When he was still a youth, he used to roam the mountain trails of Makkah far away from people, tending the flocks of a Quraysh chieftain, Uqbah ibn Muayt. 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 Masud.
The youth had heard the news of the Prophet 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 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 Prophet (S) himself and his companion, Abu Bakr Siddiq. 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 the Prophet (S) and his companion and soon became quite attached to them.
It was not long before Abdullah ibn Masud became a Muslim and offered to be in the service of the Prophet (S). The Prophet (S) agreed and from that day the fortunate Abdullah ibn Masud gave up tending sheep in exchange for looking after the needs of the Prophet (S). Abdullah ibn Masud remained closely attached to the Prophet (S). 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 siwak (toothbrush) and attend to his other personal needs. Abdullah ibn Masud received a unique training in the household of the Prophet (S). He followed his every trait until it was said of him, "He was the closest to the Prophet (S) in character."
Abdullah was taught in the 'school" of the Prophet. He was the best reciter of the Quran among the companions. He was the most knowledgeable on the Shariah. Umar said: "One night the Messenger of Allah, S, was having a conversation with Abu Bakr about the situation of Muslims. I was with them. When the Prophet (S) left, we left with him also and as we passed through the masjid, there was a man standing in Prayer whom we did not recognize. The Prophet (S) stood and listened to him, then turned to us and said, 'Whoever wants to read the Quran 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, the Prophet, peace be on him, 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 Masud straight away and tell him the good news of the Prophet's (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."
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 Abdullah ibn Masud 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 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?" "Allah. There is none worthy of worship 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?" "Allah commands what it just and fair the feeding of relatives..." came the answer. "What it 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 risk 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 asked: "Is Abdullah ibn Masud among you?' "Yes, by Allah," the men in the caravan replied.
Abdullah ibn Masud 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 from them," volunteered Abdullah ibn Masud . "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 Masud 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 meters from the Kabah). It was dawn and the Quraysh were sitting around the Kabah. Abdullah stopped at the Maqam and began to recite: "Bismillah irRahma nirRahim. Ar-Rahman. Allama-l Quran. Khalaqal insan. Allamahul bayan... (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. The Merciful Allah. 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 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 Masud was also keen to follow the Sunnah of Muhammad, S, and to stay away from bid'ah (innovations in the religion of Islam). Amr ibn Yahya narrated his father told him, "We used to sit at Abdullah Ibn Masud’s house before Fajr prayer. If he exited we would follow him to the musjid. Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari then came to us and asked us, ‘Did Abu Abur-Rahman (Abdullah Ibn Masud) come out yet?’ We said, ‘No’, so he sat with us till he emerged. We all stood up when he exited. He (Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari) said, ‘O Abu Adur-Rahman, I just saw something which I did not recognize, and I did not see, all thanks to Allah, but good.’ He (Ibn Masud) said, ‘What is it?’ He (Abu Musa) said, ‘If you live you will see it. I saw in the musjid people sitting in circles waiting for the prayer. In each circle there is a leader, and they have stones in their hands. He (the leader) would say, ‘Say Takbir (Allahu Akbar) 100 times’, so they say Takbir 100 times. He (the leader) would then say, ‘Say Tahil (La Ilaha Illa Allah) 100 times’, so they say Tahil 100 times. He (the leader) would then say, ‘Say Tasbih (Subhana Allah) 100 times’, so they say Tasbih 100 times. Ibn Masud said, ‘Did you not order them to count their evil deeds, and guarantee them that none of their good deeds will be lost?’ Then he and us left till we reached one of the circles. Then he (Ibn Masud) stood next to the circle and said, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘O Abu Abdur-Rahamn, (these are) stones that we count our Takbir, Tahil, tasbih, and Tah’mid (Alhumdu’lillah).’ Ibn Masud said, ‘Count your evil deeds, for I guarantee that none of your good deeds will be lost. What is the matter with you, O nation of Muhammad? How soon you come to your destruction! The companions (of Muhammad) are still many, these are his clothes still not worn out and his cookware did not break yet. By whom my soul is in His Hands, you are either following a religion better than Muhammad’s or followers of a way of evil.’ They said, ‘By Allah, O Abu Abdur-Rahman, we sought only what is good.’ Ibn Masud said, ‘Many people seek good, but they do not reach it. The Messenger told us some people who read the Qur’an will not have the Qur’an leave their throats (to their hearts). By Allah I do not know if most of you are from them.’’" (Tirmidhi)
Abdullah ibn Masud 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?" "My sins", he replied. "And what do you desire?", Uthman asked. "The mercy of my Lord", replied Ibn Masud. Uthman asked, "Shall I not give you your stipend which you have refused to take for years now?" Ibn Masud replied, "I have no need of it." "Let it be for your daughters after you", Uthman said. Abdullah Ibn Masud asked, "Do you fear poverty for my children? I have commanded them to read Surah al-Waqiah every night for I have heard the Prophet saying, "Whoever reads Al-Waqiah every night shall not be afflicted by poverty ever." That night, Abdullah passed away to the company of his Lord, his tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah and with the recitation of the verses of His Book.
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