Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) – Conquests for Survival

21The Review of Religions – December 2006 OTHER TEACHINGS ABOUT GOOD NEIGHBOURLY RELATIONS yourselves against extra- vagance (17:127). This is a direction to restrain people from spending unnecessarily on weddings and luxuries and on the occasion of the birth of a child etc. Be benevolent towards parents and kindred and the neighbour who is a kinsman, and the neighbour who is not related to you, and the wayfarer and your servants and your horses and your cattle and your other animals that you possess. This is what God loves. He loves not those who are heedless and selfish, and those who are niggardly and enjoin other people to be niggardly, and conceal their wealth and tell those who are needy that they have nothing which they can give them (4:37-38) (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam Eng ed pp45-46) 22 The Review of Religions – December 2006 Hadhrat Umar Bin Khattab1 Hadhrat Umar(ra) is probably the most well-known Muslim statesman after the Holy Prophet(saw). Hadhrat Umar(ra) accepted Islam in the 6th year of the call when he was around 27 years old. Umar(ra) was chosen to succeed Abu Bakr(ra) as the Caliph and ‘Amirul Mu’mineen2 and inherited a land at peace internally but whose very existence was threatened. Whether he envisaged the expansion of Islam beyond the Hijaz3 is difficult to say, but there was certainly no indication from Umar(ra) that he would conquer the lands of Persia, although it can be accepted that the conquests of Syria were in fact the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Prophet(saw) when he saw a vision in which the keys to Syria were handed to him along with the bracelets of Caesar.4 The purport of this essay, is not to outline the life of Umar ibn al- Khattab(ra). It is common knowledge amongst both Muslim historians, as well as Orientalist commentators, that Umar(ra), throughout his caliphate was known amongst his peers and his subjects, as one who shared in the triumphs and tribulations and the joy and grief that was felt by his people. He had no choice but to his role as the Commander of the Faithful, however, he did not consider himself so high in status to his peers so as not to seek their counsel on certain matters – indeed he often sought the wise counsel of Ali(ra) and his generals.5 Following the example of the perfect exemplar, Muhammad(saw), Umar(ra) had the well-being of those under his Caliphate at the Umar ibn al-Khattab(ra) – Conquests for Survival By Sirajul Haq Khan – UK 23The Review of Religions – December 2006 forefront of his mind. It is recorded that his food was simple, consisting of bread and olive oil. At times it is observed that he ate meat, vegetables, milk and vinegar. In the year of the famine, he would wander the streets to ensure that there was adequate provisions made for the people under his rule. He would often walk the streets, sometimes unknown to his own advisors and servants in order to search for the destitute and then would return to the treasury to obtain provisions for them. His sense of justice and equality is well-established from the fact that he chose a milkmaid for his own son’s marriage due to her nobility of character and resolve, yet he did so with her and her mother’s consent. This article is a sidestep from the well-known instances of the life of Caliph Umar(ra) during his rule. It attempts to justify and record the evidence that the wars fought during the early Caliphate were in response to the threat posed to Islam and the Arab nation by the Empires of Rome and Syria, and provide credence to Umar’s(ra) rule, and indeed his rulership, as being proportionate, just and righteous. The early Caliphate Wars It is an accepted fact that those campaigns waged by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr(ra), were defensive in their very nature and were devoid of any political intention to expand the Islamic state – rather, if studied closely, Abu Bakr(ra) was expeditious in differentiating the subjects of his state by ensuring that they either pay the Zakat6, or the Jizyah7, or they leave the state. It had no wish to rule over those who did not wish to be ruled by Muslims. Clear choices were afforded to them: 1. To accept Islam and pay the Zakat and thus be afforded citizenship within the Muslim State; 2. Not to accept Islam and pay the Jizyah, in order to be UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 24 The Review of Religions – December 2006 protected by the Muslim armies in times of war; 3. To leave the state if either of the first two options were undesirable. Umar ibn al Khattab(ra) continued the campaigns started by Abu Bakr(ra) on these lines. However, the threat faced by Abu Bakr(ra) from the Persian and Syrian empires remained. They had no such ethics by which their expansion was