Sunni view of Umar

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Umar (580-644 AD) was the second Sunni caliph, regarded by Sunnis as the second of the four Rashidun and one of the greatest personalities of the history of Islam. Sunni and Shi'a hold diametrically opposite views of `Umar, the Shi'a viewing that he and Abu Bakr usurped authority that properly belonged to Ali.


Umar was one of the prominent companions sahaba of Muhammad. With the conversion of Umar, Islam strengthened and Muslims openly preached Islam. During the space of ten years, Umar succeeded in building the largest empire in the history. Under his leadership the Muslims emerging from the deserts of Arabia overthrew the empire of Persia in the east and shattered the empire of Byzantine in the west.[citation needed]

He was the head of the largest State in the world, and yet he lived the life of a common man. Of simple habits, austere and frugal, he was always accessible to the meanest of his subject, and yet he was a cause of terror for the wrong doer. He would wander about at night to enquire into the condition of the people without any guard or escort.[citation needed]

The Islamic prophet Muhammad said that if there were to be any prophet after him it would have been Umar. Sunan Tirmidhi, Volume 2 page 754.[citation needed]


The exact date of birth of Umar is not known. The consensus, however, is that Umar was born at Mecca around 580 AD. He was younger than the Islamic Prophet Muhammad by about ten years.[citation needed]

In the case of Abu Bakr and Muhammad, Murrah in the eighth degree was their common ancestor. In the case of Muhammad and Umar, Ka'b in the ninth degree was their common ancestor.

Among Umar's ancestors, Adi rose to prominence as a diplomat, and the clan came to be known after him. Whenever the Quraish of the day had to negotiate any settlement with any other tribe, Adi represented the interests of the Quraish as an ambassador. Even in the case of disputes among the Quraish themselves, Adi acted as the arbitrator. After the death of Adi two offices of diplomatic representation and arbitration became hereditary in his descendants.

Umar's grandfather Nufayl arbitrated in a dispute between Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of Muhammad and Harab bin Umayyah over the custodianship of the Kaaba. Nufayl gave his verdict in favour of Abdul Muttalib. Addressing Harab bin Umayyah he said:

Why do you pick a quarrel with a person who is taller than you in stature; more imposing than you in appearance; more refined than you in intellect; whose progeny outnumbers yours and whose generosity outshines yours in lustre? Do not, however, construe this into any disparagement of your good qualities which I highly appreciate. You are as gentle as a lamb, you are renowned throughout Arabia for the stentorian tones of your voice, and you are an asset to your tribe[citation needed]

This address is indicative of Nufayl's skill in diplomacy and his highly developed sense of judgment.

Khattab ibn Nufayl the father of Umar was among the prominent members of the Banu Adis. The Banu Adis had some feuds with Banu Abd-Shams. The Banu Abd-Shams were stronger in power and position, and Banu Adis as a safety measure had to seek alliance with some other clan. They allied themselves with Banu Shams. On this alliance, Khattab ibn Nufayl composed the following verses:

How can Abd-Shams still threaten us, When other men of mettle espouse our cause?

In the halls of Banu Shams there are mighty warriors,

Whose hospitality and protection we enjoy.

The house in which Umar was born in Mecca was situated midway between Safa and Marwah. During the period of his caliphate, Umar had the house dismantled, and the site was turned into a camping ground.[citation needed]

Umar's mother was Khantamah who was the daughter of Hisham ibn al-Mughirah. Al-Mughirah was a personage of high rank among the Quraish. In the event of war he marshalled the Quraish troops and led them to war. Hisham the maternal grandfather of Umar and Al-Walid the father of General Khalid ibn al-Walid were brothers. Khalid was thus a cousin of Umar's mother and his maternal uncle.

Abu Jahl whose personal name was Amr bin Hisham was a brother of Umar's mother, and his maternal uncle. One of the sisters of Umar's mother, Umm Salma was married to Prophet Muhammad.

Umar had several brothers and sisters. The most well known out of these were: Zayd ibn al-Khattab and Fatimah bint al-Khattab. Zayd and Umar were step brothers, their mothers being different. Nevertheless, the two brothers were devoted to each other. When Zayd was later martyred at the Battle of Yamama during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar was highly grieved. He used to say, "Whenever the wind blows from Yamama, it brings me the fragrance of Zayd".

Fatimah was the real sister of Umar. She was married to her cousin Saeed bin Zaid. She played an important role in the conversion of Umar to Islam.

