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Omar bin Abdul Aziz,The
By Fomba V. Sannoh
Date: 12/ 10/ 1999

 

Introduction

Omar b. Abd al Aziz was greatly accepted and recognized as genuine unlike other Umayyad rulers who were counted only as kings. This is based, to a great extent, on his broad knowledge, righteousness and unique records of his reforms, good governance, maintenance of law and order and political wisdom. It is however, unfortunate to find some non-Muslim and unconscious Muslim writers who referred to him as an impractical idealist. But this accusation can experience. He was politically experienced and matured for the simple fact he served as the governor in Medina for six years.

He will always be remembered as one who attempted and succeeded in solving the multiple problems of the Ummah in his reign. That of justice prosperity and the respect of human right characterized his reign. His regime was however, a very short one (two and half year), but he is to be remembered as the only genuine caliph, the reformer and the most God fearing ruler Umayyad dynasty had ever had. May Allah bless him and to those who endeavor to emulate him. These few pages in this study will highlight his great achievement in the short period of his regime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autobiography

 

Omar b. Abd al Aziz was born in the year 61 A.H in Huluan village in Egypt yet still some other historian argue on his birth date to63 A.H. Some authors also argued. They argued that he was born in Medina where he has his entire childhood education. His father is Abdul Aziz while his mother is Asim bintu Asim Omar bin al-Khatab.

Omar bin Abd al-Aziz held his early education in Medina under the tutorship of Salih bin Kaisan. Upon completion, he assumed administrative position. He married Fatimah daughter of Abd al Malik who was the mother three children. Besides Fatimah, he married two other wives: Lumais bint Ali b Harith, umm Uthman bint Shuaib b. Zayyan. He also had a slave wife who was the mother of seven children. He had sixteen children from the four women all together.

Prior to his appointment as caliph, Omar served as the governor of Khnasarah and then Medina his birthplace. While serving in Medina as a governor, he worked under the guide of ten leading scholars. Among his achievement as a governor, he rebuilt the Prophets mosque and dug wells for the people. He resigned his position as a governor voluntarily in the year of 93 AH.

 

Achievements of Omar Ibn Abd al Aziz

 

Omar was naming the 5th Caliph because of his unique qualities and good dees. During the short period of his regime he brought far-reaching and very great reforms that reflected on aspect of society. Justice, harmony, peace, reconciliation characterized his era. In short, he was a reformer who brought back new spirit and inspiration into the ummah after the decay of the Umayyad.

 

Returning of wrongfully property

 

Omar, described as an eminent Muslims scholar and ruler upon assumption of power immediately came to the aid of poor and oppressed Muslims who were deprived from their property by previous caliphs, their governors and relatives. Omar being member of Umayyad family was also affected. He therefor, began with the confiscation of his own inherited estate, and those of his immediate family members and close relatives. He returned his estate and assets with the exception of a canal he dug with his money. He returned the popular and controversial garden of Fadak, which was in his possession to the family of the Prophet Muhammad. He also sets his wifes slave girl free after knowing that she was wrongfully acquired by Hajjai bin Yusuf. In addition, he ordered his wife Fatimah to return her precious jewels, which had been given to her by her father to the public treasury. The Umayyad reacted in various forms to what they described as the deviationist attitude of the new caliph. They overwhelmingly angered and determined to convince him to abandon his reforms that deprived them form their privileges.

 

Wars and victories

Not much is known about Omars expeditions as compared to his predecessors. He was not much concern about conquering new territories. He was instead interested in the maintenance, integrity, unity and security of the land already under Muslim control. However, his immediate task upon assuming his duties, as a caliph was to send supply and reinforcement to the army sent to Byzantium by his predecessor Sulaiman. Omar also quelled the attempts of the Turks to invade Adhabijan. His commander Hatim bin al Numa put end to their invasion. During Omars reign, the Muslim army in Anadalus; Spain, which was short of manpower, supply, and equipment. He respond promptly to their needs but further advised the commander not to proceed if he was not satisfy and contented with the reinforcement sent to him. Another successful military campaign of the caliph was in the Indian front. The Muslim commander and governor in India, Amr b. Muslim al Bahili reached a stand still point in his expansionist attempt. He only succeeds to invade other parts of the territory after the generous reinforcement from the Caliph.

 

Internally, Omar, the caliph was very determining to calm down sentiments against the state. His conciliatory policy contributed to a great extent in fusing tension among various factions. Despite his efforts in forging out an atmosphere of unity and peace, a revolt against the state however, erupted in Iraq. This rebellion was mounted by the haruyyah but was successfully contained with less bloodshed.

