The envoy of the Roman Emperor set out for Medina attended by a large retinue and equipped with all the pomp and pageantry which the Roman Empire could boast of. On arrival in the metropolis of Islam, he inquired of a passer-by: “Tell me please, where is the palace of the Caliph”?
The Arab looked around. He was surprised by this strange question, “What do you mean by a palace”? retorted the Arab.” I mean the palace of Umar, the Caliph of Islam,” added the envoy. “O! you want to see Umar. Come on, I will take you to his presence,” replied the Arab.
The envoy was escorted to the Mosque of the Prophet, and to his utter astonishment, a person who was lying on the base floor of the mosque was introduced to him as Caliph Umar Farooq, the greatest ruler of his time, whose armies held sway over the three known continents of the world. The envoy was taken aback at such a strange sight and the report of what he observed in Medina was enough to terrorize the Roman Emperor and impress him with the invincible might of Islam.
Hazrat Umar ibn Khattab was born in Makkah in 40 B.H. (Before Hijrah). His lineage joins that of the Prophet of Islam in the eighth generation. His forefathers had held ambassadorial posts, commerce was his ancestral occupation. He was one of the seventeen literate persons of Makkah when Prophethood was conferred on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He entered the pale of Islam at the age of 27. An interesting anecdote is told about his conversion to Islam. He was one of the most powerful enemies of the new faith. One day, he set out with the intention of killing the Prophet of Islam. On the way, he came across one Naeem ibn Abdullah, who asked him where he was bound for. Umar told him that he had resolved to do away with Muhammad (PBUH). Naeem tauntingly asked him to reform his own house first. Umar at once turned back and on arrival in his house, found his brother-in-law reciting the Holy Quran. He got awfully infuriated and mercilessly beat him, but he and his sister refused to renounce Islam. The firm stand of his sister, at last, calmed him and he asked her to recite the lines of the Quran again. She readily complied. Umar was so much charmed and enthused that he hurried to the Prophet’s place and embraced Islam. The small brotherhood was so much overwhelmed with joy that they raised the cry of Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is great) and the surrounding hills resounded with the echo.
The conversion of Umar greatly added to the strength of the Muslims. He later on became the principal adviser to Hazrat Abu Bakr during his two and a half years reign. On the death of Hazrat Abu Bakr, he was elected as the Second Caliph of Islam, a post which he held with unique distinction for ten and a half years. At last, he was assassinated in 644 A.C., while leading the prayers in the mosque of the Prophet, by one Feroz alias Abu Lulu, a disgruntled Parsi (Majusi).
The teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam had transformed the warring Arab tribesmen into a united people who brought about the greatest revolution in living history. In less than thirty years the nomadic Arabs had become masters of the greatest empire of their time. Their arms held sway over the three known continents of the world and the great empires of Caesars (Rome) and Chosroes (Persia) lay tottering before their invincible arms. The Prophet had left behind a band of selfless people who dedicated themselves with singleness of purpose to the service of the new religion. One of these persons was Hazrat Umar Farooq who was great both in war and peace. Few persons in the history of mankind have displayed better qualities of head and heart than Umar in guiding their armies on the war front, in the discharge of their duties to their people, and in adherence to justice. He gave detailed instructions to his armies fighting thousands of miles away and it was, to a great extent, due to his faultless judgment in the selection of the commanders and the tactics of war that Arab armies inflicted such crushing defeats on their two powerful enemies. His mastermind was visible not only in planning easy victories but also in the consolidation of conquered countries.
Islam has been charged with having been spread at the point of sword, but now it has been established through modern historical researches that Muslims waged defensive wars, during Caliphate Rashida. Sir William Muir, an English historian, records in his celebrated book, “Rise, Decline and Fall of the Caliphate,” that after the conquest of Mesopotamia, Zaid, a certain General, sought the permission of Hazrat Umar to pursue the fleeing Persian forces into Khorasan, but the Caliph forbade him saying, “I desire that between Mesopotamia and the countries beyond, the hills shall be a barrier so that the Persians shall not be able to get at us, nor we at them. The plain of Iraq sufficeth for our wants. I would rather prefer the safety of the people than thousands of spoils and further conquests.” Commenting on the above Muir observes: “The thought of a worldwide mission was yet in embryo; obligation to enforce Islam by universal crusade had not yet dawned upon Muslim mind.”
