Sayyidina ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

`Umar ibn al-Khattab ibn Nufayl ibn `Abd al-`Uzza ibn Rayyah, Shaykh al-IslamAmir al-Mu’minin, Abu Hafs al-Qurashi al-`Adawi al-Faruq (d. 23). Among the Companions who narrated from him: `Ali, Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, Abu Hurayra, and especially his son Ibn `Umar upon whose narrations Malik relied in his Muwatta’. He was described as fair-skinned with some reddishness, tall with a large build, fast-paced, and a skilled fighter and horseman. He embraced Islam after having fought it, in the year 6 of the Prophethood, at age twenty-seven. This was the result of the Prophet’s explicit supplication: “O Allah! Strengthen Islam with `Umar ibn al-Khattab.” In his time Islam entered Egypt, Syria, Sijistan, Persia, and other regions. He died a martyr, stabbed in the back while at prayer by a Sabean or Zoroastrian slave, at sixty-six years of age.

`Umar al-Faruq was second only to Abu Bakr al-Siddiq in closeness to and approval from the Prophet. The latter said: “I have two ministers from the inhabitants of the heaven and two ministers from the inhabitants of the earth. The former are Jibril and Mika’il, and the latter are Abu Bakr and `Umar.” He said of the latter: “These two are [my] hearing and eyesight” and instructed the Companions: “Follow those that come after me: Abu Bakr and `Umar.”

`Umar was given the gift of true inspiration which is the characteristic of Allah’s Friends named kashf or “unveiling.” The Prophet said: “In the nations long before you were people who were spoken to [by the angels] although they were not prophets. If there is anyone of them in my Community, truly it is `Umar ibn al-Khattab.”This narration is elucidated by the two narrations whereby “Allah has engraved truth on the tongue of `Umar and his heart” and “If there were a Prophet after me verily it would be `Umar.” Al-Tirmidhi said that according to Ibn `Uyayna “spoken to” (muhaddathûn) means “made to understand” (mufahhamûn), while in his narration Muslim added: “Ibn Wahb explained ‘spoken to’ as ‘inspired’ (mulham).” This is the majority’s opinion according to Ibn Hajar who said: “‘Spoken to’ means ‘by the angels’.” Al-Nawawi and Ibn Hajar said respectively in Sharh Sahih Muslim and Fath al-Bari:

The scholars have differed concerning “spoken to.” Ibn Wahb said it meant “inspired” (mulham). It was said also: “Those who are right, and when they give an opinion it is as if they were spoken to, and then they give their opinion. It was said also: “The angels speak to them…” Bukhari said: “Truth comes from their tongues.” This hadith contains a confirmation of the miracles of the saints (karâmât al-awliya).

The one among [Muslims] who is “spoken to,” if his existence is ascertained, what befalls him is not used as basis for a legal judgment, rather he is obliged to evaluate it with the Qur’an, and if it conforms to it or to the Sunna, he acts upon it, otherwise he leaves it.

A claim was raised that since the hadith states “If there is anyone in my Umma, it is `Umar,” it must follow that at most the number of such inspired people is at most one, namely `Umar. Ibn Hajar replied to this with the reminder that it is wrong to think that other Communities had many but this Community only one. Thus what is meant by the hadith is the perfection of the quality of ilhâm û inspiration û in `Umar, not its lack in other Muslims, and Allah knows best.

`Umar also had the unique distinction of having his views confirmed by the revelation in the Holy Qur’an: He said three things which were confirmed by subsequent revelations:

I concurred with my Lord in three matters: I said to the Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah! Why do we not pray behind Ibrahim’s Station?” Whereupon was revealed the verse: “. . . Take as your place of worship the place where Ibrahim stood (to pray). . .” (2:125); I said: “O Messenger of Allah! You should order your wives to cover because both the chaste and the wicked go in to see them,” whereupon was revealed the verse: “… And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. . .” (33:53) Then the Prophet’s wives banded together in their jealousy over him, so I said to them: “It may happen that his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him instead wives better than you, [submissive (to Allah), believing, pious, penitent, inclined to fasting, widows and maids].” (67:5) Whereupon was revealed that verse.

