Hazrat Umar Bin Abdul Aziz, the celebrated Umayyad Caliph
whose empire stretched from the shores of the Atlantic to the highlands of
Pamir, was sitting in his private chamber examining a pile of State documents.
The dim light of the room was adding to the serenity and sombreness of the place
and the Caliph could scarcely feel the arrival of his wife, Fatima, till she
addressed him, "Sire! Will you spare a few moments for me? I want to discuss a
private matter with you." "Of course", replied the pious Caliph, raising his
head from the papers, "But, please put off this State lamp and light your own,
as I do not want to burn the State oil for private talk."
The obedient wife, who was the daughter of Abdul Malik,
the mighty Umayyad Caliph and the sister of two successive Umayyad Caliphs,
Waleed and Sulaiman, complied accordingly.
The short rule of Hazrat Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was like an
oasis in a vast desert -- a benevolent rain which had fallen on an arid soil. It
was the brightest period in the 91-year Caliphate of the Umayyads, which, though
short lived, had transformed the outlook of the State and had released such
powerful democratic forces that after his death the attempts for the restoration
of autocracy under Hishaam failed miserably and ultimately culminated in the
fall of the Umayyads at the hands of the Abbasids.
Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz, surnamed
"Al-Khalifat-us-Saleh" (The pious Caliph) was the son of Abdul Aziz, the
Governor of Egypt, and his mother, Umm-i-Aasim was the grand daughter of the
Caliph Umar. He was born in 63 A.H. (682 A.D.) in Halwan, a village of Egypt,
but he received his education in Medina from his mother's uncle, the celebrated
Abdullah Ibni Umar. Medina, which in those days was the highest seat of learning
in the world of Islam, was greatly instrumental in moulding his life to a
pattern quite distinct from those of other Umayyad Caliphs. He remained there
till his father's death in 704 A.D., when he was summoned by his uncle Caliph
Abdul Malik and was married to his daughter Fatima. He was appointed Governor of
Medina in 706 A.D. by Caliph Waleed. Unlike other autocratic governors,
immediately on arrival in Medina, he formed an advisory council of ten eminent
jurists and notables of the holy city and carried on the administration with
their consultation. He empowered them to keep a watchful eye over his
subordinates. This step had a salutary effect on the residents of Medina, who
hailed his beneficent Administration. He successfully strove to erase the signs
of ravages committed in the holy cities of Islam under Yazid and Abdul Malik.
During his two-year stay as the Governor of Medina, he repaired and enlarged the
Mosque of the Prophet (sws) as well as beautified the holy cities with public
structures; constructed hundreds of new aqueducts and improved the suburban
roads leading to Medina. "Moderate, yet firm", says Ameer Ali, "anxious to
promote the welfare of the people whom he governed, Umar's rule proved
beneficent to all classes." His patriotic rule was for the good of his subjects.
His just administration attracted from Iraq a large number
of refugees who were groaning under the oppression of Hajjaj Bin Yusuf. But,
according to Tabari, this migration highly enraged the tyrant who prevailed upon
Waleed to transfer him from Medina which he left amidst `universal mourning'.
The Umayyad Caliph Sulaiman Bin Abdul Malik who had great
respect for Umar Bin Abdul Aziz nominated him as his successor. On his death,
the mantle of Caliphate fell upon Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who reluctantly accepted
it. 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 thefamily of Sulaiman. He
ordered that the horses of the royal stables be auctioned and the proceeds be
deposited in the Treasury. 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." 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
pious 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.
His short rule was noted for great democratic and healthy
activities. He waged a defensive war against the Turks who had ravaged
Azerbaijan and massacred thousands of innocent Muslims. The forces of the Caliph
under the command of Ibni Hatim Ibni Ali Naan Al Balili repulsed the invaders
with heavy losses. The Caliph permitted his forces to wage war against the
notorious Kharijis. but under conditions that women, children and prisoners
would be spared, the defeated enemy would not be pursued, and all the spoils of
war would be returned to their dependents. He replaced corrupt and tyrannical
Umayyad administrators with capable and just persons.
