Abdullah ibn Masud

Abdullah ibn Masud
عبدالله بن مسعود

Abdullah ibn Masud reciting the Qur'an at the Ka'aba before members of the tribe of Quraish; miniature from the Siyer-i Nebi
Disciple of Muhammad, historian
Born c.594
Died c.653
Venerated in Islam
Influences Muhammad
Influenced Future commentators and traditionalists

ʿAbdallāh ibn Masʿūd (Arabic: عبدالله بن مسعود; c.594-c.653) was a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was also known by the kunya Abu Abdulrahman.[1]:289


He was born in Mecca c.594,[2]:121 the son of Masud ibn Ghafil and Umm Abd bint Abdwadd, who were both from the Tamim tribe,[2]:114 apparently slaves,[3]:16 and certainly of low social status. However, Umm Abd's mother, Hind bint Al-Harith, was from the Zuhra clan of the Quraysh, and Masud made an alliance with her brother.[2]:114

Abdullah had a brother, Utba.[4]:147

He had at least two wives in Muhammad's lifetime. One was Rayta bint Abdullah, a craftswoman, who supported Abdullah and their child through her handcrafts. The other was Zaynab bint Abdullah from the Thaqif tribe,[5]:202 and they had several daughters. He specified in his will that none of them should be married off without her own knowledge.[2]:121 He also had a son, Abdulrahman.[1]:289

Abdullah is described as a thin, short man with very dark skin and smooth hair reaching to his shoulders.[2]:120 He wore white clothes and he could be recognised in the dark by his distinctive, high-quality perfume.[2]:119,120 In personality he was sociable and willing to speak out to put people at ease. In character and goals, he was said to be the person "most like Muhammad".[2]:117

Conversion to Islam

He was an early convert to Islam, certainly before 616.[2]:115 He appears nineteenth on Ibn Ishaq's list of people who were converted by Abu Bakr.[4]:116

As a youth, he worked as a shepherd for Uqba ibn Abu Mu'ayt.[2]:114 He first met Muhammad and Abu Bakr while watching his flocks, when they were "fleeing from the idolators." They asked him for milk, but Abdullah said he could not steal from his employer. As he claimed, Muhammad then asked for an unmated ewe and stroked its udder, whereupon milk poured out. Abdullah immediately asked to be taught "some of these words," and Muhammad began to teach him the Qur'an. Abdullah later said that he learned 70 suras directly from Muhammad's mouth.[2]:114–115

Later his mother[5]:201 and brother[4]:147 also became Muslims.

Around 614 the Quraysh decided to suppress Islam by harassing the Muslims of low social status.[4]:143 Abdullah, as a foreigner whose allies had withdrawn their protection, was vulnerable to this persecution. Abu Jahl once "clawed at him and punched him."[4]:304

The Muslims remarked one day that the Quraysh had never heard the Qur'an being recited clearly and that someone needed to make them listen to it. Abdullah volunteered. His friends reminded him that he had no protector and therefore the crowds might attack him, but Abdullah replied, "Allah will protect me." He stood in front of the Kaaba and began to recite the Qur'an. When the Quraysh realised that he was reciting Muhammad's teaching, they began to hit his face, but he continued to recite. He returned to the Muslims with the bruises on his face, saying, "I have never despised Allah's enemies more than I do now, and if you like I will go and do the same thing tomorrow." The Muslims told him that he had already done enough, "for you have made them listen to what they don't want to hear."[4]:141–142

Abdullah and his brother Utba were among those who emigrated to Abyssinia in 616.[2]:115[4]:147 Abdullah returned to Mecca in 619 with Abdulrahman ibn Awf.[4]:168

Emigration to Medina

When the Muslims emigrated to Medina in 622, Abdullah lodged with Muadh ibn Jabal or Saad ibn Khaythama. One tradition states that Muhammad made a pact of brotherhood between Abdullah and Muadh ibn Jabal; but according to another, Abdullah's brother in Islam was Al-Zubayar ibn Al-Awwam.[2]:115 When land in Medina was allocated to the Immigrants, the Zuhra clan was given an area behind the mosque, which included plots for Abdullah and his brother Utba.[2]:115–116

Relationship with Muhammad

Outsiders perceived Abdullah and his mother as members of Muhammad's household.[2]:117[6] He worked as a personal servant, taking care of Muhammad's bedding, toothbrush, sandals and travelling hygiene. "He used to screen him when he bathed and wake him when he slept and walk with him in a wild land." He was said to be the "keeper of secrets".[2]:116 Muhammad once told him to climb a tree and bring him a twig. The companions laughed at how thin Abdullah's legs were. Muhammad said: "Why are you laughing? Abdullah's foot will be heavier than Mount Uhud in the scales on the Day of Resurrection."[2]:118

Muhammad recognised Abdullah as one of the four foremost experts on the Qur'an.[7] He once asked him to recite; when Abdullah protested, "Should I recite it to you when you are the one to whom it was sent down and revealed?" Muhammad replied, "I love to hear it from someone else." Abdullah then recited it until Muhammad wept.[8]

Military career

Abdullah fought at the Battle of Badr.[2]:116[4]:338 After the battle, Muhammad ordered the warriors to search among the corpses for his enemy Abu Jahl, who could be recognised by a distinctive scar on his knee.

Abdullah found Abu Jahl "at his last gasp" with his leg cut off. He seized his beard and asked, "Are you Abu Jahl?" Abu Jahl replied, "Can there be a man superior to one you have killed or one whom his own folk have killed?"[9] Abdullah then placed his foot on Abu Jahl's neck, and asked, "Allah's enemy, has Allah put you to shame?" Abu Jahl replied, "How has he shamed me? Am I anything more than a man whom you have killed? Tell me how the battle went." Abdullah told him that the Muslims had won. Abu Jahl responded, "You have climbed high, you little shepherd!" Then Abdullah struck off his head. He brought it to Muhammad, proclaiming, "This is the head of Allah's enemy Abu Jahl!" and threw it at Muhammad's feet while Muhammad thanked Allah.[4]:304,337–338

Abdullah also fought at the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of the Ditch and "all the battles,"[2]:116 including Tabuk. Twenty years later, he said he wished he had died at Tabuk.[4]:608

Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar

After the death of Muhammad, Abdullah ibn Masud became the eighth-most prominent transmitter of hadith with a total of 848 narrations.[10] Umar called him "a box full of knowledge".[11]:444 The following traditions are among those attributed to him.

I asked Allah's Messenger which deed was the best. He replied: "Prayer at its appointed hour." I said: "Then what?" He replied: "Kindness to the parents." I said: "Then what?" He replied: "Jihad in the cause of Allah." And I would have not ceased asking more questions but out of regard.[12]
A man said: "Allah's Messenger, which offence is the most grievous in Allah's eye?" He replied: "That you associate a partner with Allah, who created you." He said: "What next?" He replied: "That you kill your child out of fear that he would join you in food." He said: "What next?" He replied: "That you commit adultery with your neighbour's wife." And the Almighty and Exalted Lord testified it: All those who call not unto another god along with Allah, and slay not any soul which Allah has forbidden, except in the cause of justice, nor commit fornication, and he who does this shall meet a requital of sin. [Qur'an 25:68][13]
We were along with Allah's Messenger at Mina, that moon was split up into two. One of its parts was behind the mountain and the other one was on this side of the mountain. Allah's Messenger said to us: "Bear witness to this."[14]

Umar allotted Abdullah a pension of 6,000 dirhams, and he was said to be very generous with his money.[2]:119 His mother was also granted a pension of 1,000 dirhams.[5]:202

Around 642 Umar appointed him as preacher and treasurer (qāḍī) in Kufa,[15]:5–6,14,16 saying: "I have preferred you with him over myself, so take him."[2]:119

The Caliphate of Uthman

Conflict with the Government

Abdullah, in his capacity as treasurer, lent a sum of money to Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, the Governor of Kufa; and when Saad was unable to repay it, they quarrelled. Their quarrel spread to their respective supporters until they became two "wrangling factions" in the city. Uthman became angry with both of them; in 646 he recalled Saad, extracted the money from him and replaced him with al-Walid ibn Uqba. He thought of replacing Abdullah too but in the end he decided against it.[3]:15–17,45

By 650 Abdullah had quarrelled with al-Walid. A petition was brought to Abdullah to investigate rumours that Al-Walid was drinking alcohol; Abdullah responded that it was not his business to spy on another man's privacy. Al-Walid felt that this statement was tantamount to a suspicion of his guilt and he accused Abdullah of not defending his reputation; and they insulted one another verbally.[3]:50–51 Al-Walid also tried to misappropriate state finances, but Abdullah refused to comply with his demands. When Uthman instructed Abdullah to obey al-Walid in everything, Abdullah resigned his post. However, he remained in Kufa and continued to criticise the Governor.[16]:109

