A Dictionary of Islam/'Umar

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A Dictionary of Islam by Thomas Patrick Hughes
'Umar

'UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB.

(Omar) the second Khalifah. Avho succeeded Abu Bakr, a.h. 13 (a.d. (J34), and was assassinated by Firoz, a Persian slave, a.h. 23 (a.d. 644), after a prosperous reign of ten years. His conversion to Islam took place in the sixth year of Muhammad's mission, and the Prophet took 'Umar's daughter Hafsah as his third wife.

'Umar is eminent amongst the early Khalifahs for having chiefly contributed to the spread of Islam. Under him the great generals, Abu 'Ubaidah, Khalid ibn al-Walid, Yazid, drove the Greeks out of Syria and Phoenicia ; Sa'd ibn Abl Waqqas, Qaqa'ab, Nu'man, completed the conquest of the two 'Iraqs and the overthrow of the Persian Empire : 'Amr ibn al-"As (commonly called Amru) subdued Egypt and part of the Libyan coast, after having, as commander in Palestine, prepared by his victories and a severe siege, the surrender of Jerusalem [.JERUSALEM] into the Khallfah's own hands. 'Umar's name is, moreover, intimately connected with the history of Islam, by the initiatory and Important share which he took in the first collection of the Qur'an, under Abu Bakr, by the official introduction of the Muhammadan era of the Hijrah, and by the first organisation of the dhcdn, or civil list of the Muhammadans. The two former subjects have been treated of in this Dictionary in their proper places ; the third institution, which laid the foundation to the marvellous successes of the Muslim arms under this and the succeeding Governments, is ably explained in the following extract from Sir Muir's Annals of the Early Caliphate : —

" The Arabian nation was the champion of Islam, and to fight its battles every Arab was jealously reserved. He must be the soldier, and nothing else. He might not settle down in any conquered province as cultivator of the soil ; and for merchandise or other labour, a busy warlike hfe offered but little leisure. Neither was there any need. The Arabs lived on the fat of the conquered land, and captive natives served them. Of the booty taken in war, four parts were distributed to the army in the field: the fifth was reserved for the State : and even that, after discharging public obligations, was shared among the Arabian people. In the reign of Abu Bakr, this was a simple matter. But in the Caliphate of Omar, the spoil of Syria and of Persia began in ever-increasing volume to pom- into the treasury of Medina, where it was distributed almost as soon as i-eceived. What was easy in small beginnings, by equal sharing or discretionary preference, became now a heavy task. And there began, also, to arise new sources of revenue in the land assessment, and the poll-tax of subject countries, which, after defraying civil and military charges, had to be accounted for to the Central Government ; the surplus being, like the royal fifth, the patrimony of the Arab nation.

" At length, in the second or third year of his Caliphate, Omar determined that the distribution should be regulated on a fixed and systematic scale. The income of the commonwealth was to be divided, as heretofore, amongst the Faithful as their heritage, but upon a rule of precedence befitting the military and theocratic groundwork of Islam. For this end three points only were considered : priority of conversion, afiinity to the Prophet, and military service. The widows of Jlahomet, ' Mothers of tho Faithful,' took the precedence with an annual allowance of 10,000 pieces each ; and all his kinsmen were with a correspondinf; liberality provided for. The famous Three Hundred of Bedr had o.OOO eacli ; jirosence at Hodeibia (lludaiblyah) and tho P/edfjf of the Tree, gave a claim to 4,000; such as took part in quelling the Rebellion (immediately after ]Muliammad's death), had 3.000 : and those engaged in the great battles of Syria and Irac, as well as sons of the men of Bedr, 2,000 ; those taking the field after the actions of CTidesiya and the Yermiik, I.OOO. Warriors of distinction received an extra grant of 500. And so they graduated downwards to 200 pieces for the latest levies. Nor were the households forgotten. Women had, as a rule, one-tenth of a man's share. Wives, widows, and children had each their proper stipend ; and in the register, every infant, as soon as born, had the title to be entered, with a minimum allowance of ten pieces, rising with advancing age to its proper place. Even Arab slaves (so long as any of that race remained) had, strange to say, their portion.

'• The Arabian aristocracy thus created was recognised by the whole Moslem world. The rank and stij^endnow assigned descended in the direct line of birth. Even rewards given for special gallantry in the field were heritable. By making thus the revenues of Islam the heritage of the nation militant, their martial genius was maintained, and their employment perpetuated as the standing army of the Caliphate.

" To carry out this vast design, a register had to be drawn and kept up of everj' man, woman and child, entitled to a stipend from the State — in other words, of the whole Arab race employed in the interests of Islam. This was easy enough for the higher grades, but a herculean task for the hundreds and thousands of ordinary fighting men and their families who kept streaming forth from the Peninsula ; and who, by the extravagant indulgence of polygamy, were multiplying rapidly. But the task was simplified by the strictly tribal composition and disposition of the forces. Men of a tribe, or branch of a tribe, fought together ; and the several corps and brigades being thus territorially arranged in clans, the Register assumed the same form. Every soul was entered under the stock and tribe and class whose lineage it claimed. And to this exhaustive classification we owe in great measure the elaborate genealogies and tribal traditions of Arabia before Islam. The Register itself, as well as the office for its maintenance and for pensionary account was called the Dewan (Dlwdn), or Department of the Exchequer." (Sir W. Muir, Aiutn/s of thi' Early Caliphate, London, 188:3, p. 228.)

It was fortunate for Lsh'iiii, that the reign of Abu Bakr, sliorl in duration, l)ut pregnant with decisive issues, should precede that of 'Umar. During the critical period, immediately after Muhammad's death, when three false prophets and a prophetess gathered increasing numbers round their rebellious standards, when in the north, east, and south of the Peninsula, tribe after tribe, apostatized from the nowl^'-adopted creed, and when al-Madinah itself was repeatedly threatened by hostile invasions of the neighbouring clans it needed all the spirit of compromise and conciliation which blended in Abu Bakr's character with penetrating shrewdness and dauntless courage, to steer the bark of the Muslim commonwealth through the dangers which were surrounding it on every side. 'Umar's irrepressible impetuosity would, at that time, probably have caused more harm than good, while, on the other hand, the unprecedented success which crowned Abu Bakr's wise and temjjorising politics, taught him to temper his own impulses of bold enterpi'iso with prudence and cautiousness, when, in his turn, the reponsibilities of office rested on his shoulders.

The original violent bent of Umar's nature is forcibly illustrated by the history of his conversion, as it is told in various traditions. In his youth and early manhood, a zealous and devoted adherent of the religion of his forefathers, he hated and persecuted Muham- mad as a dangerous innovator, who had come to lead his people astraj^, and to sow discord between them. Infuriated at some fresh success of the pretended Prophet, he sallied forth one day to kill him, when he met bis kinsman, Nu'aim ibn 'Abdi 'lliih, who, seeing him armed and fiercely excited, asked him : " Whither goest thou, and what is thy intent ? " I seek Muhammad," was 'Umar's reply, " and I will slay him; he has vilified our gods and dishonoured our ancestors." " Passion bUnds thee," retorted Nu'aim ; " knowest thou not that, if thou killest Mu- hammad, thou wilt draw the vengeance of the Hashimites and the Banu Muttalib upon thy head ? Better far it would bo for thee, to heed the welfare of thy own family, and to bring back to the right path those members of it who have forsworn their ances- tral religion." " And who are they," asked 'Umar. " Thy brother-in-law, Sa'Id ibn Zaid, and Fatimah, thy very own sister," answered Nu'aim.

Forthwith the incensed the house of the culprits. al-Aratt, a devoted disciple of Muhammad, the same who had made them acquainted with his teaching and won them over to Islam unknown to 'Umar, was reading with them at that moment a new fragment of the Qur'fin. When he heard 'Umar coming, he concealed himself, and Fatimah tried to hide the manuscript in the bosom of her dress. On entering, 'Umar asked : " What


man hurried on to Here Khabbab ibn


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have you been i-eading just now ? I heard your voices ! " " Nothing," she repUed, " thou art mistaken." " You have been reading something, and I am told that you belong to the sect of Muhammad." With these words he threw himself upon his brother-in-law, and struck him. Ffitimah rushed in between them. Both husband and wife boldly con- fessed : " Yes, wo are Muslims ; wo believe that there is no god but God, and that Mu- hammad is his sent one ; kill us, if thou wilt."

