JEDDAH: THERE are a few rulers in the world who have left indelible impressions in history. Caliph Umar 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.
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.