‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz
Reformist Endeavours of the First Century
Soon after the Khilafat-i-Rāshida (the right-guided caliphate) came to an end and the Ummayyad empire, which was more Arab than Islamic, consolidated itself, the need for reformation and renovation in Islam was felt keenly Customs, traditions and remembrances of the pagan past, which had been discredited and repressed under the impact of the Prophet’s teachings and the vigilant eye of the Khilafat-i-Rāshida, began to re-assert themselves among the new Arab converts to Islam. The then Government was not organised according to the dictates of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah; its guiding light were Arab diplomacy, expediency and interest of the State. Arab racialism, tribal pride, partisan spirit and nepotism, regarded as unpardonable sins during the days of the Khilafat-i-Rāshida, became the hall-mark of the new aristocracy. The unruly spirit of the Arabs, which had sought asylum the far off deserts, returned again to re-assert itself; extravagance, pretentiousness and boastfulness took the place of virtuous deeds and moral excellence.1 Bait-ul-Māl (the State Exchequer) become personal property of the Caliphs who wasted public money on professional poets, eulogists, jugglers and buffoons. The courtiers of the rulers began to be accorded a preferential treatment which gave them heart to break the law of the land.2 Music and singing grew almost to a craze.3
The extravagant rulers, surrounded by dissolute parasites who flocked to the capital, demoralised the society and produced an aristocracy resembling the pagan Arab wastrels of the age of Ignorance in morals and behaviour. It appeared as if the pre-Islamic Ignorance had returned with a vendetta to settle its accounts of the past forty years with Islam.
Religious Teachers of the Ummayyad Period
Although crass materialism had captured the soul of the ruling classes during the Ummayyad period, the masses had still not forsaken the moral values and the deep-seated deference for Islamic teachings. The regard for moral worth and tenets of Islam was due mainly to those scholars of impeccable worth and ability who were held in high esteem by the masses for their moral and spiritual excellence, selflessness, piety, sagacity and beneficence. Outside the governmental circles these persons wielded tremendous influence over the people which acted as a corrective force and saved the masses from falling a prey to the pull of worldly temptations. The person most respected and loved during the period was ‘Ali ibn Husain (Zainul ‘Abdin). In the simple, pure and saintly life led by him, ‘Ali ibn Husain had no peer. Once Hisham ibn ‘Abdul-Malik, the crown prince, came to the Ka‘aba for Tawāf (circumambulation) but owing to the huge gathering he could not reach the Hajr-i-Aswad. He, therefore, sat down to wait till he could get a chance to kiss it. In the meantime ‘Ali ibn Husain arrived and the people at once cleared the way for him to make the Tawāf and kiss Hajr-i-Aswad. Everyone present in the Ka‘aba received ‘Ali ibn Husain with the utmost deference. At last Hisham, pretending as if he did not know ‘Ali ibn Husain, asked who he was. The poet Farzdaq, who happened to be present on the occasion instantaneously composed an introductory ode for ‘Ali ibn Husain. It is reported that certain additions were made to this famous ode later on but it is still regarded as a masterpiece of Arabic poetry. It opened with the verse:
Pebbles and paths of Mecca affirm his virtue;
The House of God knows him well as the environs do.
Other highly reputed religious scholar4 of outstanding piety during the Ummayyad period were Hasan al-Muthanna, his son ‘Abullah al-Mahadh, Sālim ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abū Bakr, Sa‘eed ibn Musay‘ib and Urwah ibn Zubair. Complete detachment from the ruling circles of their day, immaculate selfnessness, unswerving truthfulness, readiness to serve and make any sacrifice for the cause of religion, erudition and moral worth had made each of these persons an ideal of Islamic piety. The demoralisation that had set in owing to the immoral conduct of the ruling elite was undoubtedly on the increase but the moral of the ruling wielded by these persons on the masses was not without a salutary effect, their pure and simple life was a standing reproach to the unprincipled this-worldliness of the rulers, which made people think of reforming their intemperate life.
Gradually the contaminating influxion of the political revolution deepened and spread out, and, at the same time, there was a marked decrease in the number of religious teachers who could exert a strong and ennobling influence over the people like the pious souls of the preceding period. Now it became impossible to revitalize the people and fill them with the faith and moral worth without a revolution in the State itself.
