A Madinan View on the Sunnah
On knowledge, the guidance of people of knowledge and their courtesies, and some mention of fatwas
The People of Knowledge
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Allah will not wrest knowledge from people but Allah will remove knowledge with the death of people of knowledge. When people of knowledge have gone people will take ignorant leaders who will be asked and so give fatwa without knowledge, who will go astray and lead others astray."
Malik said, "Abdullah ibn Salam asked Ka'b al-Ahbar, 'Who are the masters ( arbab ) of knowledge who are worthy of it?' He said, 'Those who act according to their knowledge.' He said, 'You have told the truth.' He said, 'What obliterates it from their breasts after they have known it?' He said, 'Eager desire.' He said, 'You have told the truth'."
Narration of Hadith
Malik said, "There never was an Imam in Madinah who narrated two contradictory hadith." Ashhab said, "He meant that no one narrated anything upon which the practice is not based." Ibn al-Musayyab said, "I used to travel for nights and days in search of one hadith."
Malik was asked, "Can a part of [the text of] a hadith be brought forward and another part be put back [in the syntax of the hadith] as long as the meaning is the same?" He said, "As for in the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, I dislike it and that anything should be added in or taken away from them. Whatever is not his words I see no harm in it if the meaning is the same."
Someone asked Malik also, "What do you think about a hadith of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to which the [letters] waw and alif are added and the meaning is the same?" Malik said, "I hope that it will be a small matter."
Someone asked Malik, "Can one take from someone who does not memorise ahadith but who is trustworthy?" He said, "No." It was said, "[What if] he brings his books [containing the ahadith] he has heard?" He said, "They are not to be taken from him. I fear that something could have been added to his books at night."
Ma'n ibn 'Isa said, "I heard Malik saying, 'Knowledge must not be taken from four, and may be taken from anybody else: it must not be taken from an innovator who calls others to his innovation, nor from a fool who is open in his folly, nor from one who lies in talking about people even if he tells the truth in the ahadith of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, nor from one who does not recognise this affair." (Malik elsewhere expressed this as, "Nor is it to be taken from an eminent shaykh of good character and worship if he does not recognise what he is narrating." He also said, "I encountered eminent shaykhs of good character in this city who would narrate ahadith, and I never heard anything from them!" Someone said to him, "Why, Abu 'Abdullah?" He said, "Because they did not recognise what they narrated.")
Malik said, "The people of Madinah do not have books. Ibn al-Musayyab died without leaving a book. It has reached me that Abu so-and-so left a mule-load of books, yet Ibn Shihab had only one book in which was the genealogy of his people."
Someone asked Malik, "What do you think about someone who bases himself upon a hadith which a trustworthy person narrated to him from one of the Companions, do you think it is acceptable?" He said, "No, by Allah! not until he hits upon the truth, and there is only one truth. Two contradictory statements cannot both be correct." The like of this has been narrated from al-Layth [ibn Sa'd].
Malik said, "It was not a part of people's fatwas to say 'This is halal and this is haram', but they used to say, 'I disapprove of this and would not do it myself,' and people used to be content with that." In another place, "They didn't use to say 'halal' nor 'haram' except about that which was [stated to be so] in the Book of Allah ta'ala."
Malik said, "All that has corrupted people is finding interpretations for that which they do not know."
Malik said, "A man who narrates everything that he hears is not safe and he will never be an Imam." Malik said, "They clothe the truth with falsity." (see Surat al-Baqarah, 39)
Malik said, "That which predominates in people's1 affair is the clear road. A thing may be good but something else may be stronger."
Malik said, "When you hit the mark there is little talk. When there is a lot of talk then the one who talks will make mistakes."
He said, "It is forbidden to raise one's voice in knowledge and to have a great deal of confused and clamorous talk." He said, "Ibn Hurmuz spoke very little and gave few fatwas, and he was one of those upon whom I love to model myself. He was very insightful in speech and he would refute people of erroneous opinions. He was one of the most knowledgeable people about that on which people disagree." Muhammad ibn 'Ijlan said, "I was never in awe of anyone as I was of Zayd ibn Aslam. Zayd used to say, 'Go and learn how to ask and then come back'."
