Umar b. al-Khattab b. Nafeel b. Uday b. Ka’ab[47]

Umar b. al-Khattab was born thirteen years after the Year of the Elephant, thus he was thirteen years younger than the Prophet was, eleven years younger than Abu Bakr, and seven years younger than Uthman b. al-Affan. While still young, his mother was adopted by Hisham b. al-Mugheerah, so she was known as Hantamah b. Hisham b. al-Mugheerah.[48] He made a living as a merchant dealer and died at the age of eighty-six in the year 23 AH.

At the age of forty-six, he became a Muslim and was the seventy-fifth person to accept Islam. He did so right before the migration from Mecca to Madinah; thus, he did not participate in the first Hijrah to Ethiopia.[49]

Before joining the Muslims, Umar exhibited an enormous dissatisfaction towards Islam and the Muslims so much so that he beat his brother-in-law and hit his sister when he discovered that they had become Muslims.[50] Perhaps for this reason, Umar had been chosen by the rest of the Quraysh to kill the Prophet.[51]

It is mentioned that one day, Umar took his sword and went to the house of Ibn Abi al-Arqam, where the Holy Prophet was with his uncle, Hamzah and some companions. He knocked loudly and burst into the house angrily. The Prophet restrained him and shook him so hard that he fell to the ground. The Prophet then said, “Isn’t it time that you stop your persecution and terrorization of the Muslims?” At which Umar replied, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, One with no partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”[52]

Throughout his life, Umar was known for his violent nature and outbursts. He usually frowned at people and often used his hand to strike the Muslims, and during his caliphate, he was often seen using his stick (durrah), to strike people. He quickly angered and judged others with the same rapidity.

He was known to be particularly harsh with women, whether they were his daughters, his wives, his sisters, or strangers. He once wrote, “I buried my daughter alive, and while I was burying her, she was putting her hands on my beard to clean the dust from it.”[53] Al-Ashath b. Qays recalls that when he was hosting Umar at his home, in the middle of the night, Umar kept beating his wife until al-Ashath stopped him.[54] Umar told another one of his wives, “You are nothing but a toy that men play with, and then you are abandoned.”[55] His harshness caused women to decline his marriage proposals; one of those who refused him was Umme Kulthum, the daughter of Abu Bakr.[56]

Umar did not confine his abuse to only the women of his household. When Lady Aishah was mourning the death of her father Abu Bakr, he threatened to hit her if she did not stop and then retorted to beating her sister, Umme Farwah with his stick instead. Hence, they both stopped crying.[57] On another occasion, when he heard the cry of a woman, he took it upon himself to enter her home and hit her with his stick, until the covering of her hair fell off.[58] When Zaynab, the Prophet’s daughter died, Umar hit the women who were crying over her, until the Messenger of Allah seized his hand and told him to stop.[59] Needless to say, even Fatima al-Zahra, the daughter of the Holy Prophet did not escape his wrath. Tragically, Umar attacked her at her own home and forced her to miscarry her baby son Muhsin, the third grandson of the Holy Prophet.

Numerous traditions relate that the Muslim community greatly feared Umar’s violent tendencies. However in one tradition, although unbecoming, it shows the extent of that fear. In an example of the virtues of Umar b. al-Khattab, al-Bukhari relates a peculiar story:

Some women were sitting with the Prophet and enthusiastically asking him questions that caused their voices to be raised above the voice of the Prophet. Umar sought permission to enter, and as soon as the women heard him, they became afraid and put on their hijab (head covering). After the Prophet gave him permission, he entered, at which point the Prophet laughed. Umar asked the Prophet, “Why do you laugh, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet replied, “I am surprised at these women who were sitting next to me not wearing the hijab, but the moment they heard your voice, they rushed to wear the hijab.” Umar rebuked them, “You are the enemies of Allah; why do you not fear the Prophet and you fear me?” They told him, “Due to the fact that you are harsh and violent.”[60]

Al-Bukhari considers this narration to be an example of the virtues of Umar b. al-Khattab – perhaps it may be that this tradition reflects the fear of Umar amongst the women; but it also implies that the Prophet was frolicking amongst unveiled Muslim women, and such an implication undermines the moral virtues and character of the Prophet.

