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`Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz: The First Mujaddid

Umar ibn abdul-aziz
Today, if the Muslim world needs to study a figure’s biography to revive their nation, then `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz is the right one.

* By Umar Hasan

Today, if the Muslim world needs to take a Muslim figure as a model for its people, then `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz is the best choice. That is because the era preceding `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz’s caliphate was similar to our current reality where injustice dominates, oppression prevails, many live in abject poverty, political despotism are widespread, etc. However, when `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz took over the regime, he has been able to establish justice, fight poverty and return the Muslim nation to its leading state. He was thus considered the “first Mujaddid” (renewer) in Islam. The below situations in his life show us that he rightfully deserves this title, in accordance with the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he said:” Verily Allah sends to this Ummah at the head of every one hundred years someone who will renew its religion for it.” He is also called “the fifth Rightly Guided Caliph”. 

`Umar’s early life:

The great caliph `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz was probably born in A.H. 61 in Medina. His father `Abdul-`Aziz ibn Marawan ibn Al-Hakam was one of the Umayyad elites. His mother was Umm `Aasim bint `Asim ibn `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the Commander of the Believers and the second Caliph (may Allah be pleased with him). Our figure has been indeed of noble ancestry and pious family. 

`Umar’s Knowledge:

Since an early age, `Umar showed a burning desire to seek knowledge. He managed to memorize the Glorious Qur’an by heart at a tender age. He would frequent scholars and jurists like Salih ibn Kaysan, who became the selected teacher of `Umar. Among the scholars that `Umar learnt at their hands are Sa`id ibn Al Musayyib, Salim ibn `Abdullah, ‘Ubaidullah ibn `Abdullah, and others.

Imam Mujahid said: “We came to teach him (`Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz) but we found ourselves learn from him”. Maymoun ibn Mahran also said: “We went to `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz thinking that he needs us but we could not be but his students.” He also said, “`Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz was the mentor of scholars.” The scholars of the Shafi`i, Hanbali and Maliki schools of jurisprudence would cite his sayings much in their works. Ahmad ibn Hanbal used to say: “I do not know any of the Tabi`un (second generation of Muslims) whose saying is a convincing proof, save `Umar Ibn ‘Abd Al `Aziz.”

`Umar’s rule:

In A.H. 87, Al Walid Ibn ‘Abd El Malek entrusted ruling of Medina to `Umar Ibn ‘Abd Al `Aziz. Then, he included Ta’if in A.H. 91 to be the governor of Higaz in whole. His people were very pleased with him. The major accomplishment in this period may be is that he established the Shura Council which included ten righteous scholars and used to supervise the employees and achieved excellent results. 

His Caliphate:

 One of the remarkable events in his empire is that he reluctantly accepted his new post: Caliphate. He was nominated for his new position by the Umayyad Caliph, Sulaiman Ibn Abdul Malik, who had great respect for `Umar Ibn ‘Abd Al `Aziz. Giving up all pomp and pageantry, the pious Caliph returned the royal charger, refused the police guard and deposited the entire equipment meant for the person of the Caliph in the Bait-ul-Maal. Like a commoner he preferred to stay in a small tent and left the royal palace for the family of Sulaiman. He ordered that the horses of the royal stables be auctioned and the proceeds be deposited in the Treasury.

Now `Umar became a ruler of Muslims which is really a formidable challenge. One of his family members asked him why he looked downhearted. The Caliph replied instantly, “Is it not a thing to worry about? I have been entrusted with the welfare of such a vast empire and I would be failing in my duty if I did not rush to the help of a needy person.” His first speech to his nation is the best example of reluctantly accepting the caliphate. Thereafter, he ascended the pulpit and delivered a masterly oration saying, “Brothers! I have been burdened with the responsibilities of the Caliphate against my will. You are at liberty to elect anyone whom you like.” But the audience cried out with one voice that he was the fittest person for the high office. Thereupon the Caliph advised his people to be pious and virtuous. He allowed them to break their oath of allegiance to him, if he wavered from the path of God.  

From that moment on, `Umar started to organize his new state. In fact, he followed a unique policy which should be a lesson learnt by all post holders. It is enough to cite the following remarkable points:

* He returned all his movable and non-movable properties to the public treasury. He made sure that there is no illegal property in his era and started with himself and his family. He, for instance, deposited a ring given to him by Al Waleed. His son, ‘Abd Al `Aziz, said, “My father’s sword had been adorned with gold. But he deposited it and adorned with silver instead.” Then, he asked his wife Fatima to return the jewelry she had received from her father Caliph Abdul Malik. The faithful wife cheerfully complied with his bidding and deposited all of it in the Bait-ul-Maal. Afterthat, he restored properties took over by Umayyads. He restored the possession of the garden of Fadak to the descendants of the Prophet (sws) which had been appropriated by Marwan during the Caliphate of Usman. Lastly, he asked the public who were suffered from Umayyads to prove their right and restore their rights. In doing so, all people restore their rights and there were any wrong during his caliphate.

* He fired all the unfair ministers and hired the virtuous ones. It is a firm but right policy adopted by `Umar. Among those who were deposited by him Khaled Ibn Al Rayyan, Shareek , etc. and made others his companions, like Muzahim, he on the basis of Taqwa. He stated three conditions for his companionship: not to backbite Muslims, not to joke or talk about luxuries of the Worldly Life. Thus, righteousness was his standard in all his matters.

