Assessment of Umar ibn Al-Khattab by Prophet Muhammed, companions, Western writers, and oriental writers.
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
A number of traditions have come down to us which speak of the Holy Prophet’s assessment of Umar.
Before the conversion of Umar to Islam, the prayer of the Holy Prophet is on record wherein he prayed “O God, glorify Thy faith by the conversion of Umar.”
There is a tradition that when Umar was converted to Islam the Holy Prophet said that Gabriel had visited him to say, “O Muhammad, verily the dwellers in Heaven rejoice with you at the conversion of Umar.”
According to Abu Hurrayrah, the Holy Prophet once related a dream in the presence of Umar. The Holy Prophet related, “While I was asleep, I saw myself in paradise, and beheld there a woman performing her ablutions by the side of a house. I enquired whose house it was, and I was told that it was Umar’s.
The lady said that she belonged to Umar. Then recollecting how jealous Umar was in the matter of women, I turned back, and thereafter I woke up”. Hearing this, Umar said, “O Prophet of God, everything of mine is at your service; how can I be jealous of you in any matter?”
On another occasion, the Holy Prophet had another dream. He related:
“While I was asleep, I dreamt that I drank milk. Then that milk began to flow from my fingers. That milk I asked Umar to drink, and he drank to his fill.” The Holy Prophet was asked to interpret the dream and he said that the dream signified that among his followers, Umar would excel everyone in knowledge.
According to another tradition, the Holy Prophet said, “While I was asleep, I saw the people presented to me. These people wore garments. Some had garments reaching to their breasts, and some had garments which reached their toes.
Then Umar was presented, and upon him was a garment which was so long that he dragged it as he moved”. The Holy Prophet was requested to interpret the dream. The Holy Prophet said that the significance of the dream was that Umar would be a source of strength and service to Islam.
Al-Bukhari carries a tradition according to which the Holy Prophet said that there was to be no prophet after him, but if there were to be no bar to such prophethood, Umar would have been the prophet. That was the highest tribute that the Holy Prophet could pay to Umar.
According to another tradition the Holy Prophet said, “Verily God has placed truth upon the tongue of Umar, and upon his heart.” According to an allied tradition, the Holy Prophet said, “Never did a thing come upon the people, and they said one thing regarding it, and Umar another, but the Qur’an revealed it after the manner that Umar had said. The greatest tribute was paid to Umar, when the Holy Prophet said, “God speaks through the tongue of; Umar.”
There is a tradition that Gabriel once came to the Holy Prophet and said, “Greet Umar with a salutation, and tell him that his anger is glory and his approval, command.”
According to a tradition, the Holy Prophet said, “Umar is the lamp of the dwellers in paradise.”
A tradition is on record according to which pointing to Umar the Holy Prophet said, “Umar is a strongly bolted gate against discord. As long as he lives in your midst, there will be no discord among the Muslims.”
We have it on the authority of ‘Ayesha that the Holy Prophet said, “Verily I behold the evil spirits among genii and men, fleeing from Umar”. In the same strain the Holy Prophet said, “Verily Satan avoideth Umar.”
There is another tradition according to which the Holy Prophet said, “There is not an angel in Heaven, but he revereth Umar, and not a demon on earth but he fleeth from Umar.”,
On the occasion of the last pilgrimage the Holy Prophet said, “Verily God approved of the conduct of the pilgrims at Arafat in general and Umar in particular”.
There is a tradition that in the days of his illness the Holy Prophet said, “The Truth after me is with Umar, wherever he may be.”
About Umar’s victory against Satan, the Holy Prophet said, “Verily Satan hath never met Umar since his conversion, but he hath fallen prostrate on his face.”
According to a tradition the Holy Prophet said, “Gabriel said to me, ‘verily Islam will weep at the death of Umar.”
According to a tradition the Holy Prophet expressed his attachment to Umar in the following terms: “He who hateth Umar hates me, and he who loveth Umar loves me”.
When Allah Exalted, He Corroborated Umar
Many instances are on record when Umar gave a particular opinion, and that opinion was later on corroborated by Allah and confirmation thereof was communicated to the Holy Prophet through Gabriel. That is why the Holy Prophet repeatedly said:
“God speaks through the tongue of Umar.”
Umar suggested that the station of Abraham in Mecca should be used as a place of prayer. Later an injunction to this effect was revealed to the Holy Prophet.
Umar suggested that the wives of the Holy Prophet should be veiled. Later a verse was revealed enjoining the wives of the Holy Prophet to be veiled.