It is said, "If you sit with a person of knowledge be more eager to listen than talk." Malik said, "How often Ziyad the freed slave of Ibn 'Ayyash used to pass by me and say, 'You must be serious. If those dispensations which your companions allow are true they will not harm you, and if the matter is something else, you will have based yourself on seriousness,' meaning on that which Rabi'ah and Zayd ibn Aslam said."
Malik said, "When you see these affairs about which there are doubts then take hold of the one which is more sure."
Malik said, "Sulayman ibn Yasar was the most knowledgeable person in this city after Sa'id ibn al-Musayyab. When there was a lot of talk, confused discussion and showing off in the mosque he took his sandals and stood up to go."
Malik said, "I do not like a lot of questions and ahadith. I found the people of this city disapproving of that which is among people today. The first of this Ummah were not the most questioning of people, nor did they have this practice of going deeply [into matters]. The Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade a great deal of questioning, and in another hadith he forbade, 'It was said and he said' and much questioning." Malik said, "I do not know whether [the hadith] is about the much questioning [concerning knowledge] which you do, or asking [in the sense] of begging." (su'al means both to ask a question and to beg).
Malik used to disapprove of haste in giving fatwas and he would often hesitate over cases. He would often say, "I do not know." He said, "The shield of the man of knowledge is, 'I do not know.' When he forgets it, his vulnerable parts are hit."
Malik said, "One of the things which conquers a man of knowledge is when he answers everyone who questions him." Ibn 'Abbas said, "Whoever answers people on everything about which they ask is mad." Malik was asked about something and he said, "I don't like to reply to something like this. 'Umar ibn al-Khattab was tested with things like these and he left them and would not give an answer about them."
'Abdullah ibn Yazid ibn Hurmuz said, "When a man is appointed as Qadi, Amir or Mufti he ought to ask one whom he trusts about himself and if he thinks that he is worthy of it he should do it, and if not he should not do it." Malik said, "One of the defects of a Qadi is that if he is removed from his post he does not return to the gathering in which he was studying."
Reading and Writing Ahadith
Malik said, "There is no harm in a man saying about that which he read out to a person of knowledge, 'He narrated to me', just as you say, 'He taught me to recite' whereas it is you who recite to him." Someone asked, "If a man reads out to you and I am present, is it permissible for me to narrate it?" He said, "Yes."
Someone said, "What about someone to whom a man of knowledge says, 'This is my book; take it from me and narrate what is in it'." He said, "I don't think that is permissible and it doesn't please me. They only want to carry away [ahadith]." Ashhab said, "Meaning 'Learning much [ahadith] in a short time (lit. a period of residence)'." [A man came to Malik and memorised the Muwatta in forty days. Malik said, "A book which a shaykh took forty years to compile, you have learnt in forty days! How little you have understood it."] Other views have been narrated from Malik. It is also narrated that he said, "I wrote down one hundred of Ibn Shihab's ahadith for Yahya ibn Sa'd and he took them from me without reading them out to me." In another story it is said, "Did you read them out to him or did he read them out to you?" He said, "He had more fiqh than that." Ibn Wahb and other men of knowledge permitted writing. Munawalah (transmission of ahadith from the writing of a man of knowledge which he has written with his own hand and which he has said is what he heard directly from so and so and which he commands the student to narrate) is stronger than ijazah (transmitting his ahadith learnt orally from him with his permission) if the writing is authentic.
Malik said, "I never wrote on these tablets." He said, "I said to Ibn Shihab, 'Did you use to write knowledge down?' He said 'No.' I said, 'Were the ahadith repeated to you?' He said, 'No'."
Notes for Chapter 4
The material in this chapter is both a footnote to and an affirmation of Shaykh 'Abdalqadir al-Murabit's work Root Islamic Education which treats the whole subject much more exhaustively, drawing very largely on the writings of Qadi 'Iyad, particularly his Tartib al-Madarik.
1 This statement is not an affirmation of the sovereignty of the people. The 'people' here are the people of Madinah of the generations of the Companions, the Followers and the Followers of the Followers who transmitted the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in practice as well as with ahadith.
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"And say: truth has arrived, and falsehood has perished: for falsehood is ever bound to perish." [TMQ Al-Isra:81]