The Ummayyad power was, however, entrenched in such a firm military strength that it was not possible to dislodge it, nor there existed any internal or external force which could dare to challenge it. Not long before two efforts made by Husain ibn ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah ibn Zubair had proved abortive and one could hardly expect any more armed insurrection for bringing about a political revolution. Autocratic and hereditary form of government had produced a despondency which had left no hope for any change in the prevailing conditions and it appeared as if the fate of Muslims had been scaled for a fairly long time. It required a miracle alone for the Islamic precepts to find an expression again in the political law guiding the community’s behaviour. And the miracle did happen at the most appropriate time.
Accession of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz
The miracle was the accession of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz to the throne in 99 A.H. (717 A.D.). He was the grandson of Marwan and his mother, Umm ‘Āsim, was a grand-daughter of ‘Umar I, the second Caliph. The Ummayyad and the Farooqi families were thus jointly represented5 in Umar II, surnamed as the pious Caliph, who brought about the much-needed revolution.
‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz was born in 61 A.H. He was a cousin of the preceding Caliph, Sulaiman ibn ‘Abdul Malik and had been posted as Governor of Madina since the time of Walid ibn ‘Abdul Malik, the Caliph before Sulaiman. The life led by him as Governor was entirely different from that he adopted as a Caliph. He was known as a polished and decorous aristocrat of refined taste. Anybody could tell from the fragrance of perfumes he used that ‘Umar has passed that way. He was all the rage for the fashionable youths of his day. Except for his integrity of character and righteous disposition there was nothing to suggest that he was destined to perform a memorable task in the history of Islam.
But he proved to be a standing miracle of Islam. The very way he ascended to the Caliphate was miraculous; for, nobody could have predicted the dramatic turn that the events took in bringing him to the throne. He could not have hoped to be anything more than a viceroy under the hereditary custom of accession to the Caliphate, but God had willed otherwise. Sulaiman ibn ‘Abdul Malik fell seriously ill and lost all hopes of recovery. He was anxious to leave the throne to one of his sons who were still minors. Shaken with this anxiety he got his sons put on longer dresses, uniforms and armours so that they might appear sizable, but all his efforts proved fruitless. In his dreadful agony, he cast a pathetic glance over his sons and said: “He is really fortunate who has grown-up sons”. Reja’ ibn Haiwah happened to be present at the time and he promptly proposed ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz as the successor to the throne. Caliph Sulaiman accepted the suggestion and thus by his timely intervention Reja’ rendered yeoman service for the revival of Islam.
Character of ‘Umar II
Immediately upon his accession, ‘Umar dismissed provincial governors known to be cruel or unjust to the people. All the jewellery and valuable presents brought before him on accession to the throne were deposited in the State treasury. He was now a completely changed man; he considered himself a successor to Caliph ‘Umar I, son of Khattab, rather than Sulaiman ibn ‘Abdul Malik. Slaves of royal household were emancipated; the royal court modelled after Persian and Byzantine Royal pattern was now marked by an austere and primitive simplicity. He returned to the State not only his ancestoral fief but even the valuables and jewellery his wife had received from her father and brothers. He led such a simple and ascetic life as it would have been difficult to find among the monks and recluses much less the kings and emperors. On several occasions he was late for Friday prayers since he had to wait till his only shirt dried up after a wash. Before Caliph ‘Umar II ascended to the throne Baitul-Māl, the public treasury, was treated as a personal property of the King from which members of royal family were gathered enormous sums, but now they had to be content with the paltry stipends. Once, when he was talking to his daughters, he noticed that the children cupped their mouths while talking to him. On making enquiries he found that since only pulses and onions were available in his house on the day which had been taken by the children, they cupped their mouths lest its smell should offend him. With tears in his eyes, ‘Umar said “My child, would you like to have sumptuous food and your father to be consigned to Hell6?” He was the ruler of the mightiest empire of his day but he did not have enough money to perform the Hajj. He once asked his servant if he had saved anything so that he could go for the Hajj. The servant informed him that he had only ten or twelve dinars and thus he could not undertake the journey. After a few days, ‘Umar II received a sum sufficient to perform Hajj from his personal holdings. The servant congratulated Umar II, and said that now he could go for the Hajj. ‘Umar II however, replied “We have been deriving benefit from these holdings since a long time. Now Muslims have a right to enjoy its fruits” Then he got the entire proceeds deposited in the public treasury.
