|Umar ibn Al-Khattab
عمر بن الخطاب
|2nd Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate|
|Reign||23 August 634 CE – 3 November 644 CE|
|Successor||Uthman ibn Affan|
|Died||November 3, 644
(aged 59–60) (26 Dhul-Hijjah 23 AH)|
Medina, Arabia, Rashidun Empire
|Burial||Prophet's Mosque, Medina|
|Tribe||Quraysh (Banu Adi)|
|Father||Khattab ibn Nufayl|
|Mother||Hantamah binti Hisham|
Umar (//), also spelled Omar (//; Arabic: عمر بن الخطاب , translit. ʿUmar ibn Al-Khattāb, lit. 'Umar, Son of Al-Khattab', born c.584 CE – died 3 November 644 CE), was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history. He was a senior companion of the Prophet Muhammad. He succeeded Abu Bakr (632–634) as the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. He was an expert Muslim jurist known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the epithet Al-Farooq ("the one who distinguishes (between right and wrong)"). He is sometimes referred to as Umar I by certain historians of Islam, since a later Umayyad caliph, Umar II, also bore that name.
Under Umar, the caliphate expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the Sasanian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire. His attacks against the Sasanian Empire resulted in the conquest of Persia in less than two years (642–644). According to Jewish tradition, Umar set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship. Umar was eventually killed by the Persian Piruz Nahavandi (known as ‘Abū-Lū‘lū‘ah in Arabic) in 644 CE.
Umar is revered in the Sunni tradition as a great ruler and paragon of Islamic virtues, and some hadiths identify him as the second greatest of the Sahaba after Abu Bakr. But he is viewed adversely in extremist sects of Shia Islam.
- 1 Early life
- 2 During Muhammad's era
- 3 Foundation of the caliphate
- 4 Caliph Abu Bakr's era
- 5 Reign as caliph
- 6 Physical appearance
- 7 Assessments
- 8 Family
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
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 merchant father was famed for his intelligence among his tribe. Umar himself 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."
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. 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 a renowned wrestler. He was also a gifted orator who succeeded his father as an arbitrator among the tribes.
Umar became a merchant and made several journeys to Rome and Persia, where he is said to have met various scholars and analyzed Roman and Persian societies. As a merchant he was unsuccessful. Like others around him, Umar was fond of drinking in his pre-Islamic days.
During Muhammad's era
Initial hostility to Islam
In 610 Muhammad started preaching the message of Islam. Like many others in Mecca, Umar opposed Islam and he even threatened to kill Muhammad. He resolved to defend the traditional polytheistic religion of Arabia. He was adamant and cruel in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting Muslims. He recommended Muhammad's death. He firmly believed in the unity of the Quraish and saw the new faith of Islam as a cause of division and discord.
Due to persecution, Muhammad ordered some of his followers to migrate to Abyssinia. As a small group of Muslims migrated Umar became worried about the future unity of the Quraish and decided to have Muhammad assassinated.
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 Nua'im bin Abdullah who had secretly converted to Islam but had not told Umar. When Umar informed him that he had set out to kill Muhammad, Nua'im said, “By God, you have deceived yourself, O Umar! Do you think that Banu Abd Manaf would let you run around alive once you had killed their son Muhammad? Why don't you return to your own house and at least set it straight?”.
Nuaimal Hakim 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. 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. Umar 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, Umar! Glad tidings for you. Yesterday Muhammad prayed to Allah, 'O, Allah! Strengthen Islam with either Umar or Abu Jahl, whomsoever Thou likest.' It seems that his prayer has been answered in your favour."
Umar 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 39 years old when he accepted Islam.
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. 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.
Migration to Medina
In 622 CE, due to the safety offered by Yathrib (later renamed Medīnat an-Nabī, or simply Medina), Muhammad ordered his followers to migrate to Medina. Most Muslims 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 should come and meet me there behind that cliff." Umar migrated to Medina accompanied by his cousin and brother-in-law Saeed ibn Zaid.
