April 23, 2001

Abdullah ibn Abbas: A Student of the Prophet

The companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were people of
strong belief in Allah (Most High) and the Last Day. Each companion had unique
qualities and together they worked to spread Islam. One of these companions was
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas. From an early age, he showed signs of remarkable wisdom in
matters related to Islam, which earned him the title of “the learned man of
the Ummah (global Muslim community).” He was the son of ‘Abbas,
Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) uncle, and was born only three years before the Hijrah
(migration). He was thirteen when the Prophet (pbuh) passed away. When ‘Abdullah
was born, his mother took him to the Prophet (pbuh), who put some of his saliva
on ‘Abdullah’s tongue. This was the beginning of a close and intimate connection
between ‘Abbas and the Prophet (pbuh) that was to become a life-long
relationship of love and devotion.

The Prophet (pbuh) would often draw ‘Abdullah as a child close to him, pat him
on the shoulder and pray: “O Lord, make him acquire a deep understanding of
the religion of Islam and instruct him in the meaning and interpretation of

There were many occasions thereafter when the blessed Prophet (pbuh) would
repeat this prayer for his cousin, and soon ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas realized that
his life was to be devoted to the pursuit of learning and knowledge. ‘Abdullah
narrated an incident about himself when the Prophet (pbuh), was going to perform
wudu (ablution). ‘Abdullah hurried to get water ready for him. The
Prophet (pbuh) was pleased with what ‘Abdullah was doing and as he was about to
begin salah (prayer), the Prophet (pbuh) suggested that ‘Abdullah should
stand at his side. Despite the Prophet’s suggestion, ‘Abdullah stood behind him.
When the salah was finished, the Prophet (pbuh) turned to him and said:
“What prevented you from being at my side, O ‘Abdullah?” ‘Abdullah
replied by saying, “You are too illustrious and too great in my eyes for me
to stand side by side with you.” Upon hearing this, the Prophet (pbuh)
raised his hands and prayed: “O Lord, grant him wisdom.” The Prophet’s
(pbuh) prayer was granted indeed as ‘Abdullah proved over and over again that he
possessed knowledge beyond his years.

When ‘Abdullah reached the age of maturity, he devoted himself to the service of
the Prophet (pbuh). He would run to fetch water for the Prophet (pbuh) when
wanted to make wudu’. During salah, he would stand behind the Prophet (pbuh) in
prayer and when the Prophet (pbuh) went on journeys or expeditions, ‘Abdullah
would follow him. In all these situations he was attentive and observant to
whatever the Prophet (pbuh) said and did, and memorized the Prophet’s (pbuh)
sayings with diligence. In this way and through his constant researches later,
‘Abdullah became one of the most knowledgeable companions of the Prophet (pbuh),
preserving on behalf of later generations of Muslims, the invaluable words of
the Prophet (pbuh) of Allah Most High. In fact, it is said that he memorized
about one thousand six hundred and sixty sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), which
are recorded and authenticated in the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim. Ibn
‘Abbas’s knowledge came with a dedicated and determined quest both during the
Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime and after he passed away.

During the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh), ‘Abdullah would not miss any of his
gatherings, and after the Prophet (pbuh) passed away, he would often go to as
many companions as possible, especially those who knew the Prophet (pbuh)
longer, and learn from them what the Prophet (pbuh) had taught them. Whenever he
heard that someone knew a hadith (saying of the Prophet, pbuh), which he
did not know, ‘Abdullah would hurry to that companion and record it. He would
subject whatever he heard to close scrutiny and check it against other reports.
He would go to as many as thirty companions to verify a single matter.

It was not only the collection of hadith in which ‘Abdullah specialized; he
devoted himself to understanding a wide variety of other fields. As ‘Abdullah’s
knowledge grew, he grew in stature. Masruq ibn al Ajda once remarked referring
to ‘Abdullah: “Whenever I saw ibn ‘Abbas, I would say: He is the most
handsome of men. When he spoke, I would say: He is the most eloquent of men. And
when he held a conversation, I would say: He is the most knowledgeable of men.’
Even ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, as the Khalifah (leader of the Islamic State),
requested his advice on important matters of state and described him as
“the young man of maturity.”

Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas described him with these words: “I have never seen
someone who was quicker in understanding, who had more knowledge and greater
wisdom than ibn ‘Abbas. I have seen ‘Umar summon him to discuss difficult
problems in the presence of veterans of Badr from among the Muhajirin
(Immigrants) and Ansar (Helpers). Ibn ‘Abbas would speak and ‘Umar would
not disregard what he had to say.” ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas was not content to
accumulate knowledge. He felt he had a duty to the Ummah to educate those in
search of knowledge and the general masses of the Muslim community. He began
teaching and his house became a university with specialized areas of study, with
the exception that there was only one teacher ? ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas himself.

The courageous ‘Abdullah showed that he preferred peace over war, and logic to
force and violence. However, ‘Abdullah was not only known for his courage, his
perceptive thought and his vast knowledge, but for his great generosity and
hospitality. There were many occasions when his contemporaries commented on the
vibrancy of his household. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas had a steadfast concern for
people. He once said: “When I realize the importance of a verse of Allah’s
Book, I wish that all people should know what I know. When I hear of a Muslim
ruler who deals equitably and rules justly, I am happy on his account and I pray
for him.”

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas was constant in his devotions. He fasted regularly and
often stayed up at night in prayer. He would weep profusely while praying and
reciting verses dealing with death, resurrection and the life hereafter. He
passed away at the age of seventy-one in the city of Ta’if.

(courtesy of http://www.al-talib.com)

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