Reforms of Umar's era

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Umar was the second muslim Caliph and reigned during 634 to 644 CE. This article details the reforms of Umar's era. Umar undertook many administrative reforms and closely oversaw public policy, establishing an advanced administration for newly conquered lands, including several new ministries and bureaucracies, as well as ordering a census of all the Muslim territories. During his reign, the garrison cities of Basrah and al-Kūfah were founded or expanded. In 638, he extended and renovated the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. He also began the process of codifying Islamic law.



Umar was a political genius; he not only expanded his empire at an unprecedented rate but also built up its political structure on firm and sound bases. Umar was very acute in the appointment of his provincial governors called Wali or amir. Whenever a governor was appointed by Umar, a man was sent with him that would read publicly his powers and jurisdictions. During the reign of Caliph Abu Bakr, the state was economically weak, while during Umar’s reign because of increase in revenues and other sources of income, the state was on its way to economic prosperity. Hence Umar felt it necessary that the officers be treated in strict way as to prevent the possible greed of money that may lead them to corruption. During his reign, at the time of appointment, every officer was required to make the oath:

  1. That he would not ride a Turkic horse.
  2. That he would not wear fine clothes.
  3. That he would not eat sifted flour.
  4. That he would not keep a porter at his door.
  5. That he would always keep his door open to the public.

Umar was first to establish 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.[1] The Department was under the charge of Muhammad ibn Maslamah, one of Umar's most trusted man. 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[2] This service was also said to have inspired fear in his subjects.[3] On discovery of any scandal on the part of any official, an investigation through a special department of accountability headed by Muhammad ibn Maslamah would be carried out and if the official would prove guilty he was immediately deposed from his office and his punishment was vary from publicly humiliating punishments to flogging. Before appointment, all financial assets and details of the political officer used to be recorded and were checked each year. It was due to Umar's strong commitment to eradicate corruption and bribery. He is reported to have said to one of his Governor:


Main article: Rashidun army

Caliph Umar organized the army as a State department. This reform was introduced in 637 AD A beginning was made with the Quraish and the Ansars and the system was gradually extended to the whole of Arabia and to Muslims of conquered lands. A register of all adults who could be called to war was prepared, and a scale of salaries was fixed. All men registered were liable to military service. They were divided into two categories, namely:

  1. Those who formed the regular standing army; and
  2. Those that lived in their homes, but were liable to be called to the colors whenever needed.

The pay was paid in the beginning of the month of Muharram. The allowances were paid during the harvesting season. The armies of the Caliphs were mostly paid in cash salaries. In contrast to many post-Roman polities in Europe, grants of land, or of rights to collect taxes directly from the payers, were of only minor importance. A major consequence of this was that the army directly depended on the state for its subsistence which, in turn, meant that the military had to control the state apparatus.[4] Promotions in the army were made on the strength of the length of service or exceptional merit. Officership was an appointment and not a rank. Officers were appointed to command for the battle or the campaign; and once the operation was concluded, they could well find themselves in the ranks again. Leave of absence was given to army men at regular intervals. The troops stationed at far off places were given leave after four months. Each army corps was accompanied by an officer of the treasury, an Accountant, a Qadi, and a number of interpreters besides a number of Physicians and Surgeons. Expeditions were undertaken according to seasons. Expeditions in cold countries were undertaken during the summer, and in hot countries in winter. Umar established military cantonments on strategic positions throughout the empire to deal with any emergency efficiently and quickly. The garrison towns of Kufa, Busra and Fustat were founded by Umar. They were also provincial capitals of their respective provinces.


Umar stressed the independence of the judiciary and declared it a sovereign state organ that could proceed without any pressure of state. No one was exempt from the law, not even the Caliph himself. During early years of his rule he also acted as a chief justice of Madinah but later due to increasing burden of work he was left with no option but to assign his office to some other person, he accordingly appointed Abu Dardah, a well known Sahabi, though he didn't resign completely from the office and Abu Dardah only acted as his secondary. Umar was the founder of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). More than one thousand juristic pronouncements of Umar are on record and are followed by four Sunni schools of law in Islamic jurisprudence. In addition to this he also laid down the principle of Qiyas or logical deduction and also enunciated numerous rules about inference and generalization of laws which form the basis of Islamic jurisprudence. In his instructions to his judicial officers Umar is reported to have said:

The above quote can be found in a letter written by 'Umar to his governor, in I'laam al-Muwaqqi'een by Ibn al-Qayyim, 1/85, as one of many pieces of advice he gave him regarding the judiciary.

