Question: Was Imam Malik (May Allah have mercy on him) a Sufi?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
In order to answer this question, we must first clarify what you mean by Sufi.
Sufism is a term later coined for a meaning that has always been part of our religion. It refers to purification (tazkiya) and spiritual excellence (ihsan).
Imam Ahmad al-Zarruq defines Sufism as sincerely turning to Allah [Zarruq, Qawa’id al-Tasawwuf].
If this is the meaning you intended in your question then Imam Malik (May Allah have mercy on him) was of the elite of the Sufis.
However, if you mean by Sufi a practitioner or adherent of a specific spiritual path, then that is not easily discernible as the formation of the well-known spiritual paths that are present today came well after the time of Imam Malik.
Imam Malik’s Spiritual State
Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him) was not only a person of knowledge but of great piety and nearness to Allah and His Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
It is narrated about Imam Malik that he said, “I never pass through a single night except that I saw the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace)” [Abu Nu’aym, Hilya al-Awliya].
SummaryBy the above, it is clear without any doubt, that Imam Malik was a person of purification of the heart (tazkiyya) and spiritual excellence (ihsan) which are what is meant by the word Sufism. Furthermore, Imam Malik was a fervent follower of his teachers and mentors, so with these meanings in mind, yes Imam Malik was a Sufi.If however, by Sufi you mean any other meaning than the above then the answer would depend on your definition of Sufi.All in all, we can say, with certainty, that Imam Malik was of the most righteous of the pious predecessors (May Allah have mercy on him).
See the following link for more clarity on the term Sufi:
Was Sufism Recommended by the Prophet?
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; a student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of the Qur’an and the Islamic sciences