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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Omar bin Khattab

The Second Caliph of Islam

Early LifeThe mission of the Holy Prophet was still in the early stage. Islam was still weak and helpless. The chiefs of Mecca were up against it. One night the Holy Prophet stood in the Kaaba, lost in thoughts. Presently he raised his hands and turned his eyes heavenward. "Lord!" he prayed, "make Islam strong with either of the two men, Amr bin Hisham or Omar bin Khattab."
The prayer was instantly granted. Allah chose Omar to serve Islam. Amr bin Hisham was to die as Abu Jahl( Father of Ignorance ). But Omar was to become a great pillar of strength for Islam.
Omar was twelve years younger than the Holy Prophet. He was the son of Khattab. His mother's name was Khatmah. He came of the Adi branch of the Quraish. Banu Adi were held in great respect. They acted as the agents of the Quraish in talks with other tribes. They als acted as judges in their disputes.
In early youth, Omar got training in methods of warfare. He also learnt the art of public speaking. From the outset, he showed unusual courage and frankness of manner. Eager to learn, he was earnest and thorough in whatever he undertook. These qualities won him a name in the country rather at an early age. As a trader, he had to travel to other lands. These travels brought him a wide knowledge and a deep understanding of men and things.

Fall of Jerusalem

Amr bin As was laying seige to Jerusalem. After the fall of Antioch, Abu Obaida, Khalid and other Muslim generals also joined Amr. The Christians had little hope of help from Byzantium. So they decided to give in.
However, the Christians had some fears. They knew that other cities had given in before. In each case the victors had respected the life and property of the defeated. They had left alone their places of worship. They had allowed them to follow their own religion. But about Jerusalem the Christians were not very sure. It was as sacred to the Muslims as it was to them. Before giving in they wanted to make very sure that they would be treated well.
So the Christians put their proposal before Abu Obaida. "We are ready to give in," they said, "but your Caliph must come here in person and sign the treaty of peace."
The Muslim generals met in counsel and thought over the proposal. At last they decided to accept it. "Why spill human blood" they said, "if things can be straightened out without it?"
So the Christian proposal was conveyed to the Caliph. Jerusalem could be taken without shedding a drop of blood. But for that Omar had to come all the way from Medina to Jerusalem. To this Omar readily agreed.

Omar in Jerusalem

The Caliph left Ali in Medina as his deputy and himself left for Jerusalem. He had only one attendant with him and only one camel to ride. Omar and the attendant rode the camel by turns. It happened to be the servant's turn to ride on the day when they were to reach Jerusalem. "Commander of the Faithful," said the attendant, "I give up my turn. It will look awkward, in the eyes of the people, if I ride and you lead the camel."
"Oh no," replied Omar, "I am not going to be unjust. The honor of Islam is enough for us all."
Abu Obaid, Khalid, Yazid and other officers of the army went some distance to receive the Caliph. All of them were wearing silk cloaks. This made Omar angry. He took some pebbles and threw them at his generals, saying, "Have you changed so much in just two years? What dress is this? Even if you had done this two hundred years from now, I would have dismissed you."
The officers replied, "Commander of the Faithful, we are in a land where the quality of clothes worn tells the rank of a man. If we wear ordinary clothes, we will command little respect among the people. However, we are wearing our arms underneath the silken robes."
This answer cooled down the anger of the Caliph.
Next the Caliph signed the treaty of peace. It ran as follows:
"From the servant of Allah and the Commander of the Faithful, Omar: The inhabitants of Jerusalem are granted security of life and property. Their churches and crosses shall be secure. This treaty applies to all people of the city. Their places of worship shall remain intact. These shall neither be taken over nor pulled down. People shall be quite free to follow their religion. They shall not be put to any trouble..."
The gates of the city were now opened. Omar went straight to the Temple of David (Masjid-i-Aqsa). Here he said his prayer under David's Arch.
Next he visited the biggest Christian church of the city. He was in the church when the time for the afternoon prayer came.
"You may say your prayers in the church," said the Bishop.
"No," replied Omar, "if I do so, the Muslims may one day make this an excuse for taking over the church from you."
So he said his prayers on the steps of the church. Even then, he gave the Bishop a writing. It said that the steps were never to be used for congregational prayers nor was the Adhan [ call to prayer ] to be said there.

