Umar ibn al-Khattab

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Umar ibn al-Khattab (in Arabic, عمر بن الخطاب) (c. 581 - November, 644), sometimes referred to as Umar Farooq or just as Omar or Umar, was from the Banu Adi clan of the Quraysh tribe, the tribe that dominated Mecca and of which the Prophet Muhammad was also a member.

He became the second caliph of Islam (634-644 C.E.) and is regarded by Sunnis as one of the first four Khulfa-e-Rashidun (in Persian and Urdu, خلفأے راشدین) (in Malay Khulafa al-Rasyidin) (or "Rightly Guided Caliphs").

The Shi'a, however, believe that he usurped authority that properly belonged to Ali ibn Abi Talib. Sunni and Shi'a hold diametrically opposite views of Umar. However, for the majority of Muslims he is a revered and highly respected figure whose role in consolidating Islam, expanding the Caliphate territorially, combining the Qur'an's collection into a canon and laying down ground-rules for the science of hadith, were all crucially important aspects of Islam's development as a religious-social-political system, or comprehensive way of life. He is equally remembered for his piety and simple life-style. Many see him as third in merit, after Muhammad and Abu Bakr. He carried the responsibilities of power with humility. Although he had a reputation for impetuosity, he governed wisely and with a strong sense of justice. The system he helped to create gave stability to the lives of countless people, resulting in the flourishing of Islamic civilization. It gave a strong sense that all activities must be acceptable to God, of whose presence people should be conscience at all times, for the whole world is a mosque. His view of the ruler's role remains relevant throughout the Islamic world today.

Contents

His early life

Umar was born in Mecca. He is said to have belonged to a middle class family. He was literate, which was uncommon in those times, and he was also well known for his physical strength, being a champion wrestler.

After his conversion to Islam, he remembered with shame and regret killing his young daughter while he was still a "pagan" (female infanticide was an accepted practice among the Arabs).

He is quoted as saying, “I cried when I remembered digging a hole and burying my daughter. Whilst I was putting her in, she reached up and brushed dirt from my beard."

His conversion to Islam

When Muhammad first declared his message of Islam, Umar resolved to defend the traditional religion of the Quraysh (regarded by Muslims as idolatry). Umar was most adamant in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting the Muslims.

According to an early story, recounted in Ibn Ishaq's Sira, Umar is said to have resolved to assassinate Muhammad. A Muslim (technically, this term was not used until after the migration to Medina in 622 C.E., before which Muhammad's followers were believers, Muminun) he met on the way told him to set his own house in order first, as his sister had converted to Islam.

According to one account, in 618 C.E., Umar went to her house and found her reciting verses of the Qur'an. He became infuriated and hit her. When he saw her bleeding, he was sorry for what he had done. To please her, He promised to read the sura (chapter), Ta-Ha, that she had been reading. He was so influenced by the sura that he accepted Islam that day (Guillaume 156-7). The previous day, Muhammad had prayed that someone of Umar's stature would convert. An alternative account has Umar hearing Muhammad recite the Qur'an near the Ka'bah, which 'softened' Umar's heart so that “Islam,” he says, “entered him” (Guillaume 158). In both accounts he immediately seeks out Muhammad and is welcomed by him. Muhammad gave thanks “so loudly that the whole household knew that Umar had become a Muslim.”

After that, Umar was as determined and impetuous in defending Islam as he had been in persecuting it (Guillaume 155). When he converted to Islam, Umar was a mature man of 30-35 years of age. His reputation among the Meccans was such that his conversion made a considerable impact on the struggling community of believers, and it has been claimed that with Umar's conversion, Islam recruited new strength and Muslims were now able to dare the pagans. Ibn Ishaq recorded that Umar’s conversion to Islam was a victory. He was a “strong, stubborn man whose protégés none dare attack,” thus the Prophet's “companions were ... fortified by him” (Guillaume 155). The believers could now leave their places of hiding, and pray openly in the precincts of the Kaaba. Ibn Ishaq says that Umar “fought the Quraysh until he could pray there” and that the believers followed. Others add that the believers were no longer afraid of Abu Jahl, the 'father of ignorance' who led opposition to Muhammad and would publicly reprimand and ridicule any new convert, then order a boycott of dealings with them. He led the troops at the Battle of Badr (624 C.E.). Umar soon became a trusted and senior adviser of Muhammad, who married his daughter Hafsa, thus cementing their alliance. Muhammad called Umar the separator of right (ma'ruf) from wrong (munkar). Umar was so confident in his friendship with Muhammad that he even disagreed with Muhammad on several occasions.