Life in Medina
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., the 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 battlefield, 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. Later in the year Umar was a part of a campaign against the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir. In 625 Umar's daughter Hafsah was married to Muhammad. Later in 627 he participated in the Battle of the Trench and also in the Battle of Banu Qurayza. In 628 Umar participated in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and was made one of the witnesses over the pact. 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. In 630, when Muslim armies rushed for the conquest of Mecca, he was part of that army. Later in 630, he was part of the Battle of Hunayn and Siege of Ta'if. He was part of the Muslim 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 632.
Death of Muhammad
When Muhammad died on 8 June 632 Umar initially disbelieved that he was dead. It is said that Umar promised to strike the head of any man who would say that Muhammad died. Umar said: He has not died but rather he has gone to his lord just as Moses went, remaining absent from his people for forty nights after which he has returned to them. By Allah, the messenger of Allah will indeed return just as Moses returned (to his people) and he will cut off the hands and legs of those men who claimed he has died.
Abu Bakr then publicly spoke to the community in the mosque telling them:
Whoever worshiped Muhammad, let them know that Muhammad has died, and whoever worshiped 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, Umar fell on his knees in sorrow and acceptance. Sunni Muslims say that this denial of Muhammad's death was occasioned by his deep love for him.
Foundation of the caliphate
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Umar's political genius first manifested as the architect of the caliphate after Muhammad died on 8 June 632. 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. 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. However Umar was undeterred in his belief the caliphate should be under the control of the Muhajirs. 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.
The creation of the Islamic caliphate was one of Umar's most enduring legacies, and its significance to world history is great. Umar himself was characteristically guarded about his own creation. Wilferd Madelung summarises Umar's contribution: 
Umar judged the outcome of the Saqifa assembly to be a falta [translated by Madelung as 'a precipitate and ill-considered deal'] 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.
According to various Twelver shia sources and Madelung, Umar and Abu Bakr had in effect mounted a political coup against Ali at the Saqifah 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 in the 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 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 an oath of alliance to Abu Bakr without any grievance. But then other Sunni and Shia sources say that Ali did not swear allegiance to Abu Bakr after his election but six months later after the death of his wife Fatimah putting into question al-Tabari's 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 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, Madelung discounts the possibility of the use of force and argues that:
Isolated reports of use of force against Ali and Banu Hashim who unanimously refused to swear allegiance 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 provoke the sense of solidarity of the majority of Abdul Mannaf whose acquiescence he needed. His policy was rather not isolating Banu Hashim as far as possible.
According to Tom Holland, Umar's historicity is beyond dispute. An Armenian bishop writing a decade or so after Qadisiyya describes Umar as a "mighty potentate coordinating the advance of the sons of Ismael from the depths of the desert". Tom Holland writes "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."
Caliph Abu Bakr's era
During Abu Bakr's short reign as caliph, Umar served as his chief secretary and advisor; 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[vague], 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.
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 Medina and members of Majlis al Shura, accordingly succession of Umar was initially discouraged by high-ranking companions of Abu Bakr. 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. 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 God to whom I have appointed my successor, I will tell him that I have appointed the best man among your men.
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 of power from one authority to another in the Muslim lands. 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 Iraqi 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:
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 the 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.
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.
Umar was a gifted orator, and he would use his ability to get a soft corner in the hearts of people.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal wrote that Umar's stress was on the well-being of poor and underprivileged people. 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. He followed Abu Bakr's decision over the disputed land of Fidak, and continued its status as a state property. In the 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. 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 the Roman front.
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 Amir, usually appointed by Umar himself, but occasionally they were also appointed by the provincial governor. Other officers at the provincial level were:
- Katib, the Chief Secretary.
- Katib-ud-Diwan, the Military Secretary.
- Sahib-ul-Kharaj, the Revenue Collector.
- Sahib-ul-Ahdath, the Police chief.
- Sahib-Bait-ul-Mal, the Treasury Officer.
- 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.
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 governors 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.
- Arabia was divided into two provinces, Mecca and Medina;
- Iraq was divided into two provinces, Basra and Kufa;
- In the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Jazira was a province;
- Syria was a province;
- Umar divided Palestine into two provinces Iliyā' (إلياء), and Ramlah;
- Egypt was divided into two provinces, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt;
- Persia was divided into three provinces, Khorasan; Azarbaijan and Fars.
Umar was first to establish a special department for the investigation of complaints against the officers of the State. This department acted as the Administrative court, where the legal proceedings were personally led by Umar. 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 This service was also said to have inspired fear in his subjects.
