[Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (rahimahullah)]
UMAR BIN ABDUL AZIZ (Al Khalifat As-Salih)
Born: 61 or 63 AH (680 or 682 AD) At Halwan in Egypt
Father: Abdul-Aziz Governor of Egypt and son of Marwan I the forth Umayyad Khalifah
Mother: Umm ‘Asim daughter of Asim, the son of Umar bin Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu)
Wife: Fatima, daughter of Abdul Malik the 4th Umayyad Khalifah
Education: in Madinah from his uncle Abdullah bin ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu)
Governor Madinah: 706 AD for two years during the Period of Walid bin Abdul Malik the 5th Umayyad Khalifa
Contemporaries: Abdullah Ibn Zubayr, Hasan Al-Basri, Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf, Umayyad Khalifahs Abdul Malik, Waleed Ibn Abdul Malik, Suleiman Ibn Abdul Malik.
Khalifah: 717 to 720 AD the 8th Umayyad Khalifah for 2 year and 5 months.
Died: 720 AD by poisoning instigated by Umayyad clan due to his austerity measures in all aspects of life.
Reformist Endeavours of the First Century A.H
Soon after the Khilafat-E-Rashidah (the rightly-guided Caliphate) came to an end and the Umayyad Empire, which was more Arab than Islamic, consolidated itself, the need for reformation and renovation in Islam was felt keenly. Customs, traditions and remembrances of the pagan past, which had been discredited under the impact of the prophet’s teachings, began to re-assert themselves among the new Arab converts to Islam. The then government was not organised according to the dictates of the Quran and the Sunnah – its guiding lights were Arab diplomacy. Expediency and interest of the State, Arab racialism, tribal pride, partisan spirit and nepotism, regarded as unpardonable sins during the days of the Khilafat-E-Rashidah, became the hall-mark of the new aristocracy.
The extravagant rulers, surrounded by dissolute parasites who flocked to the capital demoralised the society and produced an aristocracy resembling the pagan Arab wastrel of the age of ignorance in moral and behaviour.
Religious Teachers of the Umayyad Period
However, the masses had still not forsaken the moral values and deference for Islamic teachings. The regard for moral worth and tenets of Islam was due mainly to those scholars of impeccable worth and ability who were held in high esteem by the masses for their moral and spiritual excellence, selflessness and piety. The person most respected and loved during the period was Ali-Bin-Husain (Zainul Abdin).
Other highly reputed religious scholars of outstanding piety during the Umayyad period were Hasan-al-Muthanna, his son Abdullah al-Mahadh, Salim ibn Abdullah ibn Umar, Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, Saeed ibn Musayyib and ‘Urwah ibn Zubair.
The demoralisation that had set in owing to the immoral conduct of the ruling elite was undoubtedly on the increase but the moral influence wielded by these persons on the masses was not without a salutary effect, their pure and simple life was a standing reproach to the unprincipled this – worldliness of the rulers, which made people think of reforming their intemperate life.
The Umayyad power was, however, entrenched in such a firm military strength that it was not possible to dislodge it, nor there existed any internal or external force which could dare to challenge it. It appeared as if the fate of Muslims had been sealed for a fairly long time. It required a miracle alone for the Islamic precepts to find an expression again in the political law guiding the community’s behaviour.
Accession of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz
The miracle was the accession of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz to the throne in 99 A.H. (717 A.D.). He was a grandson of Marwan and his mother, Umm Asim, was grand-daughter of Umar I, the second Caliph.
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz was born in 61 A.H. He was a cousin of the preceeding Caliph, Sulaiman ibn Abdul Malik and had been posted as Governor of Madinah since the time of Walid ibn Abdul Malik, the Caliph before Sulaiman. The life led by him as Governor was entirely different from that he adopted as a Caliph. He was known as a polished and decorous aristocrat of refined taste. Anybody could tell from the fragrance of perfumes he used that Umar had passed that way. He was all the rage for the fashionable youths of his day. Except for his integrity of character and righteousness there was nothing to suggest that he was destined to perform a memorable task in the history of Islam.
But he proved to be a standing miracle of Islam. The very way he ascended to the Caliphate was miraculous, for, nobody could have predicted the dramatic turn that the events took in bringing him to the throne. He could not have hoped to be anything more than a viceroy under the hereditary custom of accession to the Caliphate, but God had willed otherwise. Sulaiman ibn Abdul Malik fell seriously ill and lost all hopes of recovery. He was anxious to leave the throne to one of his sons who were still minors.