Umar suggested that the use of wine should be prohibited. Thereafter God enjoined the prohibition of wine.
‘Abdullah b. Ubbay though a Muslim was insincere in his professions and was the enemy of God and the Holy Prophet. When he died the Holy Prophet led his funeral prayer. Umar suggested that the Holy Prophet should not pray at the funeral of those who were the enemies of God and the Prophet. A verse was later revealed enjoining the Holy Prophet not to pray at the funeral of those who were the enemies of God and His Prophet.
When there was an imputation against the conduct of ‘Ayesha, Umar said that this was a grievous calumny. Later a verse was revealed declaring the episode as a calumny and establishing ‘Ayesha’s innocence.
After the battle of Badr, it was decided that the prisoners of the Quraish should be released on ransom. Umar said that the prisoners being the enemies of God should be killed. Later according to a revelation, the Holy Prophet was enjoined that the enemies of God should be killed.
When the Azan was originally proposed the contents of the call were:
“I testify that there is no god but Allah-come ye to prayers.”
Umar suggested, “The words ‘I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God’ should be added”. A revelation corroborated this suggestion.
The practice was that people went to see the Holy Prophet unannounced. Umar suggested that all visitors should seek permission before being admitted to the presence of the Holy Prophet. A verse was later revealed enjoining the asking of permission before entering the presence of the Holy Prophet.
Once two persons to a dispute referred the case to the Holy Prophet and the Holy Prophet gave his verdict. One of them appealed against the decision of the Holy Prophet. Umar slew him with his sword. A verse was revealed absolving Umar from the death of the person who did not believe in the judgment of the Holy Prophet.
Once a Jew said to Umar, “Verily Gabriel who speaks to your Master is our enemy.” Umar retorted, “Whosoever is an enemy to God, or His angels, or His Apostles, or Gabriel, or Michael, verily God is an enemy to the unbelievers.” Later a verse was revealed declaring that God was the enemy of unbelievers.
Testament and Assessment of Umar – The Prophet’s Joint Tributes to Abu Bakr and Umar in Al-Khattab
Some traditions have come down to us “hereunder the Holy Prophet paid joint tributes to Abu Bakr and Umar.
Abu Hurrayrah said:
“I heard the Holy Prophet say, ‘while a shepherd was in the midst of his flock, a wolf rushed upon it and carried from it a sheep and the shepherd pursued it, the wolf turned to him and said, who will be a protector to it on the day of resurrection-the day when there will be no other shepherd than myself. As a man was driving an ox which he had laden, it turned to him and said, Verily I was not created for this but for tillage.”
The companions cried, “Good God! Should an ox talk.” The Holy Prophet said:
“I believe in it, and likewise Abu Bakr and Umar.”
This is indicative of the Holy Prophet’s trust in the faith of Abu Bakr and Umar.
The Holy Prophet said:
“There was never a prophet, but he had two Ministers from the dwellers in heaven and two Ministers from among the dwellers on earth. My two Ministers of the dwellers of heaven are Gabriel and Michael, and of the earth Abu Bakr and Umar’.”
It is related in a tradition that one day the Holy Prophet entered the mosque with Abu Bakr and Umar, one of them on his right hand, and the other upon his left. He held their hands and said:
“Thus, shall we arise on the Day of Judgment.”
According to another tradition, the Holy Prophet looked on Abu Bakr and Umar and said:
“They are my hearing and my sight.”
There is another tradition according to which turning to Abu Bakr and Umar, the Holy Prophet said:
“Praise be to God, who has strengthened me with ye two.” On one occasion, addressing Abu Bakr and Umar, the Holy Prophet said:
“If you two are agreed upon any matter, I would not oppose you.”
The Holy Prophet also said:
“Every prophet has chosen ones among his people and verily my elect from among my companions are Abu Bakr and Umar.”
The Holy Prophet said:
“Love towards Abu Bakr and Umar is faith; hatred towards them is infidelity.”
The Holy Prophet said on another occasion:
“Love towards Abu Bakr and Umar and a knowledge of them is an injunction of the law.”
The Holy Prophet also said:
“Verily I hope for the same benefit for my people by their profession of love towards Abu Bakr and Umar that I hope for them by their profession of faith there is no god but Allah’.”
Testament and Assessment of Umar – Assessment of Umar ibn Al-Khattab by The Companions of the Prophet
Abu Bakr said about Umar, “There is not upon the face of the earth a man dearer to me then Umar.” When Abu Bakr was on his death bed, it was said to him, “What will you say to God, now that you have appointed Umar as your successor?” Abu Bakr said, “I will say to Him that I appointed over His people the man who was the best among them all.”
