Preface: This is only a summary of the life of Abdullah ibn Masud RA
and does not cover all the points of his life story. It is not intended to be a biography, but rather a glimpse of the main incidents of his life so that we can get an idea of his character. For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with him (RA)” each time his name or the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Before the Prophet SAW entered Daar Al-Arqam, lbn Masud had declared his belief in him. He was the sixth one to embrace Islam and follow the Prophet SAW. Thus he was one of the early Muslims.
He narrated his first meeting with the Prophet SAW: I was a young shepherd boy responsible for the sheep of Uqbah lbn Abu Mu’ait. The Prophet SAW once came with Abu Bakr and said, ‘O boy, do you have milk for us to drink?’ and I said, ‘I can’t let you drink their milk.’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘Do you have a virgin sheep that has never mated with a male?’ I said, ‘Yes’ and brought it to them. The Prophet SAW caught it and stroked its udder and prayed to Allah till the udder filled. Abu Bakr brought him a concave rock into which he milked the sheep. Abu Bakr drank the milk, and then after that the Prophet said to the udder, ‘Shrink,’ and it did. I went to the Prophet after this incident and said to him, ‘Teach me this kind of talk.’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘You are already a learned boy.’
Abd Allah lbn Masud was fascinated to see the pious Servant and Messenger of Allah SAW supplicate Allah and stroke a virgin udder till it gave milk, pure and agreeable to those who drank it. lbn Masud did not realize that what he had seen was but the least wonderful miracle and that soon he would see at the hands of that honourable Prophet SAW other miracles that would shake the world and fill it with light and faith. He did not realize either that he himself, the poor, weak, hired shepherd boy working for Uqbah lbn Abu Mu’ait would be one of those miracles when he became, through his Islam, a strong believer capable of defeating the pride of the Quraish and overcoming the oppression of its martyrs.
Before his Islam he never dared to pass by a session attended by any Quraish nobleman except with hastened steps and a bowed head, but after Islam he was capable of going to the Ka’bah, where the elite Quraish congregated and standing among them reading the Qur’an in a loud, beautiful, impressive voice: ‘In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, The Most Beneficent! Has taught the Qur’an. He created man. He taught him eloquent speech. The sun and the moon run on their fixed courses (exactly) calculated with measured out stages for each. And the herbs (or stars) and the trees both prostrate’ (Qur’an 55:1-6).
He went on reciting while the Quraish were thunderstruck, not believing their own eyes or ears. They could not imagine that the one challenging their pride was just one of their hired shepherd boys who was the poor unknown Abd Allah Ibn Masud.
Let us hear an eye witness, Az-Zubair, describe the exciting scene:
Abd Allah Ibn Masud was the first one to recite Qur’an publicly in Mecca after the Prophet SAW. It happened one day that the Prophet’s Companions were gathered with the Prophet SAW. They said, ‘By Allah, the Quraish have never heard the Qur’an being recited to them before. Isn’t there any man to recite it so that they may hear it?’ Thereupon Abd Allah Ibn Masud said, ‘I.’ They said, ‘We are afraid they may harm you. We want a man with a strong family to protect him from those people if they want to harm him.’ He said, ‘Let me go, Allah will protect me.’ Ibn Masud went to the Maqaam at the Ka’bah and recited ‘In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, The Most Beneficent! Has taught the Qur’an…’and he went on reciting. The Quraish gazed at him and said, ‘What does Ibn Umm Abd say? He is reciting some of what Muhammad came with.’ They went to him and began to beat him in the face while he was reciting till he finished whatever Allah wished him to recite from the surah. He returned to his friends with a wounded face and body, and they told him, ‘This is what we were afraid would happen to you.’ He answered them, ‘Those enemies of Allah have never been more worthless to me than this moment, and if you wish I will go back to them and do the same tomorrow.’ They said, ‘No, it is enough for you. You have made them hear what they hated.’
Indeed, when lbn Masud was fascinated by the sheep’s udder which was filled with milk before its time, he did not realize that he and his humble friends would be one of the greater miracles of the Prophet SAW on the day they carried the banner of Allah, with which they outshone the sun. He did not realize that such a day was very near. Soon that day came, and the poor, hired boy became a miracle!
He was hardly seen in the crowd of life and not even seen away from that crowd because he was too humble when compared with those who possessed wealth, power, and social status. Financially, he was poor. Physically, he was feeble, and socially, he was a nobody. But Islam compensated him for his poverty with a large share of the treasures of Khosrau and Caesar. Islam also compensated him for his physical weakness with a strong will that conquered the oppressors and helped to change the whole historical course of events. Again, Islam compensated his humble social status through immortality, knowledge, and honour that gave him an eminent place among the most prominent of historical figures.
The Prophet’s SAW prophecy about him which said, ‘You are a learned boy’ was true. Indeed, Allah endowed him with knowledge till he became the most learned of this Ummah and the best one to know Qur’an by heart. Ibn Masud described himself saying, ‘I in fact took from the mouth of Allah’s Messenger more than seventy surahs of the Qur’an. I have a better understanding of the Book of Allah than any one of you.’