No sooner had 'Umar seen the blood flowing from a wound which he had inflicted on his sister, than shame for his own unmanly act, coupled with admiration of their courageous conduct, brought about a powerful revulsion of his feelings. He asked to be shown the manuscript, and when, after his solemn pro- mise not to destroy it, the fragment was handed over to him, he read : —

" Not to sadden thee have We sent down this Qur'iin to thee,

But as a warning for him who feareth ;

A missive from Him who hath made the earth and the lofty heavens.

The God of ^lercy who sitteth on His throne !

His, whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and whatso- ever is between them both, and wliat- soever is beneath the humid soil !

And thou needest not raise thy voice in prayer : He verily knoweth the secret whisper, and the yet more hidden !

God ! there is no God but Him ! Most excellent His titles ! "

(Surah xx. 1-7.)

" How nobly said and how sublime ! "' ex- claimed 'Umar, when he hud read the pas- sage. Thereupon Khabbab came forth from his place of concealment, and summoned him to testify to the teaching of JIuhammad. 'Umar asked where ^luhammad was, went to him, and made his profession of faith to the Prophet himself.

Henceforth 'Umar remained attached to the person of IMuhammad with the most devoted friendship, and embraced the cause of Islam with all the energies of his strong nature. We find 'Umar, immediately after Muhammad's death, unable at first to grasp the reality of the fact. When the news was imparted to him, he exclaimed wildly before the assembly of the faithful : " The Prophet is not dead ; he has only swooned away." And, again, when Muglilrah tried to convince him that ho was mistaken — " Thou liest !" he cried, " the Prophet of the Lord shall not die, until he have rooted out every hyjiocrito and unbe- liever." At this point Abu Bakr quoted the verses of the Qur'an, revealed after the defeat at Uhud : " ^luhammad is no more than an Apostle ; verilj- the other apostles have gone before him. What then ! If he were to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels ? " And he added the memo- rable appeal : " Let him then know, whosoever worshippeth Muhammad, that Muhammad in-


deed is dead ; but whoso worshippeth God . let him know that the Lord liveth and doth not die."

Then, and only then, on hearing those words, spoken by the book, as if he had never heard them before, the truth burst upon 'Umar with crushing force. '• By the Lord," he would tell in later days, " it was so that when I heiird Abu Bukr reciting those verses, I was horror-struck, my limbs trembled, I dropped down, and I knew of a certainty that Muhammad indeed was dead."

The paramount ascendencj' which Muham- mad, during his lifetime, exercised over 'Umar, could not fail|to soften his passionate and veheme it nature, and to train him to those hal)its of self-command, which form one of the most essential elements in the character of a good ruler. If it was an act of wise foresight on the part of Muhammad to designate, at the approach of death, the older and scdater Abu Bakr as his successor, by ap])ointing him to conduct the public prayers during his last illness, he could at the same time feel assured that 'Umar, far from contesting the choice of his dj-ing friend, would respect it and make it respected against any defection or rival ambition by his cordial and powerful support. But it was equally natural and wise on the part of Abu Bakr, when the time had come, to fix the choice of his own successor upon 'Umar. It is related that, feeling his end to be near, and willing to fortify his own conviction by the sense of others, he first consulted 'Abdu 'r- Ilahmrai, the son of 'Auf, who jjraised 'Umar " as the fittest man, but withal inclined to be severe." " Which," responded the dying Kha- lifah, " is because he saw me soft and tender- hearted, when himself the jNIaster, he will forego much of what thou sayest. I have watched him narrowly. If I were angry with one, he would intercede in his behalf ; if over- lenient, then he would be severe." 'U.sman, too, confirmed Abu Bakr's choice. " What is hidden of 'Umar," he said, " is better than that which doth appear. There is not his equal amongst us all."