The Romans and Persians who always looked down upon the Arabs as an uncultured race viewed with alarm the rising power of Islam and were anxious to crush it. The Persians sent reinforcement to the rebels of Bahrain against Islam. They instigated Sajah, who pretended to be a Prophetess in Iraq, to march upon Medina. Rustam, the famous Persian General, had sworn that he would destroy the entire Arab race. Such designs and machinations of the Persians warned the Muslims of the dangers ahead, and being a spirited people, they accepted the challenge. Hence the war was actually forced upon the unwilling Muslims and they could not ignore this threat to their very existence.
The first defeat of the Persians came as a great surprise to them as they expected little resistance from the Arabs. They had already felt alarmed at their unexpected defeats during the time of Hazrat Abu Bakr. Every disaster in the battle-field only added to the flame of Persian fury. Theirs, was a vast empire, So were their resources. They recklessly deployed their forces and material in order to stem the advance of the Arabs and crush their striking power for ever. A handful of ill-equipped Arabs were arrayed against the formidable forces of Romans and Persians. One can hardly find in recorded history an instance, where, in spite of such disparities between the opposing forces, the weaker triumphed over their too powerful opponents.
The tempo of war increased when Hazrat Umar was elected as Caliph. Muslims were fighting on two fronts. In Syria, they were engaged with the powerful forces of the mighty Roman Empire and in Iraq they were arrayed against the formidable forces of Chosroes (Persians). Buran Dukht, who ascended the Persian throne, had appointed Rustam as the Commander-inChief of the army. All these arrangements could not check the Muslim advance and the Persians under the command of Narsi were routed at Kasker. Rustam appointed Bahman, a swom enemy of Arabs, as the Commander of Persian forces in Iraq. A bloody battle was fought at Berait in 635 A.C. in which the Persians beat a hasty retreat leaving behind a large number of dead bodies. Muthanna, the Muslim General, declared that he had taken part in several engagements against the Persians in pre-Islamic days. Previously, 100 Persians could overpower 1,000 Arabs, but the tables had turned now.
The battle of Qadisiyah fought in 635 A.C. under the command of Hazrat Saad bin Abi Waqas, was a decisive one, inasmuch as it sealed the fate of the Persian Empire in Iraq. Rustam, the greatest war hero of Persia, had mustered a strong force against the Muslims. The Muslim commander who was ill had appointed Khalid bin Aratafa in his place and guided his movements through written instructions. A poet named Abu Mahjan Saqfi, who was in chains for his drunkenness implored the Commander’s wife, Salma, to release him for a short while in order to take part in the battle. He promised to return when the battle was over. His request was granted forthwith and Abu Mahjan taking a sword in his hand went like a bolt in the thick of the battle and fought with exceptional bravery. He put himself in chains again when the battle was over, but Hazrat Saad released him on knowing his exploits. Ka’k’a had divided a portion of Muslim army into several groups which were held in reserve. These fell upon the enemy one after another. These tactics of Ka’k’a disheartened the Persians who were forced to retreat. Rustam, who tried to escape was killed. Hazrat Umar was very anxious about the result of this battle. He was a master-mind who used to issue detailed instructions for military operations in Iraq and for hours he waited daily outside Medina in the hope of good news. He actually ran behind the messenger up to Medina, who had brought the happy tidings, asking him the outcome of the battle. On reaching Medina, the people asked him: “Amirul Momineen: (Commander of the Faithful) what is the news”? The messenger was awe-stricken to know that the man who had been running behind him enquiring the deals of the battle was no other than Hazrat Umar himself. He implored the Caliph to be pardoned for his impertinence in not posting him with all the details before, but Hazrat Umar replied that he did not want to delay the happy news reaching the inhabitants of Medina. Thereupon, the great Caliph made a memorable speech before the Midianites:
“Brothers of Islam! I am not your ruler who wants to enslave you. I am a servant of God and His people. I have been entrusted with the heavy responsibility of running the Caliphate administration. It is my duty to make you comfortable in every way and it will be an evil day for me if I wish you to wait on me every now and then. I want to educate you not through my precepts but by my practice.”
The Persians made their last stand in Iraq in front of Madain, the Capital. They destroyed the bridge built on the Tigris. Such obstacles could not check Hazrat Saad, the Commander of the Muslim forces who plunged his horse into the river. The rest of the army followed suit and they crossed the river in a moment without disrupting their formations. The Persians were terrified at this unusual sight and cried out: “Demons have come”, Saying this they took to flight in utter confusion. A vast treasure fell into the hands of the Muslim conquerors which included the invaluable Persian carpet. This treasure was brought to Medina and heaped in the courtyard of the Mosque of the Prophet. The great Caliph burst into tears on its sight. The audience asked him the reason for his unusual expression of grief. The Caliph replied promptly, “This wealth was the cause of the downfall of Persians and now it has come to us to bring Our downfall.” He ordered that the wealth be distributed among people instantaneously. Even that priceless carpet was not spared and under the advice of Hazrat Ali, it was tom to pieces and was distributed among the populace. Hazrat Umar commended the high character of his soldiers who did not touch a single thing out of this colossal booty.
