The Companions of the Holy Prophet (sa)

Hadhrat ‘Umar (ra)

40 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 Introduction In the formative years of Islam, a young man was suddenly turned from being the most animated enemy of the new religion to its staunchest defender. His character changed dramatically from aggression and violence to one of humility and compassion, and he went on to become the second Khalifah of Islam. However, not all Muslims revere ‘Umar(ra). The minority Shi’a sect revile him and consider that he prevented ‘Ali(ra) (who would later become the 4th Khalifah) from becoming the Khalifah in a pact that he supposedly made with Abu Bakr(ra). This article briefly covers his early life and the key events and achievements of the life of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra). Background ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab(ra) was to become the second Khalifah of Islam. He was born in June 580 into the Banu Adi clan of the tribe of Quraish in Makkah who often acted as agents for the Quraish in dealings with other tribes. He grew up with his brother Zaid and his sister Fatimah. His father Khattab ibn Nufayl had been from a middle class family with access to a degree of wealth and power. So the young ‘Umar(ra) received a good education and was literate unlike most Arabs of the time, even becoming an expert in Arabic poetry. He was described as tall and well built, fair- skinned and with a ruddy complexion. As a youth, he was trained in self- defence (he was a champion wrestler) as well as public speaking. From the outset, he showed unusual courage and frankness in his dealings. He was also thorough in whatever he undertook. In his early years, he gained experience as a shepherd and as a merchant. He was becoming known as a shrewd businessman who led trade delegations as far as Syria and Iraq which broadened his Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) By Mashhood Ahmad and Fazal Ahmad – UK Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 40 41KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 knowledge of other tribes and cultures. As a non-Muslim and a believer in the traditional faith (idol worship) of the Quraish, he considered Islam to be an affront to the traditions of Makkah. He became a staunch and robust enemy of the faith. He mistreated Muslims in Makkah and was foremost in their persecution. According to Ibn Hisham’s As Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, when one of his maid-servants also accepted Islam, he beat her violently, yet she would not give up the faith. His mother was Hantamah, the sister of Abu Jahl, so he was intimate with the leadership of Makkah and the strength of its feeling against Islam. One famous incident before his acceptance of Islam was when he noticed a group of Muslims with all of their goods packed onto camels and leaving for Abyssinia. He approached a lady in the party, called Umm ‘Abdullah, and asked “Are you leaving?” She replied: “Yes, God is our witness. We go to another land, because you treat us most cruelly here. We will not return now until Allah pleases to make it easy for us.” ‘Umar(ra) was surprised and a little emotional at the scene, and said to her “God be with you”. Behind his tough exterior was a sensitive young man. He felt disturbed that this new faith seemed to be dividing his tribe, and thought to himself that if he killed the new prophet, the people of his tribe of Quraish would return to Makkah and the tribe would be reunited. Acceptance of Islam According to the detailed account of Ibn Hisham, one morning, ‘Umar(ra) set out with his sword to kill the Holy Prophet(saw). He quickly came to know that his own sister, Fatimah, and her husband Sa’id ibn Zayd (who was also his cousin), had converted to Islam. This enraged him further. He therefore, diverted to his sister’s house to confront them. As he approached their house, he heard the voice of Khabbab ibn al- Arat who had been teaching his sister the Qur’an. He stormed into the house, and as he did so, HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 41 42 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 Khabbab hid, and his sister put away the leaves of the Qur’anic pages. Confronting her, he said: “I hear you have renounced your own faith.” He then raised his hands to strike Sa’id, but as Fatimah came between them, he struck her nose and she was injured. The blow did not scare her, and she turned to her brother and said: “Yes, we are Muslims now and shall remain so; do what you may.” Having seen the blood on his sister’s face, he felt ashamed, and also realised that the new faith must have some merit to have won her heart. In his remorse, he asked to hear what the verses of the Qur’an had to say. At first, his sister was afraid that he would tear up the leaves of the Qur’an, but when ‘Umar(ra) promised not to do so, she first asked him to perform ablutions in order to cool down and to be clean and purified before touching the sacred texts. He then read a few verses from Chapter Ta Ha: Verily, I am Allah; there is no God beside Me. So serve Me, and observe prayer for My remembrance. Surely the Hour is coming; I am going to manifest it, that every soul may be recompensed for its endeavour. (Ch.20:Vs.15-16) He was clearly moved. He cried out “How wonderful, how inspiring!” On hearing this reaction, even Khabbab came out of hiding and exclaimed: “God is my witness, only yesterday I heard the Prophet pray for the conversion of ‘Umar or ‘Amr ibn Hisham. Your change is the result of that prayer.” (The Life of Muhammad, p.20) Soon after, ‘Umar(ra) went to the Holy Prophet(saw) in Dar Arqam in Makkah, his sword still in his hand, but no longer a threat to Islam. At the door were Hamzah, Talha and a couple of other companions. Having suffered at his hands, the companions of the Prophet were reluctant to let him in, but the Holy HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 