The Mālikī madhhab is one of the schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. It is one of the four schools, followed by approximately 35% of Muslims, mostly in North Africa, West Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, in parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman and many middle eastern countries. In the past, it was also followed in parts of Europe under Islamic rule, particularly Islamic Spain and the Emirate of Sicily.
The basis for the School of the City of Light, Medina Munawwarah
The Mālikī school derives from the work of Mālik ibn Anas, primarily the Muwaṭṭah and the Mudawwanah. The Muwaṭṭah is a collection of hadiths which are regarded as sound and find their place in al-Bukhārī with some commentary from Mālik regarding the ‘amal "practices" of the people of Medina and where the ‘amal is in compliance with or in variance with the hadiths reported. This is because Mālik (and what would later be the school after his name) regarded the ‘amal of Medina (the first three generations) to be a superior proof of the "living" sunnah than isolated, although sound, hadith.
The second main source, al-Mudawwanah al-Kubrā, is the collaborator work of Mālik's longtime student, Ibn Qāsim and his mujtahid student, Saḥnūn. The Mudawwanah consists of the notes of Ibn Qāsim from his sessions of learning with Mālik and answers to legal questions raised by Saḥnūn in which Ibn Qāsim quotes from Mālik, and where no notes existed, his own legal reasoning based upon the principles he learned from Mālik. These two books, i.e. the Muwaṭṭah and Mudawwanah, along with other primary books taken from other prominent students of Mālik, would find their way into the Mukhtaṣar Khalīl, which would form the basis for the later Mālikī madhhab.It differs from the three other schools of law most notably in the sources it uses for derivation of rulings. All four schools use the Qur'an as primary source, followed by the sunnah of Muhammad, transmitted as hadiths. In the Mālikī madhhab, sunnah includes not only what was recorded in hadiths, but the legal rulings of the four rightly guided caliphs (Rāshidūn), primarily ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, ijma‘ (consensus of the scholars), qiyās (analogy) and ‘urf (local custom which is not in direct conflict with established Islamic principles).
The Mālikī school, in addition, relies heavily upon the practice of the salaf people of Medina as a source (composed of the Ṣaḥābah, tābi‘īn, and the older successors. This is because their collective practice, along with the derivative rulings from the salaf scholars, are considered mutawātir, or known and practiced by so many people that it can only be of the sunnah. In other words, the practice of the first three generation of Muslims who resided in Medina, i.e. the salaf or righteous predecessors form the normative practice of the "living sunnah" that was preserved from Muḥammad.
When forced to rely upon conflicting authenticated hadiths to derive a ruling, Mālikīs would then choose the hadith that has a Medinan origin, meaning the transmitter(s) resided in Medina.
To summarize, in the Mālikī madhhab the "living sunnah" of the salaf of Medina substantiates the single reported hadith, not the other way around. This is probably what distinguishes the Mālikī madhab the most from the Shāfi‘ī, Ḥanbalī, and Ḥanafī madhāhib respectively.
This source, according to Mālik, sometimes supersedes hadith, because the practice of the people of Medina was considered "living sunnah," in as much as Muhammad migrated there, lived there and died there, and most of his companions lived there during his life and after his death. The result is what would appear to be a much more limited reliance upon ṣaḥīḥ hadiths than is found in other schools, but in actuality, serves to strengthen hadiths related to actual practice.
Mālik was particularly scrupulous about authenticating his sources when he did appeal to them, however, and his comparatively small collection of aḥādith, known as al-Muwaṭṭah "The Approved", is highly regarded. Mālik is said to have explained the title as follows: "I showed my book to seventy jurists of Medina, and every single one of them approved me for it, so I named it "The Approved".