From a wise young boy to one of the great companions – Lessons from the blessed life of Abdullah ibn Mas’oud
The Prophet (peace be on him) was honoured by the companions who surrounded him. They carried our religion, which is a trust (amanah) for our Ummah.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“The best of generations is my generation, then those that come after them, then those that come after them.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Do not insult my companions. By (Allah) in Whose Hand my soul is, if any one of you spends gold (piled up) like (mount) ‘Uhud, it will not equal a pint of any one of them, nor its half.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
“Oh Allah, Oh Allah! Refrain from using bad language about my Companions! Oh Allah, Oh Allah! Refrain from using bad language about my Companions! Do not make them the target of your attacks after me! Whoever loves them, loves them on account of his love of me; whoever hates them, hates them on account of his hatred of me. He who hurts them, has hurt me, and he who hurts me, has hurt Allah, he who hurts Allah, Allah will punish him”. (Tirmidhi and Ibn Hibban)
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud – from a wise little boy to one of the great companions
Among the first 6 people who accepted Islam was ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud. His biography is very lengthy and very beautiful; everyone should read it. We see from his life the qualities which elevate him from a humble shepherd to one of the greatest men in Islam, in terms of his piety, knowledge and service to our religion.
Trustworthy and eager for knowledge
When he was still a youth, not yet past the age of puberty, he used to roam the mountain trails of Makkah far away from people, tending the flocks of a Quraysh chieftain, Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt. People called him “Ibn Umm Abd” the son of the mother of a slave. His real name was ‘Abdullah and his father’s name was Mas’oud.
The youth had heard the news of the Prophet (peace be on him) who had appeared among his people but he did not attach any importance to it both because of his age and because he was usually far away from Makkan society. It was his custom to leave with the flock of Uqbah early in the morning and not return until nightfall.
He described his first meeting with the Prophet (peace be on him). One day while tending the flocks, ibn Mas’oud saw two men, middle-aged and of dignified bearing, coming towards him from a distance. They were obviously very tired. They were also so thirsty that their lips and throat were quite dry. They came up to him, greeted him and said, “Young man, milk one of these sheep for us that we may quench our thirst and recover our strength.”
“I cannot,” replied the young man. “The sheep are not mine. I am only responsible for looking after them.”
The two men did not argue with him. In fact, although they were so thirsty, they were extremely pleased at the honest reply. The pleasure showed on their faces.
The two men in fact were the blessed Prophet (peace be on him) himself and his companion, Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him). They had gone out on that day to the mountains of Makkah to escape the violent persecution of the Quraysh.
Ibn Mas’oud recounted:
They said, “Do you have any stump on which the stallion has not yet streaked?”
I said: Yes, so I brought her to them, so Abu Bakr held her, and the Messenger of God (peace be on him), put his hand on the udder and he supplicated, so the udder was full (the breast was filled with milk).
Abu Bakr brought him a drenched rock, so he milked in it, then he and Abu Bakr drank, then gave me a drink, then he said to the udder: shrink, then it shrunk (went back as it was).
So later I came to the Messenger of God, (peace be on him) and said: Teach me from this good saying – meaning the Quran – so the Messenger of God (peace be on him) said, “You are a learned boy (may God inspire you with goodness and righteousness).” So I took from him seventy surahs in which no one disputes with me). (Ahmad)
Lessons in his first encounter with the Prophet (peace be on him)
We see in this story that though he was just young boy, Ibn Mas’oud did not let the Prophet (peace be on him) take milk which belonged to his owner, as did not have the permission to do so. He was responsible, honest and very importantly maintained the position of trust he was in, as the caretaker of his master’s sheep. Even before he embraced Islam, he had integrity.
One may ask: how did the prophet peace be upon him ask to drink from the milk which he doesn’t own?
Al-Imam Al-Suhayli answered this question, he said:
“That the Arabs in the pre-Islamic era were in their custom that milk was permitted, and they used to pledge that to their shepherds, and they stipulated that when they contracted their lease that they would not withhold milk from anyone who passed by them”.
But it seems that Uqbah did not allow Ibn Mas’oud to give the milk to anyone.
Keen to learn
We also see ibn Mas’oud asked the Prophet (peace be on him) to teach him from the words that he recited (the Quran ), after which the ewe began to give milk, even though she was unfertilised.
The Prophet (peace be on him) was pleased by his response and taught him the recitation, putting his blessed hand on ibn Mas’oud’s head, saying, “Ya Ghulam: O young man, you are a learned person,” meaning that he was a wise boy and that Allah would teach him.
The young boy was not cocky. Though he had enough strength of character to refuse to give the milk to the grown ups, he did not act as if he already knew everything, rather he was humble and sought knowledge.
Ibn Mas’oud embraced Islam along with his mother Umm Abd, when there were only 5 people before him who had accepted Islam.