Syria was another theatre of war, where the Muslims were arrayed against the formidable Roman forces. Hazrat Abu Bakr, during his lifetime summoned Hazrat Khalid bin Walid, the Sword of God, to assist the Muslims in Syria. The Syrian cities, one after another, capitulated to the Muslims. Hems, Hama (Epiphania) Kinnisrin (Chalcis), Aleppo and other important towns surrendered and opened their gates to the forces of Islam. The city of Damascus which was held by a large garrison offered considerable resistance. One night Hazrat Khalid bin Walid who was stationed on the other side of the city scaled its walls and opened the gate. The Muslim army entered the city from the one side. Immediately the Romans offered themselves for peace to the Commander-inChief Hazrat Abu Ubaidah who was stationed on the other side of the city. Hazrat Khalid and Hazrat Abu Ubaidah who came from opposite directions met in the center of the city. Hazrat Abu Ubaidah asked the Muslims not to plunder anyone as he had accepted the peace terms.
Antioch, the capital of the Roman East, also capitulated to the Muslims after stubborn resistance. The Roman Governor named Artabin had mustered a strong force for the defense of his province. Placing small bodies of troops at Jerusalem, Gaza, and Ramleh, he had assembled a large army at Ajnadain. The Muslims who were deeply concerned at these movements of the Roman forces withdrew their garrisons from various sectors and advanced to face Arabin. While withdrawing from Hems, Hazrat Abu Ubaidah, Commander-in-chief of the Muslim forces, asked his treasury officer to return the ‘Razia’ (Protection Tax) to the inhabitants, as they could not undertake the responsibility of the protection of their non-Muslim subjects there. The order was instantaneously carried out and the whole amount was repaid to the local inhabitants. The Christian populace was so much touched by this unusual generosity of the conquerors that they wept bitterly and cried out: “May God bring you here again,” The Jews swore on Torat that they would resist the Romans to the last man if they ever ventured to capture the city.
A bloody battle ensued in the plain of Yarmuk in 634 A.C. between the forces of Islam and the Romans. The Romans had mustered a strong army of 3 lakh soldiers, while the Muslim army comprised of 46 thousand unskilled and ill-equipped soldiers only. The Muslims fought like heroes and routed the Romans after a fierce conflict. More than a hundred thousand Romans perished on the battle-field while Muslim casualties hardly exceeded three thousand. When apprised of this crushing defeat, Caesar cried out sorrowfully, “Good-bye Syria”, and he retired to Constantinople.
The few Roman soldiers who escaped from Yarmuk found a refuge within the walls of the fortified city of Jerusalem. This city which was garrisoned by a heavy force resisted for a considerable time. At last, the Patriarch sued for peace but refused to surrender to anyone except the Caliph himself. Hazrat Umar acceded to his request and traveling with a single attendant without escort and pomp and pageantry he arrived at Jabra. When he arrived in the presence of the Patriarch and his men, he was leading the camel while the attendant was riding on it. The Christian priests and their associates were profoundly struck with this strange respect for the equality of man exhibited by the Caliph of Islam. The patriarch presented the keys of the sacred city to the Caliph and he entered the city along with patriarch. Hazrat Umar refused to offer his prayers in the Church of Resurrection saying, “If I do so, the Muslims in future might infringe the treaty, under pretext of following my example.” Just terms were offered to the Christians whilst the Samaritan Jews, who had assisted the Muslims, were granted their properties without payment of any tax.
The subjugation of Syria was now complete. “Syria bowed under the scepter of the Caliphs”, says a well-known historian,
“seven hundred years after Pompey had deposed the last of the Macedonian kings. After their last defeat, the Romans recognized themselves hopelessly beaten, though they still continued to raid into the Muslim territories. In order to erect an impassable barrier between themselves and the Muslims, they converted into a veritable desert a vast tract on the frontiers of their remaining Asiatic possessions. All cities in this doomed tract were razed to the ground, fortresses were dismantled, and the population carried away further north. Thus what has been deemed to be the work of Arab Muslim hordes was really the outcome of Byzantine barbarism”.
This shortsighted scorched earth policy was of no avail and could not stem the tide of Muslim advance. Ayaz, the Muslim Commander passing through Tauras, reduced the province of Cilicia, captured its Capital Tarsus, and reached as far as the shores of the Black Sea. His name was a terror for Romans in Asia Minor.