He was unique in his power of separating truth from falsehood and the Prophet conferred on him the title of al-Fârûq, saying: “In truth, the devil certainly parts ways with (layafruqu min) `Umar.” He memorized Sura al-Baqara in twelve years, and when he had learned it completely he slaughtered a camel. Imam Malik stated that on his suggestion the words “I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” were added to the adhân, and likewise the words “Prayer is better than Sleep” to the adhân for the dawn prayer. However, the more correct report is that it is Bilal who first inserted the latter formula in the call to the dawn prayer and the Prophet retained it.

`Umar ibn al-Khattab was the first Muslim ruler to establish a Public Treasury; the first Muslim ruler to levy a customs duty named `ushr; the first Muslim ruler to organize a census; the first Muslim ruler to strike coins; the first Muslim ruler to organize a system of canals for irrigation; and the first Muslim ruler to formally organize provinces, cities, and districts. He established the system of guest-houses and rest-houses on major routes to and from major cities. He established schools throughout the land and allocated liberal salaries for teachers. He was the first to prohibit mut`a or temporary marriage, according to the Prophet’s earlier prohibition. He was the first to place the law of inheritance on a firm basis. He was the first to establish trusts, and the first ruler in history to separate the judiciary from the executive.

He took pains to provide effective and speedy justice for the people. He set up an effective system of judicial administration under which justice was administered according to the principles of Islam. Qadis or judges were appointed at all administrative levels for the administration of justice and were chosen for their integrity and learning in Islamic law. High salaries were paid to them and they were appointed from the among the wealthy and those of high social standing so as not to be influenced by the social position of any litigants. The qadis were not allowed to engage in trade.

From time to time, `Umar used to issue firmans or edicts laying down the principles for the administration of justice. One of his firmans read:

Glory to Allah! Verily Justice is an important obligation to Allah and to man. You have been charged with this responsibility. Discharge this responsibility so that you may win the approbation of Allah and the good will of the people. Treat the people equally in your presence, and in your decisions, so that the weak despair not of justice, and the high-placed harbor no hope of favoritism. The onus of proof lies on the plaintiff, while the party who denies must do so on oath. Compromise is permissible, provided that it does not turn the unlawful into something lawful, and the lawful into something unlawful. Let nothing prevent you from changing your previous decision if after consideration you feel that the previous decision was incorrect. When you are in doubt about a question and find nothing concerning it in the Qur’an or the Sunna of the Prophet, ponder the question over and over again. Ponder over the precedents and analogous cases, and then decide by analogy. A term should be fixed for the person who wants to produce witnesses. If he proves his case, discharge for him his right. Otherwise the suit should be dismissed. All Muslims are trustworthy, except those who have been punished with flogging, those who have borne false witness, or those of doubtful integrity.

One day Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, the governor of Basra at the time, wrote to `Umar complaining that the ordinances, instructions, and letters from the Caliph were undated and therefore gave rise to problems linked to the sequence of their implementation. Because of this and other similar problems of undatedness, `Umar convened an assembly of scholars and advisors to consider the question of calendar reforms. The deliberations of this assembly resulted in the combined opinion that Muslims should have a calendar of their own. The point that was next considered was from when should the new Muslim calendar era begin. Some suggested that the era should begin from the birth of the Prophet while others suggested that it should begin from the time of his death. `Ali suggested that the era should begin from the date the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Madina, and this was agreed upon. The next question considered was the month from which the new era should start. Some suggested that it should start from the month of Rabi` al-Awwal, some from Rajab, others from Ramadan, others from Dhu al-Hijja. `Uthman suggested that the new era should start from the month of Muharram because that was the first month in the Arabic calendar of that time. This was agreed upon. Since the Migration had taken place in the month of Rabi` al-Awwal, two months and eight days after the first of Muharram that year, the date was pushed back by two months and eight days, and the new Hijri calendar began with the first day of Muharram in the year of the Migration rather than from the actual date of the Migration.

