During the early struggles for the caliphate he supported Ali, and was made governor of Basra. He withdrew to Mecca shortly afterwards. During the reign of Muawiyah I he lived in Hejaz and travelled to Damascus often. After Muawiyah I died, he opposed Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and fled to at-Ta'if, where he died in around 687 CE.
'Abd Allah ibn Abbas was known for his knowledge of traditions and his critical interpretation of the Qur'an. From early on, he gathered information from other companions of Muhammad and gave classes and wrote commentaries.
He was the second son of a wealthy merchant, ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, thus he was called Ibn Abbas (the son of Abbas). His mother was Umm al-Fadl Lubaba, who prided herself in being the second woman who converted to Islam, on the same day as her close friend Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad's wife.
The father of Ibn Abbas and the father of Muhammad were both sons of Shaiba ibn Hashim, better known as ‘Abdu’l-Muṭṭalib. Shaiba bin Hashim's father was Hashim ibn Abd Manaf, the progenitor of the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraish tribe in Mecca.
Ibn Abbas was born in 3 BH (619–620 CE) and his mother took him to Muhammad before he had begun to suckle and that was the beginning of the close relationship between them.
As he grew up, he was by Muhammad's side doing different services like fetching water for ablution (Arabic: wudu). He would pray (Arabic: salat) with Muhammad and follow him on his assemblies, journeys and expeditions. It is said that Muhammad would often draw him close, pat him on the shoulder and pray, "O God! Teach him (the knowledge of) the Book (Qur'an) ". Muhammad had also supplicated for him to attain discernment in religion. Ibn Abbas kept following Muhammad, memorizing and learning his teaching.
In AH 10 (631/632), Muhammad fell into his last illness. During this period, the Hadith of the pen and paper was reported, with Ibn Abbas as the first-level narrator, at that time about twelve years old. Days after that, Abbas and Ali supported Muhammad's weight on their shoulder, as Muhammad was too weak to walk unaided.
Ibn 'Abbas was thirteen years old when Muhammad died. After Abu Bakr came to power, Ibn Abbas and his father were among those who unsuccessfully requested part of Muhammad's inheritance. Abu Bakr said that he had heard Muhammad say that prophets do not leave inheritance behind as a divine rule.
After Muhammad's era, he continued to collect and learn Muhammad's teaching from Muhammad's companions (Arabic: Sahaba), especially those who knew him the longest. He would consult multiple Sahaba to confirm narrations, and would go to as many as thirty Companions to verify a single matter. Once he heard that a Sahaba knew a hadith unknown to him.
A narration attributed to Abd Allah ibn Abbas reports:
...I went to him during the time of the afternoon siesta and spread my cloak in front of his door. The wind blew dust on me (as I sat waiting for him). If I wished I could have sought his permission to enter and he would certainly have given me permission. But I preferred to wait on him so that he could be completely refreshed. Coming out of his house and seeing me in that condition he said, 'O cousin of the Prophet! What's the matter with you? If you had sent for me I would have come to you.' 'I am the one who should come to you, for knowledge is sought, it does not just come,' I said. I asked him about the hadith and learnt from him.
In addition to his own scholarship, Ibn Abbas was a teacher; his house became the equivalent of a university, where he taught.
One of his companions described a typical scene in front of his house:
I saw people converging on the roads leading to his house until there was hardly any room in front of his house. I went in and told him about the crowds of people at his door and he said: 'Get me water for wudu.'
He performed wudu and, seating himself, said: 'Go out and say to them: Whoever wants to ask about the Qur'an and its letters (pronunciation) let him enter.'
This I did and people entered until the house was filled. Whatever he was asked, Abdullah was able to elucidate and even provide additional information to what was asked. Then (to his students) he said: 'Make way for your brothers.'
Then to me he said: 'Go out and say: Who wants to ask about the Quran and its interpretation, let him enter'.
Again the house was filled and Abdullah elucidated and provided more information than what was requested.
He held classes on one single subject each day, classes on issues such as tafsir, fiqh, halal and Haraam, ghazawa, poetry, Arab history before Islam, inheritance laws, Arabic language and etymology.
Umar often sought the advice of Ibn Abbas on important matters of state and described him as a "young man of maturity":
A narration attributed to Abd Allah ibn Abbas Sahih reports:
Umar used to make me sit with the elderly men who had fought in the battle of Badr. Some of them (Abd-al-Rahman ibn Awf ) felt it (did not like that) and said to Umar: "Why do you bring in this boy to sit with us, while we have sons like him?"
Umar replied "Because of what you know of his position" (i.e. his religious knowledge).
One day Umar called me and made me sit in the gathering of those people, and I think that he called me just to show them (my religious knowledge). 'Umar then asked them in my presence: 'What do you say about the interpretation of the statement of Allah'.
When comes help of God, and the conquest...
Some of them said: "We are ordered to praise God and ask for His forgiveness, when God's help and the conquest comes to us". Some others kept quiet and did not say anything. On that Umar asked me: "Do you say the same, O Ibn Abbas?" I replied: "No". He said: "What do you say then?" I replied: "That is the sign of the death of Prophet Muhammad, which God informed him of. God said:
(O Muhammad) when comes the help of God (to you against your enemies) and the conquest (which is the sign of your death) – you should celebrate the praises of your Lord and ask for His forgiveness, and He is the One who accepts the repentance and forgives". On that Umar said: "I do not know anything about it other than what you have said".
