Mālik Ibn Anas

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MĀLIK IBN ANAS (d. 795), was a renowned Muslim jurist and the eponymous founder of the Mālikī school. Mālik was born sometime between 708 and 715 in Medina, where he spent most of his life and where he died. Biographical tradition records that for a while he was a professional singer, but because he was ugly, his mother advised him to give up that career. Instead, he became, like an uncle and a grandfather before him, a religious scholar. Mālik studied with a number of well-known scholars of Medina and then, as his fame spread, acquired many pupils of his own.

In 762 he lent the weight of his reputation to an Alid revolt against the Abbasid caliph al-Manūr. When that failed, he was punished by the governor of Medina. But his prestige did not suffer, and he regained royal favor. The next three caliphs, al-Mahdi, al-Hadi, and Hārūn al-Rashīd, were personally interested in his work, and Hārūn, while on a pilgrimage in the last year of Mālik's life, even attended one of his lectures. The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim (composed 987) reports that Mālik addressed a treatise on the land tax to Hārūn, a counterpart to the famous Kitāb al-kharaj of the Iraqi jurist Abū Yūsuf (d. 798), but some scholars consider this apocryphal. After spending his entire life in Medina, Mālik died in 795 and was buried there in al-Baqiʿ Cemetery.

The two main sources for Mālik's legal scholarship are his Kitāb al-muwattaʾ (Book of the smoothed path) and the Mudawwana (The recorded book) of Sahnun (d. 854), a student of Mālik's student Ibn al-Qasim (d. 806). The textual histories of both works are complex, and Norman Calder has suggested that neither was an "authored text" but came into their present forms in about 890 and 864, respectively. Before this they existed only as open texts belonging to a semioral school tradition. Calder's datings have been pushed earlier by subsequent scholarship based on extant manuscripts, but the Muwattaʾ especially seems nevertheless to have been subject to organic growth and redaction. It existed in fifteen known recensions, of which eight have been preserved at least partially. The most influential of these is the "Vulgate" of Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi (d. 848); the recensions of al-Shaybani (d. 805) and Ibn Wahb (d. 812) depart from that recension considerably, others somewhat less. Jonathan Brockopp argues on the basis of fragments of al-Mukhtasar al-kabir fi al-fiqh by Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Hakam that this text and the Muwattaʾ probably preserve a core of authentic juridical dicta which may be attributed reliably to Mālik himself.

Mālik's intellectual activity belongs to the period of Islamic jurisprudence when the explicit legislative legacy provided by the Qurʾān and the Prophet Muammad was proving insufficiently complete for the needs of the rulers of the expanding empire, and they were turning for further guidance to religious specialists such as Mālik. It became the task of these early jurists to ensure the Islamic character of public administration as well as to suggest ways in which individual Muslims could lead more pious lives. Before Mālik's time, legal literature consisted of compendia of adīth (traditions)biographical reports of the actions and statements of the Prophet and his contemporaries that were considered authoritative guidelines for behaviorand compendia of the decisions of authoritative scholars on various theoretical and practical issues. Mālik's achievement was to combine these two sources of authority. Mālik set forth, drawing on the adīth, the legal practices that had evolved in Medina. He at times based legal doctrines on the actual practice (ʾamal) of Medina, at times appealed to the consensus among the authoritis of Medina, and at times drew on sound opinion (raʿy ) or consideration of what is best (istihsan ). The subsequent Mālikī tradition emphasized the first two principles but downplayed that latter two. Unlike later jurists, Malik does not restrict adīth or the concept of sunnah (revered practice) to the Prophet Muammad alone. Despite the inconsistencies of his own procedure, the use of adīth to support existing legal opinion came to play a vital role in the subsequent systematization of Islamic legal thinking and in the codification of Islamic law.

The Muwattaʾ is arranged in chapters that deal with the ritual and legal concerns of the Muslim community, and it represents the accepted legal practice of Medina as it was taught by Mālik and his contemporaries. The enduring and widespread influence of the Muwattaʾ may in part be due to the middle-of-the-road quality of the Medinese doctrine it presents but should be attributed even more to the activities and geographical distribution of successive generations of Mālik's pupils, who gradually came to think of themselves as followers of a distinctive school. Soon after Mālik's death, Fustat in Egypt became a major center for the elaboration of Mālikī legal doctrine; Qayrawan in Tunisia and Córdoba in Spain quickly followed. An eastern branch of the Mālikī school boasted considerable influence in Baghdad in the late ninth century and the tenth century but dwindled thereafter. The Mālikī school still predominates in North Africa and in the other Muslim communities of Africa.


Abbott, Nabia. Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri, vol. 2: Qurʾānic Commentary and Tradition. Chicago, 1967. A valuable study of early Muslim scholarly activity.

Brockopp, Jonathan E. Early Māikī Law: Ibn Abd al-Hakam and His Major Compendium of Jurisprudence. Leiden, Netherlands, 2000. Translation and study of manuscript fragments of an early-ninth-century compendium of Mālikī law found in Qairawan.

Calder, Norman. Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence. Oxford, 1993. Revisionist work suggesting that many of the seminal works of Islamic law, including the Muwattaʾ, are the product of organic growth and revision and cannot be dated as early as supposed.

Dutton, Yasin. The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʾan, the Muwattaʾ and Madinan ʿAmal. Surrey, U.K., 1999. Argues along traditional lines that the Muwattaʾ preserves authentic legal material going back to the nascent Muslim community.

Goldziher, Ignácz. Muslim Studies, vol. 2. Edited by S. M. Stern, translated by Stern and C. R. Barber. Chicago, 1973. The fundamental work on the development of adīth in Islamic thought.

Muranyi, Miklos. Materialien zur malikitischen Rechtsliteratur. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1984.

Muranyi, Miklos. Ein altes Fragment medinensischer Jurisprudenz aus Qairawan: Aus dem Kitab al-Hagg des ʿAbd al-ʿAziz b. ʿAbd Allah b. Abi Salama al-Magisun (st. 164/78081). Stuttgart, Germany, 1985.

Muranyi, Miklos. ʿAbd Allah b. Wahb (125/743197/812): Leben und Werk: al-Muwattaʾ, Kitab al-Muharaba. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1992.

Muranyi, Miklos. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Hadit- und Rechtsgelehrsamkeit der Malikiyya in Nordafrika bis zum 5. Jh. d.H.: Bio-bibliographische Notizen aus der Moscheebibliothek von Qairawan. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1997.

Muranyi, Miklos. Die Rechtsbücher des Qairawaners Sahnun B. Saʿid: Entstehungsgeschichte und Werküberlieferung. Stuttgart, Germany, 1999. Muranyi's studies, based primarily on early manuscripts extant in Qairawan (Tunisia), give the fullest and most exact and authoritative account of the transmission of Malik's teachings and legal doctrines.

Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford, 1964. Anauthoritative general introduction with a valuable bibliography.

Susan A. Spectorsky (1987)

Devin J. Stewart (2005)