After clearing Syria of the Roman forces, the Muslim army marched on Persia and conquered Azerbaijan in 643, Boston in 643, Armenia in 644, Sistan in 644, and Mekran in 644 A.C. According to the celebrated historian Baladhuri, the Islamic forces had reached as far the plain of Debal in Sind. But Tabari says that the Caliph prevented his army making any further advances east of Mekran. The defeated Roman forces had taken refuge in Alexandria and threatened the Muslim-conquered Syria. Hence Amr bin al-Aas implored the Caliph to allow him to advance on Egypt. The request was granted and Muslim forces under Amr bin al-Aas captured Alexandria in 641-642. The Egyptian Christians called Copts were treated with great kindness by the Muslim conquerors and were granted landed properties. A mischievous story had been circulated by the interested parties that the famous Library in Alexandria was destroyed by the Muslim invaders, but it has now been established through impartial historical researches by Western Scholars that the said library was partly destroyed by Julius Caesar and the remaining by the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a devout Christian who hated works written by the pagans.
A strong fleet was also built by the Arabs in order to meet the challenge of Romans as masters of the seas. Thus the naval supremacy of Arabs was also established and the Roman fleet fled before them to the Hellespont. A number of islands of Greek Archipelago were captured by the Muslims.
A study of the military operations would reveal the factors which were responsible for the sweeping victories of Muslims in such a short period. During the reign of the Second Caliph, Muslims ruled over a vast area of land, which included Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Persia, Khuzistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kirman, Khorasan, Mekran and a part of Baluchistan. A handful of ill-equipped and unskilled Arabs had overthrown two of the mightiest empires of the world. The teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam had infused a new spirit in the adherents of the new faith, who fought simply for the sake of God. The wise policy followed by the Second Caliph of Islam in the selection of his generals and his liberal terms offered to the conquered races were instrumental in the lightning victories won by the Muslims. Hazrat Umar was a great military strategist, who issued detailed instructions regarding the conduct of operations. A perusal of the history of Tabari would reveal that Farooq, the Great, sitting thousands of miles away, guided his armies on the battlefronts and controlled their movements. The great Caliph laid much stress on the moral side of the conquests by offering liberal terms to the conquered races and by granting them all sorts of privileges which are denied to the conquered races even in this advanced modern age. This greatly helped in winning the hearts of the people, which ultimately paved the way for the consolidation of the conquered countries and their efficient administration. He had strictly forbidden his soldiers to kill the weak and desecrate the shrines and places of worship. A treaty once concluded would be observed in letter and spirit. Contrary to the repression and ferocity of great conquerors like Alexander, Caesar, Atilla, Changiz Khan, and Hulaku, Hazrat Umar’s conquests were both physical as well as spiritual. When Alexander conquered Sur, a city of Syria he ordered a general massacre and hanged one thousand respectable citizens on the city walls. Similarly, when he conquered Astakher, a city of Persia, he beheaded its entire male population. Tyrants like Changiz, Atilla, and Hulaku were even more ferocious. Hence, their vast empire crumbled to pieces after their death. But the conquests of the Second Caliph of Islam were of a different nature. His wise policy and efficient administration added to the consolidation of his empire in such a way that even today after a lapse of more than 1400 years, the countries conquered by him are still in Muslim hands. Thus Hazrat Umar Farooq is in a sense the greatest conqueror the world has produced.
The honesty, truthfulness, and integrity of Muslims in general and their Caliph, in particular, strengthened the faith of the non-Muslims in the promises given by Muslims. Hurmuzan, a Persian chief, who was a sworn enemy of Muslims, was captured on the battle-field and was brought in the presence of the Caliph at Medina. He knew that he was sure to be beheaded for his massacre of Muslims. He thought out a plan and asked for a glass of water. The water was brought, but he was reluctant to drink it, saying that he might be killed while drinking it. The unsuspecting Caliph assured him that he would not be killed unless he drank it. The wily Hurmuzan at once threw away the water saying that since he got the assurance of the Caliph, he would not drink water anymore. The Caliph kept his word and did not kill him. Hurmuzan, much struck with the honesty of the Caliph, accepted Islam.
Similarly, once the Muslim forces laid siege of Chandi Sabur. One day, the citizens opened the gate and busied themselves in their work. On inquiry, it transpired that a Muslim slave had granted them pardon. The matter was referred to the Caliph who upheld the terms granted by the slave, saying. “The word of an ordinary Muslim is as weighty as that of his commander or the Caliph.”