It could be that Allah wanted to reward him for risking his life when he used to recite Qur’an everywhere during the years of torture. So, He the Almighty endowed him with a wonderful talent for reciting and understanding Qur’an to the extent that made the Prophet SAW direct his Companions to follow his example. The Prophet SAW said, ‘Stick to the method of Ibn Umm Abd.’ He recommended that they imitate his way of reciting and learn it from him. The Prophet SAW said, ‘Whoever wants to hear Qur’an as fresh as it was revealed, let him hear it from lbn Umm Abd,’ and said, ‘Whoever wants to read Qur’an as fresh as it was revealed, let him read it in the way Ibn Umm Abd does.’
It was a pleasure for the Prophet SAW to hear Qur’an being recited from the mouth of lbn Masud. The Prophet SAW once called on him and said, ‘Recite to me, Abd Allah,’ and Abd Allah said, ‘How can I recite to you when it was revealed to you?’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘I like to hear it from others.’ Thereupon lbn Masud 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’ (Qur’an 4:41-42). Upon hearing this, the Prophet’s eyes flooded with tears and he waved to lbn Masud saying, ‘Enough, enough, lbn Masud.’
Ibn Masud himself talked proudly about Allah’s bounty upon him. ‘By Allah, there is no surah in the Book of Allah about which I do not know where and in what context it was revealed. I have a better understanding of the Book of Allah than you do, and if I were to know that someone had a better understanding than I and I could reach him on the back of a mule, I would definitely go to him on a camel’s back, but I am not better than you are.’
The Prophet’s Companions witnessed this for him. The Commander of the Faithful Umar lbn Al-Khattab said about him, ‘He was filled with knowledge.’ Also Abu Musa Al-Ash’ariy said about him, ‘Don’t ask me about any matter as long as you have this scholar among you.’ He was not only praised for his knowledge of Qur’an and jurisprudence, but also for his piety and God consciousness. Hudhaifah said about him, ‘I have never seen anyone more like the Prophet SAW in his way of life and characteristics than Ibn Masud.’ He also said, ‘The lucky Companions of the Prophet SAW realized that Ibn Umm Abd is the nearest one of them to Allah.’
One day a number of Companions were gathered at the house of Ali lbn Abi Talib and said to him, ‘O Commander of the Faithful, we have never seen a man who is more virtuous, more learned, more companionable, friendly, and God-fearing than Abd Allah Ibn Masud.’ Ali said, ‘I beg you by Allah, is this true from your hearts?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ ‘li said, ‘O Allah, I testify in front of You that I say about him like what they said and more. He read the Qur’an and did what is lawful in it and avoided what is forbidden. He was knowledgeable in religion and scholarly in Sunnah.’
The Prophet’s Companions said about him, ‘He was admitted to the company of the Prophet SAW, whereas we were detained, and he was present in his company, whereas we were absent.’ This means he used to have more privileges than the others. He used to enter the Prophet’s house and sit with him more than anybody else. He was the one the Prophet SAW entrusted with his secrets to the extent that he was entitled ‘The Secretary.’
Abu Musa Al-Ash’ariy (May Allah be pleased with him) said in this context, ‘I came to Allah’s Messenger SAW and thought that lbn Masud was among the members of his family.’ This means that the Prophet SAW loved him dearly for his piety and intelligence. He said about him, ‘If I were to appoint a commander without consulting the Muslims, I would have appointed lbn Umm Abd,’ and as mentioned before, the Prophet SAW asked his Companions to ‘Stick to the method of lbn Umm Abd.’
He was so near to the Prophet SAW and so trusted by him that he was given more privileges than anyone else was given. The Prophet SAW told him, ‘My permission to you is that you may raise the curtains.’ This indicates his being allowed to knock at the Prophet’s door at any time during the day or night. This is why the Companions said, ‘He was admitted to the company of the Prophet SAW, whereas we were detained, and he was present in his company, whereas we were absent.’
He was really up to this standard. Although such a close relationship could have created some sort of intimacy, Ibn Masud’s attitude towards the Prophet SAW was always one of respect and politeness. This was even after the Prophet’s death. Although he seldom mentioned the Prophet SAW after his death, in most cases when he did mention him, he began to tremble and shake, and all the signs of worry and perplexity appeared on him. This occurred whenever his lips began to murmur, ‘I heard the Prophet SAW say lest he should forget or change one single letter of what was said.
Amr Ibn Maimun reported, ‘I was frequently visited by lbn Masud for about a year, during which time I did not hear him speak about the Prophet SAW. But one day he was talking and he uttered, ‘The Prophet SAW said…’ At this moment he was badly troubled and started to sweat and corrected himself, ‘The Prophet SAW said something like that.’
Alqamah Ibn Qais reported, ‘lbn Masud used to speak to people every Thursday night. I never heard him saying, ‘The Prophet SAW said,’ but he once said it and he was leaning on a stick that started to shake in his hand.’
