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Umar bin al-Khattab, the Second Khalifa of the Muslims

Umar bin al-Khattab, the Second Khalifa of the Muslims

In The Times Of Ignorance, Umar made his living as a broker. Shibli, his biographer, says that in his youth he grazed camels.

Before accepting Islam, Umar was one of the most rabid enemies of Muhammad, the Messenger of God.
When Muhammad proclaimed his mission, many people acknowledged him as the Messenger of God. Umar acknowledged him as Messenger of God after six years.

Some historians claim that Umar was a most awe-inspiring man, and when he accepted Islam, the idolaters were gripped with fear for their lives. But this is only a case of a dominant myth being in conflict with ugly facts. When Umar accepted Islam, the idolaters remained where they were, and nothing changed for them; but it was Muhammad who was compelled to leave his home, and had to find sanctuary in a desolate ravine.

He spent three years in that ravine, and during those years of exile, his life was exposed to deadly perils every day and every night. During this entire period of more than 1000 days, Umar, like many other Muslims in Makkah, was the silent spectator of the ordeals of his master. He made no attempt to bring those ordeals to an end.

Muhammad Mustafa established brotherhood among Muslims both in Makkah and in Medina. In Makkah, he made Umar the "brother" of Abu Bakr, and in Medina, he made him the "brother" of Utban bin Malik. For his own brother, Muhammad chose Ali ibn Abi Talib in both cities.
In 3 A.H., Umar's daughter, Hafsa, was married to the Apostle.

Umar was one of the fugitives of the battle of Uhud (Baladhuri). He himself said later: "When Muslim were defeated in Uhud, I ran toward the mountain." (Suyuti in al-Durr al-Manthoor).

At the siege of Khyber, Umar made an attempt to capture the fortress but failed.
Umar was one of the fugitives of the battle of Hunayn. Abu Qatada, a companion of the Prophet, says: "In Hunayn when the Muslims were fleeing, I also fled, and I saw Umar with others." (Bukhari and Kitabul-Maghazi).

In 8 A.H. the Apostle sent Umar as a ranker with many others to report for duty to Amr bin Aas, their commanding officer, in the campaign of Dhat es-Salasil.

In 11 A.H. the Apostle of God organized the Syrian expedition and he appointed Usama bin Zayd bin Haritha as its general. He ordered Umar to serve as a ranker in the expedition.
Though Umar spent eighteen years in the company of Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of God, the latter never appointed him to any position of authority - civil or military.

When the Apostle of God was on his deathbed, he asked the companions to bring pen, paper and ink so he might dictate his will but Umar defied him. He did not let the Apostle dictate his will and testament.

Umar was not present at the funeral of the Prophet of Islam. He was brawling with the Ansar in the outhouse of Saqifa when the body of the Prophet was being buried.
Umar was the khalifa-maker of Abu Bakr. During Abu Bakr's khilafat, Umar was his principal adviser.

The Banu Umayya were the traditional champions of idolatry and the arch-enemies of Muhammad and his clan, the Banu Hashim. Muhammad had broken their power but Umar revived them. The central component of his policy, as head of the government of Saqifa, was the restoration of the Umayyads. He turned over Syria to them as their "fief," and he made them the first family in the empire.

A modern student of history might find claims made on behalf of some companions of the Prophet rather extravagant and baffling. He might notice in them the clash of popular imagination with historical reality. But if he wishes to make a realistic evaluation of the roles they played in the lifetime of the Prophet, there is no better way of doing so than to turn away from rhapsody and rhetoric, and to focus attention on facts and facts alone.

Principal Events of the Caliphate of Umar

When Umar took charge of the caliphate, the Muslim armies were fighting against the Persians in Iraq and the Romans in Syria. The army in Syria was under the command of Khalid bin al-Walid, the favorite general of Abu Bakr. Umar's first act as khalifa was to dismiss him from all his commands, and to appoint Abu Obaida bin al-Jarrah as the supreme commander of the Muslim forces in Syria.

