Qadi Iyad wrote in Tartib al-Madarik:
Know, may Allah grant you success, that the preponderance of the madhhab of Malik over others and the loftiness of his rank and his exalted degree by way of transmission and tradition is only denied by the obstinate or the shortsighted whom knowledge of that did not reach even though it is famously widespread in the books both of opponents and friends. Here we will affirm that in two proofs, the first of which is the well known sahih tradition transmitted about that from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, by way of hadith from trustworthy narrators, of them Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah from Ibn Jurayj from Abu az-Zubayr from Abu Salih from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “It is probable that people will strike the livers of camels seeking knowledge,” and in a narration, yaltamisuna (seek) knowledge, but they will not find a knowledgeable man more knowledgeable,” and in a narration, “than the knowledgeable man of Madinah,” and in some of them, “the armpits of camels,” which is the place of the camels’s livers.
People other than Sufyan have narrated it from Ibn Jurayj with the same hadith as that of Sufyan, among them al-Muharibi who transmitted it as a mawquf statement of Abu Hurayrah in its isnad Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari who is a trusted and trustworthy narrator. And this route is the most famous of its routes, and the narrators of this route are famous trustworthy narrators from all of whom al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated as did the people of the sahih hadith.
Al-Maqburi also narrated it from Abu Hurayrah with another wording which Qadi Abu al-Bukhtari Wahb ibn Muntabih narrated from ‘Abd al-A’la ibn ‘Abdullah from al-Maqburi from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who said, “The Hour will not come about until people strike the livers of camels from every region to [go to] the knowledgeable man of Madinah seeking his knowledge,” except that Abu al-Bukhtari is weak in their view.
And an-Nasa’i also narrated it and published it in his Musannaf from ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir from Sufyan from Abu az-Zinad from Abu Salih from Abu Hurayrah who said: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “You will strike the livers of camels and you will seek knowledge and you will not find a knowledgeable man more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable man of Madinah.”An-Nasa’i said, “This is mistaken, and the correct position is that it is from Abu az-Zubayr from Abu Salih.”
And Abu Musa al-Ash’ari also narrated it from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in another wording which Ma’n ibn ‘Isa narrated from Abu al-Mundhir at-Tamimi Zuhayr who said: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “People will go out from the east and the west seeking knowledge and they will not find a knowledgable man more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable man of Madinah.”
Ibn Habib mentioned a hadith with its isnad from Abu Salih from Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah who said: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The world will not come to an end until there will be a knowledgeable man in Madinah for whose sake the camels’s livers will be beaten, more knowledgeable than whom there will not be on the surface of the world.”
Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah said in transmissions narrated with more than one route, “We think that what is meant by this hadith is Malik ibn Anas,” and in a narration, “It is Malik ibn Anas,” with the same being narrated of Ibn Jurayj and ‘Abd ar-Razzaq and it is narrated of Sufyan that he said, “I used to say that it was Ibn al-Musyyab until I said: At the time of Ibn al-Musayyab there were Sulayman and Salim and others; but today I have come to say that it is Malik.”And that is because he lived until he had no compeers in Madinah, and this is the sound transmission from Sufyan which trustworthy narrators and Imams narrated from him: Ibn Mahdi, Yahya ibn Ma’in, ‘Ali ibn al-Madini, az-Zubayr ibn Bakkar, Ishaq ibn Abi Isra’il, Dhuwayb ibn Ghamamah and others (all of them) had heard Sufyan saying in explanation of the hadith when he narrated it to them, “It is Malik,” or, “I think it or reckon it or see it to be,” or “they used to think it to be,” about which Ibn Mahdi said, “Sufyan meant by saying, ‘They used to think it to be,’ the Followers.”
Qadi Abu ‘Abdullah at-Tustari said, “It is transmitted from others of his peers or from those who were above him, and that his degree in people’s estimation was this degree because of what they witnessed of his condition which resembled what is informed about him in this hadith.” He said, “And these hadith have come in two wordings: first, ‘They will not find a knowledgeable man more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable man of Madinah; and the other, ‘Than a knowledgeable man in Madinah,’ and both of them have sound meanings.”
As for his words, ‘than a knowledgeable man in Madinah,’ he indicated a specific man who would be in it and not somewhere else, and we know of no one to whom the knowledge of Madinah reached who resided in it without leaving it or residing elsewhere at the time of Malik about whom there is consensus except for Malik. Nor did any of its ‘ulama deliver fatwa in Madinah and narrate hadith for sixty or more years with the people of the east and the west taking from and striking the livers of camels to get to him other than him.
As for the narration, “The knowledgeable man of Madinah,” or “of the people of Madinah,” Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Makhzumi Abu al-Mughirah narrated that the interpretation of that is that as long as the Muslims seek knowledge they will not find anyone more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable man of Madinah whether he is there or elsewhere.
So on that basis it would Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab because he in his own time was the ultimate, and then after him the others who were like him among the Shaykhs of Malik, and then after them Malik, and then after him those who undertook his knowledge and became the most knowledgeable of his companions about his madhhab. Then in the same manner as long as there is a seeker of knowledge and the People of Madinah have an imam.It is thus interpretable on this basis to say that it was Ibn Shihab in his time and al-‘Umari in his time and Malik in his time. Then if the two wordings are united, Malik is singled out by his words, “than a knowledgeable man in Madinah,” and he is comprised among the total number of knowledgeable people of Madinah in the other wording.
Some of the Malikis said: If you consider the great number of those who narrated from Malik of the ‘ulama of those who preceded him and were contemporary with him or came later than him, according to the different generations and regions, and the great number of journeys that were made to him, and the reliance that was placed upon him in his own time, it shows without doubt that he was the one intended by the hadith.
Since we have not found any other ‘ulama of Madinah of those who preceded him or came after him who narrated and who took knowledge except for a few of those we found, and more than have gathered together those who narrated from him and one of them reached in naming those who were known to have narrated from him, apart from those not known, to one thousand narrators, and he gathered of them more than 1,300. The great number of those who went to him shows the fact that he was the most knowledgeable of the people of his time, which is the state and the description about which he, may Allah be merciful to him, gave notice, the right-acting first generations not doubting that he was the one intended by the hadith, and this tradition is counted as one of his miracles and one of his ayat, may Allah be merciful to him, among those things about which he informed of those things that were to be which came about just as he informed us about, may Allah be merciful to him.