The Response of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Alawi al-Maliki to Shaykh ‘Abdalhayy al-Laknawi concerning the Relative Merits of the Muwatta of Yahya and the Muwatta of Muhammad

Fifth investigation – the comparative merits of it and the narration of Yahya

Al-Laknawi thinks that the narration of Muhammad is weightier and better than the narration of Yahya, and he seeks to prove that as follows:

First, that Yahya al-Andalusi only heard the Muwatta completely from one of the pupils of Imam Malik, but as for Malik himself he did not hear it from him completely but there remained a portion of it [which he had not heard]. As for Muhammad, he heard it from him in its totality, and it is well known that hearing the totality without intermediary from someone such as this Shaykh is weightier than hearing it through an intermediary.

Second, that Yahya al-Andalusi attended Malik in the year of his death and was present when he was made ready [for burial] but Muhammad stayed close to him for three years of his life, and it is well known that the narration of someone who has had a great deal of close companionship is stronger than the narration of someone who has had little.

Third, that the Muwatta of Yahya comprises hadith narrated by way of Malik and from no-one else, and the Muwatta of Muhammad, as well as comprising that, comprises traditions narrated from other shaykhs, and it is well known that that which comprises additional [hadith] is better than that devoid of that benefit.

Fourth, that the Muwatta of Yahya comprises many mentions of fiqh cases and ijtihads of Imam Malik with which he was pleased, and many notices in which there is only mention of his ijtihad and his derivations of rulings without the narration of traditions, contrary to the Muwatta of Muhammad, because there is no section in it without a narration in conformity with the title of the chapter – whether a tradition stopping short at a Companion or one ascribed to the Prophet @ – and it is well known that a book which comprises hadith without admixture of theoretical matters (ra’y) is better than one which is mixed up with theoretical matters.

Fifth, and this is in relation to the Hanafis in particular, that the Muwatta of Malik comprises many ijtihad decisions of Malik contrary to the views of Abu Hanifah and his people and hadith which Abu Hanifah and his followers did not hold to, claiming that they are abrogated or that there is consensus contrary to them, or there is an obvious break in the isnad, or that other hadith are weightier, and so on of those aspects which seem obvious to them, so that the person investigating it would become confused and that would propel the ordinary person to cast aspersions on them [the narrators] or on it [the book], in distinction from the Muwatta of Muhammad which comprises mention of the hadith which they [Hanafis] act by after mentioning those which they do not act by, as is clearly not hidden from anyone who studies the matter: raising the hands, reciting behind the imam and other matters. This is useful for the ordinary person and for the elite. As for the ordinary person he is protected from having a bad opinion. As for others, then by criticism of the ?ad?th of the two parties, the hidden preponderance will become evident.

I have some important observations on the words of al-Laknawi, may Allah show him mercy, acknowledging my own incapacity and shortcomings, aspiring to reward and the support of the Truth:

First, his statement that Yahya narrated the totality of the Muwatta from an intermediary, but that Muhammad heard it in its totality without intermediary, and that the hearing of the totality without intermediary is weightier than hearing it through an intermediary.

The situation is that Yahya heard the Muwatta from Malik without intermediary. Yes, there are some hadith which he does not narrate directly from him without intermediary. We ought to note that the reason for his not narrating these hadith directly from Malik is his doubt about that and his certainty of having heard them through this intermediary because he heard the Muwatta in its entirety from Ziyad and then travelled to Malik and heard it in its entirety from him, except for some hadith which he doubted as to whether or not he had heard them or not.

We have previously expanded on this issue during the discussion of the narration of Yahya.

Thus it is clear:

First, that Yahya heard the Muwatta from Malik apart from the chapters on i’tikaf which he narrated from Ziyad from Malik.

Second, that he did not really miss hearing these hadith, but it is probable that he heard them from him [Malik]. However, his doubt about that, along with the existence of a certain path of transmission which he had, made him take the path of certainty and avoid the path about which there was some doubt. And it is well known that doubt renders both parties equal.