42 43KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 Prophet(saw) knew of his intentions. He asked ‘Umar(ra) “What brings you?” to which ‘Umar(ra) replied: “Prophet of God, I am here to become a Muslim.” ‘Umar(ra) also recited the Kalimah. The Prophet(saw) replied happily with Allahu Akbar and the happy news of the conversion spread rapidly through Makkah and neighbouring towns. At that time, according to Adh- Dhahabi ‘Umar(ra) was just twenty- seven years of age. In those early days, there were very few other converts to Islam. Scholars vary in their view of the numbers, but it is thought that when he accepted Islam, there were around 40 men and 10 women who were Muslims. Having accepted Islam, he was to become one of the staunchest and bravest defenders of the faith against severe torment. Asked later about his conversion, he said: “When I heard the Qur’an, my heart was softened and I wept, and Islam entered into me.” (Armstrong, p.5). It was after his conversion that Islam began to be preached openly in Makkah with the confidence that he brought to the Muslims, and this is attested by Ibn ‘Abbas(ra) and Suhayb. Ibn Mas’ud(ra) is reported to have said: ‘The Islam of ‘Umar was an opening, his emigration was a help and his imamate was a mercy. I saw us unable to pray in the House until ‘Umar accepted Islam’. Having accepted Islam, the first thing that ‘Umar(ra) did was to call together the chiefs of Makkah to declare that he had become a Muslim. No one had the courage to tell him off. He then requested the Prophet(saw) to lead prayers at the Ka’bah and led the party of Muslims there. This was the first such prayer observed by Muslims at the Ka’bah. ‘Umar’s conversion had embold- ened the Muslims, but brought about no change in attitude from the Makkans. ‘Umar(ra) was sub- jected to the same torment at their HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 43 44 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 hands as the other Muslims and indeed the persecution worsened over time. Role under the Prophet(saw) ‘Umar(ra) became a close advisor to the Holy Prophet(saw) and sacrificed his wealth to dedicate his life for the cause of Islam. He was among the first wave of emigrants from Makkah to Madinah during the Hijrah. On leaving Makkah, he told the local pagans of his intentions to head for Madinah and challenged them to stop him if they were brave enough. Needless to say, nobody dared to stop him. He took part in many of the early defensive struggles as the Muslims held on to their freedom in Madinah. He took part in the defensive battles of Badr, ‘Uhud and Khaibar when the Muslims struggled to shrug off persecution and tyranny. Indeed at ‘Uhud, the Makkans thought that they had killed the prophet and the senior Muslims. Abu Sufyan, leader of the Makkans shouted ‘Glory to Hubal’ (the primary idol of the Makkans) and then turned to the battlefield and shouted out first to the Prophet(saw), then Abu Bakr(ra) and then ‘Umar(ra) to confirm whether they were alive (Tabari, Vol. VII, p.131). The fact that ‘Umar(ra) was among the three names shouted shows his position among those early Muslims. In his early years as a Muslim, his temper was still legendary, although his aggression was now only applied to the defence of the Holy Prophet(saw). An example of this was when Zayd b. Sa’ya forcefully asked for the repayment of a loan from the Prophet(saw) at the time of a funeral. ‘Umar’s initial response was threatening, but the Prophet(saw) knew his character well and asked him to pay Zayd his dues and to give him a bonus of dates for his troubles. ‘Umar(ra) carried out the instructions, and impressed by the patience of the Prophet(saw), Zayd accepted Islam soon after. Although he is most often remembered as being aggressive, he also began to demonstrate other qualities. In one example, at the Battle of Badr, he surprised his colleagues by allowing a youngster, Ibn ‘Abbas, to attend the planning HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 44 45KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 council. His colleagues commented that he was letting a child enter the meeting to which he replied: “He is knowledgeable, as you well know.” (Bukhari) This showed his open heart and lack of arrogance, and his respect for knowledge at an early age. In 625, his daughter, Hafsah, was married to the Prophet(saw) to further strengthen his ties. The Holy Prophet(saw) had great regard for ‘Umar’s character. There are many references to the status of ‘Umar(ra) in the Hadith, and the following illustrate that strength of feeling: “Never does Satan find you going on a way, but he takes a way other than yours.” (Bukhari, Vol.5, 57.32) “In the nations long before you were people who were spoken to [by the angels] although they were not prophets. If there is anyone of them in my Community, truly it is ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab(ra).” (Bukhari, Vol.5, 57.38) In the Hadith above, commentators described the meaning of ‘spoken to’ as meaning inspired. “I have two ministers from the inhabitants of the heaven and two ministers from the inhabitants of the earth. The former are Jibreel (Gabriel) and Mika’il (Michael) and the latter are Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.” He said of the latter: “These two are [my] hearing and eyesight” and instructed his Companions: “Follow those that come after me: Abu Bakr and `‘Umar.” A lot has been made of ‘Umar’s selfless courage, but as described at the beginning, he was also well- educated. During his time in the company of the Prophet(saw), he was fortunate to pick up a vast treasure of knowledge which he would later apply. The Holy Prophet(saw) himself is reported by Ibn ‘Umar(ra) as saying: “While I was asleep I drank – meaning milk – until I saw satiation flowing through my HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 45 46 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 