, by KAMRAN SHAHID ANSARI
Abdullah Ibn Abbas was a man best known among the Sahaba (Companions) as a man of deep knowledge. He was the paternal cousin of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). He did not see the light of the day at the time of Jahiliyya (ignorance); in fact he was born during the last days of Makkan period and was only 13 when the Messenger of Allah departed from this world.
However even this small period of companionship with the Messenger bore great fruits and Ibn Abbas became one of the greatest leaders among the interpreters of the Qur’ān. This position of being an expert in the exegesis of the Qur’ān was nothing but the fulfilment of the supplication of Messenger of Allah, which he had made for him after drawing him close and patting his shoulders: “O Allah, bless him with the full knowledge of the religion and interpretation of the Holy Qur’ān.” Besides being an expert in exegesis of the Qur’ān, he also had immaculate command over Islamic Jurisprudence, History and Arabic Language and literature. Because of his outstanding knowledge he earned the title ‘the learned man of the Ummah.’
When he reached a certain age, he was by the Messenger’s side doing all kinds of service to him like fetching water for ablution, followed him in journeys and expeditions, etc. He hardly missed any assemblies or gatherings of the Messenger and devoted his whole life in pursuit of knowledge and in its dissemination. During the final days of the Messenger of Allah, it was Ali and Ibn Abbas who used to support him with their shoulders as he had become too weak to walk. He was highly respectable and honoured among his circles and is held in high esteem both by the Shias and the Sunnis.
One of the men of his times said of Ibn Abbas, “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.”
After the death of the Messenger of Allah, Ibn Abbas continued his passion for knowledge. He would go to Sahaba who had close proximity with the Messenger of Allah to collect and learn his teachings. He was very particular about the authenticity of ahadith and reports and used to consult as many as thirty sahaba to confirm one matter. He had a real urge for knowledge and was willing to go to any limit to pursue knowledge. He himself reports, “I went to him (a Sahabi, who knew something which Ibn Abbas did not know) during the time of the afternoon siesta and spread my cloak in front of his door. The wind blew dust on me (as I sat waiting for him). If I wished I could have sought his permission to enter and he would certainly have given me permission. But I preferred to wait on him so that he could be completely refreshed. Coming out of his house and seeing me in that condition, he said, ‘O cousin of the Prophet! What’s the matter with you? If you had sent for me, I would have come to you.’ ‘I am the one who should come to you, for knowledge is sought, it does not just come,’ I said. I asked him about the hadith and learnt from him.”
His house was no less than a university in itself. Every day he used to hold classes on different subjects and issues like, fiqh, halal and h, ghazwa, poetry, Arab history before Islam, etc. Always there used be a massive crowd in front of him and there would be hardly any space or room in front of his house. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was also very aware of the outstanding knowledge of Ibn Abbas and often sought his advice on important matters of state and described him as a “young man of maturity.”
Ibn Abbas reported, “Umar used to make me sit with the elderly men who had fought in the Battle Of Badr. Some of them said to Umar: “Why do you bring in this boy to sit with us, while we have sons like him? Umar replied, Because of what you know of his position (i.e. his religious knowledge).”
Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas (may Allah be pleased with him) reiterated of the immaculate knowledge of Ibn Abbas and once said, “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 and Ansar. Ibn Abbas would speak and Umar would not disregard what he had to say.”
Ibn Abbas was a man who remained with Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) at the time of conflict between Ali and Ameer Muawiya. He became instrumental in bringing back a large number of people into Ali’s army as they got disenchanted with the arbitration with Muawiya which Ali accepted. According to some sources, he brought back 20000- 24000 people back into the army. He also tried his level best to convince Husain (may Allah be pleased with him) not to go to Kufah and stay back in Makkah. He requested him humbly and said, “My dear cousin, I can’t remain a silent spectator of your doom, the Kufans are munafiqeen (hypocrites) and cheaters; never trust them; better stay here in Hijaz.” However Husain adhered to his scheduled programme, which eventually led to the battle at Karbala; the most heinous and the most sorrowful of the battles that resulted in the martyrdom of Husain, the grandson of the Messenger of Allah.
At the age of 71 Ibn Abbas departed from this world, leaving behind the trail of vast resource of knowledge for the Ummah. He died in Taif and right next to his grave a library was constructed as a tribute to him by the Turkish governor of Hijaz.