Al-Muwatta foreword by the late Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Al Mubārak

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Praise be to Allah, who sent our Prophet Muḥammad as a mercy to the whole universe. He sent down the Noble Qur’ān through him as a light and guidance for those who are godfearing. He commanded him to clarify what had been revealed to people so that they might reflect. His words and actions made clear to them everything they needed to know. He instructed those who were present with him to convey his teaching to those who were not there.
Blessings and peace be upon him and upon his family and his good and pure Companions who expended their property and their lives to spread the dīn of Islam. By means of them Allah preserved His Sharī‘a enabling it to survive through the passage of time down to the present time. Their hearts were the vessels which contained and preserved the ayats of the Clear Book and the Sunna of the Seal of the Prophets and the Imām of the Messengers. Then those who followed them, and those who followed them in turn, undertook this task. The people who wrote down and recorded this knowledge appeared in the time of the third generation. The greatest of them was the Imām of the Abode of the Hijra, the Imām of the Imāms, Abū ‘Abdullāh Mālik ibn Anas al-Aṣbaḥī al-Madanī. He took it upon himself to serve the Sharī‘a and to preserve the Prophetic Sunna. He did this by relaying it from those notable Tābi‘ūn with whose knowledge he was satisfied and whose words he thought worthy of conveying and by his work he opened the way for all later writers and cleared a path for the compilation of Islamic law. He selected those transmitters who were reliable and rejected those who were weak. His book, al-Muwaṭṭa’, was the greatest book written at that time. It was the most precise in layout and the best of them in its choice of chapters. The other books written at the same time as his book have vanished but Allah had decreed that his book would remain until this time and indeed until the first of the two worlds comes to an end, when Allah will inherit the earth and all those on it. This has come about by the permission of the One Who created the two worlds and the jinn and mankind.
I have been asked by some of our brothers, who desire to disseminate knowledge and to renew the call of Islam, to write an introduction to this edition of the Muwaṭṭa’, which is the first translation of the Muwaṭṭa’ in the English language. I have complied with their request hoping for an abundant reward from Allah since we are well aware of the importance of this book, its blessings, the abundant knowledge to be found in it and its fame, both past and present, among the books written on the science of ḥadīth by the Imāms who are worthy of emulation.
We have divided this introduction into the following topics:
The lineage of Imām Mālik, his family, birth and autobiography
His full name is Mālik ibn Anas ibn Mālik ibn Abī ‘Āmir al-Aṣbaḥī and he was related to Dhū Aṣbaḥ, a sub-tribe of Ḥimyar, one of the Qahtani tribes who held sway over an immense kingdom during the period of the Jāhiliyya. Their kingdom was known as the Tabābi‘a (pl. of Tubba‘). Tubba‘ is mentioned in two places in the Noble Qur’ān.
His father’s grandfather, Abū ‘Āmir, is considered by some to have been one of the Companions and it is mentioned that he went on all the raids with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ except Badr. However, Ibn Ḥajar mentioned in the Iṣāba from adh-Dhahabī that he did not find anyone who mentioned him as being one of the Companions, although he was certainly alive in the time of the Prophet ﷺ. As for Mālik ibn Abī ‘Āmir, the grandfather of the Imām, he was one of the great scholars of the Tābi‘ūn. He was one of those who assisted in the writing out of the noble Muṣḥaf at the time of the Amīr al-Mu’minīn, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān l.
He had four children: Anas, the father of the Imām, Abū Suhayl whose name was Nāfi‘, ar-Rabī‘, and Uways the grandfather of Ismā‘īl ibn Abī Uways and his brother, ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd. These two (Ismā‘īl and ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd) were among the students of Mālik and among the transmitters of the Ṣaḥīḥ. The four brothers (i.e. Anas, Mālik’s father, and his brothers) transmitted from their father, Mālik ibn Abī ‘Āmir, and others, in turn, transmitted from them. The most famous of them in knowledge and transmission was Abū Suhayl. Imām Mālik related from him as did the compilers of the Ṣaḥīḥ collections. Al-Bukhārī, Muslim, and others transmitted a lot from Mālik ibn Abī ‘Āmir and from his son, Abū Suhayl.
From this it is evident that the Imām was a branch from a good tree whose men were famous for transmitting and serving knowledge. Part of the excellence of this family lies in the fact that it gave birth to Imām Mālik. It is said that this took place in 90 A.H. although there are other opinions. He died when he was 87 according to the soundest report although it is also said that he was 90. Mālik, may Allah have mercy on him, was tall and slightly corpulent. He was bald, with a large head and well-shaped eyes, a fine nose and a full beard. Muṣ‘ab az-Zubayrī said, “Mālik was one of the most handsome people in his face and the sweetest of them in eye, the purest of them in whiteness and the most perfect of them in height and the most excellent in body.” Another said, “Mālik was of medium height.” The first is better known.