He was among the first people who recited in front of the Ka’ba, and had a loud, beautiful voice. This irked the Quryash who were violently antagonistic towards Islam, and would beat him for this.
In the service of the Prophet (peace be on him)
The young man in turn was impressed with the Prophet (peace be on him) and his companion and soon became quite attached to them. It was not long before ibn Mas’oud became a Muslim and offered to be in the service of the Prophet (peace be on him). The Prophet (peace be on him) agreed and from that day the fortunate ibn Mas’oud gave up tending sheep in exchange for looking after the needs of the blessed Prophet.
Ibn Mas’oud remained closely attached to the Prophet. He would attend to his needs both inside and outside the house. He would accompany him on journeys and expeditions. He would wake him when he slept. He would screen him when he washed. He would carry his shoes, his staff and his siwak (toothbrush) and attend to his other personal needs.
In the shadow of the Prophet (peace be on him)
Ibn Mas’ud received a unique training in the household of the Prophet. He was under the guidance of the Prophet, he adopted his manner and followed his every trait until it was said of him, “He was the closest to the Prophet in character.”
From among the people, ibn Umm `Abd (Abdullah ibn Mas’oud) greatly resembled Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) in solemn and good appearance of piety and in calmness and sobriety from the time he goes out of his house till he returns to it. (Bukhari)
Allah granted him beautiful recitation
Ibn Mas’oud was taught in the “school” of the Prophet. He was the best reciter of the Qur’an among the companions. He was blessed to receive many surahs directly from the Prophet (peace be on him). In fact, the Prophet (peace be no him) said that whoever wanted to learn to recite the Quran as it was revealed fresh should recite to Abdullah bin Mas’oud.
`Abdullah bin Mas’oud was mentioned before `Abdullah bin `Amr who said, “That is a man I still love, as I heard the Prophet (peace be on him) saying ‘Learn the recitation of Quran from four: from ‘Abdullah bin Mas’oud (first), Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Mu`adh bin Jabal and Ubai bin Ka`b.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (peace be on him) loved to hear the Quran being recited from the mouth of lbn Mas’oud. He once called on him and said, ‘Recite to me, Abd Allah,’ and ibn Mas’oud humbly replied, ‘How can I recite to you when it was revealed to you?’ The Prophet (peace be on him) said, ‘I like to hear it from others.’ Thereupon lbn Mas’oud started reading part of Surat An-Nisa till he reached the verse: ‘How (will it be) then, when We bring from each nation a witness and We bring you as a witness against those people. On that day those who disbelieved and disobeyed the Messenger will wish that they were buried in the earth, but they will never be able to hide a single fact from Allah’ (4:41-42). Upon hearing this, the Prophet’s eyes flooded with tears and he waved to lbn Mas’oud saying, ‘Enough, enough, lbn Mas’oud.’ (Bukhari)
Allah granted him a deep understanding of the Quran and Islamic law
Moreover, Ibn Mas’oud understood the Quran better than them all. He was therefore the most knowledgeable in Shariah.
The summary of his story is that he became the one of greatest legal scholars in the Ummah (Faqih). The companions would refer to him.
Nothing can illustrate this better than the story of the man who came to Umar ibn al-Khattab as he was standing on the plain of Arafat and said:
“I have come, O Amir al-Mu’mineen, from Kufah where I left a man filling copies of the Qur’an from memory.”
Umar became very angry and paced up and down beside his camel, fuming.
“Who is he?” he asked.
“Abdullah ibn Mas’oud,” replied the man.
Umar’s anger subsided and he regained his composure.
“Woe to you,” he said to the man. “By Allah, I don’t know of any person left who is more qualified in this matter than he is. Let me tell you about this.” Umar continued:
“One night the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was having a conversation with Abu Bakr about the situation of Muslims. I was with them. When the Prophet (peace be on him) left, we left with him also and as we passed through the mosque, there was a man standing in Prayer whom we did not recognise. The Prophet (peace be on him) stood and listened to him, then turned to us and said, ‘Whoever wants to read the Qur’an as fresh as when it was revealed, then let him read according to the recitation of Ibn Umm Abd.’
After the Prayer, as Ibn Mas’oud sat making supplications, the Prophet (peace be on him) said, “Ask and it will be given to you. Ask and it will be given to you.”
Ibn Mas’oud was saying: “O Allah , I ask You for a faith that does not change, of bliss that does not end, and of accompanying Muhammad, in the highest heavens. (Ibn Hibban)
Umar continued: “I said to myself I shall go to ibn Mas’oud straight away and tell him the good news of the Prophet’s ensuring acceptance of his supplications. I went and did so but found that Abu Bakr had gone before me and conveyed the good news to him. By Allah, I have never yet beaten Abu Bakr in the doing of any good.”(Musnad Ahmad)
Ibn Mas’oud attained such a knowledge of the Quran that he would say,
“By Him besides Whom there is no god, no verse of the book of God has been revealed without me knowing where it was revealed and the circumstances of its revelation. By God, if I know there was anyone who knew more of the Book of Allah, I will do whatever is in my power to be with him.” (Muslim)
Ibn Mas’oud was not exaggerating in what he said about himself.
