History and Biography of Omar bin Abdul Aziz

History and Biography of Omar bin Abdul Aziz

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Biography of Omar bin Abdul Aziz

THERE are a few rulers in the world who have left indelible impressions in history. Caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz tops that list. He is considered one of the finest rulers in Muslim history, second only to the four rightly guided caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (RA). In fact, in some circles, he is affectionately referred to as the fifth and the last caliph of Islam.

The Roman emperor, when heard about his death, said: “A virtuous person has passed away… I am hardly surprised to see an ascetic who renounced the world and give himself to the prayers of Allah. But I am certainly surprised at a person who had all the pleasures of the world at his feet and yet he shut his eyes against them and lived a life of piety and renunciation.”
Umar bin Abdul Aziz ruled as a caliph for only 30 months but during this short period he changed the world. His tenure was the brightest period in the 92-year history of the Umayyad Caliphate.

He was the son of Abdul Aziz bin Marwan, the governor of Egypt while his mother, Umm-i-Aasim was the granddaughter of Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab.

Umar bin Abdul Aziz was born in 63 A.H. (682 A.D.) in Halwan, Egypt, but he received his education in Madinah from his mother’s uncle, the celebrated scholar Abdullah Ibn Umar. He stayed in Madinah till his father’s death in 704 A.D., when he was called by his uncle Caliph Abdul Malik and was married to his daughter Fatima. He was appointed governor of Madinah in 706 A.D. succeeding Caliph Waleed bin Abdul Malik.

Umar remained governor of Madinah throughout the reigns of Caliph Walid and Caliph Suleiman. But when Suleiman fell seriously ill, he wanted to appoint heir, as his sons were still minors. Reja ibn Haiwah, the adviser, proposed to him to appoint his cousin Umar bin Abdul Aziz as his successor. Suleiman accepted the suggestion.

After being nominated caliph, Umar addressed the people from the pulpit saying: “O people, I have been nominated your caliph despite my unwillingness and without your consent. So here I am, I relieve you of your pledge (baiyat) that you have taken for my allegiance. Elect whomsoever you find suitable as your caliph.” People shouted: “O Umar, we have full faith in you and we want you as our caliph.” Umar continued, “O people, obey me as long as I obey Allah; and if I disobey Allah, you are not duty-bound to obey me.”

Umar was extremely pious and averse to worldly luxuries. He preferred simplicity to extravagance. He deposited all assets and wealth meant for the ruling caliph into the Bait Al Maal. He even abandoned the royal palace and preferred to live in a modest house. He wore rough clothes instead of royal robes and often went unrecognized in public like his great grandfather Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab.

After his appointment as caliph he discarded all the pompous appendages of princely life-servants, slaves, maids, horses, palaces, golden robes and real estates and returned them to Bait Al Maal. He also asked his wife Fatima to return the jewelry she had received from her father Caliph Abdul Malik. The faithful wife complied with his bidding and deposited all of it in the Bait Al Maal. Later, he got his articles of luxury auctioned for 23,000 dinars and spent the amount for charitable purposes.”
He never built a house of his own. Allama Suyuti in his historical work “Taarikh Al Khulafaa” records that Umar spent only two dirhams a day when he was caliph. He received lesser salary than his subordinates. His private properties yielded an income of 50,000 dinars annually before his nomination, but when he returned all his properties to the Bait Al Maal, his private income was reduced to 200 dinars per annum. This was his wealth when he was commanding the vast Caliphate from the borders of France in the West to the borders of China in the East.

Once his wife found him weeping after prayers. She asked what had happened. He replied: “I have been made the ruler over the Muslims and I was thinking of the poor who are starving, and the sick who are destitute, and the naked who are in distress, and the oppressed that are stricken, and the stranger that is in prison, and the venerable elder, and him that hath a large family and small means, and the like of them in countries of the earth and the distant provinces, and I felt that my Lord would ask me about them on the Day of Resurrection, and I feared that no defense would avail me (at that time), and I wept.”
He was very considerate to his subjects.

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His generous reforms and leniency led the people to deposit their taxes willingly. Ibn Kathir writes that thanks to the reforms undertaken by Umar, the annual revenue from Persia alone increased from 28 million dirham to 124 million dirham.
He undertook extensive public works in Persia, Khorasan and North Africa, including the construction of canals, roads, rest houses for travelers and medical dispensaries.

The result was that during his short reign of two and half years, people had become so prosperous and contented that one could hardly find a person who would accept alms.