Amr, a brother of Khattab was a paternal uncle of Umar. Zaid the son of Amr, and a cousin of Umar was among the distinguished persons of the Quraish, who before the advent of Islam gave up Idolatry, and came to believe in the unity of God. Zaid was a poet. One of his poems read:

I believe in one God,

I cannot believe in a thousand gods.

I ignore the idols of Lat and Uzza,

A wise and cautious man can do no more

Khattab the father of Umar persecuted Zaid for his religious beliefs. Zaid died before Muhammad announced his prophetic mission. When Muhammad proclaimed his prophethood, Saeed the son of Zaid who had married Umar's sister Fatimah, was among early converts to Islam.

634 – 644: Umar's era[edit]

Main article: Reforms of Umar's era

Suyuti, a 15th century Sunni Islamic scholar states that An-Nawawi said in his Tahdhib:

Umar was the first to adopt the whip. Ibn Sa'd mentions it in the Tabaqat, and he said: It used to be said, after him, 'The whip of 'Umar is more terrible than your sword.'

He (an-Nawawi) continued: He was the first to appoint Qadis in the provinces, the first who established the provinces of (the cities of) Kufah, Basrah, and of Mesopotamia, Syria, Cairo (Egypt), and Mosul.[1]



Sunnis honor him as the following:

Views on the Sunni view[edit]

Non-Muslim view[edit]

Edward Gibbon, an 18th century non-Muslim Islamic scholar wrote:

The Sonnites, who are supported by the general consent and orthodox tradition of the Mussulmans, entertain a more impartial, or at least a more decent, opinion. They respect the memory of Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, and Ali the holy and legitimate successors of the prophet. But they assign the last and most humble place to the husband of Fatima, in the persuasion that the order of succession was determined by the decrees of sanctity.[5]

In his book "Lives of Successors of Muhammad", Washington Irving estimates the achievements of Umar in the following terms:

The whole history of Umar 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 Islamic empire; confirming and carrying out the inspirations of the Prophet; aiding Abu Bakr with his councils during his brief Caliphate; and establishing wise regulations for the strict administration of the law throughout the rapidly extending bounds of the Muslim 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, gives 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 Bakr. He endeavoured 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 would 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'.

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

Umar'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 have 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 who at Badr advised that the prisoners should be put to death. But age, as well as office, had now mellowed this asperity. His sense of justice was strong. And except it be the treatment of Khalid, whom according to some accounts, he pursued with an ungenerous resentment, no act of tyranny or injustice is recorded against him ; and even in this matter, his enmity took its rise in Khalid's unscrupulous treatment of fallen foe. The choice of his captains and governors was free from favourtism and (Al-Mughira 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 offenders on the spot ; and so the proverb 'Umar's whip is more terribe 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 widows and the fatherless

The Encyclopaedia Britannica remarks about Umar:

To Umar's ten years' Caliphate belong, for the most part, the great conquests. He himself did not take the field, but remained in Madina ; he never, however, suffered the reins to slip from his grasp, so powerful was the influence of his personality and the Muslim community of feeling. His political insight is shown by the fact that he endeavoured to limit the indefinite extension of Muslim conquest, to maintain and strengthen the national Arabian character of the commonwealth of Islam ; also by 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 eye the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights ; he that is strongest I will treat as the weakest, until he complies with the law'. It would be impossible to give a better general definition of the function of the State.

Muhammad's assessment of Umar[edit]

A number of traditions have come down to us which speak of the Muhammad assessment of Umar

Before the conversion of Umar to Islam, the prayer of the Prophet Muhammad is on record wherein he prayed:

O God, glorify Thy faith by the conversion of 'Umar.

There is a tradition that when Umar was converted to Islam, Muhammad said that Gabriel had visited him to say:

O Muhammad, verily the dwellers in Heaven rejoice with you at the conversion of 'Umar.

On one occasion, the Prophet Muhammad had a dream. He related:

While I was asleep, I dreamt that I drank milk. Then that milk began to flow from my fingers. That milk I asked 'Umar to drink, and he drank to his full.

Muhammad was asked to interpret the dream and he said that the dream signified that among his followers, 'Umar would excel every one in knowledge.

A tradition is on record according to which pointing to Umar, Muhammad said:

Umar is a strongly bolted gate against discord. As long as he lives in your midst, there will be no discord among the Muslims

On the occasion of the last pilgrimage Muhammad said:

Verily God approved of the conduct of the pilgrims at Arafat in general and 'Umar in particular.


  1. ^ History of the Caliphs by Suyuti [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e History of the Caliphs by Suyuti, quoting An-Nawawi[2]
  3. ^
  4. ^ Allama Shibli Nomani writes in his book 'Al-Farooq' /
  5. ^ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , section Discord of the Turks and Persians.