His first act after assuming office was the restoration to
their rightful owners the properties confiscated by the Umayyads. He was hardly
free from the burial ceremonies of Caliph Sulaiman and wanted to take a short
respite when his son asked him if he would like to take rest before dealing with
cases pertaining to confiscated properties. He replied, "Yes, I would deal with
these after taking rest." "Are you sure, that you would live up to that time?"
asked the son. The father kissed his dear son and thanked God that he had given
him such a virtuous son. He immediately sat up to deal with this urgent matter
and first of all returned all his movable and immovable properties to the public
treasury. He deposited even a ring presented to him by Waleed. His faithful
slave, Mazahim was deeply moved at this uncommon sight and asked, "Sir, what
have you left for your children?"
"God", was the reply.
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. He bade 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. After her
husband's death, her brother Yazid who succeeded him as Caliph offered to return
it to her. "I returned these valuables during my husband's lifetime; why should
I take them back after his death", she told him.
The restoration of Fadak provoked mixed reaction from the
people. The fanatical Kharijis who had become hostile to the Caliphate soon
softened towards Umar Bin Abdul Aziz, proclaiming that it was not possible for
them to oppose a Caliph who was not a man but an angel.
The house of Umayyads accustomed to luxuries at the
expense of the common man, revolted against this just but revolutionary step
taken by the Caliph and bitterly protested against the disposal of their
One day, the Caliph invited some prominent members of the
House of Umayyads to dinner, but advised his cook to delay the preparation of
food. As the guests were groaning with hunger, the Caliph shouted to his cook to
hurry up. At the same time he asked his men to bring some parched gram which he
himself as well as his guests ate to their fill. A few minutes later the cook
brought the food which the guests refused to take saying that they had satisfied
their appetite. Thereupon the pious Caliph spoke out, "Brothers! when you can
satisfy your appetite with so simple a diet, then why do you play with fire and
usurp the properties and rights of other." These words deeply moved the notables
of the House of Umayyads who burst into tears.
In general, he laid great stress on compensating the
victims of illegal extortion in any form. His administration of impartial
justice went against the interests of the Umayyads who were accustomed to all
sorts of licences and could hardly tolerate any check on their unbounded
freedom. They plotted against the life of this virtuous member of their clan. A
slave of the Caliph was bribed to administer the deadly poison. 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 one thousand dinars for the
purpose. The Caliph deposited the amount in the public Treasury and freeing the
slave asked him to leave the place immediately, lest anyone might kill him. Thus
died in 719 A.D. at the young age of 36 at the place called Dair Siman (The
convent of Siman) near Hams, one of the noblest souls that ever lived in this
world. His martyrdom plunged the Islamic world into gloom. It was a day of
national mourning: the populace of the small town came out to pay their last
homage to the departed leader. He was buried in Dair Siman on a piece of land he
had purchased from a Christian.
Muhammad Bin Mobad who happened to be in the Durbar of the
Roman Emperor at that time reports that he found the Emperor in drooping
spirits. On enquiry he replied, "A virtuous person has passed away. This is Umar
Bin Abdul Aziz. After Christ if anyone could put a dead person to life it was
he; 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 passed a life of piety and renunciation."
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.
"Unaffected piety", says Ameer Ali, "a keen sense of
justice, unswerving righteousness, moderation, and an almost primitive
simplicity of life, formed the brief features in his character. The
responsibility of the office with which he was entrusted filled him with anxiety
and caused many a heart searching. Once he was found by his wife weeping after
his prayers; she asked if anything had happened to cause him grief; he replied:
"O! Fatima ! I have been made the ruler over the Muslims and I was thinking of
the poor that are starving, and the sick that are destitute, and the naked that
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 an account of them at my hands on the Day of
Resurrection, and I feared that no defence would avail me, and I wept."
