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Four Imams | The Imam of Madinah

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His love for the Prophet ﷺ

‘Abdullāh b. Mubārak said:

“I was with Mālik b. Anas whilst he was conveying to us Ḥadīth, when a scorpion stung him sixteen times. Mālik’s colour began to change as he coerced himself to have patience without interrupting the Ḥadīth of the Prophet ﷺ. When the study circle ended and people dispersed, I said to him: ‘Father of Abdullah, I saw something in you that baffled me!’ Mālik said:

نَعَمْ ، إِنَّمَا صَبَرْتُ إِجْلالا لِحَدِيثِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ

‘Yes, I showed patience in order to honour the Ḥadīth of the Prophet ﷺ.’”[1]

Indeed, the love that Imām Mālik had for the Prophet ﷺ was extraordinary.

Muṣ’ab b. ‘Abdullāh said:

“Whenever Imām Mālik mentioned the Prophet ﷺ, his colour would change and he would lean forward. When he was asked about this, he said:

لو رأيتم ما رأيت لما أنكرتم علي ما ترون و لقد كنت أرى محمد بن المنكدر وكان سيد القراء لا نكاد نسأله عن حديث أبدا إلا يبكي حتى نرحمه

“If you had seen what I had seen, you would not be surprised by my behaviour. I have seen Muḥammad b. al-Munkadir who, whenever we would ask him about a Ḥadīth, he would cry until we would feel pity towards him.”

Imām Mālik also said about Ṣafwān b. Salīm:

إذا ذكر النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم بكى فلا يزال يبكي حتى يقوم الناس عنه و يتركوه

“Whenever he would make mention of the Prophet ﷺ, he would cry profusely, until people would get up and leave him sat by himself.”[2]

His fear of Allah

Ibn Wahb said:

 لو شئت أن أملأ ألواحي من قول مالك : ” لا أدري ” لفعلت

“If I was so inclined, I could fill my scrolls in documenting the sheer number of times Mālik said ‘I do not know’.”[3]

In fact, a man once asked Imām Mālik 48 questions, and for 32 of them, Imām Mālik said: “I do not know.” [4]

Ibn Sarḥ said:

 وقد صار لا أدري عند أهل زماننا هذا عيبًا

“The statement ‘I do not know’ in our times is now deemed embarrassing!”

Allahu Akbar! This is what Ibn Sarḥ said about his community. Bear in mind that he passed away in 250AH, nearly 1200 years ago. As for the Prophet ﷺ, he was not afraid in the least in saying ‘I do not know’. He once said:

مَا أَدْرِي تُبَّعٌ أَلَعِينًا كَانَ أَمْ لَا؟ وَمَا أَدْرِي ذُو الْقَرْنَيْنِ أَنَبِيًّا كَانَ أَمْ لَا؟ وَمَا أَدْرِي الْحُدُودَ كَفَّارَاتٌ لِأَهْلِهَا أَمْ لَا

“I do not know if (the people of) Tubba’ were cursed or not. I do not know if Dhul Qarnayn was a prophet or not. I do not know if capital punishment cleanses a person from sins or not.”[5]

The Companion Ibn Mas’ūd said:

من أفتى الناس في كل ما يستفتونه فهو مجنون

“Whoever provides an answer to every question that is posed to him is insane.”[6]

‘Abdul Raḥmān b. Abī Laylah said:

أدركتُ عشرين ومائة من الأنصار من أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، يُسأل أحدهم المسألة فيردها إلى هذا، وهذا إلى هذا، حتى ترجع إلى الأول منهم، ما منهم من أحد إلا ود أن أخاه كفاه الفتيا

“I met 120 Companions from the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ. One of them would be asked a question, so he would refer him to someone else, and that someone would refer him to someone else, until the question would return back to the first person. Each and every single one of them wished that his brother would spare him the burden of answering.”

The Companions were not afraid of exercising the Islamic practice of ‘I do not know’, for they had recognised that any answer is a signature on behalf of Allah and His Messenger. It is therefore important to realise that every opinion, lecture, and post or comment on your social media that is not the product of astute understanding, grounded knowledge, and sincerity is a forged signature.

Whether the matter is political, social, judicial, or otherwise, almost everyone seems to have an opinion to share these days. Abū Ḥasīn once said:

إن أحدكم ليفتي في المسألة، لو وردت على عمر بن الخطاب لجمع لها أهل بدر

“One of you issues verdicts on matters which, had they been presented to ‘Umar, he would have gathered the participants of the Battle of Badr for consultation!”[7]

When Imām Mālik answered a questioner with ‘I do not know’, the questioner urged him to answer, saying: “It is only a light matter.” This infuriated Imām Mālik who said:

ليس في العلم شيء خفيف، ألم تسمع قوله جل ثناؤه: “إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلا ثَقِيلا”

“No aspect of knowledge is light!  Have you not read the verse where Allah said, ‘We shall send down to you a heavy word’?”[8]

This was the way of all of the great Imāms. This point of understanding their frequent expressions of ‘I do not know’ shall be elaborated upon further when discussing Imām Aḥmad.

His letters

‘Abdullāh b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-‘Umari wrote a letter to Imām Mālik encouraging him to distance himself from public gatherings and to free up his time for seclusion and worship. Imām Mālik responded:

إنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ قَسَّمَ الْأَعْمَالَ كَمَا قَسَّمَ الْأَرْزَاقَ فَرُبَّ رَجُلٍ فُتِحَ لَهُ فِي الصَّلَاةِ وَلَمْ يُفْتَحْ لَهُ فِي الصَّوْمِ وَآخَرَ فُتِحَ لَهُ فِي الصَّدَقَةِ وَلَمْ يُفْتَحْ لَهُ فِي الصِّيَامِ وَآخَرَ فُتِحَ لَهُ فِي الْجِهَادِ وَلَمْ يُفْتَحْ لَهُ فِي الصَّلَاةِ وَنَشْرُ الْعِلْمِ وَتَعْلِيمُهُ مِنْ أَفْضَلِ أَعْمَالِ الْبِرِّ وَقَدْ رَضِيتُ بِمَا فَتَحَ اللَّهُ لِي فِيهِ مِنْ ذَلِكَ وَمَا أَظُنُّ مَا أَنَا فِيهِ بِدُونِ مَا أَنْتَ فِيهِ وَأَرْجُو أَنْ يَكُونَ كِلَانَا عَلَى خَيْرٍ وَيَجِبُ عَلَى كُلِّ وَاحِدٍ مِنَّا أَنْ يَرْضَى بِمَا قُسِّمَ لَهُ وَالسَّلَام

“Allah has distributed the actions of good deeds between people in the same way He has distributed provisions between them, so a person’s heart may be opened towards prayer, but has not been opened towards fasting. Another’s heart may be inclined towards charity but not feel the same way about fasting, whilst another’s may be opened towards Jihād but is not towards the supererogatory prayers. The teaching of knowledge is one of the most rewarding good deeds and I am satisfied with what Allah has opened for me. I do not believe that what I am occupied with is any less than what you are occupied with. My hope is that we are both upon goodness and it is incumbent upon both of us to be satisfied with what Allah has blessed us with. Wassalām.”[9]

People are different, but as long as the fundamental requirements of Islām are in order, then one is to realise that Allah will open up the hearts of different people to be inclined to different aspects of Islām, with some excelling in certain matters over others.

Some find their joy in life by fasting. They fast every other day and find this practice easy.

Some find their delight in du’ā, where hours may pass whilst supplicating to Allah only for it to feel like brief moments. As Imām Mālik said, “Āmir b. ‘Abdullāh once made du’ā after the ‘Ishā’ prayer and continued to do so until Fajr.”[10]

Others find that Allah has opened their hearts towards the establishing of family ties. They are on good terms with each of their family members, and their efforts towards them are consistent. Others find that Allah has created an opening for them in the field of dhikr (remembrance), always moving their tongues in the remembrance of Allah.

Others find that their opening in life is in the helping of the needy, the feeding of the hungry, the sponsoring of orphans, the supporting of widows, the visiting of the ill, and the alleviating of burdens.

Others find their opening in life in amassing knowledge and teaching it to others, as some find their hearts within the Qur’anic sciences, legal sciences, ḥadīth sciences, tajwīd, or the Arabic language.

Others find that the opening in their lives is in their wise opinions. Allah allows the truth to flow from their mouths, always guiding them to choose the best of views, as the Prophet ﷺ said about ‘Umar:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَعَلَ الْحَقَّ عَلَى لِسَانِ عُمَرَ وَقَلْبِهِ

“Allah has placed the truth on the tongue of ʿUmar and his heart.”[11]

This is why Umar’s rulings were so frequently in line with those of Allah, as Ibn Ḥajar said:

وقفنا منها على خمسة عشر موضعاً

“We have come across 15 such circumstances.”

Others find that their opening in life culminates in the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil. Such people do not fear the repercussions of their mission. They display patience and wisdom in the face of adversity, and Allah allows much goodness to appear on the land through their selfless work.

Allah has opened each of our hearts to different matters, making us more inclined to whatever He has chosen for us. Our duty is to therefore pinpoint that passion, whether ourselves or with the help of a friend, and then plan a way of redirecting it for the cause of Allah and success in the hereafter. Claiming that you do not have such talents that are to be invested for Paradise is to claim that Allah has not given you the assets needed for Paradise. Surely, no Muslim would think this negatively of Allah.

Some of his statements

Imām Mālik said:

كل أحدٍ يؤخذ من قوله ويُترَك، إلا صاحب هذا القبر صلى الله عليه وسلم

“Any statement can be accepted or rejected, with the exception of the inhabitant of this grave (pointing to that of the Prophet ﷺ).”[12]

العلم نورٌ يجعله الله حيث يشاء، ليس بكثرة الرواية

“Knowledge is light that Allah places wherever He wishes. It is not about how much you memorise.”[13]

Imām Mālik also said to a young man from Quraysh:

يا بن أخي، تعلَّمِ الأدبَ قبل أن تتعلمَ العلم

“Young one, learn manners before you learn knowledge.”[14]

Imām Mālik also said:

ما تعلمت العلم إلا لنفسي، وما تعلمتُ ليحتاج الناسُ إليَّ، وكذلك كان الناسُ (أي العلماءُ)

“I have not acquired this knowledge for anyone but myself. I did not acquire it so that people need me, and this was the mentality of those (scholars) of the past.”[15]

His legacy

Imām Mālik’s school of thought would spread across almost the entire North African region – from Libya to Mauritania, including Sudan. There was also a time when the Māliki school of thought was prevalent in Egypt, Basra, in Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and other parts of the Islamic world.

In fact, the Abbāsid Caliph Abū Ja’far al-Mansūr was keen to hang a copy of Imām Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa within the Ka’ba. The Caliph wanted to impose the rulings found in the book upon the entire Muslim Caliphate, instructing all of the jurists to issue verdicts upon its guidance. This was the perfect opportunity for Imām Mālik to have his work standardised globally, and al-Mansūr – with his power and harshness – could easily have imposed this. Fame, however, was not Imām Mālik’s goal – Allah and the hereafter were.

For this reason, Imām Mālik, in his wisdom, declined this offer and persuaded al-Mansūr not to follow this plan. Imām Mālik argued that different Companions of the Prophet ﷺ had spread throughout the land, conveying different parts of the tradition that others may not have had access to, and hence this could become a means of disunity.

On the note of legacy, it is worth mentioning that Imām Mālik had four children, most of whom showed little interest in their father’s knowledge. If any of them did attend his study circles, like Yaḥya and Muḥammad, it would be short lived, dipping in and out. Imām Mālik would say:

إن مما يهون علي أن هذا الشأن لا يورث

“Remembering that this knowledge cannot be passed down like inheritance is what brings me solace.”[16]

Imām Mālik’s daughter, however, had memorised the Muwaṭṭa. She would stand on the other side of the door, distancing herself from the gathering of men whilst listening to their readings of it. If any man made a mistake, she would knock on the door, which would alert her father to correct it.

Indeed, the guidance of children is in the hands of Allah. Although many families have been blessed with progenies who have passed down the baton of knowledge from generation to generation – like the families of Imām Aḥmad, Imām Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzi, Mandah al-Asbahāni, Taymiyyah al-Ḥarrānī, Al-‘Irāqi, and Al-Subkī – many (if not most) families of scholarship were not blessed with this; a reality which, as mentioned by Imām Mālik, restores some comfort to one’s heart.

The great Imām of ḥadīth, Shu’ba, had a son called Sa’d (in Arabic, happiness). His father would encourage him to learn from Hishām al-Dastuwā’i, but the response of Sa’d would be:

اليوم أريد أن أُرسل الحمام!

“I want to tend to my birds.”