His quest for knowledge

At the time when Mālik grew up, and during the time immediately preceding him, Madīna al-Munawarra was flourishing with the great scholars who were the direct inheritors of the knowledge of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. They included “the seven fuqahā’” of Madīna (or the ten) and their companions who took from them. Mālik himself was always eager for knowledge and devoted himself to the assemblies of eminent men of knowledge. He drank and drank again from the sweet, quenching springs of knowledge.
He was instructed in the learning and recitation of the Noble Qur’ān by Imām Nāfi‘ ibn ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Abī Nu‘aym, the Imām of the reciters of Madīna and one of the “seven reciters”. Abū ‘Amr ad-Dānī, who included the biography of Imām Mālik in his book Ṭabaqāt al-Qurrā’, considered him to be to be one of the reciters. He mentioned that Imām al-Awzā‘ī related the Qur’ān from Mālik, he being concerned with the meaning of its commentary. In the Muwaṭṭa’, you will find some of his commentaries on certain ayats.
He occupied himself with those who knew ḥadīths, both in transmission and knowledge, and was a master in fiqh, knowing how to derive judgements and join statements together and how to weigh one proof against another. Part of his good fortune was that two of his shaykhs, Muḥammad ibn Shihāb az-Zuhrī and ‘Abdullāh ibn Abī Bakr ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Ḥazm al-Anṣārī, were instrumental in the beginning of the process of recording the ḥadīths.
Imām Mālik met an extraordinary number of men of knowledge who related from the Companions or from the great Tābi‘ūn. He did not attend the circle of everyone who sat teaching in the mosque of the Prophet ﷺ or leaned against one of its pillars relating ḥadīth to the people from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ but used to take only from those men that he saw possessed taqwā, scrupulousness, good memory, knowledge and understanding, and who clearly knew that they would be accountable for what they said on the Day of Rising. Shu‘ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj, who was one of the great scholars of ḥadīth, said that Mālik was most discriminating, saying about him that: “He did not write down from everyone.”
Knowing, as we do, that Imām Mālik came from a family of learning and grew up in Madīna al-Munawarra which was the capital of knowledge at that time, especially the knowledge of ḥadīths, and also knowing the strength of Mālik’s predisposition for retention, understanding and taqwā and his perseverance and steadfastness in the face of all the obstacles he met in the path of knowledge, it is hardly surprising to discover that he graduated at a very young age. Reliable transmitters relate that he sat to give fatwā when he was seventeen years old. This was not from the impetuosity of youth or because of love of appearance but only after seventy Imāms had testified that he was worthy to give fatwā and teach. Such people would only testify when it was absolutely correct to do so. Indeed, the testimony of any two of them would have been sufficient.