`Umar was the first Muslim ruler to levy `ushr, the Customs or Import Duty. It was levied on the goods of the traders of other countries who chose to trade in the Muslim dominions, at up to 10% of the goods imported and on a reciprocal basis. `Ushr was levied in a way to avoid hardships, and only on merchandise meant for sale, not goods imported for consumption or for personal use. Goods valued at two hundred dirhams or less were not subject to `ushr. Instructions were issued to the officials that no personal luggage was to be searched, and `ushr was applied only to goods that were declared as being for the purpose of trade. The rate varied for Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim dominions. If the former imported goods for the purpose of trade, they paid a lower rate of `ushr: 2+ % , that is, the same rate as for zakât. Hence, this was regarded as part of the zakât and not as a separate tax. Dhimmis or non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim dominions who imported goods for the purpose of trade paid a`ushr of 5%. In order to avoid double taxation, it was established that if the `ushr had been paid once on imported goods, and then these goods were subsequently taken abroad and then brought back into the Muslim dominions within the same year, no additional `ushr was to be levied on such re-imported goods.

Some among `Umar’s innovations mentioned in Abu Hilal al-`Askari’s Kitab al-Awa’il (“Book of Firsts”) and Tabari’s Tarikh:

Establishment of Bayt al-mâl or public treasury.

Establishment of courts of justice and appointment of judges.

The determination of the Hijra calendar which continues to this day.

Assumption of the title of Amîr al-Mu’minîn.

Organization of the War Department.

Putting army reserves on the payroll.

Establishment of the Land Revenue Department.

Survey and assessment of lands.


Building of Canals.

Founding of the cities of Kufa, Basra, al-Jazira, Fustat, and Musal.

Division of conquered countries into provinces.

Imposition of customs duties.

Taxation of the produce of the sea and appointment of officials for its collection.

Permission to traders of foreign lands to trade in the country.

Organization of jails.

Use of the whip.

Making rounds at night to inquire into the condition of the people.

Organization of the Police Department.

Establishment of military barracks at strategic points.

Distinction of pedigree and non-pedigree horses.

Employment of secret reports and emissaries.

Rest-houses on the way from Mecca to Madina for the comfort of travellers.

Provision for the care and bringing up of foundlings.

Organization of guest-houses in different cities.

The ruling that Arabs, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, could not be made slaves.

Stipends for the poor among the Jews and the Christians.

Establishment of schools.

Stipends for school teachers and public lecturers.

Persuading Abu Bakr to collect the Qur’an and execution of the work under his own care.

Formulation of the principle of qiyâs or judicial analogy.

More exact division of inheritance.

Insertion of the formula “Prayer is better that sleep” in the call to the dawn prayer. However, as stated before, the more correct report is that it is Bilal who first inserted the formula in the call to the dawn prayer and the Prophet retained it.

Ordaining the holding of tarawih prayers in congregation.

Three divorces pronounced at one session declared binding

Provision of the punishment for drunkenness with eighty stripes

Levy of zakât on horses of merchandise

Levy of zakât on the Christians of Bani Taghlab in lieu of jizya

Method of rnaking trusts

Consensus of opinion on four takbîrs in funeral prayers

Organization of sermons in mosques

Giving salaries to imams and mu’adhdhins.

Provision of light in mosques at night

Provision of punishment for writing satires and lampoons

Probibition of the mention of women’s names in lyric poems although the custom was very ancient in Arabia.

`Abd Allah ibn `Isa ibn Abi Layla related: “There were two dark lines in `Umar’s face marked by tears.” Al-Hasan al-Basri and Hisham ibn al-Hasan narrated that `Umar sometimes lost consciousness after reciting a verse from the Qur’an, whereupon he would be taken ill and visited for days. Among `Umar’s sayings:

“O Allah! Grant me to die a martyr, and make my death be in your Prophet’s country.”

“Take account of yourselves before your are brought to account.”

Anas said: “I heard `Umar say as he was alone behind a wall: ‘By Allah! You shall certainly fear Allah, O son of al-Khattab, or He will punish you!”

Jabir said that he heard `Umar ibn al-Khattab say on the pulpit when he married Umm Kulthum, the daughter of `Ali and Fatima: “Do not disparage me [for marrying a young girl], for I heard the Prophet say: ‘On the Judgment Day every means will be cut off and every lineage severed except my lineage.’” He desired to place himself in the Prophet’s lineage through this marriage due to the precedence of Ahl al-Bayt in the Prophet’s intercession. Umm Kulthum bore him two children, Zayd and Ruqayya.

