Omar Bin Al-Khattab

For other uses, see Umar (disambiguation).
Rashidun Caliphs Umar ibn Al-Khattāb - عُمر بن الخطّاب ثاني الخلفاء الراشدين
Islamic Empire During The Reign
Leader of the Faithful
(Amir al-Mu'minin)
Full Name 'Umar bin al-Khattab
(عمر بن الخطاب)
Reign 23 August 634 CE – 6 November 644 CE

584 - 589

CE (45 BH)
Birthplace Mecca, Arabia
Died 6 November 644 CE (26 Zulhijjah 23 AH)[1]
Deathplace Medina, Arabia
Place of Burial Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, Madinah
Predecessor Abu Bakr
Successor Uthman
Father Khattab ibn Nufayl
Mother Hantamah binti Khattab
Brother(s) Zayd ibn al-Khattab
Sister(s) Fatimah bint al-Khattab
Spouse(s) • Zaynab bint Maz'un
Umm Kulthum bint Ali
• Quraybah bint Abi Umayyah al-Makhzumi
• Umm Hakim bint al-Harith ibn Hisham
Jamilah bint Asim ibn Thabit ibn Abi al-Aqlah
• Atikah bint Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl
• Luhyah
• Fukayhah
Son(s)`Abd Allah ibn `Umar
• 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Umar
• 'Ubaid Allah ibn 'Umar
• Zayd ibn 'Umar
Asim ibn Umar
• Iyaad ibn 'Umar
• 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Umar
• Az-Zubayr ibn Bakkar (Abu Shahmah)
Daughter(s)Hafsa bint 'Umar
• Fatima bint 'Umar
• Zaynab bint 'Umar
Descendants Farooqui
Other Titles Al-Farooq ("Distinguisher between truth and false")
Amir al-Mo`mineen ("Commander of the Faithful") [2]

'Umar, also spelled Omar (Arabic: عمر بن الخطابtranslit.: `Umar ibn Al-Khattāb, Umar Son of Al-Khattab, born 584- 589 CE – died 6 November 644 CE), was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs (rulers) in history.[3] He was a sahābi (companion) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He succeeded Caliph Abu Bakr (632–634) as the second Caliph of Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. He was an expert Islamic jurist and is best known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the title Al-Faruq ("the one who distinguishes between right and wrong").[4] He is sometimes referred to as Caliph 'Umar I by historians of Islam, since a later Umayyad caliph, 'Umar II, also bore that name.

Under Umar the Islamic empire expanded at an unprecedented rate ruling the whole Sassanid Persian Empire and more than two thirds of the Eastern Roman Empire.[5] His attacks against the Sassanid Persian Empire resulted in the conquest of the Persian empire in less than two years.[6] It was Umar, according to Jewish tradition, who set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed Jews into Jerusalem and to worship.[7]

Early life

Umar was born in Mecca to the Banu Adi clan, which was responsible for arbitration among the tribes. His father was Khattab ibn Nufayl and his mother was Hantama bint Hisham, from the tribe of Banu Makhzum. He is said to have belonged to a middle-class family. In his youth he used to tend to his father’s camels in the plains near Mecca. His father was famed for his intelligence among his tribe. He was a High-class merchant and is believed to be a ruthless man and emotional polytheist who often treated Umar badly. As obvious from Umar's own statement regarding his father during his later political rule, Umar said, "My father Al-Khattab was a ruthless man. He used to make me work hard; if I didn't work he used to beat me and he used to work me to exhaustion."[8]

Despite literacy being uncommon in pre-Islamic Arabia, Umar learned to read and write in his youth. Though not a poet himself, he developed a love for poetry and literature.[9] According to the tradition of Quraish, while still in his teenage years, Umar learned martial arts, horse riding and wrestling. He was tall, physically powerful and was soon to became a renowned wrestler.[9][10] Umar was also a gifted orator, and due to his intelligence and overwhelming personality, he succeeded his father as an arbitrator of conflicts among the tribes.[11]

In addition, Umar followed the traditional profession of Quraish. He became a merchant and made several journeys to Rome and Persia, where he is said to have met the various scholars and analyzed the Roman and Persian societies closely. However, as a merchant he is believed to have never been successful.[12][13] Drinking alcohol was very common among the Quraish, and Umar was also fond of drinking in his pre-Islamic days.[14]

During Muhammad's era

Initial hostility to Islam

In 610 Muhammad started delivering the message of Islam. Umar, alongside others in Mecca, opposed Islam and threatened to kill Muhammad. He resolved to defend the traditional, polytheistic religion of Arabia. He was most adamant and cruel in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting the Muslims.[15] Umar was the first man who resolved that Muhammad had to be murdered in order to finish Islam.[16] Umar firmly believed in the unity of the Quraish and saw the new faith of Islam as a cause of division and discord among the Quraish.[15]

Due to the persecution at the hands of the Quraish, Muhammad ordered his followers to migrate to Abyssinia. As a small group of Muslims migrated Umar felt worried about the future unity of the Quraish and decided to have Muhammad assassinated.[17]

Conversion to Islam

Umar converted to Islam in 616, one year after the Migration to Abyssinia. The story was recounted in Ibn Ishaq's Sīrah. On his way to murder Muhammad, Umar met his best friend Nuaim who had secretly converted to Islam but had not told Umar. When Umar informed him that he had set out to kill Muhammad, Nuaim feared the worst. Umar was a man of his word and would attempt to do what he said. So in order to divert his attention, Nuaim told him to inquire about his own house where his sister and her husband had converted to Islam. Upon arriving at her house, Umar found his sister and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zaid (Umar's cousin) reciting the verses of the Quran from sura Ta-ha.[18] He started quarreling with his brother-in-law. When his sister came to rescue her husband, he also started quarreling with her. Yet still they kept on saying "you may kill us but we will not give up Islam". Upon hearing these words, Umar slapped his sister so hard that she fell to the ground bleeding from her mouth. When he saw what he did to his sister, he calmed down out of guilt and asked his sister to give him what she was reciting. His sister replied in the negative and said "You are unclean, and no unclean person can touch the Scripture." He insisted, but his sister was not prepared to allow him to touch the pages unless he washed his body. Omar at last gave in. He washed his body and then began to read the verses that were: Verily, I am Allah: there is no God but Me; so serve Me (only), and establish regular prayer for My remembrance (Quran 20:14). He wept and declared, "Surely this is the word of Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." On hearing this, Hadhrat Khabbab came out from inside and said: " O, Omar! Glad tidings for you. Yesterday Muhammad prayed to Allah, " O, Allah strengthen Islam with either Omar or Abu Jahl, whomsoever Thou Likest." It seems that his prayer has been answered in your favour.[19] He then went to Muhammad with the same sword he intended to kill him with and accepted Islam in front of him and his companions. Umar was 27 when he accepted Islam.[20]

Following his conversion, Umar went to inform the chief of Quraish, Amr ibn Hishām, about his acceptance of Islam. According to one account, Umar thereafter openly prayed at the Kaaba as the Quraish chiefs, Amr ibn Hishām and Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, reportedly watched in anger.[21] This further helped the Muslims to gain confidence in practicing Islam openly. At this stage Umar even challenged anyone who dared to stop the Muslims from praying, although no one dared to interfere with Umar when he was openly praying.