Thus we say, strength does not lie in narrating the book in its entirety and weakness does not lie in missing some part of it. Strength only lies in the narrator’s hearing, along with attentive wakefulness in that which he narrates, the soundness of his principles (usul) and his safeguarding them, his being concerned to check them and receive them and the establishment of his having heard them.

So the words of al-Laknawi are inappropriate, and his counter argument does not occur in the correct place, particularly after it is clear to us that Yahya did not give up the narration of these hadith [directly from Malik] except because he had a doubt about having heard them [directly] from Malik. Thus it is clear to us the strong investigation of Yahya, his scrupulousness, and his scrupulous caution concerning the narration of the Muwatta.

This route which al-Laknawi took in showing preference to the narration of Muhammad over that of Yahya is in  reality the cause for its [Yahya’s narration] being considered weightier, and it is testimony to its merit, the exalted nature of its affair, and the extra trustworthiness and the perfection of its establishment in his reception of it and his discharge of it, along with the fact that even if he had narrated it directly from Malik without intermediary no one could have denied him, and there would have been no harm because his having heard it was so well known and because of the fact that he was unqualifiedly one of his companions without any conditions.

Also because of the fact that he was not certain that he could not narrate these hadith, but on the contrary he had a doubt about that, and the difference between the two states is obvious.

Second, his statement that Yahya only attended Malik in the year of Malik’s death, whereas Muhammad associated closely with him for three years and that the narration which is a result of long association is stronger than the narration which is a result of short association.

This is correct, because Muhammad ibn al-Hasan associated closely with the Imam for three years.

As for Yahya, he only attended him in the year of his death and thus only associated with him some months. However, if Muhammad is distinguished by long association, then Yahya is distinguished by another matter which in the scales of acceptability is weightier and is more appropriate to reckon with. That is the fact that Yahya is the last narrator of the Muwatta from Malik. By that his narration becomes the last one to be read out to the Imam, who died after that, so that then no great change of any major importance took place in the ijtihad of the Imam in the sections on differences of opinion, because the Imam, may Allah show mercy to him, was greatly given to ijtihad and to pondering over the Muwatta. At every moment he added things into it and removed things from it according to people’s condition and their judgements, as I have indicated previously.

For this reason, the narration of Yahya is the closest of all the narrations to having the consent of its author, the most trustworthy of them in connection with its author, and the closest of them in time to the choices he made, as well as being the last of them to be read back to the Imam, and it is well known that the ‘ulama consider the last reading from a direct hearing to be the weightiest, and it has its scientific value in their view. Apart from the Muwatta, the Sunan of Abu Dawud testifies to that, because there are many textual copies of it whose narrators transmit from Abu Dawud: al-Lu’lu’i, Ibn Dassah, ar-Ramli, Ibn al-A’rabi, and al-’Abdi. However, the copy of al-Lu’lu’i – who is Abu Ali Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Amr al-Basri – is the copy which is widespread in the lands of the east and is well known as THE Sunan of Abu Dawud when that is used unqualifiedly. His narration is one of the soundest narrations because it is one of the last which Abu Dawud dictated and upon which he died. Shaykh Mahmud Khattab as-Subki said, “And on it we depend in writing this commentary.”

Third, his statement that the Muwatta of Yahya comprises hadith narrated from Malik alone. As for the Muwatta of Muhammad it comprises extra narrations from other shaykhs, and that the one which comprises additional material is better than that which is void of this benefit.

I say: the book is Malik’s book for he is the author of the original, and all of those who narrated from him mention what they heard from him word for word and in his wording, without increase or decrease because they are trustworthy narrators. Safeguarding the necessary text is from his words, “So let him convey it as he heard it,” and is of the principles of the shari’ah.

So these additional extras which Muhammad narrated from people other than Malik in the Muwatta have no value in raising the level of of the Muwatta in relation to hearing directly from Malik because the Muwatta is the Muwatta of Malik and not the Muwatta of Muhammad, as we have made clear in the first investigation of this section.

