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Malik’s Principle on the Practice of People of Madina Explained

Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya[1]
Translated by Aisha Bewley[2]

Hadith forms the bedrock of Islamic tradition. Hadith puts check on far-fetched exegesis of the Qur’an. For this reason the modernists including those masquerading as scholars tend to raise doubts about the authority of hadith and seek ways to undermine its dual role of being the foremost source of Qur’anic exegesis and the second primary source of Islamic law. In the same vein it is argued by some of them that an authority as great as Imam Malik bin Anas preferred the practice of people of Madina over hadith reports. Ibn Taymiyya, the great scholar from the middle centuries of the Islamic era elaborated upon the fact and proofs of the authority of the practice of people of Madina along with its various degrees and the positions of various scholars on each of them. This is a must read for it highlights the important of the Madinan practice and also frustrates the attempts to use the Islamic tradition to undermine the same on something as essential as the authority of the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, on him be the peace and blessings. (Admin)

1. Introduction

Praise belongs to Allah. It is the school of the people of the City of the Prophet, the Abode of the Sunnah, the Abode of Hijrah, the Abode of Victory. It was in Madina that Allah fashioned the Sunnah and the Shari’ah of Islam for His Messenger Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It was to Madina that the Muhajirun emigrated to Allah and His Messenger, and it was in Madina that the Ansar were located. “Those who were already settled in the abode and in belief” (59:9). In the time of the Companions, the Followers and their Followers, their school was the soundest of the schools of the people in all the cities of Islam, east and west, both in respect of its fundamental principles and its secondary rulings ….

2. The excellence of Madina and its people according to Hadith

These three periods – those of the Companions, the Followers and their Followers – comprise the period of the most excellent generations whom the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, mentioned in a hadith which is sound in every respect.

The best of generations is the generation among whom I was sent, and then those who follow them and then those who follow them. [Bukhari, Muslim et al]

Ibn Hibban mentioned the two generations after his generation which are undisputed. In certain hadiths there is some uncertainty about the third generation after the Prophet’s generation. It is definitely stated in some of them that the third generation after his generation is confirmed, and thus there are four generations mentioned in total ….

During the time of those generations which the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, praised the school of the people of Madina was the soundest of the schools of the people of all the Muslim cities. The people of Madina confined themselves to following in the footsteps of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, more than the people of any other city. In addition to this, the people of other cities had less knowledge of the Prophetic sunnah and followed it less completely …

This is why none of the Muslim scholars believed that the consensus of any of the cities except Madina was a proof which must be followed – not in those times nor after them; not the consensus of the people of Makkah or Syria or Iraq or any other of them cities of the Muslims. Anyone who relates from Abu Hanifa or any of his companions that the consensus of the people of Kufa is a proof which every Muslim must follow, has, by that statement, accused Abu Hanifa and his companions of going astray. As far as Madina is concerned, people have discussed the consensus of its people and it is well-known from Malik and his companions that the consensus of its people is a proof, even if the rest of the Imams vie with them about that.

The discussion is confined to their consensus during the first excellent period, After that period, everyone agrees that the consensus of its people is no longer a proof since at that time there were great scholars elsewhere who were not in Madina …

3. Innovations, like the Shi’a and the Qadariyya issued from almost all cities except Madina

During the time of the three excellent generations, there was no evident innovation in Madina at all and no innovation issued from it at all regarding the basic premises of the deen, such as emerged from all the other cities. The major places in which the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, lived and from which knowledge and belief spread out were five: Makkah and Madina, Iraq and further east, and Syria. From them went forth the Qur’an, hadith, fiqh, and worship and all matters of Islam which are followed.

Fundamental innovations emerged from all these cities except the city of the Prophet. From Kufa emerged the Shi’a and the Murji’ites, who later spread elsewhere. From Basra emerged the Qadariyya, the Mu’tazilities and other unsound religious practices which later spread elsewhere. Syria has the Nasibiyya and the Qadariyya. The Jahmiyya emerged from a region of Khorasan, and this is the worst innovation of them all ….

The city of the Prophet, however, did not generate any of these innovations. Even if there might have been a few people there who concealed their adherence to one or another of these sects, the Madinans’ opinion of them was that they were all contemptible and blameworthy. There were people of the Qadariyya and others there, but they were censured and overcome, which was not the case with the Shi’a and Murji’ites in Kufa, and the Mu’tazilites and other innovations in Basra, and the Nasibiyya in Syria. There they were blatant ….

4. The four levels of the consensus of the people of Madina

The discussion about the consensus of the people of Madina in that period and resolution of the “question of the consensus of the people of Madina” includes looking at those things on which all the Muslims agree and those which represent the position of the majority of the Imams of the Muslims and those which are only upheld by a few of them. In other words the consensus of the people of Madina falls into four categories.

