The Four Caliphs (Part 7)
`UMAR B. AL-KHATTAB (d. 23AH)
After the Prophet’s Death
With the Prophet’s death, the question of leadership arose, and the Ansar got together in the quarters of Banu Saa`idah for consultations. `Umar hurried there in the company of Abu Bakr in fear of decisions that could split the Ummah. Abu Bakr had no difficulty in saying boldly, placing his trust in the understanding of the Ansar, “Leadership will remain in our (Muhajiroon’s) hands, while you will remain the viziers.” Initially the Ansar disagreed but when Abu Bakr suggested that they pledge their hands to `Umar or Abu `Ubaydah, `Umar seized the moment by saying, “But rather, you are our leader,” and then placing his hand in Abu Bakr’s, he pledged his own loyalty. Who could disagree with Abu Bakr’s leadership?
The Prophet had prepared a force headed by Usama b. Zayd but which delayed its march staying outside Madinah, waiting for him to recover. After the Prophet died, first there was opposition to Usama’s force leaving because of the apostasy crisis, but Abu Bakr – despite `Umar’s suggestion – wouldn’t give in. When it was finally agreed that Usama’s force will leave, the Ansar suggested that a senior person be appointed in place of the young Usama. When `Umar conveyed this to Abu Bakr, he jumped up, caught hold of `Umar’s beard and said, “May your mother mourn your loss `Umar. The Prophet appointed him and you want me to remove him?” `Umar went back to the Ansar and said, “May your mother’s mourn you for what I got from the Prophet’s successor.”
It was `Umar who suggested to Abu Bakr, and after his initial hesitation, prevailed upon him, to gather together all the scripts of the Qur’an that were scattered around among the Companions, and get them deposited with Hafsa the Prophet’s wife and `Umar’s daughter.
In his wisdom Abu Bakr had realized that disagreements could arise if he did not nominate his successor. But, instead of following his own judgment, he consulted `Abdul Rahman b. `Awf, `Uthman b. `Affan, Usayd b. Hudayr, Sa`id b. Zayd and several others before announcing his decision at the time of his death that he was nominating `Umar as the caliph after him.
As a Caliph
Assuming his position after Abu Bakr’s death, `Umar said in the first, or one of the first speeches: People, recite the Qur’an, you will gain knowledge thereby, live by it so that you become its companions, weigh yourself before you are weighed, prepare yourself for the day when no one will be able to hide himself, let no one be of such a status in your eyes that you obey him in the disobedience of Allah, and, from the position I’ve been placed, I shall not draw from the public treasury at all, but if forced to, then only that which will be just enough for me.
The first action that `Umar took after assuming Khilafah was to return Arab prisoners of the Riddah wars, to their families free. It was an extremely wise political step that opened the hearts of thousands for Islam and prepared their hearts to participate in Jihad against Kufr.
Although a stern wise man of deep perspectives, he rarely took any major decision, and in religious affairs even a minor decision, without consulting people around him of whom he always kept a good number close, especially of the senior Companions. During his rule he maintained absolute justice and treated everyone equal in law. When `Amr b. al-`Aas abused an Egyptian and the man turned up in Madinah complaining against the governor, he ordered him to appear at Madinah and got him whipped at the hands of the Egyptian saying, “since when have you enslaved Allah’s free creations?”
He was quite conscious of divisions in the society and stood against it. When invited to a meal at Makkah by Safwan b. Umayyah, the food was brought on a large dish by four servants, who laid it down and stood by. `Umar asked Safwan, “Do you dislike them?” He said no, but the usual practice was that they had the second chance. He became angry with Safwan and made the four sit down and eat.
He was strict with himself. When there was drought followed by shortage of food materials in the markets, he would eat nothing but barley bread avoiding all dairy products until common people had access to them. Indeed, when he was sent choice meat from the sacrificed animal on the Day of Sacrifice, he refused to eat saying, “Should the choice meat come to me and the second-grade go to common people?” How could then, one who judged himself as he would judge others stay silent when his son `Abdul Rahman was whipped within the house of the governor `Amr b. al-`Aas for drinking wine? He reprimanded `Amr for getting him whipped within a closed area, perhaps because he was the son of the Caliph and ordered him to send `Abdul Rahman to Madinah where he got him flogged in public a second time.