‘Umar II never spent more than two dirhams on his messing. If any official came to see him and began talking of the Caliph’s private affairs, he would promptly put off the candle provided by the State and ask for his own candle to be brought in. He would never use the hot water taken from the State mess or even inhale the fragrance of musk belonging to the Bait-ul-Māl7.
‘Umar II was careful not for his person alone. He always exhorted the State officials to be extremely cautious in their dealings involving the State property. The Governor of Madina, Abū-Bakr ibn Hazm had submitted an application to Sulaiman ibn ‘Abdul Malik demanding candlesticks and a lamp-glass for the office work. By the time the requisition reached the Caliph, Sulaiman had died and it was placed before ‘Umar II. He wrote “O Abū-Bakr, I remember the days when you wandered during the dark nights of winter without candlesticks and light, and, were you then in better condition than now? I hope you have enough candlesticks to spare a few for conducting the business of the State.”8 Similarly on another request made for supply of paper for official work, he remarked “Make the point of your pen finer, write closely and concisely, for, Muslims do not require such detailed reports which are unnecessarily a burden on the State exchequer.”8
Extreme cautiousness, moderation, simplicity and unaffected piety were not the only feature of ‘Umar’s character. He transformed the view-point of his government making the weal of the people the sole object of administration. Before ‘Umar II the State was concerned mainly with collecting revenues and spending it, having nothing to do with the moral guidance and religious instruction of the people. The historic dictum of ‘Umar II that ‘Muhammad was sent as a Prophet and not as a collector’9, adequately illustrates the objective he had set before the state under him. In truth and reality, during the entire period of his Caliphate he sought to translate this idea into practice. He always preferred principles, moral dictates and demands of the faith to political expediency and never cared a whit for pecuniary losses suffered by the State if the policy commended by religion entailed at. During his reign the non-Muslims were embracing Islam in ever-increasing numbers which meant a dwindling income from the poll-tax. As the sharp fall in revenues posed a danger to the financial stability of the State, ‘Umar’s attention was drawn towards it. But his reply was that the situation was eminently in accord with the objectives underlying the prophet-hood of Muhammad. To another official he wrote “I would be too glad if all the non-Muslims embrace Islam and (owing to the drying up of income from poll-tax) we have to take up cultivation for earning our living.”10 A fixed amount of land revenue was to be remitted by the provincial Government of Yemen every year whether it had a favourable crop or not. ‘Umar II ordered that the revenues should be assessed in accordance with the agricultural production every year. He added that he would willingly accept it even if a handful of grain were to be received in pursuance of his order.11 He discontinued levy of octroi throughout the kingdom saying that it was prohibited by the Qur’ān
O my people, Give full measure and full weight in justice and wrong not people in respect of their goods. And do not evil in the earth, causing corruption
‘Umar II used to say that people have made octroi lawful by changing its name.12 Barring the few taxes allowed by the Shari‘ah, he abolished all taxes and duties levied by his predecessors.13 All the land and sea routes were opened for trade without any embargo whatsoever.14
Far-reaching reforms were introduced in the administration of the kingdom. Some of the steps taken were Weights and measures were standardised,15 State officials were precluded from entering into any business or trade,15 unpaid labour was made illegal,16 pasture-lands and game-preserves reserved for the royal family or the other dignitaries were distributed to the landless cultivators or made a public property,17 strict measures were taken to stop illegal gratification of state employees who were forbidden to accept gifts,18 all officers holding responsible posts were directed to afford adequate facilities to those who wanted to present their complaints to them in person, a proclamation was made every year on the occasion of pilgrimage that any mal-treatment by an State official of prefer a useful suggestion, shall be rewarded 100 to 300 dinars.19
Solicitude for Moral Reformation
After the Khilafat-i-Rāshida came to an end, the Caliphs began to consider themselves simply as monarchs and administrators; they were neither capable nor had the time to bother about the moral and social conditions of their subjects. In fact, the Caliphs were never expected to advise people in religious affairs, take steps for their moral, religious or spiritual advancement or assume the role of a pulpiter. This was considered to be the domain of scholars and religious luminaries, ‘ulmā and traditionists. ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz did away with this dichotomy and proved himself to by really a successor of the Prophet, as his office implied. No sooner did he ascend the Caliphate, he sent out quite lengthy letter and directives which dealt with more about religious and moral reforms than with the so-called administrative affairs. His edicts embodied a spirit of preaching, religious and moral, rather than dispensation of government. In his letters he would compare the social and moral condition of people with that in the days of Prophet and early Caliphatic and elaborate the fiscal and administrative system required to bring about an Islamic regeneration,20 impress on the governors and generals the importance of timely performance of their prayers and presiding at these services,21 exhort public servants to inculcate the awe of God and meticulously follow the regulations of the Shari‘ah,22 charge his officers with the responsibility of spreading the message of Islam in the provinces under them, which he considered to be the sole objective of Divine revelation and the prophethood of Muhammad,23 insist on the enforcement of what is incumbent and on the prevention of that which is forbidden, and warn them of the harmful effects of neglecting the obligation,24 elaborate the criminal law of Islam and instruct the magistrates to be lenient in awarding punishments,25 draw attention towards the deviations and innovations, customs and foreign traditions that had found a way into the life of people, forbid lamentations and put a stop to the custom requiring women to accompany the funeral processions as well as their public appearance26 denigrate tribal partisanship,26 and, prohibit laxity in the use of nabidh which gradually led to drinking bouts and to numerous other vices.27
Compilation of Traditions
The study and cultivation of religious sciences did not escape attention of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz. Drawing the attention of an eminent man of letters of his time, Abū Bakr ibn Hazm, towards compilation of the traditions of the Holy Prophet, he wrote.
“Reduce into writing whatever traditions of the Holy Prophet you can collect, for I fear that after the tranditionists pass away, the knowledge will also perish.”28
He made a pointed reference to the collections of ‘Umrah bint ‘Abdur Rahmān Ansāriyah and Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abū Bakr which he wanted to be recorded. The task was not simply entrusted to Abū Bakr ibn Hazm but circulars were issued to provincial governors and other notable ‘ulemā commanding them to ‘collect all the traditions of the Prophet of Islam wherever these could be found’. Simultaneously, ‘Umar II also granted stipends to those entrusted with the task so that they could pursue the job whole-heartedly.29
‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz was himself a man of learning and he took keen interest in the interpretation of the Traditions and cannon law. In the beginning of his Caliphate he circulated an edict which said:
“Islam has laid down certain limits, duties and obligations. Whoever will follow these, shall be rewarded by a truer content of the faith, but those who do not pursue these, their faith shall remain imperfect. If God keeps me live, I will teach you the fundamentals of the faith and will make you follow these, but if I die earlier, I won’t care, for I am not at all eager for your company”30
Defender of the Faith
The unalloyed Islamic thought and spirit of religion that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz tried to infuse among the Muslims and give a practical shape through the State he presided, can be gauged from the letters and edicts he issued from time to time to the different functionaries of his government. These despatches show what a deep understanding of Islam he had without the least trace of pre-Islamic Ignorant or the stamp of Ummayyad royalty.
It was once reported to him that certain tribal chiefs and Ummayyad aristocrats had revived the pagan custom31 of entering into alliances and were giving a call to one another in the name of tribal solidarity during their fights and forays. This custom cut at the very root of Islamic concept of brotherhood and the social order it wanted to bring into existence. Earlier rulers would have been complacent at it or even encouraged the practice as a political expediency but ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz, being fully alive to the pernicious implications of the practice, issued an order to Dhahhāk ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmān for curbing the evil forthwith. In it he writes
“Praise be to God and peace unto His Apostle. Thereafter you should know that Allah does not like any religion other than Islam, which he has chosen for Himself and His bondsmen. Allah has been pleased to honour His religion, Islam, with an scripture, which has made Islam distinct from un-Islam. In it He says
Now hath come unto you light from Allah and a plain Scripture Whereby Allah guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He bringeth them out of darkness unto light by His decree and guideth them unto a straight path
Allah also says
With truth We have sent it down, and with truth had it descended. And We have sent thee as naught else save a bearer of good tidings and a warner
(Bani Israel: 105)
God Almighty endowed prophethood on Muhammad (peace be upon him) and revealed the Scripture to him. Then, O Arabs, as you know, you lived in ignorance, idolatry and impurity, were plunged in poverty, disorder and chaos; fights and forays baulked large in your life, you were looked down upon by others, and, whatever little light of Divine Guidance was available to other nations, you were deprived even of that. There was no perversion and depravity which was not to be found amongst you. If you lived, yours was a life of ignorance and infidelity, and, if you died, you were consigned to the Hell. At last Allah saved you from these evils, idolatry and anarchy, hatred and conflicts. Although many amongst you denied and decried the Prophet of God, he remained steadfast in his endeavour till a few poor people amongst you responded to his call. Fearing the worst, these men always ran for their lives but God gave them asylum, sent His succour to them and gave them strength through those whom He chose to enlighten with Islam. The Prophet of God was to depart from this world and Allah had to fulfil the promise made to His messenger. The promise of Allah never changes but none save a few of the faithful believed in what God Almighty had promised.
