Muslims follow four major schools of jurisprudence in matters of legal and devotional details. Imaam Maalik Ibn Anas, may Allah have mercy upom him, comes second in order from a chronological point of view. For Maalik ibn Anas, who is known as the scholar of Madeenah, was born in Madeenah in the year 93 A.H.
Imaam Maalik's mother advised him to join the first school and university in Islam, the Mosque of the Prophet in Madeenah, where he started by memorizing the Glorious Quran and then the Hadeeth [traditions of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah exalt his mention)]. In the age when writing and written educational material were a rarity, students and scholars had to have a strong memory to consult and store the knowledge they gained. Imaam Maalik was not lacking in this special ability. We are told that when he listened to a teacher narrating Prophetic traditions, Maalik ibn Anas used to tie a knot for each tradition (Hadeeth). Later, he tried to recite the traditions to himself in order to make sure that he retained every single one. Once he attended a session where 30 Hadeeths were narrated and discussed. When the session was over he checked his retention of those Hadeeths and found that he forgot one of them. So he rushed after his teacher to learn the missing Hadeeth from him, the teacher listened to him, and taught him the one he had missed.
As an eminent scholar, he not only attended study circles held by no less than 90 scholars, but throughout his life he discussed different matters of the faith with his colleagues and the scholars who came to Madeenah during the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, in addition to corresponding with well-known authorities in various parts of the Muslim world. We are told that Maalik ibn Anas started teaching in the Prophet's Mosque very early in his life (late teens or early twenties), but he did not start teaching until his command of religious learning was witnessed to by no less than seventy of his teachers, some of whom came to attend the teaching sessions of their former student to learn from him.
As a conservative traditionalist, Imaam Maalik as a teacher in his mosque had great reverence for the Hadeeths of the Prophet . History tells us that before Imaam Maalik embarked upon teaching the Hadeeth, he would have a bath and wear his best clothes, and he would not allow anyone to raise his voice too high. It is also reported that he would not ride in Madeenah, saying that he could not see himself riding in a town where the Prophet was buried.
Since Imaam Maalik lived ninety years he witnessed the change of the Umayyad Dynasty to the Abbasid, and he met many a Caliph whose respect he commanded with his knowledge and sincere advice, in addition to his dignity as a scholar. We are told that when the famous Caliph Haroon Ar-Rasheed learnt about Al-Muwatta' (a book compiled by Imaam Maalik), he sent his minister to fetch him in order to read the book to the Caliph. Imaam Maalik politely answered, "Give my regards to the Caliph, and tell him that knowledge should be visited, and it should not visit people. People should come to it, and it should not go to people." Later, when the Caliph blamed Imaam Maalik for disobeying him, he said to the Caliph: "O Leader of the Faithful, Allah the Almighty has raised you to this honourable position. Do not be the first one to lower the place and insult the dignity of knowledge and learning so that Allah may not lower your place. I did not really want to disobey you, but I rather wanted the Leader of the Faithful to show due respect to learning in order that Allah may raise his position." Caliph Haroun Ar-Rasheed was convinced, and he walked along with Imaam Maalik to his own house to listen to him and to his readings from his book.
Another quality typical of the knowledgeable heroes of Islam, which Imaam Maalik taught to people through word and action, was humility and confession to ignorance of matters of which he was not certain. He emphasized to his students that the most important expression a true scholar should have the courage to say was, "I do not know." In fact, we are told that a man came to Imaam Maalik and informed him that he had travelled for six months to ask him about a certain problem. Upon hearing the problem Maalik could not find a satisfactory answer. So he humbly told the man, "I do not know." The man was surprised, and he said, "What shall I tell my folk when I go home." Imaam Maalik said: "Tell them Maalik ibn Anas says he does not know."
It was with this sense of responsibility that Imaam Maalik taught people and gave his religious verdict (fatwa), despite the fact that he collected more than 100,000 Prophetic traditions (Hadith) and studied at the hands of scores of well-known authorities on religious matters. We read that very often (as a conscientious advisor) he would ask the inquirer to wait for sometime before he gave him the answer to his question.
Maalik ibn Anas is specially recognized for his voluminous book 'Al-Muwatta', which is said to be the second compilation in Islamic history of religious teachings. It was compiled, according to some historians, in 40 years. Today, that book is still a major guiding authority for millions of Muslims in Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the "Maalikite School " is dominant.
Imaam Maalik was a very devout, Allah-fearing person. He lived a life of self-denial and abstinence. He often fasted, sometimes about four days in the week. He died in 170 A.H.