Umar's conversion to Islam granted power to the Muslims and to the Islamic faith in Mecca. It was after this event that Muslims offered prayers openly in Masjid al-Haram for the first time. Abdullah bin Masoud said,

Umar's embracing Islam was our victory, his migration to Medina was our success, and his reign a blessing from Allah. We didn't offer prayers in Al-Haram Mosque until Umar had accepted Islam. When he accepted Islam, the Quraysh were compelled to let us pray in the Mosque.[22]

Migration to Medina

In 622 CE, due to the growing popularity of Islam in the city of Yathrib (later renamed Medīnat an-Nabī, or simply Medina), Muhammad ordered his followers to migrate to Medina. Muslims usually migrated at night fearing resistance from Quraish at their migration, but Umar is reported to have left openly during the day saying; Any one who wants to make his wife a widow and his children orphans.[23][24] should come and meet me there behind that cliff." Umar migrated to Medina accompanied by his cousin and brother-in-law Saeed ibn Zaid.[20]

Life in Medina

Medina became the new center of Islam and the religion spread rapidly across Arabia. When Muhammad arrived in Medina, he paired off each immigrant (Muhajir) with one of the residents of the city (Ansari), joining Muhammad ibn Maslamah with Umar making them brothers in faith. Later in Umar's reign as caliph Muhammad ibn Muslamah would be assigned the office of Chief Inspector of Accountability. Muslims remained in peace in Medina for approximately a year before the Quraish raised an army to attack them. In 624 Umar participated in the first Battle between Muslims and Quraish of Mecca i.e. Battle of Badr. In 625 he took part in the Battle of Uhud. In the second phase of the Battle, when Khalid ibn Walid's Cavalry attacked Muslims at the rear changing the victory of Muslims to defeat, rumours of Muhammad’s death were spread and many Muslim warriors were routed from the battle field, Umar too was initially routed but hearing that Muhammad was still alive he went to Muhammad at the mountain of Uhud and prepared for the defences of the hill to keep the army of Quraish from approaching the hilltop.[25] Later in the year Umar was a part of campaign against the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir. In 625 Umar’s daughter Hafsah was married to Muhammad.[26] Later in 627 he participated in the Battle of the Trench and also in the Battle of Banu Qurayza.[27] In 628 Umar participated in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and was made one of the witnesses over the pact.[27] In 628 he was a part of Muslims' campaign to Khaybar. In 629 Muhammad sent Amr ibn al-A’as to Zaat-ul-Sallasal from where he called for reinforcement and Muhammad sent Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah with reinforcement, serving under him were Abu Bakr and Umar, they attacked and defeated the enemy.[28] In 630 when Muslim armies rushed for the Conquest of Mecca he was part of that army. Later in 630 he was part of Battle of Hunayn and Siege of Ta'if. He was part of Muslim's army that went for the campaign of Tabuk under Muhammad's command and he was reported to have given half of his wealth for the preparation of this expedition. He also participated in the farewell Hajj of Muhammad in 631.[29]

Death of Muhammad

Muhammad died on 8 June 632. Umar, the devoted disciple, could not accept the reality that the "Messenger of God" was dead.[30] It is said that Umar promised to strike the head of any man who would say that Muhammad died. At this point Abu Bakr is reported to have come out to the Muslim community and gave his famous speech which included:

"Whoever worshipped Muhammad, let them know that Muhammad has died, and whoever worshipped Allah, let them know that Allah is alive and never dies. "

Abū Bakr then recited these verses 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?".

Hearing this from Abu Bakr, the most senior disciple of Muhammad, Umar then fell down on his knees in a great sense of sorrow and acceptance of the reality. Sunni Muslims say that this denial of Muhammad's death was occasioned by his deep love for him.[30]

Foundation of the Caliphate

Umar's political genius first manifested as the architect of the caliphate after Muhammad died in 8 June 632.[31] While the funeral of Muhammad was being arranged a group of Muhammad's followers who were natives of Medina, the Ansar (helpers), organised a meeting on the outskirts of the city, effectively locking out those companions known as Muhajirs (The Emigrants) including Umar.[31] Umar found out about this meeting at Saqifah Bani Saadah, and taking with him two other Muhajirs, Abu Bakr and Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, proceeded to the meeting, presumably to head off the Ansar's plans for political separatism. Arriving at the meeting Umar was faced with a unified community of tribes from the Ansar who refused to accept the leadership of the Muhajirs.[31] However Umar was undeterred in his belief the caliphate should be under the control of the Muhajirs.[32] Though the Khazraj were in disagreement, Umar after strained negotiations lasting up to one or two days, brilliantly divided the Ansar into their old warring factions of Aws and Khazraj tribes. Umar resolved the divisions by placing his hand on that of Abu Bakr as a unity candidate for those gathered in the Saqifah. Others gathered at the Saqifah meeting followed suit with the exception of the Khazraj tribe and their leader, Sa'd ibn 'Ubada, whose tribe was ostracized. The Khazraj tribe is said to have posed no significant threat as there were sufficient men of war from the Medinan tribes such as the Banu Aws to immediately organize them into a military bodyguard for Abu Bakr.[31]

The creation of the Islamic caliphate would be one of Umar's most enduring legacies, and its significance to world history is hard to overestimate. However Umar himself was characteristically guarded about his own creation, Dr. Wilferd Madelung from The Institute for Ismaili Studies, founded by Karim Aga Khan,[33][34] in his book The Succession to Muhammad summarising Umar's contribution:[35]

Umar judged the outcome of the Saqifa assembly to be a falta [translated by Madelung as 'a precipitate and ill-considered deal'[36] because of the absence of most of the prominent Muhajirun, including the Prophet's own family and clan, whose participation he considered vital for any legitimate consultation (shura, mashwara). It was, he warned the community, to be no precedent for the future. Yet he also defended the outcome, claiming that the Muslims were longing for Abu Bakr as for no one else. He apologized, moreover, that the Muhajirun present were forced to press for an immediate oath of allegiance since the Ansar could not have been trusted to wait for a legitimate consultation and might have proceeded to elect one of their own after the departure of the Mekkans. Another reason for Umar to censure the Saqifa meeting as a falta was no doubt its turbulent and undignified end, as he and his followers jumped upon the sick Khazraji leader Sa'd bin Ubada in order to teach him a lesson, if not to kill him, for daring to challenge the sole right of Quraysh to rule. This violent break-up of the meeting indicates, moreover, that the Ansar cannot all have been swayed by the wisdom and eloquence of Abu Bakr's speech and have accepted him as the best choice for the succession, as suggested by Caetani. There would have been no sense in beating up the Khazraji chief if everybody had come around to swearing allegiance to Umar's candidate. A substantial number of the Ansar, presumably of Khazraj in particular, must have refused to follow the lead of the Muhajirun.[35]

According to various Twelver shia sources and Wilferd Madelung from The Institute for Ismaili Studies, founded by Karim Aga Khan,[33][34] Umar and Abu Bakr had in effect mounted a political coup against Ali at the Saqifah [31] According to one version of narrations in primary sources, Umar and Abu Bakr are also said to have used force to try to secure the allegiance from Ali and his party. It has been reported in mainly Persian historical sources written 300 years later, such as history of al-Tabari that after Ali's refusal to pay homage, Abu Bakr sent Umar with an armed contingent to Fatimah’s house where Ali and his supporters are said to have gathered. Umar is reported to have warned those in the House that unless Ali succumbed to Abu Bakr, he would set the House on fire[32] and under these circumstances Ali was forced to capitulate. This version of events, fully accepted by Shia scholars, is generally rejected by Sunni scholars who, in view of other reports in their literature, believe that Ali gave oath of alliance to Abu Bakr without any grievance. But then other Sunni and Shia sources say that Ali did not sweared allegiance to Abu Bakr after his election but six months later after the death of his wife Fatimah putting into question al-Tabari account. Either way the Sunni and the Shia accounts both accept that Ali felt that Abu Bakr should have informed him before going into the meeting with the Ansar and that that Ali did swear allegiance to Abu Bakr.