After the death of Umar, Ali said in the course of one of his sermons:
“When Umar became the Caliph, there were some people who approved of his caliphate and there were some who disagreed. During his caliphate he administered the affairs of the State strictly on the lines laid down by the Holy Prophet and his successor Abu Bakr.
He followed them in the same way as a child follows its mother. Verily he was a pillar of strength for the weak, the poor, and the aggrieved.
He was for the Muslims a source of honour, prosperity, and victory. Nothing stood in his way in promoting the cause of Truth. He was so discriminating in truth that we come to believe that the angel spoke through his tongue. By being converted to Islam, he became a source of honour and strength for Islam His migration was a cause of strengthening the religion of Islam.
God made the infidels fear Umar, and the pious Muslims love him. As he was very harsh with the enemies of Islam, the Holy Prophet compared Umar to Gahriel. As he had a fiery temper the Holy Prophet compared him to Nuh, O ye Muslims bear in mind that after the Holy Prophet, among his followers the two best persons were Abu Bakr, and Umar.”
Ali used to say, “When the righteous are mentioned, then be quick and mention Umar.” Ali also said “We used to say not without reason that the Divine Presence spoke by the tongue of Umar.”
Abu ‘Ubaida bin Al-Jarah, the Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim forces in Syria said:
“When Umar will die, Islam will be disgraced. I do not wish that I should survive Umar. I wish to die during the life-time of Umar.”
‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbes said:
“May God bless the soul of Umar. By God he was a pillar of strength for Islam. He was the shelter for the orphans and the widows. By his conduct he fortified the faith of others. He was a model Muslim.
The weak relied on him for the redress of their grievances. He was a great helper of the people. As a Caliph he promoted the interests of Islam. Under him the standard of Islam was carried east and west, and the call to prayers could be heard in plains and on hills even in distant lands. In the states when he was hard or humble, he maintained the dignity of Islam. He remembered God at all times. He was indeed the gem of a man. May Allah humiliate the person who talks ill of Umar, or bears him any enmity.”
Ibn Masiud said:
“If the wisdom of Umar were placed in the scale of a balance, and the wisdom of living things upon the earth in the other scale, the wisdom of Umar would outweigh them, and verily the people used to think that Umar carried nine-tenth of the wisdom of the world.”
Ibn Mas’ud on another occasion said:
“Verily Umar was the most learned of us all in the Book of God, and most profoundly versed in the religious ordinances of Allah.”
On the death of Umar, Ibn Mas’ud said:
“Umar was the fort of Islam. The people could enter the fort but could not come out of it. With the death of Umar that fort has fallen and now people would come out of it.” ‘Abbas said about Umar:
“I was a neighbour of Umar. After the Holy Prophet I have not found any person superior to Umar in the love of God. He spent the greater part of night in prayer. Throughout the day he worked hard to win the pleasure of Allah”.
On the death of Umar, Saeed b. Zaid said:
“With the death of Umar, Islam has come to grief. His death has caused a breach in the citadel of Islam which would not be filled up.”
Abu Hudhaifa said:
“It is as if the wisdom of mankind lay hidden in the bossom of Umar. By Allah I know not a man whom the reproof of the censurer in what relateth to the service of God, does not touch, but Umar.” He also said, “In the time of Umar Islam attained the climax of glory. After his death Islam will have to face difficulties.”
‘Ayesha said of him “By Allah, Umar was active in affairs, singly undertaking their management.”
Abu Talha Ansari said, “By God, there is no Muslim household which has not suffered because of the death of Umar.”
Ibn Umar said, “I never saw any one after the Holy Prophet, from time time that he died, any person more vehement and yet more beneficent than Umar.”
Ibn ‘Abbas was asked about Umar, and he said, ” Umar was like a wary bird who apprehended a snare at every step to trap it.”
Amir Muawiyah said, “Abu Bakr sought not the world, and the world sought him not. In the case of Umar, the world sought him, but he sought it not.”
Documentary: Umar Ibn Al-Khattab RA
Testament and Assessment of Umar ibn Al-Khattab – Assessment by Western Writers
In his book “Lives of Successors of Muhammad”, Washington Irving estimates the achievements of Umar in the following terms:
“The whole history of Umar shows him to have been a man of great powers of mind, inflexible integrity and rigid justice. He was more than anyone else the founder of the Islamic empire; confirming and carrying out the inspirations of the Prophet; aiding Abu Bakr with his counsels during his brief Caliphate; and establishing wise regulations for the strict administration of the law throughout the rapidly-extending bounds of the Muslim conquests.
