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In the Muwatta of Imam Malik, some ahadith start with "XXX related to me from Malik" - Who is this "me" that's narrating? Others start with "XXX related to me from YYY" with no mention of Malik.

What exactly is going on here with the chain?

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The one who related from Malik in al-Muwatta is Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laithi يحيى بن يحيى الليثي when the Muwatta' is quoted without referring to a narrator. Yahya was the last known student of imam Malik who presented his version of al-Muwatta' to his teacher and got it approved. Therefore it is regarded as the final version of the book and the reference to all earlier ones. Yahya dictated his Muwatta' to his son and he heard al-Muwatta' first from Shabtoon شبطون before going to study in Medina and hear it from Malik himself or his students afterwards. As Malik used to leave a student reciting the hadith while he corrected them. Today we still have about ten versions of al-Muwatta' at hands out of more than hundred as some scholars say. Muhamamd Fu'ad 'Abdulbaqi محمد فؤاد عبد الباقي compiled and rearranged a Muwatta' edition that includes all these (accessible) Muwatta' versions.

So "me" is referring to the son of Yahya ibn Yahya if he heard the hadith from his father saying "Yahya related to me from Malik" or in cases "And he related to me from Malik وَحَدَّثَنِي عَنْ مَالِكٍ". While other statements must be analyzed separately based on the source you found it in. As for example in al-Muwatta' of Muhammad ibn al-Hassan a-Shaybani محمد بن الحسن الشيباني you may find ahadith which are related from his kufi and other teachers too.

See also:

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  • Thank you. What about the ahadith that make no mention of Malik? Should these be considered Yahya's ahadith, and not Malik's?
    – Shadi
    May 8, 2019 at 7:46
  • No the two most known Muwatta' versions have been compiled by scholars who are rather unknown hadith-scholars Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laithi is considered a good faqih, but he is totally ignored as a muhaddith. Muhammad ibn al-Hassan a-Shaybani is more known as one of the most important fiqh scholars of the hanafi school of fiqh. You should know that imam Malik's al-Muwatta' was a work in progress one could say he reviewed the narrations inside his book until he died. While al-Bukhari taught his book when it was finished, also his book has been narrated by different students.
    – Medi1Saif
    May 8, 2019 at 8:13
  • so who actually put pen to paper in the transmission of Yahya. you said its his son, but who is his son??
    – Hisham
    Apr 2, 2023 at 22:26
  • is there an extant version written directly by Yahya? currently i only found versions which say "yahya related to me from Malik", proving such versions were not written by the hand of Yahya, but dictated to someone else,(you said his son)
    – Hisham
    Apr 2, 2023 at 22:27
  • @Hisham the transmission of hadith was always orally. Malik for example gave his book to a student that read the hadith in front of the other students and he stopped or corrected him if he wanted to explain or give an opinion/verdict. So Yahya narrated from Malik directly most of al-Muwatta' and then dictated or narrated it, as he wasn't known as a hadith scholar his best student was his son. So all Muwtta' version traced back to Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laithi (not ibn Bukayr other Yahya's) are traced back to or copies of this copy of his son.
    – Medi1Saif
    Apr 3, 2023 at 12:34

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