The true democracy as preached and practiced during the Caliphate Rashida has hardly any parallel in the history of mankind. Islam being a democratic religion, the Quran had explicitly laid it down as one of the fundamentals of Muslim polity that the affairs of the state should be conducted by consultation and counsel. The Prophet himself did not take momentous decisions without consultation. The plant of democracy in Islam planted by the Prophet and nourished by Hazrat Abu Bakr attained its full stature in the Caliphate of Umar. Two consultative bodies functioned during his reign, one was a general assembly which was convened when the state was confronted with critical matters and the other was a special body comprised of persons of unquestionable integrity who were consulted on routine and urgent matters. Even matters relating to the appointments and dismissals of public servants were brought before this working or special committee and its decision was 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, local leaders were consulted in Egyptian matters and a Copt had been invited to Medina as the representative of Egypt. Even 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, Hazrat Umar permitted the inhabitants of those provinces to select suitable and honest officers of their own choice. The selection of the people was later on endorsed by the Caliph. He used to say that the people must have an effective hand in the administration of the Caliphate. Even a poor old woman could publicly question the great Caliph for his various activities and he had to explain his conduct at the spot.
The Caliph had tried to inculcate true democratic spirit in the people as well as in his administrators. The public servants had been frankly told that they were paid for the service to the people and would be severely dealt with for any genuine public complaint. The Caliph himself practiced what he preached. He was rather the very incarnation of true public service. Never in the history of mankind, one comes across such instances of public service as one finds in the history of early Caliphate of Islam. Hazrat 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 (Public Treasury) than a custodian has over the property of an orphan. If I would be 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 and you should control and question my actions. One of these is that the 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 doing so saying: “If such frankness is not exhibited by the people, they are good for nothing and, if we do not listen to them, we would be like them.” Such encouragement to the expression of public views as given by the Caliph himself ensured the efficiency and honesty of public service and state administration. The people realized the real worth of public opinion.
The great Caliph had established separate departments for different subjects which were headed by efficient and honest officers. He had separated the judiciary from the executive, a remarkable achievement which has not yet been achieved even in the most modern states of the present day. The judiciary was free from the control of the Governors and the Qazis imparted justice free from fear or favor.
The success and efficiency of his administration mainly depended on his strict vigilance over the staff. When a governor was appointed, his letter of appointment which detailed his duties and privileges was publicly read, so that people could know the terms of appointment and could hold him responsible for abusing his power.
Addressing a group of governors once he said, “Remember, I have not appointed you to rule over your people, but to serve them. You should set an example with your good conduct so that people may follow you.”
He took particular care to emphasize that there should not be much distinction between the ruler and the ruled, and the people should have an easy and free access to the highest authority of the state. Every Governor had to sign a bond on his appointment that “he would put on coarse cloth and would eat coarse bread and that the complainant would have an easy access to his presence at any time.” According to the author of the ‘Futuh ul-Buldan’, a list of the movable and immovable properties of the selected high officials was prepared at the time of his appointment which was examined from time to time and he had to account for any unusual increase in his property. All the high officials had to report to the Caliph every year at the time of Hajj and according to the writer of Kitab-ul-Kharaj every person was authorized to make complaints against the highest authorities which were immediately attended to. Even the highest officials of the state were not spared if their faults were proved. Once a person complained that a certain Governor had flogged him for no fault of his. The matter was inquired into and the Governor was also publicly awarded the same number of stripes.
Hazrat Muhammad bin Muslimah Ansari, a person of unquestionable integrity was appointed as the roving investigator, who visited different countries and enquired into public complaints. Once a complaint was lodged with the Caliph that Hazrat Saad bin Abi Wagas, Governor of Kufa, had constructed a palace there. He at once despatched Muhammad Ansari who pulled down a portion of the palace which hindered the easy entry of the public. On another complaint, Saad was deposed from his post. A report was received by the Caliph that Ayaz bin Ghanam, the Amil (Governor) of Egypt had kept a gate-keeper for his house, Muhammad Ansari who was immediately sent to Egypt found the report to be correct and brought the Governor to Medina. The Caliph humiliated him publicly. At times a commission was appointed by the Caliph to enquire into various charges. Such strict measures adopted by Hazrat Umar ensured an efficient and ideal administration in his vast State. Even the officials working thousands of miles away from Medina could not dare to do anything against the interests of the people and the state. None could ever contemplate incurring the displeasure of the iron Caliph. The fundamental difference between the administrations of the tyrants and his was that while the tyrants used rod for their own good, Umar used it for the good of the people.
Writing in the Encyclopaedia of Islam an European historian says: “But the part of Umar was nevertheless a great one. The regulation of his non-Muslim subjects, the institution of a register of those having a right to military pensions (the diwan), the founding of military centres (amsar) out of which were to grow the future of the great cities of Islam, the creation of the office of Kadi (Qazi), where all his work, and it is also to him that a series of ordinances go back, religious tarawih prayer of the month of Ramazan, the obligatory pilgrimage as well as civil and penal punishment of drunkenness and stoning as punishment of adultery.”
The Caliph paid great attention to improving the state finances which was placed on a sound footing. He had established the “Diwan” or the finance department to which was entrusted the administration of revenues. The revenue of the commonwealth was derived from three sources:
- Zakat or the tax levied on a gradual scale on all Muslims possessing means,
- Khiraj or the land tax levied on zimmis, and
- Jazia or capitation tax. The last two tax for which the Muslims have been much condemned by the Western historians were realized in the Roman and Sasanid (Persian) empires. The Muslims only followed the old precedents in this respect. The taxes realized from the non-Muslims were far less burdensome than those realized from the Muslims.
Islam which preached an egalitarian type of state laid greater emphasis on the equitable and fair distribution of wealth. Hoarding of wealth was against the teachings of Islam. The Second Caliph scrupulously followed this golden principle of Islam. He organized a Baitul Mal (Public Treasury) whose main function was distribution rather than accumulation of wealth.
The Caliph himself took very little from the Baitul Mal. His ancestral occupation was business. Naturally, he had to be paid some honorarium for his exalted office. The matter was referred to the special committee in which the opinion of Hazrat Ali was accepted that the Caliph should get as much honorarium from the Baitul Mal as would suffice for the necessities of an ordinary citizen.
The Caliph fixed the rates of land revenue according to the type of the land. While he charged four dirhams on one jarib of wheat, h charged two dirhams for the similar plot of barley. Nothing was charged for the pastures and uncultivated land. In this way, he systematized the fixation of revenues, which, before his time was charged haphazardly. Different rules were framed for the revenues of Egypt, whose agricultural output depended on the flood of the Nile. According to reliable historical sources, the annual revenue of Iraq amounted to 860 million dirhams, an amount which never exceeded after the death of the great Caliph though he was very lenient in its realization. The main reason behind this easy realization of the state money was that the people had become very prosperous.
He introduced far-reaching reforms in the domain of agriculture, which we do not find even in the most civilized countries of the modern times. One of these was the abolition of Zamindari (Landlordism) and with this disappeared all the evils wrought on the poor tenants by the vested landed interests. When the Romans conquered Syria and Egypt, they confiscated the lands of the tillers of the soil and allotted these to the army, nobles, churches, and the members of the royal family. Hazrat Umar, on the conquest of these countries, returned these properties to the local inhabitants who were the rightful owners of the land. The just and benevolent Caliph was exceptionally generous to the local tillers of the soil and even issued strict orders that no other persons including the Muslim soldiers who were spread all over these countries, should be granted any piece of land for cultivation purposes. Such steps taken by the Caliph not only restored confidence among the local populace but also gave a great impetus to agriculture in these countries and contributed to the enormous increase in agricultural output. The tenancy became prosperous and their standard of living was much raised. It led to the easy realization of land revenue by the custodians of the state. According to a French historian, “The liberal policy followed by the Arabs in the fixation of revenues and their land reforms have greatly contributed to their military conquests.” It was due to this liberal policy of the Second Caliph that the Christian Copts who were farmers always sided with the Muslim Arabs in preference to Roman Christians. The Caliph was not content with these reforms. He worked out beneficial schemes for the advancement of agriculture and constructed irrigation canals, wells and tanks in his vast dominions. He established a public welfare department which looked after such construction works and furthered these beneficial schemes. The celebrated historian Allama Maqrizi says that more than one lac and twenty thousand. laborers were continually employed in such works throughout the year in Egypt alone. A number of canals were constructed in Khuzistan and Ahwaz during this period. A canal called “Nahr Amirul Momineen” which connected the Nile with the Red Sea was constructed in order to ensure quick transport of grain from Egypt to the holy land.
Caliph Umar is particularly known for his administration of impartial justice. Justice during his reign was administered by Qazi (civil judges) who were appointed by the Caliph and who were free from the control of the governors. He was the first man who separated judiciary from the executive, thus ensuring free and even-handed justice. “The judge was named and is still named,” says Von Hammer, “the Hakim ush-sharaa, i.e., ruler through the law, for law, rules through the utterance of justice and the power of governor carries out the utterance of it. Thus the Islamite administration even in its infancy proclaims in word and in deed the necessary separation between judicial and executive power.” Such separation of executive from judiciary has not been attained by some of the most civilized states in the modern times. The administration of justice during his time was perfectly impartial and he himself set an example by scrupulously carrying out the orders of the Qazi.
