Is'af al-Mubatta fi Rijal al-Muwatta

Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti

Our shaykh the learned scholar and Hafidh of the age, Jalal ad-Din al-Asyuti ash-Shafi’i, may Allah make spacious his allotted period, says:

Praise belongs to Allah for His universal bounty, and blessings and peace upon our master Muhammad and his family and companions with the purest of blessings and most complete grantings of peace. This is a subtle composition of biographical notices of narrators mentioned in the Muwatta of Imam Malik which is revised and exactly defined more than other books composed about that for whoever can see. I have named it Is’af al-Mubatta’ bi rijal al-Muwatta.

‘Ali ibn al-Madini said narrating from Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, “How strenuous Malik was in criticism of narrators and how knowledgeable he was about their affair!” ‘Ali narrated from Habib al-Warraq, Malik’s scribe, “ Ad-Darawardi, Ibn Abi Hazim and Ibn Kinanah gave me a dinar to ask Malik about three men from whom he had not narrated, so I asked him. He bowed his head in silence and then he raised it and said, ‘It is what Allah wills; there is no strength but by Allah,’ which he used to say very often. Then he said, ‘Habib, I came to this mosque at a time when there were seventy shaykhs in it of those who had reached the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and who narrated from the Followers, but we have not carried away knowledge from anyone but its people.”

Bishr ibn ‘Umar az-Zahwani said, “I asked Malik about a man, and he asked, ‘Have you seen him in my books?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘If he had been a trustworthy narrator you would have seen him in my books.’”

‘Ali ibn al-Madini said, “I don’t know of Malik leaving out a person except someone in whose hadith there was something [to cause concern].” Ibn al-Madini also said, “If Malik brings you a hadith from a man [who is unnamed] from Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab, that is preferrable to me than Sufyan [ath-Thawri] from a man from Ibrahim [an-Nakha’i], because Malik only narrated from trustworthy narrators, and even if Sufyan’s companion had something in him [to cause disquiet] he would have cried out about him clamorously.”

Yahya ibn Ma’in said, “Everyone from whom Malik ibn Anas narrates is a trustworthy narrator except for ‘Abd al-Karim al-Basri Abu Umayyah.”

Ahmad ibn Salih sad, “I do not know of anyone more giving to sifting narrators and people of knowledge than Malik, and I do not know of him narrating from anyone about whom there was something [cause for concern]. He narrated from a whole people none of whom are to be abandoned.”

An-Nasa’i said, “Those who were entrusted by Allah with the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, were Shu’bah ibn al-Hajjaj, Malik ibn Anas, and Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan.” He said, “And ath-Thawri is an imam except that he narrates from weak narrators.” He said, “Similarly, Ibn al-Mubarak is one of the greatest of the people of his time except that he narrates from weak narrators.” He said, “No one is more acceptable to me after the Followers than Malik ibn Anas, nor is anyone greater, nor more trustworthy in hadith than him. Then Shu’bah comes after him in hadith, then Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan. There is no one after the Followers more trustworthy in hadith than these three, nor less given to narrating from weak narrators.”

Mutarrif ibn ‘Abdillah said [narrating] from Malik, “I left a whole group of the people of Madinah without taking anything of knowledge from them, and yet they were of those from whom knowledge was being taken. They were different sorts. Some of them lied but not concerning their knowledge and I left them because of their lying. Some of them were ignorant of what they had, so that for me it was not appropriate to take from them becase of their ignorance. Some of them are found fault with because of a wrong theoretical understanding (ra’y).”

Ma’n ibn ‘Isa said, “Malik used to say, ‘Knowledge must not be taken from four, and it can be taken anyone other than them: it must not be taken from a fool; nor should it be taken from someone of erroneous opinions (hawa) who calls others to his erroneous opinions; nor from a liar who lies while talking about people even though he is not suspect when narrating the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace; nor is it to be taken from a virtuous right-acting shaykh given to worship if he does not recognise what he is narrating.’” Ibrahim ibn al-Mundhir said, “I mentioned this account to Mutarrif ibn ‘Abdillah and he said, ‘I bear witness that I heard Malik say, “I reached shaykhs in this city who were people of virtue and of right action and who would narrate hadith but I heard nothing from any of them.” Someone asked, “Why?” He said, “They did not recognise what they were narrating.”’”