Fourth, look at his preceding statement in the fourth proof and the answer to it, that we should first of all ask the people of this affair: is this book the Muwatta of Malik which Muhammad narrated or is it the Muwatta of Muhammad alone? meaning, that he is the author of it and that Malik is only one of his shaykhs from whom he narrates?

Then if you say the former, i.e.  that the book is the Muwatta of Malik and that Muhammad merely narrated it from him, then Muhammad’s hearing of it has a shortcoming in relation to that of Yahya which is because the author of the book himself when he himself speaks about the contents of his book the Muwatta says about it:

“The hadith of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the verdicts of the Companions and Followers, and my own views – and I have spoken about my own view and about ijtihad and about that which I reached the people of knowledge in our city being based upon and I did not go out from their collectivity to anyone else.”

The fact that the narration of Muhammad is void of these views about which Malik spoke saying that they are one of the principles of his book, and one of his most important materials is reckoned as a shortcoming and something which doubtless holds it back from the rank of the narration of Yahya.

If you say the second, i.e. that the book is the book of Muhammad and that the Muwatta is his Muwatta and that Malik has nothing more to do with it apart from the fact that he is one of the shaykhs of the compiler, then we say: the comparison of their relative merits then is incorrect and it has no value whatsoever in the scale of reckoning. That is because Malik made clear his preconditions and his technical usages and his methodology which he would follow in his book, and that is mention of the hadith and the verdicts of the Companions and the Followers, and theoretical understanding – as we saw previously – and the fact that the book of Muhammad is void of theoretical understanding [of Malik] but comprises hadith and traditions which are more noble does not increase its standing and does not decrease the narration of Yahya for two reasons:

First, that Yahya was a transmitter who narrated exactly as he had heard.

Second, that this is the technical usage of Malik and there is no contesting a technical usage.

If you refuse anything but to compare the relative merits based on this issue, then you are not comparing relative merits of the narration of Yahya and the Muwatta of Muhammad, but you are comparing the relative merits of the Muwatta of Muhammad and the Muwatta of Malik since this is an aspersion cast on the technical usage of the author of the book who is Malik and not Yahya, and does any sane person say this? Where does Malik stand in relation to his pupil Muhammad?

As for the fact that the narration of Yahya – or the Muwatta of Yahya as it is expressed metaphorically but not literally – has many sections in which there is only mention of Malik’s ijtihad and his derivation of rulings without narration of any traditions, contrary to the Muwatta of Muhammad in which no section is void of narration of a tradition, then this is also not considered a correct aspect for comparison of their relative merits, since the Muwatta is the Muwatta of Malik and he has chosen as his technical usage to mention in it three basic matters as we saw previously. Thus, if he mixes two of them in a chapter or suffices himself with two of them or one of them, then he has not gone away from his technical usage and his methodology. This is one aspect. The second aspect is that it was thus that Yahya received it and heard it and narrated it just as he heard it so that the criticism is not of him but of Malik.

Fifth, the response to the fifth proof is one of the proofs of the comparison of the relative merits:

which is that the book of Muhammad, since it has a special concern with the Hanafi madhhab, yet the Muwatta is greater than this, since the Muwatta is the book of hadith, traditions and theoretical understanding (ra’y) and practice (‘amal), and it is more universal than being concerned with a specific madhhab or cultivating a particular manner of acting (ma’khadh) even the madhhab of the author himself – the Maliki madhhab – and for that reason we see that al-Layth ibn Sa’d claimed that Malik in his madhhab gave up acting by seventy sunnahs which he narrated in his Muwatta. Similarly, it is narrated from Ibn Hazm in his book Maratib ad-diyanah, but Allah has made it easy by His gracious favour for whoever answers all of that.

