Why the Mālikī Maðhab?

By AbdurRahman


I came across the Maliki school of jurisprudence while researching acceptable financial instruments of investment in Islam. Having been taught the basics of Islam by local Wahhabis in Texas where I became Muslim, I had always believed that all one needs is the "Quran & Sunnah." I had learned to parrot the typical Wahhabi response, "We follow the maðhab of Rasulullah, (solallāhu `alayhī wa sallam) who was neither a Maliki, a Hanafi, a Shafi'i, nor a Hanbali."

It was the text you will find below that opened my senses to the wonderful world of traditional Islamic scholarship. It resonated positively with my intellect, yet it would take hajj and my getting to know a beautiful Hanafi brother in our hajj group named Mukarram of Detroit who would prepare my heart (my qalb) for the transition from the modern, Wahhabi, "lā-maðhab maðhab" to the original practices of the Salaf of Madinah.

After posting a comment on Suhaib Webb's article on sadl [My reply to Brother Abu Majeed's comment to my initial posting was completely removed!], one brother posted this comment, to which you can read my response immediately following it:

As for my dear brother John . . . I commend you on your choice to be a Maliki, but your reason for choosing the madhahab could be just as well or even more to be Hanbali. I advise you to choose a madhhab that is popular around you especially someone who can first hand teach it to you.
Abu Majeed
March 24, 2008 at 3:33 am

Jazakum Allah Khayr brother for your heartfelt compassion. Where are these Hanbalis? I've never found any in Austin, Houston, Florida, Casablanca, Columbia (South Carolina), or here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest to Hanbalis I've ever found are the Wahhabis who taught me during my first years of being a Muslim. They told me time and time again, "You shouldn't follow a maðhab, brother, that's taqleed!" After hajj, I decided I needed a break from this jama`a.

Why do you assume I will find Hanbali teachers here in the San Francisco Bay Area? Due to the overwhelming number of Muslims from the Indian subcontinent residing here in America, you'll find that most of America is predominantly Hanafi. Even a worldwide census of the maðāhib will show you that the Hanbali school has the fewest followers on the whole planet. By the way, we have quite a few Maliki `ulema residing here in the Bay Area, so it is not a problem for me. Where I pray, our Maliki Imam prays with sadl. I prayed my last jumu`a behind my teacher who prayed with sadl in a prayer hall of over 250 Muslims.

As a 46-year-old father of three children with an Arabic-speaking wife who can assist me with texts not available in English translation, I belief I am perfectly capable and mature enough to choose my own maðhab without the help of others, thank you very much. After almost 10 years of being a Muslim, it didn't take me long to understand why Yusuf Islam said, "I became Muslim despite the Muslims." My wife and all of my Muslim brothers call me AbdurRahman, or Abu Abdullah. It is typcially only non-Muslims who call me John.

This text was most influential in my decision to follow the School of Fiqh founded by Imam Malik:

The received position regarding the madhabs is that they are virtually identical with certain insignificant peripheral differences and the whole business is really a matter of geography so that if you live in Malaysia or Indonesia you are automatically Shafi'i, if you live in India or Turkey you are Hanafi, and if you live in North or West Africa you are Maliki, and it doesn't matter which because they are basically all the same. When he investigated the matter, however, Shaykh Abdalqadir rediscovered something which proved crucial in his search for the genuine Book and Sunna. What he discovered was that the madhhabs were by no means identical and in actual fact represented quite divergent methods of deciding what constituted the Book and Sunna.

The madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifa, may Allah cover him with mercy, was formulated in Iraq, a very different environment to that of Madina al-Munawwara where the deen had been laid down, and the number of Companions who had settled there had been too few to allow a complete picture of the Sunna to emerge. For this reason Hanafi methodology involved the logical process of examining the Book and all available knowledge of the Sunna and then finding an example in them analogous to the particular case under review so that Allah's deen could be properly applied in the new situation. It thus entails the use of reason in the examination of the Book and Sunna so as to extrapolate the judgments necessary for the implementation of Islam in a new environment. It represents in essence, therefore, within the strict compass of rigorous legal and inductive precepts, the adaptation of the living and powerful deen to a new situation in order to enable it take root and flourish in fresh soil. This made it an ideal legal tool for the central governance of widely varied populations which is why we find it in Turkey as the legacy of the Uthmaniyya Khilafa and in the sub-continent where it is inherited from the Moghul empire.