Thus the veneration of the Prophet SAW in his heart was that great, and this was a sign of his intelligence. Such a man, who accompanied the Prophet SAW more than anybody else, was the best to realize how great the Prophet SAW was. Therefore, he maintained the same manner concerning him during his life and after his death.
lbn Masud never missed the company of the Prophet SAW either while traveling or at home. He participated in all the battles, and on the Day of Badr his role was significant, especially with Abu Jahl. The Prophet’s SAW caliphs, were also fully aware of his proper value. The Commander of the Faithful Umar lbn Al-Khattab appointed him as director of the treasury (Bait Al-Maal) in Kufa and he said to the people there, ‘By Allah, there is no god but He. You know that I have given you a preference over myself when I sent him to you to learn from him.’
The people of Kufa liked him as they never liked anyone before him. It was a real miracle that the whole people of Kufa agreed on liking somebody because they were known to be a people of rebellion and mutiny. They hardly agreed on one kind of food, and they did not tolerate peace and tranquillity. Their love for him was so great that when the Caliph Uthman wanted to discharge him of his office, they surrounded him and said, ‘Stay with us and don’t go. We will protect you against anything that you don’t like.’ But lbn Masud gave them an answer that really reflected his greatness and piety. He said, ‘He has the right of obedience on me. There will be turbulence coming and I hate to be the first to open the door to it.’
This wonderful situation discloses to us the nature of the relationship between Ibn Masud and Uthman. They had an argument and a disagreement between them which ended with the caliph cutting Ibn Masud’s salary from the Bait Al-Maal. In return, lbn Masud never spoke ill of the caliph. On the contrary, he used to defend him. When he heard about the attempted assassinations on Uthman, he said his famous words, ‘If they kill him they will not find anyone like him to succeed.’ Some of lbn Masud’s friends said, ‘We never heard him uttering a bad word about Uthman.’ Allah endowed lbn Aas’uud with wisdom along with his piety.
He had an insight that enabled him to see facts beyond the surface, and the capability to express such facts in an intelligent style. For example, he summarized the life of Umar lbn Al-Khattab in one concise sentence: ‘Umar’s Islam was an opening, his Hijrah was a victory, and his rule was a mercy.’
He once expressed the idea of the relativity of time saying, ‘Your Lord does not have day or night because the light of the earth and the skies is but from the light of His face.’
In another context he praised the value of work in raising the social standard of man: ‘I hate a man living in leisure with nothing to do, either for his worldly life or the life to come. The next is a comprehensive phrase: ‘The best wealth is the wealth of the soul. The best provision is right conduct. The most major of sins is lying, the most evil earning is usury, and the most evil of what can be eaten is eating up the property of orphans. Whoever excuses others, will be excused by Allah, and whoever forgives others will be forgiven by others.’
That was Abd Allah lbn Masud, the Prophet’s SAW Companion, and that is but one glimpse of the heroic life he lived in the way of Allah, His Prophet and His religion. That was the man who had been as small as a bird. He was so thin and short that he was the same height as a sitting person. He had very thin legs. He once climbed a tree to pick some arak sticks for the Prophet SAW, and when the Companions saw how thin his legs were they laughed. The Prophet SAW said, ‘Are you laughing at Ibn Masud’s legs? On Allah’s scales of justice they are heavier than the mountain of Uhud.’ Indeed that was the poor, weak hired boy who became by faith an Imam guiding people to the light.
It was Allah’s bounty on him that he was counted among the first ten Companions of the Prophet SAW who were promised to enter Paradise while they were still alive. He participated in all the victorious wars with the Prophet SAW and his caliphs. He witnessed how the two greatest empires opened their gates in submission to the banners of Islam. He saw the high positions and lucrative money pouring into the hands of the Muslims, but his mind was never obsessed by such matters. Instead, he was pre-occupied with how to fulfil the pledge he offered to the Prophet SAW, and he was also never tempted to give up the life of humbleness and self- denial that he used to lead. He had only one wish that he dreamed all his life might come true.
Let us hear him speaking about it: While I was with the Prophet SAW at the Battle of Tabuk, I woke up at midnight to see a flame of fire near the place of the army. I followed it and found the Prophet SAW, Abu Bakr and Umar digging a grave to bury Abd Allah Dhul Bijaadain Al-Muzaniy who died at the time. The Prophet SAW was in the grave and asked Abu Bakr and Umar, ‘hand your brother to me,’ and they did. After he put his body in the grave he said, ‘O Allah, in this night I am fully satisfied and pleased with him. So be you pleased with him.’ I wished I was the one being buried in that hole.
This was his sole wish in his life. It was not related to what people were racing at in this life, such as wealth, social status or glory. It was the wish of a man who possessed a kind heart, a noble soul, and a strong faith. Such a man was guided by Allah, educated by the Prophet SAW, and enlightened by Qur’an.
Source: Khalid, Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, Islamic Book Service, 2004