Omar Ibn al Khattab (r)
Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD
“Summary: Summary: History bends to the will of man when it is exercised with faith and steadfastness. Omar (r) was one such man. He bent history to his will, leaving a legacy that successor generations have looked upon as a model to copy. He was one of the greatest of conquerors, a wise administrator, a just ruler, a monumental builder and a man of piety who loved God with the same intensity that other conquerors of his caliber have loved gold and wealth. The Prophet planted the seed of Tawhid. At its most elemental level, Tawhid means belief in one God. In its historical sense, it connotes a God-focused civilization, where all human effort is directed towards seeking Divine pleasure. Abu Bakr (r), with his wise intercession at an historic moment, ensured that the seed did not perish with the death of the Prophet. It was during the Caliphate of Omar (r) that the seed grew into a full-blown tree and bore fruit. Omar (r) shaped the historical edifice of Islam and whatever Islam became or did not become in subsequent centuries is due primarily to the work of this historical figure. Indeed, Omar (r) was the architect of Islamic civilization.
The achievements of Omar ibn al Khattab (r) are all the more remarkable considering that he lacked the advantage of birth, nobility or wealth that some of the other Companions enjoyed. He was born into the tribe of Bani ‘Adi, a poorer cousin amongst the Quraish. In his own words, before he accepted Islam, he was at various times a petty merchant and a shepherd who would often lose his sheep. From such humble beginnings, he rose to weld together an empire greater in extent than either that of Rome or Persia and governed it with the wisdom of a Solomon and administered it with the sagacity of a Joseph.
Upon his election to the Caliphate, Omar (r) was faced with the immediate geopolitical situation in West Asia. The Arabian Peninsula is a vast desert, except for its southwestern tip near Najran and Yemen, where the monsoons bring in rain from the Indian Ocean and make the area fertile. To the north, the extent of the desert is marked by the Jordan River, which separates it from the hills of Palestine and Lebanon. To the east, its boundaries are marked by the Euphrates. The area between the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris is called the Jazira (island). This area, known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, was called Iraq e Arab in the early Islamic period. The waters of the two rivers irrigate this area and have made it the cradle of civilizations. East of the River Tigris, the land gradually rises into the Persian Plateau leading into the heartland of ancient Fars. The Arabs called this area Iraq e Ajam and it included the Farsi (Persian) speaking areas of Khuzistan, Hamadan, Fars, Persepolis, Isfahan, Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Makran and Baluchistan.
The Persian and Byzantine empires held the balance of power in the region with the Euphrates River as the historical divide between their respective areas of influence. Persia also controlled Yemen and the territories along the Red Sea north to Mecca and Madina. The emergence of Islam and the unification of the Arabs altered this balance of power. It was a situation that neither the Byzantines nor the Persians could ignore. Khosroe, the emperor of Persia, was on record as having ordered an assault on Madina. The Byzantines had attacked on the northern frontier and had killed the Muslim general Zaid bin Haris (632). Border clashes had begun during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (r) between the newborn Islamic state and the two superpowers. The triumph of Omar (r) over the mighty empires of Persia and Byzantium within a brief span of ten years is one of the most remarkable stories in military history.
The Muslim eruption was impelled by a sense of mission inculcated by Islam. It was a matter of faith. This faith dictated that humankind is born into freedom and is beholden only to the transcendence of God. Islamic civilization is God-centered and its mission is to establish Divine patterns upon this earth. From this perspective, any social or political system that imposed subservience to a despotic ruler or an oppressive empire detracted from this transcendence and deserved to be challenged.
When Omar (r) became the Caliph, the campaigns in Syria were ongoing. The Battle of Yarmuk (636) had broken Byzantine resistance but Palestine was not yet subdued. Omar (r) commanded Amr bin al As to proceed from Yarmuk to Jerusalem. Since resistance was hopeless, the Patriarch of Jerusalem offered the keys to the city provided the Caliph himself came up to accept them. When the Caliph heard of this, he appointed Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) as the acting Caliph and set out north from Madina. Omar ibn al Khattab (r) was now the Caliph of all of Arabia and of surrounding territories. He could have traveled as a conqueror in pomp and luxury. But he, like the other Companions, had received his training from the Prophet Muhammed (p). Theirs was the kingdom of heaven and not of this earth. They held the key to the treasures of the earth but only as a Divine Trust as servants of the Lord. Omar (r) traveled north on one camel with a single attendant, taking turns with him for the ride. As he approached Jerusalem, it so happened, the attendant was on the camel and the Caliph was walking alongside. The potentates of Jerusalem thought that the rider was the Caliph and the man on foot, in his patched clothes, was the servant. They offered abeyance to the rider. When the Muslim commanders greeted the real Caliph, the potentates of Jerusalem were astonished and bowed down in awe.
Omar (r) treated the conquered people with unsurpassed magnanimity. The capitulation document signed with the Christians upon the fall of Jerusalem provides an example:
“This is the safety given by a servant of God, the leader of the faithful, Omar ibn al Khattab (r) to the people of Ilia. This safety is for their life, property, church and cross, for the healthy and the sick and for all their co-religionists. Their churches shall neither be used as residence nor shall they be demolished. No harm shall be done to their churches or their boundaries. There shall be no decrease in their crosses or riches. There shall neither be any compulsion in religion nor shall they be harmed.”
The document speaks for itself. The Muslim armies were fighting for the freedom of worship, not for religious conversion. They considered it their mission on earth to free humankind from the yoke of exploitation and abuse. The conquered people were regarded as dhimmis (from the word dhimana, meaning trust or responsibility). They were considered a trust not to be violated as has happened time and again in history. Omar (r) stayed for a few days in Jerusalemand after inspecting the army positions in Syria, returned to Madina.”
One of the most detailed book about Hazrat Umar alKhattb [ra ] is by the great genius
• shahkaar-e-risaalat by G A Perwez.pdf [ Urdu ] , the last 100 pages of it is translated in English as to what happened to Islam after Hazrat Umar [ ra ] passed away.