`Umar’s justice and equal treatment of all and sundry is unique in the history of humankind. A Ghassani prince, a new entrant in Islam, treated honorably by `Umar, went for an `Umrah during which a Bedouin stepped on his cloak. He boxed him in the face that bled him from the nose. The man complained to `Umar who asked the Ghassani to either work a compromise with the Bedouin or face just retribution which consisted in the Bedu boxing him. The Ghassani was shocked. He said it was unthinkable because he was a prince and the other a camel herdsman. He threatened that if it was imposed, he would rather become a Christian. `Umar told him coldly that he would be executed if he apostatized. The prince sought time, and making use of the darkness of the night escaped to Constantinople along with his retinue: although later he expressed deep regret for having fled.
When he found a blind Jew begging, who gave the reason for his begging as extreme poverty and inability to pay Jizyah, `Umar gave him something from his own house and then sent him to the Treasury with instructions that he and his likes may be given allowances from the Treasury and Jizyah burden taken away from him and his kind. His words are of historical significance: “It does not befit us that we use them in their youth and then abandon them to begging in their old age.” Our enlightened world is still struggling to come to terms with `Umar’s statement.
`Abdullah b. `Aamir reported, “I traveled with `Umar from Madinah to Makkah and then back. Nowhere on the way did he pitch a tent. He would stretch a piece of leather on the ground and using a cloak to cover, would sleep off under a tree.”
One of his actions of far reaching consequence was removal of the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula freeing it from influences foreign to Islam. This was the last instruction given by the Prophet: Leave no two religions in the Arabian Peninsula.
Both the communities were under treaties of peace. Yet, although they must have known of the Prophet’s instruction, and must have also known that violation of treaties could have serious consequences, the Jews of Hejaz broke their treaty by acting arrogantly against those who went to collect Jizyah, and in one instance broke `Abdullah b. `Umar’s arm. The Christians of Najran on the other hand broke their treaty by dealing in usury having been forbidden it. `Umar exiled the Jews to Syria and the Christians to Iraq who settled near Kufa in a colony they called Najraniyyah. Both were handsomely compensated for the exile. They were paid for their fields, orchards, trees, houses, and everything else. It was a generous bargain because a tree in the fertile Syria was worth 3 in dry Hejaz; the weather was far better, and both were nearer to the lands that were dearer to them than Hejaz or Najran; it is another thing that subsequently many of their descendents seem to have become Muslims.
The circumstance of `Umar’s death was tragic. There was a Persian slave called Abu Lu’lu owned by Mughira b. Shu`ba. He complained to `Umar about the hardships his master imposed. `Umar advised him to treat his master well, wishing to speak to his master about him one of those days. But the man became angry with `Umar. May be he bore Persian grudge too. One morning while `Umar was leading in the Fajr Prayer, he attacked him with a double pointed poisoned dagger. When people tried to arrest him, he killed five more before he could be overpowered. The dagger had cut through his intestines so that when they gave him a potion, it came out of his stomach. He sent his son `Abdullah to seek permission from `A’isha to allow him buried next to Abu Bakr who was next to the Prophet. She had reserved the place for herself, but she agreed to donate it to him. However, `Umar had ordered that when his bier is ready, `A’isha’s permission may be sought again. If she would not agree, he could be buried in Baqee`. But `A’isha stood by her words and he was buried in her house by the side of Abu Bakr, about a foot below him height-wise as Abu Bakr was one foot below the Prophet height-wise.
Before dying, `Umar had named six men from among whom his successor was to be chosen: `Uthman b. `Affan, `Ali ibn abi Talib, Sa`d b. Waqqas, `Abdul Rahman b. `Awf, Zubayr b. al-`Awwam and Talha b. `Ubaydullah. These were six of those ten the Prophet had named as those of Paradise. Abu Bakr and `Umar made it eight, and left out two, Sa`eed b. Zayd (perhaps because he was from `Umar’s own clan) and Abu `Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah who was dead. He gave them 3 days to decide. He instructed that if the majority of these six agreed over a man, and one of them disagreed, he was to be executed.
(The series to be continued)