So what have we to do with the Hanafis and the proofs of the Hanafis? Because the book is one of the sources of Islam and one of the references for the shari’ah. (From Anwar al-Masalik ila Riwayat Muwatta’ Malik, by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Alawi al-Maliki, may Allah have mercy on him, translated by Abdassamad Clarke)

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Abdassamad Clarke is from Ulster and was formally educated at Edinburgh University in Mathematics and Physics. He accepted Islam at the hands of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in 1973, and, at his suggestion, studied Arabic and tajwid and other Islamic sciences in Cairo for a period. In the 80s he was secretary to the imam of the Dublin Mosque, and in the early 90s one of the imams khatib of the Norwich Mosque, and again from 2002-2016. He has translated, edited and typeset a number of classical texts. He currently resides with his wife in Denmark and occasionally teaches there. 14 May, 2023 0:03

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  1. So we should all become Malikis? Or sorry, not Maliki, just follow the infallible Amal of Madinah? The ‘real’ Islam?

  2. Salaam

    Masha Allah
    i love madhab rivalry but it seems to defeat the point of the madhabs….

    @australian muslim the translated text is a response of Sh ‘Alawi al-Maliki to the opinions of Sh Lacknawi regarding 2 books of hadith…not madhabs

  3. Madhab is a way…people always things madhab is not in islam..they misleading and extremely says that its bid’ah..futhermore,madhab is ijtihadi from our imamul mu’,.why we want to argue each others???just want to says we should follow madhab and Rasulullah s.a.w said mafhum what Rasulullah s.a.w said :-when the ijtihad from those who are can make a ijtihad is true,.he get 2 rewards but when he wrong he get 1 why we are thinking that no such things in madhab?

    Real Islam is when you didnt argue in furu’ problems..aqidah,tauhid completely finished and also fiqh but when time pass,its create much problems that didnt happened peace to each other in madhab of ahl sunnah wal jamaah..

  4. But this has little to do with madhhab. This has to do with the narration of the Muwatta a work that is agreed upon by the people of all the madhhabs. The Hanafi ‘ulama agree with Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Alawi al-Maliki. Shah Waliyullah narrated the transmission of Yahya and wrote his commentary on it as did Mawlana Zakariyya with his commentary Awjaz al-Masalik, may Allah be merciful to them.

  5. Yep brother ‘admin’ has got it spot on.

    as far as ‘Australian Muslim’s’ sarcastic comments….the ‘infallible Amal of Madinah’ is ‘real islam’!!!
    i dont think any scholar from any background would disagree.
    im not a maliki myself but isnt that what all madhabs essentially try and incorporate the madinan model of society?

  6. Assalamu Alaikum

    Mashallah, a very interesting excerpt of Shaykh Al Alawi’s great work. May Allah reward Sidi Abdassamad Clarke for translating it.

    Having said that, I do disagree with some of what Shaykh Alawi says. I don’t wish to go into too much detail, but the Shaykh does make some unestablished and contradictory claims. For example, he says that Imam Yahya only was verifying the ahadith which he narrated from an intermediate, but that is pure conjecture.

    Second, the transmission of Yahya should be given weight for being the last transmission of Malik, but Al Laknawi was stating that Muhammad’s is more AUTHENTIC, since Muhammad stayed longer with Malik than Yahya. Actually, that’s why he would not have needed to confirm it with anyone else, as Yahya did, but could confirm it with Malik himself.

    Even if we take Shaykh Al Alawi’s assertion that Yahya’s transmission is superior because it is the last transmission to be true, he himself admitted that Yahya was verifying it with other’s, and those others had not heard Imam Malik’s last ijtihad, so Shaykh Alawi’s statement is null.

    In addition, Shaykh Alawi adds that Yahya’s Muwatta’ transmits the true author’s positions, which Muhammad’s adds extra. That fails to take into consideration that although Imam Muhammad added extra athar, he transmitted the hadith of Malik with honesty and accuracy. The work, in the end is Malik’s, but Muhammad’s work is filled with deep insight into the ikhtilaf of the people of Madinah and Kufa. That, as Laknawi mentions, is highly beneficial to scholars, but especially students of hadith and fiqh.

    There are some other problems with Shaykh Alawi’s contentions, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Wallahu A’lam

  7. wa alaikum as-salam,

    Sidi Hasan,

    Thank you for your comments.

    What Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Alawi, may Allah have mercy on him, described is certainly not conjecture; he was far too great a scholar for that. Moreover, he is not speaking from the partisan position of defender of a madhhab, for the Muwatta is far more important than that; it is the first and arguably the greatest of the sahih literature, among other things.

