The Scholar of This Nation!
Ibn `Abbaas was similar to Ibn Az-Zubair in that both experienced the Prophetic era while still children. The Prophet (PBUH) died before Ibn `Abbaas had reached manhood. He had also been granted, while still very young, all the basic materials of manliness and the principles of life by the Prophet (PBUH), who liked him most, praised him, and taught him pure wisdom.
Due to his firm belief, gentleness, good character, and the richness of his knowledge, he was able to occupy a very high rank among the men around the Prophet (PBUH).
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He was the son of Al-'Abbaas Ibn `Abd Al-Muttalib Ibn Haashim, the Prophet's uncle. His epithet was "The Nation's Scholar". He deserved the title and position due to his vast knowledge, the enlightenment of his mind, and his versatility.
Ibn `Abbaas came to knowledge at a very early age, a knowledge which increased as days went by. That is because the Prophet (PBUH) was always drawing `Abd Allah close to him, patting his shoulders and asking Allah, "O Allah, bless him with the full knowledge of the religion and interpretation of the Holy Qur'aan." The Prophet (PBUH) repeated the same prayer for his cousin `Abd Allah in various situations. In this way `Abd Allah Ibn `Abbaas realized that he had been created to acquire knowledge, and his intellectual capabilities inclined strongly in that direction. Although his age did not exceed 13 when the Prophet (PBUH) died, he had not spent his childhood in vain. He had attended the Prophet's assemblies and learned his words by heart.
When the Prophet (PBUH) died, he was eager to learn from the Companions what he had failed to hear or learn from the Prophet (PBUH) himself.
He turned into a continuous question mark. Whenever he heard that someone had acquired wisdom or learned a hadiith by heart, he hurried to learn it from him. His bright ambitious mind forced him to examine all that came to his ears.
He was not just concerned with gathering information, but with examining it and its sources. He once said about himself, "If I wanted to know something about an issue I would ask 30 Companions."
He drew a picture demonstrating his concern to reach truth and knowledge: When the Prophet (PBUH) died, I said to one of the Ansaar youth, "Let's go to the Prophet's Companions to ask them, as they are still numerous." He said, "O Ibn `Abbaas, how strange you really are! Do you think that people are in need of you while the great Companions are still among them?" The young man dropped the matter, whereas I turned to ask the Prophet's Companions. Whenever I was informed that someone had related a hadiith, would go to him in the afternoon while he was napping. I put my gown as a pillow under my head in front of his door. The wind scattered the dust over me. When he finished his nap and came out and saw me, he said, "O Prophet's cousin, what is it that brought you here? Why didn't you send for me ?" Then I would say, "No, it's you who deserves to be visited." Then I would ask him about the hadiith and learn from him.
In this way our young man went on asking and asking and asking, then examining the answers and discussing them with a curious mind.
Every day his wisdom and knowledge developed until he achieved, while still a youth, the wisdom, patience, and eloquency of the elderly, so much so that the Commander of the Faithful `Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) was eager to consult with him in every great issue. He called him, "The young leader of the elderly". Ibn `Abbaas was once asked, "How could you acquire all that knowledge?" He answered, "By means of a questioning tongue and a reasoning mind." Through his continuously inquiring tongue, his ever- detecting mind, and, moreover, his humility and gentleness, Ibn `Abbaas was to become the nation's scholar.
Sa'd Ibn Abi Waqqaas described him in the following words: I've never seen one with such presence of mind nor more intellectual and milder than Ibn `Abbaas. I've seen `Umar (May Allah be pleased with him), although surrounded by those who attended Badr, inviting him to discuss difficult problems. Whenever lbn `Abbaas spoke out his view point, 'Umar always stuck to it.