Western scholars tend to agree that Ali believed he had a clear mandate to politically succeed Muhammad, but offer differing views as to the extent of use of force by Umar in an attempt to intimidate Ali and his supporters, for instance, Dr. Wilferd Madelung from The Institute for Ismaili Studies in his book The Succession to Muhammad, discounts the possibility of use of force and argues that:

Isolated reports of use of force against Ali and Banu Hashim who unanimously refuse to swear alligence for six months are probably to be discounted. Abu Bakr no doubt was wise enough to restrain Umar from any violence against them, well realizing that this would inevitably provoked the sense of solidarity of majority of Abdul Mannaf who’s acquiescence he needed.[37] His policy was rather not isolating Banu Hashim as far as possible.

In the best selling book, In the shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, Tom Holland writes [38] Omar's historicity is beyond dispute.[39] An Armenian bishop writing a decade or so after Qadisiyya describes Umar as "Mighty potentate coordinating the advance of the sons of Ismael from the depths of the desert".[40][41] Tom Holland writes [42]"What added incomparably to his prestige, was that his earth-shaking qualities as a generalissimo were combined with the most distinctive cast of virtues. Rather than ape the manner of a Caesar, as the Ghassanid kings had done, he drew on the example of a quite different kind of Christian. Umar's threadbare robes, his diet of bread, salt and water, and his rejection of worldly riches would have reminded anyone from the desert reaches beyond Palestine of a very particular kind of person. Monks out in the Judaean desert had long been casting themselves as warriors of God. The achievement of Umar was to take such language to a literal and previously unimaginable extreme."[43]

Caliph Abu Bakr's era

During Abu Bakr's short reign as caliph, Umar served as a chief secretary and advisor to him; and during the Ridda Wars, Umar (along with Khalid ibn Al-Walid) served the caliph as a military strategist and advisor. Due to the delicate political situation in Arabia, Umar initially opposed military operations against the rebel tribes in Arabia, hoping to gain their support in the event of an invasion by the Romans or the Persians. Later, however, he came to agree with Abu Bakr's strategy to crush the rebellion by force. By late 632 CE, Khalid ibn Walid had successfully united Arabia after consecutive victories against the rebels. During his own reign, Umar would mostly adopt the policy of avoiding wars and consolidating his power in the incorporated lands rather than expanding his empire through continuous warfare.[44] Umar advised Abu Bakr to compile the Quran in the form of a book, after 300 Hafizs (memorizers) of the Quran died in the Battle of Yamamah.

Abu Bakr appointed Umar as his successor prior to the caliph's death in 634 CE.

Appointment as a Caliph

Due to his strict and autocratic nature, Umar was not a very popular figure among the notables of Madinah and members of Majlis al Shura, accordingly succession of Umar was initially discouraged by high-ranking companions of Abu Bakr.[45][46] Nevertheless, Abu Bakr decided to make Umar his successor. Umar, still was well known for his extraordinary will power, intelligence, political astuteness, impartiality, justice and care for poor and underprivileged people.[47] Abu Bakr is reported to have said to the high-ranking advisers:

His (Umar's) strictness was there because of my softness when the weight of Caliphate will be over his shoulders he will remain no longer strict. If I will be asked by the God to whom I have appointed my successor, I will tell him that I have appointed the best man among your men.[48]

Abu Bakr was fully aware of Umar's power and ability to succeed him. Succession of Umar was thus not as troublesome as any of the others. His was perhaps one of the smoothest transitions to power from one authority to another in the Muslim lands.[49] Abu Bakr before his death called Uthman to write his will in which he declared Umar his successor. In his will he instructed Umar to continue the conquests on Iraq and Syrian fronts. Abu Bakr's decision would prove to be crucial in the strengthening of the nascent Islamic empire.

Reign as Caliph

On 22 August Caliph Abu Bakr died. Umar assumed the office of Caliph on the same day. He then addressed the Muslims in his Inaugural address:

"O ye faithful! Abu Bakr is no more amongst us. He has the satisfaction that he has successfully piloted the ship of the Muslim state to safety after negotiating the stormy sea. He successfully waged the apostasy wars, and thanks to him, Islam is now supreme in Arabia. After Abu Bakr, the mantle of the Caliphate has fallen on my shoulders. I swear it before God that I never coveted this office. I wished that it would have devolved on some other person more worthy than me. But now that in national interest, the responsibility for leading the Muslims has come to vest in me, I assure you that I will not run away from my post, and will make an earnest effort to discharge the onerous duties of the office to the best of my capacity in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. Allah has examined me from you and you from me, In the performance of my duties, I will seek guidance from the Holy Book, and will follow the examples set by the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr. In this task I seek your assistance. If I follow the right path, follow me. If I deviate from the right path, correct me so that we are not led astray.

Initial challenges

Even though almost all of the Muslims had given their pledge of loyalty to Umar, he was rather more feared than loved. According to Muhammad Husayn Haykal, the first challenge for Umar was to win over his subjects and members of Majlis al Shura.[50]

Umar was a gifted orator, and he would use his ability to get a soft corner in the hearts of people.[51]

Muhammad Husayn Haykal wrote that Umar's stress was on the well being of poor and underprivileged people, the people were soundly moved by Umar's speeches and his popularity grew rapidly and continuously over the period of his reign.[52] In addition to this Umar, in order to improve his reputation and relation with Banu Hashim, the tribe of Ali, delivered to him his disputed estates in Khayber. Though he followed Abu Bakr's decision over the dispute of land of Fidak, continued its status as a state property. In Ridda wars, thousands of prisoners from rebel and apostate tribes were taken away as slaves during the expeditions. Umar ordered the general amnesty for the prisoners, and their immediate emancipation.[53] This made Umar quite popular among the bedouin tribes. With necessary public support with him, Umar took a bold decision of retrieving Khalid ibn Walid from supreme command on Roman front.[54]

Political and civil administration

The government of Umar was more or less a unitary government, where the sovereign political authority was the Caliph. The empire of Umar was divided into provinces and some autonomous territories like in some regions Azerbaijan and Armenia, that had accepted the suzerainty of the Caliphate. The provinces were administered by the provincial governors or Wali. The selection of which was made personally by Umar, who was very fastidious in it. Provinces were further divided into districts, there were about 100 districts in the empire. Each district or main city was under the charge of a junior governor or Amil, usually appointed by Umar himself, but occasionally they were also appointed by the provincial governor. Other officers at the provincial level were:

  1. Katib, the Chief Secretary.
  2. Katib-ud-Diwan, the Military Secretary.
  3. Sahib-ul-Kharaj, the Revenue Collector.
  4. Sahib-ul-Ahdath, the Police chief.
  5. Sahib-Bait-ul-Mal, the Treasury Officer.
  6. Qadi, the Chief Judge.