nails, and then I passed it to ‘Umar.” (Bukhari, Vol.1, 3.82) When asked on the meaning of this, the Prophet(saw) clarified that it was knowledge that he had passed on to ‘Umar(ra). ‘Umar(ra) had great zeal for Islam, and on one occasion when the companions were asked for funds to support an expedition to Tabuk, ‘Umar(ra) offered half of his household. He was only outdone by Abu Bakr(ra) who offered all of his household and replied to concerns for his family that “Allah and his Apostle are enough for them.” The death of the Prophet(saw) in 632 was a stunning shock to ‘Umar(ra). He could not believe it so much so that he drew his sword and swore that he would cut off the head of any man that said that the Messenger of Allah was dead (Tabari, Vol. IX, p.187). He could not contemplate life without his master and was consumed in grief and concern for the plight of Islam. These dark thoughts blotted out reason from his mind. It was not until Abu Bakr(ra) reminded him of the clear verdict on this subject in the Qur’an that he became calm. Shi’as sometimes assert that ‘Umar(ra) was merely trying to delay the burial to allow Abu Bakr(ra) to return and pick up the reigns as Khalifah, but this is incorrect. Role under Abu Bakr(ra) Abu Bakr(ra) became the first Khalifah of Islam in 632 and lead the Muslims for just two years. ‘Umar(ra) held Abu Bakr(ra) in great esteem, and according to a testimony of Muhammad b. Sirin recorded by Abu ‘Abd Allah, when during his own Khilafat a few years later he overheard people commenting that they preferred ‘Umar(ra) to Abu Bakr(ra), he staunchly reminded them of the Hijrah when Abu Bakr(ra) had the privilege of escorting the Holy Prophet(saw) to the Cave of Thaur and ensured his protection by keeping vigil both in front of and behind the Prophet(saw). ‘Umar(ra) said: “By Him who holds my soul in His hand, that night was better than the whole clan of ‘Umar!” (Helminski p.41) HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 46 47KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 During that time, ‘Umar(ra) was one of his closest advisors and allies. It was ‘Umar(ra) who was concerned at the strife facing the early Muslims and encouraged the first Khalifah to have the Qur’anic verses compiled in book form such that they would not be lost (Bukhari, Vol.6, 60.201). Having been convinced by ‘Umar(ra), the task was given to Zaid ibn Thabit(ra). Some of the Arab tribes had tried to dissociate from Islam following the death of the Prophet(saw) and in some cases, set up false new prophets to fill the void. Many thought that each tribe should now have its own Imam. ‘Umar(ra) helped to bring them back into the fold and unite the Arabs as a single united Muslim community with a single Khalifah. At the death of the first Khalifah, Abu Bakr(ra), ‘Umar(ra) became the second Khalifah of Islam in 634. The famous historian Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406) describes the events of the appointment of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) as follows: ‘Thus, Abu Bakr appointed ‘Umar as his successor in the presence of the followers of Muhammad(saw). They considered themselves obliged by it to render obedience to ‘Umar. Likewise, ‘Umar appointed six persons to be members of (an electoral) council.’ (Ibn Khaldun, p.167) Similarly, al-Tabari records a conversation that Abu Bakr(ra) had with ‘Uthman(ra) about Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra): ‘Abu Bakr said: ‘O Abu Abdallah, inform me about ‘Umar.’ ‘Uthman said: ‘O God, my knowledge about him is that what he does in private is better than what he shows openly, and that there is no-one like him amongst us.’ (Tabari, Vol.XI, p.146) The implication was that since the example he had shown in public was so noble, the fact that his private actions were better showed the strength of his spiritual nature and character. Abu Bakr(ra) gave a clear indication that ‘Umar(ra) would succeed him as the second Khalifah. HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 47 48 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 ‘Umar’s compassion as Khalifah Having been given the highest office in Islam, his aggression turned to warmth and humility. In one of his early sermons as Khalifah, he appealed to his followers in the following terms: “In running the State, you are my partners. Help me with your sound advice. If I follow the right path laid down by God and His Prophet, follow me. If I deviate, correct me. Strengthen me with your advice and suggestions.” (Helminski p.406) Sir William Muir records in The Caliphate that one of ‘Umar’s earliest acts was to examine the Treasury, but all he found was a small coin in the fold of one of the sacks showing that Abu Bakr(ra) had distributed all the revenue collected by the state. ‘Umar(ra) was greatly impressed. ‘Umar(ra) is renowned for establishing the principles of the Islamic state. As Khalifah, the norms of the time (in the prevailing world) would have led him to have a grand palace and court with many luxuries, fancy garments, hundreds of slaves and lavish displays of wealth and power. But this was not the manner of the great Khalifah. He preferred to live a simple life. His clothes were simple. He ate simple food like his followers. Once he is quoted as saying: “Nothing of the Lord’s goods is allowed me except a garment for winter and one for summer, and enough for the Pilgrimage and the rites, and food for me and my household at the middle rate allowed one of my people; beyond that I have no more right than any other Muslim.” (Helminski p.408) He is often cited as owning just a single shirt and even that patched up. He slept on a bed of palm leaves just as his followers did. ‘Umar(ra) would often walk the streets of Madinah at night in disguise to check the safety and comfort of the poorest members of society. He would patrol the streets to gauge the sleeping conditions, the availability of food, water