The rigid hand which he kept upon his most popular generals in the midst of their armies, and in the most distant scenes of their triumphs, gives signal evidence of his extra-ordinary capacity to rule. In the simplicity of his habits, and his contempt for all pomp and luxury, he emulated the example of the Prophet and Abu Bakr.
He endeavoured incessantly to impress the merit and policy of the same in his letters to his generals. ‘Beware’ he would say of Persian luxury both in food and raiment. Keep to the simple habits of your country, and Allah will continue you victorious; depart from them and He will reverse your fortunes’.
It was his strong conviction of the truth of this policy which made him so severe in punishing all ostentatious style and luxurious indulgence in his officers. Some of his ordinances do credit to his heart as well as his head. He forbade that any female captive who had borne a child should be sold as a slave.
In his weekly distributions of the surplus money of his treasury, he proportioned them to the wants, not the merits of the applicants. ‘God’ said he, ‘has bestowed the good things of this world to relieve our necessities, not to reward our virtues: those will be rewarded in another world’.”
In his book “The Caliphate, its Rise, Decline and Fall” Sir William Muir says as follows about Umar:
“Umar’s life requires but few lines to sketch. Simplicity and duty were his guiding principles; impartiality and devotion the leading features of his administration. Responsibility so weighed upon him that he was heard to exclaim ‘O that my mother had not borne me; would that I had been this stalk of grass instead!’
In early life, of a fiery and impatient temper, he was known, even in the later days of the Prophet, as the stern advocate of vengeance. Ever ready to unsheathe the sword, it was he who at Badr advised that the prisoners should be put to death. But age, as well as office, had now mellowed this asperity.
His sense of justice was strong. And except it be the treatment of Khalid, whom according to some accounts, he pursued with an ungenerous resentment, no act of tyranny or injustice is recorded against him; and even in this matter, his enmity took its rise in Khalid’s unscrupulous treatment of fallen foe.
The choice of his captains and governors was free from favouritism and (Al-Mughira and Ammar excepted) singularly fortunate. The various tribes and bodies in the empire, representing interests the most diverse, reposed in his integrity implicit confidence, and his strong arm maintained the discipline of law and empire. . .
Whip in hand he would perambulate the streets and markets of Madina, ready to punish slanders on the spot; and so, the proverb Umar’s whip is more terrible than another’s sword’.
But with all this he was tender hearted, and numberless acts of kindness are recorded of him, such as relieving the wants of the widows and the fatherless.”
In his classical work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon refers to Umar in the following terms:
“Yet the abstinence and humility of Umar were not inferior to the virtues of Abu Bakr: his food consisted of barley bread or dates; his drink was water; he preached in a gown that was torn or tattered in twelve places; and a Persian satrap, who paid his homage as to the conqueror, found him asleep among the beggars on the steps of the mosque of Muslims.
Economy is the source of liberality, and the increases of the revenue enabled Umar to establish a just and perpetual reward for the past and present services of the faithful. Careless of his own emolument, he assigned to Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, the first and most ample allowance of twenty-five thousand dirhams of pieces of silver. Five thousand were allotted to each of the aged warriors.
The relics of the field of Badr and the last and the meanest of the companions of Mohammad was distinguished by the annual reward of three thousand pieces. Under his reign and that of his predecessors, the conquerors of the East were the trusty servants of God.
And the people; the mass of public treasure was consecrated to the expenses of peace and war; a prudent mixture of justice and bounty maintained the discipline of the Saracens, and then united, by a rare felicity, the despatch and execution of despotism with the equal and frugal maxims of a republican government.”
In his book “History of the Arabs” Professor Philip K. Hitti has assessed the achievements of Umar in the following terms:
“Simple and frugal in manner the energetic and talented Umar (634-644) who was of towering height, strong physique and bald headed, continued at least for some time after becoming the Caliph to support himself by trade and lived throughout his life in a style as unostentatious as that of a Bedouin Sheikh.
In fact, Umar, whose name according to Muslim tradition is the greatest in early Islam after that of Mohammad, has been idolised by Muslim writers for his piety, justice and patriarchal simplicity and treated as the personification of all the virtues a Caliph ought to possess. His irreproachable character became an exemplar for all conscientious successors to follow.