motivated. Their intention was a simple expansion of the Empire, motivated by greed, wealth and domination. A situation came about in the Hijaz whereby, just as the clash between the Makkan pagans and the Muslims in Madinah, it became impossible for Islam to co-exist with the great empires of Persia and Byzantium. The internal peace of Arabia was disturbed. These wars were a reactionary defence to the threat posed to the order of Arabian tribal society. Were Umar’s(ra) battles aggressive or defensive? Umar(ra) inherited the volatile situation from his predecessor and took command of the Muslim armies with his characteristic zeal, unrelenting vigour and strategic intelligence to gain control of the vast lands of Persia. Laura Vaglieri comments on Umar’s prudence in this era saying; ‘If an isolated episode in Arab history, such as Islam was before the death of the Prophet, was transformed into an event of worldwide importance and the foun- dations were laid of a Muslim Empire, which civil wars, lack of unity and attacks from abroad might shake but could not destroy, the chief credit for these things must be attributed to the political gifts of Umar.’8 He commanded great respect due to his diplomatic skills and accordingly mediated disputes with acumen and wisdom. UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 25The Review of Religions – December 2006 Many Orientalist historians have documented the conquests and the spread of Islam with a very restricted view, citing the conquests after the death of the Prophet(saw) as being bloody events in history caused by the allegedly inhuman ideologies and strategies of the Caliphs of the Prophet(saw) adopted after the establishment of the Islamic State. Although the Islamic State was first conceived of and implemented in Madinah by the Prophet(saw) himself, the State and its governance as established by Umar(ra) after the demise of the Prophet(saw) is observed as being regime oppressive and unfair towards the non-Muslims living in largely non-Arab civilisations. Non-Muslim historians blame the expansion of the Islamic Empire stating that it was fired by a zeal for religious conversion, lust for wealth and looting and territorial greed. A careful study of historical documents composed near to this time reveals major omissions in their argument. One instance that provides ample evidence of Umar’s intent is Muir’s observations of his words at the conquest of Mesopotamia. When General Ziyad asked Umar’s permission to advance to and enter Khurasan, Umar(ra) forbade him, saying, ‘I desire that between Mesopotamia and the countries beyond, the hills shall be a barrier so that the Persians shall not be able to get at us, nor we at them. The plain of al-Iraq sufficeth for our wants. I would prefer the safety of my people to thousands of spoils and further conquest.’9 Muir’s own analysis of this was that any thought of a universal mission to conquer was at an embryonic stage; and that the ‘obligation to enforce Islam by a universal crusade had not yet dawned upon the Muslim mind.’10 This observation dismisses any theory claiming that Islam was UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 26 The Review of Religions – December 2006 spread by the sword, at least up to the Caliphate of Umar(ra), as these words were uttered in the year 16 A.H., by which time Syria and Mesopotamia had been conquered, thus establishing that from the time these campaigns were undertaken, during Abu Bakr’s caliphate and for three years into Umar’s caliphate, up to this time, the motives of war were not religious but political for the defence of the State. The above quote from Umar(ra) should comprehensively prove that national defence and the safety of the Arabs was the motive behind the battles. This also exonerates Abu Bakr(ra) of the charges with which he, along with Umar(ra), is appended. Umar(ra), being a close confidante of Abu Bakr’s(ra), and Ali(ra), advised Abu Bakr(ra) on many of the initiatives Abu Bakr(ra) undertook. This proves that from the time of the Prophet(saw) the only reason Muslims were prompted to take up the sword against the non-Muslims was the safety of the Muslims.11 The Muslims could have easily moved on from state to state, and they would have done so if, as alleged, the Muslims were out for territorial gain motivated by greed. But if this was the case, why stop at Persia? Once Persia had been conquered the Muslims were at the pinnacle of their existence as a universal force and could have gone on to further gains. The facts show that this was never their intention. The survival of Islam and the Arab nations with whom treaties were drawn was the only factor driving these wars and the subsequent campaigns. Nevertheless, what many historians omit is that the forces opposing Islam made no excuses for their intentions of attempting to eliminate Islam and even the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. In the year 14 A.H., the Persian General Rustam made himself known on the battle of Qadisiyyah by exclaiming, ‘The whole of Arabia will I smash,’12 concluding that the non-Muslim forces not only wanted to expel the Muslims from their lands, UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 27The Review of Religions – December 2006 but their intent was to destroy Arabia and the Muslim states. This should not be considered as an isolated incident. Umar(ra) sent many convoys to the heads of the various empires in an attempt to determine treaties to provide security to the Islamic state, but they were met only with hostility and often humiliated.13 Thus they found no other option but to pursue a course of defence through warfare to preserve their own civilisation. However, Umar’s stratagem was much different to that of Rustam. Thus the allegations imbued in the Orientalist view that Umar(ra) was provoked by his thirst and lust for land, wealth and domination with an intent to coerce everyone outside the Arabian peninsula into accepting Islam, is a position which is untenable within the context of the earlier historical sources and more specifically, Umar’s own policy, as recorded in his sermons and speeches and as received by his Generals.14 Umar’s treatment of citizens in conquered lands Al-Waqidi records that when Heraclius, Caesar of the Roman Empire, heard of Umar(ra) succeeding Abu Bakr(ra), he summoned all the patricians, princes of the realm and ministers. Heraclius then stood to address them on a pulpit erected for him in a church: ‘O Romans, this is what I warned you about, but you would not listen. With the ascension of this brown man, the situation will only worsen. The time has drawn near for a conqueror to come who will resemble Noah. I swear by God that he will most certainly rule what is beneath this platform on which I stand. Beware! Beware, before this occurs and great harm befalls, palaces are demolished, priests are massacred and church bells smashed. This is a man of war who will bring grief to Rome and Persia. He abstains from the world and is stern against those who do UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 28 The Review of Religions – December 2006 not follow his religion but follow what they like…I know that the religion of these people will triumph over every other religion for as long as they do not change, so either you go to their religion or submit and pay Jizyah.’15 Although there is fear in the words of Heraclius, he is quick to note that Umar(ra) was not a man who was given to worldly desires and wealth. Yet Heraclius continues to accuse Abu Bakr(ra) as someone who will cause great harm and bloodshed. Importantly, Heraclius himself clarifies that coercion was not a principle of the Muslims – he commands his own people to ‘either go to their religion or submit and pay Jizyah’. If there UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 29The Review of Religions – December 2006 was coercion, there would be no choice in the matter – and thus Heraclius would not have needed to advise his people of any alternative. The reality is evident in this matter – the people could either accept Islam, or, if they so wished, remain safe in their own belief systems on the condition that they pay the protection-levy to the Muslims to be protected in case of invasion from a foreign army and not be required to take part in joining an army depending itself against an enemy force. Even from the early conquest of Hims (in Syria), in 15 A.H, the Orientalists evidence the lack of religious zeal in the Muslims by stating that during the conquests of Hims, the Muslims gave into drinking wine, and thus claim that this proves the lack of ‘Islam’ that drove these conquests. It is true that some Muslims had taken to drinking once they had conquered certain lands in which the booty consisted of such material. However, such a failing of some Yemeni bedouins, cannot prove that the whole expedition was devoid of any righteous intent. Furthermore, indulging in prohibitions is only to be found in this instance and Umar(ra) personally commanded, after consulting with Ali(ra), that the Yemeni bedoiuns be punished appropriately.16 This perspective, compared with what actually took place at the conquest of the Abu al-Quds Fort in Hims manifestly shows that although the Muslims fought hard and fought to the death, their principles and morals could not be compromised. Yet their intent remained unhindered – the safety of the Muslims in their lands. Freedom from invasion remained the motive for their campaigns. The integrity of the Muslims can be further gauged from the following incident. Umar(ra) commanded Abu Ubaydah ‘Aamir ibn al-Jarrah to take charge of the army of Khalid ibn al-Walid. With 500 men Abu Ubaydah marched to meet an army of 5,000 soldiers although some of the Muslims hesitated UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 30 The Review of Religions – December 2006 considering the odds. Once they reached the Fort they captured the monastery and Khalid ibn Walid called out to the monk. The monk inquired as to what he wanted and retorted ‘in the name of Christ that the Master of Heaven will retaliate against you for the blood of those whom you have slain.’ Khalid, clarifying that these wars were justified due to the advances of the Byzantine and Roman armies and the consequential threat they posed to the Islamic State, stated, ‘By Allah! Had the Holy Prophet(saw) not forbidden us, I would not leave you in your monastery, but would kill you in a most evil manner.’17 Al-Waqidi’s report proves that even in a state of war the Muslims were firm in their principles and remained steadfast in their recognition of the higher purposes behind these cam- paigns. Thus their beliefs were uncompromising. Similarly, at the conquests of Awasim and Qinsarin, on seeing the captives weeping and wailing, Abu Ubaydah, through the aid of a translator asked, ‘Say to them, why do you weep? Why do you not embrace Islam. Why did you not seek agreements of safety for your lives and wealth?’ They, numbering around 400, replied that they did not think that the Muslims would reach them. Abu Ubaydah said to them, ‘We will be kind to you and free you. We will return your wealth and families. Will you then accept our rule and pay Jizyah and land-tax?’ To this they replied, ‘If you do this we will obey whatever conditions you impose.’ After consulting the Muslims who concurringly gave their approval, Abu Ubaydah kept his word.18 After the captives returned and informed their neighbours of the good nature of the Muslims and the treatment they received, the freed captives said, ‘We thought that they would kill us and enslave our children, but they had mercy upon us and let us stay in our homes upon payment of UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 31The Review of Religions – December 2006 Jizyah and land-tax.’ Thereafter, other Romans came to Abu Ubaydah seeking safety with the Muslims. When Luke, the governor of Qinsarin and Awasim heard of this he was summoned by Heraclius whom Luke advised, ‘We cannot abandon our lands without a violent fight.’ Heraclius appreciated this and promised to send a massive army to supplement the 10,000 at his disposal. He then approached his people and asked for their counsel. The Romans responded praising the Muslims for their trustworthiness, ‘whoever fought against them was defeated. who- ever surrendered was allowed to stay safe in their lands, safe from their power. We wish to surrender to save our lives and wealth.’ This undoubtedly enraged Luke who had devised a plan, declaring ‘…these Arabs are victorious against whomsoever fights against them, but in the meantime I will seek a one-year ceasefire with them and then when they are complacent, we will get reinforcements from Caesar Heraclius and wipe them out to the last man.’19 The purpose of the Muslims as evidenced above, was nothing other than self-preservation and internal security, whereas that of the Romans was clearly to eliminate the Muslims – proving that the Muslims faced a real threat – not to their ideology but to their very existence. In addition to this, the Romans’ willingness to be ruled by the Muslims has been commented upon comprehensively in that some Romans actually preferred to live under a Muslim ‘ruler who was impartial towards various Christian groups…’xx inferring that this was not the case under Roman rule. The Jizyah It is important at this point to note that the requirement to pay Jizyah was not an immovable one. It is common knowledge that in some of the battles, the Jizyah was replaced by military service as there was no longer a need to protect a person beside you engaged in the battle. UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 32 The Review of Religions – December 2006 Additionally, in the conquests of Syria after Antioch had been conquered, when the Jizyah was demanded, it was accordingly refused, citing the fact that the people would fight alongside the Muslims if attacked. The Muslims accepted that this exempted the payment of Jizyah. In many of the battles, Christians had fought side-by-side with the Muslim armies. This not only put an end to the myth of the alleged ‘Islamic domination’ that was alleged to have taken place (for the Christians would never partake in such a war), but also proving that it was a matter of survival of the Arab people. These wars were a reactionary movement by an enemy common to Arabs, be they Christian Arabs or Muslim Arabs. Umar(ra) arrives in Jerusalem The march onto Baitul Muqaddas (Jerusalem) is well-known. Umar(ra) was the Ruler of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Syria. Yet it is not Umar’s status as a Ruler, but paradoxically, the simplicity and humility with which he approached the victory. When he reached Baitul Muqaddas he called out, ‘Allahu Akbar! O Allah, grant us an easy victory and send us Your helping power!’ After leading the morning prayer the next day, Umar(ra) ordered Abu Ubaydah, ‘O ‘Amir, go and inform the people that I have arrived.’ The patriarch learnt that Umar(ra) had arrived, and with the Patriarch was Baltic, the governor, who said, ‘O Father, you should be able to recognise him…failing that we will not open the gates and will fight until either they or we are destroyed.’ The two then climbed the wall and called out to Abu Ubaydah, ‘What do you want, old man?’ Abu Ubaydah replied, ‘This is Umar, Commander of the believers. There is no commander above him. Now come to receive his amnesty, to surrender and to pay the Jizyah.’ The patriarch demanded, ‘If he really is the highest ranking then let him approach us so that we can recognise [him]…let him come out alone from amongst UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL 33The Review of Religions – December 2006 UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL you and stand directly in line with us so that we can see him. If he is the man described in the scriptures then we will come down, seek amnesty and pay the Jizyah…if not then you will get nothing but battle from us.’ Abu Ubaydah went to inform Umar(ra) of their request. When Umar(ra) was about to depart, his men said, ‘O Commander of the Believers, are you going to them without any weapons, all alone and wearing only these rags? We fear treachery against you.’ Then Umar(ra) recited: Say: ‘Nothing shall befall us save that which Allah has ordained for us. He is our Protector. And in Allah then should the believers put their trust.’21 He then mounted his camel wearing nothing besides his rags and a cotton cap on his head. With only Abu Ubaydah riding ahead of him Umar(ra) was walking towards the patriarch. When they came to the patriarch and governor and stopped next to them, Abu Ubaydah called out, ‘This is the Commander of the Believers.’ The patriarch rubbed his eyes and looked, and shouted, ‘This is he who is described in our books, the man who will conquer our city without doubt.’22 Thus was Baitul Muqaddas conquered. Umar(ra) made a treaty with the people of Baitul Muqaddas which conclusively shows the treatment by the Muslims of those they conquered.23 Conclusion In conclusion, few events in history, and indeed, few men in history, combine the grace of a victor with the humility of a God-fearing servant. An accurate display of how Umar(ra) showed both these characteristics can be found by observing his nature at the time when Umar(ra) was touring the town with the patriarch of Jerusalem. At the time of prayer they happened to be in a magnificent ancient church.24 The patriarch 34 The Review of Religions – December 2006 UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL suggested that Umar(ra) should offer his prayers in the church. Umar(ra) refused the kind gesture, clarifying that they shall neither say their prayers there nor in the church of Constantine where preparations had been made for the prayer service. Umar’s reasoning behind this move proved to be one of utter humility and respect for faith. His foresight led him to prophecise that ‘should we say our prayers here, the Muslims might some day claim the right to erect a mosque in this place.’ With this he set a shining example of freedom of worship and sanctity of places of worship for all – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In light of such high morals and such careful deliberation, the Orientalists have an uphill task in proving that the Muslim conquests under Umar(ra) were motivated by anything other than establishing the safety and civilisation of the Muslim and non-Muslim Arabs, whose very safety and existence was threatened by the regimes of Rome and Persia. REFERENCES 1. Caliphate; 634 – 644. His full name, identifying his lineage, is: Umar ibn al- Khattab ibn Nuafil ibn ‘Abdul-’Uzza ibn Riyah ibn Qart ibn Razah ibn ‘Adi ibn Ka’b ibn Lu’ayy, Amir al- Mu’minin, Abu Hafs, al- Quraishi, al-’Adawi, al- Faruq. 2 Lit. Commander of the Faithful. 3. The Arab peninsula. 4. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah (translated by A. Guillaume), p. 452; Ibn. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 4.116; Ibn Hanbal, 4.303; Ibn Hisham, Sira, 3.230. It should be noted that in some transmissions the keys to Syria are mentioned whereas in others the keys to Persia are mentioned – due to non- defined state-borders. 5. See Imam al-Waqidi., The Islamic Conquest of Syria, (translated by Mawlana Sulayman al-Kindi) Ta-Ha Publishers for a record of letters and requests sent to his generals and peers for