The letter written by the Caliph to Abu Musa Asha’ari detailing the fundamental principles of justice is an invaluable piece of jurisprudence which can be favorably compared with the Roman law. The Caliph took particular care to enforce the equality of justice. In the eyes of law, all are equals. He personally visited several courts in order to have practical experience of it.
Once he had to attend the court of Qazi Zaid bin Sabit as a defendant. The Qazi showed some preferential respect to him, which, the Caliph resented and warned him, “Unless you consider an ordinary man and Umar as equals, you are not fit for the post of Qazi.”
Jablah bin Al-Aiham Ghassani was the ruler of a small state in Syria. He was converted to Islam, and one day while he was offering Hajj, a part of his gown was unintentionally trampled upon by a poor Arab. Jablah gave him a slap. He too paid him in the same coin. The infuriated Jablah hastened to the Caliph and urged him to severely deal with the Arab. Thereupon the Caliph said that he had already received the justice. Jablah retorted saying: “Had he done such an insult to me in my own land, he would have been hanged.” The Caliph replied calmly: “Such was the practice here in pre-Islamic days, but now the pauper and the prince are equal before Islam.”
Hazrat Umar was so strict in the enforcement of impartial justice that he did not spare even his near and dear ones if they were at fault. Once, his own son Abu Shahma was reported to have drunk wine. The Caliph flogged his son with his own hands till he died, and the remaining stripes were delivered on his grave. The history of the world cannot produce a single instance in which a state or public leader showed greater respect for justice and the rule of law.
Hazrat Umar took keen interest in the army administration. He founded many army centres including Medina, Kufa, Basra, Mosul Fustat (Egypt), Damascus, Hems, and Palestine where barracks for the soldiers were constructed. He paid attention to the minutest details which were required for making an efficient army. He divided the army into regulars and volunteers or the reserve. There were big military cantonments in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The wise Caliph organized different departments of the army in such an efficient manner that one is astounded to notice the advancement he made in this sphere. Separate departments of supply and sappers and miners were attached to the army establishments. The Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim army used to lead the daily prayers. “The great superiority of Saracenic armies”, says Ameer Ali, “consisted in the extreme mobility, their perseverance and their power of endurance-qualities which, joined to enthusiasm, made them invincible.”
The greatness of Caliph Umar is visible in his sympathetic treatment of his non-Muslim subjects. Before the advent of Islam, the rights of other races in the Roman and Persian empires were worse than those of slaves. Even the Syrian Christians had no right over their lands, so much so that with the transfer of their lands they were also transferred. When Hazrat Umar conquered these countries, he returned the lands to their tillers who were mostly non-Muslims. He granted peace to the Christians of Elia who had surrendered.
The peace terms run as follows: “This is the peace, granted by Umar, the slave of God, to the inhabitants of Elia. Non-Muslims will be allowed to stay in their churches which will not be demolished. They will have full freedom of religion and will not be harmed in any way.”
According to Imam Shafii, once a Muslim murdered a Christian. The matter was brought to the notice of the Caliph, who allowed the heirs of the Christian to avenge the murder and the Muslim was beheaded. He consulted non-Muslims in State matters. Their voice carried much weight in the handling of affairs of special interest to them. The author of the Kitab al Kharaj writes that the last will of Hazrat Umar enjoined upon the Muslims to respect the assurances given to non-Muslims and protect their lives and properties even at the risk of their own. The Caliph had been too indulgent to nonMuslims and even pardoned their treasons which no present-day civilized government could tolerate. The non-Muslims were so much moved by these unusual sympathies of the Muslim conquerors that they sided with them in preference to their co-religionists. The Christians and Jews of Hems prayed for the return of Muslims. The Caliph, no doubt, imposed Jazia, a protection tax on the nonMuslims but such tax was not realised from those non-Muslims who joined the Muslim army. Hazrat Abu Ubaidah, the Commander-in-Chief of Muslim forces in Syria, returned the Jazia realized from the inhabitants of Hems when he had to withdraw his garrison from Hems due to emergency and therefore, he could not undertake the responsibility of their protection. The people of Jarjoma refused to pay the Jazia on the ground of their having enlisted in the Muslim army. The Christian patriarch of Jerusalem was wonderstruck with the sense of justice displayed by the great Caliph when he refused to offer prayer in the Church of the Resurrection on the plea that his example would be followed by other Muslims thus amounting to the breach of the treaty.