4.1 That which proceeds by direct transmission from the Prophet

The first is that which proceeds by direct transmission from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, like their transmission of the amount of the sa’ and the madd measures, and like not having to pay zakat on vegetables, and the habous or waqf. This is something that constitutes a proof by the agreement of all scholars. Al-Shafi’i, Ahmad bin Hanbal, and their companions consider it to be an undisputed proof, just as Malik considers it to be a proof. And that is also the school of Abu Hanifa and his people.

When Abu Yusuf, may Allah have mercy on him, the most important of the people of Abu Hanifa and the first to be accorded the title “Qadi of the Qadis”, met with Malik and asked him about these questions, Malik replied to him with multiple (mutawatir) transmission of the people of Madina. Abu Yusuf reverted to Malik’s statement and said, “If my companion [i.e. Abu Hanifa] had seen the same as I have seen, he would have reverted as I have reverted.”

Abu Yusuf thus asserted that such transmission constitutes a proof in the eyes of his companion, Abu Hanifa, just as it is a proof in everyone else’s eyes. However, this transmission simply did not reach Abu Hanifa just as many hadiths did not reach him nor did they reach other Imams …

Whoever thinks that Abu Hanifa and other Imams of the Muslims deliberately opposed sound hadiths by analogy or anything else, has erred about them and is either speaking by supposition or by caprice. This man, Abu Hanifa, followed the hadith about doing wudu’ with nabidh on a journey, something which is contrary to analogy, and the hadith about laughing in the prayer which is also contrary to analogy since he was confident that they were sound, even if Imams of hadith do not consider them sound ….

4.2 Practice in Madina before the murder of ‘Uthman

The second degree is the early practice in Madina before the murder of ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan. It is considered to be a proof in the school of Malik and it is so stipulated by al-Shafi’i. He is quoted by Yunus ibn ‘Abdu’l-A‘la as saying, “When you see that the early ones of the people of Madina did something, then do not let any doubt that it is the truth arise in your heart.” The same applies to the clear school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal – the usual practice of Rightly-guided Caliphs is a proof which must be followed ….

It is related that Abu Hanifa deemed the statement of the Rightly-guided Caliphs to be a proof and no early practice of the people of Madina in the time of Rightly-guided Caliphs was known to be contrary to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

4.3 Preference between contrary indications

The third degree is when there are contrary indications regarding a question, like two hadiths or two analogies, and it is not known which is more correct, and one of them was acted upon by the people of Madina. There is disagreement about this. The school of Malik and al-Shafi’i is that one prefers the practice of the people of Madina, and the school of Abu Hanifa is that one does not prefer the practice of the people of Madina.

The people of Ahmad bin Hanbal have two approaches here. One, which is the position of Qadi Abu Ya’la and Ibn ‘Aqil, is that the practice of Madina does not predominate. The second, which is the position of Abu’l-Khattab and others, is that it does predominate ….[3]

4.4 Later practice in Madina

The fourth degree is the later practice in Madina. Is this a proof in the Shari’ah which must be followed or not? The Imams of the people say that it is not a proof in the Shari’ah. This is the school of al-Shafi’i, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Abu Hanifa and others. It is also the position of established Maliki scholars, as the excellent ‘Abdu’l-Wahhab mentioned in his book, The Bases of Fiqh [Usul al-Fiqh]. He stated that this is neither consensus nor a proof in the view of established Maliki scholars, while it might be considered a proof by some of the people of the Maghrib among Malik’s followers. The Imams have neither text nor indication of it. Rather they are people of imitation (taqlid).

I [i.e. Ibn Taymiyya] said: I have not seen anything that Malik said which obliges this to be made a proof. We find in the Muwatta’ that he mentioned the proof on which they agree. He reports their school. Sometimes he says, “That which the people of knowledge still do in our land,” which refers to an earlier consensus. Sometimes he does not say that.

If Malik had believed that the later practice was a proof which the entire community is obliged to follow, even if it differs from the texts, he would have been obliged to make people hold to that as much as possible, just as he had to oblige them to follow the hadith and firm sunnah about which there is no contradiction, and that is by consensus. Harun al-Rashid or someone else offered to compel people to adopt the Muwatta’, but Malik rejected that saying, “The Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, dispersed into different cities. I have only gathered the knowledge of the people of my city,” or words to that effect ….

References & Notes:


[1] Al-Harrani, Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu’a al-Fatawa, Madina: King Fahad Qur’an Printing Complex, 1995. Vol.20, 294-311

[2] Bewley, Aisha, Ibn Taymiyya[‘s] The Madinan Way – The Soundness of the Basic Premises of the School of the People of Madina, Norwich: Bookwork, 2000, 1-17; Ellipses till the end of a given paragraph is denoted by three dots and ellipses stretching over multiple paragraphs is denoted by four.

[3] This level is the only one on which valid difference of opinion exists. And here we see it is not about preferring something external over hadith rather it is about using the practice of the people of Madina to decide between two contradicting hadith reports or between other indications of mutually equally importance and strength.

Published : June 13, 2015

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