He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse
In another verse Allah has promised to the Muslims
Allah hath promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed (the present rulers) in the earth even as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others); and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He hath approved for them, and will give them in exchange safety after this fear. They serve Me. They ascribe nothing as partner unto Me
Allah has fulfilled the promise made by him to His Prophet and the Muslims. Therefore, O Muslims, remember that whatever God Almighty has bestowed on you is solely on account of Islam, you are victorious on your enemies in the world and will be raised as a witness unto others in the Hereafter. But for Islam, you have no refuge in this world nor after death, you have nothing to fall back upon not a source of strength, no protection, no safeguard. And if you are fortunate enough to see the fulfilment of the promise made by Allah, you need to pin your hopes in the abode of the Hereafter, since God has said:
As for the Abode of the Hereafter we assign it unto those who seek not oppression in the earth, nor yet corruption. The sequel is for those who ward off (evil)
I warn you of the disaster that will befall you if you do not act according to the teachings of the Qur’ān. The bloodshed and disorder, turmoil and affliction to which you had been exposed as a result of disregarding the guidance provided by the Scripture is recent history. You should, therefore, desist from what has been prohibited by Allah in His Scripture, for, there is nothing more dreadful than the admonition sounded by God Almighty. I have been constrained to write this letter on account of the reports reaching me from the countryside about those who have been recently sent there as stewards and administrators. These are an ignorant and stupid set of persons who are not aware of God’s commandments, they have forgotten the special favour and benevolence of Allah over them or they have rather shown ingratitude for the undeserved favours bestowed on them. I have been told that they seek the help of the people of Mudhar and Yaman, for they think that these tribes are their allies and partisans Glorified be Allah, Who alone deserves all praise. What an ungrateful and ill-beseeming people these are, and how inclined they are to invite death, destruction and doom! They have no eyes to see what a despicable position they have chosen for themselves, nor are they aware how they have deprived themselves of peace and amity. Now I realise that miscreants and ruffians are shaped as such by their own intentions and that Hell was not created in vain. Have they never heard of the commandment of God Almighty?
The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to Allah that haply ye may obtain mercy
And have they not heard this verse too?
This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM.
I have been told that certain tribes are entering into alliances to help one another against their enemies as they used to do in the bygone days of Ignorance, although the Prophet has prohibited unconditional alliances for helping each other. The prophet has said: ‘There is no partisanship in Islam.’ In the times of Ignorance, allies expected help from each other in every unjust cause, no matter whether it led to oppression or wrongdoing, transgression of the commands of God or of the Prophet.
