Last Updated on 22nd September 2020
Malik Saif-ur-Rahman (1914-1989)
Malik bin Anas bin Malik bin Abu Amer al-Asbahi was his name and his titles were Amirul Momineen fil-Hadith and Imam Dar-ul-Hijrat. He was born in 93 AH and passed away in 179 AH at the age of 86.
Imam Malikrh was 13 years junior to Imam Abu Hanifarh, but lived a longer life than any of the famous imams of fiqh.
His family belonged to the Yemeni tribe of al-Asbah. Due to certain circumstances, his grandfather, Malik, migrated to Medina.
His grandfather met many Companionsra of the Holy Prophetsa and he narrated many of their traditions. He is counted among the foremost Tabi‘in [the generation that followed the Companionsra].
His son, Nazar was also considered a great muhadith [scholar of hadith], while his other son, Anas – the father of Imam Malikrh – was not very educated. Anas would craft arrows and sell them for a living, due to which he had a meagre income.
Out of love or custom, Imam Malikrh was made to wear small earrings in his childhood, which are said to have suited him. He had committed the entire Holy Quran to memory at a young age. Later, upon the encouragement of his mother, he started visiting the famous scholar Rabi‘a bin Abdur Rahman – who was famous by the appellation, Rabi‘atur-Ray – for pursuing education.
Another teacher of Imam Malikrh was Abdur Rahman bin Hurmuz. He spent around 13 years in his company. Aside from fiqh, Ibn Hurmuz had knowledge of the fundamentals of Islam and the views of sects of the time and their history. This young, promising student benefitted a great deal from Ibn Hurmuz’s knowledge, getting an education and studying literature.
Ibn Hurmuz would say, “If you are not aware of the answer to a question, do not display unnecessary formality. You should clearly say that you do not know. Therein lies your respect.”
Imam Malikrh always lived by this advice. If he was ever asked a question that he did not know the answer to, he would simply reply, “La adri” – “I do not know.”
Once, a person traveling from Africa, asked him a question. [After receiving an answer in the negative] he said to Hazrat Imam Malikrh, “You are such a big scholar and I have come from far away, yet you reply by saying, ‘La adri.’” Imam Malikrh replied, “Yes, yes, go and announce to the world that Malik does not know the answer to this.”
Aside from the aforementioned two scholars, Imam Malikrh had the honour of being a student of Nafi‘ Mawla ibn Umarra, Muhammad bin Shihab al-Zuhrirh and Imam Jafar Sadiqrh.
Imam Jafar Sadiqrh was the flagbearer for the Ahl-e-Bait. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was a student of Saeed bin Musayyab and transmitted many traditions of Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit. Nafi‘ belonged to the progeny of Ibn Umarra and was the flagbearer of Medina.
Imam Malikrh also studied hadith and fiqh from Yahya bin Saeed al-Ansari, but he was most inspired by Ibn Hurmuz and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri.
While selecting ahadith, Imam Malikrh was extremely careful. Once, he said, “I have seen more than 70 scholars who would sit between two pillars of Masjid al-Nabawi and deliver lectures on what the Holy Prophetsa said. They were all pious, honest and in financial matters, trustworthy, however I never learnt a thing from them on the subject of hadith as they were, in my view, not fit to be called muhadith.”
In terms of acquiring knowledge, Imam Malikrh exerted a lot of effort. Despite the extremes of weather, he would visit his teachers and would try not to miss a single lesson. Acquiring knowledge of hadith was his primary goal. Through the likes of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Ibn Hurmuz, Rabi‘atur-Ray and Yahya bin Saeed al-Ansari, he gathered ahadith. He also gathered the fatwas [religious rulings] of Hazrat Umarra, Hazrat Usmanra, Hazrat Ibn Umarra, Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit and Hazrat Abdur Rahmanra bin Auf.
He specialised in the fatwas of the well-known Tabi‘een and especially the seven famous jurists of Medina, however the total number of ahadith and fatwas he considered worthy of compiling in his book, Muwatta, totalled 1,720. Of those, Ibn Shihab’s narrations amount to 100.
Whilst narrating ahadith, he would take extra care. Neither would he incorporate any sort of hadith, nor would he deem every narration as credible. Ibn Hurmuz would deem the practices of the dwellers of Medina more credible than ahaad ahadith [not narrated by many or narrated by a single narrator]. He would often say:
اَلفٌ عن اَلفٍ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ وَّاحِدٍ عَنْ وَّاحِدٍ
This means that giving preference to a thousand practices or narrations from a thousand people is better than listening to a practice or narration from a single person.