People’s praise of him and their testimony that he was the greatest of the Imāms in knowledge
The notable scholars at the time of Mālik and those who came after him all agree about his pre-eminent worth and consider him to be a pillar of knowledge and one of its firm bulwarks, celebrated for his taqwā, his retentive memory, his reliability in transmission, and his ability in giving fatwās. He was well known for his turning towards true knowledge and away from what did not concern him, and for cutting himself off from the caliphs and amirs who would liberally bestow money on those men of knowledge who attached themselves to them. He had overwhelming respect for the ḥadīths of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and this was considered enough by the notable men of ḥadīth and fuqahā’ who related from him and used his transmission as a proof, putting it ahead of the transmission of many of his peers. They followed him in declaring different transmitters reliable or unreliable.
There is no disagreement on the fact that al-Layth, al-Awzā‘ī, the two Sufyāns, Ibn al-Mubārak, Shu‘ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj, ‘Abd ar-Razzāq and other great scholars like them transmitted from Mālik. Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī was one of his most prominent pupils as was Imām Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan, the companion of Abū Ḥanīfa. Qāḍī Abū Yūsuf, who met and spoke with him, also related from him via an intermediary. It is also true that Abū Ḥanīfa related from him as did a group of his shaykhs, including Muḥammad ibn Shihāb az-Zuhrī, Rabi‘a ibn Abī ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān, Abū al-Aswad Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān known as the ‘orphan of ‘Urwa’, Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd al-Anṣārī, Ayyūb as-Sakhtiyānī and others. There were none in their time greater than these men. Some of them were fuqahā’ and others were ḥadīth relaters. Most of them were both.
Those who came after them all related from Mālik except for those who were prevented from doing so by circumstances. Why indeed should they not relate from him? Was not the Imām someone who combined justice, precision, examination, and criticism in his evaluation of men and avoided transmission from the weak? There is only one man he related from who is considered weak. He was ‘Abd al-Karīm ibn Abī al-Makhāriq al-Baṣrī, and this only happened because he was not one of the people of Mālik’s own land and Mālik was deceived by his scrupulousness and the way he performed hajj.
If you have any doubts about what we have said, then look in any of the books of ḥadīths and you will find the name of Mālik constantly repeated by the tongues and pens of the transmitters. Enough for us is the frequent repetition of his name in the Ṣaḥīḥ volumes of al-Bukhārī and Muslim. The Kitāb al-Umm of Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī and his Kitāb ar-Risāla both begin with the words, “Mālik reported to us.” When the Musnad of ash-Shāfi‘ī was compiled, it also began with the same words.
We find that Ḥāfiẓ Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī began his great Sunan with the ḥadīth “Its water is pure” which is from the transmission of ash-Shāfi‘ī from Mālik and from the transmission of Abū Dāwūd from Mālik. He mentioned that ash-Shāfi‘ī said, “There is someone in the isnād whom I do not know.” Then al-Bayhaqī said at the end of it, “However, that which establishes the soundness of its isnād was the reliability Mālik gave it in the Muwaṭṭa’.” These words indicate the position of Mālik and that the people of his time and those after them, who were not partisan, acknowledged his pre-eminence in the preservation of ḥadīth, in his ability to distinguish the sound from the weak, and in his knowledge of the science of men and their states, whether they were reliable or unreliable.
Those early Imāms were not content to remain silent about him, but spoke out using their tongues and their pens, clearly stating his eminence and the extent of his fame. In Iṣ‘āf al-mubaṭṭa bi-rijāl al-Muwaṭṭa’, Jalāl ad-Dīn as-Suyūṭī said that Bishr ibn ‘Umar az-Zahrānī said that he asked Mālik about a man and he said, “Do you see him in my books?” He replied, “No.” Mālik said, “If he had been reliable, you would have seen him in my books.” Ibn al-Madīnī said, “I never knew Mālik to reject a man unless there was something wrong about his ḥadīths.” Ibn al-Madīnī also said, “When Mālik brings you a ḥadīth from someone from Sa‘īd ibn al-Musayyib, I prefer that to Sufyān from someone from Ibrāhīm. Mālik only relates from people who are reliable.” Yaḥyā ibn Ma‘īn said, “All of those from whom Mālik ibn Anas relates are reliable except for ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Baṣrī Abū Umayya.”
Aḥmad ibn Ṣāliḥ said, “I do not know of anyone who was more careful in his selection of men and scholars than Mālik. I do not know of anyone who has related anything wrong about anyone among those he chose. He related from people none of whom are rejected.” An-Nasā’ī said, “The trustees of Allah over the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ were Shu‘ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj, Mālik ibn Anas and Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd al-Qaṭṭān.” He said, “Ath-Thawrī was an Imām, but he related from weak men. It was the same with Ibn al-Mubārak.” Then he indicated the pre-eminence of Mālik over Shu‘ba and Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd al-Qaṭṭān. He said, “There are none among the Tābi‘ūn trusted in ḥadīths more than these three, and none who had fewer weak transmissions.”
