He was utterly sincere in his quest for knowledge and sought it for the sake of Allâh alone, not desiring elevation, pride or reputation. Sincerity is a light which shines in the soul and illuminates reflection. It is reported that he used to say: “Knowledge is a light which can only reside in a God-fearing heart.” Sincerity and abandoning the pleasures and appetites of this world illuminate the path for the seeker of knowledge so he used to say: “No one makes do with little in this world without Allâh making him speak with wisdom.” He said to his student Ibn Wahb: “If you desire to gain what is with Allâh by your quest, then you have obtained what will benefit you. If you desire to gain this world by your learning, your hands will remain empty.”
His sincerity in the quest for knowledge made him cling to certain things and remain aloof from others. He clung to the Sunnah and clear matters. He used to say: “The best of matters are those which are clear and evident. If you are unsure about two things, take the more reliable.” He continued to give fatâwâ about questions without imposing them on people, out of the fear of misleading them from the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allâh [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] and making things difficult for people. He always thought deeply about a judicial decision and did not rush to give it.
He remarked to his student Ibn al-Qâsim: “I have been reflecting on one question for some twenty years and even now I do not have an opinion on it.” Ibn ‘Abdul-Hakîm said: “When Mâlik was asked about a question, he told the asker: ‘Go away so that I can look into it.’ The man would go away and come back again several times about it. We spoke to him about that. He wept and said: ‘I fear that I will be asked such questions on a Day – and what a Day!’.” Mâlik was asked about something and the asker said: “It is a simple matter.” Mâlik got angry and said: “A light, simple question! There is nothing light in knowledge! Have you not heard the words of Allâh: ‘We will cast a weighty word on you!’ [Al-Muzzammil 73:5] All knowledge is weighty and especially what we will be asked about on the Day of Rising.”
Because of his sincerity towards the Book and the Sunnah, Mâlik was very careful about declaring anything lawful or unlawful without an explicit text to that effect. If his opinion was not based on an explicit text in the Book or the Sunnah, he would make it clear that it was simply his opinion and would not make the thing categorically unlawful. He would often say afterwards: “It is only an opinion and we are not certain.”
In doing this he was following the Salaf, as he himself made clear:
“Nothing is harder for me than when I am asked a question about the halâl and the harâm because this is absolute in the judgement of Allâh. I met the people of knowledge and fiqh in our land and if one of them was asked such a question, it was as if death were dearer to him. But I see the people of this time desiring to discuss it and give fatwâ. If they had understood what it is that they are heading for Tomorrow, they would have done little of this. As for ‘Umar bin al-Khattâb, ‘Alî and ‘Alqamah, the best of the Companions, and the best generation to whom the Prophet [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] was sent, when questions came to them, they would gather together the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and ask. Then and only then would they give a. fatwâ on it.
The people of our time now pride themselves in their fatâwâ and the knowledge they have. It was not the way of the people, nor of those who passed away before us who are followed and on whom Islâm is based to say: ‘This is halâl and this is harâm’, they would say: ‘I dislike this’ and ‘I think this.’ But as for the halâl and the harâm, that is inventing things against Allâh. I have heard the words of Allâh: ‘Say: Tell me, what do you think about the things Allâh has sent down to you as provision and which you have then designated as lawful and unlawful?’ [Yûnus 10:59] Because the halâl is what Allâh and His Messenger have made halâl and the harâm is what they have made harâm.” [Tartîb al-Madârik, P. 158]
Mâlik’s sincerity often led him to say: “I do not know” when he was asked for a fatwâ. He was famous for that. He would be asked about twenty matters and would only answer two of them and announce that he did not know the rest. This did not arise from any lack of ability on his part, as some people suspect, but he would say: “I do not know” when he did not want to make something public or did not find anything about the matter from the Companions. His reluctance was due to his intense fear of Allâh.
This sincerity also led him to eschew argument and debate, because that is a form of conflict and the Dîn of Allâh is too exalted to be the subject of conflict. Conflict also often leads people to fanaticism. He did not consider that argumentation befitted the nobility of people of knowledge. When Abû Yûsuf asked ar-Rashîd to command Mâlik to debate with him Mâlik replied: “Knowledge is not like baiting beasts and cocks.”
He forbade arguing about the Dîn. He said: “Quarrelling and argument in matters of knowledge remove the light of belief from the heart,” and “Disputation hardens people’s hearts and brings about rancour.” Az-Zuhrî said: “I saw Mâlik when some people were arguing in his presence. He got up and changed his cloak, saying: ‘You are war’.” Mâlik was asked: “Should a man with knowledge of the Sunnah argue about it?” He said: “No. He should inform people about the Sunnah if they will accept it from him. Otherwise he should remain silent.” This does not preclude active discussion of matters of fiqh for the sake of discovering the truth but it does exclude debate for the sake of debate.
He also did not answer questions about judgements that had been made. Ibn Wahb said: “When he was asked about a question of judgement, he said: ‘This is part of the property of the Sultan.’ I heard him criticise a scholar for giving too many answers since it would expose the judgements to criticism or scrutiny.” In this he differed from the approach of Abû Hanîfah who insisted on scrutinising judgements. This was out of Mâlik’s desire to avoid anything that might lead to rebellion.
Another of Mâlik’s gifts was that of insight into the heart of things and into people’s selves, so that he knew what they were like from the way they moved and the timbre of their voices. This knowledge, called firâsah in Arabic, has to do with impressions, the penetration of insight, and careful attention to outward movements and how they are connected to psychological traits.
He also inspired respect and awe in people. Sa’îd bin Abî Hind said: “I was never in awe of anyone in the way I was in awe of ‘Abdur-Rahmân bin Mu’âwîyah – meaning the Sultan of Andalusia – until I went on hajj and met Mâlik. He filled me with an intense awe which made my awe of Mu’âwîyah’s son seem insignificant.” Sometimes this feeling was so intense that even his students could not put questions to him. Ibn Wahb said: “I came to Madînah and people asked me to question Mâlik about hermaphrodites. They gathered around him and I was supposed to ask on their behalf. I was too awed to ask him and all who were in the assembly were too awed to ask the question.” Ash-Shâfi’î said: “I have never been in awe of anyone as I was of Mâlik bin ‘Anas.”
By Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra
The Four Imams: Their Lives, Works and their Schools of thought, Pgs. Pgs. 32-35