Imaam Maalik considered the ‘Amal of the people of Madinah as a primary source and he relied upon it for his futaawaa (legal judgements). Thus in the Muwatta, Imaam Maalik says quite often after mentioning reports and hadiths, “The matter is unanimously agreed upon by us” or he would mention a chain of authorities upon whom he relied heavily when there wasn’t a transmitted hadith. It has been expressed in his letter to al-Layth bin Sa’d which demonstrated his great reliance upon them as well as his disapproval of those who followed other than their way. An example of Imaams Maalik’s disapproval of other ways comes at the very beginning of this letter. It reads as follows:
“From Maalik bin Anas to al-Layth bin Sa’d as-Salaamu alaykum:
I praise before you Allah other than Whom there is no god. After this, may Allah grant us and you protection by means of obedience to Him secretly and openly.
May He grant us and you full pardon from every unacceptable thing. Know, may Allah have mercy on you, that it has reached me that you al-Layth ibn Sa’d, are giving fatwas to the people with things which are inconsistent with what is agreed upon by those of us (the fuquhaa of Madinah) and (the people) of our city.
You – by virtue of your trustworthiness, your excellence and your rank among the people of your city, and the dependency of those around you upon you and the reliance of them upon what comes to them from you – should in reality have fear for yourself and you should follow that which by following it you hope to be safe. For Allah, the Most High has said in His Book:
‘The forerunners, the first of the Muhaajiruun and the Ansaar and those who followed them in the performance of good deeds, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. He has made ready for them gardens with rivers flowing beneath them, timelessly forever without end. That is the great victory.’ 9:101
And the Most High has said,
‘So give glad tidings to the slave who listen to the speech and follows that which is best… 39:17-18
Therefore the other people must follow the people of Madinah. To it the Hijrah was made and in it the Qur’an was revealed, the lawful was declared lawful and the unlawful was declared unlawful while the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم was in their midst and they were in the presence of revelation to the Messenger Of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم and the act of revelation itself. He صلى الله عليه وسلم gave them commands and they obeyed him. He صلى الله عليه وسلم established the Sunnah for them and they followed him until Allah brought his life to an end and chose for him the reward of His Presence. The Prays of Allah be upon him and His Peace, His Mercy and His Blessings.
Then after him صلى الله عليه وسلم, those people from his ummah who obeyed him, rose up and assume authority by means of that which had been sent down to them. Whatever they knew, they acted by. Whatever they didn’t have knowledge of, they asked questions concerning it. Then they adopted that which they found to be the strongest position. As a result of their ijtihaad and their direct knowledge of the matter through experience, memory or proximity. If there were those who held a different opinion or people expressed other opinions which were stronger or more worthy to be followed, they would set their own opinions aside, and follow and practice the others’ opinion. Then the Tabi’uun came after them following that same path. They followed that Sunnah.
Therefore, if a matter in Madinah is clearly practiced, I am not of the opinion that anyone has the right to go contrary to it because of the legacy which they (the people of Madinah) possess. They (The other people) are not allowed to assume this or presume this. If the people of the (other) cities begin saying, ‘This is the ‘Amal which is in our city and this is what was done in it by those who passed from among us, they wouldn’t have certainty about that nor would that be permissible for them to claim. Therefore, be careful. May Allah have mercy upon you in this matter that I have written to you about.
Know that it is my hope that I have not been called to write this to you except out of the desire to give sincere counsel for sake of Allah glory be to Him. I continue to hold you in the highest regard and to have the best thoughts about you. Therefore give this letter of mine to you the closeness to your heart which it deserves. If you do this, you will know that I have spared no efforts in giving you sincere advice. May Allah give us and you the success to be able to obey Him and to obey His Prophet in every matter and in every circumstance, and peace be upon and the mercy of Allah and His blessings.”
In this statement Imaam Maalik makes it clear that he believes it is unsound for the rest of the people in the other regions to differ with the ʿAmal of the people Madinah and in fact the other should follow ʿAmal. Then, he further clarifies what he means after that with proof which defends his position and this way which he follows. The basis of this proof is that the fact that the Qur’an which contains the Laws (was revealed in Madinah) and the Fiqh of Islam was revealed in Madinah and its people were the first of those who turn towards the precepts of the Diin and to be addressed about command and prohibition. They obeyed Allah’s command. They stood as pillars of the Diin. Then after the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthmaan assumed leadership over them and the people of the Prophet’s Ummah obeyed them and carried out his Sunnah صلى الله عليه وسلم after aspiring it and studying it from the very beginning. Then after them came the Tabi’uun following the same path and following that (same) Sunnah. It is by this that Madinah became the inheritor of the knowledge of the Sunnah. The fiqh of Islam was strictly adhered to by the Tabiʿu Tabiʿiin. It is that strict adherence which in Imaam Maalik’s view which does not allow for anyone else (from the other regions) to differ with it because of the inheritance with which the People of Madinah had been entrusted and because none of the other Muslims could to claim this about their city nor presume this about themselves.
This is Imaam Maalik’s proof about the matter which he advances in support of the ʿAmal of the Madinah and at times he use to place the ‘Amal of people of Madinah above the hadith. Thus the reason that he usually mentions why he held such a view was that this ‘Amal which is practiced in Madinah is based on well known transmitted Sunnah and the well known Sunnah is placed above transmitted hadith.
It is obvious that Imaam Maalik was not the first to hold this view however. We have seen the opinion of Rabii’ah his Shaykh whose opinion has been mention above: “a thousand from a thousand is better than one from one.”
Imaam Maalik said, “Men from the people of knowledge and the Tabi’iin have related the hadiths and we are not unaware of this, but the ‘Amal is passed on in a different way. He said I saw Muhammad bin Abi Bakr ‘Amr bin Hazm who was a judge and his brother who knew many Ḥadith and who was a man of truth. I heard ‘Abdullaah when Muhammad gave a judgment in the case, mention a Ḥadith which was at variance with the judgment while reproaching him. ʿAbdullaah said to him, “Did this not come in such and such hadith?” Muhammad said, “Certainly! Then ‘Abdullaah said, “Why didn’t you take into account when you passed judgment?” Muhammad then said, “Where are the people (that is to say: What is the opinion of the people of knowledge) in regards to the matter?” What he meant is that the practice in Madinah did not agree with it. The ‘Amal is stronger.”
As previously stated, it can be seen that Imaam Maalik did not introduce this position (that the ‘Amal is stronger than the hadith) but rather, he was following a path that had been trodden by others before him from among the Tabi’uun and the people of knowledge. However, this view became well known through him because it was a position taken by him in the deliverance of (his) formal legal opinions and because some of what he gave as legal opinions has been recorded as being at variance with the reported Ḥadith which he had transmitted. It was in the successive Islamic ages which followed his, that he became more well known than those from whom he took it. Thus the position became ascribed to him however he was a follower of it and not its originator.