Umar is credited with having ordered the first collection of Hadith, in an official manner, fearing that some of it might be lost. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab Al-Zuhri, were among those who compiled Hadith at Umar’s behest.
Following the example of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), Umar sent out emissaries to China and Tibet, inviting their rulers to embrace Islam. It was during the time of Umar 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, Umar wrote back saying that “Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent as a prophet (to invite the people to Islam) and not as a tax collector.” He abolished home tax, marriage tax, stamp tax and many other taxes as well. When many of his agents wrote that his fiscal reforms in favor of new converts would deplete the Treasury, he replied, “Glad would I be, by Allah, to see everybody become Muslim so that you and I would have to till the soil with our own hands to earn a living.”

Once a Muslim murdered a non-Muslim of Hira. Caliph Umar, when informed of the event, ordered the governor to do justice in the case. The Muslim was surrendered to the relations of the murdered person who killed him.
The general princely class of that time could not digest these policies of justice, simplicity and equality. A slave of the caliph was bribed to administer the deadly poison to him. The caliph having felt the effect of the poison sent for the slave and asked him why he had poisoned him. The slave replied that he was given 1,000 dinars for the job. The caliph took the amount from him and deposited it in Bait Al Maal. Freeing the slave he asked him to leave the place immediately, lest anyone might kill him. This was his last deposit in the Bait Al-Maal for the welfare of Muslims.

Umar died in Rajab 101 AH at the age of 38 in a rented house at the place called Dair Sim’aan near Homs. He was buried in Dair Sim’aan on a piece of land he had purchased from a Christian. He reportedly left behind only 17 dinars with a will that out of this amount the rent of the house in which he died and the price of the land in which he was buried would be paid. And thus departed the great soul from the world.
May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace and award him the best place in Paradise

History of Omar Bin Abdul Azis

Islam, meaning surrender to the Will of God, is an eternal idea. Muslims assert that it is the pristine faith of mankind, subscribed to by the first created humans, Adam and Eve and confirmed by the Messengers of God, including among others, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Islam throws a challenge to the community of believers to create a society “enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and believing in God”. Islamic history is a perpetual struggle to meet this challenge in the matrix of human affairs. This struggle is continuous and relentless. Muslims through the centuries have struggled to rediscover the fountain from which the Prophet drank. The corruption that surfaces with time is challenged time and again and a corporal attempt is made at a renewal of faith. Hence, revivalist movements in Islam provide benchmarks from which subsequent historical events can be measured and understood.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz, also known in history as Omar II, was the first revivalist Emir in Islamic history. After Muawiya, the character of the Caliphate changed and dynastic rule was established. The corruption of the Omayyads reached its crescendo with Karbala. The Omayyads built lavish palaces, surrounded themselves with servants and maids, accumulated enormous estates, treated the public treasury as their privy purse and lived like princes and kings. There was no accountability for their wealth or for their actions. The populace had no say in the affairs of the state. The Caliph was not nominated nor could he be questioned. The people were there merely to obey the strongman, pay taxes and serve in the armed forces.

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Omar bin Abdul Aziz became the Emir by a coincidence of history. When the Omayyad Emir Sulaiman (714-717) lay on his deathbed, he was advised that he could earn the pleasure of God by following the example of the early Caliphs and nominating someone besides one of his own sons as the next Emir. He therefore dictated in his will that Omar bin Abdul Aziz, a distant cousin, was to succeed him and Omar bin Abdul Aziz was to be followed by Yazid bin Abdul Malik. Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a man of polish and experience, having served as the governor of Egypt and Madina for more than twenty-two years. He had been educated and trained by a well-known scholar of the age, Saleh bin Kaisan. Before his accession to the Caliphate, Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a dashing young man, fond of fashion and fragrance. But when he accepted the responsibilities of Caliphate, he proved to be the most pious, able, far-sighted and responsible of all the Omayyad Emirs.

Indeed, Omar bin Abdul Aziz set out to reform the entire political, social and cultural edifice of the community and to bring back the transcendental values that had governed the Islamic state in its infancy. He started by setting a good example in his own person. When news reached him of his nomination to the Caliphate, he addressed the people, “O people! The responsibilities of the Caliphate have been thrust upon me without my desire or your consent. If you choose to select someone else as the Caliph, I will immediately step aside and will support your decision”. Such talk was a breath of fresh air to the public. They unanimously elected him.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz discarded his lavish life style and adopted an extremely ascetic life after the example of Abu Dhar Ghifari, a well-known companion of the Prophet. Abu Dhar is known in history as one of the earliest mystics and Sufis in Islam who retired from public life in Madina during the period of Uthman (r) and lived in a hermitage some distance away from the capital. Omar bin Abdul Aziz discarded all the pompous appendages of a princely life–servants, slaves, maids, horses, palaces, golden robes and landed estates–and returned them to the public treasury. His family and relatives were given the same orders. The garden of Fidak provides a good example. This was a grove of palms owned by the Prophet. The Prophet’s daughter Fatima (r) had asked for this garden as an inheritance but the Prophet had declined saying that what a Prophet owned belonged to the whole community. Fatima(r) had pressed her claim before Abu Bakr (r) but Abu Bakr (r) had denied the request saying that he could not agree to something that the Prophet had not agreed to. After the Caliphate of Ali (r), Fidak had been made a personal estate of the Omayyads. Omar restored Fidak to the public treasury, as a trust for the whole community.