In some districts there were separate military officers, though the Governor (Wali) was in most cases the Commander-in-chief of the army quartered in the province. Every appointment was made in writing. At the time of appointment an instrument of instructions was issued with a view to regulating the conduct of Governors. On assuming office, the Governor was required to assemble the people in the main mosque, and read the instrument of instructions before them.[55]

Umar's general instructions to his officers were:

"Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your example. Give the Muslims their rights and do not beat them lest they become abused. Do not praise them unduly, lest they fall into the error of conceit. Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for that is tyranny over them."

Various other strict codes of conduct were to be obeyed by the governors and state officials. The principal officers were required to travel to Mecca on the occasion of the Hajj, during which people were free to present any complaint against them. In order to minimize the chances of corruption, Umar made it a point to pay high salaries to the staff. Provincial governor received as much as five to seven thousand dirham annually besides their shares of the spoils of war (if they were also the commander in chief of the army of their sector). Under Umar the empire was divided into the following provinces.

  1. Arabia was divided into two provinces, Mecca and Medina;
  2. Iraq was divided into two provinces, Basra and Kufa;
  3. In the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Jazira was a province;
  4. Syria was a province;
  5. Umar divided Palestine in two provinces Aylya and Ramlah;
  6. Egypt was divided into two provinces, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt;
  7. Persia was divided into three provinces, Khorasan; Azarbaijan and Fars.

Umar was first to established a special department for the investigation of complaints against the officers of the State. This department acted as Administrative court, where the legal proceedings were personally led by Umar.[56] The Department was under the charge of Muhammad ibn Maslamah, one of Umar's most trusted men. In important cases Muhammad ibn Maslamah was deputed by Umar to proceed to the spot, investigate the charge and take action. Sometimes an Inquiry Commission was constituted to investigate the charge. On occasions the officers against whom complaints were received were summoned to Medina, and charged in Umar's administrative court. Umar was known for this intelligence service through which he made his officials accountable[57] This service was also said to have inspired fear in his subjects.[58]

Umar was a pioneer in some affairs:

  1. Umar was the first to introduce the public ministry system, where the records of officials and soldiers were kept. He also kept a record system that had the messages he sent to Governors and heads of states.
  2. He was the first to appoint police forces to keep civil order.
  3. He was the first to discipline the people when they became disordered.[59]


When Basra was established during 'Umar's period, he started building some canals for conveying drinking water and for irrigation. Al-Tabari reports that 'Utba ibn Ghazwan built the first canal from the Tigris River to the site of Basra when the city was in the planning stage. After the city was built, 'Umar appointed Abu Musa Ashaari as the first governor. Abu Musa Ashaari governed during the period 17-29/638-650. He began building two important canals linking Basra with the Tigris River. These were al-Ubulla River and the Ma'qil River. The two canals were the basis for the agricultural development for the whole Basra region and used for drinking water. 'Umar also devised the policy of cultivating barren lands by assigning such lands to those who undertook to cultivate them. This policy continued during the Umayyad period and it resulted in the cultivation of large areas of barren lands through the construction of irrigation canals by the state and by individuals.[60]


Main article: Reforms of Umar's era
Main article: Covenant of Umar I

Umar is regarded as one of the greatest political geniuses in history.[6] While under his leadership, the empire was expanding at an unprecedented rate, he also began to build the political structure that would hold together the vast empire that was being built. He undertook many administrative reforms and closely oversaw public policy. He established an advanced administration for the newly conquered lands, including several new ministries and bureaucracies, and ordered a census of all the Muslim territories. During his rule, the garrison cities (amsar) of Basra and Kufa were founded or expanded. In 638, he extended and renovated the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet) in Medina.[61] Umar also ordered the expulsion of the Christian and Jewish communities of Najran and Khaybar allowing them to reside in Syria or Iraq. He issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well and allotted them the equivalent land in their new settlements. Umar also forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hejaz for longer than three days.[62] He was first to establish army as a state department. Umar was founder of Fiqh, the Islamic jurisprudence.[63] He is regarded by Sunni Muslims to be one of the greatest Faqih. Umar as a jurist started the process of codifying Islamic Law. In 641, he established Bayt al-mal, a financial institution and started annual allowance for the Muslims. A year later he also started allowance for the poor, underprivileged and old non-Muslim citizens of the empire. As a leader, 'Umar was known for his simple, austere 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. In 639, his fourth year as caliph and the seventeenth year 17 since the Hijra, he decreed that the Islamic calendar should be counted from the year of the Hijra of Muhammad from Mecca to Madinah.

Military expansion

It is widely believed that Umar stressed more on consolidating his power and political influence in the conquered land, rather than pursuing conquests. Nevertheless, under Umar the Islamic empire grew at an unprecedented rate. In 638, after the conquest of Syria, Umar dismissed Khalid, his most successful general, owing to his ever-growing fame and influence. He was quoted as doing this because he wanted the people to know that victory came from God, not the general. Later however Umar regretted this decision. The military conquest were partially terminated between 638–639 during the years of great famine and plague in Arabia and Levant respectively. During his reign Levant, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan, Eastern Anatolia, almost whole of Sassanid Persian Empire including Bactria, Persia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Caucasus and Makran were annexed to Islamic Empire. According to one estimate more than 4050 cities were captured during these military conquest.[64] Prior to his death in 644, Umar had ceased all military expeditions apparently to consolidate his rule in Egypt and the newly conquered Sassanid Empire (642–644). At his death in November 644, his rule extended from present day Libya in the west to the Indus river in the east and the Oxus river in the north.

The great famine

In the year 638 CE, Arabia fell into severe drought followed by a famine. Bedouin people began to die because of hunger and epidemic disease. Hundreds of thousands[citation needed] of people from all over Arabia gathered at Madinah where food was rationed. Soon the reserves of food at Madinah began to decline, and Umar wrote to the provincial governors of Syria, Palestine, and Iraq for aid. A state of emergency was declared in Madinah and Arabia. The timely aid of Umar's governors saved the lives of thousands of people throughout Arabia. The first governor to respond was Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, the governor of Syria and supreme commander of Rashidun army. He sent a historic letter to Umar saying –

I am sending you the Caravans whose one end will be here at Syria and the other will be at Madinah.

Later, Abu Ubaidah paid a personal visit to Madinah and acted as an officer of Disaster management cell, which was headed personally by Umar. Once an adequate supply of rations reached Madinah, Umar dispatched his men to the routes of Iraq, Palestine, and Syria to take the supply caravans to the desert settlements deeper into Arabia, which in turn, saved millions from starvation. For internally displaced people, Umar hosted a dinner every night at Madinah, which according to one estimate, had attendance of more than hundred thousand people.[65] By early 639, conditions began to improve. Arabia received precipitation and as soon as the famine ended, Umar personally supervised the rehabilitation of the displaced people. They were given adequate amounts of rations and were exempted from payment of zakat for that year and the next year.

