Umar b. al-Khattab

Many of the fabricated hadith were introduced to provide religious legitimacy for the government of the caliphs. In fact, that could be seen as the primary motive for inventing hadith. For this reason, many posthumous narrations are recorded in praise of Umar b. al-Khattab; some of which are attributed to the Prophet having said them, others to Imam Ali, and some are attributed to various companions.

However, almost all of these hadith are flawed as either they contradict the Qur’an, the sunnah or other established facts, or one or more of their narrators are known to be unreliable, according to the standards of recognizing the hadith in the Sunni tradition.

Virtually all of the fabricated sayings in praise of Umar appeared during the time of Bani Umayyah, particularly during the rule of Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan, for obvious reasons, since the Bani Umayyah was attempting to consolidate their rule. In contrast, most of the reliable hadith about Umar that appeared during his lifetime and have been included in the Sunni books are not overly favorable for him.

Umar is recorded to have said about himself, “All people are more knowledgeable than Umar, even the housewives.”[11] He asks, “Doesn’t it surprise you that your leader erred and a lady in his audience corrected him?”[12] He also spoke about himself saying, “All the people are more knowledgeable than you, Umar.”[13] In regards to the claims of Ali supposedly praising Umar’s knowledge, Sunni and Shia agree that Umar said, “If it were not for Ali, Umar would have perished.”[14]

From the viewpoint of other companions, “Umar b. al-Khattab took twelve years to learn Surah al-Baqarah, and when he learned it, he sacrificed a cow.”[15] One of the transcribers of the Qur’an, Ubay b. Ka’ab said to Umar, “The reason for your lack of knowledge about the Qur’an is that the Qur’an was keeping me busy (with it), while you were busy in the marketplace.”[16] Al-Bayhaqi says, “Since the house of Umar was far from the Mosque of the Prophet in the area of al-Awali, he used to go to the Mosque of the Prophet once every two days.”[17]

Conversely, many unreliable hadith grossly exaggerate Umar’s position and knowledge. One says, “If all of the knowledge of humanity was put on one side of a scale, and the knowledge of Umar was put on the other, then the knowledge of Umar would outweigh the knowledge belonging to all of humanity.”[18] If this hadith was true, then what would be the need for the Prophet if Umar had all of this knowledge? Another “hadith” says, “One day an earthquake hit Madinah, and Umar hit the ground with his stick and said, ‘Be calm, by the permission of Allah,’ and the earthquake ceased because Umar told it to.”[19] Moreover, another “hadith” claims that the Prophet said, “If I had never been sent to you as a prophet, Umar would have been sent by Allah as a prophet.”[20] One hadith goes as far as to state, “In the nations before us, there were some people whom the angels would talk to, and if there is one person in our ummah that one is Umar.”[21]

Although Umar looked to Ali for guidance during his caliphate, still Ali is purported to have said, “We used to say there is an angel speaking through the tongue of Umar.”[22] While hadith pointing to the realistic good qualities of the second caliph would not be out of the ordinary; nonetheless, these traditions go beyond the bounds of credibility and suggest that Umar himself was higher than the Prophet was, and this is definitely an unacceptable belief.

Not all hadith regarding the second caliph came out of nowhere. Some hadith were specifically introduced to either counterbalance or share a similar tone in praising Ahlul Bayt or the immediate household of the Prophet. For example, Sunni and Shia both agree that the Prophet said about his daughter, “Fatima is part of me. Whoever angers her angers me, and whoever angers me angers Allah.”[23] Therefore, the appearance of a similar hadith about Umar is not surprising – it reads, “Avoid angering Umar, for if he becomes angry, Allah will become angry.” em>[24] Regarding one of the narrators of this hadith, Abu Luqman b. Asakir says, “He narrates false narrations and attributes them to people who are honest and trustworthy.”[25]

Fortunately, many authentic hadith passed the test of time; nevertheless, numerous unfounded hadith remain. Moreover, such hadith continue to cause friction among the schools of thought. As an example, one fabrication that al-Dhahabi dismisses, in fact, he says, “This is a clear fabrication,” is the hadith that reports:

The first thing that Allah will embrace on the Day of Judgment is Umar b. al-Khattab, and the first thing that Allah will shake hands with is Umar b. al-Khattab, and the first who Allah will take his hand and go with him to Paradise is Umar b. al-Khattab.[26]

