Imām Mālik رحمه الله
Full Name: Mālik ibn Anas
His Teachers Include: The great Muḥaddith, Ibn Shihāb Az-Zuhrī رحمه الله, Nāfi‘ the freed slave of ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar رضي الله عنهم, Rabī‘ah Ar-Rāy رحمه الله
He was tall, well-built and fair skinned. He was handsome in appearance, impeccably well-dressed - often in white –, and well perfumed.
He became a great muḥaddith and faqīh of his time, to the extent that people would flock to him to learn the knowledge of aḥādīth and fiqh as they would flock to see a monarch. The greatness of his knowledge was such that he himself said, “There are very few people whom I studied from that passed away without having to come to me and ask me for a fatwa”. People would take great pride in being his students. When narrating aḥādīth, if anyone said, ‘Imām Mālik narrated to us…’ the people would revere him and look up to him. He was so famous for his knowledge that he became a proverbial in this respect: ‘No fatwā would be given by any ‘ālim, as long as Imām Mālik رحمه الله was alive in Al-Madīnah.’
Two Great Lessons
One great lesson that can be learnt from his life can be derived from his statement, “I did not start issuing fatāwā until 70 different ‘Ulamā testified that I am qualified to do so”. This tells us that before doing something it is vital that you have the backing of the seniors, especially in the matters of Dīn. When it comes to issuing fatāwā (Islāmic rulings), or actively taking part in issues related to Dīn, we should consult our seniors first. Similarly, before trusting any ‘ālim or any speaker on religious issues, we should do a little research regarding the education of that person. We should not think that because a lot of people listen to him and benefit from him, or because of the way he speaks, or the things he says, it will be okay to listen to him without finding out who he is, where he has studied and what he has studied. Not giving enough attention to this is dangerous for our Dīn because we might be presented with something incorrect, and as a result we may end up practicing upon something which is not part of the Sharī‘ah.
Another lesson we learn from his life is that we should never rush into answering questions related to our Dīn. Before answering we should ask ourselves:
Am I qualified to give an answer?
Do I have enough knowledge to answer this question?
If you know the answer but have a slight doubt, you should not answer that question as a precation. You shouldn’t be ashamed to say, ‘I do not know’. Imām Mālik رحمه الله, despite having so much knowledge was never ashamed to answer, ‘I do not know’. It is narrated that there were so many instances wherein he would be asked a question and he would reply, “I do not know”, and this would happen approximately 5 times in each gathering.
On one occasion, someone asked Imām Mālik رحمه الله a question to which he replied, “I do not know the proper answer.” The person then said, “I have travelled so many miles in order to ask you regarding this! What answer should I give to my people when I return to them?” Imām Mālik رحمه الله said, “When you go back home to your people, tell them that I told you I did not know the proper answer.”
We learn from this that despite being so knowledgeable, Imām Mālik رحمه الله was never afraid of excusing himself from answering due to insufficient knowledge. Despite this, he became one of the four greatest Imāms who millions follow, remember and revere today.
His Reverence for Ḥadīth
Whenever Imām Mālik رحمه الله would want to narrate aḥādīth, he would perform wuḍū, sit on his cushion, comb his beard and sit comfortably with awe and dignity, and then would start narrating. He was once asked why he did this, to which he replied, “I wish to revere the aḥādīth of the Prophet ﷺ, and only narrate while in the state of purity and being relaxed.” He would dislike narrating aḥādīth on the street whilst standing, or in a hurry.
He would say, “Whoever raises his voice whilst the aḥādīth of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ are being narrated, it is as if he has raised his voice in the presence of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ himself.”
By this statement, he was alluding to the āyah of the Qur’ān in which Allāh warns:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لَا تَرۡفَعُوٓاْ أَصۡوٰتَكُمۡ فَوۡقَ صَوۡتِ ٱلنَّبِىِّ وَلَا تَجۡهَرُواْ لَهُ بِٱلۡقَوۡلِ كَجَهۡرِ بَعۡضِكُمۡ لِبَعۡضٍ أَن تَحۡبَطَ أَعۡمَـٰلُكُمۡ وَأَنتُمۡ لَا تَشۡعُرُونَ
‘O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and be not loud when speaking to him, as you are loud when speaking to one another, lest your good deeds should become void while you are not aware.’ (49:2)
He passed away on the 14th of either Rabī‘-Al-Awwal or Ṣafar, in the year 179AH, at the age of 85, and is buried in Al-Baqī‘.
Ṣifat-Aṣ-Ṣafwah of Ibn Al-Jawzī رحمه الله
Siyar-A‘lām-An-Nubalā, Imām Adh-Dhahabī رحمه الله