Imam Malik’s Muwatta is the first written collection of hadith in book form, compiled and edited. This was the first legal work to incorporate and join hadith and fiqh together.
Malik's Muwatta ("the well-trodden path") is a collection of two items:
During Malik's lifetime, he steadily revised his Muwatta, so it reflects over forty years of his learning and knowledge. It is important to realize, however, that Malik's collection is not complete: there are other scholars who worked as Malik did and collected other reports.
Kitab-al-Muwatta or Al-Muwatta, is a complete record of the legal and social parameters of the original Muslim community in Al-Madina. Imam Malik composed the 'Muwatta' over a period of forty years to represent the "well-trodden path" of the people of Madinah. Its name also means that it is the book that is "many times agreed upon"- about whose contents the people of Madinah were unanimously agreed. Its high standing is such that people of every school of fiqh and all of the imams of hadith scholarship agree upon its authenticity.
Imam Malik (full name Malik bin Anas bin Malik bin Abu Amir Al-Asbahi) was born in 93 A.H. and died in 179 A.H. He lived most of his life in Madinah, the city in which the Prophet (peace be upon Him) settled in. He was a preeminent scholar of Islam. He is reputed to have had over one thousand students.
Muwatta contains a one hundred and seventy two ahadith. A great number of scholars and muhadditheen (hadith collectors) have spoken and referred to Imam Maliks great knowledge and literary works. Amongst his various literary compilations (Muwatta) is the most eminent.
Imam Shaafi'ee has stated regarding Maliks Muwatta : "On the face of the earth there is no book(s) more authentic than Muwatta." (It should be borne in mind that Imam Shafi'ee passed away in the year 204 A.H. before the compilation of Sahih Bukhari. Today, it is a unanimously agreed opinion that Sahih Al Bukhari is ranked as No.1 in this field.)
Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi said: "The Muwatta’ is the first foundation and the core, while al-Bukhari’s book is the second foundation in this respect. Upon these two all the rest have built, such as Sahih Al Muslim and Tirmidhi."
Malik's Muwatta is divided into 61 books on different subjects, each book containing many ahadith. It is said that Imam Malik had originally recorded ten thousand ahadith in this book(s), but in a revised edition the Imam reduced the number to only one hundred and seventy-two.