Umar II: The Mujadid of the First Century

Written and collected by Zia H Shah

Umar II, in full ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz  (born 682/683, Medina, Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]—died  February 720, near Aleppo, Syria), pious and respected caliph who attempted to preserve the integrity of the Muslim Umayyad caliphate (661–750) by emphasizing religion and a return to the original principles of the Islamic faith.  From his mother’s side, he was great grandson of Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab, the second Khalifah of Islam, after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.

He is considered one of the finest rulers in Muslim history, second only to the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. In fact, in some circles, he is affectionately referred to as the Fifth Rightly Guided Caliph.  Shah Waliullah, a 18th century Sunni Islamic scholar stated:

A Mujadid appears at the end of every century: The Mujadid of the 1st century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah, Umar bin Abdul Aziz. The Mujadid of the 2nd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Muhammad Idrees Shaafi the Mujadid of the 3rd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Abu Hasan Ashari the Mujadid of the 4th century was Abu Abdullah Hakim Nishapuri.[1]

Encyclopedia Britannica states about Umar bin Abdul Aziz:

Umar II, in full ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz  (born 682/683, Medina, Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]—died  February 720, near Aleppo, Syria), pious and respected caliph who attempted to preserve the integrity of the Muslim Umayyad caliphate (661–750) by emphasizing religion and a return to the original principles of the Islamic faith.

His father, Abd al-ʿAzīz, was a governor of Egypt, and through his mother he was a descendant of ʿUmar I (second caliph, 634–644). He received a traditional education in Medina and won fame for his piety and learning. In February or March 706, ʿUmar was appointed governor of the Hejaz. During his tenure of office, he initiated policies that later characterized his reign, particularly his creation of a consultative body of pious men to aid him in his rule.

ʿUmar was elevated to the caliphate by the will of his predecessor, the caliph Sulaymān, in September or October 717. At his accession the stability of the Umayyad caliphate was threatened by the discontent of the Mawālī (non-Arab Muslims) and the “pious opposition,” who resented the Umayyads allegedly for putting political interests ahead of established religious principles. ʿUmar, who was mainly interested in home affairs, attempted no major military conquests, and soon after his accession he lifted his predecessor’s disastrous siege of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Initiating a policy of internal consolidation, he dismissed unpopular governors, reformed the taxation system, and granted the Mawālī the same fiscal rights as Arab Muslims.

Although many of his policies seemed untenable, ʿUmar attempted to arrest the disintegration of the Umayyad caliphate by appealing to a broad segment of the Muslim population. He, alone of the Umayyads, was respected by the later ʿAbbāsid dynasty and was highly regarded even among the Shīʿites, schismatic followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law ʿAlī.[2]

Reference

1. Izalat al-Khafa p. 77 part 7.

2.  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/613678/Umar-II

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Umar II عمر الثاني
Caliph of Damascus
Reign 717-720
Predecessor Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik
Successor Yazid bin Abd al-Malik
Full name
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz
Dynasty Umayyad
Father Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan
Mother Umm Asim bint Asim
Born 2 November 682 Medina, modern day Saudi Arabia
Died February 720 Aleppo, Syria
Religion Islam

Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (2 November 682 – 31 January 720) [1] (Arabic: عمر بن عبد العزيز‎) was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. He was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik‘s younger brother, Abd al-Aziz. He was also a great-grandson of the companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, Umar bin Al-Khattab. Among Muslims he is considered one of the greatest men and leaders in history, he is commonly regarded as the fifth Caliph Al-Rashidun

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Lineage

Umar was born around 2 November 682. He was born in Medina.

According to a Sunni Muslim tradition, Umar’s lineage to Umar ibn al-Khattab stems from a famous event during the second Caliph’s rule. During one of his frequent disguised journeys to survey the condition of his people, Umar overheard a milkmaid refusing to obey her mother’s orders to sell adulterated milk. The mother reportedly told her daughter to add water to the milk as Caliph Umar is not there looking at them. The girl shot back that though Caliph Umar is not looking at them, Allah is always watching over everyone. He sent an officer to purchase milk from the girl the next day and learned that she had kept her resolve; the milk was unadulterated. Umar summoned the girl and her mother to his court and told them what he had heard. As a reward, he offered to marry the girl to his son Asim. She accepted, and from this union was born a girl named Layla that would in due course become the mother of Umar ibn Abdulaziz.

Biography

Early life

Umar would grow up in Medina and live there until the death of his father, after which he was summoned to Damascus by Abd al-Malik and married to his daughter Fatima. His father-in-law would die soon after, and he would serve as governor of Medina under his cousin Al-Walid I.

