As a child, Abdullah bin Masood used to tend flocks of sheep belonging to the Quraish chieftain Uqaba bin Abi-Mueet in the desolate wastelands amid Makkan mountains. He had heard a lot of tales about Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, but he never took them seriously. His daily schedule did not allow him anything other than herding the flocks to the mountain and returning them to their pens in the city of Makkah.
One day, young Abdullah saw two bearded gentlemen approaching him. They appeared tired and thirsty. They greeted him with salaam and asked him if he could offer them some goat's milk as their throats were parched. Abdullah told them plainly: "I'm just a custodian of the herd, I may not be able to offer you milk". The reply was greeted with a broad smile by the two gentlemen who asked him if the herd had any young goat that did not yield milk.
When he pointed his finger at one such goat, they lifted him and placed their hands on its udders even while muttering some verses. Young Abdullah was amazed to see the udders ballooning up and yielding so much of milk that the duo could collect it in a large pot. They drank to their heart's content and even offered the milk to him. Later, the udders shrank back and the goat was released. It was only a later revelation for Abdullah that the two gentlemen were none but the Holy Prophet and his close friend, Abu Bakr. He also learnt that the duo was out in the hills of Makkah seeking refuge from the persecution of the Quraish in Makkah. It did not take several weeks for Abdullah bin Masood to embrace Islam. The day he recited the shahadah, he also quit Uqaba's job.
From then on, Abdullah became a companion of the Prophet and clung to him as a shadow. He would sit by his side when the Prophet would take rest or would arrange water and privacy when he intended taking bath. He would rush with the shoes when Prophet hinted going out. He was even allowed to access the private chamber of the Prophet. He thus became the closest confidant of the Prophet and came to be known as one such.
This company of the Prophet proved very beneficial for young Abdullah. He grew conversant with the Quran, its meanings and the Shariah matters.
Once a messenger came to the court of Caliph Umar and informed him that someone was engaged in getting the Quran written in Kufa (now in Iraq). Umar flew in rage. Narrators say Umar had never been seen so furious before. Umar demanded identity of the person immediately. But the next moment when somebody pointed out that it was none but Abdullah bin Masood, Umar melted. Umar said, "By God! I have not known a person more conversant with the Quran than Abdullah bin Masood".
It is also reported from several sources that once while Abdullah was reciting the Holy Quran, the Prophet recommended his style of intonation to be adopted by all. When Abdullah began to beseech the favours from God, the Prophet would say 'Ameen!' after every sentence.
Abdullah bin Masood holds a distinct place with regard to comprehension of the Holy Quran. Once he even claimed that he knew the context and the purpose for every verse of the Quran better than anyone else did. But if ever any other person claimed a better interpretation of a verse, Abdullah would rush to him to seek his version. This, of course, is based on his own claims. Even Hazrat Umar bin Khattab confirmed the same. Once it so happened that Umar was travelling at the head of a caravan. It was a dark night. Umar's caravan crossed the path of another caravan coming from the opposite direction. Umar sent a messenger to find out the origin and destination of the caravan. The reply from the camp was that they were coming from Fajjin Ameeq (from a far off destination). "Where are you going?" "Towards Baith-e Ateeq" (holy house of God). The streak of erudition in the responses was unmistakable and convinced Umar that the caravan had some scholarly person. He asked them, "Which is the longest verse of the Quran? "Ayatul Kursi". "Which verse of the Quran carries its essence?" "Innallaha ya mooru bil adli wal ehsaan wa eetaayi zil qurba". (Nahl: 9) (Verily Allah enjoins you to be just and sacrifice for others and help your kinsfolk) "Which of the Quranic verses is the most comprehensive?" "Famaiyamal Misqala zarratin khairiyin yarahu. Wamaiy yamal misqala zarratin sharrain yarahu" (So whoever does good equal to the weight of an atom, shall see it and whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom shall see it.) "Which of the Quran's verses evokes fear?" "Laisa bi amaniyyakum wala amaniyyi ahlil kitabi mai yamal su-an yujza bihi wala yajid lahu mindunillahi waliyaun wala naseera". (It will not be in accordance with your desire (Muslims), nor those of the people of scripture (Jews and Christians) whosoever works evil, will have the recompense thereof and he will not find any protector or helper besides Allah.) "Which of the Quran's verses inspires hope?" "Qul ya ibadiyal lazeena asrafu ala anfusihim lataqnatu mir rahmatillahi innallaha yaghfiruz zunuba jameea. Innahu huwal ghafoorur rahim" (Zumar: 53) (Say, O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves by committing evil deeds and sins! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is oft- forgiving, most merciful) These comprehensive replies from the caravan led Umar to enquire if Abdullah bin Masood was amidst them. "Yes, indeed."
Abdullah is also credited with reciting the holy Quran aloud in the sacred precincts of the Haram in Makkah during the early period of Prophethood when Muslims were being severely persecuted. When the Quraish found him chanting what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, they assaulted him till he bled, but Abdullah stood firm and declared his intention to do it repeatedly, come what may.
Abdullah bin Masood lived till the Caliphate passed into the hands of Hazrat Usman, may Allah be pleased with him. When he fell sick, Usman came to his deathbed. The dialogue that went about between them is as follows: "Are you aggrieved with anybody?" "My sins bother me". "What is you heart's desire". "The mercy of my God" "Shall I add to your account all that is due to you from the Baitul Maal, that you have left unclaimed?"
"I do not need the wealth" "It will stand in good stead for your daughters who will survive you".
"Do you apprehend that my daughters will starve? I have advised my daughters to recite surah Waqiah each night. I have heard the Prophet say that the nightly recitation of surah Waqiah will avert the visitation of starvation".
As night fell, Abdullah bin Masood passed away. He embraced death with the praises of Allah on his lips. (Abridged and translated by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj from Suwarum min Hayathus Sahaba authored by Dr. Abdul Rahman Rafat Pasha)