‘Abdullah bin Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) was of the tribe of Banu Huzail. 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 Qurayshi chieftain, Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt. People called him “Ibn Umm Abd” meaning 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 Muhammad, Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) 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.
One day while tending the flocks, ‘Abdullah (radhiyallahu anhu) 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 Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) himself and his companion, Abu Bakr Siddiq (radhiyallahu anhu). They had gone out on that day to the mountains of Makkah to escape the violent persecution of the Quraysh.
The young man in turn was impressed with Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) and his companion and soon became quite attached to them.
It was not long before ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) became a Muslim and offered to be in the service of the Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). He agreed and from that day the fortunate ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) gave up tending sheep in exchange for looking after the needs of Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). He was the sixth man to accept Islam.
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) remained closely attached to Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). 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 shield him when he washed. He would carry his staff and his siwaak (toothbrush) and attend to his other personal needs.
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) received a unique training in the household of Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). He was under the guidance of the Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam), he adopted his manner and followed his every trait until it was said of him, “He was the closest to the Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) in character.”
‘Abdullah was taught in the ‘school” of Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). He was the best reciter of the Qur’aan among the Sahaabah (companions) and he understood it better than them all. He was therefore the most knowledgeable on the Shariah. Nothing can illustrate this better than the story of the man who came to ‘Umar ibn al Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu) as he was standing on the plain of ‘Arafah and said: “I have come, O Amir al Mu’mineen, from Kufa where I left a man filling copies of the Qur’aan 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 (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam), was having a conversation with Abu Bakr about the situation of Muslims. I was with them. When Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) left, we left with him also and as we passed through the masjid, there was a man standing in Prayer whom we did not recognise. Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) stood and listened to him, then turned to us and said, ‘Whoever wants to read the Qur’aan as fresh as when it was revealed, then let him read according to the recitation of Ibn Umm Abd.’
After the Prayer, as ‘Abdullah sat making supplications, Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said, “Ask and it will be given to you. Ask and it will be given to you.” ‘Umar continued: “I said to myself, I shall go to Abdullah ibn Mas’oud straight away and tell him the good news of Rasoolullah’s (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) 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.”
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) attained such a knowledge of the Qur’aan that he would say, “By Him besides Whom there is no god, no verse of the book of Allah has been revealed without my knowing where it was revealed and the circumstances of its revelation. By Allah, 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.”
‘Abdullah was not exaggerating in what he said about himself. Once ‘Umar ibn al Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu) met a caravan on one of his journeys as Khalif (caliph). It was pitch dark and the caravan could not be seen properly. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) ordered someone to hail the caravan. It happened that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) was in it. “From where do you come?” asked ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). “From a deep valley,” came the reply. (The expression used fajj amiq meaning deep valley is a Qur’aanic one). “And where are you going?” asked ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). “To the ancient house,” came the reply. (The expression used al bayt ul atiq meaning ancient house, is a Qur’aanic one.)
“There is a learned person (alim) among them,” said ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) and he commanded someone to ask the person: “Which part of the Qur’aan is the greatest?”
“Allah, 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 Kursiyy (the verse of the Throne). “Which part of the Qur’aan is the most clear on justice?” “Allah commands what is just and fair, and the feeding of relatives…” came the answer. “What it the most comprehensive statement of the Qur’aan?’ “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it” came the reply. “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 Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. He is the Forgiving, the Compassionate.”
Thereupon ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) asked: “Is ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud among you?’
“Yes, by Allah,” the men in the caravan replied.
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) was not only a reciter of the Qur’aan, 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 Sahaabah were together one day in Makkah. They were still few in number, weak and oppressed. They said, “The Quraysh have not yet heard the Qur’aan being recited openly and loudly. Who is the man who could recite it for them?’ “I shall recite it from them,” volunteered ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) . “We are afraid for you,” they said. “We only want someone who has a clan who would protect him from their evil.” “Let me,” ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud insisted, “Allah shall protect me and keep me away from their evil.” He then went out to the masjid until he reached Maqaam Ibraheem (a few meters from the Ka’bah). It was dawn and the Quraysh were sitting around the Ka’bah. ‘Abdullah (radhiyallahu anhu) stopped at the Maqaam and began to recite:
“Bismillah irRahman irRaheem. Ar-Rahman. ‘Allamal Qur’aan. Khalaqal insaan. ‘Allamahul bayaan… (In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful. The Most Merciful (Allah). He has taught the Quran. He has created man and taught him the clear truth…)” – Quran: Surah Rahman 55:1-4
He went on reciting. The Quraysh looked at him intently and some of them asked “What is Ibn Umm ‘Abd saying?” “Woe to him! He is reciting some of what Muhammad brought!” they realised. 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 Allah,” replied ‘Abdullah, “the enemies of Allah 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.”
‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) would refrain from narrating Hadith for fear of mistakes. However when he did narrate a Hadith, he was very particular in what he attributed to Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). He would turn pale and quake in fear whenever he accidentally attributed something to Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam), even though Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) has said, “Whatever Ibn Mas’oud narrates to you, believe him”. Whenever he gave a verdict, he would attribute it to himself, saying that it was his own opinion and that it was from Allah if it was correct and that it was from himself and Satan, if it was incorrect. For this reason, many Fataawa have been attributed to ‘Abdullah (radhiyallahu anhu) instead of Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam).
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radhiyallahu anhu) lived to the time of Khalifah ‘Uthmaan (radhiyallahu anhu). When he was sick and on his death-bed, ‘Uthmaan (radhiyallahu anhu) came to visit him and said: “What is your ailment?” “My sins”, he said. “And what do you desire?” asked ‘Uthmaan (radhiyallahu anhu) “The mercy of my Lord.” “Shall I not give you your stipend which you have refused to take for years now?” Uthmaan (radhiyallahu anhu) asked him. “I have no need of it”. “Let it be for your daughters after you” Uthmaan (radhiyallahu anhu) said. “Do you fear poverty for my children? I have commanded them to read Surah al Waaqi’ah every night for I have heard Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) saying, “Whoever reads al Waaqi’ah every night shall not be afflicted by poverty ever”.
That night in the year 34 A.H, Abdullah passed away, his tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah and with the recitation of the verses of His Book.