|The tendency referred to in ancient Islamic sources as that of ashab al-hadith (the Partisans of Tradition; Traditionalism) ramified widely during the one hundred years of its active and decisive existence among Muslim religious circles. However, from a broad point of view, the movement may be divided into two periods: the 2nd century AH, where it existed in various parts of the Islamic world, and in the 3rd century AH, where it was mainly centered in Baghdad. The distinction between these two phases is such that some representatives of the second phase such as Ibn Qutaybah place the early faqihs of the movement among the Partisans of Ra’y, alongside such figures as Abu Hanifah. In spite of the fact that during the 2nd century AH there existed Traditionalist faqihs throughout Islamic lands Medina continued to remain a symbol of the Traditionalist tendency as opposed to the situation in Kufah.
The discussion of the Traditionalism of the Medinese and their disagreement with the Partisans of Ra’y is a nuanced and extensive subject. Broadly speaking, the faqihs of the 2nd century AH were not as reluctant to engage in ra’y and their Traditionalism had more to do with their mode of encounter with fiqhi issues and critical assessment of sources of fatwa. The fiqhi views of Ibn Shahab Zuhri as the representative of the Medinese ashab al-athar (the Partisans of Athar) in the first quarter of the 2nd century AH is in evidence in his brief reply to a question regarding a secondary issue relating to taharah (purity). He starts by pointing out the fact that not all fiqhi issues are resolved by searching through the chains of transmission and hadiths. He continues by making an allusion to the “consensus of the people” as a source of fiqhi decision-making in cases where there exist no religious texts. His idea may be viewed as an elementary form of the theory of ijma`. According to some, this is a reference to the notion of the “practice of the ancestors” (ma mada `alayh al-nas), recognized as a source of jurisprudence in the fiqh of the Partisans of Hadith, in general, and in that of the Medinese, in particular.
As a movement with parallel development to that of Zuhri, mention can be made of the circle of Rabi`ah al-Ra’y, who are considered in historical works as being in the forefront of the idea of ra’y in Medina. Though there as yet exists no analytical research on the Rabi`ah’s fiqhi views the evidence from historical sources point to the fact that with regard to a number of disputed issues he differed from the traditional stance of his Medinese forerunners and adopted a body of opinions derived from his personal reasoning. In spite of this divergence in method, the record of Rabi`ah’s surviving fiqhi opinions indicate a close similarity between his views and those of his Medinese colleagues. This, points to the fact that the circle of the advocates of ra’y in Medina, unlike Abu Hanifah, never severed their ties to the community of Traditionalist faqihs. The younger generation of faqihs, such as Yahya b. Sa`id Ansari, in spite of their ties to the rationalist circles of Medina, like Rabi`ah, served as a conduit for the transfer of the fiqhi heritage of Medina to Malik b. Anas, the most distinguished representative of the Traditionalist fiqh in Medina and the founder of the Malikite school of jurisprudence.
In a broad overview of the characteristics of Malik’s fiqh, as the only long-lasing body of fiqhi views of the Traditionalist school of Medina and the sole symbol of this tendency in fiqhi history, it should be noted that he showed strict adherence to the letter of the Qur’an and in spite of the weight he attached to the evidence of hadiths and athar he tended to be reluctant with regard to the traditions which appeared to be in contravention of the immediate sense of the Qur’anic text. It is interesting to note that Malik appeared more zealous on the subject than was Abu Hanifah, in spite of the latter’s fame for casting suspicion on athar. In connection with Malik’s overall stance vis-à-vis the akhbar, his book of al-Muwatta` may be considered as a good index. Apart from a handful of hadiths, the overwhelming number of the book’s chains of transmission are Medinese, a fact that indicates the degree to which the traditional sources of Malik’s fiqh depended on the local Medinese inheritance. For instance, al-Muwatta` contains numerous instances of mursal hadiths (a hadith in which a Successor quotes directly from the Prophet, i.e. where the name of the Companion is lacking from the isnad) reported from early Medinese faqihs. The limited number of hadiths in al-Muwatta`, in spite of Malik’s status as an able traditionist, is an indication of his scrupulousness in the selection of hadiths.
Throughout al-Muwatta`, in addition to the views of the Companions, one runs into the sirah of Medinese faqihs among the Successors. A comparison of the surviving views of Malik with those of these Successor faqihs – Sa`id b. Musayyib, Zuhri and `Urwah b. Zubayr, in particular – indicates that even if their opinions did not serve to underpin the theoretical approach of Malik they, none the less, played a crucial role in the development of his school. What Malik referred to as the balagh of the predecessors and which he used in numerous cases where there existed no evidence from the Qur’an or the sunnah may be interpreted as a summary of the views of the Companions and Successors on a particular subject. Finally, in connection to Malik’s fiqhi sources, mention should be made of the sunnah and sirah of the people of Medina which throughout his works are used as the ultimate source of traditional reasoning. Here, sirah is not confined to the practices of the jurists and men of knowledge but covers the tradition and conduct of the ordinary Medinese people. In short, as regards its traditional evidence, Malik’s fiqh accords special status to the local Medinese practices