In his dreadful agony, he cast a pathetic glance over his sons and said “He is really fortunate who has grown-up sons”. Reja ibn Haiwah happened to be present at the time and he promptly proposed Umar ibn Abdul Aziz as the successor to the throne. Caliph Sulaiman accepted the suggestion and thus, by his timely intervention, Reja rendered yeoman service for the revival of Islam.
Character of Umar II
Immediately upon his accession, Umar dismissed provincial governors known to be cruel or unjust to the people. All the jewellery and valuable presents brought before him on accession to the throne were deposited in the state treasury.
He was now a completely changed man. He considered himself a successor to Caliph Umar I, son of Khattab, rather than to Sulaiman ibn Abdul Malik. Slaves of the royal household were emancipated. The royal court modeled after Persian and Byzantine Royal patterns was now marked by an austere and primitive simplicity. He returned to the State not only his ancestral fief but even the valuables and jewellery his wife had received from her father and brothers. He was the ruler of the mightiest empire of his day but he did not have enough money to perform the Hajj.
‘Umar II was careful not for his person alone. He always exhorted the state officials to be extremely cautious in their dealings involving the state property.
Not only that extreme caution, moderation, simplicity and unaffected piety were the feature of Umar’s character, he transformed the view-point of his government, making the will of the people the sole object of administration.
The historic dictum of ‘Umar II that ‘Muhammad was sent as a prophet and not as a collector’, adequately illustrates the objective he had set before the state under him. In truth and reality, during the entire period of his Caliphate he sought to translate this idea into practice. He always preferred principles, moral dictates and demands of the faith to political expediency and never cared a whit for financial loss suffered by the state if the policy commended by religion entailed it. During his reign the non-muslims were embracing Islam in ever-increasing numbers which meant a dwindling income from the poll-tax. As the sharp fall in revenues posed a danger to the financial stability of the State, Umar’s attention was drawn towards it. But his reply was that the situation was eminently in accord with the objectives underlying the prophet-hood of Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). To an official he wrote “I would be too glad if all the non-Muslims embrace Islam and (owing to the drying up of income from poll-tax) we have to take up cultivation for earning our living.” A fixed amount of land revenue was to be remitted by the provincial Government of Yemen every year whether it had a favourable crop or not. Umar II ordered that the revenue should be assessed in accordance with the agricultural production every year. He added that he would willingly accept it even if a handful of grain were to be received in pursuance of his order. He discontinued levy of octroi (i.e. Octroi is a tax levied at the gate of a city on articles brought in) throughout the kingdom saying that it was prohibited by the Qur’an.
Umar II used to say that people have made octroi lawful by changing its name. Barring the few taxes allowed by the Shari’ah, he abolished all taxes and duties levied by his predecessors. All the land and sea routes were opened for trade without any embargo whatsoever.
Far-reaching reforms were introduced in the administration of the kingdom. Some of the steps were that officials were precluded from entering into any business or trade, unpaid labour was made illegal, pasture-lands and game-preserves reserved for the royal family or other dignitaries were distributed to the landless cultivators or made public property, strict measures were taken to stop illegal gratification of state employees who were forbidden to accept gifts, all officers holding responsible posts were directed to afford adequate facilities to those who wanted to present their complaints to them in person, a proclamation was made every year on the occasion of pilgrimage that any one who would bring to the notice of administration any maltreatment by a state official or offer a useful suggestion shall be rewarded 100 to 300 dinars.
Solicitude For Moral Reformation
After the khilafat-e-Rashidah came to an end, the Caliphs began to consider themselves simply as monarchs and administrators; they were neither capable nor had the time to bother about the moral and social conditions of their subjects. ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz’ did away with this dichotomy and proved himself to be really a successor of the Prophet as his office implied. No sooner did he ascend the Caliphate, he sent out quite lengthy letters and directives which dealt with religious and moral reforms more than with the so-called administrative affairs.
Compilation of Traditions
The study and cultivation of religious sciences did not escape attention of Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz. Drawing the attention of an eminent man of letters of his time, Abu Bakr ibn Hazm, towards compilation of the traditions of the Holy Prophet, he wrote:
“Reduce into writing whatever traditions of the Holy Prophet you can collect, for I fear that after the traditionists pass away, the knowledge will also perish.”
Defender of the Faith
The unalloyed Islamic thought and spirit of religion that ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz tried to infuse among the Muslims and give a practical shape through the State he presided over, can be gauged from the letters and edicts he issued from time to time to the different functionaries of his government.