The Sahaba Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas said:
I have never seen someone who was quicker in understanding, who had more knowledge and greater wisdom than Ibn Abbas. I have seen Umar summon him to discuss difficult problems in the presence of veterans of Badr from among the Muhajirin and Ansar. Ibn Abbas would speak and Umar would not disregard what he had to say.
Ibn Abbas remained a staunch supporter of the final Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, during Ali's war with Muawiyah, including at the Battle of Siffin. He had also been given the position of governor of Basra during Ali's reign as Caliph.
A large group of Ali's army were discontented with the conclusion of that arbitration, and broke off into a separate group that became known as the Khawarij or Kharijites. Ibn Abbas played a key role in convincing a large number of them to return to Ali; 20,000 of 24,000 according to some sources. He did so using his knowledge of Muhammad's biography, in particular, the events of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.
Sunnis believe that ibn Abbas was in favour of the unity of the Muslims and hence did not revolt against rulers. He advised Husayn ibn Ali against his proposed expedition to Kufa that ended at Karbala.
By a Yemenite princess named Zahra bint Mishrah, Ibn Abbas had seven children.
- Al-Abbas, the first born, who was childless.
- Ali ibn Abdullah (died 736), who was the grandfather of the first two Abbasid caliphs, who replaced the Umayyads in 750.
- Muhammad, who was childless.
- Ubaydullah, who was childless.
- Al-Fadl, who was childless.
- Saad had two children
- Lubaba, who married Ali ibn Abdullah ibn Jaafar and had descendants.
He had another daughter, Asma, by a concubine; she married her cousin Abdullah ibn Ubaydullah ibn Abbas and had two sons.
Ibn Abbas narrated that Muhammad said, "Two favours are treated unjustly by most people: health and free time." from Sahih Bukhari, at-Tirmidhi, ibn Majah and Al-Nasa'i
Ibn Abbas reported: Muhammad said, "He who does not memorize any part from the Qur'an, he is like the ruined house. from Tirmidhi.
On the authority of Ibn Abbas, who said, "One day I was behind (i.e. riding behind him on the same mount) the Prophet and he said to me: 'Young man, I shall teach you some words (of advice). Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of Allah; if you seek help, seek help of Allah. Know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that Allah had already prescribed for you, and if they gather together to harm you with anything, they would harm you only with something Allah had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried. from Tirmidhi
Al Hakim records on the authority of ibn Abbas that Muhammad advanced, carrying upon his back Hassan ibn Ali, and a man met him and said, 'an excellent steed thou ridest, lad!'. Muhammad replied, 'and he is an excellent rider.'
Ali ibn Husam Adin (commonly known as al-Mutaki al-Hindi) records that ibn Abbas narrated that Muhammad said the following about his deceased aunt Fatima, the mother of Ali: "I (Muhammad) put on her my shirt that she may wear the clothes of heaven, and I lay with her in her coffin that I may lessen the pressure of the grave. She was the best of Allah’s creatures to me after Abu Talib".
As ʿAbd-Allah's knowledge grew, he grew in stature. Masruq ibn al Ajda said of him:
Whenever I saw Ibn Abbas, I would say: He is the most handsome of men. When he spoke, I would say: He is the most eloquent of men. And when he held a conversation, I would say: He is the most knowledgeable of men."
Ibn Abbas is highly respected by both Shia and Sunnis.
Ibn Abbas viewed that Tafsir can be divided in four categories:The category the Arabs knew because of its languageThose of ignorance, of which no one will be excusedThose the scholars knowThose no one knows except Allah (Arabic: الله Allāh)
Sunni view him as the most knowledgeable of the Companions in tafsir. A book entitled Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas is tafsir, all explanations of which may go back to Ibn Abbas. Of all narrations transmitted by Ibn Abbas, 1660 were considered authentic (Arabic: Sahih) by the authors of the two Sahihs.
Regarding Ibn Abbas giving verdicts (Arabic: fatwa) in favor of Nikah Mut'ah, most Sunnis view that Ali corrected him on the matter, while other view that "Ibn Abbas position on the permissibility of Mut'ah until his last day is proven" per the Hadith of Ibn al-Zubayr and Mut'ah.
Sunnis describe thus:
... the courageous Abdullah showed that he preferred peace above war, and logic against force and violence. However, he was not only known for his courage, his perceptive thought and his vast knowledge. He was also known for his great generosity and hospitality. Some of his contemporaries said of his household: "We have not seen a house with more food or drink or fruit or knowledge than the house of Ibn Abbas."
He had a genuine and abiding concern for people. He was thoughtful and caring. He once said: "When I realize the importance of a verse of God's Book, I would wish that all people should know what I know.
"When I hear of a Muslim ruler who deals equitably and rules justly, I am happy on his account and I pray for him...
"When I hear of rains that fall on the land of Muslims, that fills me with happiness..."
Abdullah ibn Abbas was constant in his devotions. He kept voluntary fasts regularly and often stayed up at night in Prayer. He would weep while praying and reading the Quran. And when reciting verses dealing with death, resurrection and the life hereafter his voice would be heavy from deep sobbing.