The Fountain of Knowledge and Wisdom: Abdullah ibn Masud

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When the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) passed away, the respected Abdullah ibn Masud, may God be pleased with him, was 41 years old. He was physically short, slender, and graceful.1 One day, the Messenger of God asked him to climb a tree and gather fruits. During this, some people who noticed the thinness of his legs burst into laughter. Upon this, the Messenger of God said, “Why are you laughing? On the Day of Judgment, Abdullah’s single leg will be heavier on the scale than Mount Uhud!”2 This was, in fact, an indirect indication of the acceptability of the services he had rendered and would render in the eyes of God. Abdullah ibn Masud, with his dark complexion, retained the vigor of his youth despite advancing in age. 3

His unparalleled legacy was at the summit of knowledge. Indeed, as explained in the first article, the Messenger of God recognized the potential in him, kept him close, nurtured him, and ensured his deepening in all aspects of Qur’anic Sciences, Jurisprudence (Fiqh), and Hadith/Sunnah. Masruk, one of the scholars of the Tabi’in (the Successors) generation, drew attention to the depth within him in the following way: “I had companionship with many of the Companions of the Messenger of God. I witnessed that knowledge was concentrated in six individuals: Umar, Ali, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Muadh ibn Jabal, Abu’d-Darda, and Zaid ibn Thabit. I sat and associated with all of them, and their knowledge was concentrated in Ali and Abdullah.” When the respected Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, one of the prominent Companions, was asked: “He used to respond, ‘As long as this scholar (Ibn Mas’ud) is among you, do not ask me anything.”4

The Defense of Medina

The Companions were combining knowledge and action. On the one hand, they were acquiring knowledge and teaching; on the other hand, whenever the need arose, they were heading to the battlefield. Abdullah ibn Masud took part in all the expeditions during the time of our Prophet. During the “Ridda Wars” that occurred in the era of the respected Abu Bakr, he undertook responsibilities for the security of Medina. However, the respected Abu Bakr predominantly employed him in addressing emerging questions and problems, ensuring that they were answered and resolved in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, who began issuing religious verdicts (fatwas) during the lifetime of the Messenger of God, was not only educating students but also enlightening the community on these matters.

Abdullah ibn Masud: A Treasury Full of Knowledge and Jurisprudence

During the era of the respected Umar, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud participated in the campaigns to Syria, taking on high-level responsibilities. In the newly conquered regions, he exerted great efforts for the proper understanding and spread of Islam. On one hand, he was serving as a judge, and on the other hand, he was engaged in Qur’anic and Jurisprudential education through the study circles he established. However, the respected Umar had different projects. When the intersection point of three regions (Arabian Peninsula, the region of Syria, and the geography of Iran), known as Iraq, was conquered, he had a new city established there: Kufa. He aimed to use it as a center for knowledge and civilization, contributing to the spread of Islam to neighboring areas. After the city was established and the tribes were settled, he summoned Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, who was continuing his activities in Hims and referred to as the ‘treasury full of knowledge and jurisprudence,’ to Medina.5

The respected Umar was well aware of how carefully the Messenger of God had nurtured him. Therefore, he held him in high regard and appreciated his value. He wanted to assign the task of turning the newly established city of Kufa into a center of knowledge and civilization to their shoulders. He appointed the respected Ammar as the governor and Abdullah ibn Mas’ud as both the judge, teacher, and the person in charge of the treasury for Kufa.6 “In the letter addressed to the public, he was saying: ‘I am sending Ammar as the governor to you and Abdullah ibn Mas’ud as both the teacher and vizier. They are among the prominent Companions. Listen to them and obey their commands. By sending you Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, I have preferred you over myself.” 7 Behind this statement of the respected Umar, there was the truth that Masruk drew attention to:

“I sat and conversed with the Companions of the Messenger of God. I observed that they were truly profound, like oceans. Among them, there were those who possessed a breadth of knowledge enough to satisfy the intellectual hunger of an individual. Some of them had knowledge enough to enlighten two people, some ten, some a hundred, and even some had knowledge broad enough to revive the entire humanity. Indeed, Ibn Mas’ud was one of them.”8 Top of Form

The Kufa School that he laid the foundation of

Abdullah Ibn Masud, may God be pleased with him, was conscious of the responsibility he undertook. While fulfilling the tasks assigned to him with utmost diligence, he also conveyed his knowledge derived from the Messenger of God and the Qur’an to others in the most effective and lasting ways. Due to his profound understanding of the sources of Islam, he quickly became a destination for everyone and transformed the city into a center of knowledge. During this process, the seeds he sowed in the fields of Qur’anic Sciences, Jurisprudence, Hadith, and Arabic Grammar soon bore fruit, laying the foundation for academic institutions known in the history of knowledge as the ‘Kufa School of Exegesis, Jurisprudence, and Language.” With the knowledge and perspective they acquired from him, his students opened up a new path based fundamentally on reasoning and independent judgment. Abu Hanifa and the Hanafi School were just one of the fruits of the intellectual and academic endeavors he initiated…

While Hz. Umar replaced other officials over time, he kept Ibn Mas’ud in his position, providing him with the opportunity to train a considerable number of scholars, reaching up to four thousand. Among his numerous students, including jurists, exegetes, reciters, and traditionists, were prominent figures such as Alqama ibn Qays, Hasan al-Basri, Qatada, Abu Abdurrahman al-Sulami, Abu Amr al-Shaybani, Aswad ibn Yazid al-Nakhai, Abid al-Salmani, Shurayh ibn Harith, Masruk ibn Ajda, Amr ibn Shurahbil, Harith ibn Qays, Suleiman ibn Rabia, Zayd ibn Suhayn, Suwayd ibn Gafala, Abdurrahman ibn Yazid, Rabi ibn Khuthaym, Abdullah ibn Utba ibn Mas’ud, and many more. In addition to his students, Ibn Mas’ud, who carried around 848 illuminated sayings of our Prophet (peace be upon him) into the future, had around 140 narrators who transmitted hadiths from him.

abdullah ibn masud man sitting with book in hand

Some Pieces of Advice from Abdullah ibn Mas’ud

In the development of his students, alongside the lessons he delivered, the following pieces of advice played a significant role in encouraging them to pursue knowledge and research, as well as motivating and emboldening them in reaching judgments:

Do not hesitate to engage in independent reasoning!

“If someone asks you a question and requests a judgment from you, judge according to the Book of God. If the answer to the question is not found in the Qur’an, then judge according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of God. If the matter is not addressed in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, then seek the opinions of righteous scholars. If the solution is still not found in any of these sources, then make a judgment based on your own independent reasoning; do not hesitate to do so…” 9

Be fountains of knowledge!

“Be fountains of knowledge! Transform into lamps of guidance! Let your specific homes/educational institutions exist; radiate light around you like lanterns. Your clothes may be old; that’s not important at all. What matters is that your hearts are fresh and renewed every day. Even if the people on earth do not recognize or appreciate you, your worth is well-known and surely appreciated by the people of the heavens.”10

Partake from the table of God!

“Engage with the Qur’an! Because the Qur’an is like the table of God. Let everyone seek their share from that table, for a house deprived of goodness is a house without any portion from the Book of God. A home without a share from the Book of God is like an unconstructed ruin. Satan cannot stay in a house where Surah Al-Baqara is recited; he flees away.”11

When the respected Ali became the Caliph and moved the caliphate center from Medina to Kufa, upon witnessing the level of knowledge, wisdom, and civilization the city had attained, he said, ‘May God treat Ibn Mas’ud with His mercy. He has filled this city with knowledge! The scholars he has nurtured became the lanterns of this city!’ He both appreciated his services and expressed the joy he felt.”12 One of the secrets behind Ibn Mas’ud’s success is the presence of numerous Companions in the city who were the yeast for the community and represented the values he preached. The relocation of the respected Ali to Kufa further enriched and blessed this foundation that he had created.

Fostering the Love for Knowledge, Increasing the Eagerness

He quickly established rapport with people and endeared those around him. 13 In order not to bore those present in his gatherings, he wouldn’t prolong his words or conversations excessively; he would keep his lessons at the right measure, thereby increasing people’s eagerness to listen. This was also a distinct quality he acquired from the Messenger of God, who said: “The only reason I do not engage in lengthy conversations with you is simply my desire not to bore you. For, the Messenger of God used to have organized and planned conversations with us to ensure that no weariness would arise among us.”14 When appearing before the community and his students, he would wear immaculate white clothes, apply pleasant fragrances, and take care of his hair.15 Resembling the Messenger of God in demeanor, actions, and character, Ibn Mas’ud represented him in the most beautiful way on every occasion.

Some of His Warnings and Admonitions

He would, from time to time, offer warnings and admonitions to the people he interacted with, inviting them to be cautious. One day, he said, ‘When the small are considered great, and the great are deemed aged and ineffective, what will be your condition? When the time comes for the abandonment of the Sunnah and the adoption of innovations, and when the mention of the authentic Sunnah is met with rejection, what will be your state… “When asked, ‘When will these things you mention happen?’ he replied, ‘When trustworthy individuals decrease, incompetent leaders increase, knowledgeable scholars who act upon their knowledge diminish, and those who only recite/memorize the Qur’an increase. It will happen when the teachings of religion are imparted for purposes other than serving the faith.’”16 At another time, he issued a warning, saying, ‘None of you should be a ‘tufayli!’ When asked about the identity of a ‘tufayli’ person, he responded, ‘Tufayli is someone who says, ‘I am with the people. If they are on the right path, I am also on the right path. But if they go astray, then I too have gone astray.’ Listen carefully, strengthen your faith in such a way that even if everyone else disbelieves, you can stand firm.”17

Sensitivity to Avoid Being a Cause of Discord

During his stay in Kufa, Ibn Mas’ud won the hearts of the people with his human relations and good manners. After the martyrdom of the respected Umar, he returned to Medina. The respected Uthman, upon becoming the Caliph, asked him to continue his responsibilities related to the treasury, prompting him to return to Kufa for a while to fulfill that duty. However, he was very concerned about falling into or causing discord, and he was extremely careful in his actions. Indeed, when disagreements arose between him and Walid ibn Uqba, who was appointed as the governor of Kufa, over the failure to repay a debt from the treasury on time, he decided that his presence there might lead to discord. To dispel the negative atmosphere, he chose to return to Medina. According to him, ‘Division is evil!’

His Passing Away

At the age of 60, Ibn Mas’ud left Kufa and returned to Medina, spending the remaining three years of his life there. Throughout his life, his sole desire was to attain the pleasure of God. During the journey to Tabuk, a Companion named Abdullah Dhulbijadayn passed away. Descending to bury him, the Messenger of God prayed, ‘O God! I am pleased with him as I leave this evening. May You also be pleased with him.’ Ibn Mas’ud, who was present there, expressed, ‘I wish I were the one entering that grave at this moment.’ He articulated his longing for both Divine and Prophetic approval.

Despite living a righteous and blessed life on the straight path, he expressed the concern about the accountability, saying, ‘After death, I would very much desire not to be resurrected.’ 18 He conveyed that he was not ready for the reckoning. He passed away at the age of 63 in the 32nd year of Hijra, attaining the proximity of the Messenger of God with whom he had lived for many years.19 “One night, Ibn Mas’ud prayed with deep humility and then began to supplicate. Witnessing the scene, the Messenger of God said, ‘Ask, and you will be given!’ Unaware of this, Ibn Mas’ud had prayed, ‘O God! I ask from You an unwavering faith that never inclines towards disbelief, endless blessings, and the privilege of being a neighbor to the Most Beloved in the highest rank of paradise.”20

He was escorted to the beyond by the respected Zubayr ibn Awwam, whom the Messenger of God had declared as his brother forty years earlier. 21 He was laid to rest in Jannat al-Baqi, next to Uthman ibn Maz’un. 22

In summary, the respected Abdullah ibn Masud, whom Abu Jahl disdainfully referred to as the ‘shepherd of the sheep,’ emerged as one of the most significant scholars in the history of Islamic knowledge. He was nurtured by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and his intellectual contributions opened new horizons in Islamic scholarly tradition, making him a crucial reference for subsequent exegetes and mujtahids.

Author: Yücel Men

He completed his undergraduate studies in theology in 2003 and finished his master’s degree in 2012. In the academic year 2015-2016, he taught as a visiting lecturer at a private university.

Footnotes:

  1. Hakim, Mustadrak 3/353, 354; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/115, 116
  2. Hakim, Mustadrak 3/358; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/115
  3. See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/117
  4. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/269; Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/60
  5. See Hakim, Mustadrak 3/360; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/270; 3/115; Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/60
  6. See Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/53, 54
  7. Hakim, Mustadrak 3/356; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/116. On their way to Badr, the respected Ammar and the respected Ibn Mas’ud took turns riding the same camel.
  8. Abu Haysama, al-Ilm 59; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/269
  9. Nasa’i, Adabu’l-Qudat 11 (5397, 5398)
  10. Abu Nuaym, Hilya 1/77
  11. Abu Nuaym, Hilya 1/130
  12. Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/54
  13. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/114
  14. See Bukhari, Ilm 12; Hakim, Mustadrak 3/356; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/116
  15. See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/117
  16. Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman 5/361 (6951)
  17. Abu Nuaym, Hilya 1/136
  18. See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/117
  19. See Hakim, Mustadrak 3/353; Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/190, 194
  20. Hakim, Mustadrak 3/358
  21. See Hakim, Mustadrak 3/355; Ibn Asakir, Tarikh 33/53
  22. See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/118
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