In another incident, Umar summoned a woman whose chastity he doubted so that he could inquire whether her pregnancy was legitimate. Terrified, the woman miscarried. When Umar asked his aides whether he had to pay the diyah (blood money), they told him that he did not have to because he was only instructing her. However, Ali instructed him, “They misled you, they ill-advised you and you have to pay the diyah of the baby to its mother.”

Men too were on the receiving end of Umar’s durrah (stick). People used to say, “The stick of Umar is sharper than the sword of al-Hajjaj (al-Hajjaj was a well-known tyrant who had killed thousands of his opponents).”[61] Ibn Sa’dah al-Hadhalah narrates, “I saw Umar b. al-Khattab in the market beating the merchants with his stick. When they gathered around the food in the market, he wanted to disturb them, so he used his stick.”[62] When he was not using his stick, he often used his hands or his feet, and sometimes he would bite people. In one instance, he bit the hand of Ubaydallah b. Umar, the son of a man who was known as Abu Isa, and warned him, “Do not call yourself Abu Isa, since Isa [Prophet Jesus] did not have a father.”[63]

Again in the market, he beat people for purchasing red meat, which was considered a delicacy, two days in a row.[64] In addition, he beat Timem al-Darimi for performing the sunnah (recommended) prayers after the afternoon prayers.[65] He even beat the man who later became a popular transmitter of hadith, Abu Huraira. Many other incidents of Umar’s brutality have been reported by the companions, such as Bilal[66] and Abd al-Rahman b. Auf.[67] Even Umar himself knew he was too harsh and once prayed, “O my Lord, I am tough, so make me soft.”[68]

Unlike his predecessor Abu Bakr, Umar was known for his toughness, even sometimes, he was merciless.[69] Umar’s toughness caused many of the companions in Madinah to react against him. Openly, the Muslims could not retaliate against him, thus the people would aim their stones at him during the stoning of the symbolic Shaytan at the Hajj and cause him to bleed.[70]

In addition to using aggression, Umar b. al-Khattab also imprisoned many people during his caliphate. Al-Dhahabi relates that Umar detained three prominent companions: Abdullah b. Masud, Abu Dardah, and Abu Masud al-Ansari.[71] According to Abu Bakr b. al-Arabi, they were only released after Umar died.[72] Umar imprisoned these three because he feared they would spread certain hadith from the Prophet that threatened his rule.

Umar saw little value in the blood relationships between people and the Holy Prophet. When Safiyah, the aunt of the Prophet, whom the Prophet respected considerably lost her son, the Prophet consoled her by saying that Allah would build a house in Paradise for anyone who lost a child and was patient through the ordeal. After hearing this, Safiyah was comforted and the Prophet left her. Afterwards, Umar came and said to her, “Safiyah, I heard your cries, and your relationship to the Prophet will not help you on the Day of Judgment.” At that, she started crying again. The Prophet heard her cry again and said, “O my aunt, you are still crying and you heard what I said to you?” She replied, “No, O Messenger of Allah, what made me cry again was when Umar said to me that my relationship to the Prophet would not help me on the Day of Judgment.” Angered, the Prophet told Bilal to call for the prayer (adhan), and when the people assembled, he climbed the pulpit, praised Allah and asked, “What is wrong with the people that they claim that my relationship does not benefit them and is useless on the Day of Judgment? My relationship is binding in this world and in the Hereafter.”[73]

Umar is also recorded to have had a propensity towards music and wine (nabeeth[74]).[75] He habitually listened to and requested music to be played and he is said to have stayed awake until dawn to listen to singing (ghina).[76]