Such benevolent and generous treatment of non-Muslims at the hands of the Caliph endeared him to all of his subjects, thus laying the foundation of a stable government and an efficient administration.
Hazrat Umar possessed an exemplary character and practiced himself what he preached. He was intrinsically conscientious; his motto had always been the service of his people. He never favored his own pious and learned son Abdullah bin Umar. In the fixation of monthly honorarium, he gave preference to those who were close Companions of the Prophet, otherwise, he observed equality even between the Quraish and the slaves. When he fixed the salary of Usama bin Zaid higher than that of his son Abdullah, the latter complained, “Usama had never surpassed me in the service of Islam.” The pious Caliph at once replied, “But he was closer and dearer to the Prophet.”
Unstinted service to humanity was his foremost concern. He roamed about during the night often incognito in order to acquaint himself with the condition of his people. One night as he was roaming outside Medina, he observed in a house a woman cooking something and two girls sitting beside her crying for food. After waiting for some time, he asked the woman what was the matter. She told him that the children were hungry, that there was nothing in the kettle except water and a few pieces of stones, and that she was lulling them to believe that food was being cooked for them. The Caliph without disclosing his identity hurried to Medina, three miles-away, brought a bag of flour on his back, cooked the food himself, and was not contented until the appetite of the children was fully satisfied. The next day he called again to apologize to the old woman for his negligence and fixed dole-money for her.
The great Caliph led a very simple life. His standard of living was in no case higher than that of an ordinary man. Once the Governor of Kufa visited him while he was taking his meals comprising of barley bread and olive oil. The Governor said, “Amirul Momineen (Commander of the Faithful) enough wheat is produced in your dominions, why do you not take wheat bread”. Feeling somewhat offended the Caliph asked him in a melancholy tone, “Do you think that wheat is available to each and every person inhabiting my vast dominions?”
“No”, replied the Governor.
“Then how can I take wheat bread unless it is available to all of my people”? added the Caliph.
Honesty and integrity were the highest virtues in the character of the Second Caliph. Once, during his illness, his physician prescribed honey for him. Tons of honey was kept in the Baitul Mal, but he did not take a drop of it unless he was permitted by the people’s committee. His wife, Umme Kulsum, once presented a few bottles of perfumes to the Empress of Rome. The Empress returned the bottles filled with precious stones. When Hazrat Umar learned of it, he deposited the jewels in the Baitul Mal.
The Caliph had great respect for the social equality of man. The Patriarch of Jerusalem was profoundly struck by the respect for social equality shown by the esteemed Caliph when he observed the slave was riding on the camel and the Caliph was leading the camel by the string.
According to a report of Abdur Rahman bin Auf, the Caliph came to him one day and asked him to accompany him to a certain place. On inquiry, he told Hazrat Auf that a caravan had arrived in Medina and since the members must be tired, the Caliph considered it obligatory to guard them for the whole of night so that they might rest undisturbed.
Once he addressed a gathering saying, “Brothers, if I stray from the right path what will you do”? A man stood up and said, “We will behead you.” Umar shouted in order to test him: “You dare utter such impertinent words for me?” “Yes, for you,” replied the man. Umar was very much pleased with his boldness and said, “Thank God, there exist such bold men in our nation that if I go astray they will set me right.”
“It was only to his high moral character,” says a European historian, “that Umar owned the respect which he inspired, for the physical force at his command was none. Umar was not only a great ruler but also one of the most typical models of all the virtues of Islam”. Tradition makes the Prophet of Islam say: “If God had wished that there should have been another prophet after me, he would have been none other than Umar.”
The second Caliph of Islam occupies an outstanding place in the history of the world. One would hardly come across a ruler who led so simple a life, and dedicated himself to the service of his people and was a terror for his foes. “Of simple habits, austere and frugal, always accessible to the meanest of his subject, wandering about at night to enquire into the condition of the people without any guard or escort, such was the greatest and most powerful ruler of the time.”
Perhaps Dr. Allama Iqbal, the poet of the East has said for him only :
Jis se jigar-i-lala me thandak ho woh shabnam
Daryaan ke dil jis se dahel jaen woh toofan
(Like the dew which cools the heart of lily and like the storm which shakes the heart of the rivers).
Jurji Zaidan, the celebrated Christian historian of Egypt pays glowing tribute to the achievements of Hazrat 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 practice what he preached. He kept a vigilant eye over his 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 kind even to the non-Muslims. Iron discipline was maintained everywhere during his reign.”