  * Public Treasury, which was one innovation of Islam and had proved a blessing for the poor during the regime of pious Caliphs, was freely used for private purposes by the Umayyad Caliphs, `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz stopped this unholy practice and never drew a pie from the the public treasury. He separated the accounts for Khums, Sadqa and Fai and had separate sections for each. He immediately stopped the practice of richly regarding the authors of panegyrics of the royal family from the public treasury.  

* He wrote a memorable note on kharaaj to Abdul Hamid Ibni Abdur Rahman which has been copied by Qazi Abu Yusuf: “Examine the land and levy the kharaaj accordingly. Do not burden a barren land with a fertile one and vice versa. Do not charge the revenue of barren land.” His generous reforms and leniency led the people depositing their taxes willingly. It is a strange paradox that in spite of all oppressive measures adopted by the notorious Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf for the realization of taxes in Iraq, it was less than half of the amount realized during the era of `Umar Ibn ‘Abd Al `Aziz.  

* His methodology of freedom is distinctive. He revived the sense of freedom by following what is in conformity with the Islamic teachings and giving up what is against them. His policy towards non-Muslims is an example. He was not only graciously tolerant to the people of other creeds but also solicitous towards them. Christians, Jews, etc. were allowed to retain their churches, synagogues and temples. In Damascus, Al-Waleed had taken down the `basilika’ of John the Baptist, and incorporated the site in the mosque of Ummayads. When `Umar became Caliph, the Christians complained to him that the church had been taken from them, whereupon he ordered the Governor to return to the Christians what belonged to them. While he did not spare any effort to protect his Muslim subjects from being abused, he was also anxious that his Christian subjects should not be crushed by oppressive taxation. In Cyprus the incretribute settled by treaty was reduced by him to the original amount.

Likewise, political freedom and freedom of speech were guaranteed by him. All people of various classes can express their opinions and their political view freely. They can complaint and ask for their rights. His principle: There is no obedience to the creation, in the disobedience of the Creator.  Once `Umar took over his new post, Al Qasim Ibn Muhamed used to say: “Wwhoever used to not to express his opinion before, he can freely express today.”  In addition, when he took over his new position right away, he asked people to elect a new caliph instead of him.

* Fairness and honesty has been a landmark in his era. Because of his fairness, no poor was during his era. He used to be hangary so that people can eat, thirsty in order that people may water, woken so that people can sleep. Books disclose that a Muslim murdered a non-Muslim of Hira. Appraising the case, the Caliph ordered the Governor to do justice in the case. The Muslim was surrendered to the relations of the murdered person who killed him. A Christian filed a suit against Hishaam Bin Abdul Malik who later on succeeded as Caliph. The just Caliph ordered both the plaintiff and the defendant to appear personally before the court. This annoyed Hishaam who abused the Christian. Thereupon the Caliph rebuked him and threatened him with dire consequences. In addition, it was revealed that during his caliphate both the wolf and sheep were grazing peacefully. But after his death, wolves preyed upon sheep and that is why herdsmen knew that a fair ruler had died. Thus, animals too enjoy safety in the light of fair regime. Mâlik, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “‘`Umar Ibn ‘Abd ‘Aziz was brought a piece of ambergris; he closed his nose lest he may smell some of its fragrance.” 

His virtues: 

`Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz has enjoyed all of good manners, according to the historians. He was a generous, patient , modest and ascetic. He used to fall in tears upon reading the Glorious Quran as if the Quran were revealed only to him. He used to forgive the aggressors and give the poor. It was narrated that when a man spoke ill of him, he was asked, “What prevents you from punishing him?” `Umar said, “Surly, the pious is restrained.” Sa’id ibn Abu ‘Urubah said, “Whenever death was mentioned before `Umar Ibn Abd Al `Aziz, all the parts of his body trembled.” Moreover, he never had become full of food since the first day of his caliphate till his death.

His death:

Upon his death, he did not leave much money or properties. Rather, he left two hundred dinars through he had fifty thousand dinars before caliphate. Even before his death, he bought a place to be buried in for only ten Dinars.

Layth Ibn Abu Roqayyah narrated that ‘`Umar Bin Abd Al `Aziz said, “Make me sit down” They did. Then he said, “I am the one whom You ordered but I was negligent. You have forbidden me (from certain things) but I was disobedient.” He repeated these words three times and said, “There is no god but Allah.” Then he looked sharply and said, “I see something green that is neither of mankind nor Jinn.” Immediately, he died. According to other narrations, the last words uttered by him was Allah’s Saying :” That home of the Hereafter (i.e. Paradise), We shall assign to those who rebel not against the truth with pride and oppression in the land nor do mischief by committing crimes. And the good end is for the Muttaqun (pious – see V.2:2). “.

When the news of his death was told to Al-Hassan, he said, “The best one among all people has died.”

May Allah have mercy upon him

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* Umar Hasan is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Languages and Translations, Dept. of Islamic Studies in English. Sheikh Umar is a translator, Islamic researcher and Imam in the ministry of Endowments, Egypt.

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