I warn everyone who may happen to read my letter or hear its content against taking any shelter except Islam and seeking amity of anyone except God Almighty and His Prophet. I again warn everyone with all the emphasis at my command and seek to make Allah my witness against these persons, for He has authority over every being and He is nearer to everyone than his jugular veins”32
The directives sent by ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz to the commander of a military expedition illustrate the extent to which he had imbibed the Qur’ānic mode of thought and view-point, and how he differed diametrically from other rulers and emperors of his time. In one of his edicts to Mansūr ibn Ghālib he wrote:
“This is a directive from the bondsman of Allah and Commander of the Faithful to Mansūr ibn Ghālib. Whereas the Commander of the Faithful has charged Mansūr to wage war against those who might oppose him, the letter is also instructed to inculcate awe of God; since, it constitutes the best of provisions, the most effective strategy and the real power. For the sin is even more dangerous than the ruses of the enemy, the Commander of the Faithful bids upon Mansūr that instead of taking fright of his enemy, he should fear transgressing the limits of God. We overcome our enemies in the battlefield only because of their vices and sins, for, had it not been so, we would not have had the courage to face them. We cannot deploy troops in the same numbers as our enemies can do nor do we possess the equipments they have got. Thus, if we equate ourselves with our enemies in misdeeds and transgressions, they would undoubtedly gain a victory over us by virtue of their numerical superiority and strength. Behold, if we are not able to gain ascendancy over our enemies on account of our righteousness, we would never be in a position to defeat them through our might. We need not keep an eye upon anything more than the enmity of our own wickedness nor do we have to hold in leash anything more than our own viciousness. You should realise the fact that God Almighty has deputed wardens over you who never part company with you and they are aware of whatever you do in your camps and cantonments secretly or in public. Therefore, do not put yourself to shame by exceeding the limits of God; be kind to others, especially as you have left your hearths and homes for the sake of God. Never consider yourselves superior to your enemies, nor take your victory for granted because of the sinfulness of your foes, for many a people worse than his enemy was granted ascendancy in the past. Therefore, seek the help of God against your own temptations in the same way as you desire the succour of God against your opponent. I would also beseech God’s blessings for myself and you.
Commander of the Faithful also bids Mansūr ibn Ghālib that he should treat his men with leniency. He should not require his troops to undertake toilsome journeys, nor refuse to encamp when they require rest. The troops enfeebled by exertion and long travels, should not be required to face an enemy whose forces and the beasts of burden are taking rest at their own place. Thus, if Mansūr does not accord a humane treatment to his men, his enemy would easily gain ascendancy over Mansūr’s forces. Verily, help can be sought from God alone.
For giving rest to his men and the beast of burden and also for getting his armaments repaired, the Commander of the Faithful orders Mansūr ibn Ghālib to break his journey on every Friday for the Whole day and night thereof. He is also ordered to encamp far away from the habitations which have entered into treaty relations with us, and allow none from his troops to visit their dwellings, markets or gatherings. Only those of his men who are firm in faith and trustworthy and who would neither be ill-disposed nor commit a sin against the people could be allowed to visit such habitations for collection of lawful dues. You are as much bound to guarantee their rights as they are enjoined to fulfil the duties devolving on them, i.e. you have to honour your obligations to them so long as they do theirs. You should never try to gain an advantage over your enemy through persecution of those who have come under your protection, for you have already got a share (in the shape of Jaziah or poll-tax) in their earnings and you neither need to increase it nor they are bound to pay more. We have too not cut down your provisions, nor deprived you of anything required for strengthening you. You have been given charge of our best forces and provided with everything required for the job. Now you need to pay attention to the land of polytheists, our enemies, and need not concern yourself with those who have come under our protection. After having made the best possible arrangements for you, we have trust in God Almighty. There is no power, no might, save from Allah.
And the Commander of the Faithful further directs that you shall appoint only such persons as your spies from amongst eh Arabs and non-Arabs who are guileless and trustworthy, for the intelligence received through deceitful persons is hardly of any use. Even if a treacherous fellow passes on to you some correct information, he ought really to be treated as a spy of the enemy and not yours. May God have peace on you.”33
In another circular letter to the provincial chiefs he wrote
“Verily God has entrusted the charge of administration to me. I have not accepted this responsibility for the sake of riches or sensual delight, feasts or attires, for God had already favoured me with a fortune that only a few can boast of. For I fully realise the grave responsibility of the charge entrusted to me, I have taken upon myself this obligation with a great deal of anxiety and heart-searching. I know I would be called upon to render the account in the presence of God when claimants and defendants would both be present to argue their cases on the Day of Requital-a Burdensome Day, indeed, save for those on whom Allah showers his mercy and whom He protects from the grievous ordeal.
I bid you to be cautious and God-fearing in all the affairs of the State committed to your charge and ask you to fulfil your obligations, perform that which has been ordained by God and desist from the acts prohibited by the Shari‘ah. You ought to keep an eye upon yourself and your actions, be cautious of the acts that unite you with Allah, on the one hand, and you liegemen, on the other. You are aware that the salvation and safety lies in complete submission to the Almighty and the ultimate goal of all endeavours should be, by the same token, to make preparations for success on the Appointed Day.
If you will, you might take a lesson from the happenings around you. Only then I can drive home the truth to you through my preachings.
