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
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 age-long properties.
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 Caliph.
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
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 Aziz.
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 morals.
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 accord.
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")