Omar's Mosque

Omar wanted to build a mosque in Jerusalem. He asked the Bishop which place would be suitable for the purpose. The Bishop suggested the "Sakhra," or the rock on which Allah had talked to Prophet Jacob. Here the Christians had heaped garbage to tease the Jews.
Immediatley the Sakhra was cleared of the garbage. Omar himself worked like a laborer with the rest of his men. Jeruslaem, the city of David and of Christ, wittnessed the equality of Islam. When the Sakhra had been cleared of every trace of dirt, a mosque was built on the site. The mosque stand to this day and is known as Omar's Mosque.

Northern Iraq Occupied

Northern Iraq had thus far been left alone. This part of Iraq was called 'Jazira.' The people of Jazira made a plot to oust the Muslims from Syria. They asked the Emperor of Byzantium to send out an army to help them carry out the plot. He did so. The people of Jazira joined hands with this army. Abu Obaida and other Muslim generals were forced to shut themselves up in the city of Hims. The enemy laid seige to the city. The Caliph got the alarming news. He himself set out at the head of a forces to help his men. But before he reached the city, the enemy had been beaten off.
The Caliph now ordered the Jazira be occupied. Ayaz bin Ghanam carried out the order and overran Jazira.

The Great Plague

In the year 17-18 A.H., Iraq, Syria and Egypt found themselves in the grip of a widespread plague. The epidemic took away a great part of the population.
The Muslim army in Syria was also hit by the epidemic. So heavy was the toll taken by it that Omar himself had to go to Syria to study things. At Saraa, he was received by army leaders. They implored him to keep out of the affected area. The Calpih sought the advice of leading Companions. They differed. At last Omar chose to go back. Seeing this, Abu Obaida said "Omar, are you running away from teh decree of Allah?"
"Yes," replied Omar, "I am running away from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah."
In the meantime Abdur Rahman bin Auf also came up. "I have heard the Messenger of Allah say," he said, "'Do not go to a place where an epidemic is raging.'"
Some days after Omar had left, Abu Obaida died of plague. His successor, Maaz bin Jabal met the same fat. The command now passed into the hands of Amr bin As. He at once ordered his troops to spread out on hill tops. This wise step brought the epidemic under control. But no less than tweny thousand warriors had already died. Among them were some of the topmost generals of Islam. These men, if they had lived on, could have conquered the whole world of Islam.
When the epidemic was over Omar paid his last visit to Syria. The purpose of the visit was to settle on the spot many problems created by the terrible epidemic. Some miles from the city of Ela, he gave his horse to his servant and himself rode the servant's camel.
"Where is the Commander of the Faithful" people asked the servant.
"There he goes before you!" the servant replied, pointing to the camel-rider. This amazed the people. They could hardly beleive their eyes. At last they knew that Islam makes no distinction between master and servant.
During his stay in Syria, the Caliph distributed relief to families that had lost their bread-winners. New officers were appointed in place of the ones who had died.
One evening, people insisted that the Calpih should request Bilal to say the Adhan. Bilal who had never said the Adhan after the Prophet's death, accepted Omar's request. As he began, his melodious voice recalled to people's minds the good old memories of the Prophet's Mosque and all began to weep.

The Famine

In the following year there was a great famine in Hijaz. The Calpih took steps to get food supplies from Syria and Egypt. All the same, the general suffering was widespread.
Omar felt very much for his people. So much so that he swore not to touch butter and honey as long as the famine lasted.
This had a bad effect on his health. Seeing this, his servant managed to get some butter and honey with the meals on day. But Omar refused to touch them, saying, "If I do not taste suffering, how can I know the suffering of others?"

The Egyptian Campaign

Amr bin As was very keen to conquer Egypt. He had been to that country and knew how green and fertile it was. In 18 A.H., when Omar visited Syria, Amr asked permission to invade Egypt. The Calpih was not very willing, but Amr pressed his point. At last Amr was allowed to march at the head of four thousand men.
Amr had not yet crossed into Egypt when he received a letter from the Caliph. It called him back. The thought that human blood would be unnecessarily spilled had made Omar change his mind. But Amr was so bent on conquering Egypt that he did not open the letter until he had crossed into that country.