May God have peace on you.”34
Propagation of Islam
The efforts of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz were not limited to the enforcement of the Shari‘ah, as the law of the land, and reformation of the Muslims only. He also paid attention towards the spreading the message of Islam among the non-Muslims, and his endeavours were also successful on account of his personal example of simple life, unaffected piety, unswerving uprightness and immaculate sincerity, Balāzuri writes in Fūtuh-ul-Buldān:
“ ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz wrote seven letters to the rajas in India inviting them to embrace Islam. He promised that if they did so, he would guarantee continued existence of their kingdoms and their rights and obligations would be the same as those of the other Muslims.
The name and fame of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz had already reached those lands and when they received ‘Umar’s despatch they embraced Islam and adopted Arab names.35
Isma‘il ibn ‘Abullah ibn Abi al-Mahajir, Governor of Maghrib (north-west Africa), administered the land with flawless justice and gave a good account of his character and morals. He initiated proselytising activities among the Barber tribes. Thereafter ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz sent a letter inviting those people to embrace Islam which was read out in huge gatherings of the natives by Isma‘il. A large number of people were converted to Islam and at last Islam became the predominant faith of the land.36
... ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz also wrote letters to the rulers and chiefs of Trans-oxiana37 and exempted new converts to Islam in Khurasan from the payment of poll-tax (Jaziah). He also granted stipends and rewards to those who embraced Islam and got constructed rest houses for the travellers.”38
The financial reforms embarked upon by ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz viz remission of numerous taxes and tithes disallowed by the Shari‘ah, did not result in pecuniary difficulties or deficits in the State income. On the contrary, people became so much well-off that it became difficult to find destitutes and beggars who would accept the poor-due (Zakāt)
Yahya ibn Sa‘eed relates that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz had appointed him to collect the poor-due in Africa. When he got the dues collected, he looked around for the needy and hard up persons, but he could not find a single individual who could be rendered assistance. He adds that ‘Umar’s economic policy had made everybody a man of substance and, therefore, he had no alternative but to purchase a number of slaves and then emancipate them on behalf of the Muslim populace.39
Another man form the Quraish reports that during the extremely short reign of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz people used to remit substantial amounts pertaining to the poor-due to the State exchequer for being distributed among the poor, but these had to be returned to them as nobody entitled to receive these charities was to be found. He says that everyone had become so well-off during ‘Umar’s time that nobody remained in straitened circumstances entitled to receive the poor-due.40
Apart from the prosperity of the masses, which is invariably a by-product of the Islamic form of government, the more important change accomplished by the regime of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz was the diversion in inclination and aptitude, mood and trend of the populace. His contemporaries narrate that whenever a few friends met during the regime of Walid, they used to converse about buildings and architecture for that was the rage of Walid; Sulaimān was fond of women and banquets, and these became the fad of his days; but, during the reign of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz the prevailing demeanour and subjects for discussion were prayers, supplicatory and benedictory, obligatory and supererogatory. Whenever a few people gathered, they would ask each other about the voluntary prayers one offered for acquiring spiritual benefits, the portion of Qur’ān recited or committed to memory, fast observed every month, and so on so forth.41
The guiding light for ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz and the impelling force behind his endeavours were his unflinching faith, the love and awe of the Supreme Being and conviction of accountability on the Day of Resurrection. Whatever he did was solely on account of the inducement, if inducement it can be called, to propitiate God Almighty. This was the most powerful and extensive empire of the day to lead a life of austerity, forbearance and abstinence. If anybody advised him to raise his standard of living, as his position and office demanded, he would recite the Qur’ānic dictum:
... I fear, if I rebel against my Lord, the retribution of an Awful Day.
Once ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz said to this servant: “Allah has favoured me with a disposition, insatiable and ambitious; no sooner do I attain an object I long for, I set my heart upon a still higher objective. Now I have reached a sublimation after which nothing remains to be coveted. Now my ambition aspires for Paradise alone.”42
Once he asked a certain sage for counsel, who said: “Of what avail would it be to thee, if the entire mankind were sent to Heaven and thou were consigned to Hell? Similarly, what would thou lose, if thou were awarded Heaven and all others sent to the Hell?” On hearing this ‘Umar’s qualm knew no bounds and he wept so bitterly that the fire in the chafing-dish in front of him got extinguished by his tears.43 Yazid ibn Haushab once said that ‘Umar had so great a fear of God that it seemed as if the Heaven and Hell had been created by God only for him and Hasan al-Basri.