`Ubaid Allah Ibn `Utbah once said: I've never seen anyone more knowledgeable in the Prophet's hadiith than Ibn `Abbaas. Neither did I see anyone more knowledgeable during Abu Bakr, `Umar or `Uthmaan's caliphates than him; or more accurate in what he says in terms of jurisprudence or more knowledgeable in terms of poems, the Arabic language, Qur'aanic interpretation or religious matters. He divided his time, each day teaching one subject or another, jurisprudence, Qur'aanic interpretation, invasions, poems, and history, each one a different day. I've never seen a scholar listening to him without submitting himself completely to him, nor asking without being impressed by his vast and rich knowledge.
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Ibn `Abbaas, who was appointed governor of Basra during the caliphate of `Aliy Ibn Abi Taalib (may Allah be pleased with him) was once described by a Muslim in the following words: He stuck to three matters, and gave up three. He dazzled men's hearts whenever he talked. He was a good listener whenever he was spoken to. He chose the easiest of two matters whenever he was opposed. He gave up hypocrisy. He gave up the companionship of wicked people. He gave up all that is excusable.
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His diverse culture and vast, comprehensive knowledge were admirable. He was the skillful, shrewd authority in every field of knowledge: Qur'aanic interpretation, jurisprudence, history, Arabic language and literature. Therefore, he was a recourse for the seeker after truth. People traveled to him in groups from all parts of the Islamic world in order to listen to him and to learn from him.
A Companion who was contemporary with him narrated: I've seen one of Ibn `Abbaas's scholastic assemblies. If the whole tribe of the Quraish would have been proud, it would have been enough for their pride. I've seen people gathering in front of his door until the whole path had become so crowded that no one could enter or exit.
I entered, informing him that a great number of people were sitting in front of his door. He asked me to prepare his water for ablution, which he performed, then sat down and said, "Go out to them and invite those interested in Qur'aanic interpretation."
I went out and let them in. They entered, filling the house. They didn't ask about anything without being answered in a satisfactory manner. Then he said to them, " Don't forget your brethren." They went out to allow others to enter. Then he said, "Go out and invite those interested in jurisprudence."
I went out and let them in. They entered, filling the house. They didn't ask about anything without being satisfactorily answered. Then he said, "Don't forget your brethren." They went out to allow others to enter. Then he said, "Go out and invite those interested in religious duties."
I went out and let them in. They entered, filling the house. They didn't ask about anything without being satisfactorily answered. Then he said, "Don't forget your brethren." They went out to allow others to enter.
Then he said, "Go out and invite those interested in the Arabic language and literature." I went out and let them in. They entered, filling the house. They didn't ask about anything without being satisfactorily answered.
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Ibn Abbaas had not only a sharp memory but an extraordinary one, and extreme brilliance and intelligence. His arguments were as dear, bright, and cheerful as sunlight. He would not let his opponent leave until he was not only convinced but, in addition, completely satisfied and pleased with the magnificence of his logic and brilliance of his speech.
In spite of his rich knowledge and effective argument, he never considered his discussion and conversation a battle of intellects in which he could be proud of his vast knowledge and victory over his opponents. On the contrary he considered it a straightforward path to visualize and realize truth.
For a long time his fair and sharp logic had been a source of alarm to the Khawaarij. Once Imam `Aliy (May Allah be pleased with him) sent him to a large group of the Khawaarij. They had a wonderful discussion, in which he was in control of the talk, arguing in a very admirable way. The following is an extract of that long conversation:
Ibn `Abbaas asked them, `What do you have against `Aliy?"
They said, "We are discontent with three matters. First, he let men judge in Allah's religion, whereas Allah said, ". . surely judging is only for GOD" (6:57).
Second, he is a murderer. However, he didn't take any captives or war booty. If they had been disbelievers, then their wealth would have been permissible, and if they had been Muslims, then their murder would have been prohibited.
Third, during the arbitration, he agreed to give up the title `Commander of the Faithful' in response to his enemies. If he isn't Commander of the Faithful, then he must be Commander of the Disbelievers."