The great plague

While famine was ending in Arabia, many districts in Syria and Palestine were devastated by plague. While Umar was on his way to visit Syria, at Elat, he was received by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, governor of Syria, who informed him about plague and its intensity, and suggested Umar to go back to Madinah. Umar tried to persuade Abu Ubaidah to come with him to Madinah, but he declined to leave his troops in that critical situation. Abu Ubaidah died in 639 due to plague, which also cost the lives of 25,000 Muslims in Syria. After the plague had weakened in late 639, Umar visited Syria for political and administrative re-organization, as most of the veteran commanders and governors had died of plague.[66]

Welfare State

To be close to the poor, Umar lived in a simple mud hut without doors and walked the streets every evening. After consulting with the poor, Umar established the first welfare state Bayt al-mal.[67][68][69] The Bayt al-mal or the welfare state was for the Muslim and non-Muslim poor, needy, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. The Bayt al-mal ran for hundreds of years under the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century and continued through the Umayyad period and well into the Abbasid era. Umar also introduced Child Benefit and Pensions for the children and the elderly.[70][71][72][73] The expansion of the state, was partially terminated between 638–639 during the years of great famine and plague in Arabia and Levant respectively. During Umars reign, within 10 years Levant, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan, Eastern Anatolia, almost the whole of Sassanid Persian Empire including Bactria, Persia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Caucasus and Makran were incorporated into Islamic State. When Umar was assassinated in 644, the election of Uthman as successor was met with increasing opposition. The Qur'an was standardized during this time.

Free Trade

Local populations of Jews and indigenous Christians, persecuted as religious minorities and taxed heavily to finance the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars, often aided Muslims to take over their lands from the Byzantines and Persians, resulting in exceptionally speedy conquests.[74][75] As new areas joining the Islamic State, they also benefited from free trade, while trading with other areas in the Islamic State, so as to encourage commerce, in Islam trade is not taxed, wealth is taxed.[76] The Muslims paid Zakat on their wealth to the poor. Since the Constitution of Medina, was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad the Jews and the Christians continued to use their own laws in the Islamic State and had their own judges.[77][78][79] Therefore they only paid for policing for the protection of their property. To assist in the quick expansion of the state, the Byzantine and the Persian tax collection systems were maintained and the people paid a poll tax lower than the one imposed under the Byzantines and the Persians.


In 644, at zenith of his power, Umar was assassinated. His assassination was carried out by Persians, in response to the Muslim conquest of Persia.[80] The assassination was planned several months earlier. In October 644, Umar went for Hajj in Mecca, the assassins started the hoopla of Umar's possible death that year, and the massive crowd of the congregation was used by the conspirators as a veil to hide themselves. It is related that when Umar stood at Mount Arafat he heard a voice saying:

"O Caliph, never again will you stand on the Mount of Arafat".

A companion of Umar, Jubayr bin Mutim is reported to have said:

We saw a man standing at the top of the hill and crying 'Verily that is the last Hajj of Umar. He will never come here again.

During one of rituals of Hajj, the Ramy al-Jamarat (stoning of the Devil), some one threw a stone on Umar that wounded his head, a voice was heard that Umar will not attend the Hajj ever again.

Pirouz brought a complaint to Umar about the high tax charged from him by his master Mughirah. Umar wrote to Mughirah and inquired about the tax; Mughirah's reply was satisfactory, but Umar held that the tax charged from Abu Lulu was reasonable, owning the to his daily income. Umar then is reported to have asked Abu Lulu:

I heard that you make windmills; make one for me as well. In a sullen mood, Firoz said, " Verily I will make such a mill for you, that whole world would remember it ".

Amongst the conspirators was:

  1. Hormuzan, the alleged mastermind of the plot. He was Persian Commander in Chief and was captured and brought to Umar at Medina where to save his life he apparently converted to Islam.
  2. One of Umar's advisors, Ka'ab al-Ahbar, a former Jewish Rabbi, who had converted to Islam.
  3. Jafinah, the Christian Arab from Iraq, who was also a foster brother of Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, former governors of Busra.
  4. Pirouz Nahavandi, popularly known as Abu Lu'lu'ah, he was slave of Mughira ibn Shu'ba the governor of Busra at the time.

It was Pirouz Nahavandi who was assigned the mission of assassinating Umar. According to the plan, before the Fajr prayers (the morning prayers before the dawn) Pirouz would enter Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, the main mosque of Madinah where Umar led the prayers and would attack Umar during the prayers, and then flee or mix with the congregation at mosque. There were Persian children slaves in Madina. Seeing them, Pirouz is quoted saying:

"You have been enslaved at such a tender age. This Umar sees eaten my heart. I will take his heart out".[81]

On 3 November 644, Pirouz attacked Umar while he was leading the morning prayers, stabbing him six times in the belly and last on the navel, that proved fatal. Umar was left profusely bleeding while Abu Lulu tried to flee, but people from all sides rushed to capture him; in his efforts to escape he is reported to have wounded twelve other people, six or nine of whom later died. At last he was captured but committed suicide using the same dagger.

Umar died of the wounds three days later on Sunday, 7 November 644 (26th Dhū al-Ḥijja 23 ) .[82][83] Umar is reported to have left the following testament:

Be kind and generous to the Muhajirun and the Ansar. Those out of them who are good, be good to them; those who are bad overlook their lapses. Be good to the people of the conquered lands. They are the outer line of our defense; they are the target of the anger and distress of our enemies. They contribute to our revenues. They should be taxed only on their surplus wealth. Be gracious to the Bedouins as they are the backbone of the Arab nation. I instruct you to be good to the Dhimmis for they are your responsibility. Do not tax them beyond their capacity. Ensure that they pay the Jizya without undue inconvenience. Fear God, and in all that you do keep His pleasure in view. In the matter of people fear God, and in the matter of Allah do not be afraid of the people. With regard to the people, I enjoin upon you to administer justice with an even hand. See that all the legitimate requirements of the people are met. Be concerned for their welfare. Ensure the safety of their person and property. See that the frontiers of our domains are not violated. Take strong steps to guard the frontiers. In the matter of administration do not prefer the rich to the poor. Be hard against those who violate the law. Show them no mercy. Do not rest content until you have brought the miscreants to book. Treat all the people as equal. Be a pillar of strength for those who are weak and oppressed. Those who are strong but do wrong, make them pay for their wrong-doings. In the distribution of booty and other matters be above nepotism. Let no consideration of relationship or selfish interest weigh with you. The Satan is at large; it may tempt you. Rise above all temptations and perform your duties in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. Get guidance from the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Freely consult the wise men around you. Apply your own mind in difficult cases, and seek light from God. Be simple in your living and your habits. Let there be no show or ostentation about you. Lead life as a model Muslim. As you are the leader of the Muslims, justify your leadership by being the best among them all. May God bless you.

As per Umar's will, he was buried next to Al-Masjid al-Nabawi alongside Muhammad and Caliph Abu Bakr by the permission of Aisha.


