Anas bin Malik (ra) was born in Medina ten years before the Hijra (Immigration). His family belonged to the Najjar clan of the tribe of Hazraj, which was one of the two leading tribes of Medina. Known with the nickname Abu Hamza, he also gained fame as “the Servant of the Prophet,” since he was a close personal attendant to the Messenger of God (saw) for around ten years. The sources narrate that Anas’ father Malik b. Nadr not only remained a non-Muslim, but also left Medina in protest when his wife Umm Sulaym Sahla bint Mihan (r.anha) and many of his relatives became Muslims, and that he later died in Damascus. It is also narrated that he died before the Hijra. In contrast, many other members of Anas’ family, in addition to his mother, accepted Islam, such as his brother Bara b. Malik (ra), his aunt Umm Haram (r.anha), his uncle Anas b. Nadr (ra), and his stepfather Abu Talha (ra).
During the Prophet’s (saw) immigration from Mecca to Medina, Anas b. Malik (ra) was a child of ten years old. He narrates the excitement and joy of the Medinans upon the arrival of the Prophet (saw) with the following words: “The children of Medina were screaming: “Muhammad is coming! Muhammad is coming!” I started to run and cry out with them. Finally, the Messenger of God (saw) appeared with Abu Bakr (ra). When we saw them approaching, a man sent us back to the city, asking us to tell everybody that the Messenger of God had arrived. We ran back right away and informed everyone. Around five hundred Medinan Hosts came out to greet them.” After the Prophet (saw) came to Medina, the Hosts started to compete with each other to be of service to him. In this competition, Anas b. Malik’s mother was at a serious disadvantage, since she had nothing to offer. So she held Anas by the hand and went to the Prophet (s.aw), saying: “O Messenger of God, I am a poor woman. I have nothing to offer that could be of help to you. This is my son; I am leaving him to you so that he can help and serve you. Please accept him.” The Messenger of God (saw) did not decline her request.
From this moment on for ten years until the Prophet’s (saw) death, Anas b. Malik (ra) was the Prophet’s (saw) personal servant. He had a great love for the Prophet (saw) and took great joy and pride in attending to his needs. He would wake up before everyone else in the mornings and go to the Prophet’s (saw) mosque to take care of his needs and wishes. If the Prophet (saw) intended to fast that day, Anas would prepare his pre-dawn meal and perform the morning prayer with him after the meal ended. After Anas entered the service of the Prophet (saw), he performed his morning prayers with him every day. Due to his young age, Anas did not participate in the battles of Badr, Uhud, and Handaq. However, he was present on the battlefield during Badr, attending to the Prophet (saw) and assisting the fighters where possible. He also took his place in the Prophet’s (saw) closest personal party during such important events as the Treaty of Hudaybiya, the Expedition of Haybar, the pilgrimage of the year 629 AD (Umrah al-Qadha), the Conquest of Mecca, the Battle of Hunayn, the Siege of Taif, and the Farewell Pilgrimage. After the death of the Prophet (saw), the newly-elected caliph Abu Bakr (ra) assigned Anas b. Malik (ra) to the post of alms collector and sent him to Bahrain. During the rule of the caliph Umar (ra), Anas (ra) was preoccupied with the education of the Muslims in Basra. He was also a member of a council of leading Companions, which was assembled by the Caliph Umar (ra) to advise and counsel him. After a brief stint in Damascus, Anas (ra) returned to Basra and continued his work. He participated in the military campaigns that took place during the rule of Caliph Umar (ra), including the conquest of Tustar. After the conquest, he was charged with the duty of transporting the war booty back to Medina. Anas b. Malik (ra) managed to stay away from the political disturbances and polarization that started during the rule of the Caliph Uthman (ra) and which steadily kept intensifying. In this period, the only official post Anas (ra) held was the governorship of Basra, which coincided with the rule of the Caliph Abdullah b. Zubayr and lasted only forty days. After this brief official engagement, Anas returned to his life of education and teaching.
