'O Commander of the Faithful, Let Them Be'

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The Caliph Abū Ja`far al-Mansūr was impressed by Mālik’s erudition and intelligence. He wanted to make Mālik a religious authority figure and oblige the people to follow him. Mālik described what transpired between him and the Caliph:

Abū Ja`far, the Commander of the Faithful, visited me. He seated himself on a cushion of his. At this point a boy went running out and then came back in. Then al-Mansūr asked me: “Do you know who this is?” I said I did not. He said: “This is my son. He is intimidated by your renown.” Then he asked me about a number of things, whether they were lawful or prohibited in Islam. Afterwards, he said: “By Allah, you are the most intelligent and knowledgeable person I know.” 

I said: “By Allah, that is not true.” 

He said: “But indeed you are. But you conceal what you have. I swear, if I live, I will take what you have written and have it copied the way the Qur’an is copied. I will then have it dispatched to all corners of the realm and oblige people to follow it.”
Al-Mansūr told Mālik to record his knowledge. Mālik obliged and composed his renowned work, al-Muwatta’, which he continued to work on and edit and for more than twenty years. As a result, there are more than thirty different versions of the book which have been passed down by different students. 

However, Mālik took a very decisive stance on al-Mansūr’s desire to impose it upon the people of the realm. He refused to let him do it, making his famous declaration:

O Commander of the Faithful, do not do that. The people have already received various opinions, heard different hadith, and received other narrations. Each community has taken and acted upon what they have received and taken this as their religious practice. This is a consequence of the disagreements that took place among the Prophet’s Companions and others. It will be very difficult for them to abandon what they already believe to be right. So let the people be as they are, and let the inhabitants of each country decide for themselves what they should adopt.

This is different from the picture of Mālik in his famous letter to fellow jurist al-Layth b. Sa`d, wherein he declared that all people were obliged to follow the practices of Madinah. This change of tone may be because he was much older when spoke to al-Mansūr, or it may be because the context was very different. When he spoke to the Caliph, he was protecting the people from having his views forcibly imposed upon them, whereas in his letter to his friend he was just giving personal advice. What Mālik said to the Caliph was certainly more balanced and judicious. It shows how well he understood what was at stake, and attests to how deeply humble, sincere, and pious he was. 

There is a lot to learn from the stance Mālik took with the Caliph, especially if we compare it to how other scholars have acted throughout history. Scholars can be divided into three main groups: 

1. The first group were those scholars who managed to gain access to those in power. They were in attendance at the royal court and the rulers sought their advice on religious matters. 

2. The second group of scholars were those whom Allah blessed to win the hearts of the common people. The people flocked to them, attended their lessons, listened to their lectures, and relied upon their religious rulings. 

Allah has told us: “Obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute with one another lest you falter and your strength depart from you. But be patient, for indeed Allah is with those who are patient.” [Sūrah al-Anfāl: 46] 

Each group of scholars should have used the influence Allah gave them to support their fellow scholars in the other group. Those who had the ruler’s ear should have spoken up in the royal court on behalf of the scholars and preachers labouring in the communities. They should have spoken about the good work they were doing, countered any rumours being circulated against them, and made sure that the ruler had a favourable disposition towards them and their interests, as well as towards all of the subjects. 

As for the scholars who had the hearts of the masses, it was their duty to help them reach their maximum potential, empowering them to understand their religion, live ethical lives, and fear Allah. They were not supposed to stoop down to the level of the masses. They should have taught the people to think the best about those who differed with them, not incite in them the hatred, fear, and bigotry they already had a predisposition for. The scholars of the people should have exhorted them to avoid speaking ill about others, and warned them that the falsehood in such negative speech usually far outweighs the truth it might contain. 

What good is there when the scholars lose their connection with the people, the people feel estranged from their scholars, and the scholars become alienated from one another, each throwing accusations the others’ way? 

3. Finally, a third group of scholars surpassed the other two. Their concern in seeking and disseminating knowledge was to attain their Lord’s pleasure. Whether they affiliated themselves with others or remained staunchly independent, it was for Allah’s sake. They did not let themselves become enamoured of the ruling class nor of the general public. It was the same for them whether they were at royal court or with the throng in the street. 

These scholars were a pillar of stability for society, able to act as impartial ambassadors between the rulers and their subjects. They could serve as honest arbitrators in their disputes, and unite everyone upon their shared religious values as well as the worldly interests they had in common. 

This is why Mālik refused to use the rulers as a means to impose his personal opinions on the people. He had the foresight and understanding to appreciate the consequences of such a move. He also possessed the strength of character and self-control to resist the temptation of worldly power, seeking the far better, eternal reward of His Lord.

Source: en.islamtoday.net (Jun.22, 2015)