On his death bed Umar vacillated to appoint his successor, however it has been reported that he said that if Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Khalid ibn Walid or Salim, the mawali and freed Persian slave, were alive he would have appointed one of them his successor. Umar finally appointed a committee of six persons comprising,

  1. Abdur Rahman bin Awf
  2. Saad ibn Abi Waqqas
  3. Talha ibn Ubaidullah
  4. Uthman ibn Affan
  5. Ali ibn Abi Talib
  6. Zubayr ibn al-Awwam

Their task was to choose a caliph from amongst them. Umar appointed a band of fifty armed soldiers to protect the house where the meeting was proceeding. Until the appointment of the next caliph Umar appointed a notable Sahabi, a mawali, Suhayb ar-Rumi (Suhayb the Roman) as a caretaker Caliph. While the historic meeting for selection of caliph was preceding, Abdulrehman ibn Abu Bakr and Abdur Rahman bin Awf revealed that they saw the dagger used by Abu Lulu, the assassin of Umar. A night before Umar's assassination, reported Abdur Rahman bin Awf, he saw Hormuzan, Jafina and Abu Lulu, while they were suspiciously discussing some thing, bewildered by his presence, the dagger fell, it was the same two sided dagger used in the assissination. Abudulrehman ibn Abu Bakr, son of late caliph Abu Bakr also confirmed that few days before Umar's assassination, he once saw this dagger with Hurmuzan. After the mystery of assassination got uncovered by the two of the most notable governmental figures, it seemed clear that the assassination was planned by the Persians residing in Medina. Infuriated by this, Umar's younger son Ubaidullah ibn Umar sought to kill all the Persians in Madinah. He killed Hurmuzan, Jafinah, and daughter of Umar's assassin Abu Lulu, who is believed to have been a Muslim. Ubaidullah was intercepted by the people of Madinah withholding him from the massacre. Amr ibn al-Aas is said to have intercepted him and convinced him to hand over his sword. The murder of Jafinah enraged Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, his foster brother, and he assaulted Ubaidullah ibn Umar and again the companions intervened. When Umar was informed about the incident, he ordered that Ubaidullah should be imprisoned and the next Caliph should decide his fate.[84] Umar died on 7 November 644; on 11 November Uthman succeeded him as the Caliph. After prolonged negotiations, the tribunal decided to give blood money to the victims and released Umar's son Ubaidullah on the ground that after the tragic incident of Umar's assassination people will be further infuriated by the execution of his son the very next day.


Umar is regarded as one of the most influential figures in Islamic history. He was in a true sense the architect of the Islamic Empire. As a leader, 'Umar was known for his simple, austere 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.

Physical Appearance

Umar is said to be blessed with a strong physique. He could travel on foot for miles. From contemporary sources it appears that Umar had attained perfection in the art of wrestling. He was an athlete and a wrestler. He is said to have participated in the wrestling matches on the occasion of the annual fair of Ukaz.[85] From first hand accounts of his physical appearance Umar is said to be vigorous, robust and a very tall man, in markets he would tower above the people. The front part of his head was bald, always A'sara Yusran (working with two hands),[86] both his eyes are black, with yellow skin, however, ibn Sa'ad in his book The Book of the Major Classes (Tabaqat al-Kubra) stated that he never knew that 'Umar had yellow skin, except if the people took into criterion a certain part of his life where his color changed because he always ate oil at that part of his life,[87] Others say he has reddish-white skin. His teeth were ashnabul asnan (very white shining). He would always color his beard and take care of his hair using a type of plant.[87][88]

Early Muslim historians Ibn Saad and Al-Hakim have recorded a description of Umar mentioning that Abu Miriam Zir, a native of Kufa described Umar as:
I went forth with the people of Medina on a festival day, and I saw Umar walking barefoot. He was advanced in years, bald, of a tawny colour- a left handed man, tall and towering above the people.[89]
Umar's eldest son Abdullah described the physical appearance of his father as follows:
He was a man of fair complexion, a ruddy tint prevailing, tall, bald and grey.
Another historian Salima bin al-Akwa'a said about him:
Umar was ambidexter, he could use both his hands equally well.
Ibn Asakir records on the authority of Abu Raja al-U'taridi that:
Umar was a man tall, stout, very bald, very ruddy with scanty hair on the cheeks, his moustaches large, and the ends thereof reddish.[85]

Political legacy

Umar is considered as a political genius, as an architect of Islamic Empire he is regarded as 52nd most influential figure in history.[90] Umar remained politically stagnant during Prophet Mohammad's era, however after his death, it was Umar's brilliance that Abu Bakr was elected Caliph, despite of massive initial confrontations at Saqifah. Umar successfully broke the alliance of the tribes of Madinah who claim Caliphate to be their right, paving the way for the succession of Abu Bakr. during Abu Bakr's era, he actively participated as his secretory and main adviser. After succeeding Abu Bakr as caliph, Umar won over the hearts of Baudouin tribes by emancipating all their prisoners and slaves taken during Ridda wars, his excellent oratory skills helped him to heighten his popularity graph, mostly among the poor and underprivileged people. He proved himself as an excellent manager during the year of the great Famine when his dynamic abilities saved millions from starvation. He is best known to build up an efficient administrative structure of the empire, that held together his vast realm. He organized an effective network of intelligence, partly a reason for his strong grip on his bureaucracy.[91] His judicial reforms were fairly modern and advance in nature when compared to contemporary systems of his era. He opposed the construction of present day Suez Canal, as it posed threat to the security of Madinah. Twelve hundred years later Great Britain opposed the construction of the canal for the same reason as it then posed threat to its colonies in Indian subcontinent. One of the reason of the compactness of his political rule in the conquered lands is reputed to his policy of tolerance to their religious believes and imposition of far lower taxes on them as compared to Sassanid Persian empire and Byzantine Empire. Their local administration was kept un-touched and several of the former Byzantine and Persian official were retained on their services under Umar's governors.

Umar was very painstaking in every matter. His meticulousness nature was evident from his appointment of governors and judges that never let him lose his grip on the government. He never appointed governors for more than two years, for they might get influence in their county. He dismissed his most successful general Khalid ibn Walid, due to his immense popularity and growing influence that he saw menace to his authority. Rather than tenacious conquest he stressed more on consolidating his rule in the conquered land, a fact that saved Byzantine empire from complete disappearance. Umar is reported to have wished an official tour across his domain to personally examine the condition of his subjects. In 641, before the conquest of Persian empire, Umar is reported to have said:
If I would live few more years, I wish to visit Syria next year, then next Iraq and then the next year Egypt to personally check the conditions of the subjects and inquire whether my mandate is followed or not.

It should be noted that at the time, Umar made this statement, Persia was not yet conquered (conquest of Persia begun in 642). He would walk the streets of Medina with a whip in his hand, and it is said that Umar's whip was feared more than the sword of another man. He is famous for covert night tour of the city to know the secret life of his domain, the tradition that later be followed by some of the Abbasid Caliphs and even Mughul rulers of Indian subcontinent. Saeed M.Mohtsham cites from Caliph Umar's rule in his research paper Vision and Visionary Leadership – An Islamic Perspective:

"He used to monitor very closely the public policy and had kept the needs of the public central to his leadership approach. As second caliph of Islam, he refused to chop off the hands of the thieves because he felt he had fallen short of his responsibility to provide meaningful employment to all his subjects. As a ruler of a vast kingdom, His vision was to ensure that every one in his kingdom should sleep on a full stomach.
If a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty.

The author further wrote that:

He also knew that just having a vision is not enough unless it is supported by effective strategies. He didn’t only have a vision; he truly transformed his vision into actions. For example, to ensure that nobody sleeps hungry in his empire, he used to walk through the streets almost every night to see if there is any one needy or ill."[92]

In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon refers to Umar in the following terms:

"Yet the abstinence and humility of Umar were not inferior to the virtues of Abu Bakr: his food consisted of barley bread or dates; his drink was water; he preached in a gown that was torn or tattered in twelve places; and a Persian satrap, who paid his homage as to the conqueror, found him asleep among the beggars on the steps of the mosque of Muslims."

