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Mālik ibn Anas, Abū ʿAbd Allāh

By:
Asma Afsaruddin
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Mālik ibn Anas, Abū ʿAbd Allāh

Abū ʿAbd Allāh Mālik ibn Anas (714–795 CE) was one of the most highly respected and earliest scholars of fiqh, the eponym of the Mālikī madhhab school of law in Sunnī Islam. He is known as the “Shaykh of Islam,” “Proof of the Community,” and “Imam of the Abode of Emigration.” He was born in Medina in 714 CE although his family was originally from Yemen. Living in Medina gave Mālik access to some of the best known scholars of the period. Among his teachers was ʿAbd Allāh ibn Yazīd ibn Hurmuz, a younger follower (a Muslim who saw one of the Prophet 's Companions, the Ṣaḥābah), who was regarded as one of the most learned people in Medina at his time. Another influential teacher was the older follower, Nāfiʿ, the mawlā (freedman) of the Companion ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿUmar, the son of the Caliph ʿUmar I.

Mālik had much faith in the reliability of the ḥadīths transmitted by Nāfiʿ, and the chain of transmission (isnād) “Mālik—Nāfiʿ—Ibn ʿUmar” was considered by later scholars of ḥadīth, including al-Bukhārī, as a “golden chain” on account of its excellence. Mālik studied for a while with the Shīʿī scholar Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq as well. Mālik excelled in the Qurʿānic and ḥadīth sciences, with a particular interest in law. Among his best known students are the scholars ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. al-Qāsim (d. 806 CE), ʿAbd Allāh b. Wahb (d. 812 CE), and ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Ḥākam (d. 829 CE) who played key roles in establishing the early Mālikī school.

Mālik is best remembered for his work entitled al-Muwaṭṭaʿ (The smoothed path), which was both a work of law and a collection of ḥadīth. If we except the legal work of Zayd ibn ʿAlī, al-Muwaṭṭaʿ is the oldest extant manual of law that has survived in the standard and complete editions by Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Maṣmūdī (d. 848 CE) and Muḥammad al-Shaybānī (d. 904 CE). Some sources list over eighty different transmissions of the Muwaṭṭaʿ directly from Mālik, most of which are not fully extant today. Early commentaries on the work were written by the above-mentioned Ibn Wahb, ʿIremoves b. Dīnār (d. 827 CE), Muḥammad b. ʿIremoves (d. c.833 CE), and others. Al-Shāfiʿī studied al-Muwaṭṭaʿ with Mālik, for which work the former professed the greatest admiration. A minority of scholars, such as Ibn al-Athīr and Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, included the Muwaṭṭaʿ among the six authoritative Sunnī ḥadīth compilations in lieu of the Sunan of Ibn Mājah.

The Muwaṭṭaʿ contains 898 reports attributed to the Companions and 822 ḥadīths from the Prophet, all of which were deemed authentic by virtue of the fact that these ḥadīths reflected the actual practice (ʿamal) of the Medinese. The Muwaṭṭaʿ reflects the point of view of the Medinan scholars that the true sunnah of the Prophet was attested by their own continuous practice assumed to be historically continuous with the Prophet 's, which thereby conferred legitimacy on a certain act or legal precept. This position did not discount ḥadīth narratives as such but made them secondary to “their own living experience of the law” that accorded with the prophetic past. When a Medinan practice and a ḥadīth were at odds, preference was given to the former. This preference for Medinan ʿamal or practice is what distinguishes the Mālikī school from other legal schools.

In a letter that he wrote to a fellow Medinan jurist, Layth ibn Saʿd (d. 791 CE), Mālik categorically lays down the superiority of the legal decisions based on Medinan practice over those of the other schools, because of the reservoir of firsthand knowledge of the prophetic sunnah to which the learned people of other cities could not lay claim. His student al-Shāfiʿī, however, would reverse Mālik 's order of preference and make the texts of recorded ḥadīths the final arbiter of the authenticity and legitimacy of prophetic practice. When neither practice nor ḥadīth could be adduced as evidence, Mālik resorted to personal discretionary opinion (raʿy), for which, like Abū Ḥanīfah, he was subjected to criticism by his anti-raʿy opponents.

After al-Muwaṭṭaʿ, the most important early Mālikī legal treatise is the Mudawwanah (The recorded [document]) by ʿAbd al-Salām ibn Saʿīd al-Tanūkhī (d. 845 CE), known as Saḥnūn, in which Mālik is referred to as one of the foremost authors of legal doctrines and opinions. The Mālikī legal school was predominant until recently in the Maghrib (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Muslim Spain in the premodern period) and in Muslim societies in the rest of Africa.

Mālik breathed his last in Medina in 796 CE when he was about 85 years old. He was buried, like Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, in the Baqīʿ cemetery across from the Prophet 's mosque. The governor of Medina at the time, ʿAbd Allāh ibn Zaynab, led the funeral prayer.

See also HADīTH; LAW, subentry onSUNNī SCHOOLS OF LAW; MADHHAB; and MEDINA.

Bibliography

  • Dutton, Yasin. The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʿān, the Muwaṭṭaʿ and Madinan ʿAmal. Richmond, U.K., 1999.
  • Hallaq, Wael.The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Mubārak, Aḥmad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-. Mālik b. Anas. Abu Dhabi, 1986.
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