Imam Malik named his book on Hadith as ‘Muwatta’ and it was known with this name. There are two reasons to name the book as Muwatta:
Hafiz Ibn-ul-Bar narrates from Mufazzal bin Muhammad bin Harb that in Medina, first of all, Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abi Salma compiled issues that were agreed upon. This book did not include traditions. When this book was passed on to Imam Malik he looked at it with admiration and appreciation. He remarked that had I did I would have begun it with traditions. Thus, an idea of compiling book came to his mind and later it was materialized in the shape of ‘Muwatta’.
Subject of Muwatta
The subject of Muwatta is to collect the traditions of the Prophet (Sallallhu Alaihi Wasallam), the sayings of the companions and the quotations of the Tab’een.
Manuscripts of Muwatta
Several students of Imam Malik narrated Muwatta from him. Their manuscripts differed in the numbers of the traditions as well as the order of the chapters. Among many manuscripts, four got popularity:
(1) Muwatta narrated by Yahya bin Yahya
(2) Muwatta narrated by Ibn Bukair
(3) Muwatta narrated by Abu Mus’ib
(4) Muwatta narrated by Ibn Wahab
Numbers of Traditions in Muwatta
According to the manuscript of Yahya bin Yahya Undulusi the number of Marfoo’ traditions (narrated with a continuous chain to the Prophet) in Muwatta is 853 whereas Abu Bakr Abhari says that the number of all traditions in Muwatta is 1720. The number of Marfoo’ and Muttasil Ahadith is 600, that of Marfoo’ Mursal is 222, that of Mauqoof (sayings of the companions) is 613 and that of Maqtoo’ (sayings of the Tab'een) is 285. (Al-Suyuti, Tanwirul Hawalik, 8)
However, there are differences about the number of the traditions in Muwatta that is based on the differences between its various manuscripts. Likewise, Imam Malik himself kept on making changes and modifications in his book for a period of forty years.
Duration of Compilation
After a hard work of about forty years Muwatta came in to being. Ibn Abdur Barr narrates from Umar bin Abdul Wahid that he said: We studied Muwatta before Imam Malik in forty days, so he said: "The book which I compiled in forty years, you have taken it from me in forty days.”
Importance of Muwatta & Its Position
This renowned and popular book of Hadith, on one hand, is the pioneering collection of traditions and on the other hand it enjoys a high ranking as per the authenticity of the traditions and the many more advantages. One can realize the importance of the book that, according to Ibnul Hubab, Imam Malik used to narrate one hundred thousand traditions and out of which only ten thousand were recorded in Muwatta. Thereafter, he continued making modifications until it was reduced to only 500 Ahadith. Abul Hasan bin Fahar has quoted the saying of Atiq bin Yaqub that earlier Muwatta contained ten thousand traditions, but Imam Malik kept on reviewing and excluding some of the traditions until it reached to the point where it is today. Due to untiring and tremendous efforts of Imam Malik his book earned popularity. People appreciated it and regarded its traditions as correct and authentic. Imam Shaf’ee pays tribute to him saying: "Muwatta of Imam Malik is most authentic after the book of Allah.” It is to be mentioned that this saying of Imam Shaf’ee dates to the period when Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim were not compiled. However, this quotation reflects the significance of Muwatta. Apart from Imam Shaf’ee, Imam Tahtawi also has termed Muwatta as ‘Al-Sahih’. It means that some scholars have regarded all the contents of Muwatta as authentic. His sincerity and piety also played a part to popularize his book. There were some people who tried to write books on his pattern. When he was informed of them he wished to see these books. Having seen the books, he remarked: "You should know that only the things are accepted by Allah which are based on true intentions and devotion." So, today no Muwatta of that time remains except that of Imam Malik. The below story also sheds some light on his purity of intention:
When caliph Mansoor came Hejaz for Hajj pilgrimage he requested that I want to ask people to prepare copies of your book and send them to different cities and command Muslims to follow them. Imam Malik prevented him to do so saying that the traditions have reached far and wide, and people are acting accordingly. Let them follow the way of their choice.
Imam Abu Na’eem Asfahani has mentioned a similar story related to caliph Haroon Al-Rashid and Imam Malik. Imam Malik says that Haroon requested him that Muwatta should be tied to the door of Ka’bah and people should be ordered to follow it. But, Imam Malik replied: "Do not do hat, the Companions themselves have differed in smaller details of Shariah and these opinions have spread in different cities."
These stories evidently prove that Imam Malik had true intention and sincerity. Had he wished fame he would have not missed this golden chance of spreading his book and his Fiqhi School in the Islamic world.
Commentaries of Muwatta
Imam Qazi I’yaz says that as much works were done on Muwatta no such works were done on any other book. He mentioned ninety scholars who have served Muwatta by any way. Some of the celebrated commentaries are:
(1) Al-Tamheed Lima fil Muwatta minal Ma’ani wal Asaneed
(2) Al-Istizkar (Summary of the above one) these two commentaries were written by Imam Ibnur Barr. These have been published and are found. It is said that there is one more commentary of him.
(3) Al-Qabas (Ibnul Arabi Maliki)
(4) Imam Suyuti also has written three books on Muwatta: (a) Kashful Mughatta fi Sharhil Muwatta (b) Tanweerul Hawalik ala Muwatta Imam Malik (c) Is’aful Mubatta fi Rijalil Muwatta
(5) Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlawi also has written two commentaries: (a) Al-Musaffa (in Persian) (b) Al-Musawwa (in Arabic)
(6) Awjaz al-Masalik (Shaikhul Hadith Maulana Zakariya Kandhlawi)
Translated and partly prepared by:
Mufti Obaidullah Qasmi, Maulana Afzal Qasmi, Mufti Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi