When Abdullah ibn Umar was at the peak of his long life he said, “I swore the oath of allegiance to the Prophet (peace be upon him). I never broke my oath, nor have I turned to something else to this day. I never swore allegiance to those in civil strife, nor did I awake a sleeping Muslim.”
These words are a summary of the life of that virtuous man who lived past the age of 80. His relationship with Islam and the Prophet began when he was only 13 years old, when he accompanied his father to the Battle of Badr, hoping to have a place among the mujahids (those who strive for the cause of God), but he was sent back by the Prophet due to his young age.
Since that day – and even before that when he accompanied his father on his Hijrah to Al-Madinah – that young boy who possessed premature manly merits began his relation with the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him).
From that day till the day he passed away at the age of 85, we will always find him persistent, repentant, never deviating from his path, not even by a hairbreadth, never breaking the oath of allegiance which he had sworn, nor breaking a pledge he had made.
The merits of `Abdullah ibn `Umar, which dazzle people’s vision, are abundant. Among these are his knowledge, modesty, the straightness of his conscience and path, his generosity, piety, persistence in worship, and his sincere adherence to the Prophet’s model. By means of all these merits and qualities did Ibn `Umar shape his unique personality, his sincere and truthful life.
He learned a lot of good manners from his father, `Umar Ibn Al khattaab, and together with him, they learned from the Prophet (peace be upon him) all the good manners and all that can be described as noble virtues.
In the Prophets’ Steps
Like his father, his belief in Allah and His Prophet was perfect; therefore, the way he pursued the Prophet’s steps was admirable. He was always looking at what the Prophet was doing in every matter and then humbly imitating his deeds to the finest detail.
For example, wherever the Prophet prayed, there also would lbn `Umar pray, and on the same spot. If the Prophet invoked Allah while standing, then lbn `Umar would invoke Allan while standing. If the Prophet invoked Allah while sitting, so also would lbn `Umar invoke Allah while sitting.
On the same particular route where the Prophet once dismounted from his camel and prayed two rak`ahs, so would lbn `Umar do the same while traveling to the same place.
Moreover, he remembered that the Prophet’s camel turned twice at a certain spot in Makkah before the Prophet dismounted and before his two rak`ahs of prayer. The camel may have done that spontaneously to prepare itself a suitable halting place, but lbn `Umar would reach that spot, turn his camel in a circle, then allow it to kneel down. After that he would pray two rak`ahs in exactly the same manner he had seen the Prophet do.
Such exaggerated imitation once provoked the Mother of the Believers `Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) to say, “No one followed the Prophet’s steps in his coming and going as lbn `Umar did.”
He spent his long, blessed life and his firm loyalty adhering to the Prophet’s Sunnah to the extent that a time came when the virtuous Muslims were asking Allan, “O Allah, save lbn `Umar as long as I live so that I can follow him. I don’t know anyone still adhering to the early traditions except him.”
Similar to that strong and firm adherence to each of the Prophet’s steps and practice (Sunnah) was lbn `Umar’s respect for the Prophetic Traditions (Hadith). He never related a hadith unless he remembered it to the letter. His contemporaries said, “None of the Companions of the Prophet was more cautious not to add or subtract something from a hadith than `Abdullah lbn `Umar.”
In the same way he was very cautious when giving a fatwa (legal formal opinion in Islamic law). One day somebody came to ask him a fatwa. When he put forward his question, lbn `Umar answered, “I have no knowledge concerning what you are asking about.” The man went his way. He had hardly left the place when Ibn `Umar rubbed his hands happily saying to himself, “Ibn `Umar has been asked about what he doesn’t know, so he said, ‘I don’t know!’” He was very much afraid to perform ijtihad (independent judgment in a legal question) in his fatwa, although he was living according to the instructions of a great religion, a religion which grants a reward to the one who makes a mistake and two rewards to the one who comes out with a correct righteous fatwa. However, lbn `Umar’s piety deprived him of the courage to make any fatwas.
In the same way he refrained from the post of judge. The position of a judge was one of the highest positions of state and society, guaranteeing the one engaged in it wealth, prestige, and glory. But why should the pious Ibn `Umar need money, prestige, and glory? The Caliph `Uthman once sent for him and asked him to hold the position of judge but he apologized. `Uthman asked him, “Do you disobey me?”
Ibn `Umar answered, “No, but it came to my knowledge that judges are of three kinds one who judges ignorantly: he is in hell; one who judges according to his desire: he is in hell; one who involves himself in making ijtihad and is unerring in his judgment. That one will turn empty-handed, no sin committed and no reward to be granted. I ask you by Allah to exempt me.”
`Uthman exempted him after he pledged him never to tell anyone about that, for `Uthman knew Ibn `Umar’s place in people’s hearts and he was afraid that if the pious and virtuous knew his refraining from holding the position of judge, they would follow him and do the same, and then the Caliph would not find a pious person to be judge.
It may seem as if Ibn `Umar’s stance was a passive one. However, it was not so. Ibn `Umar did not abstain from accepting the post when there was no one more suitable to hold it than himself. In fact a lot of the Prophet’s pious and virtuous Companions were actually occupied with fatwa and judgment.
His restraint and abstention would not paralyze the function of jurisdiction, nor would it cause it to be held by unqualified ones, so Ibn `Umar preferred to devote his time to purifying his soul with more worship and more obedience.
Furthermore, in that stage of Islamic history, life became more comfortable and luxurious, money more abundant, positions and authoritative ranks more available.
The temptation of money and authoritative ranks began to enter the hearts of the pious and faithful , which made some of the Prophet’s Companions – Ibn `Umar among them – to lift the banner of resistance to that temptation by means of making themselves models and examples of worship, piety, and abstention, refraining from high ranks in order to defeat their temptation.
The article is excerpted from the book “Men Around the Messenger”, which is translation based on Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s celebrated work in Arabic “Rijal Hawla Ar-Rasul” which represents the real inspirational stories of sixty-four Companions of the Prophet.