Imam Malikrh agreed with this view and gave immense importance to the practices of the dwellers of Medina at the time.
All of Imam Malik’s teachers belonged to Medina. Medina was the place he acquired education and he did not travel anywhere else in the pursuit of education.
He held Hazrat Umarrh bin Abdul Aziz in high regard. He would honour his views and praise his accomplishments.
Imam Malik’s students
After completing his education, with the approval and guidance of his teachers, he began teaching hadith. He began teaching in Masjid al-Nabawi. His madrasah gradually gained popularity and his lessons of hadith received acclaim. His popularity increased and acceptance spread, so much so that he received the titles of Imam Dar-ul-Hijrat, Ustaz Medinatur-Rasul and Amirul Momineen fil-Hadith.
In terms of students too, he was very fortunate. Students came from as far as Spain, Africa and Turkistan and returned to their homelands with a wealth of knowledge.
Two imams of their own mazhabs, Imam Shafi‘irh and Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani were his students. Imam Shafi‘irh remained his student for 10 years, while Imam Muhammadrh, after leaving Iraq following the demise of Imam Abu Hanifarh and settling in Medina, remained his student for three years.
Aside from them, six Abbasid Khulafa were also his students and learnt from his Muwatta: Abu Jafar Mansur, Hadi, Mahdi, Harun al-Rashid, Al-Amin and Mamun al-Rashid.
Those through whom his fiqh spread in Spain and Egypt were considered famous and influential jurists of their time. Abdur Rahman bin Qasim, Abdullah bin Wahb, Ashab bin Abdul Aziz, Abdullah bin Ghanem al-Afriqi and Yahya al-Andalusi were his students who returned to their homelands as imam of Egypt or imam of Spain.
Abdur Rahman bin Qasim remained with Imam Malikrh for around 20 years and he holds the same esteem among Malikis as does Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani among the Hanafites. Imam Ibn Hazam al-Andalusi would say that Ibn al-Qasim compiled the Maliki fiqh. The famous Maliki work, Al-Mudawwana was a result of his effort.
Asad ibn al-Furat and Abdus Salam bin Saeed Sahnun both asked innumerable fiqh-related questions to Ibn al-Qasim, of which some were taken from Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani’s views. The answers which were given by Ibn al-Qasim were prepared in light of Imam Malik’s views. These questions and answers would later become famous by the name, Mudawwana Sahnun. This book includes around 36,000 rulings. Ibn al-Qasim passed away in 191 AH.
The second famous Egyptian student of Imam Malikrh was Abdullah bin Wahb. He was termed as the Maliki diwan-ul-ilm [authority of knowledge]. Imam Malikrh said:
ابنُ وَهبٍ عَالِمٌ وَابْنُ الْقَاسِم فَقِيْهٌ
“Ibn Wahb is the scholar, whilst Ibn al-Qasim is the faqih.”
The manuscript of one of his greatest works, Jami‘ ibn Wahb was only recently discovered. Ibn Wahb passed away in 197 AH.
The third famous student of Imam Malikrh belonging to Egypt was Ashab bin Abdul Aziz. Imam Shafi‘irh would say, “I have never seen such an expert in fiqh as was Ashab.” However, he was sensitive by nature. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim held him to be the biggest faqih [expert in fiqh] of the Maliki order. Ashab passed away in 204 AH.
Abdullah bin al-Hakam was also a famous student of Imam Malikrh and a knowledgeable faqih. His book, Al-Mukhtasir al-Kabir consists of 18,000 rulings. He wrote a biography on Hazrat Umarrh bin Abdul Aziz in light of Imam Malik’srh narrations. He also served as the governor in a region of Egypt. He had very close and sincere ties with Hazrat Imam Shafi‘irh. When Imam Shafi‘irh visited Egypt, he helped him a great deal and extended all sorts of assistance.
The Maliki order gained acclaim in Spain through Isa bin Dinar and Yahya bin Yahya al-Laythi, both of whom were devoted and talented students of Hazrat Imam Malikrh.
Yahya was from the Barbary Coast. At the age of 28, he travelled to Medina and studied most of the Muwatta from Imam Malikrh. After Imam Malik’s demise, he travelled to Mecca and studied hadith from Sufyan bin Uyaynah. He then went to Egypt and studied from Ibn al-Qasim. After seeking knowledge, he returned to Spain and gained acclaim in the intellectual circles.
The Umayyad Amir, Al-Hakam I, Ibn Hisham had immense regard for him. He would consult him before appointing a qazi [jurist] in Spain. Despite repeated requests, he never accepted an official government level post. His sincerity left a great impression on the amir.