Even before Omar could allow his the Muslim commander to proceed to the Haruriyyah he conditioned him to abide by the following conditions:

1-Women, children and prisoners of wars should not be put to death and the wounded should not be perused.

2-Prisoners of war should be retained until they return to the right path (Nadvi, 1978 p42). The last military encounter of the caliph was to block the 3-Whatever booty is taken after victory should be redistributed to the rebels wives and children. Naval army of Byzantines, which attacked and destroyed Laodicea. He ordered the city to be rebuilt and fortified.

 

Dismissal of governors

Not only the Umayyad rulers were tyrants and unjust, but so their governors and top state officials. Upon assuming power, Omar realized that it would be impossible to establish the government based on justice and fairness with the presence of those corrupt governors. In fact, these governors were more unjust compel to the caliphs. Hajjaj bin Yusuf for example committed human right abuses. Consequently, Omar has no hesitation to terminate their services. He started with the governor of khurasan. Yazid b. Muhallab who was known for his misappropriation of public funds. Doing so, he cleaned the territory of their oppression of the subjects.

Renovation and Reformation

The religious, political and moral decadence of he Umayyad regime was widely spread. Omar b. Abdul Aziz wasted no time to rectify the situation. Things were so bad of that when Omar addressed them, he was acclaimed a reformer. In fact, some Muslim scholars referred to him as the first reformer of the ummah at the return of the first century of Islam.

 

 Abolition of the special privileges

As soon he became caliph, Omar abolished the privileges that were accord to the general public. He drastically reduced lavish stipends given to his royal family. He ordered equal treatment of subjects regardless of their social status. He also abolished the social privileges enjoyed by the elite over the common Muslims. Taking this incident as an example, once Maslama b. Abdul Malik appeared in his court as party a case and seated himself where the curatives used to sits. In your present position Omar admonished him, you must not sit like that. If you do not like that prohibition, send an agent to present you, otherwise sit where other sit.

Omar as a caliph abolished all the distinction accorded to him. These distinction ranges from the benedictions pronounced on him after prayer, the escort by the heralds and standard bearers to the appointment of bodyguards, all these were meaningless and insignificant to him.

 

Prohibition of insult imprecations against Ali in Friday Sermons

Umayyad caliphs introduced new innovation which showed their clear hatred to the Ali bin Abi Talib. This unpopular innovation includes imprecations and insult against Ali and his family in the Friday sermons many did not want to hear insult because it did not tell well about the ummah. Omar b. Abdul Aziz issued orders to the governor to immediately abandon and exclude the insult of Ali from their sermon. He ordered them to replace the insult with the following verse: Allah commands justices, kindness and giving to relations and prohibits obscenity, wrongdoing and oppression. He exhorts you that you may understand.

 

Financial Reforms

After rectifying and reforming the religious and administration affair of state, Omar turned his attention to streamline the economic or financial affair. Among the reformation activities undertaken forwards this direction was the introduction to the bait al maal (public treasury).

 

Segmentation of bait al Maal funds

Before Omar became a caliph, the bait al maals funds were lumped together in a single account, a system that did not favor accountability at all. He found it duty bound to segments the account. He therefore, divided it into five divisions:

1. The khams (one fifth tax)

2. The sadaqah (charity) division)

3. The fai (tribute from conquered lands)

4. The Kharaj

5. The Jizyah

In order to reduce the financial burden on the state, he abolished unnecessary expenditures such as rewards that used to be given to poets for their poems and praises of the royal family. It is narrated that a poet by the name of Jeri indirectly voiced out his criticism in one of his poems. When Omar heard of it, he reply by saying that: I do not find your right mentioned in the book of Allah. He also stopped the royal family from using the bait al maal fund according to their wish. 

Omar did not only stop the Umayyad from the abuse of funds but also warned governors from their unnecessary expenditures. He ordered an end to the using of public funds to secure their personal protection in the form bodyguards and festivities.

After having reformed the financial institution i.e. the bait al-maal, Omar focuses his attention on yet another tax issue. The Umayyad and their elites especially their governors, levied in different kind of improper taxes on the people. Even the new converted were not spared from these kind of taxes.