Umar was a pioneer in some affairs:
- 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.
- He was the first to appoint police forces to keep civil order.
- He was the first to discipline the people when they became disordered.
Another important aspect of Umar's rule was that he forbade any of his governors and agents from engaging in trade or any sort of business dealings whilst being in a position of power. An agent of Umar by the name of Al Harith ibn K'ab ibn Wahb was once found to have extra money beyond his salary and Umar enquired about his wealth. Al Harith replied that he had some money and he engaged in trade with it. Umar said: By Allah, we did not send you to engage in trade! and he took from him the profits he had made.
When Basra was established during Umar's rule, he started building 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 its 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.
While under his leadership, the empire expanded at an unprecedented rate and he also began to build a political structure that would hold together the vast empire. 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 Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet) in Medina.
Umar also ordered the expulsion to Syria and Iraq of the Christian and Jewish communities of Najran and Khaybar. He also permitted Jewish families to resettle in Jerusalem, which had previously been barred from all Jews. He issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well and allotted them the equivalent amount of land in their new settlements. Umar also forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hejaz for longer than three days. He was first to establish the army as a state department.
In 641, he established Bayt al-mal, a financial institution and started annual allowance for the Muslims. 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 638, 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 Medina.
Visit to Jerusalem in 637 CE
Umar's visit to Jerusalem is documented in several sources. A recently discovered Judeo-Arabic text has disclosed the following anecdote:
"Umar ordered Gentiles and a group of Jews to sweep the area of the Temple Mount. Umar oversaw the work. The Jews who had come sent letters to the rest of the Jews in Palestine and informed them that Umar had permitted resettlement of Jerusalem by Jews. Umar, after some consultation, permitted seventy Jewish households to return. They returned to live in the southern part of the city, i.e., the Market of the Jews. (Their aim was to be near the water of Silwan and the Temple Mount and its gates). Then the Commander Umar granted them this request. The seventy families moved to Jerusalem from Tiberias and the area around it with their wives and children."
It is also reported in the name of the Alexandrian Bishop Eutychius (932–940 CE) that the rock known as the Temple Mount had been a place of ruins as far back as the time of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who built churches in Jerusalem. "The Byzantines," he said, "had deliberately left the ancient site of the Temple as it was, and had even thrown rubbish on it, so that a great heap of rubble formed." It was only when Umar marched into Jerusalem with an army that he asked Kaab, who was Jewish before he converted to Islam, "Where do you advise me to build a place of worship?" Kaab indicated the Temple Rock, now a gigantic heap of ruins from the temple of Jupiter. The Jews, Kaab explained, had briefly won back their old capital a quarter of a century before (when Persians overran Syria and Palestine), but they had not had time to clear the site of the Temple, for the Rums (Byzantines) had recaptured the city. It was then that Umar ordered the rubbish on the Ṣakhra (rock) to be removed by the Nabataeans, and after three showers of heavy rain had cleansed the Rock, he instituted prayers there. To this day, the place is known as ḳubbat es ṣakhra, the Dome of the Rock.
In 638, after the conquest of Syria, Umar dismissed Khalid because of 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. The military conquests were partially terminated between 638 and 639 during the years of great famine in Arabia and plague in Levant. During his reign the Levant, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan, Eastern Anatolia, almost the whole of the Sassanid Persian Empire including Bactria, Persia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Caucasus and Makran were annexed to the Rashidun Caliphate. According to one estimate more than 4,050 cities were captured during these military conquests. Prior to his death in 644, Umar had ceased all military expeditions apparently to consolidate his rule in recently conquered Roman 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 638 CE, Arabia fell into severe drought followed by a famine. Soon the reserves of food at Medina began to run out, and Umar wrote to the provincial governors of Syria, Palestine, and Iraq for aid. A state of emergency was declared in Medina 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 the Rashidun army.
Later, Abu Ubaidah paid a personal visit to Medina and acted as an officer of disaster management, which was headed personally by Umar. For internally displaced people, Umar hosted a dinner every night at Medina, which according to one estimate, had attendance of more than a hundred thousand people.
