The Question of Hercules And The Answers Of Abdullah Ibn Abbas’s (RA)
Abdullah Ibn Abbas’s (RA) deep knowledge of the Qur’an has won him the popular title of “Hibrul Ummah” or Sage of the Ummah. His knowledge, intelligence and juristic acumen was acknowledged and accepted by all the Sahaabah (RA). Abdullah Ibn Abbaas (RA) wasn’t only a very great commentator of the Qur’an, but he was also a distinguished jurist among the Sahaabah (RA). He occupied a unique and distinguished position in the galaxy of narrators of Prophetic Traditions, and he was a shining star in the field of Arabic grammar prose and literary arts. He was gifted in spontaneously answering the questions of his rivals, leaving them stunned and speechless. He could solve intricate issues and queries on the spur of the moment, when other people had all given up hope of solving them. Abdullah’s (RA) sharp wittedness was loved by all the Sahaabah (RA). When any complicated case or query would come to an intelligent and incited Khalifah like ‘Umar (RA), he would refer them to Ibn Abbaas (RA) saying, “You are most capable of handling these delicate issues.”
I wish to present an example of this Allah-given wisdom from the pages of history. Hercules, the Emperor of Rome had sent a letter to Amir Mu’aawiyah (RA) consisting of some most intricate questions, which were actually meant to test his knowledge and understanding. Mu’aawiyah (RA) sent the questions to Ibn Abbaas (RA). The questions of the Emperor and the answers of Abdullah Ibn Abbaas (RA) are as follows:
QUESTION: What is matter and what is non-matter?
A: Basically, matter is water, because it is from water that all forms of life originated, and because matter is essentially dependent on water, so water is in reality matter. In the Qur’an Allah says: “and We have created all living things from water.” On the other hand the world is non-matter, because it has been brought into existence to be destroyed. So the existence of the world is like the existence of a shadow which is eventually to disappear, and anything that exists depending on it will also become nonexistent, so in reality the world is non-matter. The Qur’an says: “The life of this world is nothing but play and pastime.”
QUESTION: What are the four things which have a soul, but they neither originated from the father’s back nor did they stay in the mother’s womb?
A: The four things which were born with life, but had no contact with the father’s back or the mother’s womb are as follows:
- Adam (AS) about whom Allah says in the Qur’an: “I have created Adam with my two hands.”
- Hawwaa (AS) who was born from the left rib of Adam (AS).
- The camel of Saalih (AS) which emerged from a rock as a miracle.
- The ram of Ismail (AS) which came from Jannah as a ransom for his life.
QUESTION: Which human was born without a father?
A: ‘Isa (AS).
QUESTION: Which human didn’t have a mother?
A: Adam (AS).
QUESTION: Which grave moved around with its inmate?
A: It was the fish which had swallowed Yonus (AS) into its belly and moved around in the ocean, and that is why he is called “Man of fish” in the Qur’an. The Qur’an informs us further, “The fish swallowed him, and he was admonishing himself. Had he not recited the tasbeeh, he would have remained in the belly of the fish till the Day of Judgement.”
QUESTION: Which tree has grown without water?
A: It was the gourd tree which grew over Yonus (AS) when he was thrown out from the fish, and shaded him from the sun. Says Allah in the Qur’an: “So We cast him on the shore and he was sick, and We made a gourd tree over him.”
QUESTION: Where did the sun shine once only and will never shine again?
A: It was the sea-bed which had been exposed to the sunlight when the Red Sea had opened to make way for the Israelites when the water had separated and had stood up like a wall on the opposite side, making twelve pathways for the 12 tribes to pass through them. The sun had only shone on this part of the earth on that occasion and never after that. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And when We separated the sea for you, and rescued you, and drowned the folk of Pharaoh and you were watching.”
QUESTION: What moved only once since the time of creation and never moved before or after?
A: It was Mount Sinai (Toor), which had been lifted up from its place and flown on two wings by the power of Allah and suspended on the heads of the Banu Israa ‘eel in the Holy Land, when they had become arrogant and conceited, they were commanded to believe in the Tawraah, or else the mountain would be dropped on them. They thereupon accepted the Book of Allah reluctantly. The Qur’an says: “And remember the time when we suspended the mount above them as if it were a covering, and they supposed that it was going to fall on them, (and We told them) ‘Hold fast to that which we have given you, and remember that which is therein, so that you may acquire piety’.”
QUESTION: What breathes but has no soul?
A: The thing that breathes but has no soul is the “morning”. When the darkness of the night comes it brings peacefulness, and quietness, and a kind of sad atmosphere engulfs the earth, and when the morning comes, it brings activity, movement and liveliness in the world, and it seems that the world has become alive, and everybody is breathing and living once more. So it is the morning which breathes life into everything, but yet in itself it doesn’t possess a soul. The Qur’an refers to this life-giving quality in these words, “Nay, by the morning when it breathes.”
QUESTION: Which is the only Deen accepted by Allah?
A: The only Deen (religion) and way of life acceptable to Allah, and besides which no other religion will be accepted is “Laa ilaaha illallaahu”.