His honesty and integrity have few parallels in the
history of mankind. According to "Tabaqat Ibni Sa`ad", he never performed his
private work in the light of a lamp which burned the State oil. On every Friday,
Farat Bin Muslama brought state papers for his perusal and orders. One Friday,
the Caliph brought a small pice of State paper in his private use. Muslama who
was aware of the exceptional honesty of the Caliph thought that he had done it
out of sheer forgetfulness. The next Friday when he brought back home the State
papers, he found in them exactly the same size of paper which was used by the
Out of the funds of Bait-ul-Maal, a guest house was
founded for the poor. Once his servant burned the firewood of the guest house to
heat water for his ablution. He forthwith got the same quantity of firewood
deposited there. On another occasion, he refused to use the water heated from
the State charcoal. A number of palatial buildings had been constructed in
Khanasra out of the funds of the Bait-ul-Mawhich were occasionally used by other
Caliphs when they visited that place, but Umar Bin Abdul Aziz never used them
and always preferred to camp in the open.
According to the author of "Tabaqat Ibni Sa`d, "he got his
articles of luxury and decoration auctioned for 23 thousand dinars and spent the
amount for charitable purposes."
His diet used to be very coarse. He never built a house of
his own and followed in the footsteps of the Prophet (sws). Allama Suyuti in his
well known historical work "Taarikh ul Kulafaa" (History of the Caliphs) states
that he spent only two dirhams a day when he was the Caliph. Before his election
as Caliph, his private properties yielded an income of 50 thousand dinars
annually but immediately after the election, he returned all his properties to
the public coffers and his private income was reduced to 200 dinars per annum.
In spite of the fact that Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was a loving
father, he never provided his children with luxuries and comforts. His daughter
Amina was his favourite child. Once he sent for her, but she could not come as
she was not properly dressed. Her aunt came to know of it and purchased
necessary garments for his children. He never accepted any presents from anyone.
Once a person presented a basket full of apples. The Caliph appreciated the
apples but refused to accept them. The Caliph replied immediately, "No doubt,
those were presents for the Prophet, but for me this will be bribery."
Ibni ul Jawi, his biographer, writes that "Umar wore
clothes with so many patches and mingled with his subjects on such free terms
that when a stranger came to petition him he would find it difficult to
recognize the Caliph. When many of his agents wrote that his fiscal reforms in
favour of new converts would deplete the Treasury, he replied, "Glad would I be,
by Allah, to see every body become Muslim so that thou and I would have to till
the soil with our own hands to earn a living." According to Fakhri, "Umar
discontinued the practice established in the name of Muaawiyah of cursing Ali
from the pulpit in Friday prayers."
He was very kind-hearted. Once he was moved to tears on
hearing a tale of woe related by a villager and helped him from his private
purse. He was kind to animals even and several stories concerning this are found
in the early historical records.
He had complete faith in God and never cared for his life.
Unguarded, he roamed about in streets listening to the complaints of the common
man and assisting him as much as he could.
He introduced a number of reforms; administrative, fiscal
and educational. A reformer appears on the world when the administrative,
political and ethical machinery is rusted and requires overhauling. This
unsurpassable reformer of the Umayyad regime was born in an environment which
was very gloomy and necessitated a change. His promising son, Abdul Malik a
youth of 17 advised his father to be more ruthless in introducing his beneficial
reforms, but the wise father replied, "My beloved son, what thou tellest me to
do can be achieved only by sword, but there is no good in a reform which
requires the use of the sword, But there is no good in a reform which requires
the use of sword."
Under his instructions, As Samh, his Viceroy in Spain,
took a census of the diverse nationalities, races and creeds, inhabiting that
country. A survey of the entire peninsula including those of her cities, rivers,
seas and mountains was made. The nature of her soil, varieties of products and
agricultural as well as mineral sources were also carefully surveyed and noted
in records. A number of bridges in southern Spain were constructed and repaired.
A spacious Friday Mosque was built at Saragossa in northern Spain.
The Buit-ul-Maal (Public Treasury) which was one
innovation of Islam and had proved a blessing for poor Muslims during the regime
of pious Caliphs, was freely used for private purposes by the Umayyad Caliphs,
Umar Bin Abdul Aziz stopped this unholy practice and never drew a pie from the
Bait-ul-Maal. 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 Bait-ul-Maal.
One of the most important measures was his reform of
taxation. He made adequate arrangement for easy realization of taxes and
administered it on a sound footing. 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 Bin Yusuf for the realization of taxes in Iraq, it was less
than half of the amount realized during the benevolent regime of Umar Bin Abdul
He paid special attention to the prison reforms. He
instructed Abu Bakr Bin Hazm to make weekly inspection of jails. The jail
wardens were warned not to maltreat the prisoners. Every prisoner was given a
monthly stipend and proper seasonal clothing. He advised the jail authorities to
inculcate love for virtue and hatred for vice among the prisoners. Education of
the prisoners led to their reformation.
The public welfare institutions and works received much
stimulus. All over his vast empire thousands of public wells and inns were
constructed. Charitable dispensaries were also opened. Even travelling expenses
were arranged by the government for the needy travellers. A large number of inns
were constructed on the road leading from Khorasan to Samarkand.
Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was a capable administrator well
versed in his duties towards this world and the Hereafter. He was extremely
hardworking and when people urged him to take rest, he never heeded them. He had
set before himself Caliph Umar's administration as a model to be copied.
According to the well-known Imam Sufian Thauri, there are five pious Caliphs
namely Abu Bakr, Umar Farooq, Uthman, Ali and Umar Bin Abdul Aziz. The
outstanding feature of his Caliphate was that he revived Islam's democratic
spirit which had been suppressed after the accession of Yazid. In a letter
addressed to the Prefect of Kufa, he exhorted his governors to abolish all
unjust ordinances. He wrote, "Thou must know, that the maintenance of religion
is due to the practice of justice and benevolence; do not think lightly of any
sin; do not try to depopulate what is populous; do not try to exact from the
subjects anything beyond their capacity; take from them what they can give; do
everything to improve population and prosperity; govern mildly and without
harshness; do not accept presents on festive occasions; do not take the price of
the sacred Book (distributed among the people); impose no tax on travellers, or
on the marriages, or on the milk of camels; and do not insist on the poll tax
from anyone who was become a covert to Islam".
The pious Caliph disbanded 600 bodyguards, meant for
guarding the person of the Caliph. He received lesser salary than this
subordinates. He attracted around him a galaxy of talented men who counselled
him on State matters.
That Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was very kind and just towards
non-Muslims has been acknowledged by the "Encyclopaedia of Islam". As a devout
Muslim, he was not only graciously tolerant to the members of other creeds but
also solicitous towards them. Christians, Jews and Fire-worshippers 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 endeavoured to protect
his Muslim subjects from being abused, he was also anxious that his Christian
subjects should not be crushed by oppressive taxation. In Aila and in Cyprus the
incretribute settled by treaty was reduced by him to the original amount.
Once a Muslim murdered a non-Muslim of Hira. The Caliph,
when apprised 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. 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 stand
side by side in the court. This annoyed Hishaam who abused the Christian.
Thereupon the Caliph rebuked him and threatened him with dire consequences.
Umar bin Abdul Aziz laid great emphasis on the ethical
aspects of education in order to turn the hearts of people towards charity,
forbearance and benevolence. He relentlessly discouraged and punished laxity of
All these beneficial measures added to the stability of
the State and the prosperity of the people who lived in peace and tranquility.
During his short reign of two years, people had grown so prosperous and
contented that one could hardly find a person who would accept alms. The only
discontented people were the members of the House of Umayyads who had been
accustomed to a life of vice and luxury and could hardly change their heart.
Umar Bin Abdul Aziz did not lay much stress on military
glory. He paid greater attention to internal administration, economic
development and consolidation of his State. The siege of Constantinople was
raised. In Spain, the Muslim armies crossed the Pyrennes and penetrated as far
as Toulouse in central France.
His short reign was like a merciful rain which brought
universal blessings. One of its special features was that almost all Berbers in
Northern Africa as well as the nobility of Sind embraced Islam of their own
Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was a unique ruler from every point of
view. The high standard of administration set by him could only be rivalled by
the first four Caliphs of Islam. "The reign of Umar II," writes Ameer Ali "forms
the most attractive period of the Umayyads domination." The historians dwell
with satisfaction on the work and aspirations of a ruler who made the welfare of
his people the sole object of his ambition. His short but glorious reign has no
match thence after.
(Extracted from "The Hundred Great Muslims")