The Learned Scholar: `Abd Allah b. `Abbās
  • Thu, 02/28/2013
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`Abd Allah b. `Abbās was still a child when the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away. He was, at best, on the verge of maturity. Nevertheless, he was a rival of the senior Companions in his knowledge, erudition, and good opinion.

He relates the following about his pursuit of knowledge:
After the Prophet (peace be upon him) died, I said to a man from among the people of Madinah: “Let’s go and ask the Companions about the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), because the hadith are so many.”

He said to me: “This is strange of you, Ibn `Abbās. Do you think that the people need you when there are so many of the Prophet’s Companions around?” So that man did nothing and I went forward, pursuing the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asking them about his hadith.

Whenever I learned that a man had heard a hadith directly from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and I found him taking an afternoon nap, I would place my cloak against his door to shield my face from the wind until he came out. He would say: “What has brought you here, cousin of Allah’s Messenger?’

I would reply: “A hadith that I have learned you heard directly from the Prophet and that I wished to hear directly from you.”

He would say: “Why didn’t you send for me to come to you?”

I would say: “It was more right for me to come to you.”

That man (from the beginning of my story) passed me by one day while the people were coming to me with their inquiries and he said: “You were smarter than me.” [Musnad Ahmad (1925) and Sunan al-Dārimī (570)]
This is how Ibn `Abbās acquired a great deal of knowledge, so much so that the people were in need of him. They would converge on him with their questions, though he had been very young during the Prophet’s lifetime.

Ibn `Abbās embarked on the pursuit of knowledge because of the Prophet’s encouragement. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had made a special supplication for him, saying: “O Allah, give him understanding of the faith and teach him how to interpret (the Qur’an).” [Musnad Ahmad (2397) and Mustadrak al-Hākim (6280)]

This encouragement had a lasting impression on the young Ibn `Abbās. It made him conscientious about Islamic knowledge and its value. This is how such a young man became equal to the greatest scholars of his day. `Umar would bring him to his meetings with the most prominent of the Emigrants. Ibn `Abbās relates to us the following:
[The Caliph] `Umar used to consult with me along with the Prophet’s Companions. `Abd al-Rahmān b. `Awf objected to this and said to `Umar: “Do you consult with him when we have children his age?”

`Umar replied: “It is on account of his learning.”

`Umar then asked me about the chapter of the Qur’an that goes: “When the help of Allah comes and the victory, and you see people entering into Allah’s religion in crowds, then celebrate the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness, for verily He is Oft-Forgiving.” [Sūrah al-Fath]

I replied: “It foretells the end of the life of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) that Allah was making him aware of.”

`Umar said: “I swear by Allah, what I know of this is exactly what you know.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī (3362)]
Ibn `Abbās relates another event:
[The Caliph] `Umar b. al-Khattāb used to summon me along with the Companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and would tell me not to speak until they have spoken. He summoned them and asked them about the Night of Decree (Laylah al-Qadr). He related to them that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had said: “Look for it in the last ten nights of Ramadān.” Then he asked: “Which night do you think it is?” Some suggested it was the first of the ten nights, others said it was the third, and some said it was the fifth. All this time I remained silent.

`Umar then said to me: “Why don’t you speak?”

I said: “If you permit me, O Commander of the Faithful, I will speak.”

He said: “I did not summon you except to hear you speak.”

I said: “I can give you my opinion.”

He said: “That is what we are asking from you.”

Then I said: “It is the seventh of the ten nights. Allah mentions seven heavens and seven Earths. He created the human being from seven and He created the plants of the Earth from seven.”

`Umar said: “You have informed me of what I know, but there is something of this that I do not know. What do you mean by your statement that the plants of the Earth are from seven?”

I then told him that Allah says: “And We split open the Earth, and produced therein corn and grapes and herbs and olives and dates and dense gardens and fruits and fodder.”

`Umar then said: ‘You were all unable to say anything like what this youth has said whose mind is not yet fully matured. By Allah, I do not see this matter to be except as he sees it.”

He then said to me: “I used to order you not to speak until they have spoken, but now I order you to speak along with them.” [Mustadrak al-Hākim (1597)]
Ibn `Abbās is an example of sincerity and dedication in the pursuit of Islamic knowledge. He is an example of what the Prophet said: “When Allah wishes good for someone, He gives that person understanding of the religion.”