Ismā‘īl ibn Abī Uways said, “I heard my uncle, Mālik, say, ‘This knowledge is a dīn, so look to those from whom you take your dīn. I met seventy men who said, “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said by these pillars…” and I did not take anything from them. Yet if any one of them were to be trusted with the treasury, he would have been trustworthy. This is because they were not men of this business. But when Ibn Shihāb came to us, we crowded around his door. Yaḥyā ibn Ma‘īn said from Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna, “Who are we in comparison to Mālik? We merely follow in the tracks of Mālik. We looked to see if Mālik took from a shaykh. If not we left him.”
Ashhab said that Mālik was asked, “Should one take from someone who does not memorise, but is reliable and accurate in writing? Can ḥadīths be taken from such a man?” Mālik replied, “I fear that he might add to his books at night.” Al-Athrim said, “I asked Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal about ‘Amr ibn Abī ‘Amr, the client of al-Muṭṭalib, and he said, ‘His transmission is excellent in my opinion. Mālik related from him.’” Abū Sa‘īd ibn al-A‘rābī said, “If Mālik related from a man, Yaḥyā ibn Ma‘īn declared him reliable. More than one person was asked and said, ‘He is reliable. Mālik related from him.’”
Qarād Abū Nūḥ said, “Mālik mentioned something and was asked, ‘Who related it to you?’ He said. ‘We did not use to sit with fools.’” ‘Abdullāh ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal said, “I heard my father mentioning this and he said, ‘There is no statement in the world more noble than this regarding the virtues of scholars – Mālik ibn Anas mentioned that he did not sit with fools. This statement is not valid from anyone else except Mālik.’
In Tadhkira al-Ḥuffāẓ, adh-Dhahabī mentioned some of people’s praise of him, including the famous statement of ash-Shāfi‘ī, “When the ‘ulamā’ are mentioned, Mālik is the star.” Aḥmad ibn al-Khalīl said that he heard Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm (i.e. Ibn Rahwayh) say, “When ath-Thawrī, Mālik and al-Awzā‘ī agree on a matter, it is sunna, even if there is no text on it.”
After mentioning much of the praise of the people of knowledge for him, adh-Dhahabī said, “I put Mālik’s biography on its own in a section in my Tārīkh al-Kabīr. It is agreed that Mālik had virtues which are not known to have been combined in anyone else. The first of them was the length of his life and extent of his transmission. The second was his piercing mind. The third was the agreement of the Imāms that he is a proof, sound in transmission. The fourth is that they agree on his dīn, justice and following of the sunna. The fifth is his pre-eminence in fiqh, fatwā and the soundness of his foundations.”
In Taqrīb at-Tahdhīb, Ibn Ḥajar says, “Mālik ibn Anas ibn Mālik ibn Abī ‘Āmir al-Aṣbaḥī, Abū ‘Abdullāh, al-Madanī, the faqīh, the Imām of the Abode of the Hijra, the chief of those who have taqwā and the greatest of those who are confirmed, of whom al-Bukhārī said, ‘The soundest isnāds of all are those of Mālik from Nāfi‘ from Ibn ‘Umar.’”
This is just a brief collection of a few of the things that have been said about him by scholars who do not follow the school of Mālik. Their words in no way disagree with anything that has been written by the Mālikī scholars who follow him. The reader will be able to find a lot of what they have said in the books of Abū ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, the Tartīb al-Madārik of Qāḍī Abū al-Faḍl ‘Iyāḍ, and ad-Dībāj al-Mudhahhab by Burhān ad-Dīn ibn Farḥūn, and other books of earlier and later writers.
Among the Mālikīs and others Imām Mālik is known as the Imām of the Imāms. It is easy to see why this is so. We know that those Imāms whose schools, fatwās and transmissions are followed were his students, either directly or via an intermediary. Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī was one of Imām Mālik’s most famous students and Imām Aḥmad was one of the most famous students of ash-Shāfi‘ī. Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan was one of the transmitters of the Muwaṭṭa’. Abū Yūsuf also related it from Mālik via an intermediary. One scholar confirmed that Imām Abū Ḥanīfa also related from him, and no objection was made to him for stating that. Some shaykhs like Ibn Shihāb and ar-Rabī‘a related from Mālik as we have already mentioned. We also mentioned that al-Layth, al-Awzā‘ī, the two Sufyāns and Ibn al-Mubārak related from him, and there is no disagreement about that. Scholars of ḥadīths who are famous for writing in that field, or from whom others have transmitted, transmitted from him. We say that today there is no scholar of the Islamic Sharī‘a who is not a student of Mālik. That is because, first of all, it is not valid to count someone as a scholar of the Sharī‘a if he is ignorant of the Muwaṭṭa’, the Six Books, the Musnad of Aḥmad and the rest of the books which are consulted in ḥadīths. All of those who relate these books or some of them must relate from Mālik. Therefore they must respect this Imām from whom they relate and acknowledge his position and ask for mercy on him.
One of the extraordinary things about the people who came to Mālik for transmission is that there was not a single small region subject to the rule of Islam in his time but that a group of their noble sons set out to visit him. The number of those whose name was Muḥammad who related from him is more than a hundred. The number of those called ‘Abdullāh is about sixty, of those called Yaḥyā about forty, and of those called Sa‘īd more than twenty. If you were to imagine his circle of study, you would find Andalusians, Khorasanis, Syrians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and others all sitting in a circle around him with their different languages, colours, and clothing. It must have been an amazing sight. We do not believe that such a group has ever been gathered together at the feet of a scholar before or after him, in Madīna or elsewhere.

The shaykhs from whom he transmitted

It is known that Imām Mālik grew up in Madīna al-Munawwara and that those who sought knowledge travelled there from all the regions of Islam because Madīna had an unrivalled number of scholars compared with the rest of the Muslim world. In Madīna Mālik met all the great men who had a major part in the transmission of ḥadīths and the sayings of the Companions and the great Tābi‘ūn. He found such a wealth of knowledge there that he did not need to travel anywhere else. He related from nine hundred shaykhs or more and with his own hand wrote down a hundred thousand ḥadīths. His book, the Muwaṭṭa’, which we are discussing, contains eighty-four men of the Tābi‘ūn, all of whom were people of Madīna except for six. These six were Abū az-Zubayr from Makka, Ḥamīd aṭ-Ṭawīl and Ayyūb as-Sakhtiyānī from Basra, ‘Aṭā’ ibn Abī Muslim from Khorasan, ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jazarī from Jazira (Mesopotamia) in northern Iraq, and Ibrāhīm ibn Abī ‘Abla from Syria. Mālik is famous for the fact that he did not transmit from a number of scholars whom he met, even though they were people of dīn and correct action, because he thought that they did not transmit properly.
Al-Ghāfiqī said that the number of his shaykhs whom he named (i.e. in the Muwaṭṭa’) was ninety-five.

The transmitters who transmitted from him

In the introduction to Tanwīr al-Ḥawālik, as-Suyūṭī says that so many people related from him that no other Imām is known to have had a transmission like his. He says that Abū Bakr al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdadī devoted a book to those who transmitted from Mālik and it included 993 men. Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ mentioned that he wrote a book on those who transmitted from Mālik in which he enumerated over 1300 men. As-Suyūṭī said that he had enumerated the names of all of them in his Great Commentary. The transmitters of al-Muwaṭṭa’ alone are of a number which it is difficult to count.
Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ mentioned that the number of transmissions which he read or came across in the transmissions of his shaykhs reached twenty, and some of them mention thirty. Another thing that indicates the great number of the transmitters of the Muwaṭṭa’ is that Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal said, “I heard the Muwaṭṭa’ from about ten of the companions of Mālik who had mentioned it but I revised it with ash-Shāfi‘ī because I found him to be the most correct of them.” Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥabīb-Allāh ibn Māyābā ash-Shinqīṭī said in Iḍā’a al-Ḥālik that Ibn Nāṣir ad-Dīn ad-Dimashqī wrote a book about the transmitters of the Muwaṭṭa’ and he mentioned that there were seventy-nine. Among those who transmitted the Muwaṭṭa’ from Mālik were his son, Yaḥyā, and his daughter, Fāṭima.