Nonetheless, as a result of his efforts, the Maliki order gained popularity in Spain. His narrations are considered the most known and authentic of Imam Malik’s Muwatta.
Imam Malik’s fiqh-related views
Imam Malikrh was a muhadith. After the Quran and Sunnah, he held the fatwas of the Companionsra and practices of the dwellers of Medina to be the most authentic sources of knowledge. He would refrain from innovations in religion and would only resort to ijtihad [exerting one’s mental faculty to find a solution to a legal question] when necessary. He would then present his view on a particular subject.
Imam Malik’srh views, i.e. the sources he used for ijtihad, were mostly based on masalih-e-mursalah and even when the meaning of the text was clear, he would at times make use of qiyas [deductive analogy].
In terms of sanad [chain of narrators], Imam Malikrh had the honour of having the most authentic and brief chain of narrators. This form of sanad is called silsilatuz-zahab, for example:
“Malik narrated from Nafi‘, who narrated from Ibn Umarra, who narrated from the Holy Prophetsa …”
No other imam of fiqh had the honour of having such a high standard of sanad, including Imam Abu Hanifarh, who was older than him and whose sanads would include no less than four narrators before reaching the Holy Prophetsa.
As far as literature is concerned, Imam Malik’s original work is the Muwatta, which include 1,720 narrations and 95 narrators. Apart from six, all narrators belonged to Medina. Among those six, two belonged to Basra, one was from Mecca, one from Algeria, one from Syria and the last from Khurasan.
The Muwatta consists of ahadith and rulings of fiqh. It includes around 500 authentic marfu‘ ahadith [directly heard from the Prophetsa by the narrator], while around 300 are mursal [without a companion in the sanad] and the rest is based on the sayings and fatwas of the Companionsra and the Tabi‘in and the practices of the residents of Medina.
There are 30 versions of the Muwatta with small variations, two of which are in common use. One version was prepared by Yahya bin Yahya al-Laythi al-Andalusi and is famous by the name Muwatta Imam, while the other was compiled by Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani and is famous by his name i.e. Muwatta Imam Muhammad. In this version, Imam Muhammadrh has referred to the Hanafi order at different places.
Imam Shafi‘irh would often say with regard to the Muwatta:
مَا فِى الْاَرْضِ كِتَابٌ فِى الفِقْهِ وَالْعِلْمِ اَكْثَرُ صَوَاباً مِّن كِتَابِ مَالِكٍ
“There is no book in the world of fiqh or knowledge [of hadith] that is more authentic than Imam Malik’s book.”
Imam Malik’s students gathered his fiqh-related views with great depth, of which the following are most famous: Al-Mudawwana li-Sahnun, Kitab-ul-Majalisat li-Ibn Wahb, Al-Mukhtasir al-Kabir li-Ibn Abdul Hakam.
Imam Malikrh was of the view that religious knowledge could be divided into three categories:
The first type of religious knowledge was that which everyone must endeavour to acquire, and that is hadith and the fatwas of the Companionsra and the Tabi‘in. It was necessary for everyone to acquire this knowledge so that they could follow it in their day to day lives and reap the rewards of this world.
The second type of knowledge related to doctrine; the views of different sects and the concept of debate and polemics. In his view, this knowledge was for the intellectual yet righteous scholars. The normal public could not understand this and if they got too involved, there was a chance of them being misled, therefore he said that they should be refrained from this.
The third type of knowledge was fiqh-related, based on one’s own deduction, i.e. ijtihad, which required a skill over various sources of knowledge. Extensive reflection and deliberation in this could take a person away from moderation and so, this should only be used when necessary. Only when actual circumstances were faced and no textual evidence was found in support of the matter should a person resort to expressing their own opinion. To contrive controversial scenarios ahead of time and then to deliberate on their solutions was improper, nor was it of any benefit.
Imam Malik’srh way of seeking knowledge was that if no textual evidence was found in support of a matter, he would often express his view after reflecting on the masalih-e-Ummah and deliberation. His views would be rational and acceptable in every sense. He did not agree with the Hanafi way of thought, in that he did not deliberate on hypothetical scenarios, nor would he resort to qiyas as much as they did.
As has been mentioned earlier, Hazrat Imam Malik’srh family was not particularly affluent and survived on a meagre income. He acquired education in very difficult circumstances. When he began teaching, even then his financial state was deficient. He had around 400 dinars, which he invested in a business. Whatever he earned from his business was what he would spend for domestic use.