From `Amir ibn Rabi`a: “I saw `Umar pick up a straw from the ground and say: ‘Would that I were this straw! Would that I were nothing! Would that my mother never bore me!’”

From `Ubayd Allah ibn `Umar ibn Hafs: `Umar was see carrying a slaughtered animal on his back. He was asked why, and he replied: “I was infatuated with myself and wanted to humble myself.” Al-Hasan narrated: “`Umar gave a sermon when he was Caliph wearing a waist-wrap patched in twelve places.”

As `Umar’s head lay in Ibn `Umar’s lap after his stabbing he said to him: “Lay my cheek on the ground.” Then he said: “Woe to me, my mother’s woe to me if my Lord does not grant me mercy!” The next morning al-Miswar woke him for the dawn prayer. `Umar rose saying: “Yes, and there is no part in Islam for whoever leaves prayer.” He prayed bleeding from his wounds.

From Malik al-Dar: The people suffered a drought in `Umar’s khilafa, whereupon a man came to the grave of the Prophet and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Ask for rain for your Community, for verily they have but perished.” After this the Prophet appeared to him in a dream and told him: “Go to `Umar and give him my greeting, then tell him that they will be watered. Tell him: Be clever!” The man went and told `Umar. The latter said: “My Lord! I spare no effort except in what escapes my power.”

From Mujahid: “We found that the goodness of our lives was patience.”

From `Urwa ibn al-Zubayr: “Know that greed is poverty and despair sufficiency. When a man despairs of something, he does without it.”

From al-Sha`bi: “By Allah! My heart has softened for Allah’s sake until it became softer than butter, and it has hardened for Allah’s sake until it became harder than stone.”

From `Awn ibn `Abd Allah ibn `Utba: “Sit with the Oft-Repentent (al-tawwâbîn), for they are the softest-hearted of people.”

From Aslam, `Umar’s freedman: “Be the vessels of the Book and the well-springs of the Science, and ask Allah for your sustenance day by day.”

From Abu `Uthman al-Nahdi: “Winter is the treasure of devotees.”

From Dawud ibn `Ali: “If a sheep dies on the shore of the Euphrates I fear lest Allah ask me to account for it on the Day of Resurrection.”

From Yahya ibn Abi Kathir: “If it were announced from the heaven: ‘O people! You are all entering Paradise except one,’ I would fear to be he; and if it were announced: ‘O people! You are all entering the Fire except one,’ I would hope to be he.”

From al-Aswad ibn Hilal al-Muharibi: When `Umar was made Caliph he stood on the pulpit and said: “O people! I am going to invoke Allah, therefore say âmîn. O Allah! I am coarse, so make me soft, and I am stingy, so make me generous, and I am weak, so make me strong.”

From `Abd Allah ibn `Umar: “[After `Umar’s death] I saw a palace in my sleep, and was told it belonged to `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Then I saw him come out of it, wearing a cover as if he had just bathed. I said: ‘How did you fare?’ He said: ‘Well, although I would have fallen from my place if I had not found a forgiving Lord.’ Then he asked: ‘How long since I have left you?’ I said: ‘Twelve years.’ He said: ‘I only just finished rendering account.’”

`Umar was the closed door between the Prophet’s Community and the onset of dissension. His death is one of the earliest signs of the Hour. One day he asked Hudhayfa about the “dissension that shall surge like the waves of the sea” according to the Prophet’s own terms. Hudhayfa answered: “You need not worry about it, for between you and it there is a gate closed shut.” `Umar said: “Will the gate be opened or broken?” Hudhayfa said: “Broken!” `Umar replied: “That is more appropriate than that it be let open.” The narrator [Abu Wa’il] said: “We feared to ask Hudhayfa who was that gate, so we sent Masruq to ask him and he said: That gate was `Umar.”

Another biography of Sayyidina `Umar

Main sources: Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya’ 1:73-92; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ 1/2:509-565 #3; Shibli Nu`mani, `Umar The Great 2:336-338.