The case of Imam Shafi'i, may Allah have mercy on him, was quite different from this. He spent much of his life travelling in search of knowledge, studying under Imam Malik in Madina and then the major students of Imam Abu Hanifa in Baghdad. After that he went to Yaman and finally settled in Egypt. During his journeys he could not help but notice that there was considerable divergence in the practise of Islam in the various places he visited and this led him to formulate a method of standardising and systematising the deen to fix it in place and prevent it from being lost.

He did this by devising a set of principles to be applied to the linguistic examination of written sources of the deen. Under this method the Book, of course, remained unchanged, although it was subjected to a rigorous form of linguistic analysis, but the Sunna became entirely dependent on, and synonymous with, Prophetic hadiths which had been recorded in writing. With Imam Shafi'i, therefore, the practise of Islam ceased to be a matter of oral transmission and behavioural imitation and became, instead, based on written texts from which the actions of the deen were derived. Imam Shafi'i's system was brilliantly devised and the Muslims owe a great debt of gratitude to him because there is no doubt that it is the rigour of his methodology which preserved so many of the sources of Islam in such a remarkable way over all these centuries.

Shaykh Abdalqadir's desire, however, was to have direct access to the Book and Sunna in their primal form as they were first implemented by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and both these methods presented the phenomenon at one remove so they were clearly not what he was seeking. It was with Imam Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, that the shaykh found what he had been looking for.

Shaykh Abdalqadir entered Islam in Morocco and so his first acquaintance with the fiqh of Islam had automatically been by way of the Maliki madhhab but he had discounted that along with everything else in his search for the pure source of the deen. His rediscovery of Imam Malik was, therefore, not as the founder of the subsequent madhhab named after him but rather as the Imam of the Dar al-Hijra, Madina al-Munawwara, and the recorder and transmitter of the 'Amal Ahli'l-Madina, the practice of the people of Madina. Imam Malik saw it as his task to capture for posterity the living tradition of Islam in action, the Book and Sunna in their pristine original form, which had been passed down to him unaltered through the two generations that had elapsed since the Prophet's death, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

There were two paramount reasons for adopting this position. The first was that it clearly did represent the closest possible exposition of Islam as it was actually lived by the Prophet and his Companions. It constituted without any doubt the unbroken transmission of the Book and Sunna in the very place where it had been established, preserved and unaltered in any way by the two generations who had lived there between the days of the First Community and the time of Imam Malik. So what it brings to us is that raw, vital energy of the first days of Islam, the time of the Prophet himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the time immediately following it of the Khulafa Rashidun, may Allah be pleased with all of them, when the deen was in its most potent phase of expansion and establishment. For that reason it is sometimes known as the madhhab of 'Umar, may Allah be pleased with him.

It is, in fact, the transmission of the very behaviour pattern which made Islam happen in the first place, so what better model could there be for this time when it is once again necessary to start from the ground up. The historical proof of its potency can be seen in the example of the Murabitun in the eleventh century. The Practice of the People of Madina was transmitted to them by, Abdallah ibn Yasin, the teacher sent to them from Kairouan, where the living record of the 'Amal Ahli'l-Madina had been passed on from the time of Malik himself, and with it and nothing else they burst out from their land in West Africa and revived Islam throughout the Maghrib and al-Andalus, ensuring the Muslims in Spain, who had at that time almost come under Christian domination, a further two hundred years of Islamic governance.

The second reason is its incontrovertible authenticity which has been repeatedly verified throughout the centuries, not least by the celebrated Hanbali scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, whose book The Soundness of the Basic Premises of the Madhhab of the People of Madina, makes it clear that the most complete picture of the Sunna, both in terms of its spirit and its actual practice, was that passed on by Imam Malik and captured in its outline in his book al-Muwatta'. This was because of Imam Malik's great knowledge, his geographical location in the City of the Prophet, the great number of men of knowledge who had remained there, preserving the deen in its entirety from the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the fact that, as was universally acknowledged, no innovation in the deen at all entered Madina during the first three generations of Islam. Also worth mentioning, in a contemporary context, is the book of Dr Yasin Dutton, The Origins of Islamic Law, a piece of scrupulous scholarship inspired by Shaykh Abdalqadir. In his book Dr Dutton shows conclusively that Malik's Muwatta' does indeed contain a direct record of the authentic practice of the first Community and by doing so, incidentally, deals a death blow to the orientalists who had maintained that there was a time-gap between the first Community and the development of the Shari'a.