The position of the Muwaṭṭa’ and people’s concern for it

In the introduction to Tanwīr al-Ḥawālik, as-Suyūṭī said that ash-Shāfi‘ī said, “After the Book of Allah, there is no book on the face of the earth sounder than the book of Mālik.” In another statement he said, “No book has been placed on the earth closer to the Qur’ān than the book of Mālik.” In a third he said, “After the Book of Allah, there is no book more useful than the Muwaṭṭa’.” ‘Alā’ ad-Dīn Maghlaṭāy al-Ḥanafī said, “The first person to compile the ṣaḥīḥ was Mālik.”
Ibn Ḥajar said, “The book of Mālik is sound by all the criteria that are demanded as proofs in the mursal, munqaṭi‘ and other types of transmission.” Then as-Suyūṭī followed what Ibn Ḥajar said here and said, “The mursal ḥadīths in it are a proof with him (ash-Shāfi‘ī) as well because the mursal is a proof with us when it is properly supported. Every mursal report in the Muwaṭṭa’ has one or more supports as will be made clear in this commentary (i.e. Tanwīr al-Ḥawālik). It is absolutely correct to say that the Muwaṭṭa’ is sound (ṣaḥīḥ) without exception.”

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr collected together all the mursal, munqaṭi‘ and mu‘ḍal ḥadīths in the Muwaṭṭa’ and said that the total number of ḥadīths in the Muwaṭṭa’ which do not have an isnād are sixty-one. He stated that he found the isnāds of all of them in other sources with the exception of four ḥadīths. The erudite scholar of ḥadīth, Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥabīb-Allāh ibn Māyābā ash-Shinqīṭī says in Iḍā’a al-Ḥālik that he had found witnesses for these four ḥadīths and he then mentioned these witnesses. He said, “Some of the people of knowledge made these isnāds complete.” He mentioned from Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr that there are no munkar ḥadīths in the Muwaṭṭa’ nor anything fundamentally refuted. In Dalīl as-Sālik in the margin of Iḍā’a al-Ḥālik he mentioned that Ibn Ḥajar retracted what he had previously said which was what had been followed by as-Suyūṭī. From this it is clear that everything in the Muwaṭṭa’ has an isnād. The people of knowledge rely on the ḥadīths in it and transmit and record them in their books, including al-Bukhārī and Muslim who transmitted most of its ḥadīths and included them in their Ṣaḥīḥ collections. The rest of the authors of the six books did the same as did the Imām of the ḥadīth scholars, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, and others.

It should be pointed out that the ḥadīths of Mālik are not confined to those he included in the Muwaṭṭa’. This is clearly shown by the ḥadīths we find transmitted from Mālik in the two Ṣaḥīḥ volumes which are not found in the Muwaṭṭa’. There is a ḥadīth which al-Bukhārī relates in the chapter on the description of the Garden: “The people there look at the people of the chambers from above them.” There is a second ḥadīth related by Mālik commenting on Surat al-Muṭaffafīn (83) where the Prophet ﷺ said, “ ‘The Day when people stand before the Lord of the Worlds’ until one of them disappears immersed in his sweat up to his ears.” There is a third ḥadīth related by Muslim in the chapter forbidding ṣadaqa to the family of the Prophet ﷺ which he related from ‘Abdullāh ibn Muḥammad ibn Asmā’ aḍ-Ḍaba‘ī from his uncle, Juwayriya ibn Asmā’, from Mālik.
There are two areas which particularly interest people regarding the Muwaṭṭa’. One of them is its transmission and the other is its commentary and the discussion about its transmitters and the different expressions they use and so forth. As for interest in its transmitters, we have already shown how the seekers of knowledge in Mālik’s time came from East, West, South and North out of the desire to sit in his circle and take from him. Many of this group related the Muwaṭṭa’ from him and preserved it in their hearts or in writing. The men of the generation after their generation were also concerned with it.
We have enough evidence for what we say in the fact that Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal related it first from ten men and then finally from Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī. Similarly ash-Shāfi‘ī first learned it in Makka and then went to Madīna to Mālik and took it directly from him. That is also what Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Andalusī did – he first learned it in his own country from Ziyād ibn ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān Shabṭūn and then travelled from Andalusia to Madīna and read it directly with Mālik in the year in which Imām Mālik died, may Allah have mercy on him.