Umar was very keen in appointing qazis (Islamic term for Chief Justice). To all the major provincial cities, Umar would personally appointed judges. Umar entrusted the office of justice only to those selected persons who could fulfill his criteria for this office, some of which are as follow:

  1. Must be well reputed for his morals, modesty, and interpersonal relations.
  2. Must be intelligent, and astute in judicial decisions and enjoy his own personal view regarding all social issues that could enable them in the formulation of precedent or case law.
  3. He must be highly qualified in fiqh
  4. Must be socially a powerful and influential personality so that he might not come under pressure of any powerful perpetrator.

Appointment of judges in districts and small towns were made by his appointed provincial Wāli (Governors).

Umar appointed judges with very high salaries and for lifelong tenure this as in modern times, was to make sure that judges could not be drawn to wards bribery and a non prejudice and unbiased verdicts could be reach. Umar also held that in the court the Judge should not be praised and that all acts should be judged according to the test of public interest. He also gave a general law that any act which did not harm any one and was otherwise not forbidden under law was permissible. He issued some special instructions and code of conducts to be followed in the courts according to which judges were instructed to deal with rich and poor alike in the court in one such letter to his judge in Iraq Umar has been quoted saying:


See also: Bayt al-mal

One of Umar's most remarkable reform was establishment of Islamic calendar. Umar held the starting point of calendar to be the year of Hijra roughly corresponding the year 622, when Mohammad migrated to Madinah from Mecca. Umar (R.A) prohibited the sale of wine and drunkers were punished with 80 lashes. Umar (R. A) held that a slave woman who bore children to her master should be set free. It was a practice among Arab poets to mention the name of some women in their poetry to make it attractive while other glorify their love affair with some girl mentioning her name in the poetic verses, it was a heinous practice and woman's modesty was directly targeted in it, Umar put a ban on this practice and declared it unlawful and a punishment was ruled out for the offenders. Similarly Umar also banned written satires and lampoons. Umar established a more exact system of calculation of the inheritance. Under Umar's rule, for first time in history, state intervention to control the price of merchandise was practiced. Umar established a stables for the lost camels. Umar started salary for Imams, Muadhans (Callers to prayer) teachers and public lectures. He also established an effective Postal service. Annually zakat was charged from Muslims, while from non-Muslim, jizya was charged, it was charged from non-Muslims adult males only and was usually 2 dirhams per head auunally, which was far too less than the tax charged by Eastern Roman empire and Sassanid Persian Empire, a reason that pleased the non-Muslim subjects. In addition to this non-Muslims were also exempted from military services. they were free to follow any religion they want. Umar's territorial domains including some of the world's most strategic places for trade caravans. Trade tax that Umar charged was far less than the tax charged by Roman and other empires. More over for the prosperous trade and trading incentives for merchants and for their comforts Umar established special chain of state-owned guest house and Guilds for certain trades. Umar held census in the empire and established an institution of Diwa'an (literary means register), a department of registration which had names of all the population mentioned in it. The provincial and district headquarters had their own copies of diwa'an. Name of every newborn baby was entered in Diwa'an, parents were responsible to register their infants, the incentive was the handsome allowance that was started in 641, when Umar established Bayt al-mal or public treasury. It was a financial institution, responsible for the administration of allowance, taxes, Jizya and war spoil. Annual allowance was given to all Muslim population of the empire, men, women children and newborn infants. The highest amount of allowance was set for the wives of Mohammad which was 12,000 dirhams. For adults the lowest allowance was 300 dirhams that was usually given to desert Bedouins. The allowance of infants was 100 dirhams. The registers where the names of the receivers of allowance were mentioned were usually in the regional Bayt al-mal, which were in major cities like Kufa, Busra, Damascus and Fustat etc. or in the district headquarters where the amir resides or with respective tribal chiefs. Allowance in Madinah and nearby villages was usually personally distributed by Umar.[6]

Umar's purpose of giving allowance was soaring the economical condition of Muslims. Umar is reported to have express his views regarding the allowance in his famous saying:

Umar is also quoted saying:

This was a remarkable exertion to improve the living standard of the common man. Umar's these efforts however worked, and by the time of Umar's successor Caliph Uthman, Muslim population was prospering. Umar, a year later, when Muslim's allowance was started, Umar also issued orders for the allowance for the poor and under privileged non-Muslims throughout the empire.