And so it was: as in bodily stature 'Umar towered high above his feliow-mcn, so he excelled in every quality required in an imposing commander of the Faithful (Amir al-]Mu'uiinin), this being the title which ho adopted in preference to the more cumber- some of " Successor of the Apostle of God " (Khalifatu 'r-Uasuli "Hah). It lies outside the scope of the present work to give a com- plete biography of 'Umar, and we must refer the reader who should wish to make himself acquainted with it, to the above-quoted attractive volume of Sir W. JIuir, Aiinalu of the Early Cu/i/)h(ite. Our less ambitious object here has merely been to sketch, as it were, in a few salient traits culled from it, the picture of a man, who, as a founder of Islam, was second only to Muhammad him- self. Gifted with a high and penetrating intellect, and possessed of a strong sense of justice, he was impartial, skilful, and fortu- nate in the choice of his militarv and civil


'UMAR


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agents, and had learnt to temper severity with clemency and wise forbearance. ^Vhilo it was he who, in his earlier days, after the battle of Badr, had advised that the prisoners should all be put to death, his later resent- ment af,'ainst Khfilid. with whose name the cruel fate of Miilik ibn Nuwairah and the gory tale of the '• River of Blood " are linked in history, on the contrary, took rise in Khalid's unscrupulous and savage treatment of a fallen foe. And the fanatic intolerance of some of the Muslim captains is favourably contrasted with "Umar's treatment of the Christianised Arab tribe of the Banu Tagh- lib. They had tendered their submission to Walld ibn 'Uqbah. who, solicitous for the adhesion to Islam of this great and famous race, pressed them with some rigour to ab- jure their ancient faith. -Umar was much displeased at this — '■ Leave them," he wrote, " in the profession of the Gospel. It is onlj' within the bounds of the peninsula, where are the H0I3' Places, that no polytheist tribe is permitted to remain." Walid was removed from his command : and it was enjoined on his successor to stipulate only that the usual tribute should be paid, that no member of the tribe should be hindered from embracing Islam, and that the children should not be educated in the Christian faith. The last condition can only have been meant as a nominal indication of the supremacy of Islam, for if it had been enforced, we should not read of the Banu Taghlib continuing in the profes- sion of Christianity under the next two dy- nasties and even later. The tribe, deeming in its pride the payment of tribute (jazyah) an indignity, sent a deputation to the Kha- lifah, declaring their willingness to pay the tax if only it were levied under the same name as that taken from the ^Muslims. 'Umar evinced his liberality by allowing the conces- sion : and so the Banii Taghlib enjoyed the singular privilege of being assessed as Chris- tians at a " double tithe " Quskr), instead of 'pa.jing jaz)/ah, the obnoxious badge of subju- gation. (Sir W. Muir, Annals, p. 218.)

As the original asperity of 'Umar's cha- racter had been mellowed in the school of life and in close communion with Muham- mad and Abu Bakr, so the same infliiences, together with the responsibilities of his posi- tion, tended to blend his natural boldness and impetuosity with prudenre and cautiousness. While his captains in Syria and the 'Iraq were continually urging him to push on his conquests to the north and east, he would not allow any advance to be ventured upon, before the Muslim rule in the occupied j^ro- vinces was well established and firmly conso- lidated. Li like manner he evinced a singular dread of naval enterprise, ever after an expedi- tion sent to Abyssinia across the Red Sea in the seventh year of his reign had met with a signal disaster ; and he was countenanced in this aversion for the treacherous element by a not less daring general than 'Amr, son of al-'As, who, consulted on the subject, wrote to him : —

•'The sea is a boundless ex]jaiisc, whereon


great ships look but tiny specks : there ia nought saving the heavens above and the waters beneath. Trust it little, fear it much. JIan at sea is an insect floating on a splinter ; if the splinter break, the insect perishetli.

When the wily 'Amr wished to raise his people in the estimation of the Egyptians, he had a feast prepared of slaughtered camels, after the Bedouin fashion; and the Egyptians looked on with wonder, while the army satisfied themselves with the rude repast. Next day he commanded a sumptuous banquet to be set before them, with all the dainties of the Egyptian table ; and here again the warriors fell to with equal zest. On the third day, there was a grand parade of all the troops in battle array, and the people flocked to see it. Then 'Amr addressed them, saying : " The first day's entertainment was to let you see the plain and simple manner of our life at home ; the second, to show you that we can not the less enjoy the good things of the lands we enter ; and yet retain, as ye see in the spectacle here before you, our martial vigour notwithstand- ing."