and clothing, and the level of safety. HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 48 49KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 Once while walking the streets, he noticed a woman cooking some- thing in a pot while her children were restless around her. On enquiring, he learned that the pot was empty but on the fire just to console them, but that they had not eaten for two days. He was moved to tears. ‘Umar(ra) immediately went to the treasury and brought food items for the woman. An employee offered to carry it for ‘Umar(ra) but he declined saying who would carry his burden on the final day. He took the food to this lady and instructed her to visit the treasury regularly for her provisions. She had not recognised him. The woman was very pleased. Although she had no idea who he was, she cried out: “May Allah make you the Khalifah in place of ‘Umar!” (Tabari, Vol.XIV, p.110-111) ‘Umar(ra) began to cry and left without saying a further word. This is an illustration of the genuine compassion that he had for his people. On another occasion, an ambas- sador of Greece was visiting and enquired about the palace of the Khalifah where he could take his horse and baggage. Hearing this, an onlooker is recorded by Jalaluddin Rumi as telling the ambassador: “He has no palace; ‘Umar’s only palace is an illuminated spirit. Though he is famous as Commander of the Faithful, his only dwelling is a hut, like the poor.” (Helminski p.159) He is often described as performing his own tasks rather than engaging servants in order to keep himself humble. One such account is recorded by ‘Urwah bin az-Zubayr who had commented that it was not befitting of a Khalifah to walk around carrying a waterskin on his shoulder, to which he received the following response from ‘Umar(ra): “When deputations came to me, listening and obedient, a certain arrogance entered my soul, and I wished to break it.” (Helminski, p.160) He also promoted brotherly affection among Muslims, and is recorded by Al-Ghazali in his ‘On HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 49 50 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 Duties of Brotherhood’ as saying: “There are three ways of showing sincere brotherly love; give him the greeting ‘Peace!’ when you first meet him, make him comfortable, and call him by his favourite names”. To some extent, this would have been expected from the Khalifah, but he also demonstrated love and compassion for non-Muslims living under Islamic protection. While in Syria, he met an old man begging on the streets and learned that he was a Jew. He was upset and told the governor of Syria to look after the old man as his duty. He was very mindful of his subjects’ feelings and once even scolded his governor in Egypt saying: “Since when have we enslaved people who were born free?!” Taking of Jerusalem There were many memorable incidents from his 10 years as the second Khalifah. One of these is the taking of Jerusalem in 637. Around that time, the Muslims had endeared themselves to the inhabitants of Jerusalem when they were forced to retreat from a Christian territory under pressure from superior numbers of Roman troops. Having levied the Jizyah tax on those people, the Muslims returned the tax because they could no longer defend them against the advancing Romans. The people of Jerusalem were greatly impressed by the integrity of the Muslims so when the Muslims finally came to take control of their city, they had no concerns. (Jizyah was a defence tax on non-Muslims whereas Muslims paid Zakat and were also required to physically take part in the defence). ‘Umar(ra) came to the city himself after a long siege. He left Madinah with one attendant and a camel which they took turns riding. As they approached Jerusalem, it was the attendant’s turn, and he said to the Khalifah: “Commander of the Faithful, I give up my turn. It will look awkward in the eyes of the people if I ride and you lead the camel.” HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 50 51KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 But ‘Umar insisted on maintaining the rota and replied: “Oh no, I am not going to be unjust. The honour of Islam is enough for us all.” So it was that the people of Jerusalem witnessed a humble man walking towards them leading his servant riding the camel. This endeared him to the people of the city who came into the fold of the Islamic Empire without conflict. He signed a peace treaty as follows: “From the servant of Allah and the Commander of the Faithful, ‘Umar: The inhabitants of Jerusalem are granted security of life and property. Their Churches and Crosses shall be secure. This treaty applies to all people of the city. Their places of worship shall remain intact. These shall neither be taken HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Interior of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem Photo by Eric Stoltz – licenced under Creative Commons, Attribution 2.5 Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 51 52 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 over nor pulled down. People shall be absolutely free to follow their religion. They shall not be put to any trouble …” (Tabari, Vol.XII, p.191) ‘Umar(ra) was given the keys to the city by the Orthodox Christian Patriarch Sophronius. He then led prayers on the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque away from the Christian Church to ensure that later Muslims would not lay any claim on the Church. He wanted to build a mosque in Jerusalem and the Bishop suggested the Sakha, or the rock on which God had spoken to Jacob(as). The Christians had heaped rubbish there to tease the Jews. ‘Umar(as) helped clear the site of rubbish and then a mosque was built on the site. Under his leadership, a simple wooden mosque was built to hold 3,000 worshippers, later extended as the al-Aqsa Mosque. Elsewhere on the rock, it was not until 692 that the famous Dome of