    Rather he is speaking as someone who transmitted all of the Muwattas which he discusses, i.e. the almost twenty narrations that have come down to us. That he did not go into great detail about the story of Yahya’s narration of the chapter on I’tikaf is not because the detail is not there; it is very well known to the people of this matter.

    Although there is certainly merit in having spent more time with Malik, that in itself does not make the narration of Muhammad more authentic, for if that was the sole criteria then we would all have to accept the Muwatta narrated by Ibn al-Qasim who spent nineteen years with Malik as the most authentic by far. Moreover, if it was about madhhabism, then Ibn al-Qasim is THE pivot in transmitting Malik’s views and certainly his transmission would be favoured over all others. This is not about such considerations, but it is the carefully considered views of a transmitter of the hadith and of the Muwatta in particular.

    Again, the only chapter over which Yahya was being scrupulous was the chapter on I’tikaf, which is extremely short, and to depose his entire transmission of the Muwatta because of his scrupulousness over a very small chapter doesn’t make sense. Note I make a distinction being his being scrupulous and his being in doubt, and it is a very fine one.

    The alterations that Imam Muhammad, may Allah have mercy on him, made to the Muwatta were far more substantial than just adding a few extra athar: alone among all the transmitters of the Muwatta, he removed all of Imam Malik’s transmissions apart from the prophetic hadith and he excised all of Imam Malik’s extra material about the position of the People of Madinah and all of his explanations of the meanings of the judgements. Moreover, he did not merely add in a few athar, but on almost every single entry he appended his own judgement and that of his teachers, Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf, may Allah have mercy on them all. That is why there is a legitimate difference of opinion as to whether this is the Muwatta of Malik transmitted by Muhammad, or the Muwatta of Muhammad.

    As to the benefit for scholars, there is no doubt about that, but that was not the point of the discussion; it was about which is the more correct transmission of the Muwatta of Imam Malik, and there is no doubt among the scholars of hadith apart from Imam Abdalhayy, may Allah have mercy on him, that the Muwatta of Yahya outweighs that of Muhammad.

    And success is only by Allah. And Allah knows best.

    As-salamu alaikum,

    Abdassamad Clarke

  8. Wa alaikum assalam Sidi Abdassamad Clarke

    I understood that al Laknawi was simply stating that Imam Muhammad’s transmission was superior overall–that is why he brought forth as evidence for his claim that Imam Muhammad’s transmission had much extra information that is useful for the scholar and student. Indeed, many of the athar that Imam Muhammad cites as evidence against the ijtihad of Malik are not found in any of the other hadith compilations, so his transmission serves the use of preserving the hadith corpus, if nothing else.

    However, if the issue of superiority is over the question of who transmitted the positions of Malik more correctly and completely, then Shaykh Alawi is correct, and Yahya’s transmission is superior. I may be wrong, and correct me if I am, but Laknawi was simply stating general superiority of Imam Muhammad’s Muwatta’, not superiority of recording the most complete positions of Imam Malik. That is why Shaykh Alawi thought it necessary to establish that in his work. Of course, since Imam Yahya’s transmission is more complete, that gives it some points, but Imam Muhammad’s transmission has points of benefit that Yahya’s does not have too.

    In the end, it matters little which one is superior. It is really a subjective argument that depends on what one considers more important. Both are of great benefit, and the hadith and fiqh literature would have been at a great loss had either Imam Muhammad or Yahya not transmitted both their Muwatta’s.

    Wallahu A’lam.

    In addition, Sidi Abdassamad Clarke, I would like to express my gratitude to you for all your translations of classic Islamic works to English. Your translations of Imam Muhammad’s Muwatta’, his transmission of Kitab al Athar from Abu Hanifa, and other works are simply brilliant. I was looking at the excerpt of your soon-to-be-released translation of Allamah Nimawi’s Athar as Sunan, and it is simply brilliant. Jazakullah, and may Allah give you great blessing so that you can continue bringing these classic works to English.

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