He married a freed slave and lived a happy life with her. When he gained worldwide acclaim and people started to recognise him, statesmen and caliphs began visiting him. In this way, Allah strengthened his economic status. He would not accept gifts from ordinary leaders, however he happily accepted the gifts sent by caliphs. He was of the view that if a caliph sent a gift and it had no strings attached, there was no harm in accepting it because those who had dedicated their lives for the proliferation of knowledge had a share from the bait-ul-mal [central reserve].
Whatever monetary gifts were sent his way from Abbasid caliphs, he would spend most of it on students of his madrasah [school]. Most of the expenses of Imam Shafi‘i’srh education were covered by Imam Malikrh, as was the case with the rest of his students. As regards accepting monetary gifts from caliphs, Imam Shafi‘irh shared the same view, although because he belonged to the category of zawil-qurba, he personally preferred not to benefit from this.
In contrast however, Imam Abu Hanifarh and Imam Ahmadrh bin Hanbal held the view that any monetary gift sent by caliphs should not be accepted as such motives have strings attached. Imam Abu Hanifarh never needed such gifts as he had a well-established business from which he earned thousands, however Imam Ahmad’srh income was very basic. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbalrh would earn a small amount through property and would live off that. If times were desperate, he would perform manual labour to earn money. After crops had been harvested, he would go to collect fallen wheat spikes as this was considered acceptable and a basic right for the less privileged. Despite all this, he never accepted any gift sent by caliphs of the time.
Imam Malikrh and governance
Imam Malikrh saw the rise of both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Both were authoritarian rules. As he lived a long period under the Umayyad rule and had a special bond with Hazrat Umarrh bin Abdul Aziz and because he would openly express his grief at the rebellion and harsh treatment extended to Hazrat Usmanra, he was famously known for being a supporter of the Umayyads.
The fact is that he was against any form of rebellion. His view was that the bloodshed caused by rebellion saw no limit, and even if the rebellion was successful, those who gained dominance were usually as bad as the previous rulers, if not worse. In such circumstances, there could be no hope of improvement or any sort of benefit. With regard to the Abbasid Revolution, he held similar views and it was for this reason that initially, the Abbasids had negative views about him. In any case, history has not recorded any incident of the Umayyad period which relates to him, nor is it known how his ties were with the Umayyad caliphs.
This period is when he started to gain acclaim, hence why it does not seem plausible that he was the focus of attention for the government. When the Abbasids gained dominance, as has been mentioned in passing above, he had to endure certain difficulties. One was a result of the forceful oaths that were being taken by the new government from the public. From a Shariah perspective, the oaths had no bearing and whilst being questioned, he would openly express this opinion. The other famous imams were free from any want and wanted nothing to do with such authoritarian governments.
In contrast to this however, it was the policy and desire of governments at the time to attract the support of the well-accepted, influential figures and their help in strengthening the government. In such circumstances, those who were not prepared to submit to the will of the new government and extend their support were subjected to cruelties by the new regime. Abu Hanifarh faced similar conditions in Iraq, whilst Imam Malikrh experienced bitterness in Medina. Both had to deal with harsh consequences.
As has been mentioned above, the Abbasid caliphs, especially Abu Jafar Mansur, would try their utmost to prevent any uprising against the government. On the one hand were supporters of the Umayyads, who were opposed to the Abbasid rule and were searching for opportunities to revolt, while on the other hand were supporters of the progeny of Hazrat Alira who were not happy as schemes had been started in their name and they expected to absorb the caliphate after the Umayyads. Thus, when this did not happen, the various offshoots of the Ahl-e-Bait [family of the Prophetsa] began to oppose the Abbasids severely and considered them disloyal and usurpers.
In such a scenario, the methods adopted by the Abbasids to keep the masses in their control included the method of taking oaths from them. People would be forced to promise while performing bai‘at that if they broke their covenant, their wives would immediately be given divorces and any marriage thereafter for 60 years would be considered null and void. Furthermore, all their slaves would be freed and all their wealth, offered as Sadaqah. These were the strange oaths forced upon subjects by the Abbasids.
A person once asked Hazrat Imam Malikrh about the validity of such oaths in light of the Shariah, to which he replied, “In light of the Shariah, such oaths are considered vain.”
The Abbasid governor of Medina at the time was somewhat ignorant. Instead of using his wisdom to make decisions, he was malevolent and extended cruel measures towards Imam Malikrh. When Mansur learnt of the foolishness of this governor, he was extremely disappointed and tried his utmost to neutralise the effect of the governor’s stupidity.
