Abdullah Ibn Masood, also known as Ibn Umm Abd, was a shepherd by profession and one of the early converts to Islam who remained one of the closest companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). Ibn Masood was also the one who became the first man to recite the Qur’ān in public and even gave up his profession of tending the sheep in exchange for dedicating himself completely to Islam. He was so close to the Messenger of Allah that many people mistook him as one of the members of the blessed household of the Messenger. One of the companions, Abu Musa Ashari, says, “When we came from Yemen, we thought for some time that Abdullah was a member of the Blessed Household.” He was so much like the Messenger of Allah that Huthafah (may Allah be pleased with him) said about him, “I never saw a person closer to the Messenger in character and guidance than Ibn Masood.
He was known for his extraordinary knowledge of the Qur’ān and was one of the few men whom the Messenger of Allah himself recommended to be consulted in the matters pertaining to the understanding of the Qur’ān. In one hadith the Messenger said, “Learn the Qur’ān from four people, Abdullah Ibn Masood, Salim Maula Abi Huzaifah, Ubayy Ibn Kaab and Muaz Ibn Jabal.” The Messenger also said, “Read the Qur’ān in the same manner as Abdullah Ibn Masood teaches.” Another narration goes as, “Whoever likes to recite the Qur’ān as fresh (i.e. accurately) as it was revealed, let him recite it the way it is recited by the son of Umm Abd.”
Abdullah Ibn Masood was highly respected for his knowledge of the Qur’ān; even by the much older and great companions of the Messenger like the second caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him). Once Umar said of Ibn Masood, “He is full of knowledge.” Abu Musa Al-Ashari is once reported to have said, “Do not ask people like me about anything as long as you have this man of deep knowledge among you.”
His love and loyalty towards Allah can be understood from an incident when, during the Makkan period, some companions of the Messenger were discussing about the indifferent attitude of the Quraish towards Islam. One of the companions said, “The Quraish have not yet heard the Qur’ān being recited openly and loudly. Who is the man who could recite it for them?” “I shall recite it for them,” volunteered Abdullah Ibn Masood. “We are afraid for you,” they said. “We only want someone who has a clan who would protect him from their evil.” “Let me,” Abdullah Ibn Masood insisted, “Allah shall protect me and keep me from their evil.” He then went out to the mosque until he reached Maqam Ibrahim (a landmark situated a few meters from the Ka’bah). It was dawn and the Quraish were sitting around the Ka’bah. Abdullah began to recite Surah Rahman. The Quraish looked at him intently and some of them asked, “What is Ibn Umm Abd saying? Damn him! He is reciting some of what Muhammad (their most hated enemy) brought!”
They began to slap his face but he continued reciting. When he concluded his recital, his face was covered with welts and blood. “By Allah,” said Abdullah, “the enemies of Allah are more uncomfortable than I am at this moment. If you wish, I shall return tomorrow and do the same.” “You have done enough,” they said. “You have made them hear what they dislike.”
Ibn Masood participated in every battle during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah and during the time of caliph Umar, he was sent to Kufa to educate people. He did everything to earn just the pleasure of Allah and nothing else, as when Umar fixed a salary for him, he refused to accept it and said, “Why do you try to turn me to the world.” Besides an extraordinary knowledge of the Qur’ān, Ibn Masood had a very sweet and melancholy voice such as when he used to recite the Holy Qur’ān people could not control their tears and wept profusely.
He was a man about whom the Messenger himself said, “Whatever Ibn Masood narrates to you, believe him,” yet he would sometimes refrain from narrating the ahadith out of fear of narrating them wrong. However when he narrated any hadith, he was very particular and cautious of the words which the Messenger uttered. His innumerable qualities of head and heart earned him great respect among his contemporaries as well as posterity. Some of his contemporaries have described him thus: “We have never seen a man who is better behaved, gentler in teaching and more Allah-fearing than him.”
The majority of the fatawa of Iraq and the hanafi fiqh are based upon the narrations and fatawa of Ibn Masood. During his life time the seekers of knowledge and fatawa were always directed towards him. Students who wanted to receive guidance and gain knowledge under him would always petition him. Instead of being renowned in the whole region of Islamic state as one of the most knowledgeable persons, Ibn Masood never let any arrogance or superiority overtake him. He remained balanced throughout his life and after giving verdicts used to say, “If the verdict is correct, it is of Allah. If it is incorrect, then it is of Satan and I. Neither Allah and the Prophet are responsible for it.”
Ibn Masood had full faith in Allah and feared none other than his own sins. He died during the rule of caliph Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him). On his deathbed, Uthman went to visit him and said, “What is your ailment?” “My sins,” he replied. “And what do you desire?” The mercy of my Lord.” “Shall I not give you your stipend which you have refused to take for years now?” “I have no need of it.” “Let it be for your daughters after you.” “Do you fear poverty for my children? I have commanded them to read Surah al-Waqiah every night for I have heard the Prophet saying, “Whoever reads Al-Waqiah every night shall not be afflicted by poverty ever.” Ibn Masood remained the centre for learning even at his deathbed and disseminated the words of the Messenger with full conviction and firm belief.