Another instance of a clearly erroneous hadith in the established books comes to us by Ibn al-Atheer who relates from Muhammad b. Khaleel, who al-Atheer himself said that he, Khaleel fabricates hadith[27] states:

The Prophet climbed Mount Uhud with Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman. The mountain was shaking, so the Prophet kicked the mountain and said, “Stop it Uhud, climbing you are only a prophet, a siddiq (truthful person), and two shaheeds (martyrs).”[28]

In Sahih al-Muslim, Ibn Abbas says:

When Umar died and was lying on his bed, people were coming and praying for him. I felt a man holding my shoulders from my back. I saw that the man was Ali b. Abi Talib. He (Ali) began seeking forgiveness for Umar and said, “I wish I could meet Allah with the same deeds that Umar is meeting him with.” Then he continued to say, “I hope that Allah will gather you (Umar) with your two companions (the Prophet and Abu Bakr) because I always heard the Prophet say, “I came with Abu Bakr and Umar; I left with Abu Bakr and Umar.”[29]

Since Ali grew up side by side with the Prophet and spent virtually every moment with him, it is unlikely that the Prophet named others as being closer to him, especially since Umar himself narrated that the Prophet said, “Ali is the guardian (mawla) of every male and female believer.”[30]

Attempting to prove that Umar was more insightful than the Prophet was someone related the following story:

One day, Umar saw the Prophet ordering the Muslims to destroy the palm trees of Khaybar, so Umar asked the Prophet to stop doing that. The Prophet listened to Umar and asked the people not to cut down the palm trees of Khaybar.[31]

Unfortunately, this particular narration has been used to lower the status of the Prophet, whereas in fact, it is extremely unlikely that Allah would send His final Messenger, perfect him in every way, and then leave him in need of basic guidance. In another peculiar myth:

When Egypt was conquered during the time of Umar b. al-Khattab, the people of Egypt came to the first governor, Amr b. al-Aas. They told him, “We have a tradition regarding the Nile River. On the eleventh of this month, we find a virgin woman and after seeking her parents’ permission and satisfying them, we put the best clothing and ornaments on her, and then we throw her into the Nile. If we do not do this, then the river will not run.” Amr b. al-Aas said, “No, this is against Islam, for this is injustice,” and he banned them from this act. Since they did not throw a virgin woman into the Nile that year, it did not run and they had a drought so severe that they had to move (locations) due to a lack of water. When Amr b. al-Aas saw this, he wrote to Umar and asked him what to do. Umar wrote a letter to the river and asked his governor to throw the letter into the river. He wrote in the letter that he told the river, “If you are running by your own permission, then it is better that you do not run, but if you are running by the permission of Allah, then I ask that Allah make you run.” They threw the letter into the river, and suddenly the river began running.[32]

While many fabrications focus on Umar, numerous others exist exaggerating the status of Abu Bakr and Uthman and sadly belittling the Holy Prophet. For example, in Sahih al-Muslim:

The Prophet’s thighs and legs were uncovered. Abu Bakr came, but the Prophet did not cover himself. Umar came, but he also did not cover himself. But when Uthman came, the Prophet sat and covered himself. When Lady Aishah asked him why he did that, the Prophet said, “Should I not be modest in front of a man that the angels are shy in front of?”[33]

This narration is not in concordance with the high moral character of the Prophet. Seeing as the Prophet described Islam as a religion of modesty; it is difficult to imagine that he himself would be violating his own description of the path that he taught.

Similarly, in Sahih al-Muslim it says:

One day, Lady Aishah was sitting next to the Prophet. Abu Bakr sought permission to enter while the Prophet was lying on his bed and Lady Aishah was sitting there. He came and the Prophet attended to Abu Bakr, and then Abu Bakr left. Then Umar came and the Prophet attended to him. Then Uthman came. When Uthman came, the Prophet told Lady Aishah, “Cover yourself.” So she covered herself and the Prophet attended to Uthman. Then the Prophet turned to Lady Aishah and asked her, “Why were you not afraid when Umar and Abu Bakr came like you were when Uthman came?” She said, “Due to the fact that Uthman is a man with shame (rajulun hayy), and if I had remained (uncovered), then he would not have come and asked for what he needed, and I did not want to deprive him of obtaining what he required.” [34]

Another story narrates that Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to ask Abu Bakr, “Are you happy with Allah? You are poor, do you accept this poverty?” Abu Bakr replied, “Should I be angry with Allah? No, I am happy with my God’s decision. I am happy with my God’s decision. I am happy with my God’s decision.” Al-Suyuti says regarding this hadith, “It is strange and the chain of narrators is weak.”[35]

In another hadith it says, “Allah ordered the angels to penetrate the skies just like Abu Bakr is penetrating the earth.” Regarding this claim, Ibn Kathir says, “This hadith is wrong and evil (munkaran jiddan).”

Al-Bukhari and Ahmad b. al-Hanbal relate that Lady Aishah said, “The Prophet was affected by magic by someone from Bani Zareeq named Lubayd b. al-Asal; and because of this spell, the Prophet would imagine that he had done something, but in fact he had not done it.”[36]

Despite the poor performance of certain companions during the military excursions, fabrications about their bravery became abundant. When asked who was the bravest of the companions, Ali b. Abi Talib is said to have replied, “Abu Bakr – because on the day of Badr, we set up a tent for the Prophet, and we asked someone to stand next to him, so the mushrikeen (non-believers) would not attack him, none came forward except Abu Bakr. He raised his sword and stood there, thus he is the bravest person.”

However, the Sunni historian, al-Tabari alludes to the unwillingness of Abu Bakr and Umar to fight, in addition to their frequent fleeing away from battles, such as in the Battle of Uhud and Hunain. Thus, the narrations that speak about their bravery are unjustifiable.[37]

Since Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Lady Aishah were the center of focus of such narrations, thus it may point to an element of untruth in them, since innumerable devoted companions, more than 100,000, aided the Prophet. Other books, such as Kitab al-Maghazi by al-Waqidi illustrates the same bias, mentioning Umar b. al-Khattab in 166 pages, and Abu Bakr in 143 pages, while he mentions only a few times other great companions such as Ammar b. Yasir, Musab b. Umair, Abdullah b. Masud, Khuzaymah b. Thabit, and Zayd b. al-Khattab (the brother of Umar).


[11] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 1:61 and 1:182
[12] Ibid., 3:96
[13] Tafseer al-Fakhr al-Raizi, 3:175; Tafseer al-Kashshaf, 3:573; Al-Jami li-Akham al-Qur’an, 14:277; Al-Durr al-Manthur, 5:229
[14] Ibn Abd al-Birr, Al-Estiaab, 3:1103
[15] Ibn Asakir, Al-Mukhtasar Tarikh b. Asakir, 18:323
[16] Al-Bayhaqi, Tafseer al-Qurtubi, 7:69; 14:126
[17] Ibid., 7:37
[18] Al-Estiaab, 2:430; Al-Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, 3:86
[19] Tafseer al-Fakher al-Razi, 21:88
[20] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 5:281, hadith 3769; Al-Mustadrak ‘ala Sahihayn, 3:85
[21] Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:15; Sahih al-Muslim, 4:1864/28; Mustadrak ‘ala Sahihayn, 3:86
[22] Abu Nuaym, Hiliyat al-Awliya, 1:24
[23] Al-Mustadrak ala Sahihayn, 3:167, hadith 473; Usd al-Ghabah, 7:224; Al-Isabah, 4:378; Al-Tahdheeb, 12:469; Majma al-Zawaid, 9:203
[24] Tarik Baghdad, 3:49; Ibn Hajr, Lisan al-Mizan, 5:225
[25] Ibn al-Atheer, Mukhtasar Tarikh b. Asakir, 18:282
[26] Al-Dhahabi, Al-Mizan, 2:12
[27] Ibn al-Atheer, Usd al-Ghabah, 4:173
[28] Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, 5:180
[29] Sahih al-Muslim, 4:1858, hadith 2389
[30] Tafseer al-Tha’laby, 4:92; Al-Thahabi Tarikh al-Islam, 3:633
[31] Al-Sir al-Kabir, 1:55
[32] Al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa, p. 127
[33] Sahih al-Muslim, 4:1866, hadith 2401
[34] Bab Fadahil Uthman, 7:117, Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, 4:353; Al-Adbe al-Mufrad, Sahih al-Buhkari, p.131
[35] Al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa, p.39
[36] Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:28; Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, 6:57
[37] Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:240


When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini