First Muslim Scholar: Ibn Abbas

Masjid Nabawi di MAdinah © Ayman Zaid | Dreamstime.com

At the same time as the Messenger of Allah began having companions, people who affirmed the true faith by deeds, the first scholars also appeared, people who interpreted the laws of Allah, the surahs of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet, wrote them down in the form of instructions for posterity and taught Muslims the correct understanding of Islam. The first such scholar, who by the nature of his activities may well be comparable to a modern university professor, was the Prophet’s cousin and associate, Ibn Abbas.

Abdullah ibn Abbas was born in Mecca in 619, the son of a wealthy merchant. His mother was a friend of the Prophet’s wife Khadija and was proud to be the second woman to convert to Islam, and his father was the Prophet’s brother. When he was born, his mother, before he started suckling, brought him to the Prophet. Since then, little Ibn Abbas and the Messenger of Allah became true friends. The boy brought water to the Prophet for ablution, prayed with him and traveled. He caught and memorized every word that came from the mouth of the Prophet. And the Prophet prayed to Allah to enlighten Ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas himself spoke about it this way: “Once the Prophet embraced me and said,‘ O Allah! Bestow on him the knowledge of the Book ’”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 75).

When the Prophet became completely weak in 621, Ibn Abbas, 12 years old, was at his bedside and wrote down the last hadith from his mouth. The Prophet could already walk with difficulty, and Ibn Abbas, along with another cousin of the Prophet, the future Fourth Rightly Guided Caliph Ali, who was then already 30 years old, carried him on their shoulders.

After the death of the Prophet, Ibn Abbas supported all the Rightly Guided Caliphs and participated in their military campaigns. At the same time, his soul strove for scientific pursuits. He had already managed to demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge being extremely well versed in the Quran, in the Sunnah of the Prophet, in fiqh. He, a young man, was given seat in the meetings of the caliphs and the well-respected people. His opinion was valued to such an extent that he was allowed to issue fatwas.

Ibn Abbas was the first to start collecting hadith. In order to verify the authenticity of this or that hadith, he would canvass 30 of the Prophet’s companions. The volume of his knowledge grew steadily. For this he received the nickname Hibr al-Umma (The Learned Man of the Umma), something akin to us saying Professor Ibn Abbas, PhD.

Ibn Abbas had many disciples. In his home, he established the first Muslim university. Each day was devoted to teaching one discipline. The curriculum included tafsir (interpretation of the Quran), fiqh (law), the distinction between halal and haram, ghazawat (military science), poetry, history of the Arabs before Islam and the campaigns of the Prophet, mirath (laws of inheritance) and Arabic.

Ibn Abbas enjoyed indisputable authority as an expert on the law. Caliph Umar appointed him his official advisor. Ibn Abbas quickly grasped the problem and offered solutions that even the most respected members of the Caliph’s council could not find.

Having become the caliph, the cousin and friend of Ibn Abbas Ali appointed him governor of Basra. Ibn Abbas stood firmly on the side of Ali during the First Fitnah, and after the accession of the Umayyads called the parties to peace. Ibn Abbas believed that a peaceful solution is the best solution to any conflict. A wise person will not conflict, he believed; a wise person will seek a compromise.

The legacy of Ibn Abbas was a huge number of authentic hadith, which came from him as the first narrator. His scientific conclusions formed the basis of many philosophical concepts and fatwas, for

example, today, starting with the Cairo edition of 1924, the chronology of the surahs of the Quran is accepted by most scholars according to Ibn Abbas. And finally, his great-grandchildren became the first caliphs from the Abbasid dynasty.