The Omayyads had no accountability to the treasury. To support their lavish life styles, they collected enormous taxes from Persia and Egypt. They compelled traders to sell them their merchandise at discount prices. The Emir’s appointees received gifts of gold and silver in return for favors. Omar reversed the process. Omar abolished such practices, punished corrupt officials and established strict accountability.

The Omayyads had no accountability to the treasury. To support their lavish life styles, they collected enormous taxes from Persia and Egypt. They compelled traders to sell them their merchandise at discount prices. The Emir’s appointees received gifts of gold and silver in return for favors. Omar reversed the process. Omar abolished such practices, punished corrupt officials and established strict accountability.

Some Omayyad officials, drunk with power, mistreated the conquered peoples. Oftentimes, their property was confiscated without due process of law. Contrary to the injunctions of the Shariah, even though people in the new territories accepted Islam, they continued to be subject to Jizya. Those who refused to pay the taxes were subject to harsh punishment. Omar abolished these practices and ensured fairness in the collection of taxes. Gone was the oppression of Hajjaj in Iraq and Qurrah bin Shareek in Egypt. The populace responded with enthusiastic support of the new Caliph. Production increased. Ibn Kathir records that thanks to the reforms undertaken by Omar, the annual revenue from Persia alone increased from 28 million dirhams to 124 million dirhams.

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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. As we shall elaborate in later chapters, this development had far reaching consequences during the Abbasid revolution (750) and the evolution of the schools of Fiqh (760-860).

Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a scholar of the first rank 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.

Omar bin Abdel Aziz was the first Caliph to commission a translation of the Qur’an from Arabic into another language. Upon the request of the Raja (king) of Sindh (in modern day Pakistan), Omar bin Abdel Aziz had the Qur’an translated into the ancient Sindhi language and had it sent to the Raja (718 CE). To put this event into historical context, this was within ten years of the conquest of Sindh and Multan by Muhammed bin Qasim and the conquest of Spain by Tariq and Musa.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz was also the first Emir to attempt a serious reconciliation of political and religious differences among Muslims. Since the time of Muawiya, it had become customary for khatibs to insult the name of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) in Friday sermons. Omar bin Abdul Aziz abolished this obnoxious practice and decreed instead that the following passage from the Qur’an be read instead: “God commands you to practice justice, enjoins you to help and assist your kin and He forbids obscenity, evil or oppression, so that you may remember Him” (Qur’an, 16:90). It is this passage that is still recited in Friday sermons the world over. He treated Bani Hashim and the Shi’as with fairness and dignity. He even extended his hand to the Kharijites. According to Ibn Kathir, he wrote to the Kharijite leader Bostam, inviting him to an open discussion about the Caliphate of Uthman (r) and Ali (r). He went so far as to stipulate that should Bostam convince him, Omar would willingly repent and change his ways. Bostam sent two of his emissaries to the Caliph. During the discussions, one of the emissaries accepted that Omar was right and gave up Kharijite extremism. The other went back unconvinced. Even so, the Caliph did not persecute the man.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz was the first Muslim ruler who moved his horizons from external conquests to internal revival. He recalled his armies from the borders of France, India and the outskirts of Constantinople. There were few internal uprisings and disturbances during his Caliphate. Islam had momentarily turned its horizons on its own soul, to reflect upon its historical condition and replenish its moral reservoir. Faith flourished, as it had during the period of Omar ibn al Khattab (r). It is for these reasons that historians refer to Omar bin Abdul Aziz as Omar II and classify him as the fifth of the rightly guided Caliphs, after Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r).

But greed does not surrender its turf to faith without a battle. The reforms of Omar II were too much for the disgruntled Omayyads and the rich merchants. Omar II was poisoned and he died in the year 719, after a rule that lasted only two and a half years. He was thirty-nine years old at the time of his death. And with him died the last chance for Omayyad rule.

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