The reason for this was that it was the caliph’s desire to gain the support of the scholars and cruelty towards them was counterproductive. Nonetheless, during the days of Hajj, Mansur found an apt moment to resolve the situation. Mansur sent a message to Imam Malikrh that he wanted to talk to him about some pressing matters and that he should meet him after Hajj. They met accordingly and during their discussion, Mansur expressed his remorse and reassured Imam Malikrh that neither did he instruct for such a harsh treatment, nor was he aware of it.
He said that when he found out, he became furious with the governor, who happened to be his relative. He then went on to say that he ordered him to travel back to Baghdad by camel and he intended to punish him for his cruelty. Hazrat Imam Malikrh replied, “Amirul Momineen, do not do this. He is your relative and is from the Ahl-e-Bait. I forgive him and so should you.” Imam Malik’srh kind-heartednesses had a lasting impression on Mansur and he apologised to Imam Malikrh by saying that he was an asset for the Haramain (Mecca and Medina).
“Here, people easily fall trap to evildoers, however people like you can explain to them. Therefore, I give you the authority to notify me of any wrongdoing or injustice you notice on the part of the governors of Medina or the Hejaz and they shall immediately be relieved of their duties.”
Imam Malikrh had a great, positive impact on Mansur. The Abbasid caliphs increased their level of friendship with him and would send various types of gifts for him and to benefit from his teaching methods, would bring their children to Medina. Sometimes, he would sit among the children to listen in on the lessons being given. On the other hand, the Umayyads of Spain also had a special bond with him and would send gifts to him as frequently as the rest. There were political motives behind this because the government of Spain was opposed to the Abbasid caliphate and the only place they could freely move around in the region was in Mecca and Medina. Students belonging to Spain and the surrounding areas had their eyes set on the city of the Prophetsa, Medina.
Imam Malikrh, being the Ustaz Medinatur-Rasul [teacher in the Prophet’ssa city], was the focus of attention of both governments. As regards promoting good and stopping that which is forbidden, Imam Malikrh would not spare an opportunity, nor did other imams. In their own ways, they all fulfilled this obligation. The Abbasid government did its utmost to gain the support of the imams of the time so that through their relationship, the masses could be inclined towards them. Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifarh and his students were influential in Iraq. The efforts made to establish a connection with him have been discussed previously. Imam Abu Hanifarh remained unmoved by such efforts, however his students would later play influential roles in governance.
Hazrat Imam Malikrh was mostly influential in Egypt, the Hejaz etc. Governments did their best to gain his support. First, Abu Jafar Mansur pursued this in that he tried to make the Muwatta a part of the legal constitution of the government, which Imam Malikrh was not in favour of as he thought the scholars of other cities would not accept it. He said that there should be no compulsion in matters of faith. Then, Harun al-Rashid also expressed this same desire, to which Imam Malikrh had the same response.
Status of Imam Malikrh
Imam Malikrh was a rather tall, large, fair, awe-inspiring, attractive and handsome person. His beard was somewhat long, and he had noticeable eyes. He had good manners and was a clean person. In terms of influence and theological command, he lived a very successful life. Allah gave him a long life and enabled him to make the best use of his time. In later years, he suffered from diabetes, due to which he was unable to visit Masjid al-Nabawi for a long period and would teach his lessons at home. He never mentioned his suffering to anyone.
People raised many accusations against him when he was unable to visit the mosque, however he would remain silent. As his final days approached, he mentioned the reason behind not visiting the mosque to some of his special students and said, “It is not necessary to be vocal about your illness in front of everyone. Everyone must return to their Lord eventually and everyone is answerable before Him.”
His final illness rendered him extremely weak and resulted in his final hour, causing this exemplary star of knowledge and great leader of his time to return to his Lord in 179 AH at the age of 86. َ
فَاِنَّا لِلہِ وَاِنَّا اِلَیْہِ رَاجِعُوْنَ
The whole of Medina gathered to participate in his funeral, a scene that was witnessed after a long time because after the demise of Hazrat Umarra, no such event of mourning took place. He was buried in Jannatul-Baqi.
کُلُّ مَنْ عَلَیْھَا فَانٍ وَّیَبْقٰی وَجْہُ رَبِّکَ ذُوالْجَلٰلِ وَالْاِکْرَامِ
[All that is on it (earth) will pass away. And there will remain (only) the Person of thy Lord, Master of Glory and Honour.]
(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in Tarikh Afkar-e-Islami, which was authored by Malik Saif-ur-Rahman Sahib)