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The Muwaa? (Arabic: , "well-trodden path") or Muwatta Imam Malik (Arabic: ? ?) of Imam Malik (711-795) written in the 8th-century, is the earliest collection of hadith texts comprising the subjects of Islamic law, compiled by the Imam, Malik ibn Anas. Malik's best-known work, Al-Muwatta was the first legal work to incorporate and combine hadith and fiqh (except possibly for Zayd ibn Ali's Musnad).
It is considered to be from the earliest extant collections of hadith that form the basis of Islamicjurisprudence alongside the Qur'an. Nonetheless, it is not merely a collection of hadith; many of the legal precepts it contains are not based on hadith at all. The book covers rituals, rites, customs, traditions, norms and laws of the time of the Islamic prophetMuhammad.
It is reported that Imam Malik selected for inclusion into the Muwatta just over 1900 narrations, from the 100,000 narrations he had available to him.
Due to increase in juristic differences, the Caliph of the time, Ab? Ja'far al-Manr, requested Im?m M?lik to produce a standard book that could be promulgated as law in the country. The Imam refused this in 148 AH, but when the Caliph again came to the ?ij?z in 163 AH, he was more forceful and said:
"O Ab? 'Abd All?h, take up the reign of the discipline of fiqh in your hands. Compile your understanding of every issue in different chapters for a systematic book free from the harshness of 'Abd All?h b. 'Umar, concessions and accommodations of 'Abd All?h b. 'Abb?s and unique views of 'Abd All?h b. Mas'?d. Your work should exemplify the following principle of the Prophet: "The best issues are those which are balanced." It should be a compendium of the agreed upon views of the Companions and the elder im?ms on the religious and legal issues. Once you have compiled such a work then we would be able to unite the Muslims in following the single fiqh worked by you. We would then promulgate it in the entire Muslim state. We would order that no body acts contrary to it." 
Historical reports attest that another 'Abb?s? caliph Harun al-Rashid too expressed similar wishes before Im?m M?lik who remained unmoved. He, however, compiled Muwaa', keeping before himself the target of removing the juristic differences between the scholars.
Composed over a forty-year period, Malik's 'Muwatta' ("Well-trodden Path")--i.e. of the people of Medina. An alternative interpretation of its title as "Many times agreed upon", refers to the unanimous agreement by the people of Medina on the authenticity of its content, and the general acceptance reflected in its high standing across schools of fiqh and imams of hadith scholarship.
Over one thousand disciples of Malik have transmitted this work from him. This has resulted in differences in the text in various instances. There are thirty known versions of the work of which the most famous is the one transmitted by Yahya al-Laithi.
Composition of al-Muwatta
Al-Muwatta consists of approximately 1,720 hadith divided amongst the following hadith terminology as follows:
Amin Ahsan Islahi has listed several distinguishing characteristics of the Muwatta:
Its briefness (in size) yet comprehensiveness (in coverage).
Malik did not accept any marf?' had?th (ascribed to the Prophet) if it was not verbatim transmission of the words of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (he even gave consideration to letters, prepositions and particles like w?w, t?, b? etc. in them).
No acceptance of Hadith from any innovator - this is a stricter standard than many other muhaddithun.
Highly literary form of the classical Arabic. This helps readers develop the ability to understand the language of the prophetic traditions.
Commentaries on Al-Muwatta
Due to the importance of the Al-Muwatta to Muslims it has often been accompanied by commentaries, mostly but not exclusively by followers of the Maliki school. It's said that on the version transmitted by Yahya al-Laithi alone there are around a hundred commentaries.
Al Tamhid by Yusuf ibn abd al-Barr is organized according to the narrators which Malik narrates from, and includes extensive biographical information about each narrator in the chain.
al-Istidhkar, also by Ibn Abd al-Barr is more of a legal exegesis on the hadith contained in the book than a critical hadith study, as was the case with the former. It is said that the Istidhkar was written after the Tamhid, as Ibn Abd al Barr himself alludes to in the introduction. However, through close examination it is apparent that the author made revisions to both after their completion due to the cross referencing found in both.
The explanation of Al-Suyuti, who although a follower of the Shafi`i school, wrote a small commentary to the Al-Muwatta.
Al-Musaffa Sharh al-Muwatta, Shah Wali Allah Dahlawi (al-Musaffa Sharh al-Muwatta in Persian). Shah Waliullah attached great importance to the Muwatta and penned another commentary in Urdu too.
Al-Muntaqâ sharh al-Muwatta of Abu al-Walid al-Baji, the Andalusian Mâlikî Qâdî, (Abû al-Walîd Sulaymân ibn Khalaf al-Bâjî, al-Muntaqâ sharh Muwatta' Mâlik, edited by Muhammad 'Abd al-Qâdir Ahmad 'Atâ, Beirut: Dâr al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1420/1999) Sharh al-Muwatta' has two versions: al-Istifa' and its abridgment al-Muntaqa.
Awj?z-ul-Mas?lik ilá Muwatt?' Im?m M?lik is a Deobandi commentary written by great scholar Muhammad Zakariya al-Kandahlawi. He began the work in 1927 in Medina while only 29 years old. It is said regarding this commentary that a follower of Imam Malik said after reading this book that if the author did not mention in the introduction that he is a Hanafi I would not have known. Such was the brilliance of this work. It is also said that upon seeing the commentary, the Maliki scholars said, Qad Hannafal Muwatta, as a word of praise (meaning: that Shaykh Zakariya al-Kandahlawi wrote the book Awj?z-ul-Mas?lik ilá Muwatt?' Im?m M?lik in such a way that it seems like the Muwatta has become a Hanafi book).
Sharh Muwatta al-Malik by Muhammad al-Zurqani. It is considered to be based on three other commentaries of the Muwatta; the Tamhid and the Istidhkar of Yusuf ibn Abd al Barr, as well as the Al-Muntaqa of Abu al-Walid al-Baji.