The four Imam's - Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal and Imam Shafi - are the main figures who's interpretation of the Hadith and Qur’an are followed by the majority of Sunni Muslims all over the world. They are therefore of great importance to the correct practice of Islam.
ABU ABDULLAH, Malik bin Anas, was born in Medina in the year 715 AD. He comes from a Yemeni origin, but his grandfather settled in Medina after embracing Islam. He received his education in Medina, which was the center of Islamic learning, and where the immediate descendants of the Companions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) lived.
Imam Malik devoted his entire interest to the study of Fiqh. It is said that he sought out over three hundred Sahaba (those who saw the Companions of the Holy Prophet). From them he acquired the knowledge of the Holy Prophet's Hadith- and the Holy Prophet's Deeds, - Sunnah.
The Imam was known throughout the world of Islam for his self-control and great patience. One a band of Kharijis armed with swords forced their way into a mosque of Kufa, where he was praying, people ran out of the mosque in panic but he stayed there undismayed. It was customary with all those who waited on Khalifah Mansur in his durbar to kiss his hands but Imam Malik never stooped to his humiliation. He gave great respect to the learned people and once, when Imam Abu Hanifa came to see him, he offered him his own seat.
Imam Malik studied Fiqh through one hundred Sheikhs who were residing in the city of the Prophet (PBUH) at the time. Among Imam Malik's work is the great book entitled Kitab-al-Muwatta, which is the earliest surviving book of Islamic law and Hadith. It quotes Sayings as well as the practices according to the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Although Imam Malik wrote many treatises dealing with religion and ethics, Kitab-al-Muwatta is considered as the most important among his writings. Imam Malik had originally recorded ten thousand Ahadith in this book, but in a revised edition the Imam reduced the number to only one hundred and seventy-two. Imam Malik was well known for his piety and honesty and courageously stood up, and was prepared to bear stand in the face of all difficulties for his convictions. For example, when the governor of Medina forced people to take the oath of allegiance to Khalifah al-Mansour, Imam Malik issued a Fatwa that such an oath was not binding, because it was given under pressure. This encouraged a lot of people to be strong and courage to express their opposition, but the Imam was arrested, found guilty of defiance and publicly flogged.
When al-Mansour, learnt of this outrage, he apologized to the Imam and dismissed the governor. Sometime later the Khalifah sent him three thousand Dinars for his travelling expenses and invited him to come and reside in Baghdad. Imam Malik refused the offer and indicated that he preferred to continue his residence in Medina where the Holy Prophet was buried.
When the Khalifah Haroun-al-Rasheed visited Medina when he came to perform Hajj, he asked Imam Malik to visit him and give a lecture. But Imam Malik politely refused to go to the ruler and instead invited him to join the class of students to whom he delivered regular lectures. And indeed the Khalifa, accompanied by his two sons, accepted the invitation and sat among the students to hear the Imam's lecture.
Imam Malik died in the year 795 AD at Medina and was buried in the famous al-Baqie cemetery in the Medina with the noble Prophet Companions.
Imam Malik's followers and disciples developed the Fiqh science based on his books which came to be known as the Maliki Madhhab (approach). Most of the people who follow the Maliki Madhab are found in North and West Africa, - Tunis, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.