Monday, November 14, 2022

Umar Al Farooq - The Great Caliph - Part Three: A Paragon Of Nobility

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam 14 November 2022 Amongst The Nations Before Your Time, There Have Been Inspired People(Who Were Not Prophets), And If There Is One Amongst My Ummah, He Is Umar - Prophet Muhammad A Paragon Of Nobility History bends to the will of man when it is faithful and steadfast. Umar was one such man. He bent history to his will, leaving a legacy that successor generations have looked upon as a model to copy. He was one of the greatest conquerors, a wise administrator, a just ruler, a monumental builder, and a man of piety who loved God with the intensity of great conquerors. Prophet Muhammad planted the seed of Tawhid. At its most elemental level, Tawhid means belief in one God. In its historical sense, it connotes a God-focused civilization, where all human effort is directed toward seeking Divine pleasure. Abu Bakr, with his wise intercession at a historic moment, ensured that the seed did not perish with the death of the Prophet. During the caliphate of Umar, the seed grew into a full-blown tree and bore fruit. Umar shaped the historical edifice of Islam and whatever Islam became or did not become in subsequent centuries is due primarily to the work of this great soldier. Indeed, Umar was the architect of Islamic civilization. It is reported that Umar wept when the following verse in the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet: “We offered the trust to the mountains, heavens and the earth, but they declined, being afraid thereof, but humankind accepted it. Indeed humankind was unjust and foolish” (Qur’an, 33:72-73). Umar understood that the trust referred to here is human free will. Humankind accepted this trust, while all other creations declined it. When the will of man is exercised in a manner that befits human nobility, it elevates him to a position higher than that of the angels. When free will is abused, it reduces humans to the most wretched creatures. No man understood this better than Umar and few since the Prophet carried this trust with as much wisdom, humility, determination, sensitivity, persistence, and courage. Measured by any yardstick, Umar was one of the most significant figures in human history. A Simple And Pious Ruler The most delicate pearls in the world come from the Arabian Gulf. Pearls were traditionally graded into five kinds. The pearl of the highest quality, the perfect pearl, is called al-Jiwan. Among all leadership qualities, great and small, integrity is al-Jiwan. Integrity implies such rectitude that one is incorruptible or incapable of being false to a trust or a responsibility or one’s standards. as the Latin proverb says, integrity is the noblest possession. In the case of Umar, his impeccable integrity was his most treasured asset. Umar despised the trappings of kingship and wealth. Foreign visitors were always amazed that there was no protocol for gatekeepers, court chancellors, or bodyguards. Umar was extraordinarily pious and averse to worldly luxuries. He preferred simplicity to extravagance. He deposited all assets and wealth meant for the ruling caliph into the Bait Al Maal. He even abandoned the royal palace and chose to live in a modest house. He wore rough clothes instead of royal robes and often went unrecognized in public like his great-grandfather Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab. Umar led an austere life that had been transfused in him by his revered Master—Prophet Muhammad. He would preside over the advisory council meetings in the mosque, where he would receive ambassadors from the Persian and Roman empires. He was a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer and disdained superstitious beliefs. It is said that the Christian Copts of Egypt became worried when the yearly flood in the Nile was delayed. This would have threatened their crops. According to an old custom, they decided to cast into the river an effigy of a beautiful woman, The Bride of the Nile. They sought permission from the Caliph. Umar sent the following reply to them: “From Commander of the Faithful to river Nile. Greetings, If in times you have risen on your own will, then stay your flood; if by the will of Almighty Allah, then to Him we pray that your waters may rise and overspread the land.” Umar instructed that this letter should be cast into the river, it would be enough. It was done, and the tide began to rise in large quantities. Umar’s Honesty On one occasion, Umar said from the pulpit, “O people, in case you ever find me tilting towards worldliness, what will you do then?” A man rose from the gathering, drew his sword and said, “You will be beheaded with it.” To further test him, Umar said, “You, daring to say so to me.” The man remained resolved and said, “Yes, it will be like this for you.” Umar said, “Thank God. I have men like you who dare to straighten me out if ever I choose to deviate from the right path”. On several occasions, foreign envoys and messengers deputed to Umar by their rulers and generals found him resting under a palm tree or praying in the mosque with ordinary people. It was impossible to distinguish the Caliph from the general crowd. Such was the simplicity and earthiness of Umar. He slept on a bed of palm leaves. His diet was dates or coarse barley bread dipped in salt; his drink was water; sometimes, he would eat bread without salt by penance. He preached in a tattered cotton gown, patched in 12 places. Once, the Governor of Kufa visited him while he was taking his meal comprising barley bread and olive oil. The Governor said, Ameerul Mu’mineen (Muslim Head of State), enough wheat is produced in your dominions, why don’t you take wheat bread. Feeling somewhat offended, the Caliph asked him in a melancholy tone, “Do you think wheat is available to every person inhabiting my vast dominions?” “No,” replied the Governor. “Then how can I take wheat bread unless it is available to all my people”? remarked the Caliph as the Governor sighed in embarrassment. The Qur’an condemns those who overindulge in worldliness and, yet, says that monasticism is not something God prescribes (Q57:27). The problem, though, is that too often, the “balance” tilts more towards materialism than simplicity. Therefore, one of our time's spiritual and ethical responsibilities is to rediscover an appreciation for living a simple life. Prophet Muhammad said, “Every religion has a chief characteristic and the chief characteristic of Islam is modesty.” During his travels, Umar would take no tent but throw his gown over a low bush and lie down in the shade. He performed the pilgrimage nine times during his caliphate. Piety, abstinence, and downright simplicity were the hallmark of his character. “His walking stick,” wrote one Muslim historian,” struck more terror in those who were present than another man’s sword.” He would spend several nights visiting townships and going about the streets of Madinah to find out if anyone needed help or assistance. The general social and moral tone of Muslim society at that time is well-illustrated by the words of an Egyptian who was sent to spy on the Muslims during their Egyptian campaign. He reported: “I have seen a people, every one of whom loves death more than he loves life. They cultivate humility rather than pride. None is given to material ambitions. Their mode of living is simple. Their commander is their equal. They make no distinction between superior and inferior, between enslaver and enslaved person. When the time of prayer approaches, none remains behind….” Al-Awza’i once narrated: “Umar came out in the depths of the night and was sighted by Talha, a renowned Companion of the Prophet. ‘Umar went and entered a house and then entered another one. The following morning, Talha went to this house, where he saw a blind, disabled old lady. He said to her, ‘Why does this man come to you?’ She said, ‘he has taken care of me since such and such. He comes, helps me with what is good for me, and takes away the harm.’ Talha said, ‘O Talha, may your mother be bereft. Are you following the slips of ‘Umar?’” (The Virtues of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, by Ibn al-Jawzi, p. 68) Treatment Of Conquered Umar designed and controlled the general policy and laid down the rules for administering the newly conquered territories and their people. Accordingly, the conquered masses were undisturbed regarding their religion, community life, and properties, provided they paid the protection money (Jizyah). However, this tax was levied on able-bodied men only. It was not imposed on women, children, the poor, and the aged who could not work, as also the blind, the lame, and the insane. Religious leaders like priests or monks dependent on the alms of the rich were also exempted. This tax was usually assessed on a sliding scale, four gold coins (the golden denarius or dinar then weighed around 4 grams) for a wealthy merchant, two for a shopkeeper, and one for a poor labourer. Local notables were included in the new administration, old taxes were collected and Greek, Persian, or Copt remained the official language in these territories for fifty years. Conversion of the subjects to Islam was not encouraged. Non-Muslims took part in consultations on matters of national interest. Local Zoroastrians and Marian chiefs in Iraq were consulted, and a Copt from Egypt was invited to Medina for consultation. The head of the revenue department in Medina was Greek. In 13 AH (635), 4000 prisoners arrived in Medina after the capture of Kaisariyah (Caesarea). Some of them were employed as clerks, and some as manual labourers for the Muslims. Abu Musa Ashari had a Christian secretary. Compassion And Justice Umar instructed Muslim armies to act humanely and not to destroy any crops of enemies. The landowners whose crops were damaged on account of the movement of the troops were given ample compensation. Once he gave 10,000 dirhams to a farmer whose harvest was destroyed by the Muslim army. On his way back from Syria, Umar passed by some men who had been standing in the sun with oil poured over their heads (to attract the flies). Upon inquiry, he was told that they were liable for tribute but had not paid it and were punished until they delivered it. Their excuse was that they were too poor to pay. Upon hearing this, Umar said, ‘Let them go, do not annoy them, for the Prophet of Islam said: Do not annoy people, for one who annoys people in this world will be punished on the Day of Judgment.’ Umar inferred from a verse of the Holy Qur’an that Sadaqa money should be expended on two society groups, Fuqara, and Masakin. By the former is meant the helpless Muslims, and by the latter needy Jews and Christians. Accordingly, non-Muslims were also helped by such funds. Once Umar saw an old Christian begging, he asked why he was begging. ” I have to pay Jizyah, and I am unable to do that due to my age,” was his reply. Umar regretted that we enjoy the fruits of their labour when they are young and should be neglectful when they are old. He brought the old man home, provided assistance, and directed the supervisor of Bait al-Mal (state treasury) to give him a subsistence allowance. The man was also exempted from paying Jizyah. When Umar was passing through al-Jabiyah in the province of Damascus, he saw some Christians smitten with elephantiasis, and he ordered that they be given something out of the Sadaqah. Food stipends are assigned to them. Old age pension was given to older people whether they were Muslims or non-Muslims; similarly, poor houses were open to all. When Jews of Khaibar and Christians of Najran were ordered to settle elsewhere, they were paid the full value of their lands and properties. Likewise, when the people of Araboos, a town situated on the border between Syria and Asia Minor, were exiled because of their espionage for the Romans, they were given double the value of their properties, land, and cattle. Writes Ameer Ali, the noted historian, “(He was) stern but just, far-sighted thoroughly versed in the character of his people, he was specially fitted for the leadership of the unruly Arabs. He had held the helm with a strong hand. He was a man of towering height, austere and frugal, always accessible to his subjects.” He never denied the military laurels to his fighting men. He was a statesman and an acknowledged and acclaimed strategist of empire-building. Still, He allowed his generals complete freedom of action during their campaigns and willingly conceded the glory they deserved when they returned as victors. The Demotion Of Khalid Khalid bin Walid was an exemplary military commander of Islamic armed forces since the tenure of Abu Bakr. He was also known as Sayf Allāh al-Maslūl (Drawn Sword of God). He occupied a unique position on account of his valour and bravery. He was known to be a gritty and tenacious soldier who inspired awe in the opponents’ camps. Umar always held him in high esteem and admired his chivalry. In a weird development, Umar stripped Khalid of his command of the Syrian division for uncertain and highly debated reasons. He instead entrusted the command to his favourite person: Abu Ubaidah (l. 583-639 CE), a humane leader and a true gentleman; he had also been one of Muhammad's favourite companions (there were ten in total, four of whom were the four Rashidun Caliphs). The Caliph also reinforced the Muslim forces in Iraq with fresh troops under a new leader: Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas (l. 595-674 CE). In 636 CE, the Byzantine Empire struck back at the Muslims. Although Khalid was no longer officially in command, he was highly respected by the soldiers owing to his expertise in warfare. Taking his advice, the Muslim forces retreated to the Yarmouk River. It was here that the battle that would determine the region's fate for centuries to come took place. The elite Byzantine troops outnumbered their foes, but Khalid was no stranger to fighting against odds. The Byzantines suffered a crushing defeat; the army was routed with slaughter, and many perished due to drowning in the river. Not only did the Muslim position in Syria become uncontested, but they also took hold of the Levant soon after; later in the same year, they were at the gates of Jerusalem – the third holiest Islamic city, also holy for the Jews and Christians. The same year, on the other side of the Syrian Desert, the Saracen forces (as European history refers to Arabs and Muslims) under Sa'ad met the mighty Sassanian Empire under their legendary leader: Rustam Farrokhzad – a man with a similar reputation to that of Khalid. The Battle of al-Qadisiyya (636 CE) proved hopeless for the Arabs at first, but the fateful death of Rustam demoralized his forces, who were utterly defeated. The Rashidun forces had emerged triumphant against staggering odds once again, and this victory had immediately brought the whole of Iraq and the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon under control. Umar ordered the forces not to proceed into the unfamiliar territory of Iran lest they be defeated, and their gains reversed. The importance of these two victories cannot be overstated; the defenses of the opposing forces were crushed, and they could not field effective counterattacks at similar levels anymore. After the success at Yarmouk, Umar arrived in Syria and the Levant primarily to receive the surrender of Jerusalem (which was under siege) and to manage domestic affairs in the region. Meanwhile, it became known that Umar had removed Khalid from command for good; sources argue whether Umar had personal problems with him or if it was due to Khalid's harsh nature. The vast majority of Muslim historians suggest that Umar might have done so to show that God gave them their victories and that no matter who led them, God's help was the only determining factor; at least, this was what he announced in public. Umar might have thought exactly as he had declared, or his actual reason was one of the two mentioned above; the real reason remains in mystery. Despite some controversies against him, Khalid was very popular among the Muslim troops who would follow him into any battle, no matter how bad the odds were. Before his dismissal, Khalid had led successful expeditions into Anatolia and Armenia in 638 CE. Though he was encouraged to rebel against the Caliph, he refused to do so and retired peacefully. Umar appointed Abu Ubaidah as the governor of Syria – he had also wished to nominate him as his successor. Still, the latter died in 639 CE in the wake of the plague that devastated the area. Khalid’s fame worried Umar, who saw it as a possible threat to his authority. Umar needed the pretext to take punitive action against Khalid. He found one such excuse when Khalid, during his stay at Emesa, had a unique bath with a particular substance prepared with an alcoholic mixture. Umar’s spies informed him of the incident. Since alcohol is forbidden in Islam, a strong ground for punishment arose, and Umar took notice of it, asking Khalid to explain the misconduct. Khalid felt that this was carrying the Muslim ban on alcohol a bit too far since it dealt only with the drinking of it and not its external applications. The excuse was enough for Umar and the senate at Madinah to be satisfied. Incidentally, another more potent opportunity came Umar’s way when shortly after Khalid’s capture of Marash (Kahramanmaraş) in the autumn of 638, he came to know of Ash’as, a famous poet and warrior on the Persian front, reciting a poem in praise of Khalid and receiving a gift of 10,000 dirhams from him, apparently from the state treasury. Umar and his senate identified this act as a misuse of state treasure, though not as punishing as losing one’s office. In the case of Khalid, this was the excuse that Umar needed. He immediately wrote a letter to Abu Ubaidah asking him to bring Khalid in front of them and take off his cap. Umar wanted Abu Ubaidah to ask Khalid from what funds he gave to Ash’as: from his pocket or the state treasury? If he confessed to using the spoils, he was guilty of misappropriation. He was guilty of extravagance if he claimed that he gave from his pocket. In either case, he would be dismissed, and Abu Ubaidah would take charge of his duties. Umar was known for his punctiliousness with rules and never compromised while dispensing justice. He immediately relieved him from his position when he was in the midst of the battle of Yamuk. The manner of Khalid’s deposition is worth mentioning. In a public assembly, the messenger entrusted with the writ of testimony questioned Khalid about the source from which he had met the grant. Umar’s orders were that Khalid should be forgiven if he only admitted his offense, but Khalid was unwilling to stoop to the indignity of a confession. The messenger was, therefore, compelled, as a mark of deposition, to remove Khalid’s turban from his head, and, as a punishment for his defiant attitude, he bound his neck with the same turban. Khalid’s humble acceptance of his new position, a mere warrior among the thousands of other Arab horsemen, was the stoic action that would complete his identity among the pantheon of Arab heroes. One is taken by surprise to find that a mighty general who had no equal in the whole of the Islamic world and whose redoubtable sword had sealed the fate of Iraq and Syria was thus made to drink the cup of humiliation to the dregs but suffered not a murmur to escape his lips. The event, however, shows Khalid’s candour and love of truth on the one hand and Umar’s might and grandeur on the other. On reaching Amasia, Khalid made a speech regarding his deposition, in which he observed that Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, appointed him Chief of Syria but dismissed him when he had conquered the whole of that country. On this, a soldier got up and said: “Hold thy tongue, O Chief! Such words might engender sedition.” “Yes,” rejoined Khalid, “but sedition cannot grow while Umar lives.” Khalid came to Madinah and waited on Umar. “O Umar!” said he “by Allah, you do me an injustice.” “How did you manage to amass so much wealth?” asked Umar. “From the spoils of war,” replied Khalid. He then added that he was willing to makeover any sum over and above sixty thousand dirhams that might be found in his possession to the Caliph. Calculations were accordingly made, and the surplus, which amounted to 20,000 dirhams, was remitted to the public treasury. “Khalid!” said Umar to the ex-Commander-in- Chief, “by Allah, I love you and honour you at the same time.” Thus saying, he wrote to all the provincial governors to the effect that he did not dismiss Khalid because he was offended by him or because he deemed him guilty of breach of trust but because he had seen that the people grew more and more attached to him and that he accordingly considered it advisable to depose Khalid so that his admirers might realize that God disposes of everything. These facts will enable an intelligent observer to quickly understand the causes that led to Khalid's deposition and the prudent considerations on which it was based. The wife of Khalid, upon feeling such pain of her husband, told Khalid: “You were given the title of ‘Saifullah’ meaning, ‘The Sword of Allah’ and, the sword of Allah is not meant to be broken and hence, it is not your destiny to be a ‘martyr’ but to die like a conqueror.” When he cashiered his foremost tactician, Khalid, this was not because of a fit of brilliant subordinate jealousy but because he found Khalid guilty of certain charges. Still, Umar continued to respect the great soldier for his valor. Some versions say the soldier was not happy as it was his dream to die a martyr, which couldn't be achieved. Stern ruler A strong ruler, stern towards offenders, and ascetic to the point of harshness, Umar was universally respected for his justice and stentorian authority. He warned his deputies, whether governors of vast provinces or generals in command of tens of thousands of warriors, not to be seduced into basking in pomp and splendour or to be ever found closing the house doorways to the poor. He despised extravagance and displays of opulence. Once a Christian complained to Umar in the Harem in Makkah that he had been doubly taxed on his horse. He submitted this complaint when Umar was delivering the sermon there. Later, when he returned to the capital, the same Christian who had complained came to him to remind him of it. Umar told him, “I’m the Hanifi who took care of your complaint there and then.” The Rule Of Democracy True democracy, as preached and practiced during the caliphate of the first four Caliphs, has hardly any parallel in the history of humanity. Since Islam is democratic religion, the Qur'an explicitly states that the affairs of the state should be conducted through democratic consultation. The Prophet himself did not make any significant decision without consultation. The seedling of democracy planted by the Prophet, and nourished by Abu Bakr, blossomed in the caliphate of Umar. Two consultative bodies functioned during his reign; one was a general assembly that was convened when the state was confronted with critical matters. The other was a unique body comprising unquestionable integrity persons consulted on routine and urgent matters. Even issues relating to the appointments and dismissals of public servants were brought before this working or special committee, and its decisions were scrupulously adhered to. Non-Muslims were also invited to participate in such consultations. The native Parsi chiefs were frequently consulted regarding the administration of Iraq (Mesopotamia). Similarly, Muqauqis were consulted in Egyptian matters, and a Copt had been invited to Madinah as the representative of Egypt. The provincial governors were appointed on the advice of the people and the local inhabitants. At times, the various posts in the provinces were filled by election. When the appointment of the Tax Officers was to be made for Kufa, Basra, and Syria, Umar permitted the inhabitants of those provinces to select suitable and honest officers of their own choice. The Caliph later endorsed the selection of the people. Umar strongly believed that the people must have a say in the administration of the caliphate. He strongly espoused and practiced participatory approaches. Even a poor older woman could publicly question the great Caliph for his various activities, and he had to explain his conduct on the spot. All the governors were required to assemble at Makkah on the occasion of the hajj, and any person could complain against any officer. Umar exhorted that the officers were not meant to rule; they were there to serve the people and build up a welfare state. Umar’s guiding principle of administration was: “By God, he that is weakest among you shall be in my eyes the strongest until I have vindicated for him his right. He that is strongest I will treat as the weakest until he complies with the law.” Umar was ruthless with his commanders and governors because he believed passionately in public honesty, the accessibility of rulers, and the dignity of the people. The Caliph himself practiced what he preached. Never in the annals of history has one found public service that could match the one practiced in the early caliphate of Islam. Umar lived like an ordinary man, and every man was free to question his actions. Once he said, “I have no more authority over the Baitul Mal (State Treasury) than a custodian has over the orphan's property. If I were well-to-do, I would not accept any honorarium; if not, I would draw a little to meet the ordinary necessities of life. Brothers, I am your servant; you should control and question my actions. One is that public money should neither be unnecessarily hoarded nor wasted. I must work for the welfare and prosperity of our people.” Once a person shouted in a public meeting, “O, Umar! fear God.” The audience wanted to silence him, but the Caliph prevented them from saying, “If the people do not exhibit such frankness, they are good for nothing and if we do not listen to them, we will be like them.” Such encouragement to the expression of the public ensured the efficiency and honesty of public service and state administration. The people realised the real worth of public opinion. Leadership Umar watched the people like a shepherd does over his herd. He would spend the nights in worship, often waking his family in the last part of the night to join him. One of Prophet Muhammad’s companions narrates that Umar once distributed 22,000 dirhams to the needy and had a habit of giving away bags of sugar. When Umar was asked why he spread the sugar, he said, “Because I love it, and God said in the Qur’an, ‘By no means shall you attain piety, unless you spend (in God’s Cause) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, God knows it well.” (Qur’an 3:92). Believed in dispensing prompt and timely justice through his earthly wisdom, he epitomized the great juristic principles of later modern and sophisticated societies. He demonstrated that uncommon common-sense could even trump learning and erudition. Much jurisprudential rhetoric has crystallized from age-old common-sense principles towards high fault in clichés and jargon. To Umar, justice was a goddess whose symbols were a throne that tempests could not shake, a pulse that passion could not stir, eyes that were blind to any feeling of favour or ill will, and the sword that fell on all offenders with equal certainty and with impartial strength. If there was somebody in the flesh with these physical features, it was Umar. His one burning desire was to do natural justice. In achieving that aim, he brushed aside the conservatism, which fails to conserve, and nurtured the form at the expense of the substance. He won great laurels in every field, but he always remained the gentle, modest, affectionate man. There are few persons other than Umar with whom the following lines of James Russell Lowell fit better: His magic was not far to seek, He was so human! Whether strong or weak Far from his kind he neither sank nor soared, But sat an equal guest at every board. No beggar ever felt him condescend, No prince presume; for still himself he bore At manhood’s simple level, and where’er He met a stranger, there he left a friend. ----- Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. Other Parts of the Book: Umar Al Farooq - The Great Caliph - Part One: Timeline Of The Life Of Caliph Umar Umar Al Farooq - The Great Caliph - Part Two: Glimpses Of The Biography That Shaped His Destiny As Well As That Of Islam URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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