Shibli says that Umar had, for a long time, nursed a secret hatred of Khalid because of the latter's excesses. Umar had indeed dismissed Khalid because of his excesses but it appears that personal rancor was also at work. He was jealous of Khalid's fame and popularity.

If he disliked Khalid's transgressions, he ought to have formally indicted him, and should have ordered full investigation of his crimes in murdering Malik ibn Nuweira and in appropriating his widow. If Khalid had been proven guilty, then Umar ought to have passed sentence on him according to the Islamic law. But there was no indictment and no investigation. Khalid was summarily dismissed and he died in poverty and obscurity in 21 A.H.

Umar's caliphate is notable for its many conquests. His generals conquered Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kirman, Seistan, Khurasan, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt, and incorporated them into the empire of the Muslims. All of these were permanent conquests.

The Romans lost Syria, Palestine and Egypt for ever; and in Persia, the Sassani empire ceased to exist.

Among other events of the caliphate of Umar, were the first outbreak of plague in Syria in 18 A.H., and a famine in Hijaz in the same year. Between them, the plague and the famine killed more than 25,000 people (Suyuti and Abul Fida).

Civil and Military Administration and Policy

Since the empire had grown enormously in all directions, Umar had to establish an administrative system. But the Arabs did not have any experience in administration. Umar, therefore, left the Persian and the Roman framework of administration in the conquered provinces undisturbed. The Persian and the Roman staff carried on the day-to-day work as before.

Umar founded numerous military cantonments in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Since he wanted the Arabs to be a purely fighting and ruling class, he did not allow them to buy land and to settle down or to become farmers in the conquered territories.

To assess land revenue, Umar again had to retain the Persian and the Romans systems. But in Iraq it was found necessary to survey the arable lands and to assess tax on them. Arabs knew less than nothing about assessing land revenue. There was, however, one exception in Uthman bin Hunaif of Medina.

He was a man of outstanding ability as a revenue expert. Though it was Umar's policy not to appoint the citizens of Medina (Ansar) to any important positions, in this particular case he had no choice, and he appointed Uthman bin Hunaif as the commissioner of land development in Iraq. Qadi Yusuf says that Uthman bin Hunaif was an authority in all Arabia on taxation, assessment of land revenue and land reclamation (Kitabul-Kharaj and Siyar-ul-Ansar).

Within less than a year, Uthman bin Hunaif had completed the job of taking measurements of the whole new province, and of making assessments for the collection of land revenue. He was, thus, the first Financial Commissioner of Iraq, and incidentally, one of the few Ansaris to hold any position of authority in the caliphates of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman bin Affan.

When Syria, Jordan and Palestine were conquered, Umar appointed Yazid bin Abu Sufyan the governor of Syria; Shurahbil bin Hasana governor of Jordan, and Amr bin Aas the governor of Palestine. Abu Obaida bin al-Jarrah was appointed governor of the city of Damascus. When Amr bin Aas conquered Egypt, Umar made him its governor.

Yazid bin Abu Sufyan, the governor of Syria, died in the plague of 18 A.H. When Umar heard the news of his death, he went to see Abu Sufyan to offer condolences to him. But Abu Sufyan interrupted Umar's commiseration, and asked him, "Whom are you going to appoint governor of Syria in place of my late son, Yazid?" Umar said: "Of course, his brother, Muawiya."

Abu Sufyan immediately forgot his sorrow at his son's death, and rejoiced in the elevation of Muawiya, his second son, as governor. Umar appointed Muawiya the new governor of Syria. When Abu Obaida died, Umar placed Damascus also under Muawiya's jurisdiction. He fixed his salary at 60,000 pieces of gold a year (Isti'ab, Volume I).

After dismissing Khalid bin al-Walid as supreme commander of the forces in Syria, Umar had appointed him, for a time, governor of the district of Kinnisirin but dismissed him again for his alleged "pomposity."

Saad bin Abi Waqqas, the victor of the battle of Qadsiyya fought against the Persians, was Umar's governor of Iraq. He too was dismissed in 21 A.H.

