'Umar son of al-Khattab and the old woman

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It is told in the book "Warlike Expeditions"[1] on the authority of Abdullah, the son of Al- Abbas, ( who heard it ) from his father ( 'Abbas ) that he said : "I went out one very dark night, intending to go to the house of the Prince of the Faithful, ' Umar, the son of Al-Khattab (May God be pleased with him ! ). I had hardly reached half way when I saw an Arab of the desert. He pulled me by my garment, saying, ' Follow me, O 'Abbas ! ' I scanned the nomad Arab and found him to be the Prince of the Faithful, * Umar, in disguise. I advanced towards him, saluted him and said, ' Where art thou going,[2] O Prince of the Faithful ? ' He replied, ' I intend to make a round among the encampments of the Arabs this dark night. ' I followed him. It was a cold night, and he went on, I continuing to follow him. He made the round of the tents and houses of the Arabs, examining them intently until we had been to all. When we were on the point of leaving, we noticed a tent in which was an old woman, and, around her, some children crying and weeping. In front of her was a fireplace on which was a cooking-pot, under which a fire was burning, and she kept saying to the children, ' Hush ! Hush[3] ! my children, in a little while the food will be cooked, and you shall eat. '



We stood at a distance from the spot, and 'Umar began to gaze, sometimes at the old woman, and other times at the children. We stood thus for a long time. Then I said to him, ' O Prince of the Faithful ! why art thou standing in this wise! ? Let us go.' He replied, * By God ! I will not depart until I have seen her pour out ^or the children ( the contents of the pot ), and until they have eaten and are satisfied.' We stood there for a very long time^ and grew restless^, fearing lest the people* should become suspicious of us. The children continued crying and weeping, and the old woman kept repeating to them her words, ' Hush ! Hush ! my children, in a little while the food will be cooked, and you shall eat.' Then 'Umar said to me, ' Let us go up to her and inquire.' Thereupon, he entered, and I followed him. 'Umar said to her, ' Peace be on thee, O aunt ! ' and she returned his salutation warmly. He asked her, ' Why are these children crying and weeping?' She replied, ' Because of their hunger'^.' 'Umar said, 'Why dost thou not give them to eat what is in the pot ? ' She replied, ' What is there in the pot that I should feed them upon ? It is only to divert their attention until they get weary of crying, and sleep overcomes them, for I have nothing to feed them on.' Thereupon 'Umar walked to the pot, and, looking into it, found that it contained small pebbles with water boiling over them. He was surprised, and asked her what was the object in doing this. She replied, ' I make them imagine that some thing to eat is being cooked in the pot, and thus divert them with this, until they get tired and their eyes become heavy, and they ( eventually ) fall asleep. '

'Umar thereupon said to her, ' How is it that thou art in this condition ? ' She replied, ' I am friendless, having no brother, father, husband or kinsmen. ' 'Umar said to her, 'Why dost thou not lay thy case before the Prince of the

1 lit. what makes you stand. 2 lit. our standing lasted very loni,^ 3 lit. grew tired of the place. 4 lit. eyes. 5 lit. because of the hunger they are suffering from.


Faithful, *Umar, the son of Al-Khattab who will allot thee something from the Public Treasury ? ' Thereupon she answered him, 'May God not spare 'Umar's life, and may He pull down! his Standard ! for by God ! he has oppressed me. ' When 'Umar heard these words, he trembled, and said to her, ' O aunt ! in what way has the son of Al-Khattab oppressed thee ? ' She replied, ' Yes, by God ! he has wronged us. Surely a king^ should inquire into the condition of every one of his subjects; and then, perhaps, he would find among them one who like myself, is in straitened circumstances, having many children and no helper or assis- tant. It is his duty to supply the poor man's wants, and grant him from the Public Treasury something on which to feed his household, and his children. Then 'Umar said to her, ' How can 'Umar know of thy circumstances, thy poverty, and thy having so many children ? It was thy duty to go and inform him of thy condition. ' She replied, ' No, by God ! surely it is the duty of a good king to inquire into the wants of his subjects one and all. A person in dire poverty may perhaps have been overcome by a sense of shame, and thus prevented from going to the king to inform him of his condition. It is, therefore, rather the duty of 'Umar to inquire into the condition of the poor amongst his subjects, than that the poor man should go to the king to inform him of his condition. Neglect to do this constitutes an act of oppression on the part of a good king. It is the law of God, and whoever transgresses it is surely doing wrong.' Thereupon 'Umar said to her, ' O aunt ! thou speakest the truth ; but keep the children occupied, and I will return to thee immediately^. '