As for interest in its commentary, discussion about its transmitters and whether the different versions are shorter or longer, and commentary on what is gharib in it and that sort of thing, people evince more interest in writing about these matters in the case of the Muwaṭṭa’ than they do for any other book of ḥadīth. A great number of people have written about these things and some of them have composed several books. For instance, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr wrote three books: at-Tamhīd, al-Istidhkār and at-Tajrīd which is also called “at-Taqaṣṣī”. Qāḍī Abū al-Walīd al-Bājī wrote three commentaries called al-Istīfā’, al-Muntaqā, and al-Īmā’. He wrote a fourth book on the different versions of the Muwaṭṭa’. Jalāl ad-Dīn as-Suyūṭī wrote two commentaries on it. One of them, called Kashf al-Mughaṭṭā, is voluminous, and the other is a summary called Tanwīr al-Ḥawālik. He wrote a third book called Iṣ‘āf al-Mubaṭṭa’ bi-rijāl al-Muwaṭṭa’.
The most famous transmission of the Muwaṭṭa’ is that of Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Laythī al-Andalusī so that when the name the Muwaṭṭa’ is used, it is this transmission that is referred to. There are about a hundred commentaries on it. This is what

Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥabīb-Allāh ibn Māyābā ash-Shinqīṭī was indicating in the Dalīl as-Sālik when he said:

The most famous Muwaṭṭa’
If the truth be known
Is that of Imām Yaḥyā al-Laythī.
Who else’s can be compared with his?

He also said:
It is the one on which the critics comment and in
whose lustre the slaves find benefit.
There are about a hundred commentaries on it,
all of them about what it contains.

Another version of the Muwaṭṭa’ worthy of mention is that of Imām Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ash-Shaybānī which has great distinction. It includes the transmission of many traditions intended to support his madhhab and the madhhab of his Imām, Abū Ḥanīfa. Sometimes he mentions that Abū Ḥanīfa agrees with Mālik regarding the matter under discussion.
It appears that the Andalusians had a great deal of interest in the Muwaṭṭa’ as anyone will know who has studied the names of the scholars who made commentaries on it or spoke about the people in it and its different versions or wrote on its gharīb ḥadīths.

It should also be noted that those who were interested in the Muwaṭṭa’ were not only Mālikīs or people from one particular region. They were from different groups and schools and from all parts of the Muslim world.