Source: Abdalhaqq Bewley, The Recovery of True Islamic Fiqh: An introduction to the work of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi


A man asked Malik:

Who are the people of the Sunna, Abu 'Abdullah? [All of this, remember, is defining the primal Islamic position in its first stage of identifying itself, following the rule of the Khulafa' ar-Rashidun] Who are the people of the Sunna, Abu 'Abdullah?
And he replied,
Those who do not have a title by which they are known. Not a Jahmi, not a Rafidi, not a Qadiri.
And we will say, by obvious logical extension, not a Maliki, not a Hanbali, not a Shafi'i, not a Hadithi ... not a Jami'at al-Islamiyya, or Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, not anyone who held any name that identified himself, separating himself from the Muslims, because we also know that Malik, radiya'llahu 'anhu, said,
Anyone who calls himself by any name other than a Muslim, has made a bid'a on the deen.
Here he has categorically defined it. He went further and also said,
All the people of sects are kuffar.
'Abdu'l-Malik ibn al-Majishun said:

A man of the people of Iraq asked Malik about the sadaqa of the habous, and he said, "When there is full and exclusive possession, it is carried out."

The Iraqi said, "Shurayh says that there is no habous in the Book of Allah."

Malik laughed - and he did not laugh often - and then he said, "May Allah have mercy on Shurayh! He does not know what the Companions of Rasulallah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa salim, did here in Madinah."

This is the value structure of primal Islam in the hands of men of knowledge and it was to be replaced by something totally different in nature and identity which went along with a politique and society of a totally different nature.

Abu Mus'ab said:

Abu Yusuf said to Malik, "Do you give the adhan with tarji" - [that is, repeating the shahada in a loud voice after saying in a low voice] - when you do not have anything from a hadith on it?"

So here the matter is open in the time of Imam Malik. It is not something that emerged later.

And Malik turned to him and said:

Subhanallah! - Glory be to Allah! I have never seen anything more extraordinary than this! It is called out in front of witnesses five times every day. And the sons have inherited it from their fathers from the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa salim, until this very day, and he needs so-and-so from so-and-so in it! This is much more sound in our view than the hadith.

Source: Shaykh Abdalqadir al-Murabit, Root Islamic Education: Summary - Part One: `Amal


Letter of Imam Malik ibn Anas to al-Layth ibn Sa'd:

It has reached me that you give fatwas to the people concerning things which are contrary to what is done by our community of people and in our city. You are the Imam and you have excellence and position with the people of your city, and they need you and rely on what comes from you. Therefore you ought to fear for yourself and follow that whose pursuit you hope will bring you rescue. Allah Almighty says in His Mighty Book, 'The outstrippers, the first of the Muhajirun and the Ansar.' Allah Almighty says, 'Give good news to My slaves who listen to the word and the follow the best of it.' People follow the people of Madina, and the hijra was made to it and the Qur'an was sent down in it, and the halal was made halal and the haram was made haram there since the Messenger of Allah was living among them and they were present at the revelation itself. He commanded them and they obeyed him. He made sunna for them and they followed him until Allah made him die and chose for him what is with Him, may the blessings of Allah and His mercy and blessing be upon him.

Then after him, the people followed those from among his community who were given authority after him. Whenever something happened that they had knowledge about, they carried it out. What they did not have knowledge of, they asked about, and then took the strongest of what they found regarding that by their ijtihad and the recentness of their contract (with the Prophet). If someone disagreed with them or said something else which was stronger than it and better, they left the first statement and acted on this other one.

Then the Tabi'un after them followed this path and they followed those sunan. Since the business in Madina was open and acted upon, I do not think that anyone should oppose it because of what the Madinans possess of that inheritance which none is allowed to plagiarise or lay claim to.

If the people of the other cities had begun to say, 'This is the action which is in our city and this is what happened in it from those before us,' they would not be certain about that and they would not have that which allows them that.

So this was the position of the people of knowledge right through to the Abbasids, a position now marginalised in the Muslim world and replaced by a new methodology, Iraqi in origin, which, as Rabi'a, said, "Strips the Sunna out of your hands."

Source: Aisha Bewley, The `Amal of Madina

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Last updated: Friday, December 31, 2010