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Abd Allah b. Abbas and Shi’ite Law

Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas b. `Abd al-Muttalib (d. 68/686-7), paternal cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and of `Ali b. Abi Talib, is in modem Islamic studies generally acknowledged as one of the founders of religious scholarship in Sunnite Islam.

Ibn ‘Abbas is known to have been one of the collectors of the Qur’an, and his variant readings were later recorded in the Kutub al-Maṣāḥif of the Qur’an experts. His role as the father of Qur’anic exegesis is not disputed, although his exact contribution to it is at present difficult to assess. In religious law he is recognized as the chief authority of the school of Mecca from among the Companions of the Prophet.

His part in Shiite Islam has received less attention. The attitude of Imami Shiite tradition towards him is ambiguous. He is commonly recognized as a companion of Imam Ali. Al-Kashi in his book on Shiite transmitters (rija1) quotes both favorable and unfavorable testimonies about him. In one of his reports Imam Muhammad al-Baqir narrates that a man complained to his father, Imam Ali Zayn al-Abidin, about Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas who claimed that he had knowledge of every verse of the Qur’an, of the day when it was sent down, and of what occasioned it. Imam Zayn al-Abidin sent him to Ibn ‘Abbas to ask him about three Qur’anic verses, but Ibn ‘Abbas was unable to identify the persons described in them. The Imam then identified the person called “blind and incapable of accepting sincere advice” in two of the verses as Abd Allah’s father ‘Abbas, and the persons ordered in the third verse to be steadfast as the Imam’s fathers and family. He went on to describe Ibn `Abbas as a treacherer who coveted what was beyond him. From among his off-spring would come forth men who would depart from the religion of God and stain the earth with the blood of the Family of Muhammad (Āl Muhammad). The report evidently reflects the Shiite experience of persecution and oppression under the ‘Abbasid caliphate. In another report quoted by al-Kashi, however, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq describes his father Muhammad al-Baqir as very fond of Ibn ‘Abbas and as regularly paying him visits in his boyhood together with the other boys of the Banu Abd al-Muttalib. Yet whatever the attitude of later Imami Shiites to Ibn ‘Abbas, they could not recognize him as sharing the privileged religious knowledge of the Al Muhammad, the imams.

Bibliographic Information

Title: Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas and Shi’ite Law

Author(s): Wilferd Madelung

Published in: Studies in Medieval Shi’ism, 2012.

 Language: English

Length: 13 Pages

Abd Allah b.’Abbas and Shi’ite law

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