Umar in Medina

Umar was part of the first emigration (Hijra) to Yathrib (renamed Medinat al Nabi, or simply Medina shortly thereafter) in 622 C.E. He was present at Badr, Uhud, Khaybar, and the raid on Syria, as well as many other engagements. He became equally renowned for his piety and simple lifestyle as he was for his military prowess.

In 625, Umar's daughter Hafsa bint Umar was married to Muhammad. Muhammad's household was not always peaceful; his wives quarreled over his favors and took sides against each other. Umar was much displeased when he heard this, and according to the story, scolded her thus:

”Hafsa, the (news) has reached me that you cause Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) trouble. You know that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) does not love you, and had I not been (your father) he would have divorced you.” [On hearing this] she wept bitterly. (Sahih Muslim, Book 009, Number 3507)

The death of Muhammad

Muhammad died in Medina in 632. Umar is said to have at threatened to kill anybody who said that Muhammad had died. He was calmed when Abu Bakr said, "If anyone worshipped Muhammad, then know that Muhammad is dead, but if anyone worshipped Allah, then Allah is living and does not die." Abu Bakr then recited these words from the Qur'an: "Muhammad is but a messenger; messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. If, then, he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heel?"

The Sunnis call this his love for Muhammad while the Shi'as say that Umar wished to delay the funeral, so that Abu Bakr could return to Medina and seize power.

Shi'a and Sunni Muslims have sharply different views regarding account of the events following Muhammad's death. See caliph for further details.

Abu Bakr, supported by Umar, assumed leadership of the community after Muhammad. During Abu Bakr's short reign as caliph, Umar was one of his chief advisors. Abu Bakr nominated Umar as his successor prior to his death in 634. He was confirmed in the office thereafter. Ali ibn Abi Talib, whom some (Banu Hashim) believed should have been the first caliph, was again passed over.

Umar's Caliphate

During Umar's reign, the Islamic empire grew at an unprecedented rate, taking Mesopotamia and parts of Persia from the Sassanids (effectively ending that empire), and taking Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa and Armenia from the Byzantines. Many of these conquests followed the watershed Battle of Yarmouk in 636, when a Muslim army of 40,000 decisively defeated a Byzantine force numbering 120,000, permanently ending Byzantine rule south of Asia Minor (the numbers may be inexact or exaggerated).

Conquest of Jerusalem

In 637, after a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, the Muslims took the city. Umar was given the key to the city by the Greek Orthodox patriarch, Sophronius who surrendered the city on terms that no one be harmed. Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, had fled. He entered Jerusalem in humility, walking in with not he, the Caliph, but his servant comfortably riding on a camel. They had been taking turns walking and riding (Muir: 135). The peace treaty he signed read as follows:

From the servant of Allah and the Commander of the Faithful, Omar: 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 over nor pulled down. People shall be quite free to follow their religion. They shall not be put to any trouble...

While the Patriarch was dressed in sumptuous robes, Umar, who was 'contemptuous of finery' wore his travel-stained battle tunic (Makiya 2001: 85). Makiya describes a conversation between Sophronious and Umar on the question of dress. Umar challenges Sophronious, saying that God does not 'demand extravagance' to which the Patriarch replies that he is 'his office.' He does not wear finery to adorn himself but to 'check the confusion and anarchy in the world' (91).

Later, Umar was invited to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but chose to pray some distance from the Church, saying that he was afraid that in the future Muslims could use this as an excuse to take over the Church to build a Masjid (Muir 1924: 132). The Christians gave the key of the Church to Muslims to be responsible for its safety. This key is still with the Muslims today as a sign and symbol of the mutual trust. Fifty-five years later, the Mosque of Umar was constructed on the site where he prayed. That was believed to be the site where Jacob had spoken with God, known as the Sakhra, or “Rock,” and it was full of rubbish and dirt, which Umar began to clean. Umar is said to have asked to be taken to the site, or niche (mihrab Dawud), where David had 'sought forgiveness of his Lord' (Makiya 2001: 55). This was also believed to have been a place of prayer for Abraham. The same site is associated with Muhammad's Night Journey (isra') and Ascension (mir'aj) and with Q17: 1, which refers to the Night Journey and to the 'farthest mosque', which for Muslims means Jerusalem.