He owned, we are told, one shirt and one mantle only, both conspicuous for their patchwork, slept on a bed of palm leaves, and had no concern other than the maintenance of the purity of the faith, the upholding of justice and the ascendancy and security of Islam and the Arabians.
Arabic literature is replete with anecdotes extolling Umar’s stern character. He is said to have scourged his own son to death for drunkenness. Having in a fit of anger inflicted a number of stripes on a Bedouin who came seeking his succor against an oppressor, the Caliph soon repented and asked the Bedouin to inflict the same number on him. But the latter refused. So, Umar retired to his home with the following soliloquy:
‘O son of Al-Khattab humble thou wert and Allah has elevated thee, thou went astray, and Allah hath guided thee; thou were weak, and Allah hath strengthened thee. Then He caused thee to rule over the necks of thy people, and when one of them came seeking thy aid thou didst strike him! What wilt thou have to say to thy Lord when thou presentest thyself before Him’.
The one who fixed the Hijrah as the commencement of the Muslim era, presided over the conquest of large portions of the then known world, instituted the state register and organised the government of the new empire, met a tragic and sudden death at the very zenith of his life when he was struck down by the poisoned dagger of a Christian Persian slave in the midst of his own congregation.”
“The Encyclopaedia Britannica” remarks about Umar:
“To Umar’s ten years’ Caliphate belong, for the most part, the great conquests. He himself did not take the field, but remained in Madina; he never, however, suffered the reins to slip from his grasp, so powerful was the influence of his personality and the Muslim community of feeling.
His political insight is shown by the fact that he endeavoured to limit the indefinite extension of Muslim conquest, to maintain and strengthen the national Arabian character of the commonwealth of Islam; also by making it his foremost task to promote law and order in its internal affairs.
The saying with which he began his reign will never grow antiquated: ‘By God, he that is weakest among you shall be in my eye the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights; he that is strongest I will treat as the weakest, until he complies with the law’. It would be impossible to give a better general definition of the function of the State.”
Testament and Assessment of Umar – Assessment of Umar ibn Al-Khattab by Oriental Writers
In his book “History of Egypt”, Jurji Zaidan, a Christian historian has paid a tribute to Umar in the following words:
“In his time various countries were conquered, spoils were multiplied, the treasures of the Persian and Roman Emperors were poured in streams before his troops, nevertheless he himself manifested a degree of abstemiousness and moderation which was never surpassed. He addressed the people clad in a garment patched with leather. He was himself the first to practise what he preached.
He kept a vigilant eye over the Governors and Generals and enquired strictly into their conduct. Even the great Khalid bin Walid was not spared. He was just to all mankind and was kindly even to non-Muslims. Iron discipline was maintained everywhere during his reign.”
In his well-known book “History of the Saracens”, Justice Syed Amir Ali has rated Umar in the following terms:
“The death of Umar was a real calamity to Islam. Stern, but just, far-sighted, thoroughly versed in the character of his people, he was especially fitted for the leadership of the unruly Arabs.
He had held the helm with a strong hand and severely repressed the natural tendency to demoralisation among nomadic tribes and semi-civilised people when coming in contact with the luxury and vices of cities.
He had established the Diwan or the Department of Finance, to which was entrusted the administration of the revenues; and had introduced fixed rules for the government of the provinces. He was a man of towering height, strong build, and fair complexion. Of simple habits, austere and frugal, always accessible to the meanest of his subjects, wandering about at night to inquire into the condition of the people, without any guard of court, such was the greatest and the most powerful ruler of the time.”
Shah Wali Ullah has described the talents and achievements of Umar graphically in the following terms:
“Imagine the heart of Umar as a house with many gates. At each gate is seated a noble genius. At one gate stands Alexander the Great with all his genius for conquering countries, commanding armies, and vanquishing foes.
At another gates sits Anushirwan with all his gentleness, magnanimity, justice, and love of his subjects. And yet at another gate sits a spiritual leader like Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani or Khawaja Bahauddin.
At another gate sits Hadith specialists like Abu Huraira and Ibn Umar, and yet at another gate sit thinkers of the caliber of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi and Sheikh Fariduddin Attar. And people are standing around this house and every needy one represents his need to the Imam of his branch of knowledge and goes away satisfied.”
Put in simpler words, this tribute means that:
(1) Umar was a great Conqueror, greater than Alexander.
(2) Umar excelled Anushirwan in justice.
(3) Umar was a great spiritual leader.
(4) Umar was a specialist in Hadith.
(5) Umar was a great thinker.
(6) Umar excelled in all branches of knowledge.
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