The Muwatta' is the earliest written collection of Hadeeth comprising the subjects of Islamic Law, compiled by the Imam and Jurist, Maalik ibn Anas. It was compiled over a period of forty years to represent the "well-trodden path" of the people of Madinah. Its name also means that it is the book that is "many times agreed-upon" - about whose contents the people of Madinah were unanimously agreed. Its high standing is such that even all of the Fuqaha and Muhadditheen agree upon its authenticity. It is considered to be from the earliest extant collections of Hadeeth that form the basis of Fiqh alongside the Qur'an.
It was compiled on the request of the Caliph of that time, Abu Ja'far al-Mansur, to produce a standard book that could be promulgated as the law in the Country, due to the increase in Juristic differences. This is what the Caliph requested of Imam Maalik: "O Abu 'Abdullah! Take up the reign of the discipline of Fiqh in your hands. Compile your understanding of every issue in different chapters for a systematic book free from the harshness of 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar (R), concessions and accommodations of 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (R) and unique views of 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (R). your work should exemplify the following principle of the Prophet (S): 'The best issues are those which are balanced'. It should be a compendium of the agreed upon views of the Companions and the elder Imams on the religious and legal issues. Once you have compiled such a work, then we would be able to unite the Muslims in following a single Fiqh work by you. We would then promulgate it in the entire Muslim state and order that nobody act contrary to it."
Henceforth, Imam Maalik compiled the Muwatta', keeping before himself the target of removing the juristic differences between the scholars. This became his best-known work and it was the first legal work to incorporate and join Hadeeth and Fiqh together. So it is not merely a collection of Hadeeth; many of the legal precepts it contains are not based on Hadeeth at all. The book covers rituals, rites, customs, traditions, norms and laws of the time of the Prophet (S). It is reported that Imam Maalik selected for inclusion into the Muwatta' just over 1900 narrations, from the 100 000 narrations he had available to him. Over one thousand of Imam Maaliks disciples have transmitted from him. This has resulted in differences in the text in various instances. There are thirty known versions of the work of which the most famous is the one transmitted by Yahya al-Laythi, which is the current one in your hands right now.
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