Once Umar ibn al-Khattab met a caravan on one of his journeys as caliph. It was pitch dark and the caravan could not be seen properly. Umar ordered someone to hail the caravan. It happened that ibn Mas’ud was in it.
“From where do you come?” asked Umar.
“From a deep valley,” came the reply. (The expression used fajj amiq deep valley is a Quranic one).
“And where are you going?” asked Umar.
“To the ancient house,” came the reply. (The expression used al-bayt al-atiq the ancient house is a Quranic one.)
“There is a learned person (alim) among them,” said Umar and he commanded someone to ask the person:
“Which part of the Quran is the greatest?”
” ‘God. There is no god except Him, the Living, the Self-subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep,’ ” replied the person answering, quoting the Ayat al-Kursi (the verse of the Throne).
“Which part of the Quran is the most clear on justice?”
” ‘God commands what is just and fair, the feeding of relatives…’ ” came the answer.
“What is the most comprehensive statement of the Quran?” ” ‘Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.’ “
“Which part of the Quran gives rise to the greatest hope?”
” ‘Say, O my servants who have wasted their resources, do not despair of the mercy of God. Indeed, God forgives all sins. He is the Forgiving, the Compassionate.’ “
Thereupon Umar asked: “Is Abdullah ibn Mas’oud among you?”
“Yes, by God,” the men in the caravan replied.
Ibn Mas’oud was not only a reciter of the Quran, a learned man or a fervent worshipper. He was in addition a strong and courageous fighter, one who became deadly serious when the occasion demanded it.
The companions of the Prophet were together one day in Makkah. They were still few in number, weak and oppressed. They said, “The Quraysh have not yet heard the Quran being recited openly and loudly. Who is the man who could recite it for them?”
“I shall recite it for them,” volunteered Abdullah ibn Mas’oud.
“We are afraid for you,” they said. “We only want someone who has a clan who would protect him from their
“Let me,” ibn Mas’oud insisted, “Allah shall protect me and keep me away from their evil.” He then went out to the mosque until he reached Maqam Ibrahim (a few metres from the Kabah). It was dawn and the Quraysh were sitting around the Kabah. Ibn Mas’oud stopped at the Maqam and began to recite:
“‘Bismillahir Rahmani-r Rahim. ArRahman. Allama-l Quran. Khalaqa-l insan. Allamahu-l bayan … (In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. The Merciful s God. He has taught the Quran. He has created man and taught him the clear truth..)'”
He went on reciting. The Quraysh looked at him intently and some of them asked:
“What is Ibn Umm Abd saying?”
“He is reciting some of what Muhammad brought!” they realized.
They went up to him and began beating his face as he continued reciting. When he went back to his companions, the blood was flowing from his face.
“This is what we feared for you,” they said.
“By God,” replied Ibn Mas’oud, “the enemies of God are not more comfortable than I at this moment. If you wish. I shall go out tomorrow and do the same.”
“You have done enough,” they said. “You have made them hear what they dislike.”
Ibn Mas’oud lived to the time of Khalifah Uthman, (may Allah be pleased with him). When he was sick and on his death-bed, Uthman came to visit him and said:
“What is your ailment?”
“And what do you desire?”
“The mercy of my Lord.”
“Shall I not give you your stipend which you have refused to take for years now?”
“I have no need of it.”
“Let it be for your daughters after you.”
“Do you fear poverty for my children? I have commanded them to read Surah Al-Waqi’ah every night for I have heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, ‘Whoever reads Al-Waqi’ah every night shall not be effected by poverty ever.'”
That night, Ibn Mas’oud passed away to the company of his Lord, his tongue moist with the remembrance of God and with the recitation of the verses of His Book.
Remarkably Ibn Mas’oud did not let the fact he was slight prevent him from any acts of bravery. The Prophet (peace be on him) commented that though he appeared light, his worth was immeasurable.
Ibn Mas’oud reported: He was harvesting toothsticks from an Arak tree and he had tiny shins. The wind blew and made him fall over, so people laughed at him. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “What are you laughing at?” They said, “O Prophet of Allah, at his tiny shins.” The Prophet (peace be on him) said, “By the one in whose hand is my soul, they will both be heavier on the Scale than the mountain of Uhud.” (Musnad Ahmad)
The qualities of Ibn Mas’oud are important. Why he was a trusted person even before Islam? He had humility, sincerity and he was always in the companionship of the Prophet (peace be on him) and in his service.
- Keen to learn
- Having the company of the Prophet (peace be on him)
- Being in the service of the Prophet (peace be on him)
We ask Allah to make us among those who are seeking knowledge with ikhlas and serving with sincerity and from those who are humble and doing what pleases Allah. Ameen.
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