Military legacy

It has been reported that Umar was a champion wrestler of his time, and though not distinguished as a swordsman, he would later attain prominence as a master strategist. Along with Khalid, he is said to be one of the key figures in the collapse of the Arabian rebellion, the greatest triumph of Abu Bakr. One of his greatest strategic marvels was his brilliant fission of Persio-Roman alliance in 636, when Emperor Heraclius and Emperor Yazdegerd III allied against their common enemy Umar. He was lucky in that the Persian Emperor Yazdegerd III couldn't synchronize with Heraclius as planned. Umar fully availed the opportunity and successfully tackled the minefield by straining the Byzantines to jump in the battle. This was contrary to the orders of Empreror Heraclius, who presumably wanted a coordinated attack along with the Persians. Umar did this by sending reinforcements to the Roman front in the Battle of Yarmouk with instructions that they should appear in the form of small bands, one after the other, giving the impression of a continuous stream of reinforcements that finally lured the Byzantines to an untimely battle. On the other hand Yazdegerd III of Persia was engaged in negotiations that further gave Umar time to transfer his troops from Syria to Iraq. These troops proved decisive in the Battle of Qadisiyyah. Both the battles thus fought proved decisive and are noted as two of the most decisive battles in history.

His strategic dimensions were the prime reason for Muslim victory at the Second Battle of Emesa in 638, where the pro-Byzantine Christian Arabs of Jazira, aided by the Byzantine Emperor, made an unexpected flanking movement and laid siege to Emesa (Homs). Umar's brilliance was behind this Muslim victory and was achieved without firing a single shot.

Umar issued an order to invade the very homeland of the Christian Arab forces besieging Emesa, the Jazirah. A three prong attack against Jazirah was launched from Iraq. To further pressurize the Christian Arab armies, Umar instructed Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, commander of Muslim forces in Iraq, to send reinforcements to Emesa. Umar himself led a reinforcement from Madinah and marched towards Emesa. Under this unprecedented press-gang, Christian Arabs retreated from Emesa before Muslim reinforcements could reach Emesa. This incursion from the Byzantines however, resulted in Muslim annexation of Mesopotamia and parts of Byzantine Armenia.

Nonetheless, the greatest triumph of Umar remained the Conquest of Persian empire. After years of non-offensive policy according to which Umar wished the Zagros Mountains to be the frontiers between the Muslims and the Persians, after the Battle of Nahavand, Umar launched a whole scale invasion of the Sassanid Persian Empire. The invasion was a series of well coordinated multi-prong attacks that were based on the principle of isolating and then destroying the target. Umar launched the invasion by attacking the very heart of Persia, aiming to isolate Azerbaijan and eastern Persia. It was immediately followed by simultaneous attacks on Azerbaijan and Fars. In the final secession Sistan and Kirman were captured thus isolating the stronghold of Persia, the Khurasan. The final expedition was launched against Khurasan where after the Battle of Oxus River, the Persian empire ceased to exist, and emperor Yazdegerd III fled to Central Asia. He conquered 36,000 cities or castles, and built 1400 mosques in the lands he conquered.[93]

Religious legacy

Sunni views

Main article: Sunni view of Umar

Sunnis remember Umar as a rigid Muslim of a sound and just disposition in matters of the religion of Allah, a man they title Farooq, meaning "leader, jurist and statesman", and the second of the rightly-guided Caliphs. He patched his clothes with skin, took buckets on his two shoulders, always riding his donkey without the saddle, rarely laughing and never joking with anyone. On his ring is written the words "Enough is Death as a reminder to you O' 'Umar".[94] He did not seek advancement for his own family, but rather sought to advance the interests of the Muslim community, the ummah. The general Sunni sentiment for Umar is summarized by one of Muhammad's companions, Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud:

Umar's submission to Islam was a conquest, his migration was a victory, his Imamate (period of rule) was a blessing, I have seen when we were unable to pray at the Kaabah until Umar submitted, when he submitted to Islam, he fought them (the pagans) until they left us alone and we prayed.
—Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud, [95]
Umar made the pilgrimage to Mecca nine times. Mohammed had the highest esteem for Umar. He said that:
If God had wished to give another prophet to the world, His choice would have fallen upon Umar

Shia views

Main article: Shia view of Umar

Umar is viewed very negatively in Twelver Shi'a literature and is often regarded as a traitor to Muhammad, a usurper of Ali's rights, and, by some, a murderer. Some Twelver Shi'a writers believe he murdered Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. According to the majority of Twelver scholar writings, Fatimah, wife of Ali, was physically assaulted by him. These sources report that the event caused her to miscarry her child and eventually led to her death soon after.[96][97] (see Umar at Fatimah's house). However, most scholars reject these accounts of physical assault as a "myth".[98]

Zaydis, the oldest branch of the Shia and the largest group amongst the Shia before the Safavid Dynasty in the sixteenth century and currently the second largest group, disagree with the Twelver Shia. Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, he was betrayed by the people in Kufa who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.".[99][100] The Zaidiyyah Shia accept Umar and Abu Bakr as legitimate Caliphs[101]

Western views

In his book Mahomet and His Successors, Washington Irving estimates the achievements of Umar in the following terms:

The whole history of Omar shows him to have been a man of great powers of mind, inflexible integrity, and rigid justice. He was, more than any one else, the founder of the Islam empire; confirming and carrying out the inspirations of the prophet; aiding Abu Beker with his counsels during his brief caliphate; and establishing wise regulations for the strict administration of the law throughout the rapidly-extending bounds of the Moslem conquests. The rigid hand which he kept upon his most popular generals in the midst of their armies, and in the most distant scenes of their triumphs, gave signal evidence of his extraordinary capacity to rule. In the simplicity of his habits, and his contempt for all pomp and luxury, he emulated the example of the Prophet and Abu Beker. He endeavored incessantly to impress the merit and policy of the same in his letters to his generals. 'Beware,' he would say, 'of Persian luxury, both in food and raiment. Keep to the simple habits of your country, and Allah will continue you victorious; depart from them, and he will reverse your fortunes.' It was his strong conviction of the truth of this policy which made him so severe in punishing all ostentatious style and luxurious indulgence in his officers. Some of his ordinances do credit to his heart as well as his head. He forbade that any female captive who had borne a child should be sold as a slave. In his weekly distributions of the surplus money of his treasury he proportioned them to the wants, not the merits of the applicants. 'God,' said he, 'has bestowed the good things of this world to relieve our necessities, not to reward our virtues: those will be rewarded in another world.'[102]

In his book The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall Sir William Muir says as follows about Umar:

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 the prisoners to be all put to death. But age, as well as office, had now mellowed this asperity. His sense of justice was strong. And excepting the treatment of Khalid, whom 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 (Moghira and Ammar excepted) 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. ... Whip in hand, he would perambulate the streets and markets of Medina, ready to punish slanders on the spot; and so the proverb,-'Omar's whip 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.[103]

In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon refers to Umar in the following terms:

