The Maliki madhab is one of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. It is the second-largest of the four schools, followed by approximately 25% of Muslims, mostly in North Africa and West Africa. Madhabs are not sects, but rather schools of jurisprudence. There is, technically, no rivalry or competition between members of varying madhabs, and indeed it would not be uncommon for followers of all four to be found in a randomly selected American or European mosque.
Less reliance on hadith
The Maliki school derives from the work of Imam Malik. 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 the prophet Muhammad transmitted as hadith (sayings), ijma (consensus of the scholars or Muslims) and Qiyas (analogy); the Maliki school, in addition, uses the practice of the people of Medina (amal ahl al-medina) as a source.
This source, according to Malik, sometimes supersedes hadith, because the practice of the people of Medina was considered "living sunnah," in as much as the Prophet migrated there, lived there and died there, and most of his companions lived there during his life and after his death. The result is a much more limited reliance upon hadith than is found in other schools.
Imam Malik was particularly scrupulous about authenticating his sources when he did appeal to them, however, and his comparatively small collection of ahadith, known as Al-Muwatta ("The Approved"), is highly regarded. Malik is said to have explained the title as follows: "I showed my book to seventy jurists of Madina, and every single one of them approved me for it (kulluhum wâta’ani `alayh), so I named it ‘The Approved’."
Malik was once sentenced to a lashing by the caliph Abu Ja`far al-Mansur for narrating a hadith to the effect that a divorce obtained under coercion was invalid. The hadith in question had momentous political implications, because it supported those who argued that the caliph's authority was similarly invalid -- because it, too, had been secured by means of coercion.
Eventually, Malik was paraded through the streets in disgrace and ordered to insult himself publicly. He is reported to have said: "Whoever knows me, knows me; whoever does not know me, my name is Malik ibn Anas, and I say: The divorce of the coerced is null and void!" When the incident was reported to the governor of Medina (who was also the cousin of al-Mansur), Malik was ordered released.
Differences in emphasis from other madhabs
There are slight differences in the preferred methods of salat, or prayer, in the Maliki madhab. In the obligatory salaat, the hands should be placed at the sides according to the majority of scholars in the school of Imam Malik; however, the more common practice of joining the hands beneath the chest, right hand over left, does not invalidate the prayer.