Al-Walid I’s era

Unlike most rulers of that era, Umar formed a council with which he administered the province. His time in Medina was so notable that official grievances sent to Damascus all but ceased. In addition, many people emigrated to Medina from Iraq seeking refuge from their harsh governor, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. This angered Al-Hajjaj, and he pressed al-Walid to remove Umar. Much to the dismay of the people of Medina, al-Walid bowed to Hajjaj’s pressure and dismissed Umar from his post. By this time, Umar had developed an impeccable reputation across the Islamic empire.

Sulayman’s era

Umar continued to live in Medina through the remainder of al-Walid’s reign and that of Walid’s brother Suleiman. As Suleiman fell seriously ill and was unlikely to recover, he was anxious to leave the throne to one of his sons who were still minors, but was unable to do so because of their youth. Reja ibn Haiwah then promptly proposed Umar as the successor to the throne. Suleiman accepted this suggestion and Umar reluctantly accepted the position after trying unsuccessfully to dissuade Suleiman.

Caliphate and his own era

 Reforms

Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a scholar himself and surrounded himself with great scholars like Muhammed bin Kaab and Maimun bin Mehran. He offered stipends to teachers and encouraged education. Through his personal example, he inculcated piety, steadfastness, business ethics and moral rectitude in the general population. His reforms included strict abolition of drinking, forbidding public nudity, elimination of mixed bathrooms for men and women and fair dispensation of Zakat. He undertook extensive public works in Persia, Khorasan and North Africa, including the construction of canals, roads, rest houses for travelers and medical dispensaries.[2]

He continued the welfare programs of the last few Umayyad caliphs, expanding them and including special programs for orphans and the destitute. He would also abolish the Jizya tax for converts to Islam, who were former dhimmis, who used to be taxed even after they had converted under other Umayyad rulers.

Generally, Umar II is credited with having ordered the first collection of hadith, or sayings & actions of Muhammad material in an official manner, fearing that some of it might be lost. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, are among those who compiled hadiths at `Umar II’s behest.[3]

His other reforms include [4],

  • State officials were excluded from entering into any business.
  • Unpaid labor was made illegal.
  • Pasture lands and game reserves, which were reserved for the family of the dignitaries, were evenly distributed among the poor for the purpose of cultivation.
  • He urged to all of the officials to listen the complaints of the people and during any occasion, he used to announce that, if any subject had seen any officer mistreating others should report him to the leader and he will be given a reward ranging from 100 – 300 dirhams.

Taxation

Under previous Umayyad rulers, Arab Muslims had certain financial privileges over non-Arab Muslims. Non-Arab converts to Islam were still expected the pay the jizya poll tax that they paid before becoming Muslims. Umar put into practice a new system that exempted all Muslims, regardless of their heritage, from the jizya tax. He also added some safeguards to the system to make sure that mass conversion to Islam does not bring collapse to the finances of the Umayyad government, although sources do not indicate what those safeguards were and how exactly the taxation system was set up.[5]

Military

Though Umar did not place as much an emphasis on expanding the Empire’s borders as his predecessors had, he was not passive. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari states that he sent Ibn Hatim ibn al-Nu’man to repel Turks invading Azerbaijan (v. 24 pp. 74–75). He faced Kharijite uprising and preferred negotiations to armed conflict, personally holding talks with two Kharijite envoys shortly before his death (v. 24, p. 77-78). He recalled the troops besieging Constantinople (p. 74). These were led by his cousin Maslama. This Second Arab siege of Constantinople had failed to take the city and was sustaining heavy losses at the hands of allied Byzantine and Bulgarian forces. Its defeat was a serious blow to Umayyad prestige.

Disdainful of luxuries

Umar approached the Caliphate unlike any other Umayyad Caliph has done before him. He was extremely pious and disdainful of worldly luxuries. He preferred simplicity to the extravagance that had become a hallmark of the Umayyad lifestyle, depositing all assets and finery meant for the caliph into the public treasury. He abandoned the caliphate palace to the family of Suleiman and instead preferred to live in modest dwellings. He wore rough linens instead of royal robes, and often went unrecognized.

A female visitor once came to Umar’s house seeking charity and saw a raggedly-dressed man patching holes in the building’s walls. Assuming that the man was a servant of the caliph, she asked Umar’s wife, “Don’t you fear God? Why don’t you veil in the presence of this man?” The woman was shocked to learn that the “servant” was in fact the caliph himself.