It was once reported to him that certain tribal chiefs and Umayyad aristocrats had revived the pagan custom of entering into alliance and were giving a call to one another in the name of tribal solidarity during their fights and forays. This custom cut at the very root of Islamic concept of brotherhood and the social order it wanted to bring into existence. ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, being fully alive to the pernicious implications of the practice, issued an order to Dahhak ibn Abdur-Rahman for curbing the evil forthwith.
The directives sent by ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz to the commander of a military expedition illustrate the extent to which he had imbibed the Qur’anic mode of thought and view-point, and how he differed diametrically from other rulers and emperors of his time, in one of his edicts to Mansur ibn Ghalib he wrote:
“whereas the commander of the faithful has charged Mansur to wage war against those who might oppose him, the latter is also instructed to inculcate awe of God since, it constitutes the best of provisions, the most effective strategy and the real power. For sin is even more dangerous than the ruses of the enemy, The commander of the faithful bids upon Mansur that instead of taking fright of his enemy, he should fear transgressing the limits of God. We can not deploy troops in the same numbers as our enemies can do nor do we possess the equipments they have got.”
Behold, if we are not able to gain ascendancy over our enemies on account of our righteousness, we would never be in a position to defeat them through our might. We need not keep an eye upon anything more than the enmity of our own wickedness nor do we have to hold in leash anything more than our own viciousness. Never consider yourselves superior to your enemies, nor take your victory for granted because of the sinfulness of your foes, for many a people worse than his enemy was granted ascendancy in the past. Therefore, seek the help of God against your own temptations in the same way as you desire the succour of God against your opponent.
“Commander of the Faithful also bids Mansur ibn Ghalib that he should treat his men with leniency”.
“For giving rest to his men and the beast of burden and also for getting his armaments repaired. The commander of the Faithful orders Mansur ibn Ghalib to break his journey on every Friday for the whole day and night thereof. He is also ordered to encamp far away from the habitations which have entered into treaty relations with us, and allow none from his troops to visit their dwellings, markets or gatherings, only those of this men who are firm in faith and trustworthy and who would neither be ill-disposed nor commit a sin against the people could be allowed to visit such habitations for collection of lawful dues. You are as much bound to guarantee their rights as they are enjoined to fulfill the duties devolving on them i.e. you have to honour your obligations to them so long as they do theirs. You should never try to gain an advantage over your enemy through persecution of those who have come under your protection, for you have already got a share (in the shape of Jeziah or poll-tax) in their earnings and you neither need to increase it nor they are bound to pay more.”
“I bid you to be cautious and God-fearing in all the affairs of your obligations, perform that which has been ordained by God and desist from the acts prohibited by the Shari’ah.”
Propagation of Islam
The efforts of ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz were not limited to the enforcement of the Shari’ah, as the law of the land, and reformation of the Muslim only. He also paid attention towards spreading the message of Islam among the non-muslims and his endeavours were also successful on account of his personal example of simple life, unaffected piety, unswerving uprightness and immaculate sincerity.
The financial reforms embarked upon by ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz viz. remission of numerous taxes and tithes disallowed by the Shari’ah did not result in pecuniary difficulties or deficits in the State income. On the contrary, people became so much well-off that it became difficult to find destitute and beggars who would accept the poor-due (zakat).
Apart from the prosperity of the masses, which is invariably a by-product of the Islamic form of government, the more important change accomplished by the regime of ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz was the diversion in inclination and aptitude, mood and trend of the populace. His contemporaries narrate that whenever a few friends met during the regime of Walid, they used to converse about buildings and architecture for that was the rage of Walid, Sulaiman was fond of women and banquets, and these became the fad of his days, but, during the reign of ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz the prevailing demeanour and subjects for discussion were prayers. supplicatory and benedictory, obligatory and supererogatory.
The guiding light for ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz and the impelling force behind his endeavours were his unflinching faith, the love and awe of the Supreme being and conviction of accountability on the day of Resurrection.
If providence had only granted Umar the span of rule enjoyed by his predecessors, the world of Islam would have witnessed a complete and lasting revolution changing the course of its history. But the Umayyads who had been hit hard during the reign of ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz and who saw power and influence slipping out of their hands, openly regretted the day when the families of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and the Umayyads’ had maritally been united. They could not endure the ordeal any longer for it was against their grain, and they soon found a way to get rid of the most virtuous Muslim of their times. ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz died in the middle of 101 A.H. after a rule of only two years and five months. There are reasons to believe that a slave in the employ of the caliph was commissioned by his family to administer poison to him.
[From the Book: Saviours of Islamic Spirit]