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 the plague and its intensity, and suggested that Umar go back to Medina. Umar tried to persuade Abu Ubaidah to come with him to Medina, but he declined to leave his troops in that critical situation. Abu Ubaidah died in 639 of the 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 the plague.
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. The Bayt al-mal aided 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 (661–750) and well into the Abbasid era. Umar also introduced a child benefit and pensions for the children and the elderly. The expansion of the state was partially terminated between 638–639 during the years of great famine and plague in Arabia and in the Levant respectively.
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. As new areas joined 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. The Muslims paid zakat on their wealth to the poor. Since the Constitution of Medina, 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.
In 644, Umar was assassinated by Persians in response to the Muslim conquest of Persia. The assassination was planned several months earlier. In October 644, Umar undertook a Hajj to Mecca, during which the assassins pronounced Umar's imminent death that year, and the massive crowd of the congregation was used by the conspirators as a veil to hide themselves.
During one of rituals of Hajj, the Ramy al-Jamarat (stoning of the Devil), someone threw a stone at Umar that wounded his head; a voice was heard that Umar will not attend the Hajj ever again.
The Persian slave Piruz Nahavandi (also known as Abu Lulu) brought a complaint to Umar about the high tax charged 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 to Abu Lulu was reasonable, owing 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, Piruz said, "Verily I will make such a mill for you, that the whole world would remember it".
It was Piruz who was assigned the mission of assassinating Umar. According to the plan, before the Fajr prayers (the morning prayers before the dawn) Piruz would enter Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, the main mosque of Medina where Umar led the prayers and would attack Umar during the prayers, and then flee or mix with the congregation at the mosque.
On 31 October 644, Piruz attacked Umar while he was leading the morning prayers, stabbing him six times in the belly and finally in the navel, that proved fatal. Umar was left profusely bleeding while Piruz 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, before slashing himself with his own blade to commit suicide.
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 mawla and freed Persian slave, were alive he would have appointed one of them his successor. Umar finally appointed a committee of six persons comprising Abdur Rahman bin Awf, Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, Talha ibn Ubaidullah, Uthman ibn Affan, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam.
Their task was to choose a caliph from amongst them. All of the six are amongst the ten people promised paradise according to Sunnis. The only one out of the 'famous ten' left out of the committee who was still alive at the time was Saeed ibn Zaid the cousin and brother-in-law of Umar. He was excluded on the basis of having blood relations and being of the same tribe as of Umar. Umar had a policy of not appointing anyone related to him to a position of authority even if they were qualified by his standards.
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 and mawla, Suhayb ar-Rumi (Suhayb the Roman) as a caretaker caliph. While the historic meeting for selection of a caliph was proceeding, Abdulrehman ibn Abu Bakr and Abdur Rahman bin Awf revealed that they saw the dagger used by Piruz, 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 something. Surprised by his presence, the dagger fell; it was the same two-sided dagger used in the assassination. Abudulrehman ibn Abu Bakr, son of the late caliph Abu Bakr also confirmed that, a few days before Umar's assassination, he saw this dagger with Hurmuzan. After the mystery of the assassination was revealed by two of the most notable government figures, it seemed clear that it had been planned by the Persians residing in Medina. Infuriated by this, Umar's younger son Ubaidullah ibn Umar sought to kill all the Persians in Medina. He killed Hurmuzan, Jafinah, and the daughter of Umar's assassin Abu Lulu, who is believed to have been a Muslim. Ubaidullah was intercepted by the people of Medina, who prevented him from continuing 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; 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.
Umar died on 3 November 644; on 7 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 would be further infuriated by the execution of his son the very next day.
Umar was strong, fit, athletic and good at wrestling. He is said to have participated in the wrestling matches on the occasion of the annual fair of Ukaz. 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), both his eyes were black, with yellow skin, however, ibn Sa'ad in his book 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. Others[who?] say he had 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.
Early Muslim historians Ibn Saad and Al-Hakim mention that Abu Miriam Zir, a native of Kufa, described Umar as being "advanced in years, bald, of a tawny colour – a left handed man, tall and towering above the people". Umar's eldest son Abdullah described his father as "a man of fair complexion, a ruddy tint prevailing, tall, bald and grey". Historian Salima bin al-Akwa'a said that "Umar was ambidextrous, he could use both his hands equally well". On the authority of Abu Raja al-U'taridi, Ibn Asakir records 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".
