Biography of Imam Malik

Imām Mālik ibn Anas

Imām Mālik is one of the four Imams from the schools of Jurisprudence. He led the Māliki school of Jurisprudence and is known as Imam of al-Madina.

His Name, Background and Family

His full name is Abū ʿAbd Allāh Mālik ibn Anas ibn al-Ḥārith al-Aṣbaḥī born in 93AH (715CE) in the city of Medina. He was also called Amirul Momineen fil-Hadith and Imam Dar-ul-Hijrat, the leader of the Muslims in hadith and the Imam of the place of migration i.e. Madina. His family belonged to the Yemeni tribe of al-Asbah. Due to certain circumstances, his grandfather, Malik, migrated to Medina. His grandfather met many Companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ and he narrated many of their traditions. He is counted among the foremost Tabi‘in. His son, Nazar was also considered a great muhaddith, scholar of hadith, while his other son, Anas was not very educated. Anas would craft arrows and sell them for a living, due to which he had a meagre income.

Imām Mālik 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. He was also known to be someone who dressed well and spent good money on his clothes. He had no fear of doing so as long as there was not any arrogance.

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].

Imām Mālik was liked by both the Umayyads and the Abbasids, but he still endured through bitterness and hardship from time to time. He was careful to remain independent from the state, but was not shy to express his views when the state went too far. For example, the Abbasids would force people to promise, while giving the pledge, 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. Imām Mālik stood up against such absurd obligations.

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 Imām Al-Shāfi’ī’s education were covered by Imām Mālik, as was the case with the rest of his students. As regards accepting monetary gifts from caliphs, Imām Al-Shāfi’ī 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, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal held the view that any monetary gift sent by caliphs should not be accepted as such motives have strings attached.

He was open about putting the deen before politics and he decared it’s not part of the deen to declare allegiance to a political caliph. On this occasion Imām Mālik was flogged. However this only increased his prestige, and during later years he regained favour with the central government.

Imām Mālik was 13 years junior to Imām Abū Ḥanīfah, so considered the second Imam of Jurisprudence, however he did live the longest.

His Journey to Seek Knowledge

Imām Mālik 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, known as Rabi‘atur-Ray to pursue education. All of Imām Mālik’s teachers belonged to Medina. Medina was the place he acquired education and he did not travel anywhere else in the pursuit of education. 

Another teacher of Imām Mālik 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.” Imām Mālik 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, to which he replied La adri, he said to Imām Mālik, “You are such a big scholar and I have come from far away, yet you reply by saying, ‘La adri.’” Imām Mālik replied, “Yes, yes, go and announce to the world that Malik does not know the answer to this.”

Aside from the aforementioned two scholars, Imām Mālik had the honour of being a student of Nafi‘ Mawla ibn Umar, Muhammad bin Shihab al-Zuhri and Imam Jafar Sadiq. Imam Jafar Sadiq was the flagbearer for the Ahl-e-Bait. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was a student of Saeed bin Musayyab and transmitted many traditions of Zaid bin Thabit. Nafi‘ belonged to the progeny of Ibn Umar and was the flagbearer of Medina.

Imām Mālik also studied hadith and fiqh Yahya bin Saeed al-Ansari, but he was most inspired by Ibn Hurmuz and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. He also gathered the fatwas [religious rulings] of Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Usman, Hazrat Ibn Umar, Hazrat Zaid bin Thabit and Hazrat Abdur Rahman bin Auf. 

After completing his education, 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, Ustadh Medinatur-Rasul and Amirul Momineen fil-Hadith. Students came from as far as Spain, Africa and Turkistan and returned to their homelands with a wealth of knowledge. 

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. 

Two of the greatest students were Imām Al-Shāfi’ī and Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani al Hanafi. 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. 

His main student, Abdur Rahman bin Qasim remained with Imām Mālik for around 20 years and he holds the same esteem among Malikis as does Imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaybani among the Hanafites.

The second famous Egyptian student of Imām Mālik was Abdullah bin Wahb. He was termed as the Maliki diwan-ul-ilm [authority of knowledge]. Imām Mālik said: “Ibn Wahb is the scholar, whilst Ibn al-Qasim is the faqih.”

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 Imām Mālik. Their narrations are considered the most known and authentic of Imam Malik’s Muwatta

The Muwatta

Imām Mālik is famously known for the Muwatta. A collection of hadith pertaining to Islamic Law. It is one of the oldest compendiums and also regarded as highly authentic. Imām Al-Shāfi’ī said ‘There is no book after the Book of Allah that is more authentic than the book of Malik.’

While selecting ahadith, Imām Mālik 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 Prophet ﷺ 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 muhaddith.’

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.

The Muwatta consists of ahadith and rulings of fiqh. It includes around 500 authentic marfu‘ ahadith [directly heard from the Prophet ﷺ 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 Companions 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 Muhammad adds the Hanafi view upon matters.

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 ahad ahadith. He would often say: “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.” Imām Mālik agreed with this view and gave immense importance to the practices of the dwellers of Medina at the time. 

In terms of sanad, Imām Mālik had the honour of having the most authentic and brief chain of narrators, a golden chain: Malik -> Nafi’-> ibn Umar -> Prophet ﷺ.


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.

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