Though he had the people’s overwhelming support, he publicly encouraged them to elect someone else if they were not satisfied with him (an offer no one ever took him up on). Umar confiscated the estates seized by Umayyad officials and relatives of previous Umayyad caliphs, and redistributed them to the people. It was also reported that he once declined the request of money and favours by one of his aunts, who had already been favoured by his predecessors. He made it a personal goal to attend to the needs of every person in his empire. Fearful of being tempted into bribery, he rarely accepted gifts, and when he did; he promptly deposited them in the public treasury. He even encouraged his own wife—who had been daughter and sister to three caliphs in their turn—to donate her jewelry to the public treasury. He is widely known for reinforcing the Zakat and at the end of his rule, there were scarcely any poor people to give the charity money to.

At one point he almost ordered the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus to be stripped of its precious stones and expensive fixtures in favor of the treasury, but he desisted on learning that the Mosque was a source of envy to his Byzantine rivals in Constantinople. These moves made him unpopular with the Umayyad court, but endeared him to the masses, so much so that the court could not move against him in the open.

Fatimah, the wife of Umar ibn Abdil Aziz said: I never saw anyone that would pray and fast as much as him. Nor did I see anyone that had as much fear of God as him. After Isha’ he would just sit and cry until sleep would overcome him. And in the middle of the night he would wake up and start crying again until sleep would overcome him. Sometimes he would be in bed and think about a matter to do with the akhirah (hereafter) and start shaking like a bird that shakes off water.[6]

It is also narrated that he was once walking in the mosque(masjid) while it was dark, his leg hit a man resting on the ground by accident. The man said:”Are you a donkey?”, Umar replied:”No, I am Umar”. A companion of Umar’s said:”O Commander of believers, he told you O donkey”, Umar replied:”No, he just asked a question and I answered”.

Halt to the cursing of Ali Ibn Abi Talib

Umar made a number of important religious reforms. According to both Sunni[7] and Shia sources, he abolished the long-standing Umayyad custom of cursing Ali Ibn Abi Talib which was initiated by Muawiya I, at the end of Friday sermons and ordered the following Qur’anic verse[8] be recited instead:

Surely God enjoins justice, doing of good and giving to kinsfolk.

Death

His reforms in favor of the people greatly angered the nobility of the Umayyads, and they would eventually bribe a servant into poisoning his food. Umar learned of this on his death bed and pardoned the culprit, collecting the punitive payments he was entitled to under Islamic law but depositing them in the public treasury. He died in February 720, probably the 10th and probably forty years old (v. 24, pp. 91–92) in Aleppo.

Fātimah the wife of ‘Umar b. ‘Abd’l-‘Azīz said about his illness, “That night, his shivering became uncontrollable and he could not sleep, so we kept a vigil over him and didn’t sleep either. In the morning, I told a servant of his known as Marthad, “O Marthad, stay with the Amīr’l-Mu’minīn and if he has any single need then at least you are at hand.” We left and fell into a deep sleep due to the previous night spent awake.

It was well into the day once we awoke and we went to see (‘Umar) and found Marthad sleeping outside the house. I woke him up and said, “What are you doing outside Marthad?!” Marthad replied, “He told me to get out! He said to me, “Marthad, leave me! By Allāh, I see something which is neither human or jinn!”

When I came out, I heard him recite:

تِلْكَ الدَّارُ الْآَخِرَةُ نَجْعَلُهَا لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُرِيدُونَ عُلُوًّا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فَسَادًا وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِينَWe grant the Home in the Hereafter to those who do not seek superiority on earth or spread corruption: the happy ending is awarded to those who are mindful of God. (al-Qasas, 83)

So I entered the room again and I saw his face turned and his eyes were closed. He had passed away. [9]

He was succeeded by his cousin Yazid II.

Efforts in inviting people to Islam (Dawah)

Following the example of the Prophet, Omar bin Abdul Aziz sent out emissaries to China and Tibet, inviting their rulers to accept Islam. It was during the time of Omar bin Abdul Aziz that Islam took roots and was accepted by a large segment of the population of Persia and Egypt. When the officials complained that because of conversions, the jizya revenues of the state had experienced a steep decline, Omar wrote back saying that he had accepted the Caliphate to invite people to Islam and not to become a tax collector. The infusion of non-Arabs in large number into the fold of Islam shifted the center of gravity of the empire from Madina and Damascus to Persia and Egypt.[10]

Quotes

A Ruler usually appoints people to watch over their subjects. I appoint you a watcher over me and my behaviour. If you find me at fault in word or action guide me and stop me from doing it.
There are five things which if a judge missed any of them, it will be a blemish on him: A judge should be discerning, deliberate, chaste, resolute, knowledgeable and inquisitive.
Al-Taqwa (piety) does not mean spending the night in prayers and observing fast in the day, but it does mean: to perform Divine obligations and to avoid prohibitions; and if one acts upon additional good deeds, this will be light upon light.