Some non-Muslim scholars are more skeptical about the location of the 'farthest mosque' (al-Masjid al-Aqsa) and suggest that the story of the Ascent was apocryphal, pehaps ever post-dating 638. Makiya (2001) dates it from after the completion of the Dome of the Rock in 691 (323-4). However, there is no doubt that Umar's conquest of Jerusalem, which became known as al-Quds (the Holy) was regarded as a sign of divine blessing and of Islam's ascendancy over the earlier Abrahamic faiths. Legends abound in Islam about Jerusalem and its role on the Day of Judgment, including that the Ka'ba will come (or return) to the Rock on which God's throne will rest (Makiya 2001: 207). Some claim that Umar allowed Jews to settle in Jerusalem, although this is disputed. In Makiya's fictional account (but based on original sources), Umar crossed out the sentence in the draft treaty that re-inforded the ban; and “did it slowly and deliberately so that everyone ... could see him doing it.” “I bring this up,” says the narrator, “because so much doubt has been cast in recent years on whether or not the Caliph left the ban on a Jewish presence in Jerusalem in force or not” (90). Umar is said to have appointed a different Muslim family custodian of each holy place, Jewish and Christian, for their safekeeping.

Umar's Edict on the dhimma (protected communities)

Umar also set out conditions or regulations relating to the treatment of those people who entered into protective pacts with the Muslims, the alh-adh-dhimma, which allowed 'peoples of the book' (ahl-al-kitab) to retain their non-Muslim faith under certain conditions, six of which were necessary, six desirable. The necessary conditions were: the dhimmi should not revile the Qur'an, nor Muhammad, nor Islam; they should not marry a Muslim woman; they should not attempt to convert a Muslim or injure him in life or goods; they should not assist the enemy nor harbor spies. For the dhimmi committing any of these offences the protection of the Muslims was withdrawn; that is, he became an outlaw and his life forfeited. The six "desirable" conditions were that they should wear distinctive clothing, the ghiyar, a yellow patch on their dress, and the girdle (zannar); that they should not build houses higher than those of the Muslims; nor ring their wooden bells (nalcus), nor read their scriptures in a loud voice; nor drink wine in public, nor let their crosses or swine be seen, that their dead should be wept and buried in silence; and that they should not mount a horse, only mules and asses. The breach of these regulations was visited with penalties although several of these, such as the wearing of distinctive dress, were often not enforced. (Muir 1924:137)

Umar's Achievements

Umar was known for his simple lifestyle. Rather than adopt the pomp and display affected by the rulers of the time, he continued to live much as he had when Muslims were poor and persecuted. He became an important but cautious source of hadith (saying of the Prophet). Some attribute the founding of the science of hadith to Umar. If a matter arose in public assembly for which guidance was desirable, Umar would ask if any one present remembered a hadith on the topic. He was reluctant to ascribe to Muhammad words that he had not said, so himself narrated few and established such rules as the need for a reliable chain of narrators (isnad) and for the content (matn) to be consistent with the Qur'an and Muhammad's known views. Also, whether the saying was meant to be applied universally, or only to the particular circumstance is another important consideration. In Bukhari, Umar is credited with 1100 hadith (15.56%) out of the 7,275 considered to be sound (sahih). Umar is also said to have contributed to the process by which the Qur'an was gathered into a canon, commissioning Zaid ibn Thabit (died 655) to collect the chapters even before he was himself Caliph. The process was completed under Uthman.

On his return to Mecca from Jerusalem, Umar delivered an important speech that clearly set out his understanding of his role as Caliph. He stated that:

Allah has for the time being made me your ruler. But I am one of you. No special privileges belong to ruler. I have some responsibilities to discharge, and in this I seek your cooperation. Government is a sacred trust, and it is my endeavor not to betray the trust in any way. For the fulfillment 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.

Umar specifically rejected the title 'king' and associated over-taxation with kingship, so was careful not to demand too much from the people (Makaya 2001: 89). For one version of Umar's speech to the people after the surrender of Jerusalem, see [1].

Death and Legacy

Umar died in 644, the victim of an assassin's dagger. Umar's killer (Abu-Lu'lu'ah) was a Persian slave who is said to held a personal grudge against Umar. He stabbed the Caliph six times as Umar led prayers in the Masjid al Nabawi mosque in Medina, then committed suicide.