He then went out, and I with him. The last watch* of the night remained. We walked on, and the dogs barked at us, but I drove them away, defending him and myself, until we reached the storehouse which he himself opened and entered. He commanded me, and I entered with him ; 1 lit. lower. 2 lit. shepherd. 3 lit. in a moment. 4 lit. dne third.


and, after looking right and left, he went up to a bag of flour containing over a hundred pounds. 'Umar then said to me, ' O 'Abbas ! Hft it on to my shoulder ' and I did so. He then pointed at a jar that was there and said to 'me, ' Carry that jar of ghee^' and I lifted it up, and we both went out. He locked the door, and we went on our way, flour falling on his beard, his eyes, and his forehead. We walked on until we reached half our way, when the load wearied him, because the place was at a great distance off. So I offered my services^ saying, ' May my father and mother be thy ransom, O Prince of the Faithful ! transfer the bag from your shoulder, and let me carry it. ' ' Umar answered, ' No, by God ! thou wilt not bear my sins and burdens^ for me on the day of judgment. Know, O 'Abbas ! that verily the burden and the carrying of mountains of iron is better than to have to account for an unjust act, be it great or small, especially as has been done to this old woman who has been diverting her children with small pebbles. Oh ! what a great sin it must be in the eyes of God ! Let us hasten and go, O 'Abbas ! before the children get wearied of crying, and fall asleep, as she said. '

He then went on, quickening his pace, and I accompanied him. He was panting like an ox from fatigue^, until we reached the old woman's tent. He then put down the bag of flour from his shoulder and I laid the jar of ghee before him. Then he himself went forward, and, taking the cooking-pot, poured out its contents, and, putting some of the ghee into it, added some flour*. Just then he looked at the fire and lo ! it was nearly out. He asked the old woman, ' Hast thou any firewood ? ' She replied, ' Yes, O my son ! ' and pointed it out to him. He then arose and fetched some of the wood ; but it was green. He put some of it on the fire, and set the pot on the fireplace, bent his

I lit, I offered myself to him. 2 lit. oppressions. 3 lit. like the panting of an ox. 4 lit. he placed the flour close to the.j^^^^,



head towards the ground and blew^ under the pot. By god! I saw the smoke of the firewood coming through his beard, which trailed on^ the ground when he stooped low^ to blow. He continued doing this until the fire blazed up and the ghee melted and began to boil. He then began stirring the ghee with one hand with a piece of wood, and mixing the flour with the ghee with the other, (and continued ) until it was cooked.

All this time the children were shrieking round him. When the food was ready*, he asked the old woman for a vessel, which she brought him. He poured out the cooked food into the vessel and blew upon it with his mouth to cool it, and then fed the little ones with his hands. He continued feeding them thus, one after another, until he had fed^ them all and they were satisfied*^. They then began play- ing and laughing with one another, until they became drowsy'^ and slept. *Umar then turned to the old woman and said to her, ' O aunt ! I am a relation of 'Umar, the Prince of the Faithful, and shall mention thy case to him Come to me tomorrow morning at Government House, and thou wilt find me there ; so hope for the best.* Then *Umar, bidding her goodbye, left the tent, and I with him. He said to me, 'O ' Abbas ! by God ! when I saw the old woman diverting her children with pebbles, I felt as if mountains had quaked 38 and fallen^ upon my back until I brought what I did^ and had fed them with what I cooked for them until they were satisfied, and sat down playing and laughing. It was then that I felt that these mountains had fallen off my back.'

  • Umar then returned^o to his own house, and ordered me to

enter with him ; and we spent the night ( there ). The next morning the old woman arrived, and 'Umar asked her to

I lit. blew with his mouth. 2 lit. swept. 3 lit. he lowered his head. 4 Jit. was good, suitable or agreeable. 5 lit., brought. 6 lit. they were satiated and had enough food. 7 lit. sleep overcame them. 8 lit. rested. 9 lit. until I brought what I brought, lo lit. came.


forgive him, and settled on her and her children a pension from the Public Treasury which she received in full each month.

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. This is a well-known record of the various expeditions led by the Prophet Mohamed
  2. lit. whereto.
  3. lit. gently! gently!