His father would say:

سمَّيتُ ابني سعدًا، فما سَعِد ولا أَفلح

“I named my son Sa’d (happiness), but he was not such nor was he successful.”[17]

Similarly, the great scholar of Ḥadīth, al-A’mash, had a son who was not bright. His father once sent him to buy a clothes line. His son asked: “Father, how long should it be?” His father said, “Ten cubits.” His son asked, “How wide?” His father responded:

في عرض مصيبَتي فيك!

“As wide as my calamity is with you!”[18]

Imām Ibn al-Jawzi had a son called ‘Alī who, for a short while, followed in his father’s footsteps, before then turning to laziness, reckless behaviour, bad companionship, and sins, including speaking ill of his father. His father would supplicate against him every evening before Fajr.

Indeed, as Allah said:

يُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَيُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتَ مِنَ الْحَيِّ

“He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living.”[19]

Guidance, success and legacy are in the hands of Allah. However, this does not absolve the parent from exerting every effort and employing every technique to raise righteous children, reformers even.

Such parenting techniques include:

  1. Befriending your child so that you become their first port of call during times of adversity
  2. Tasking them with empowering duties that nurture their self-esteem and confidence
  3. Leading a life of worship, repentance, and high aspirations, as Allah preserves children by virtue of the goodness of their parents
  4. Narrating to them a nightly 15-minute Islamic story that will shape their identity – the power of this cannot be overemphasised.[20]
  5. Dedicating a daily or nightly du’ā for their righteousness that you never omit.

His trial

Although some people mistakenly consider that Imām Mālik had a cordial relationship with the state officials in Madīnah, this was far from the truth. Imām Mālik was put to trial at the hand of the Caliph al-Mansūr after a politically motivated question was posed to the Imām. The question was: “If a man was forced to divorce his wife, would the divorce count?” The Imām’s response was: “The divorce of the coerced does not take effect.” This statement, however, was forbidden by the authorities due to its political application to those who were forced to pledge allegiance to the Caliph.

A spy asked the Imām the same question to test him, and the Imām responded again with this very same phrase. The governor of Madīnah (the cousin of the Caliph at the time) seized Imām Mālik and lashed him until his arms were dislocated, causing him to fall unconscious. Imām Mālik’s head was shaved and he was forcibly paraded around the city on camel back. Imām Mālik, however, did not waiver, as he repeated the phrase, “The divorce of the coerced is null and void.” When news of Imām Mālik’s relentless stance reached Abū Ja’far, he released Imām Mālik.

His death

Imām Mālik spent his entire life in Madīnah, only leaving once for Ḥajj, where he would meet Imām Abū Ḥanīfa. Several Abbāsid Caliphs, including Al-Mahdi and Al-Rashīd, tried persuading him to reside in Baghdad. However, Imām Mālik declined every time, preferring Madīnah over all other cities. Imām Mālik passed away in the year 179AH (795CE) at the age of 85 years old. He was buried in Madīnah’s distinguished graveyard, Al-Baqī’.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

مَن استطاع أن يموتَ بالمدينة، فلْيَمُتْ بها؛ فإني أشفع لمن يموتُ بها

“Whoever of you is able to pass away in Madīnah, let him do so, for I will intercede for people who die there.”[21]

We ask Allah to make Imām Mālik a recipient of such intercession.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Tartīb al-Madārik

[2] Al-Shifā by al-Qāḍī ‘Iyād

[3] Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿilm wa faḍlihī

[4] Al-Intiqā fī fadā’il al-Thalātha al-A’imma al-Fuqahā

[5] Al-Bayhaqī

[6] Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿilm wa faḍlihī

[7] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[8] Al-Qur’an, 73:5

[9] Al-Tamhīd

[10] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[11] Aḥmad, on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar

[12] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[13] Ḥilya al-Awliyā

[14] Ḥilya al-Awliyā’

[15] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[16] Tartīb al-Madārik

[17] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[18] Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā

[19] Al-Qur’an, 30:19

[20] https://kitaabun.com/shopping3/stories-from-lives-sahabah-part-suwr-hayatis-p-3815.html

[21] Al-Tirmidhī, on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar

About Shaykh Ali Hammuda

Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is a UK national of Palestinian origin. He gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari'ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Ustādh Ali is the author of several books including 'The Daily Revivals' and 'The Ten Lanterns", and continues to deliver sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.

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