Abdullah Ibn Abbas

“The men proceeded to relate three main complaints against Ali. First, that he appointed men to pass judgment in matters pertaining to the religion of God – meaning that Ali had agreed to accept the arbitration of Abu Musa al-Asbari and Amr ibn al-As in the dispute with Muawiyah. Secondly, that he fought and did not take booty nor prisoners of war. Thirdly, that he did not insist on the title of Amir al-Muminin during the arbitration process although the Muslims had pledged allegiance to him and he was their legitimate amir. To them this was obviously a sign of weakness and a sign that Ali was prepared to bring his legitimate position as Amir al-Muminin into disrepute.

In reply, Abdullah asked them that should he cite verses from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet to which they had no objection and which related to their criticisms, would they be prepared to change their position. They replied that they would and Abdullah proceeded: “Regarding your statement that Ali has appointed men to pass judgment in matters pertaining to Allah’s religion, Allah Glorified and Exalted is He, says: ‘O you who believe! Kill not game while in the sacred precincts or in pilgrim garb. If any of you do so intentionally, the compensation is an offering, of a domestic animal equivalent to the one he killed and adjudged by two just men among.” “I adjure you, by God! Is the adjudication by men in matters pertaining to the preservation of their blood and their lives and making peace between them more deserving of attention than adjudication over a rabbit whose value is only a quarter of a dirham?”

Their reply was of course that arbitration was more important in the case of preserving Muslim lives and making peace among them than over the killing of game in the sacred precincts for which Allah sanctioned arbitration by men.

“Have we then finished with this point?” asked Abdullah and their reply was: “Allahumma, naam – O Lord, yes!” Abdullah went on: “As for your statement that Ali fought and did not take prisoners of war as the Prophet did, do you really desire to take your “mother” Aishah as a captive and treat her as fair game in the way that captives are treated? If your answer is “Yes”, then you have fallen into kufr (disbelief). And if you say that she is not your “mother”, you would also have fallen into a state of kufr for Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, has said: ‘The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves and his wives are their mothers (entitled to respect and consideration).’ (The Quran, Surah al-Ahzab, 34:6).

“Choose for yourself what you want,” said Abdullah and then he asked: “Have we then finished with this point?” and this time too their reply was: “Allahumma, naam – O Lord, yes!” Abdullah went on: “As for your statement that Ali has surrendered the title of Amir al-Muminin, (remember) that the Prophet himself, peace and blessings of God be on him, at the time of Hudaybiyyah, demanded that the mushrikin write in the truce which he concluded with them: ‘This is what the Messenger of God has agreed…’ and they retorted: ‘If we believed that you were the Messenger of God we would not have blocked your way to the Kabah nor would we have fought you. Write instead: ‘Muhammad the son of Abdullah.’ The Prophet conceded their demand while saying: ‘By God, I am the Messenger of God even if they reject me.” At this point Abdullah ibn Abbas asked the dissidents: “Have we then finished with this point? and their reply was once again:

“Allahumma, naam – O Lord, yes!”

One of the fruits of this verbal challenge in which Abdullah displayed his intimate knowledge of the Quran and the sirah of the Prophet as well as his remarkable powers of argument and persuasion, was that the majority, about twenty thousand men, returned to the ranks of Ali. About four thousand however remained obdurate. These latter came to be known as Kharijites.

On this and other occasions, the courageous Abdullah showed that he preferred peace above war, and logic against force and violence. However, he was not only known for his courage, his perceptive thought and his vast knowledge. He was also known for his great generosity and hospitality. Some of his contemporaries said of his household: “We have not seen a house which has more food or drink or fruit or knowledge than the house of Ibn Abbas.”

He had a genuine and abiding concern for people. He was thoughtful and caring. He once said: “When I realize the importance of a verse of God’s Book, I would wish that all people should know what I know.

“When I hear of a Muslim ruler who deals equitably and rules justly, I am happy on his account and I pray for him…

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