The Viceroy's Daughter Treated with Honor

Egypt was under the rule of a Viceroy of the Emperor of Byzantium. The Emperor kept a large number of troops in Egypt. The troops were under an imperial commander.
Amr bin As had his first battle with the imperial troops. The battle went on for a month. At last Amr won a victory in the end. This made further advance easy.
Continuing his march, Amr took the city of Balkis. Here lived the Viceroy's daughter. She had been married to the Emperor's son but had yet to leave for Byzantium. She was preparing to leave for her husband's city. With her rich dowry she fell into Muslim hands. But Amr sent her to her father, with all her belongings. The Viceroy felt very grateful to Amr for this act of kindness.

The Viceroy Gives In

Amr now marched on to the biggest stronghold of the imperial forces. It stood on the easter bank of the Nile. Facing it, stood the Viceroy's palace on the western bank.
The commander of the imperial forces shut himself up in the fortress. Amr laid seige to it. The seige went on but there seemed little hope of victory. So Amr wrote to Medina and the Caliph sent a reinforcement of twelve thousand men. With it came some of the most noted veterans. One of them, Zubair, was a very strong man. He managed to climb on the wall of the fortress. After him went many more. Together they raised the shout of "Allah is Great." The imperial commander lost his nerve. Boats stood ready at the back of his fortress. He and his men sat in the boats and sailed off.
The sheild that protected the Viceroy was now gone. So he sent men to Amr to sue for peace. Amr kept the envoys with him for two days so that they might study the Muslim way of life. Then he sent them back with a hopeful reply.
When the envoys went back, the Viceroy asked them what kind of men the victors were.
"Our lord," they replied, "the Muslims are a people who love death more than we love life. They love humility better than pride. Greed is unknown to them. They do not think it degrading to sit on the ground. They eat without sitting at a table. Their Commander is just one of them. There is no special mark about him. The Muslims know no distinction between the high and the low of the master and the servant. When the time for prayer comes, they all wash up and stand shoulder to shoulder, in all humility, before the Lord."
The Viceroy was much impressed.
"Such a people," he declared, "will overcome any power. We better make peace with them."
So the Viceroy signed a treat of peace. By this treaty, the Muslims granted the Coptics security of life and property and freedom of faith. The Coptics, on their part, undertook to help the Muslims in their fight against imperial troops.
The treaty made the Emperor of Byzantium very angry. But the Viceroy of Egypt did not care for it. He firmly stood by the terms of the treaty and so did the Muslims. The result was that in a short time the greater part of Egypt was cleared of imperial troops.

Fall of Alexandria

Alexandria was the last stronghold of the imperial forces in Egypt. Byzantium could easily sent men and supplies to Alexandria by sea. Its fall, therefore, seemed difficult.
At last Amr laid seige to the city. For six months the seige dragged on and victory seemed no nearer. This worried Omar and he wrote the following letter to Amr:
"I am afraid the Muslims have not lived up to the teachings of the Quran and the example of the Holy Prophet. Tell all Muslims to beware of this shortcoming. Urge them to be sincere, jardy and warlike. Give the enemy a final blow with the help of other army leaders."
Amr read out the Caliph's letter to the army. These orders were at once carried out. At last Alexandria fell after a seige of a full six months.
It was midday when the messenger reached Medina with the news of victory. He did not like to disturb the Caliph at that hour of the day and sat down in the Prophet's Mosque. But a servant told Omar of the messenger's arrival. The Calpih ran out and said to the messenger, "Why did you not come striaght to me?"
"I thought," replied the man, "you might be having a nap."
"What a pity you thought so!" exclaimed Omar. "If I start sleeping during the day, who will look after the affairs of the State?"
The conquest of Egypt was now complete. Amr founded a city on the Nile bank and named it Fustat. In the middle of it, he built a big mosque. In the course of years, the city of Cairo grew up in the neighborhood of this city. By the year 23 A.H., Amr had pushed Muslim arms as far as west Tripoli.

Omar's Letter to the Nile

The Coptics were Christians. But they followed a savage practice. They used to hold a big festival in the early summer each year. This was a day of general merrymaking. However, the day was also marred with human sacrifice. A beatiful maiden, dressed as a bride, was thrown into the Nile. People that that the sacrifice was necessary to please the Nile, and get a big flood of water for their parched fields. If the Nile got displeased, they thought, there would be no flood and hence no crops.
The Coptics asked Amr's permission to sacrifice a maiden as usual. He disallowed the savage act. It so happened that the Nile had very little water that year. Crops failed. Many of the peasants decided to leave the country. Amr wrote to the Caliph for advice.
The Caliph approved Amr's action. He also sent a letter, addressed to the Nile. It said:
"From the servant of Allah and Commander of the Muslims to the River of the Nile of Egypt. O Nile, if you flow of your own will, then do not flow. But if your flow is controlled by Allah, the Almighty, we pray to Him to keep you flowing."
This letter was thrown into the river, as directed by the Caliph. The river overflowed its banks that year. Such a big flood had not been seen for years. The country was once again green with crops. The peasants were happy. The savage practice of human sacrifice came to an end for ever.