Isma’il ibn Abi Uways said, “I heard my maternal uncle Malik saying, ‘This knowledge is a deen, so look at who you take your deen from. I met seventy people who said, “The Messenger of Allah said, may Allah bless him and grant him peace,…” around these pillars, and I took nothing from them, even though if any of them had been entrusted with the bait al-mal he would have acted in a trustworthy fashion, because they were not people of this business. Then Ibn Shihab came to us and we used to crowd around his door.’”

Yahya ibn Ma’in narrated that Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “Who are we compared to Malik? We would only follow in the footsteps of Malik and look towards the shaykh to see if Malik narrated from him or not, and if he did not we would abandon him.”

Ashhab said, “Malik was asked, ‘Is knowledge taken from someone who has not memorised but who is yet trustworthy and a sound narrator? Can hadith be taken from him?’ He said, ‘No.’ Someone said to him, ‘[What if] he produces his writings and says, “I heard them” and he is trustworthy; can hadith be taken from him?’ He said, ‘I fear that he adds things into his writings at night’”

Ibn Wahb said, “I heard Malik saying, ‘I reached people in this city who had attained to live a hundred years or a hundred and five, and nothing was taken from them, and fault was found with someone who took from them.”

Ibn Wahb and Ashhab said, “Malik said, ‘I went to see A’ishah bint Sa’d but I regarded her as a weak transmitter so I took nothing from her except her saying, “My father had a washtub from which he and all his family would do wudu.”’”

Mutarrif said, “Malik asked me, ‘Does al-‘Attan ibn Khalid narrate hadith?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we are returning!’ He said, ‘I reached trustworthy people who would not narrate hadith.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘For fear of slips.’”

Ibn Wahb said, “Malik looked towards al-’Attan ibn Khalid and said, ‘It has reached me that you take knowledge from this one.’ I said, ‘Of course.’ So he said, ‘We would not take hadith except from people of fiqh.’ He said, ‘I saw Ayyub as-Sikhtiyani in Makkah on two Hajjs and I wrote nothing down from him, but on the third I saw him sitting in the courtyard of Zamzam, and when the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was mentioned in his presence he would weep so much that I felt mercy for him. So when I saw that I wrote down [hadith] from him.’”

Abu Mus’ab said, “Someone said to Malik, ‘Why do you not take from the people of Iraq?’ He said, ‘I saw them coming here and taking [hadith and fiqh] from untrustworthy people so I said, “They are like that in their own country, and they take from those who are untrustworthy.”’”

Al-Athram said, “I asked Ahmad ibn Hanbal about ‘Amr ibn Abi ‘Amr the mawla of al-Muttalib and he said, ‘It increases his standing with me that Malik narrated from him.’”

Abu Sa’id ibn al-A’rabi said, “Yahya ibn Ma’in used to regard a man as trustworthy because of Malik’s narrating from him. He was asked about more than a few people about whom he said, ‘A trustworthy narrator; Malik narrated from him.’”

Yahya ibn Ma’in said, “It has reached me that Malik said, ‘How surprising of this Shu’bah who is so critical of narrators and yet he narrates from ‘Asim ibn ‘Abdillah!’”

Ja’far al-Firyabi said, “A part of Malik’s approach [madhhab] is to enquire deeply and research from whom it is one takes knowledge and to whom one listens.”

‘Abdullah ibn Idris sad, “I was with Malik and a man said to him that Muhammad ibn Ishaq says, ‘Show me the knowledge of Malik for I am skilful in it.’ Malik said, ‘Look at one of the dajjals [liars], saying, “Show me the knowledge of Malik.”’” Ibn Idris said, “I never saw anyone else use the plural of dajjal before him.”

