Ibn Abbas: The Interpreter of the Qur’an
ABDULLAH Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) was born four or five years before the Hijrah. He had a keen intelligence and memory and was an inspired man. Allah s Messenger (peace be upon him) prayed for him, O Allah, make him perceptive and well-versed in the religion and teach him the interpretation of the Quran. In his life, he came to be called The Great Scholar of the Ummah or The Sea, meaning one very profound in knowledge or the interpreter of the Quran.
He was a very handsome, tall man endowed with great fluency of speech. His memory was such that he memorized, at one reading, a poem 80 couplets long by `Amr ibn Rabi`ah. Besides his profound knowledge of Quranic interpretation, tradition, and jurisprudence, he was also well versed in literature, particularly in the poetry of the pre-Islamic Age of Ignorance. Ibn Jarir At-Tabari relates, in his Tafseer, either a couplet or verse from him in connection with the interpretation of almost each verse of the Quran.
He was greatly loved by the Companions. Despite his youth, `Umar (Allah be pleased with him) included him in his Advisory Council, the other members of which were chosen from the elders among the Companions. When asked why he had included that young man in the council, `Umar (Allah be pleased with him) tested the council about their level of understanding of the Quran. He asked them about the meaning of Surat An-Nasr: (110, 1-3)
When there comes the Help of Allah (to you O Muhammad – peace be upon him – against your enemies, and the Conquest (of Makkah). And you see that the people enter Allah s religion (Islam) in crowds. So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness. He is the One Who accepts the repentance and Who forgives.
The elders answered, It orders the Prophet (peace be upon him) to praise Allah and seek His forgiveness when he sees people entering Islam in throngs after the help of Allah and victory came. `Umar (Allah be pleased with him) did not like this and put the same question to Ibn Abbas: What does this surah mean? Ibn Abbas replied, This Surah implies that the death of Allah s Messenger is near. Because, when people enter Islam in throngs, it means that the mission of Messengership has terminated. Umar (Allah be pleased with him) turned to the council and explained, That is why I include him among you.
Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) was very famous for his deep insight, profound learning, keen memory, high intelligence, and perceptiveness. Besides, he was very modest. When he entered a place where people gathered, people would stand up in respect for him, but this made him uncomfortable and he said to them, I beg you, for the sake of the help and shelter (you gave to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Emigrants), do not stand up for me!
Although he himself was one of the most knowledgeable among the Ummah, Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) showed great respect to scholars. For example, he helped Zayd Ibn Thabit mount his horse by holding the stirrup steady and explained, We have been ordered to behave like this toward our scholars. In return, Zayd Ibn Thabit kissed his hand without approval and remarked: We have been ordered to behave like this toward the relatives of Allah s Messenger.
Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) raised many scholars in every branch of religious knowledge. The School of Makkah, in jurisprudence, was founded by him. Leading scholars of the generation following the Companions, such as Said Ibn Jubayr, Mujahid Ibn Jabr and Ikrimah acknowledged that Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) taught us whatever we know.
The number of the Traditions narrated by Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) is about 1,600.