Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (586 – 684)
The Second Muslim Caliph, Umar played a key role in the expansion of Islam following the death of the prophet Muhammad. Umar was considered a pious Muslim who played a role in compiling the first Quran. As Caliph, he oversaw an expansion of Arab conquests which saw a sustained expansion of Arab rule and the new Muslim religion.
Umar was born c. 585 AD in Mecca, Arabia (now Saudi Arabia). He was an influential member of the Adia Clan of the Meccan tribe of Quraysh – at that time following a polytheistic religion. He was tall, physically strong, a renowned wrestler and fighter. He also was well-educated, the time period, and a skilful orator for A charismatic figure he became an influential person in dealing with local politics and business. In his early days, he worked as a merchant.
Umar was originally one of the bitterest opponents of Muhammad and persecuted the new followers of Islam with cruelty; at the time, he was committed to defending the old traditions of the Quraysh. However, in 616 AD at the age of 39, on his way to murder Muhammad, he underwent a radical transformation after being influenced by his friend and sister who had already converted. After being humbled by their devotion, he became a devoted follower and confidant of the prophet Muhammad.
Umar became influential in helping the new religion of Islam to be accepted by local residents. Umar had the courage to practise the new religious duties openly, without fear of retribution. However, due to ongoing friction with the authorities, in 622, Muhammad took Umar and his followers to Medina where there was greater safety.
Umar played a key role in collecting all the verses of the Qu’ran and having them published in one book. It was Umar who advised Abu Bakr to request Zayd ibn Thabit to compile the Quran into a single book.
After the death of the prophet Muhammad on 8 June 632, there was uncertainty over who would serve as his successor. Umar promptly supported the candidacy of Abu Bakr – a close associate and father-in-law of Muhammad. This helped prevent conflict over who would become leader. Though the decision is viewed negatively in the Shia tradition, who believe Ali ibn Abi Talib (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad) to be the rightful successor to Muhammad.
After only two years, Abu Bakr died, but Abu Bakr had nominated Umar to be the second Caliph. Umar was Caliph for ten years from 634 to 644. During this time, Umar expanded the area of Arab conquest. Under Umar, the Arab armies took Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and entered Iraq and Iran. In all countries, the Arab armies were successful in creating one of the largest Empires of the time.
A key battle was the Battle of Qadisiya (637) which led to Arab armies defeating the Sassanid Empire of Persia and opening Iraq to the Muslim Arab armies.
As well as being military successful, Umar was successful in cementing the long-term success of the Empire. Arab armies were given strict instruction to allow the native population to continue with their peaceful occupations – so long as they paid tribute to the Empire. They were not forced to convert to the new religion, and the armies lived at a distance from the towns they conquered. Umar promoted out of loyalty, paid officers high salaries and sought to avoid corruption by allowing official complaints to be made against transgressors. Umar himself was known for his simple and austere lifestyle. This was in contrast to his pre-Islam days and also in contrast to the pomp and display many rulers displayed.
He devotedly followed the Muslim religion and, as ruler, was concerned with the well-being of the poor and disadvantaged. At the time, it was the custom to cut off the hands of thieves. However, Umar did not allow this to be carried out because he felt responsible for not being able to provide full employment for his citizens. In the latter part of his rule, he developed a form of the welfare state, which offered aid to both Muslim and non-Muslim poor, elderly and the disabled.
He used his skill as an orator to gain the loyalty of his subjects. Although he was often feared rather than loved. He cultivated the respect and authority of the population.
In 644, during a Hajj to Mecca, Umar was assassinated by stabbing by a Persian slave name Abu Lulu. Umar died on 3 November 644.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab ”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net, 23/05/2014. Updated 22 June 2017.
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