Ibn ‘Asakir recorded that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-’Aziz wrote to ‘Adiy ibnu ‘Adiy

Belief includes obligations, doctrines, boundaries, and preferred ways. Whoever fulfills all of them has perfected his belief, and whoever does not fulfill them has not perfected his belief. If I live, I will make them clear to you so that you can act on them. If I die, however, I am not eager for your company.
Whoever of you does good action then let him praise Allah. Whoever does wrong action, let him seek Allah’s forgiveness and turn in tawbah, because for some people there is no avoiding doing actions which Allah appointed as their destinies and which He decreed for them.
None can reach the state of taqwa until he possesses neither actions nor words that can be exposed to his embarrassment, either in this World or the Hereafter.

Umar bin `Abdil-`Azeez wrote to the Syrian army as follows

As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaah. Now then, whoever contemplates death frequently speaks little, while he who knows that death is certain is satisfied with a little. Farewell.

Legacy

While Umar’s reign was very short (three years), he is very highly regarded in Muslim memory.

When ‘Umar ibn Abd al Aziz died, the people came to his wife to express sympathy and say how great a calamity had struck the people of Islam by his death. And they said to her, ‘Tell us about him – for the one who knows best about a man is his wife’.

And she said: “Indeed he never used to pray or fast more than the rest of you, but I never saw a servant of God who feared Him more than ‘Umar. He devoted his body and his soul to the people. All day he would sit tending to their affairs, and when night came he would sit up while business remained. One evening when he had finished everything, he called for his lamp – from which he used to buy the oil from his own money – and prayed two prostrations. Then he sat back on his folded legs, with his chin in his hands, and the tears ran down from his cheeks, and this didn’t stop until dawn, when he rose for a day of fasting.

I said to him, ‘Commander of the Believers, was there some matter that troubled you this night?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I saw how I was occupied while governing the affairs of the community, all its black sheep and its white sheep, and I remembered the stranger, beggared and straying, and the poor and the needy, and the prisoners in captivity, and all like them in the far places of the earth, and I realised that God most high would ask me about all of them, and I (Umar) would testify about them, and I feared that I should find no excuse when I was with God, and no defence with me.’

And even when ‘Umar was with me in bed, where a man usually find some pleasure with his wife, if he remembered some affair of God’s (people), he would be upset as a bird that had fallen into the water. Then his weeping would rise until I would throw off the blankets in kindness to him. ‘By God’ he would say, ‘How I wish that there was between me and this office the distance of the East from the West!’ [11]

Letter of Srivijayan King

In the year 100 Hijra (718 CE) King of Srivijaya named Sri Indravarman send a letter to the Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz of the Umayyad Caliphate and requested the Caliph to sent him a preacher who could explain Islamic faith to him. The letter reads:

” From the King of the kings who is the descendant of a thousand kings, whose (his) wife was also grand-daughters of a thousand kings, whose in (his) animal cages are (filled with) a thousand of elephants, whose (his) territory there are two rivers that irrigate the aloes tree, spices fragrance, nutmeg and lime lines that its fragrant aroma reach out to a distance of 12 miles. To the Arab King who does not associate other gods with Allah. I have sent you a gift, which is actually a gift that is not so much, but just a token of friendship. I want you to send me someone who can teach Islam to me and explain to me about its laws.” — Letter of Srivijayan King, Sri Indravarman for Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz.

Views

He is considered one of the finest rulers in Muslim history, second only to the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. In fact, in some circles, he is affectionately referred to as the Fifth and the last Rightly Guided Caliph.

Shah Waliullah, a 18th century Sunni Islamic scholar stated [12]:

A Mujadid appears at the end of every century: The Mujadid of the 1st century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah, Umar bin Abdul Aziz. The Mujadid of the 2nd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Muhammad Idrees Shaafi the Mujadid of the 3rd century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Abu Hasan Ashari the Mujadid of the 4th century was Abu Abdullah Hakim Nishapuri.

When Caliph Umar bin AbdulAziz died the Roman emperor[who?] is reported to have said [13]:

I should not be the least surprised if a monk renounces the world and busies himself in worship behind closed doors, but I am simply amazed at this man who has a vast empire at his feet but he rejected it and lived the life of a monk.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Bibliography

Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. The Empire in Transition, v. 24. transl. David Stephan Powers, SUNY, Albany, 1989.

Preceded by Suleiman Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate 717–720 Succeeded by Yazid II
Preceded by Hishām ibn Ismā`īl al-Makhzūmī Governor of Madina 706–712 Succeeded by Khalid bin Abd Allah
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Caliphs of Damascus (661–750)
Emirs of Córdoba (756–929)
Caliphs of Córdoba (929–1031)
[H] indicates Hammudid usurpers

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