Clarification of the meaning of “Muwaṭṭa’”, its excellent layout and fine style
“Muwaṭṭa’” is a passive participle from the verb “tawṭi’a”. One says that the thing is smoothed (waṭṭa’a) and “I prepared the thing for you” and “The bed is laid out” and “The seat is made comfortable for you”. Ibn Manẓūr said in al-Lisān, “In the ḥadīth: ‘Shall I tell you of the one among you I love the most and who will sit closest to me on the Day of Rising? – Those who are easy-going (muwaṭṭa’ al-aknāf) who are friendly and bring people together.’” Ibn al-Athīr said, “This comes from tawṭi’a which means to smooth and make lower. Thus Muwaṭṭa’ means the clear book which smooths the way and is not difficult for the seeker of knowledge to grasp. It is also related that Mālik gave his book this title because he read it to a group of the people of knowledge and they agreed with him about it (wāṭa’a). In this case the name would be derived from muwāṭa’a which means agreement. However, the first meaning is more likely because it is supported by the rules of derivation although both of them apply since the way is prepared and smoothed by it and people agree about it and admire it.
If you look at the Muwaṭṭa’ in an unbiased way, you will find that it prepares and smooths the way and is easy to grasp, even though it is one of the oldest books now in our possession. No earlier book from the people of knowledge is known. Its author made it an example to be imitated, particularly in the way in which it is arranged.
We find that Mālik begins with the chapters on the acts of worship, which are the pillars of Islam. He put the prayer first, it being the greatest of the pillars. Since the prayer only becomes obligatory when its time comes, he began by talking about the times of prayer. Then he spoke about purity in all its forms because purification is obligatory after the time for prayer has come. Then he spoke about what it is obligatory to do in the prayer and what is not obligatory and things that can happen to people in the prayer. Then he spoke about zakāt and so on until he had covered all the acts of worship. Then he spoke about the rest of the matters of fiqh and divided each chapter into small sections so as to make it easier to grasp. He finished the book with a chapter called “General Matters” which contains various things which did not fit under the other headings, and since it was not possible to devote a whole chapter to each of them and he did not want to go on at length, he combined them and called it “General Matters”. As Ibn al-‘Arabī says, other authors found in this arrangement a new way of organising their material.

What he did in the book as a whole he also did in certain chapters. For instance at the end of the chapter on prayer, he has a section entitled “Prayer in General”. He also has a section on “Funerals in General,” “Fasting in General,” “General chapter on what is not permitted of marriage,” and “General chapter on sales,” etc. This shows the excellence of the way he arranged the book and the precision of the system he used. This is so much the case that if one of us today, in this age of systems, wanted to organise it, it would be very difficult to come up with a better arrangement than the one it already has.
If the reader looks at the Muwaṭṭa’ with respect to its language, he will find that its language shows that the author was a pure Arab. His language has both force and simplicity. Its terms are neither odd nor hackneyed. His style is free of oversimplification, unnecessary complexity or triteness. Despite its length, the book does not contain any linguistic or grammatical errors nor any of the faults which the scholars of rhetoric warn against.
Consequently we do not find that any of those who have made commentaries on it or spoken about it, despite their great number and their different times, places and backgrounds, directed any criticism at it on these grounds, neither in respect of what the Imām himself wrote nor in respect of the transmissions of Prophetic ḥadīths and other traditions ascribed to the Companions and the Tābi‘ūn. By that we mean that there is no criticism at all that cannot easily be answered. It is always possible for criticism to be made by people whose understanding is inadequate and who lack sufficient knowledge. “How many there are who find fault with a sound statement while their trouble is faulty understanding.”
The noble reader should also be aware of the fact that Imām Mālik has other works than the Muwaṭṭa’ even though they are not as famous.

These works are:
1. A letter on Qadar and refutation of the Qadariyya. He wrote it to ‘Abdullāh ibn Wahb, one of his eminent students.
2. A book on the stars and reckoning the passage of time and the stages of the moon.
3. A letter on judgements which he wrote to some judges.
4. A letter on fatwā which was addressed to Abū Ghassān Muḥammad ibn Muṭarrif al-Laythī, one of his great students.
5. A letter on the ijmā‘ of the people of Madīna which he sent to Imām al-Layth ibn Sa‘d.
6. A book on the tafsīr of rare words in the Qur’ān.
7. A letter on manners and admonitions which he sent to Hārūn ar-Rashīd which is not acknowledged by a group of notable Mālikīs.
8. A book called Kitāb as-Sirr.

This introduction is only a drop in the ocean. It has not covered everything by any means but I hope it has mentioned a few salient points.

Allah is the One we ask for help and on Whom we rely. May Allah bless our master Muḥammad and his family and

Companions and grant them peace abundantly.

The late Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Al Mubārak
Head of the Sharī‘a Court
United Arab Emirates

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