Umar is considered as a political genius, as an architect of the Islamic Empire he is regarded as the 52nd most influential figure in history. Umar successfully broke the alliance of the tribes of Medina who claim the caliphate to be their right, paving the way for the succession of Abu Bakr. During Abu Bakr's era, he actively participated as his secretary and main adviser.
He is best known for building 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.
Umar 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 as a menace to his authority.
Umar's swift imparting of justice against his governors for any misdeeds they commit made even famous powerful governors such as Muawiyah scared of him. Ali ibn Abu Talib during the later rule of Uthman ibn Affan wanted Uthman to be more strict with his governors saying,I adjure you by God, do you know that Mu'awiyah was more afraid of Umar than was Umar's own servant Yarfa?
A modern researcher writes about this:
He used to monitor public policy very closely, 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 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.— (Umar)
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.
"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."
His rule was one of the few moments in the history of Islam where Muslims were united as a single community. Abdullah ibn Masʿud would often weep whenever the subject of Umar was brought up. He said: Umar was a fortress of Islam. People would enter Islam and not leave. When he died, the fortress was breached and now people are going out of Islam  Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah before Umar died famously said: If Umar dies, Islam would be weakened People asked him why and his reply was You will see what i am speaking about if you survive His greatest achievement from a religious perspective was the compilation of the Qur'an. It was Umar who convinced Abu Bakr to compile the Quran into a single book. This was something not done during the time of Muhammad. However, during the Battle of Yamama a great number of the memorizers of the Quran perished in the battle. On the advice of Umar, Abu Bakr tasked Zayd ibn Thabit with the momentous task of compiling the Quran into a single Book.
Along with Khalid ibn Walid, Umar was influential in the Ridda wars.
One of his greatest strategic marvels was his brilliant fission of the 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 himself of the opportunity and successfully tackled the situation by inducing the Byzantines to act prematurely. This was contrary to the orders of Emperor 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 it was achieved without a single shot.
Umar issued an order to invade the very homeland of the Christian Arab forces besieging Emesa, the Jazirah. A three-pronged 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 Medina and marched towards Emesa. Under this unprecedented pressure, the Christian Arabs retreated from Emesa before Muslim reinforcements could arrive. The Muslims annexed Mesopotamia and parts of Byzantine Armenia.
Nevertheless, the greatest triumph of Umar remained the conquest of the Persian empire. After the Battle of Nahavand, Umar launched a full-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. This was immediately followed by simultaneous attacks on Azerbaijan and Fars. Next, 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.
Umar is remembered 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". 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, 
Umar is viewed very negatively in the literature of Twelver Shi'a (as the main branch of Shia Islam) and is often regarded as a usurper of Ali's right to the Caliphate. After the Saqifah assembly chose Abu Bakr as caliph, Umar marched with armed men to Ali's house in order to get the allegiance of Ali and his supporters. Sources indicate that a threat was made to burn Ali's house if he refused. But the event ended when Fatimah intervened. According to the majority of Twelver scholar writings, Fatimah, wife of Ali, was physically assaulted by Umar. These sources report that the event caused her to miscarry her child, Muhsin ibn Ali, and eventually led to her death soon after. (see Umar at Fatimah's house). However, some Twelver scholars, such as Fadhlalla, reject these accounts of physical abuse as a "myth".
Another Shia sect, the Zaidiyyah, followers of Zaid ibn Ali, accept Umar and Abu Bakr as legitimate caliphs, despite their beliefs that they are inferior to Ali. According to al-Tabari, when asked about Abu Bakr and Umar, Zayd ibn Ali replied: "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.".
Umar married nine women in his lifetime and had fourteen children: ten sons and four daughters.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Umar.|
- Excerpt from The History of the Khalifahs by Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti
- Sirah of Amirul Muminin Umar Bin Khattab by Shaykh Sayyed Muhammad bin Yahya Al-Husayni Al-Ninowy.
- "Omar". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
Cadet branch of the QurayshBorn: c.584 Died: 3 November 644
|Sunni Islam titles|
|Caliph of Islam
23 August 634 – 3 November 644
Uthman ibn Affan