If providence had only granted ‘Umar the span of rule enjoyed by his predecessors, the world of Islam would have witnessed a complete and lasting revolution changing the course of its history. But the Ummayyads who had been hit hard during the reign of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz and who saw power and influence slipping out of their hands, openly regretted the day had maritally been united. They could not endure the ordeal any longer for it was against their grain, and they soon found a way to get rid of the most virtuous Muslim of their times. ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz died in the middle of 101 A.H. after a rule of only two years and five months. There are reasons to believe that a slave in the employ of the Caliph was commissioned by his family to administer poison to him.44
- The then mentality is aptly demonstrated by Abul Faraj Isb’hani in his book ‘Aghāni, in which he has related how two Arab Chiefs of the Ummayyad period, Haushab and ‘Ikramah, vyingly challenged each other about the quantity of food required to feed the household and guests of each. As Haushab was likely to win in the contest, ‘Ikramah purchased several hundred bags of flour, distributed it amongst his tribesmen for kneading and asked them to pile up the dough in a pit which was covered with grass. He then managed to get Haushab’s horse pass over the pit. As the poor beast fell into the pit, its neck and head being only visible above the dough, ‘Ikramah’s fame about the quantity of flour required to feed his tribe soon spread far and wide, and may poets sang of his greatness (Rannāt ul-Mathalith, Vol I, pp 176-177)↩
- The famous Christian poet Akhtal (d 59/701) once came completely drunk in the court of Caliph ‘Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan, wine dripping from his beard and the cross of his chest, but nobody had the courage to remonstrate him (‘Aghāni, Vol VII, pp 177-178)↩
- Once a famous singer of Iraq, Hunain, visited Madina along with his party. Such a large crowd gathered to hear his recital that the roof of the house in which he was singing gave way and Hunain died after receiving severe injuries (‘Aghāni, Vol II, pp 122-123)↩
- For a detailed description see al-Zahbi : Vol I, pp 46, 77, 84 and 53, and Sifat us-Safwah Vol II, pp 44, 47, 49 and 50↩
- ‘Umar I had ordered that nobody should adulterate milk by mixing water into it. Once, while wandering about at night to inquire into the condition of people, he heard a woman asker her daughter to mix water into the milk before the day-break. The girl refused by reminding her mother of the order given by the Caliph. When the mother retorted by saying that the Caliph was not present and he would not know of it, the daughter replied that God is Omniscient even if Caliph was not present. ‘Umar I was so pleased with the reply that he asked his son ‘Āsim to marry the girl, saying that he hoped that she will give birth to a man who would rule over Arabia. ‘Umar II was the daughter’s son of ‘Āsim (‘Abdul Hakam, pp 17-18)↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 55↩
- ‘Abdul-Hakam, p 44↩
- Ibid, p 64↩
- Abu Yusuf, p 75↩
- Manaqib, p 64↩
- ‘Abdul-Hakam, p 126↩
- Ibid, p 99↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 99↩
- Ibid, p 98↩
- Ibid, p 99↩
- Ibid, p 100↩
- Ibid, p 97↩
- Ibid, p 162↩
- Ibid, p 141↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 69↩
- Ibid, p 79↩
- Ibid, p 92↩
- Ibid, pp 93-94↩
- Ibid, p 167↩
- Ibid, pp 80-81↩
- Ibid, pp 108↩
- Ibid, p 102↩
- Bukhārī Vol I, p 20↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 167↩
- Bukhārī (Kitāb-ul-Īmān), Vol I, p 6↩
- A pre-Islamic custom under which two tribes took an oath of fealty to help each other in every eventually irrespective of the justice or otherwise of the cause for which their help was to be sought↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, pp 104-107↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, pp 84-87↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, pp 92-93↩
- Balāzuri, pp 446-447↩
- Balāzuri, p 339↩
- Countries in Central Asia to the north of river Oxus (Ma-wara-un-Nahr in Arabic)↩
- Balāzuri, p 432↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 69↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 128↩
- Tabri, Vol VIII, p 98↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 61 and Sifat us-Safwah, Vol III, p 156↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, pp 108-109↩
- ‘Abdul Hakam, p 118, Ibn Kathir, Vol IX, pp 209-10 and Sīrat, p 239↩