During the reign of the Umayyads, the rulers exerted considerable pressure on the scholars, and Anas b. Malik (ra) was one of the Companions who were most affected by this pressure. He was always courageous and adamant in his struggle against oppression and injustice, and he never shrunk from telling the truth. When the severed head of the Prophet’s (saw) grandson, Hussain (ra), was brought to the governor of Iraq Ubaydullah b. Ziyad, the latter started defaming Hussain (ra). Anas (ra) was present during this incident, and he rebuked the governor by interrupting him and saying: “This head looks like the head of the Prophet (saw)”. Because he opposed the practices of the Umayyad regime, Anas (ra) was censured and persecuted, along with other Companions like Jabir b. Abdullah (ra) and Sahl b. Sa’d (ra). One of their oppressors was the governor of Iraq, Hajjaj, who branded their necks and hands in order to humiliate them in front of the public and went so far as to seize all of Anas’ property, claiming that he aided the rebels opposing the government. Anas (ra) wrote a letter of complaint to the Umayyad caliph Abdulmalik b. Marwan and informed him of the injustice he endured, and the caliph sent orders from the capital to Hajjaj, commanding him to return Anas’ property and apologize to him.
Having spent the great majority of his life in Basra, Anas b. Malik (ra) died in the 93rd year of the Hijra (711-12 AD) at the age of 103. It is narrated in the sources that the last Companion who passed away in Basra was Anas b. Malik (ra). The most important quality distinguishing Anas (ra) among the Companions was his years-long service to the Prophet (saw) and the fact that he was raised under his tutelage. Anas (ra) also learned about many religious issues from the Prophet (saw) himself, and he later spent his life trying to teach and spread this knowledge. A great many reports about the Prophet’s (saw) conduct towards others, especially children; his way of teaching and education; and many other ethical practices come down to us from Anas (ra). He narrates, for example, that he stayed with the Prophet (saw) for a very long time and that he never heard a single word of reproach from him even though he couldn’t always behave the way the Prophet (saw) wanted him to. He goes on to say that when the wives of the Prophet (saw) were once about to scold him for a mistake he made, the Prophet told them: “Leave the child alone. He has done nothing but what God has willed”. Such reports from Anas provide priceless prophetic guidance and information about the education of children and youth.
Anas b. Malik (ra) was a Companion who tried to shape all aspects of his life according to the example of the Prophet (saw), and he succeeded in this endeavor in large measure. The great hadith narrator Abu Hurayra (ra) testifies that the way Anas (ra) performed his prayer was extremely similar to the way the Prophet (saw) prayed. Another quality that distinguishes Anas (ra) is the large number of hadith he narrated. He is one of the seven Companions who are called “the Increasers” (Mukthirun) for having transmitted an extraordinarily high number of reports from the Prophet (saw). With approximately 2286 hadiths he narrated (including repetitions), Anas (ra) ranks third among the Mukthirun. 168 of his narrations are included in the canonic hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, roughly eighty of them being quoted by Bukhari and ninety by Muslim. In addition to the hadith that he heard directly from the Prophet (saw) himself, Anas b. Malik (ra) learned and transmitted hadith from the following Companions: Abu Bakr (ra), Umar (ra), Uthman (ra), Fatima (ra), Mu’adh b. Jabal (ra), Usayd b. Hudayr (ra), Abu Dhar al-Ghifari (ra), his mother Umm Sulaym (r.anha), his maternal aunt Umm Haram bint Milhan (r.anha), his aunt’s husband Ubada b. Samit (ra), and his stepfather Abu Talha (ra). Anas also taught hadith to such famous personalities as Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Sirin, Sha’bi, Abu Kilaba al-Jarmi, Makhul b. Abi Muslim, Umar b. Abdilaziz, Zuhri, Qat’ada b. Diama, and Abu Amr b. Ala. Below is a selection of hadith narrated by Anas (ra):
“Help the oppressor by preventing him from oppressing others.”
“You will be with those whom you love.”
“He who does not show mercy to the young and respect the rights of the elderly is not one of us.”
“If a young person shows respect to the elderly, God creates people who will in turn show respect to him in his old age.”
“Whoever has the afterlife as his priority, God grants him a richness of heart and makes his affairs easy. He is also given material goods even though he does not want them. Whoever forgets the afterlife and thinks only of this world, God plants the fear of poverty in his soul and puts his affairs in disarray. He is granted nothing more than his due in this life.”
“When God wishes well for His servant, He punishes him in this world by subjecting him to misfortunes and troubles. (He thus purifies him of his sins.) When He wishes harm on him, He avoids giving him his punishment in this life and postpones it, so that he has to endure a more severe punishment in the afterlife.”
“Do not wish for death when you are suffering from a misfortune. Those who find themselves wishing for death should say: ‘O Lord! Keep us alive so long as living is good and beneficial for us. The moment life ceases to be good for us, seize our souls.’”