Umar died two days later, and was buried alongside Muhammad and Abu Bakr. Uthman was elected as his successor by a group of prominent Muslims (including Ali ibn Abi Talib) appointed by Umar before his death.

As first caliph, Abu Bakr had ensured that the infant community survived; but it was Umar who transformed the territory ruled by the Caliph into an Empire, organized the first standing army and an efficient administration. Umar's qualities, including his piety and humility as well as his courage, even impress some of those inclined to be critical of Islam, such as the eminent nineteenth century British scholar, Sir William Muir, whose appraisal of Umar is worth citing in full:

Omar's life requires but few lines to sketch. Simplicity and duty were his guiding principles, impartiality and devotion the leading features of his administration. Responsibility so weighed upon him that he was heard to exclaim , "O that my mother had not borne me; would that I had been this stalk of grass instead!" In early life of a fiery and impatient temper, he was known, even in the later days of the Prophet, as the stern advocate of vengeance. Ever ready to unsheathe the sword, it was he that at Bedr advised that the prisoners should all be put to death. But age, as well as office, had now mellowed this asperity. His sense of justice was strong. And except it be the treatment of Khalid, whom according to some accounts, he pursued with an ungenerous resentment, no act of tyranny or injustice is recorded against him; and even in this matter, his enmity took its rise in Khalid's unscrupulous treatment of a fallen foe. The choice of his captains and governors was free from favouritism, and [with only a few exception] singularly fortunate. The various tribes and bodies in the empire, representing interests the most diverse, reposed in his integrity implicit confidence, and his strong arm maintained the discipline of law and empire. A certain weakness is discernible in his change of governors at the factious seats of Al-Basra and Al-Kufa. Yet even there, the conflicting jealousies of Bedawin and Koreish were kept by him in check, and never dared disturb Islam till he had passed away. The more distinguished of the Companions he kept by him at Medina, partly, no doubt, to strengthen his counsels, and partly (as he would say) from unwillingness to lower their dignity by placing them in office subordinate to himself. Whip in hand, he would perambulate the streets and markets of Medina, ready to punish offenders on the spot; and so the proverb,—"'Omar's whip is more terrible than another's sword." But with all this he was tender-hearted, and numberless acts of kindness are recorded of him, such as relieving the wants of the widow and the fatherless. (190-191)

There has been some criticism that at times Umar treated his wives harshly (he had seven) and one hadith on the permissibility of wife-beating is attributed to him (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Book 11, Number 2142 ). He also had his son lashed to the point of death for drinking alcohol (Makiya 2001: 147). On the other hand, he also narrated a hadith that if a master beats a slave for no just cause he must set him free (Sahih Muslim, The Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman), Book 015, Number 4079).

The Sunni view of Umar

The Sunni consider him a strong, wise, humble and competent ruler, the second rightly guided Caliph. They consider him as a true follower of the Islamic faith. Sunnis believe he was good in the battlefield. Sunnis say at the time of his death, he was asked if he would like to nominate his son Abdullah bin Umar, as Caliph and he replied "one is enough from Umar's Family.” Sunnis suggest that Umar had a special veneration for the Household of the Prophet, marrying Umm Kulthum bint Ali, the daughter of Ali and Fatimah and the granddaughter of Muhammad.

The Shi'a view of Umar

The Shi'a regard Umar as a usurper, and criticize him harshly. He is said to have questioned some of Muhammad's decisions, shown cowardice in battle, and been too harsh to his daughter when he scolded her for her behavior towards Muhammad. During the matter of the disputed succession to Muhammad, he persecuted Ali, they claim. Shi'a say that Umar ruled capriciously as caliph, at times giving legal rulings which contradicted the Qur'an and sunnah (tradition of Muhammad), which is the very opposite of the Sunni view.

Farooqui

The family names Farooqui (alternative spellings, Farooqi, Faruqi, etc.) and El-Umari are used by families claiming descent from Umar.

References

  • Makiya, Kanan The Rock: A Tale of Seventh Century Jerusalem, NY, Pantheon/Random House, 2001 ISBN 0375400877
  • Muir, Sir William. The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline and Fall: From Original Sources revised by Weir, T. H, Edinburgh, John Grant, 1924.

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