Amr bin Aas was Umar's governor in Egypt. Umar did not dismiss him but curtailed his powers by appointing Abdullah bin Saad bin Abi Sarah as a "watchdog" over him in fiscal matters.
Umar was a most exacting taskmaster for all his generals and governors. He was quick to lend his ears to any complaint against them, and he was even quicker to dismiss them -with one exception - Muawiya! He was forever indulgent to the sons of Abu Sufyan and the clan of Banu Umayya.

Muawiya, the son of Abu Sufyan and Hinda, the governor of Syria, lived in Damascus in imperial splendor, surrounded by a glittering retinue. It was a lifestyle that Umar did not tolerate in any other governor. But Muawiya, for him, was a "special," and the rules which applied to others, did not apply to him.

Tabari has recorded the following incident in Volume VI of his History. Umar was in Damascus and Muawiya came to see him every day - mornings and evenings - bedecked in regal outfit, with splendidly caparisoned mounts and escorts. When Umar commented, rather acidly, upon his pageantry, he said that Syria was swarming with Roman spies, and it was necessary to impress them with the "glory" of Islam. His pageantry, he said, was only the outward emblem of that glory - the glory of Islam.

But Umar was not convinced, and remarked: "This is a trap laid by the slick and guileful man."

Muawiya answered: "Then I will do whatever you say, O Commander of the Faithful."
Umar said: "If I raise an objection to anything, you baffle and bewilder me with words. I am at a loss to know what to do."

Here Umar can be seen utterly "helpless" before his own protégé. He could condone Muawiya anything and everything. He, in fact, appeared to be ostentatiously courting Abu Sufyan and his sons. Once he placed them at the helm of affairs, they consolidated their position, and it became impossible to dislodge them. It was in this manner that the secular, predatory, imperialist and economically exploitative Umayyads were foisted upon the Muslims. The cultivation of the Umayyads, it appears, was one of the constants in Saqifa's policy equation.

Some Reflections on the Conquests of the Arabs

Umar's generals had conquered Persia, Syria and Egypt. His successors in the Umayyad dynasty pushed those conquests as far as southern France in the west, and the western frontiers of China and the Indus valley in the east. The students of history have expressed amazement at the speed and the extent of the conquests of the Arabs in the seventh/eighth centuries. They achieved all those conquests within 100 years - truly one of the most remarkable series of conquests in world history.

Many centuries later, the search goes on for the answer to the question: How did the Arabs conquer so much so soon? Many reasons have been given by the historians for the success of the Arab arms, among them: civil war and anarchy in Persia; a war between Persia and Rome that lasted for 26 years, and which left both empires utterly exhausted, bleeding and prostrate; the disgruntlement of the Roman subjects in Syria and Egypt who welcomed the Arabs as liberators, and the loss to Rome of the "umbrella" of local support; the dependence both of the Persians and the Romans upon mercenaries and conscripts who lacked morale; persecution on grounds of religion of dissident sects and creeds by both the Persians and the Romans; and the enormous burden of taxes that the alien races ruled by Persia and Rome, and the peasants in both empires, had to carry. Also, the Persians and the Romans were handicapped by heavy baggage, and they lacked mobility. The Arabs, on the other hands, were highly mobile. They could strike at a target of their choice, and then retreat into the desert on their swift camels where the enemy cavalry could not enter as it did not have logistical support.

In their campaigns, the Arabs were invariably outnumbered by their enemies but this was not necessarily a handicap for them. History abounds in examples of small forces of volunteers standing up to and defeating large conscript armies.

But the Muslims themselves, discount most of these reasons for their success. According to many of them, the secret of their success was in the piety and the religious zeal of the Muslim soldiers. The propulsive power behind the Arab conquests of the seventh century, they say, came from Islam, and every Arab who left the peninsula to attack the Fertile Crescent, was a mujahid or a holy warrior, fighting for the glory of God.

This claim, however, is only partly true. Without a doubt there were those Muslims who wished to spread the light of Islam in the world but also there were others, and they were the overwhelming majority, who fought for the material rewards that the conquests promised to bring to them. They had developed a distinctly secular appetite for power and riches.


source : www.sibtayn.com
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