Omar's Death

There lived in Medina a Persian slave, Abu Lolo Firoz by name. One day, he came to the Calpih and said, "My master squeezes too heavy a tax out of me. Please get it reduced."
"How much is the tax?" asked Omar.
"Two dirhams a day," replied the slave.
"And what skills do you posses?" was the next question of the Caliph.
"I am a carpentar, a painter, and a black-smith," Firoz said.
"Then the tax is by no means too heavy," the Calpih remarked. "A person with your skills can easy pay this tax and shall live comfortably."
"All right, I will settle with you," grunted the slave as he went away.
Omar took no notice of the words.
"I have been rebuked by a slave." he remarked with a smile.
Early next morning Omar went to the mosque as usual to lead the prayer. Abu Lolo was already hiding in the corner, with a dagger in hand. As soon as Omar began the prayer, the slave jumped on him. He gave six cuts with the dagger on the Caliph's body. The horrified worshippers overpowered the assasin. Thereupon the wretch slew himself with the same dagger.
Omar kept lying in a pool of blood until the prayer was over. Then he was carried home.
"Who is my assasin?" he asked.
"Abu Lolo," said the people.
"Allah be thanked!" said Omar. "It is not a Muslim who has shed my blood."
A physician was called in to dress and treat the wounds of the Caliph. He said they were too deep to be healed. At this many people who stood around began to weep.
"Please do not weep," implored Omar. "Have you not heard the Messenger of Allah say that the weeping of relatives adds to the torture of the dead person?"
Finding his end in sight, Omar called his son, Abdullah.
"My son," he said, "go to Aisha. Give her Omar's greetings. Do not refer to me as the Commander of the Faithful; for I am no longer one. Place before her my wish to be buried in her room, by the side of the Prophet and my illustrious predecessor."
Abdullah found Aisha weeping. He delivered his father's message to her.
"I wanted to reserve this spot for my own grave, but I prefer Omar to myself," said Aisha.
Abdullah conveyed Aisha's consent to his dying father.
"Allah be thanked!" said Omar. "This was the greatest wish of my life. But look, son, when you take my dead body to Aisha's room, again give her my greetings and ask her permission. If she allows, bury me there, otherwise bury me in the graveyard of Medina."

Question of Successor

People asked the dying Caliph to name the man who should fill his place.
"If I do so," said Omar, "I have the example of Abu Bakr before me. But if I do not do it, there is the example of the Messenger of Allah. If Abu Obaida Jarrah had been alive, I would have nominated him. That is because I heard the Prophet of Allah call him 'the trustee of the people.' Of if Hazifa's slave, Salim, had been alive, I would have nominated him. That is because I heard the Prophet of Allah call him 'an ardent lover of Allah.'"
"Nominate your own son Abdullah," suggested someone. "Because of his learning and piety he is a very fit person."
"One man is enough from Khattab's family," spoke back Omar, "to answer before Allah, for the management of the affairs of Islam. If Omar can render an even account, he will feel most happy. I have borne this burder during this life. I don't want to keep it on my shoulders after I am dead."
When aksed again about this question, he said, "There are six men. The Prophet of Allah has foretold about their entering the kingdom of heaven. They are Ali, Othman, Abdur Rahman bin Auf, Saad bin Abi Waqqas, Zubair bin Awam and Talha bin Obaidullah. I ask them to sit together and choose one of them as the Caliph. If all of them cannot agree on the name, let the vote of the majority decide on the matter."
Omar left a will for his successor which said:
"Fear Allah and protect the rights o the Muhajireen and the Ansar. Take from the rich and give to the poor. Treat the non-Muslims well and always keep your word."

