Imām Mālik vs. Pseudo-Malikism:
Review of Dutton's 'Original Islam'
ORIGINAL ISLAM: MALIK AND THE madhhab OF MADINA
By Yasin Dutton. London
and New York: Routledge, 2007.
Pp. xiii + 219. ISBN10: 0-415-33813-1.
ISBN13: 978-0-415-33813-4 (HB).
For three quarters of its pages the translation of a 9th-century
outdated anti-Shafiʿi work advocating the superiority of the Maliki
School – Intisar al-Faqir al-Salik li-Tarjih madhhab al-Imam al-Kabir
Malik by Shams al-Din al-Raʿi al-Gharnati (782-853), an obscure
Andalo-Egyptian grammarian whom Imam al-Sakhawi described as a good poet
who possessed "a sharp tongue and sharp manners" – Original Islam's
unoriginal material and real author are shanghaied by Arabic Studies
Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town Yasin Dutton (a disciple
of the Murabitun movement leader and Scottish writer ʿAbd al-Qadir
al-Sufi) and recast, with a provocative title, notes and prefatory
material, into an essentialist Murabitun manifesto of their
interpretation of the Maliki madhhab as the only real, "original" Islam.
Dutton prolongs his introductory murmurs against "The madhhabs today"
(p. 1-3) in the next section as well, "al-Raʿi and his Intisar" (p.
7-20) then proceeds to the translation proper, consisting in the
author's introduction and five chapters:
1. "On giving preference to Malik." This chapter – and al-Raʿi's book –
begins with a forged hadith (p. 26): "Whoever honours an ʿalim is
honouring Allah and His Messenger, while whoever belittles an ʿalim is
making light of Allah and His Messenger." Al-Raʿi goes on to say that
preferring the Shafiʿi School is "mere claim and self-delusion" (p. 45).
2. "On giving preference to the Maliki madhhab" wherein (p. 72) is found
ʿIyad's attribution to Ibn Mahdi the statement that "The established
sunna of the people of Madina is better than hadith" (which Dutton's
co-disciple Aisha Bewley cites as, "The Sunna of the people of Madina is
more excellent than hadith") when the correct form of his statement is,
in ʿIyad's Tartib: "The older Sunna (al-sunnatu al-mutaqaddima, i.e.
before the murder of our liegelord ʿUthman) of the people of Madina"
and, in Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr's Tamhid: "Some (min) of the Sunna of the
people of Madina is better than the hadith" – meaning, said Ibn ʿAbd
al-Barr in al-Tamhid, "better than the hadith we have with us in Iraq."
3. "Some points of [legal] difference with the other madhahib," with the
expected fare of insufferable anecdotes over disagreements which only
specialists are fit to address and which otherwise are the fuel of
4. "Some examples of the prejudice witnessed by the author." This
chapter of 18 pages is the mean-spirited core of the book and provides
the best clues to the suspect reasons behind its promotion. It is
written in the dhamm genre Ibn Hajar described as "how not to write" and
contains accusations of bigotry, ignorance or worse against some of the
greatest Imams in Islam and their followers.
5. "Some grammatical points where many specialists make mistakes." The
section-title should be translated as "Some lexical points," not
grammatical. This section is beyond the pale of the book and discusses
six extremely basic language mistakes that are common among non-jurists
(wudu'/ wadu' etc.), to which al-Raʿi adds a rather pedantic, long
discussion of a seventh entitled "Reasons why the way many mu'adhdhins
call the adhān is kufr."
The book ends with under 30 pages of notes, a glossary, biographical
notes, a bibliography and an index. Dutton nowhere clarifies his
abbreviations, so the reader has to divine that glyphs such as "Mad. B
i.61/M i.38" refer, not to Bukhari and Muslim, but to the Mohammedia and
Beirut editions of ʿIyad's Tartīb al-Madārik.
Dutton's introduction rehashes the familiar themes of the Murabitun
agenda: the practice of the people of Madina is the ur-School, a point
the Ummah, in its delusion, fails to grasp: "In mainstream Sunni
consciousness, there are four equally acceptable madhhabs." The
following paragraphs twice repeat this lament of the perception of the
other Schools as "acceptable," as if Dutton were diagnosing a disease.
The School of Madina, you see, "rather than being simply one among
others, is the source of all the others madhhabs!"
One can imagine what al-Awzaʿi, the Kufans, Ibn Mahdi and al-Tabari
would make of such a claim, not to mention the Imams of the Successors
such as ʿAlqama, Masruq, al-Shaʿbi, al-Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Sirin,
al-Nakhaʿi, al-Sikhtyani... But at least five famous historical
responses do give it short shrift: al-Layth's letter to Malik, the
latter's subsequent replies to the Caliphs who attempted to turn his
Muwatta' into law for the whole Ummah, al-Shafiʿi's refutation
literature, Ibn Hazm's blunt Risala Bahira – and al-Raʿi's own epigraph,
with its luminous declaration that "You must follow the Imams of the
Religion... all of them guide to the ultimate good, So follow whomever
you love among them... All of them are equal with regard to the
obligation to follow them." (my emphasis).
The equal validity of the Schools of those al-Dhahabi named "The
Imitated Ones" (al-muqalladun) in Islam is a truism of the Salaf and
their epigones, including the Malikis who named them "all paths to
Allah" (al-Shatibi in the Muwafaqat), hence the magnum opus of their
major latter-day authority, Ibn Rushd, was Bidayat al-Mujtahid
wa-Nihayat al-Muqtasid, a comparative work. The great Tlemcenian Faqih
and Qadi Abu ʿAbd Allah al-Maqarri (d. 759) in his Qawaʿid (rule 149)
even declared it "impermissible to demonstrate the superiority of one's
madhhab with proofs the way the specialists of variance (khilāf) do,
except for training in presenting proofs... because whoever is
well-guided in presenting proofs and reaching conclusive arguments does
not ever see the truth as being the province of a single man."
The first paragraph of Dutton's introduction is an avalanche of errors.
He describes the Muwatta' as the "final record in written form" of the
"essentials of the Islam established by the Prophet and his
Companions... inherited and transmitted as a fully functional social
pattern by the following generations." Apart from the fact that even the
Malikis themselves do not derive Malik's madhhab from the Muwatta' as
much as they do from other sources, the claim that it formed a final
record is not only historically false, but doctrinally precluded as
well. The Prophet ﷺ upon him blessings and peace, made it religion for
the Companions and Successors to travel out of Madina, ensuring that the
transmission of the essentials to posterity actually became a
decentralised and universal fact, not a local monopoly.
Dutton propounds the exclusivity of Madina as the only legitimate source
of the Religion (p. 1):
“We refer to Islam as it was first understood and practised by those who
lived in the place where the Prophet lived, at the time he lived there
and, following him, those who lived there at the time of the Rightly
Guided Caliphs and, following them, those who lived there at the time of
the remaining Companions and of the following two generations of the
Successors and the Successors of the Successors who were praised by the
Prophet in the hadith: "The best of you are my generation, then the ones
who follow them, then the ones who follow them." (Emphasis mine)”
But anyone can see that the hadith quoted is about the early Muslims
regardless of place. Apart from this particular tendentious
interpretation, Dutton's text is actually a turgid paraphrase of Malik's
(93-179) argument in his famous letter to his contemporary al-Layth ibn
Saʿd (94-175), whom al-Shafiʿi considered stronger in fiqh than Malik
(this was also the view of Ibn al-Mubarak, Saʿid ibn Abi Ayyub, and
Yahya ibn Bukayr while al-Darawardi put al-Layth even above Rabi'a,
Al-Layth replied with a brilliant epistle on variance in which he
reminded Malik that the Companions had differed among themselves, then
the Tabi'in with the Companions and among themselves, and so forth until
Ibn Shihab and Rabi'at al-Ra'i in Madina, who may give discrepant
answers to the same question and with whom many of the Madinans
themselves differed, including Malik. Al-Layth then listed many of the
great Companions praised by the Prophet, ﷺ upon him blessings and peace,
and trusted by him and by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, who had emigrated
out of Madina:
– in Syro-Palestine: ʿUbayda ibn al-Jarrah, Khalid ibn al-Walid, Yazid
ibn Abi Sufyan, ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs, Muʿadh ibn Jabal, Shurahbil ibn Hasana,
Abu al-Darda', Bilal ibn Rabah;
– in Egypt: Abu Dharr, al-Zubayr ibn al-ʿAwwam, Saʿd ibn Abi Waqqas
(al-Suyuti documents 350 names in Durr al-Sahaba fi-Man Dakhala Misr min
– in Hims alone, seventy veterans of Badr;
– in Iraq: Ibn Masʿud, Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman, ʿImran ibn al-Husayn, and
ʿAli ibn Abi Talib.
Al-Layth then gave several examples in which the fatwa of the
non-Madinans showed more conformity to the first generations than the
practices (plural!) of Madina. Among those examples: the non-joining of
prayers in case of rain, unlike the fatwa of Madina; the non-receiving
of testimony with less than two male witnesses or one male and two
women, unlike the fatwa of Madina which allowed one male witness; the
disallowing of early payment of the full dowry, unlike the fatwa of
Madina wich allowed it even before death or divorce; and the strict
performance of khutba before the prayer for rain (istisqa'), unlike the
fatwa of Madina which put the prayer first, followed by the khutba.
Al-Layth's reply evidently influenced Malik in his subsequent staunch
defense of madhhab differences before the Abbasid caliphs. Malik then
formulated, as narrated by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in al-Ruwat ʿan Malik,
one of the fundamental principles of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamāʿa for all
times: "Commander of the Believers! The difference of the Ulema are a
mercy from Allah Most High to this Community. Each follows whatever is
considered correct by him, each is well-guided and each seeks Allah."
Another version states that he said: "The Companions differed in the
Branches (al-furu') and split into factions (tafarraqu), and each one of
them was correct in himself." I have cited these and other testimonies
to Malik's mature defence of variance in my recent Four Imams and Their
Schools and they are the best illustration of the chasm between the real
Malik and the Murabitun's Malikism.
A fundamental misinterpretation by Dutton of the contrast between the
practice of Madina and the other Schools is his blurry understanding of
Malik's phrase "This is more authentic than hadith" (p. 19). Through
Murabitun glasses, the phrase acquires absolute, supra-hadith overtones
to mean that the singular unwritten practice of the Madinans can amount
to a sunna not only without any transmitted hadith evidence, but "at
variance with a sound, authentic, impeccably narrated hadith, and even
one that [Malik] himself narrates". Dutton adduces sadl, the hanging
loose of the arms in prayer, as the supposed evidence of this method. In
reality, Malik's phrase never refers to the unqualified superiority of
practice over hadith but to the superiority of consensus to
lone-narrated hadith, a principle shared with all the Schools, just as
all the Schools agree with his teacher Rabiʿa that "1,000 transmitting
from 1,000 is preferable to one transmitting from one."
In any case, the pre-eminence of mass-transmitted practice, Madinan or
non-Madinan, over non-mass-transmitted Prophetic and Companion-reports
is based on criteria not exclusive to Malik but acceptable to other
Schools as well. Thus the requisite of consensus – as implied by
al-Layth's reminder that the Prophet's city was never a monolithic fiqh
entity – shows that by Madinan practice we really mean that particular
practice which mustered consensus among many Madinan practices, since
"Malik himself," as the great Qadi Abu al-Walid al-Baji said in Ihkam
al-Fusul fi Ahkam al-Fusul, "in numerous matters contravened the
positions of the People of Madina."
As for the ruling of sadl related from Malik, he himself nowhere
stipulates that it is based on Madinan practice. Indeed, the notable
Maliki arguments in its defense – by al-Mahdi al-Wazzani, Muhammad
al-Khadir al-Shinqiti and Mukhtar al-Dawudi among others – are
hadith-grounded. Furthermore, another reliable narration from Malik
states that he held it Sunna that the hands be grasped (qabd), right
hand on top of left hand, or left wrist, or left forearm. This is
related from Malik by Mutarrif and Ibn al-Majishun in the Wadiha and is
the position of al-Lakhmi, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Ibn al-ʿArabi, Ibn Rushd in
the Muqaddimāt, ʿIyad – who considers it the Maliki Jumhūr position in
his Ikmāl – and others, in line with the totality of the Madhāhib
including the three Schools, Sufyan al-Thawri, Ishaq ibn Rahawayah, Abu
Thawr, Dawud al-Z.ahiri, and al-Tabari. Qabd is the correct Maliki
stance according to Ibn ʿAzzuz al-Tunisi, Muhammad al-Masnawi, Muhammad
ibn Jaʿfar al-Kattani, his student Ahmad al-Ghumari, Muhammad
al-ʿImrani, Ibn Abi Madyan al-Shinqiti, and other Maliki authorities. A
third fatwa of Imam Malik – narrated by Ibn Nafiʿ and Ibn al-Majishun –
stipulates indifference (ibaha) in either case.
Dutton's Malikism is a utopia of unproblematic sunna nomenclature in a
world menaced by two hobgoblins [fn1] straight from Orientalist constructs (p.
17-18): "the Iraqis' penchant for exercising qiyas (analogy) to arrive
at new judgments in the absence of sufficient material in their existing
textual sources" on the one hand and, in contrast to this alleged
under-reliance, al-Shafiʿi's over-reliance on hadith, "subtly chang[ing]
the way that this sunna was to be understood... In other words, if one
has an authentic hadith, then that is what one has to follow." Even
worse, al-Shafiʿi changed the definition of ijmaʿ away from its Madinan
denotation to a universal one (p. 18):
“Al-Shafiʿi was also instrumental in a second redefinition.... Whereas
the Madinans had recognised an ijmaʿ of the people of Madina as
authoritative, al-Shafiʿi's ijmaʿ was to be an ijmaʿ of all the Muslims
– or, at least, all the learned ones among them [a typically Orientalist
aside, since the Qur'an, Hadiths and Salaf before al-Shafiʿi and Wael
Hallaq were born had already codified that the paradigmatic Congregation
are its mujtahid scholars, as confirmed by the Maliki al-Wansharisi in
his Miʿyar]. In other words, the idea of a "local" ijmaʿ... was rejected
and a universal concept substituted.”
In reality, not only are the first foundations of Malik's School the
Qur'an and the Sunna including Hadith (and not only Madinan practice!
"The claim that we do not accept reports except those accompanied by
Madinan practice is ignorance or a lie," said ʿIyad) but also:
(a) when Hadith provides stronger evidence than Malik's madhhab, the
Malikis themselves leave the madhhab and follow the evidence. Such is
the method of Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr in the Tamhid, Ibn al-ʿArabi in Ahkam
al-Qur'an, Ibn Rushd the Grandfather in the Muqaddimat and al-Bayan
wal-Tahsil, Ibn Rushd the Grandson in Bidayat al-Mujtahid, Ibn Abi Jamra
in Bahjat al-Nufus, and others among the major Maliki jurists;
(b) The point made by al-Shafiʿi is irrefutable lexically and
doctrinally, namely that, "When I saw that Malik meant by the statement
'this is Sunna' the Sunna of the people of Madina, I refrained from
accepting that," since, al-Subki explained in al-Ibhāj, "such a
statement, at face value, must mean the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah
upon him blessings and peace, as long as there is no proof that what is
meant is the Sunna of a country or some other meaning." To call this "a
subtle change in the way this sunna is understood" shows ignorance of
the Prophet's own usage, upon him blessings and peace. Moreover,
al-Shafiʿi never stopped valuing, in his arguments, such expressions as
"the learned among the Madinans," "those I trust among the Madinans,"
"the people of fatwa among the Madinans" etc.
(c) When qiyas and lone-narrated hadith clash, most of the Malikis give
precedence to qiyas and this is Malik's position as stated by al-Qarafi
in Tanqīh al-Fusūl fil-Usūl, Ibn al-Qassar, and others. Such a
"penchant,"[fn2] then, does not hinge on any purported "absence of sufficient
material in their existing textual sources!"
(d) The consensus of the world's regions (ijmāʿ al-amsār) is a
conclusive proof in Malik's madhhab as stated at the very beginning of
the Maliki Qadi of Baghdad Ibn al-Qassar's (d. 398) Muqaddima fi Usul
al-Fiqh, and this is also agreed upon in the other Schools. As for the
preponderance of the consensus of the Madinans, al-Shafiʿi never
rejected its canonicity since he says in the Risala (§1557): "What
musters agreement in al-Madina is stronger than isolated reports." This
preference (tarjīh) is reiterated on his behalf by al-Zarkashi in
al-Bahr al-Muhit. Indeed, the shared position of the Three Schools is
the preponderance of pre-fitna Madinan practice – as related above from
Ibn Mahdi and as narrated by Ibn ʿAbd al-Aʿla from al-Shafiʿi in Egypt.
Namely, what Malik specifically refers to as "having always been the
scholarly practice since the beginning in Madina" (al-ladhi lam yazal
ʿalayhi ahl al-ʿilmi bi-baladina).
Al-Shafiʿi only rejected the exclusivity of such ijmaʿ, hence the
misunderstanding ʿIyad attributes to al-Ghazali and al-Sayrafi, who "say
that Malik says that it is only the consensus of the people of Madina
and not that of any others that should be considered, whereas this is
something that neither Malik nor any of his companions would ever have
Furthermore, ʿIyad said that even the Malikis did not consider such
consensus a proof when it stemmed from intellectual striving (ijtihād)
and inference (istidlāl).
Dutton mistranslates al-Raʿi's title as "Help for the Needy Traveller in
Giving Preference to the Great Imam Malik" when the correct meaning is
"Help from the Needy Traveller," a reference to the author himself, who
did not say nusrat, which would have had transitive force, but intisār,
which is reflexive, so that the title is literally: "This Travelling
Pauper's Support of the Argument for the Superiority of the School of
the Great Imām Mālik."
The pdf-version will be < here >, inshah Allah .
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