Yet the abstinence and humility of Omar were not inferior to the virtues of Abubeker: his food consisted of barley-bread or dates; his drink was water; he preached in a gown that was torn or tattered in twelve places; and a Persian satrap, who paid his homage as to the conqueror, found him asleep among the beggars on the steps of the mosch of Medina. Oeconomy is the source of liberality, and the increase of the revenue enabled Omar to establish a just and perpetual reward for the past and present services of the faithful. Careless of his own emolument, he assigned to Abbas, the uncle of the prophet, the first and most ample allowance of twenty-five thousand drams or pieces of silver. Five thousand were allotted to each of the aged warriors, the relics of the field of Beder, and the last and the meanest of the companions of Mahomet was distinguished by the annual reward of three thousand pieces. ... Under his reign, and that of his predecessor, the conquerors of the East were the trusty servants of God and the people: the mass of public treasure was consecrated to the expenses of peace and war; a prudent mixture of justice and bounty, maintained the discipline of the Saracens, and they united, by a rare felicity, the dispatch and execution of despotism, with the equal and frugal maxims of a republican government.[104]

In his book History of the Arabs Professor Philip Khuri Hitti has assessed the achievements of Umar in the following terms:

Simple and frugal in manner, his energetic and talented successor, 'Umar (634–44), who was of towering height, strong physique and bald-headed, continued at least for some time after becoming caliph to support himself by trade and lived throughout his life in a style as unostentatious as that of a Bedouin sheikh. In fact 'Umar, whose name according to Muslim tradition is the greatest in early Islam after that of Muhammad, has been idolized by Muslim writers for his piety, justice and patriarchal simplicity and treated as the personification of all the virtues a caliph ought to possess. His irreproachable character became an exemplar for all conscientious successors to follow. He owned, we are told, one shirt and one mantle only, both conspicuous for their patchwork, slept on a bed of palm leaves and had no concern other than the maintenance of the purity of the faith, the upholding of justice and the ascendancy and security of Islam and the Arabians. Arabic literature is replete with anecdotes extolling 'Umar's stern character. He is said to have scourged his own son to death for drunkenness and immorality. Having in a fit of anger inflicted a number of stripes on a Bedouin who came seeking his succour against an oppressor, the caliph soon repented and asked the Bedouin to inflict the same number on him. But the latter refused. So 'Umar retired to his home with the following soliloquy: 'O son of al-Khattab! humble thou wert and Allah hath elevated thee; astray, and Allah hath guided thee; weak, and Allah hath strengthened thee. Then He caused thee to rule over the necks of thy people, and when one of them came seeking thy aid, thou didst strike him! What wilt thou have to say to thy Lord when thou presentest thyself before Him?' The one who fixed the Hijrah as the commencement of the Moslem era, presided over the conquest of large portions of the then known world, instituted the state register and organized the government of the new empire met a tragic and sudden death at the very zenith of his life when he was struck down (November 3, 644) by the poisoned dagger of a Christian Persian slave in the midst of his own congregation.[105]

The Encyclopædia Britannica (9th edition, "Popular Reprint", 1888) remarks of Umar:

To 'Omar's ten years' Caliphate belong for the most part the great conquests. He himself did not take the field, but remained in Medina; he never, however, suffered the reins to slip from his grasp, so powerful was the influence of his personality and the Moslem community of feeling. His political insight is shown by the fact that he endeavoured to limit the indefinite extension of Moslem conquest, and to maintain and strengthen the national Arabian character of the commonwealth of Islam; also by his making it his foremost task to promote law and order in its internal affairs. The saying with which he began his reign will never grow antiquated: 'By God, he that is weakest among you shall be in my sight the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights; but him that is strongest will I treat as the weakest, until he complies with the laws.' It would be impossible to give a better general definition of the function of the State.[106]

On the other hand, David Samuel Margoliouth offers this assessment of Umar:

Yet we have no record of any occasion on which Omar displayed remarkable courage, though many examples are at hand of his cruelty and bloodthirstiness; at the battle of Hunain he ran away, and on another occasion owed his life to the good nature of an enemy.[107]

However, in contrast to Margoliouth's assertion, Shahid Ashraf celebrates Umar as amongst the firmest companions who remained with Muhammad at his most critical juncture during the Battle of Hunayn when others fled during their disarray:

Only a dozen companions stood by Muhammad, all other men fled for safety. The men who stood around Muhammad included Hadrat Abu Bakr, Hadrat Umar and some members of the Hashemites[108]

This view of Umar's courageous commitment at the Battle of Hunayn is also reported in Ibn Ishaq's Sīrat rasūl Allāh and Ibn Sa'd's Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir,[109][110] in addition to modern Muslim writers.[111][112] For instance, the renowned Ibn Sa'd reports in his Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir:

On that day (Battle of Hunayn) those (few) who remained firm were al-Abbas, Ali ibn Abi Talib, ... Abu Bakr, Umar, ...[110]


Main article: Family tree of Umar

Umar married a total of 9 women in his lifetime and had 14 children, 10 sons and 4 daughters.

The details are as follow:

Wife: Zaynab bint Maz'un (at the time of Jahiliyyah [Days of Ignorance])
Son: Abdullah ibn Umar
Son: Abdulrahman ibn 'Umar (The Older)
Son: Abdulrahman ibn 'Umar
Daughter: Hafsa bint Umar
Wife: Umm Kulthum bint Jarwila Khuzima (divorced)[113]
Son: Ubaidullah ibn Umar
Son: Zayd ibn 'Umar[113]
Wife: Quraybah bint Abi Umayyah al-Makhzumi (divorced, married by Abdulrehman ibn Abu Bakr)
Wife: Umm Hakim bint al-Harith ibn Hisham (after her husband, a former ally of 'Umar and a companion Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl was killed in Battle of Yarmouk, later divorced but al-Madaini says he did not divorce her)[114]
Daughter: Fatima bint 'Umar
Wife: Jamilah bint Asim ibn Thabit ibn Abi al-Aqlah (from the tribe of Aws)[113][115][116]
Son: Asim ibn Umar
Wife: Atikah bint Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl (cousin of Umar and former wife of Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr[115][117] married 'Umar in the year 12 AH and after 'Umar was murdered, she married az-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam)
Son: Iyaad ibn 'Umar
Wife: Umm Kulthum bint 'Ali (the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Talib).[118][119][120]
Son: Zayd ibn 'Umar, (famously known as Ibnul Khalifatayn; the son of the two Caliphs i.e Umar and Ali).
Daughter: Ruqayyah bint 'Umar
Wife: Luhyah (a woman from Yemen (Yaman) who's marital status with 'Umar is disputed, al-Waqidi said that she was Umm Walad, meaning a slave woman)[113]
Son: Abdulrahman ibn 'Umar (the youngest Abdulrehman while some say the middle Abdulrehman from Luhyah)
Wife: Fukayhah (as Umm Walad)[94]
Daughter: Zaynab bint 'Umar (the smallest child of 'Umar from Fukayhah)

Another son is, az-Zubayr ibn Bakkar, called Abu Shahmah, though from which wife is unknown.[113]

See also



  • Donner, Fred, The Early Islamic Conquests, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1955.
  • Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, Faber and Faber, 1991.
  • Madelung, Wilferd, The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • "G.LeviDellaVida and M.Bonner "Umar" in Encyclopedia of Islam CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands 1999"
  • Previte-Orton, C. W (1971). The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • How Many Companions Do You Know? By Ali Al-Halawani

External links

  • Suyuti
  • Sirah of Amirul Muminin Umar Bin Khattab (r.a.a.) by Shaykh Sayyed Muhammad bin Yahya Al-Husayni Al-Ninowy.
  • Umar ibn Al-Khattab -
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Abū Bakr
Rashidun Caliph
Succeeded by

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