‘Atiq ibn Ya’qub az-Zubayri said, “I heard Malik saying, ‘I went to ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Aqil to ask him about the hadith of ar-Rabi’ bint Mu’awwadh ibn ‘Afra concerning the wudu of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, but when he reached to wiping his head and he wiped his ears I left him and didn’t hear anything from him.’”

Ishaq ibn Muhammad al-Farawi said, “Malik was asked, ‘Is knowledge to be taken from someone who has not actively sought it nor sat [in the circles of the people of knowledge]?’ and he said, ‘No.’ Someone asked, ‘Can it be taken from someone who is sound and trustworthy but who does not memorise nor does he understand what he narrates?’ and he said, ‘Knowledge is not written down except from someone who memorises and who has actively sought it and sat with people, who recognises [what he narrates], and who acts, and who is scrupulous.’”

Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qattan said, “I only accepted the narration of Malik because of his discrimination, his great research and investigation, and his abandoning those who are enigmatic with respect to it.”

Ma’n ibn ‘Isa said, “I used to ask Malik about hadith and repeat the names of the narrators to him, and I would say, ‘Why did you abandon so and so, but you recorded from so and so?’ and he said, ‘If I had written down from everyone I heard, this house would have been full of books. Ma’n, choose carefully for your deen and only write down on your paper from those whom you can use in proof and who will not be used in proof against you.’”

Shu’bah ibn a-Hajjaj said, “Malik was one of the most discriminating people. I heard him say, ‘It is not everyone from whom one writes down, even if they have eminence in themselves; it is only the news of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and so it is only taken from its people.’”

Ibn Kinanah said, “Malik said, ‘Whoever makes discrimination the capital of his wealth will never suffer loss and will always be in profit.’”

Qarad ibn Nuh said, “Malik mentioned something and so somone asked him, ‘Who narrated that to you?’ and he answered, ‘We did not use to sit with fools.’” ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “I heard my father when this statement was mentioned saying, ‘There isn’t a statement in the world greater than this among the eminent virtues of the people of knowledge, that Malik ibn Anas mentioned that he had never sat with a fool, and no one is safe from that apart from Malik.’”

Ibn Wahb said, “Malik said, ‘I came upon people in Madinah whom if others had sought rain [from Allah] by means of them they would have been given water, and they had heard a great deal of knowledge and hadith, but I took nothing from any of them. That is because they had obligated themselves with fear of Allah and doing without, whereas this business – meaning hadith and fatwa – needs a man who has taqwa, scrupulousness, careful preservation [of knowledge], exacting mastery, knowledge, understanding, and knowing what comes out of his head and what will come to him tomorrow on the [Day of] Rising. As for doing without [the world] without exacting mastery and without ma’rifah, then there is no benefit in it, it is no proof, and knowledge is not to be taken from them.’”

Ma’n ibn ‘Isa said, “I heard Malik saying, ‘How many a brother I have in Madinah whose supplication I hope for but whose testimony I do not regard as valid.’”

Sufyan ibn Harb said, “I said to Malik, ‘What is wrong with you [people] that you do not narrate from the people of Iraq?’ He said, ‘The first of us did not narrate from the first of them, and so similarly the last of us do not narrate from the last of them.’”

Mansur ibn Salamah said, “We were with Malik and a man said to him, ‘I have lived here for seventy days and have written down sixty hadith.’ So Malik said, ‘Sixty hadith; you think them not worth the trouble?’ The man said, ‘We would probably write them down in Kufa or in Iraq in a single session.’ Malik said, ‘What have we to do with Iraq? That is the abode of fighting; they fight at night and spend by day.’”

Hamzah said, “I heard Malik saying, ‘Iraq used to overflow against us with dirhams and clothing, and then they began to overflow against us with knowledge.’"