The concepts of welfare and pension were introduced in early Islamic law as forms of Zakat (charity), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, under Umar in the 7th century. The taxes (including Zakat and Jizya) collected in the treasury of an Islamic government were used to provide income for the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. According to the Islamic jurist Al-Ghazali (Algazel, 1058–1111), the government was also expected to stockpile food supplies in every region in case a disaster or famine occurred. The Caliphate can thus be considered the world's first major welfare state.[7][8]

In 638, Umar also established wells precisely one day’s walk apart for the pilgrims travelling to Mecca. These watering stations were serviced by forts, cisterns, guesthouses, date groves, hospitals, canals, and even distance markers. These waypoints have been described as "the most sophisticated rest-stop system in the ancient world."[9]


Umar was the first to realize the necessity of the proper sifting of the Hadith and thus founded the science of Hadith. Authentic Hadiths were compiled mostly related to religious, moral, social and community related affairs. These were copied and sent throughout the empire to Judges, governors, teachers and scholars of all provinces for guidance. All these Hadiths had the status of law. Umar took special measures in keeping science of Hadith unadulterated. He accordingly forbade companions of Mohammad from reporting hadith in public. Later during caliph Uthman ibn Affan's reign this sanction was however withdrawal.

Main article: Tarawih

Mohammad initially prayed the tarawih, a special Muslim prayers during the month of Ramadan, in congregation but later discontinued this practice out of fear that Muslims would start to believe the prayers to be mandatory, rather than a sunnah.[10] During his Caliphate Umar reinstated the practice of praying tarawih in congregation as there was no longer any fear of people taking it as something mandatory.[11]

Main article: Talaq (Nikah)

During Mohammad's and Abu Bakr's era divorce given at a time whether one or fifty were to be considered a single divorce that will followed by an Iddah of four months and ten days and during this period if the couple wanted to reconcile the first divorce will be void. during Umar's reign Muslims conquered Persian and Roman lands and thus came into contact with beautiful and charming Persian and Greek women. It had become a general practice that most of the Muslim soldiers would divorce their Arab wives and marry a Persian or Greek women. According to Islamic tradition, wife was financially responsibility of her husband during Iddah or reconciliation period and was to stay at her husband's home during iddah where now new Persian or Roman mistress of her husband reside as well, the Arab women used to be side lined and the four month iddah would become a period of intense mental stress and sorrow for her. This matter worried Omar who was apprehensive for its social results in future. This all peaked after 636 and Umar thus exercising the Islamic jurisprudence of ijtihad declared that from now to so on three Talaq (divorce) will be considered absolute and Nikah (marriage) will be dissolved letting the women free from any authority of her husband. This was done by Umar for public good specially for women for whom this was a sign of relief. One year later in 637 after the conquest of Byzantine capital city of eastern zone Antioch Umar declared that those Muslim who already have four wives cant divorce any of their wife to marry a Roman or Persian women.

Main article: Nikah mut‘ah

Nikah Mut'a, a marriage with a pre-set time was a common practice among the pre-Islamic Arabs. Umar forbade based on hadith from Muhammed according to Sunni Muslims.

Main article: Salat al-Janazah

It was a common practice that a husband can not led the funeral prayer of his wife. Umar led one of his wife's funeral prayers. He also ruled that on the occasion of a funeral prayers four Takbirs should be offered.


  1. ^ Commanding right and forbidding wrong in Islamic thought, M. A. Cook, page no:79
  2. ^ Al-Buraey, Muhammad (2002). Administrative Development: An Islamic Perspective. Routledge. pp. 248–249. ISBN 978-0710303332. 
  3. ^ Essid, Yassine (1995). A Critique of the Origins of Islamic Economic Thought. Brill. pp. 24, 67. ISBN 978-9004100794. 
  4. ^ The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State. Contributors: Hugh Kennedy - author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2001. Page Number:59
  5. ^ pg 628
  6. ^ 639
  7. ^ Crone, Patricia (2005), Medieval Islamic Political Thought, Edinburgh University Press, pp. 308–9, ISBN 0-7486-2194-6 
  8. ^ Shadi Hamid (August 2003), "An Islamic Alternative? Equality, Redistributive Justice, and the Welfare State in the Caliphate of Umar", Renaissance: Monthly Islamic Journal 13 (8)  (see online)
  9. ^ Paul Salopek (July 2014). "The Wells of Memory". National Geographic. Retrieved 4 July 2014. Built of necessity, the wells in the old Hejaz have faded, softened, eroded into objects of beauty and contemplation. The earliest of these watering stations were established, precisely one day’s walk apart, by the Caliph Umar in AD 638. “A traveler is the person worthiest of receiving protection,” he declared, before pioneering the most sophisticated rest-stop system in the ancient world: waypoints on the pilgrims’ trails to Mecca serviced by forts, cisterns, guesthouses, date groves, hospitals, canals, even distance markers. 
  10. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book #4, Hadith #1,663
  11. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book #32, Hadith #227

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