Abdullah Ibn Abbas

It was not only in the collection of hadith that Abdullah specialized. He devoted himself to acquiring knowledge in a wide variety of fields. He had a special admiration for persons like Zayd ibn Thabit, the recorder of the revelation, the leading judge and jurist consult in Madinah, an expert in the laws of inheritance and in reading the Quran. When Zayd intended to go on a trip, the young Abdullah would stand humbly at his side and taking hold of the reins of his mount would adopt the attitude of a humble servant in the presence of his master. Zayd would say to him: “Don’t, O cousin of the Prophet.”

“Thus we were commanded to treat the learned ones among us,” Abdullah would say. “And Zayd would say to him in turn: “Let me see your hand.” Abdullah would stretch out his hand. Zayd, taking it, would kiss it and say: “Thus we were commanded to treat the ahl al-bayt members of the household of the Prophet.”

As Abdullah’s knowledge grew, he grew in stature. Masruq ibn al Ajda said of him: “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


The Khalifah Umar ibn al-Khattab often sought his advice on important matters of state and described him as “the young man of maturity”.

Sad 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 and Ansar. Ibn Abbas would speak and Umar would not disregard what he had to say.”

It is these qualities which resulted in Abdullah ibn Abbas being known as “the learned man of this Ummah”.

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 turned to teaching and his house became a university – yes, a university in the full sense of the word, a university with specialized teaching but with the difference that there was only one teacher Abdullah ibn Abbas.

There was an enthusiastic response to Abdullah’s classes. One of his companions described a typical scene in front of his house: “I saw people converging on the roads leading to his house until there was hardly any room in front of his house. I went in and told him about the crowds of people at his door and he said: ‘Get me water for wudu.’

He performed wudu and, seating himself, said: ‘Go out and say to them: Whoever wants to ask about the Quran and its letters (pronunciation) let him enter.’

This I did and people entered until the house was filled. Whatever he was asked, Abdullah was able to elucidate and even provide additional information to what was asked. Then (to his students) he said: ‘Make way for your brothers.’

Then to me he said: ‘Go out and say: Who wants to ask about the Quran and its interpretation, let him enter’.

Again the house was filled and Abdullah elucidated and provided more information than what was requested.”

And so it continued with groups of people coming in to discuss fiqh (jurisprudence), halal and haram (the lawful and the prohibited in Islam), inheritance laws, Arabic language, poetry and etymology.

To avoid congestion with many groups of people coming to discuss various subjects on a single day, Abdullah decided to devote one day exclusively for a particular discipline. On one day, only the exegesis of the Quran would be taught while on another day only fiqh (jurisprudence). The maghazi or campaigns of the Prophet, poetry, Arab history before Islam were each allocated a special day.

Abdullah ibn Abbas brought to his teaching a powerful memory and a formidable intellect. His explanations were precise, clear and logical. His arguments were persuasive and supported by pertinent textual evidence and historical facts.

One occasion when his formidable powers of persuasion was used was during the caliphate of Ali. A large number of supporters of Ali in his stand against Muawiyah had just deserted him. Abdullah ibn Abbas went to Ali and requested permission to speak to them. Ali hesitated fearing that Abdullah would be in danger at their hands but eventually gave way on Abdullah’s optimism that nothing untoward would happen.

Abdullah went over to the group. They were absorbed in worship. Some were not willing to let him speak but others were prepared to give him a hearing.

“Tell me” asked Abdullah, “what grievances have you against the cousin of the Prophet, the husband of his daughter and the first of those who believed in him?”

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