having heard about his vast knowledge, travelled from far to visit him.  They then proceeded to ask him forty-eight questions, and he replied with, “I do not know” to thirty-two questions.

In another instance, a man upon receiving the same answer said to him, “What shall I tell my people, who have sent me from so far to you, the most knowledgeable person of Madina?”

Imam Malik (r.a.) replied, “Tell your people that Malik does not know.”

Imam ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (r.a.) reported that one time, Imam Malik (r.a.) was continuously stung by a scorpion under his garment over ten times while narrating ahadits.  During the narration of the ahadits, he did not stop in order to remove it; rather he continued to narrate until the end.  “I noticed the discoloration of his face when the Imam was being stung.  Afterwards, when all the people had left, I came to the Imam and asked him what had happened.  He replied, ‘A scorpion was stinging me under my garment.  I could not have kept my patience because of my self-restraint; rather it was out of the respect of the ahadits of the Prophet (s.a.w.) that I did not remove it.’”

Imam Malik (r.a.) believed that the Qur’an is ghayr makhluq, not a Creation.  He also believed that Allah (s.w.t.) is Established on His Throne just as He has Described in the Qur’an.  He believed that Allah (s.w.t.) has Knowledge of all things and that the believers will see Him with their eyes on the Day of Judgement.  He believed that iman is to be declared and is manifested through actions that will increase by obedience and decrease by committing sins.  He believed that anyone who uses abusive language against the Prophet (s.a.w.) should be given death and that repentance should not avail them.  He believed that Abu Bakr (r.a.) and ‘Umar (r.a.) were the best in the ummah after the Prophet (s.a.w.) and that those who follow the beliefs of the Qadariyyah sect, prayer is not valid behind them and their women cannot be married.

Imam Malik (r.a.) was vehemently opposed to bid’ah and directed others not to extend the salaam to the ahl al-bidah, stating, “How evil are the People of Innovation; we do not give them felicitations.”  Imam Malik (r.a.) explained that, “He who establishes an innovation in Islam, regarding it as something good, has claimed that Muhammad (s.a.w.) has betrayed his trust to deliver the message as Allah Says, ‘This day have I Perfected for you your religion.’  And whatsoever was not part of the religion then, is not part of the religion today.”  This statement has long since been qualified by the scholars of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah to refer to harmful innovations in worship.

... This day have I Perfected your religion for you ... (Surah al-Ma’idah:3)

Imam Malik (r.a.) sternly prohibited theological rhetoric and philosophical speech, kalam.  Imam Malik (r.a.) believed that kalam was rooted in heretical doctrines taken up and followed by controversial theologians such as Jahm ibn Swafwan.  When asked about an individual who delved into kalam, Imam Malik (r.a.) answered, “He establishes his innuendo with kalam, and if kalam had been knowledge, the companions and the tabi’in would have spoken about it, just as they spoke about the rules and regulations.”  It must be noted however, that the Maliki madzhab and the other schools are not against kalam per se, rather it was against the methodology that lead to the Mu’taziliyyah and Jahmiyyah, the deniers of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Attributes who also said that the Qur’an is Created, which is heresy.

Even when Imam Malik (r.a.) attained old age and became very weak, he never rode in Madina.  He felt that it was disrespectful to ride on the very land that the Prophet (s.a.w.) is buried.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) said, “I saw at the door of Imam Malik’s home, beautiful horses from Khurasan and Egyptian mules.  So I said to him they were very nice.  He said, ‘They are yours as a gift from me.  I replied that he should keep one for himself.  His reply was, ‘I am embarrassed to do so.  How can I ride on them when the body of the Prophet (s.a.w.) is buried here in Madina and the land is being trod upon with the hooves of horses?’”

Imam Abu Musw’ab az-Zuhri (r.a.) said, “Imam Malik was reliable, safeguarded, trustworthy in ahadits, a great scholar, jurist, proof-bearer and a God-fearing man.”

Shaykh Yahya ibn Mu’in (r.a.) said, “He is the Amir al-Mu’minin of ahadits.”

Imam ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Mahdi (r.a.) said, “There is no one more trustworthy in ahadits an-abadi on the face of this earth other than Imam Malik.”  He also said, “Sufyan ats-Tsawri is the Imam of Ahadits, not the Imam of Sunnah while Awza’iy is the Imam of Sunnah, not the Imam of Ahadits; but Imam Malik in the Imam of Ahadits and the Imam of Sunnah.”

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) said, “I have never seen anyone quicker in understanding, correct in answering and testing than Imam Malik.”

Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) said, “After the tabi’in, Imam Malik is the proof-bearer on this entire earth for or against the people.” ·He also said, “Knowledge is encircled by three men: Malik ibn Anas, Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah, and Layts ibn Sa’ad,” and, “When the scholars of knowledge are mentioned, Imam Malik is the guiding star.”

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) said, “I was asked whose ahadits should be memorised by heart if from anyone?  I replied Malik bin Anas.”  He also said, “I have compared Imam Malik to Awza'iy, Hammad, al-Hakim, ats-Tsawri and Layts, in knowledge, but he is the leader in ahadits and fiqh.

Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) said, “I was asked, ‘Whose is the most authentic chain of narrators.’  I replied from Malik from Nafi’ from ibn ‘Umar.”

Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.) said, “After the tabi’in, the most understanding, reliable and trustworthy man in ahadits is Imam Malik.  He has hardly narrated from a weak narrator apart from Abu Umayyah ibn ‘Abd al-Karim who is matruk.”

The great Imam (r.a.) reached the age of between 84 to 90 years when he became ill on a Sunday and this illness continued to get worse for three weeks until on the 11th or 14th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, 179 AH, he passed away.  He was buried in Jannat al-Baqi’, the cemetery across from Masjid an-Nabawi.  Imam Malik's (r.a.) last words were related by Shaykh Isma’il ibn Abi Uways (r.a.) who said, “Malik became sick, so I asked some of our people about what he said at the time of his death.  They said, ‘He recited the shahadah:’”  Imam Malik (r.a.) left behind three sons, Yahya, Muhammad, and Hammad.


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