The Maliki madhhab (Arabic مالكي) is one of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. It is the third-largest of the four schools, followed by approximately 15% of Muslims, mostly in North Africa and West Africa.
The Maliki school derives from the work of Imam Malik, primarily the Mu'watta and the Mudawana. The Mu'watta is a collection of hadiths which are regarded sound and find their place in Bukhari, and with some commentary from Imam Malik regarding the practice of the people of Madina, i.e. 'amal, and where the 'amal is in complience with or in variance with the hadiths reported. This is because Imam Malik (and what would later be the school after his name) regarded the 'amal of Madina (the first three generations) to be a superior proof of the 'living' sunnah than isolated, although sound, hadiths. The second main source, the Mudawana al-Khubrah, is the collaborator work of Imam Malik's longtime student, Ibn Qasem and his brilliant mujtahid student, Sahnun. The Mudawana is the notes of Ibn Qasem from his sessions of learning with Imam Malik, and answers to legal questions raised by Sahnun in which Ibn Qasem quotes from Imam Malik, and where no notes existed, his own legal reasoning based upon the principles he learned from Imam Malik. These two books, i.e. Mu'watta and Mudawwana, along with other primary books taken from other prominent students of Imam Malik, would find their way into the Mukhtasar Khalil which would form the basis for the later Maliki madhab.
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 (i.e. sayings) (while in the Maliki Madhab, sunnah includes not only what was recorded in hadiths, but the legal rulings of the four rightly guided, or Rashidun caliphs, primarily Umar ibn al-Khattab, ijma (consensus of the scholars) and Qiyas (analogy), and urf, or local custom which is not in direct conflict with established Islamic principles; the Maliki school, in addition, relies heavily upon the practice of the Salaf people of Medina as a source (composed of the sahabahs, tabiyeen, and the older successors, i.e. the best of generations as reported in the authentic hadith. This is because their collective practice, along with the derivative rulings from the salafi scholars, are considered mutawwatir, 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 predessors form the normative practice of the 'living sunnah' that was preserved from Muhammad. When forced to rely upon conflicting, authenticated hadiths to derive a ruling, Malikis would then choose the hadith that has a 'Medinian' origin, meaning the transmitter(s) resided in Medina. To summarize, in the Maliki madhab the 'living sunnah' of the salaf of Medina substantiates the single reported hadith, not the other way around. This is probably what distinguishes the Maliki madhab the most from the Shafi, Hambali, and Hanafi madhabs respectively.
This source, according to Malik, 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 sahih hadith than is found in other schools, but in actuality, serves to strengthen hadiths related to actual practice.
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 Medina, and every single one of them approved me for it, 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.
There are slight differences in the preferred methods of salaat, or prayer, in the Maliki school.