Another long-serving Muslim, Abu Dharr, was also living in Kufa and was also critical of Muslims whom he perceived as having betrayed the original teachings of Muhammad. Eventually he was banished to the desert of Al-Rabadha.[1]:69–70,f325 Some time later, Abdullah ibn Masud went on pilgrimage to Mecca. As he passed through Al-Rabadha, his camels almost trod upon a funeral bier. A slave told him that it was the funeral of his master Abu Dharr, who had died alone. Abdullah burst into tears, exclaiming: "The apostle was right! You walked alone, you died alone and you will be raised alone!" Then he alighted from his camels and helped to bury his old friend.[4]:606

Uthman's Qur'an

Uthman produced a standardised version of the Qur'an in 652. He sent a copy to each province and ordered that all other Qur'anic materials "whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies," must be burned.[17]

It is said that Abdullah was displeased by the finished product; in particular:

When Uthman's agents came to Kufa to burn all the variants, Abdullah hid his copy from them.[11]:444[19] He justified his own version of the recitation by reminding people: "I recited before AIlah's Messenger more than seventy suras of the Qur'an. His Companions know that I have a better understanding of Allah's Book than they do; and if I were to know that someone had better understanding than I have, I would have gone to him." It was said that nobody could find fault with Abdullah's version.[20]

When Uthman was called to account for his mismanagement as Caliph, one of the grievances against him was that he had destroyed variant readings of the Qur'an.[3]:156 Much later, Abdullah ibn Masud's variant readings were discussed on equal terms with the Uthmanic text by al-Farra (d. 207/822).[21]

However, the vast majority of Muslim scholars never accepted these reports due to their weakness as well as many strong reports indicating the exact opposite to be true.

The Qur'an says in 15:87 "We have given thee seven of the oft-repeated (verses) and the great Qur'an." The seven often-repeated verses refer to al-Fatihah, the first sura of the Qur'an, which Abdullah ibn Masud is alleged to have denied. However, quoting Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn adh-Dhurays, Ibn al-Munzar and Ibn Mardwiyah, as-Suyuti narrated the following:

It is narrated from Abdullah Ibn Masud, regarding the word of Allah, "We have given you the seven oft-repeated verses;" he said, "[It is] Fatihatu al-Kitab."[22]

In another narration Abdullah ibn Masud was asked as to why he did not write al-Fatihah in his mushaf. He replied, "If I were to write it, I would write it before every sura." Abu Bakr al-Anbari explains this saying every raka’a (in prayers) starts with al-Fatiha and then another sura is recited. It is as if Ibn Masud said, "I have dropped it for the sake of brevity and I have trusted its preservation by Muslims (collectively)."[23]

There are also narrations from Abdullah where he explicitly refers to suras 113 and 114 as surahs, for example: "Excessively recite two surahs. Allah will make you reach higher ranks in the Hereafter because of them. They are al-Mu'awwidhatayn (i.e. al-Falaq and an-Nas/nos. 113 & 114)…"[24]

Four qira'at of the Qur'an (Qira'at of Hamzah, 'Aasim, Khalaf, Al-Kisa'i) have chains of transmission (isnad) going through Abdullah ibn Masud, and they all include the above three suras. These are mutawatir chains and thus Islamic scholars give precedence to them, disregarding much weaker chains that go against it as inauthentic.[25]

For these reasons, Islamic scholars rejected the notion of Abdullah ibn Masud rejecting suras. An-Nawawi says "The Muslims have all agreed that al-Mu'awwidhatayn and al-Fatihah are part of the Qur'an and whoever denies this becomes a disbeliever and whatever is quoted from Ibn Masud in this regard is not true."[26] Ibn Hazm[27] also rejected the notion of Ibn Masud denying these suras, along with the vast majority of Islamic scholars.

Conflict with Uthman

Eventually Uthman recalled Abdullah to Medina. He walked into the mosque, where Uthman was speaking; but the Caliph broke off his speech to insult Abdullah. Aisha then interrupted with protests against this manner of speech "to a companion of Allah's Messenger". Uthman forbade Abdullah ever to leave Medina again and ordered him out of the mosque. His servants removed Abdullah so violently that they broke two of his ribs and, amid loud protests from Aisha, he had to be carried home.[16]:110

Uthman did not pay Abdullah's pension for the rest of his life.[2]:122


He died in Medina in 653[3]:99 and was buried by night at Al-Baqi'. It is disputed whether it was Ammar ibn Yasir or Caliph Uthman who led his funeral prayers.[2]:121 He left a fortune of 90,000 dirhams. Al-Zubayr ibn al-Awam petitioned the Caliph to give Abdullah's pension to his heirs "because they need it more than the treasury does." Uthman granted this request, although the exact value of the pension is disputed.[2]:122


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  7. 5:57:103.
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  9. Bukhari 5:59:300, 3001.
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