'Amr gained his end, for the Copts retired, saying one to the other, " See ye not that the Arabs have but to raise their heel upon us, and it is enough ! 'Umar was delighted with his lieutenant's device, and said of him, " Of a truth it is on wisdom and resolve, as well as on mere force, that the success of warfare doth depend."

But, at the same time, 'Umar was much too thoughtful and far-seeing himself not to recog- nise the danger for the future of Islam, which was lurking in this sudden acquisition of un- measured riches. On one occasion, when he was about to distribute the fifth of some Persian spoils, he was seen to weep. " What,"' it was said to him, *' a time of joy and thank- fulness, and thou sheddest tears." " Yea," replied the simple-minded Khalifah, " it is not for this I weep ; but I foresee that the wealth which the Lord hath bestowed upon us will become a spring of worldliness and envy, and in the end a calamity to my people."

Moreover, the luxmy and ostentation which was thus engendered in the enriched leaders, was utterly repulsive to his own frugal habits and homely nature. On his first visit to Syria, Abu 'Ubaidah, Yazid, and Khfilid. met him in state to welcome him. A bril- liant cavalcade, robed in Syrian brocade, and mounted on steeds richly caparisoned, they rode forth as he approached. At the sight of all their finery, Umar's spirit was stirred within him. He stooped down, and, gather- ing a handful of gravel, flung it at the asto- nished chiefs. " Avaunt ! " he cried ; is it thus attired that ye come out to meet me ? All changed thus in the space of two short years I Verily, had it been after two hun- dred, ye would have deserved to be degraded."

This primitive simplicity of the Arab chieftain is another grand and highly capti- vating feature in "Umar's character. We see in our mind's eye tlio mighty mover of armies,


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at the time when the destinies of Islam were trembling in the balanco on the battlo-tleld of Qadisiyah, issuinj^ on foot from the gates of al-Medinah in the early morninj^, if perchance ho might meet some messenger from the scene of combat. At last a courier arrived outside the city, who to 'Umar's question replies shortly, '* The Lord has discomfited the Persian host." Unrecognised, 'Umar followed the messenger, leading the camel, and with his long strides keeping pace with the high-stepping animal, to glean from him the outline of the great battle. When they en- tered al-Madinah, the people crowded round the Khalifah, saluting him. and hearing the happj' news, wished him joy of the triumph. The courier, abashed, cried out, •' O Commander of the Faithful, why didst thou not tell me?" but his mind was instantly set at rest by the Khallfah's kindly answer : " It is well, my brother."

Or we may fancj- him perambulating, whip in hand, the streets and markets of al-Madinah, ready to punish the offenders on the spot, may be his own son and his boon companions, who had indulged in the use of wine. For on this head 'Umar did not brook pleasantry. When news of some arch-transgressors on this score was sent from Damascus, and indulgence from the strict enforcement of the law was claimed for them on the plea of their exalted position and military merits, he wrote back : " Gather an assembly and bring them forth. Then ask. Is wine lawful, or is it furhidden ? If they anj forbidden, lay eight}' stripes upon each of them ; if they say Uiw J'ttl, then behead them every one." The punishment, if indicted by 'Umar's own hand, was telling, for it became a proverb : 'Umar's whip is more terrible than another's sword.

Or, again, with the groan of repentance of the well-chastised offender still ringing in our ears, we may watch the same 'Umar, as journeying in Arabia in the year of famine, he comes upon a poor woman, seated with her hungry and weejiing children round a fire, whereon is an empty pot. lie hurries to the next village, procures bread and meat, fills the pot, and cooks an ample meal, leaving the Uttle ones laughing and at play.

Such a man was 'Umar, the great Khalifah, brave, wise, pious. No litter epitaph could adorn his tombstone, than his dying words : — '• It had gone hard with my soul, if I had not been a Muslim." [DAMASCUS, Jerusalem, JIIIAU, MU11A.M.MAD.]

(The Editor is indebted to Dr. Steingass, the learned author of the English- Arabic Dictionary, a.d. 1882, and Arabic-English Dictionary, a.d. 1884 (W. II. Allen & Co., London), for this review of 'Umar's influence on the Muslim religion.)