Since wine was initially discouraged rather than prohibited, some Muslims continued to drink between the Qur’anic revelations of c. 2:219 and c. 4:42 and Umar was one of those who drank between the revelations. Once while drunk, he fractured the head of Abd al-Rahman b. Auf and then sat poetically lamenting the mushrikeen who had been killed in the Battle of Badr. At that moment, Allah revealed the third verse that completely prohibited the drinking of alcohol (wine).[77] Having realized Allah’s commandment that there was no more permissibility for drinking, Umar cried out, “We stopped (intahayna), we stopped (intahayna).”[78] However, during his caliphate, Umar is recorded to have continued to ask for wine – once when he was traveling to Shaam (Syria);[79] and once when he was traveling to Mecca, he met a man named Abdullah b. Ayash al-Maszumi and sipped his wine before passing it on to the man on his right.[80] Other stories have also been recorded; however, the last known incident of him drinking alcohol was after doing his prayers just before he was killed.[81] However, some tend to explain these stories by saying that the wine that Umar drank after the time of jahilliyah was non-alcoholic.

[47] Tarikh al-Madinah al-Munawarah, 2:654
[48] Ibn al-Atheer, Usd al-Ghabah, 4:145
[49] Tarikh al-Tabari, 5:17
[50] Al-Aqad, Abqariyat Umar, p. 33
[51] Ibn Ishaq, Al-Serah al-Nabawiyah, 160; Ibn Asakir, Mukhtasar Tarikh Damashq, 18:271
[52] Ibn Asakir, Mukhtasar Tarikh Damashq, 18:269
[53] Al-Aqad, Abqariyat Umar, p. 33
[54] Sunan b. Majah, 1:693, Musnad Ahmad, 1:20
[55] Ibn al-Jawzi, Tarikh Umar b. al-Khattab, p.114; al-Shaykhan, p.189
[56] Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wal-Muluk, 5:17; Ibn Atheer, al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 3:54
[57] Ibn Hajir, al-Isabah, 3:606; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat b. Sa´d, 3:208
[58] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 3:111
[59] Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, 1:237; Mustadrak al-Hakim, 3:191
[60] Bab al-Tabasum, 4:63
[61] Tarikh al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, 2:686
[62] Tabaqat b. Sa’d, 5:60
[63] Umdat al-Qari, 7:143
[64] Al-Haythami, Majma al-Zawaid, 5:35
[65] Al-Haythami, Majma al-Zawaid; Sahih al-Muslim, 1:310; Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, 4:102
[66] Al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa, p.130
[67] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 1:55
[68] Tarikh al-Khamis, 2:241
[69] Tabaqat b. Sa’d, 5:60; Umdat al-Qari, 7:143; Sahih al-Muslim, 1:310; Musnad Ahmad, 4:102; Ibn al-Jawzi, Sirat Umar b. al-Khattab, p.174; Kanz al-Umal, 4:334
[70] Tabaqat b. Sa’d, 5:64
[71] Al-Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, 1:2; Adwa ala Sunan Muhammadiyah, p.45
[72] Abu Bakr b. al-Arabi, Al-Awasim min al-Qawasim, p.75-76
[73] Al-Haythami, Majm al-Zawaid, 8:216
[74] Nabeeth is a form of wine.
[75] Al-Aqad, Abqariyat Umar, 61:265
[76] Sunan al-Kubra al-Bayhaqi, 5:69; Al-Muhalla, 9:62; Al Tabaqaat al-Kubraa, 4:163
[76] Holy Qur’an, 5:91; Ibn Sa’d, Al Tabaqaat al-Kubraa, 4:163
[77] Holy Qur’an, 5:91
[78] “Intahayna, intahayna;” Al-Mustadraf, 2:499-500; Jami al-Bayan, 2:211
[79] Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, 3:230
[80] Muwatta Imam al-Malik, 2:894
[81] Sahih al-Bukhari; Tabaqat b. Sa´d, 3:257; Istiab of Ibn Abd al-Birr, 3:1154

When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini