Imam Malik and the Sufis

Answered by Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad

Q. al-Qadhi ‘Iyadh is known to be a great sunni scholar, yet quiet recently a salafi brother pointed out that in his book “Tadreeb al-Madarik”, al-Qadhi quotes a narration from Imam Maalik who rejected sufism. This confused me deeply and I wanted to know if you could clarify this issue for me please.

A. Wa `alaykum as-Salam,

Certain opponents of tasawwuf adduce two reports, one chainless and one weak-chained, originating in a man from the city of Naseebeen (Iraq) who has been critiqued as munkar al-hadith or ‘disclaimed in his narrations’ to claim that Imam Malik derided group dhikr:

1. Al-Tinnisi said: We were sitting with Malik with his companions around him. A man from the people of Nasibin said, ‘We have some people who go by the name of Sufis. They eat a lot then they start [chanting] poems (qasa’id), after which they stand up and start dancing.’ Malik said, ‘Are they boys (sibyan)?’ He said no. Malik said, ‘Are they insane?’ He said, ‘No, they are old men (mashayikh) and other than that, and they are mature and sane (`uqala’).’ Malik said, ‘I never heard that any of the people of Islam do this.’ The man said to him, ‘Indeed, they do! They eat, then they stand up and start dancing intensively (dawa’ib), and some of them slap their heads, and some their faces.’ Malik started laughing then went into his house. His companions said to the man, ‘You were, O man, ill luck (mash’um) for our friend [Malik]. We have been sitting with him thirty-odd years and never saw him laugh except today.’

This is narrated without chain by al-Qadi `Iyad. in Tartib al-Madarik (2:53-54).

2. `Abd al-Malik ibn Ziyad al-Nasibi said: ‘We were with Malik when I mentioned to him Sufis in our city. I said to him that they wear fancy Yemenite clothes, and do such and such. He replied, ‘Woe to you! Are they Muslims?’ He then laughed until he lay on his back. Some of his companions said to me, ‘What is this? We have not seen more trouble (fitna) caused to the Shaykh than you, for we never saw him laugh!?’

Narrated by al-Khallal in al-Hathth `ala al-Tijara wal-Sina`a wal-`Amal (ed. Abu Ghudda, §97) with a weak chain because of `Abd al-Malik ibn Zyad al-Nasibi who is ‘condemned in his narrations and untrustworthy’ (munkar al-hadith, ghayr thiqa) according to al-Azdi as per Ibn al-Jawzi in al-Du`af?’ wal-Matrukin (1:149) while Ibn Hibban in his Thiqat (8:390) said he reports oddities from Malik.

Content-wise, neither of the above reports shows unambiguous condemnation of group dhikr but only that some people who passed for Sufis in the Imam’s time reportedly committed certain childish excesses or irrational breaches of decorum. The reports only show that Imam Malik found the story amusing. The delator seems obsessed by the ‘eating and dancing’ which he mentions twice as if afraid Malik didn’t hear it the first time. There is also on the part of Malik’s circle a clear disapproval of the delator who is apparently perceived as an interloper. And Allah knows best.

GF Haddad


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