Abdullah ibn ‘Abbās
Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) was one of the greatest scholars of Islam, whose contribution to the religion is immense. Born in Makkah about three years before the Hijra, Ibn Abbas had the supreme honor of being fed the very first food by the greatest of all men, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who loved the child so much that he supplicated to Allah to bestow him with the true understanding of religion. “O Allah, teach him the Book.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari 9:22: 375).
Son of Al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, one of the uncles of the Prophet (PBUH), Ibn Abbas exhibited a deep inclination for seeking knowledge at a very young age when he was chosen by the Prophet (PBUH) to be his special household assistant. That gave him the privilege of observing the Prophet (PBUH) from a close distance and learning and adopting his manners and etiquettes and memorizing his statements. That, without doubt, laid the foundation of his noble character and swiftly raised his status among the Sahabah of the Prophet (PBUH). As a true seeker and transmitter of knowledge, Ibn Abbas had enormous respect for his teachers, acted upon their advice, and exercised extreme care and caution in collecting, verifying, and passing on the knowledge to others.
First, as a pursuer of knowledge, Ibn Abbas showed great veneration for his teachers. On the occasion of a prayer, for example, the Prophet (PBUH) told him to stand at his side, but ibn Abbas, who was well aware of the incomparable eminence of his teacher, chose to stand behind him, out of respect for the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) was so moved by the purity of his nephew’s intention that he prayed for the growth of his knowledge and wisdom.
While ibn Abbas greatly benefitted from the prayers of the Prophet (PBUH), as did many of his other Companions, it did not prevent him from striving with devotion and perseverance to gain as much authentic knowledge as he could. After the death of the Prophet (PBUH), when ibn Abbas was only thirteen, he began collecting the Prophet’s narrations from the Companions.
Once, instead of knocking on the door of a Companion, he opted to wait outside his dwelling in dusty conditions knowing that it was time for the Companion’s midday sleep. When the latter eventually came out and asked him why he had not sent for him, Ibn Abbas told him, “I am the one who should come, for knowledge is sought…” This readiness to wait and endure in the pursuit of knowledge was something ibn Abbas had learnt from the Prophet (PBUH). It was this attitude of his that enabled him to gain more and more knowledge so that within a short span of time he was able to rise as one of the brightest scholars of Tafseer, Hadith, Shariah, Fiqh, and the Arabic language. It is reported that he had memorized over a thousand authentic statements of the Prophet (PBUH), which are now part of Hadith books like Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Ubaydullah ibn Ali narrates that his grandmother Salma said: ‘I saw Abdullah ibn Abbas carrying tablets with him on which he was writing down…the deeds of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH).’
An essential trait of a seeker of knowledge is that he does not blindly accept what comes his way; he verifies the information before making it a part of his knowledge. Ibn Abbas was no different. A Hadith narrator at the age of ten, Ibn Abbas would consult multiple Companions to establish the accuracy of the Prophet’s (PBUH) statements. In some cases he would ask as many as thirty Companions to verify one Hadith. This was the level of his responsibility and God-consciousness. It was for this reason that Caliph Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) would allow the young ibn Abbas to sit in the company of the senior Sahabah. Once Amr ibn Habashi approached ibn Umar to ask about a verse, but he told him to “Go to ibn Abbas…for he is the most knowledgeable among those who are left of what Allah revealed to Muhammad” (Al-Isabah: 4/125-128). The Companions were all aware of the depth of his knowledge and one of them, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, used to say “I’ve never seen one more knowledgeable and wiser than ibn Abbas.” Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood, who was himself an eminent narrator of Hadith, is reported to have said: ‘When ibn Abbas reaches our age, none of us will have one tenth of his knowledge. (Al-Majmoo‘ al-Mugheeb by Abu Moosa al-Madeeni, 2/450)
An exemplary seeker of knowledge does not keep his knowledge to himself; he shares it with others so that they can also benefit from it. Ibn Abbas was fully aware of this etiquette and was extremely generous in passing on the treasure of knowledge he possessed to those around him. “When I comprehend the significance of a verse of Al-Qur’an, I wish all the people know what I know.” It is reported that large groups of people would gather outside his house eager to learn from him. Due to limited accommodation, he would welcome one large group of people at a time and teach them the religion and upon their departure invite the second group and teach them. Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said that many Companions and those that came after them (Taabi’een) learned from ibn Abbas, for his interpretation and understanding of the verses was unmatched by any other.
Indeed, Abdullah ibn Abbas was one of the most outstanding seekers and transmitters of knowledge, who considered the pursuit of truth an act of worship. Throughout his life he adhered to the way of the Prophet (PBUH) and never stopped learning from him and the Companions around him. Despite possessing abundant knowledge, he never showed haughtiness or pride but continued to use his knowledge to improve himself and shared it with others to benefit them as well. No wonder his death was mourned as ‘the loss of the most knowledgeable’ of his time. The Muslim world will always remain indebted to him for his valuable contributions to the correct understanding of Islam.