The End

As the end drew in sight, Omar began to weep, because of the fear of Allah.
"My son," he called out to Abdullah, "help me put my forehead on the ground."
Abdullah obeyed.
"O Allah," murmured the dying Caliph, "cover me with Your forgiveness. If that does not happen, woe to me and woe to the mother who bore me."
The next moment Omar was in the lap of Allah's mercy and forgiveness. He died on Wednesaday the 27th of Dhul Hajjah, 23 A.H., after lying wounded for three days. He was sixty-three at the time of death.

The Years of Omar's Calphate

Omar was Caliph for ten and a half years. This period stands out as the golden age of Islam. The tender plant which the Holy Prophet left behind and Abu Bakr had protected against storms grew into a huge overspreading tree under Omar's untiring care. Islam became a world power. It could now stand the wear and tear ot time. The thing for which the Holy Prophet had prayed years before was now a fact. Omar had made Islam strong and great! Thereby he had also made his own name immortal.
Omar's amazing success was due to two things - his fear of Allah and his love for the Prophet. In all his dealings he never forgot for a second that he was answerable to Allah. He strictly followed the example set by the Prophet. These two things made him at once the most powerful ruler and the most selfless man of his time. He used all his power for the greater glory of Allah and His Prophet.
Omar's armies overthrew two mighty empires of the time. But he himself led an extremely simple and hard life. Hurmuzan, the ruler of Ahwaz, came up for an interview with the Caliph of Medina. He was dressed in shining silks and was wearing a crown set with jewels. But he was stunned to see the Caliph in coarse, patched clothes.
Besides the small monthly allowance that he was allowed, Omar would not spend a penny from the public funds on himself or his family.
He had diplomatic relations with other rulers. Once his wife asked the envoy to Byzantium to take for the Emperor's wife her gift of a phial of scent. In return the Empress went he a necklace of pearls. Omar came to know of this and gave the necklace to the Public treasury. "The envoy travelled at public expense," he told his wife.
At night the Caliph would burn oil from the Bait-ul-Mal (Public Treasury) only as long as he went through official papers. After that he put out the lamp, even though there was no other light in the house.
Omar personally looked into the smallest affairs of the people. He worked like a laboror all day. At night, he went around the city to find out for himself how people lived and felt. He was ever ready to help those who needed his help. He would carry supplies on his shoulders and deliver them at the homes of the poor. Nothing could stop Omar from doing his duty to the people.
All citizens, including the Caliph himself, were equal before the law. Once Omar appeared before the court of Medina. Somebody had made a complaint against him. The judge stood up to show respect to the Caliph as he entered the court. "This is the first injustice you have done to the plantiff," said Omar, addressing the judge. Modern democratic states have yet to reach this level of democracy. Their heads cannot be summoned before an ordinary court.
The greatest desire of Omar was to see the blessings of Islam flow in full measure to all people, in all countries under him. He himself could be approached by anybody. Even the humblest of men could stop him in the street. He could ask the Caliph why he had done a particular thing. A poor woman could speak back to him. She could point out to him any of his mistakes. With all his power and piet, he never considered himself above mistakes. He welcomed the opinions of those who differed with him. In fact he used to say, "Allah's mercy be on those who bring me the knowledge of my shortcomings."
Omar wanted his deputies to be as democratic as he himself was. He dreaded very much the anti-democratic traditions of Iran and Byzantium. He was afraid lest these traditions should encrust the free spirit of Islam. So his governors had strict orders not to cut themselves off from the people. They had orders to eat simple food and wear simple dress. They were forbidden to build porches in front of their houses. They were forbidden to have door-keepers. Omar insisted that the rulers should be one with the people. He insisted that they should mix freely with the people. He wanted them to be at the call of every man and woman who lived under their rule. To make sure of this, Omar kept himself in close touch with the day-to-day doings of his officers. Trusted observers went round in the vast empire of Islam and sent reports to the Caliph.
Once Omar came to know that one of his governors had cut himself off from the people. At once he was called to Medina. The Calpih made him take off his silk robes. The he sent the fellow into the desert to tend a herd of sheep. No rank was too high to sway Omar's hand of justice.
Omar had a huge empire to manage. He proved more then equal to the task. He was called upon to look after huge military campaigns, going on at one and the same time, in the east and the west. He met this challenge with amazing success. History was nothing to put beside this achievement. Next he was called upon to bring peace and order to his vast empire. Here again his success was unequalled. The freedom, justice and security which he gave to his people were unknown in any other part of the world. In short, Omar made himself the fountain-head from which flowed the undiluted blessings by the Holy Prophet for manking.

The End


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