Ibn Abbaas began to refute their claims. "As for letting men judge in Allah's religion, what's wrong with that? Allah said, " O you who believe! Do not kill animals of the hunt while you are on the Pilgrimage, and whoever of you kills it intentionally, he shall make recompense the equal of what he has killed from the cattle, which shall be judged by two just men among you" (5: 95). Tell me, by Allah, is letting men judge in sparing the Muslim blood not worthier than letting them judge in the case of compensating a killed rabbit that is worth a quarter of a dirham?"
Their leaders stammered in speech under the pressure of that sarcastic but decisive logic. Then he continued his talk. "As for your claim that he is a murderer who didn't take prisoners or war booty, did you expect him to take Aa'ishah, the Prophet's wife and Mother of the Faithful, a prisoner and her belongings as booty?" At that moment their faces went blank out of shame and they tried to cover them with their hands.
Ibn `Abbaas went on to the third claim. "As for your claim that he agreed to give up the title `Commander of the Faithful' to give arbitration a chance, let me tell you what the Prophet (PBUH) did on the Day of Hudaibiyah. While he was dictating the agreement between him and the Quraish, he said to the scribe, `Write, This is what the Messenger of Allah agreed upon.' The representative of the Quraish said, `By Allah, if we believed that you were the Messenger of Allah, we wouldn't have hindered you from entering the Sacred House or fought against you.' The Prophet (PBUH) then said, `Then write, This is what Muhammad Ibn `Abd Allah has agreed upon. By Allah, I'm the Messenger of Allah even if you deny that. Write whatever you like."'
The discussion between lbn `Abbaas and the khawaarij went on in such a miraculous, magnificent way. The discussion had hardly ended when some 20,000 of the Khawaarij announced their conviction in what was said and announced the end of their oppositon to Aliy's imamate.
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lbn `Abbaas not only possessed a great fortune of knowledge but also a greater fortune of manners of knowledge and the knowledgeable. He was a great figure in his generosity. He spent his wealth abundantly for the people's sake with the same willingness with which he shared his knowledge. His contemporaries said, We've never seen a house more filled with food, drinks, fruits, and knowledge than Ibn `Abbaas's house."
He possessed a pure soul that never carried any spite. He never tired of wishing all the good for people, those whom he knew and those whom he did not. He said about himself, "Whenever I recited a verse, I wished that all people had acquired the knowledge I've acquired. Whenever I heard about a just ruler ruling fairly, I was filled with delight and prayed for him, although I did not need him! Whenever I heard about rain falling on Muslim land, I was filled with delight although I did not own any livestock grazing on that land."
He was a devoted repenting worshiper, praying at night and often fasting. No one could miss the stream of tears on his cheek. That is because he cried so much whenever he prayed or recited the Qur'aan. Whenever he read a scolding or threatening verse, or the mention of death and resurrection, his wail and laments grew louder and louder.
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In addition, he was honest, brave, and eloquent. He had his own viewpoint and opinions about the dispute between lmam `Aliy and Mu`aawiyah, which proved his capacity for stratagem.
He preferred peace to war, kindness to violence, logic to compulsion.
When Al-Hussain (May Allah be pleased with him) intended to go to Iraq to fight Ziyaad and Yaziid, Ibn `Abbaas did everything he could to prevent him. Afterwards, he was informed about his martyrdom. He felt deep grief and kept indoors.
Whenever a dispute between two Muslims arose, he could always be seen carrying the banner of peace, forgiveness, and tenderness.
It is true that he himself was involved in the battle between `Aliy and Mu'aawiyah when he fought on `Aliy's side. But he did that because, at the beginning, the war represented a necessary eradication of a movement which was causing a terrible split within the Islamic community, threatening the unity of the faith and of the believers.
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As long as he lived he filled the whole world with knowledge and wisdom, spreading among people his scent of piety.
When he reached the age of 71, he was invited to meet Allah. The city of At-Taa'if witnessed a great scene for a believer who had been promised Paradise. While his body settled safely in its grave, the horizon was shaken by the echo of the truthful divine promise: "O soul at peace. Return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter you among My servants. And enter into My Paradise!" (89:27-30).