the Rock was built on the site. (Al-Khateeb, p.34). ‘Umar(ra) established the Umariyyah Treaties with the Christians to preserve their status and rights within the Muslim state. When returning from his tour of Syria, he delivered a speech in which he said: “Allah has for the time being made me your ruler. But I am one of you. No special privileges belong to a ruler. I have some responsibilities to discharge, and in this I seek your cooperation. Government is a sacred trust, and it is my endeavour not to betray the trust in any way. For the fulfilment of the trust I have to be a watch-man. I have to be strict. I have to enforce discipline. I have to run the administration not on the basis of personal idiosyncrasies; I have to run it in public interest and for promoting the public good. For this we have the guidance in the Book of God. Whatever orders I issue in the course of day to day administration have to conform to the Qur’an. God has favoured us with Islam. He sent to us His Messenger(saw). He has chosen us for a mission. Let us fulfil that mission. That mission HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 52 53KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 is the promotion of Islam. In Islam lies our safety; if we err we are doomed.” His style of leadership surprised many non-Muslims, and the rights given to non-Muslims endeared them to Islam. Spread of Islam under ‘Umar(ra) Islam continued to spread in all directions under ‘Umar(ra). Although there were many raids and conquests during the Caliphate of ‘Umar(ra) as Islamic influence spread, this was not a religious expansion. Each of the peoples that the Arabs came across were seen to be Peoples of the Book (i.e. following Divine teachings and prophets) and so could not be compelled to accept Islam. This was actually a process in which pacts were being made, and new trade routes expanded and established. The motivation for this expansion HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 53 54 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 and for the wars was in order to spread freedom and exchange knowledge with other faiths and cultures. At that time, the prevailing climate was one of rivalry, jealousy and greed, and constant fighting across the world. Therefore, when Muslims sent missionary expeditions to different countries and found that they were abused and attacked and that locals were being mistreated, they had no option but to fight the opression until freedom was once again established. The Holy Qur’an gave them guidance on how to conduct themselves as we read: O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may reconise one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All- Aware. (Ch.49: V.14) So the Muslims were taught to respect other tribes and faiths, but believed that they had a better message for the good of all mankind. However, if in the course of preaching they faced persecution or attacks, they could respond under the following guidance: And make ready for them whatever you can of armed force and of mounted pickets at the frontier, whereby you may frighten the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you know not, but Allah knows them. And whatever you spend in the way of Allah, it shall be repaid to you in full and you shall not be wronged. And if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely it is He Who is All-Hearing, All- Knowing.(Ch.8: Vs. 61-62) This guidance as well as other instructions enabled the Muslims to fight defensive wars to attain peace, security and freedom but with the guidelines that no place of worship or civilian could be attacked, and that hostilities must cease as soon as one side seeks peace or a ceasefire. The Jews, Christians and HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 54 55KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 Zoroastrians of the new Empire were given a protected status (Dhimmi) with unconditional legal and military protection just as they were in Jerusalem, and indeed, often felt safer under Muslim protection than under the Byzantine Christians or the Persians who had been less tolerant to what they saw as unorthodox beliefs such as the Arians and Nestorians. It has even been suggested that under Islamic protection, the Nestorians no longer faced persecution from Orthodox Christianity and were able to expand rapidly eastwards (Nicolle, p.63). Each new city was left to be governed by its own people who paid a poll tax in return for protection through the Muslim armies. Although now under the protection of the Islamic Empire, the conquered cities and their people were subject to their own laws and traditions as administered largely by their own people; only the governor was an Arab appointed by the Khalifah to maintain order to establish the new norms of tolerance and freedom. The Arabs were strongly discouraged by ‘Umar(ra) from taking land in these new countries. Islamic Law applied only to Muslims. There are many examples of tribes who chose not to accept Islam but who were given protection. The Banu Taghlib tribe of Mesopotamia had refused to accept Islam and had also refused to pay the Jizyah tax. ‘Umar(ra) gave a civilised response which the tribe accepted: ‘The caliph ‘Umar forbade any pressure to be put upon them, when they showed themselves unwilling to abandon their old faith and ordered that they should be left undisturbed in the practice of it, but that they were not to oppose the conversion of any member of their tribe to Islam nor baptise the children of such as became Muslims.’ (Arnold, p.49) On the subject of Jizyah, the Banu Taghlib wanted to pay a levy for the poor similar to the Muslims rather than it being seen as a protection levy, and ‘Umar(ra) agreed to this. It was during the time of ‘Umar (ra) that Islam expanded rapidly into HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 55 56 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 Persia, all along North Africa, and into Asia Minor. Interestingly, the Muslims up to that time chose to travel by land and did not exploit the sea. One account by Ibn Khaldun suggests that when ‘Umar(ra) asked ‘Amr ibn al-‘As about sea travel, the description that he was given was that it was like ‘a great creature upon which weak creatures ride – like worms upon a piece of wood’. That description was sufficient to put ‘Umar(ra) off sea travel and he advised all of his generals and envoys to travel by land. At times, there were miracles related to the rapid advance that the Muslims were making. There are numerous accounts of the time when Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) was delivering his Friday Sermon and then suddenly broke off and shouted three times ‘Sariyah, the mountain!’ (Tabari, Vol.XIV, p.71). He then continued with his sermon, but this obviously troubled the worshippers. When quizzed later, he said that he saw his Muslim forces led by Sariyah being attacked and defeated near Nahawand in Persia so he shouted to warn them. When later a messenger came back from Sariyah a month later, he described how indeed the troops had been losing out until they heard the shouts of ‘Sariyah, the mountain!’ and then as they turned towards the mountain, rather than being ambushed, they themselves were victorious. This story has been narrated by Ibn ‘Umar and ‘Amr ibn al-Harith. As the influence of Islam spread, ‘Umar(ra) appointed Governors in different lands, but also tried to ensure that they stayed faithful and dutiful rather than getting embroiled in the trappings of power that he himself had also rejected. Khuzaymah ibn Thabit records: ‘Whenever ‘Umar appointed a governor, he wrote to him and made a condition on him that he should not ride a birdhaun (heavy non-Arab horse from Turkey or Greece), nor eat delicacies, nor dress in finery, nor lock his door against the needy.’ From this, we get a sense of ‘Umar’s own stance on duty and modesty. Had the future Muslims HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 56 57KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 such as the Umayyads and Ottomans kept this in mind, their fate may have been different. The conquered nations accepted the new peace with confidence because the Arabs did not take their land or impose Islamic Law. They took a tax, and then discharged their duties to the new people by restoring roads and canals, building bridges, freeing slaves and improving living conditions for the poorest and the meekest in society. New trade routes were opened to the rest of the Islamic Empire. Rivers were banked and irrigation paths established. The Muslims established new gardens. Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) was the pioneer in this new Empire, and was very cautious to ensure that the rights of the new people were maintained or enhanced, and that nobody, Arab or otherwise, would lose out as a result of the Muslims, or blame the religion of Islam. Achievements It was during the stewardship of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) that the Khalifah took on the designation ‘Amir ul Momineen’ (Commander of the Faithful). As Khalifah, ‘Umar(ra) established the Hijri Shamsi calendar which began at the time of the Hijrah from Makkah to Madinah (Tabari, Vol.VI, p.158). There had been a consensus that Muslims needed their own calendar as many edicts had been going out on letters without dates, but there was no agreement on the point at which the calendar should begin. Some had suggested the dates of the birth or death of the Holy Prophet(saw), but in the end, there was agreement on the Hijrah. He began to codify Shariah Law, mainly because he recognised that the people needed an effective, consistent and speedy form of justice based upon the Qur’an and the teachings and practices of the Holy Prophet(saw). He established courts for the public, and carefully selected Judges who were knowledgeable, honest, respected and not liable to be influenced. One of the most senior and respected judges that he appointed was ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra), later the Fourth Khalifah, who was known for his thorough knowledge of both the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith, having lived so close to the HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 57 58 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 Prophet(saw) for thirty years as first his cousin and then son-in-law. ‘Umar(ra) gave all of the Judges the following advice: ‘Verily Justice is an important obligation to Allah and to man. You have been charged with this responsibility. Discharge this responsibility so that you may win the approbation of Allah and the good will of the people. Treat the people equally in your presence, and in your decisions, so that the weak despair not of justice and the high-placed harbour no hope of favouritism. The onus of proof lies on the plaintiff, while the party who denies must do so on oath. Compromise is permissible, provided that it does not turn the unlawful into something lawful, and the lawful into something unlawful. Let nothing prevent you from changing your previous decision if after consideration you feel that the previous decision was incorrect. When you are in doubt about a question and find nothing concerning it in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad(saw), ponder the question over and over again.’ He saw it as his duty to renovate and expand the two great Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. However, Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) had a simple understanding of a Mosque. He expected to see a prayer hall with a niche for the Imam facing Makkah, minarets where the muezzin would call people to prayer and be heard from a distance, and washrooms where worshippers could perform ablutions before worship. He did not like innovations, and on one occasion, when he learned that in Fustat (Cairo), his governor ‘Amr ibn al-‘As had built a minbar (raised pulpit with steps on which the Imam stands to deliver sermons in some mosques), he wrote to him saying: ‘And now, I have heard that you use a pulpit and thus raise yourself above the necks of the Muslims. Is it not sufficient for you that you are standing while the Muslims are at your heels? Therefore, I urge you to smash it to bits.’ ‘Umar(ra) was concerned that this HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 58 59KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 kind of innovation would be the start of arrogance creeping in amongst the Imams. Minbars became widely used in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire. He established the Majlis Shura as an advisory body for the Khalifah. As the Islamic empire gained in power and wealth, he also turned his attention to education and established a number of schools and mosques across his empire. As the numbers of Muslims in outlying areas grew rapidly, so the need for teaching them about Islam and the Qur’an became apparent. ‘Umar(ra) despatched many of the learned Companions to these areas to begin the process of teaching at a sufficient level of quality. He sent 10 Companions to Basra to teach the Qur’an, and sent Ibn Mas’ud to Kufa. He was also very careful about what was being taught and how. When he learned that Ibn Mas’ud was teaching the Qur’an in his native Hudhail dialect, he told him: ‘The Qur’an was revealed in the dialect of the Quraish, so teach according to the dialect of the Quraish and not the Hudhail.’ After complaints from Yazid bin Abi Sufyan about the lack of help in teaching in Syria, he despatched Mu’adh, ‘Ubadah and Abu ad- Darda’ to Hims, and from there Abu ad-Darda’ went on to Damascus and Mu’adh to Palestine, while ‘Ubadah remained in Hims. Abu ad-Darda’ established a study circle of 1600 scholars in Damascus of whom his brighter students went on to train hundreds of others. (Al-Azami, p.85-86) These were the growing pains of Islam that Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) had to deal with in order to ensure that the next generation of Muslims were of quality and not just quantity. Even in the wilderness, he sent people to train and educate the bedouins, and in Madinah, the home of Islam, he tasked Companions to teach the children and also to make the Qur’an more understandable even for adults. He encouraged his followers to focus on the spread of the message of Islam rather than on settling and owning land. It was with this zeal that his followers were able to HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 59 60 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 rapidly take the message of Islam to Syria, Jerusalem, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. Islam expanded into the Middle East and Persia, across North Africa and up towards Asia Minor. Muslims were encouraged to hand over land as trusts for the building of schools, hospitals and orphanages, and so as not to grow too attached to worldy things. The accumulation of wealth and power was not in the minds of the Muslims as the sphere of influence expanded. If anything, the larger the Islamic Empire grew, the more opportunities arose to make sacrifices for the sake of Islam. ‘Umar’s death ‘Umar’s(ra) end was untimely. He was marshalling worshippers for the midday prayer when a disgruntled Persian non-Muslim, Abu Lu’lu’ah Firoz of Basra, who held a grudge against him, stabbed him. Just a few days earlier, Abu Lu’lu’ah had approached ‘Umar(ra) to complain about the amount he had to pay his master, Mugheerah ibn Sha’bah, and asked the levy to be reduced. ‘Umar(ra) listened to him and suggested that the level of the levy was reasonable. So it was according to historians, such as Tabari, that while ‘Umar(ra) began the prayers, Abu Lu’lu’ah stepped HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Tomb of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra), Madinah Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 60 61KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 forward from one of the rows and stabbed him six times. When apprehended, he stabbed himself (Tabari, Vol.XIV, p.89-90). On his deathbed, ‘Umar(ra) gave instructions for a Shura to be established to elect a new Khalifah. He said: “To him who shall follow me, I give it as my wish that he be kind to this city which gave a home to us and to the Faith, that he acknowledge much of their virtues and pass lightly over their faults. And bid him treat well the Arab tribes for they are the strength of Islam.” (Helminski p.410-411) He died two days later on November 644 at the age of just 64 years. ‘Umar’s Character ‘Umar(ra) demonstrated his courage throughout his life. He also showed humility and compassion as Khalifah. He was also very wise and truthful. There are hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet(saw) that show the regard of the Prophet(saw) for his character as we read: ‘Truly Allah has placed the truth upon the tongue of ‘Umar and he speaks by it.’ (Abu Daud, Book 19, No.2956) He adopted a simple life and this extended to his clothing and his tastes in food. He once admonished his son ‘Asim for eating meat just because he had a craving for it. In response, Al-Hasan records him as saying: ‘Every time you crave something, do you eat it? It is sufficient wasteful extra- vagance for a man that he eats everything for which he has an appetite.’ He was a practical man, and inspired others with his insight and with his moral stand. This extended beyond actions towards fellow men to the treatment of animals. On one occasion, he saw a man dragging a goat by its leg and taking it to slaughter. He was apalled at this and said: ‘Woe unto you. If you take the HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 61 62 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 animal to its death, do so in a proper manner.’ He felt a great responsibility as Khalifah and a compassion for the weak and the poor. At one time, there was a great famine in the Hijaz and despite some supplies being sent from Egypt and Syria, ‘Umar(as) felt so touched by the plight of his people that he swore not to touch butter or honey while the famine lasted. Although his assistant could see the adverse reaction on his health, he still refused to consume what he thought of luxuries saying: “If I do not taste suffering, how can I know the suffering of others?” He was keenly aware of not abusing his position as Khalifah. He would only burn an oil lamp while on official business. Once he refused to give a family member money because he had asked for it out of God’s money. He later called him back and gave him 10,000 dirhams out of his own wealth (Tabari, Vol XIV, p.107), but was very careful on spending from the funds of the Muslims. On another occasion, ‘Umar(ra) turned to Salman and asked, “Am I a King or a Caliph?” Salman replied “If you collect from a Muslim territory 1 dirham – or less or more – then you put it to use other than for what it is by right intended, you are a King, not a Caliph”. ‘Umar wept at the thought of having used even the smallest amount for a different purpose (Tabari, Vol. XIV, p.118), such was his sense of duty and responsibility. He had a keen sense of fair play. Once he appeared before a Court in Madinah following a complaint against him. As he entered the Court, the Judge stood to show his respect, but ‘Umar(as) turned to the Judge and said: “This is the first injustice you have done to the plaintiff.” Conclusions There were many great leaders and wise characters amongst the early followers of the Holy Prophet(saw), but what makes ‘Umar’s story so intriguing is how he changed from being such a well-known enemy of Islam to being its defender. In the journey, his transformation from a HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 62 63KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 The Review of Religions – November 2007 passionate and aggressive man to the most humble and dignified of leaders despite the huge authority that he carried is an example to us all. While the sphere of influence expanded rapdily and the great Roman (Byzantine) and Persian Empires were both humbled during his leadership, if the conquered people came to the town and home of the most powerful man, rather than seeing vast structures and the pomp and show that they were used to seeing in Rome, Constantinople or Ctesiphon, they witnessed instead humble mud-brick houses, simple mosques and a leader who wore simple clothes, ate simple food and expected no special treatment. Hurmuzan, the conquered ruler of Ahwaz visited the Khalifah wearing his silks and bejewelled crown only to see his master wearing coarse and patched clothes. The historian Edward Gibbon in the 18th Century wrote of him: ‘The abstinence and humility of Omar were not inferior to the virtues of Abu Beker: his food consisted of barley bread or dates; his drink was water; he preached in a gown that was torn and tattered in twelve places; and the Persian satrap, who paid his homage to the conqueror, found him asleep among the beggars on the steps of the mosque of Medina.’ (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol.5) Finally, although Shi’as claim that ‘Umar(ra) prevented Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) from becoming Khalifah earlier due to his own greed for power, the actions of the man show the opposite. ‘Ali(ra) himself admired Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) and keenly served him as a judge and key advisor. If a man were keen for personal power, having attained that status, such a person would then take steps to make the most of his position in terms of power, wealth and the exploitation of the trappings of power. With Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) we see the opposite. He never sought a position. But having been given that position, he led by example, looked after the welfare of the needy and lived a simple life. His focus was not political expansion either, but the spread of freedom HADHRAT ‘UMAR(RA) Nov 2007.qxd 28/12/07 11:31 Page 63 64 The Review of Religions – November 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 2 and then the sharing of knowledge. He put a lot of thought into how to teach the Qur’an and the principles of Islam to the large numbers of new Muslim converts across the world and set up a system that helped ensure the integrity of Islam. Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) always remembered throughout his dealings that he was answerable to God for his actions. He was an exemplary Muslim. May God be pleased with him. Amin. References 1. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Cyril Glasse, Harper San Francisco, 1999. 2. Life of Muhammad, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 1990. 3. Islam – a short history, Karen Armstrong, Phoenix Press, London 2001. 4. The Preaching of Islam, T. W. Arnold, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 1998. 5. Al-Quds, Mohammed Abdul Hameed Al-Khateeb, Ta-Ha Publishers, London 1998. 6. Intrigues against Khilafat-i-Rashida and their Impact, Maulana Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad, Ascot Press, London. 7. Khulafa-e-Rashideen, Majeed A Mian, Review of Religions, Vol.92, No.3, March 1997. 8. The Book of Character – writings on character and virtue from Islamic and other sources, Camille Helminski, The Book Foundation, Bristol 2004. 9. The History of the Khalifas who took the right way, Jalaladdin as-Suyuti, Ta-Ha Publishers, London 2006. 10. Nubuwwat & Khilafat – Prophethood and its successorship, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 2006. 11. The Excellent Exemplar: Muhammad the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, The Chaucer Press, UK, 1962. 12. 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