Imam Al-Qari Nafi' ibn Abi Nu'aym Al-Madani
Among those who played an actual role in the formation of the personality of Imam Malik ibn Anas consisted of esteemed teachers who are known by all who study the life of this unique Imam. In particular, they include the "two Nafi's", each of whom had a laudable effect on their student which he never forgot.
The first was the outstanding faqih and reliable transmitter of hadith, Nafi' ibn Sarjis Abu 'Abdullah ad-Daylami, who died in 120 AH according to one statement, the same year that Malik reached the age of 47. This Nafi' ibn Sarjis, according to Ibn Hazm al-Qurtubi, was one of "the people of fatwas." Those who deal with hadith say, "The soundest of isnads is Malik from Nafi' from Ibn 'Umar." This chain is called "the golden chain" by those who deal with this science.
This is why I have briefly indicated that Malik maintained this particular close connection to Nafi' as the biographers of Malik clearly state. Malik joined him very early on. He relates to us about this, "I used to go to Nafi', the mawla of Ibn 'Umar, while I was still a lad. He came down to me from a ladder of his – and his slave guided him after he went blind – and went from his house at Baqi' to the Mosque of the Prophet, and where I would ask him questions and relate hadiths from him.
Despite this high position which Nafi' ibn Sarjis had with the rest of his fellow Madinans and despite the large amount which Malik ibn Anas obtained from him, as is indicated when he said, "When I listened to the hadith of Nafi' b. Sarjis, from Ibn 'Umar, I used to not care for anyone except him from anyone else," Malik only related about 80 hadiths from him in his Muwatta', with some dispute about their number.
I hope that no one will try to attack his high position by claiming that he used to sit in the mosque of the Prophet after Subh and practically no one came to him. That is because we know that many of the great scholars who produced a profound effect on their generation and those who had a high position in their science do not succeed in teaching for reasons which have no connection to their abundance of knowledge nor to their moral conduct. I do not believe that I should continue with more of this point since it is not part of the area of our concern. That is because the Nafi' about whom we intend to speak is the second Nafi', Nafi' ibn Abi Nu'aym the recitor (al-Qari') who died only about ten years before Malik. Among his contemporaries were Isma'il ibn Ja'far, 'Isa ibn Wardan, and Sulayman ibn Muslim ibn Jammaz, and all of them took recitaition from Imam Nafi' by reading and listening.
Malik learning recitation and hadith from Nafi'
When people relate from Nafi' ibn Abi Nu'aym, they relate from the Qari' (the "Rectier") since his fame primarily and before everything else, was based on his recitation. In fact, he was one of the seven recitors who have a recognised recitation (qira'a). According to what Abu Qurra ibn Tariq reports, he studied recitiation with seventy of the Tabi'un, but he was also interested in hadith. Ibn 'Adi reports to us that Nafi' left us a text of a hundred hadiths of Nafi' from al-A'raj, as he left another text of more than a hundred hadiths from him from Ibn az-Zinad from al-A'raj, and he also left us about fifty hadiths in at-Tafariq. Those who are very devoted to this science do not know of a single munkar hadith from him.
Perhaps an opponent might ask: "If Nafi' was also a relator of hadiths as you state, then why do we not see any tradition in Malik where he mentions hadith which might have been related from him?" I say: perhaps that refers to something which was known by them in the second century: A MAN MAY BE ONE OF THE GREAT FUQAHA' AND NEVERTHELESS, HIS HADITH ARE ABANDONED. Then I ask: was there not Ibn Hurmuz, i.e. Abu Bakr ibn Yazid al-Asamm, d. 148 AH, one of the great fuqaha' and one of those whose company Malik kept for years? In spite of that, we practically do not find a singlehadith in the Muwatta' of Malik which was taken from Ibn Hurmuz although he did not leave an opportunity to praise him. He often said, "This is what I found the people of knowledge in our land had," or says, "The matter with us is like that," and he means Ibn Hurmuz and Rabi'a ar-Ra'i b. Abi 'Abdu'r-Rahman Farukh from whom Malik has twelve related hadiths, musnad and mursal despite the length of time he kept to him.
Malik's respect for the opinions of his teacher Nafi'
Although Malik was, as is not hidden from anyone, the possessor of precise opinion which did not err, he did not announce his opinion in a case in which it was known that his teacher Nafi' had an opinion in it. For instance, Abu Sa'id 'Abdu'l-Malik ibn Qurayb al-Asma'i asked him about the basmala and Malik replied, "In any knowledge, question its proper people. Nafi' is the Imam of the people in recitation." Malik would not have an opinion different from the opinion of the one who prayed in the mosque of the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, for sixty years without break during which time he was not opposed by any of the recitors of the Tabi'un over in this long period.
Nafi' is the Qur'an-Reciter of Madina without dispute
Imam Nafi' recited with the people in Madina for a long time, about seventy years, and he was the leader of the recitors in this blessed city, the city of the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and people went to him.The recitation for which Imam Nafi' is famous and that which Imam Malik related from him by reading and listening was closely adhered to by the people. It is with this recitation that we now recite in Morocco. We recite it by one of the two transmissions from him, the transmission of Warsh. That is how we are known in Morocco, agreeing in the best possible manner with the 'amal of the people of Madina in all our activity in the deen, both acts of worship and behaviour.
After the Tabi'un, Imam Nafi' was an Imam in recitation for hundreds of his students who included Imam Malik ibn Anas. He was worthy since he undertook this rectiation knowinbg the existence of recitations following the traditions of past Imams.
The recitation of Nafi' is sunna and there is nothing strange about that
Sa'id b. Mansur reported to us that he heard Malik ibn Anas say, "The recitation of the people of Madina is sunna." He was asked, "The recitation of Nafi'?" He replied, "Yes."
Al-Layth ibn Sa'id said, "I went on hajj in 113 and the Imam of the people in recitation in Madina was Nafi'." 'Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, "I asked my father, 'Which recitation do you prefer?' He replied, "The recitiation of the people of Madina.'" That is natural, and and highest level is the recitation of Nafi'. It is not strange that the recitiation of someone who saw the Noble Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in a dream in which he was reciting into his mouth, should be a followed sunna. Abu 'Amr ad-Dani related to us, "A man among those who learned recitation with Nafi' said, "When Nafi' spoke, the fragrance of musk could be smelt from his mouth. I said to him, 'Abu 'Abdullah! Do you use perfume whenever you sit to recite to the people?' He replied, 'I do not touch perfume, but I saw in a dream that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was reciting into my mouth and from that moment I have smelt this fragrance from my mouth.'" It is also not strange that recitation of the one whom the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, breathed? on should be followed. Al-Musayyabi informed us, "It was said to Nafi', 'How resplendent your face is and how handsome your physique!' He replied, 'How could it not be when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, breathed on me and I recited the Qur'an (i.e. in the dream).'"