 

Some of the Umayyad governors such as Hajjaj levied jizayah {protection tax} on new convert. Omar saw this as an unjust and he abolished it. Many people embraced Islam in respond to the waiver of jizyah on new converts. This measure however, affected the bait al-maal as the revenue declined. This caused an alarm and budget deficit. Omar because of his tenacity remain firm on this new policy. He vowed not to revise the decision and instead request/sought a loan of 30,000 gold coins in order to disburse the grants due to Muslims.

The decline in revenue collection was at such that one his governors Abd al Hamid b. al-rahman to seek the caliphs permission to collect jizyah from the newly converted Jews and Christians. Omar replied: Allah sent Muhammad as a preacher of Islam not as revenue collector. He dismissed another governor Jarrah when he discovered that he forced new converts to pay jizyah.

In addition of the abolishment of jizyah Omar, abolished other different kinds of improper taxation. He put an end to the narks (oppressive tax). Other taxes such as those imposed on minting coins, on melting silver, on petition-writing, on shops, on houses, on water mills and on marriages were abolished all together.

The caliph works on the organization the zakat and sadaqad collection. For example, sadaqah and zakat used to be collected in the traffic i.e. on roads and bridges. He replaced this system by appointing a zakat/sadaqah collector in each city. It was realized that, the old system of collection gave undue advantages to collectors thus causing them to misappropriate some funds above al these measures the caliph provided better security and protection for the bait al maal. He made its security arrangement very secured and strict.

Maintenance of law and order to punish criminals

Omar endeavored to bring about changes in the manner in which criminals and convicts are punished and treated. What was disgusting was that punishment was left at the discretion of the Imams, governors and caliphs. The degree and limit of such punishment was not governed by any rule. People were rigorously punished for mere accusation or suspicion. Omar put and end to this kind of punishment. He opined to his governors to arrest people on evidence in accordance with the shariah not on the basis of accusation or suspicion. He imposed limit on some categories of punishment, which were limitless.

 

As regard to the prisoners, Omar introduced some reforms geared towards the improvement of their condition:

1-He issued a general order that prisoners should not be put in such heavy irons as to be unable to say their prayers and that the fetters of all prisoners other than murderer should be at night.

2-There being reason to doubt the honesty of the prison staff in regard to the food served to the prisoners, he ordered that the prisoners should be paid cash allowance for their food.

3-He issued separate order for different categories of prisoners having regard to different circumstances. Thus he wrote the governors of all provinces that if sick prisoners have no relations top attend to them, other arrangement should be make for having them attended to. As regards people imprisoned for non-payment of debt, he directed that they should not be keeping in the same wards with criminals. Women, he ordered, should segregate. Finally, he desired that jailers should be people who were reliable and susceptible to being bribed.  

Along with this general orders he wrote in particular to Abu Bakr b. Hazim that he should inspect his prison every Saturday. He also instructed all officers to treat prisoners properly.

We reproduce below the directive containing the above instruction, as, apart from containing details, it throw further light on Omars way of thinking and policy:

No prisoners should be fettered in prison in such a way that he becomes incapable of offering his prayer standing, and except for murderers all prisoners should have their fetters taken off at night. Give prisoners an allowance it is enough to meet the expense on their food. Make an estimate of it and pay an allowance month; for it they are given food, the prison officers may steal from it. Entrust the arrangements to a good man, who should enter the prisoner names in register, keep the register in his own custody, call every prisoner forwards once a month by name and his allowance in his hand. The allowance of prisoner who is released should be stopped. The prisoner should be paid ten Durhams each month, but it will be necessary to an allowance to every prisoner.

Prisoners should be made independence of the need to go about rattling their irons and for alms, for it a great crime that a group of Muslims imprisoned for crime should be compelled to go begging like this. Prisoners who die should have arrangement for their funeral made at the expense of the bait al-maal, if they have no relations to bury them, and should be buried after due funeral prayer.

If you awarded the punishment prescribed by the shariah, the number of the prisoners would go down. For bad characters and dacoits would feel afraid and refrain from crimes. The number of prisoners goes up simply because of lack of supervision. What they now get is mere imprisonment and no care. Instruct all yours officers to supervise the prisoners daily. Those who can be reformed by punishment alone should be punished and released, and those against whom there is no case should be set free entirely.

 

Revival of shariah

Omar b. abdul Aziz had gave acclaimed man who brought back morality to the ummah after it had detonated to an unacceptable level. He maintains the punctuality of prayers that his predecessors had abandoned for decades. Governors away with all the irregularities practiced him. He was very harsh on drinking / intoxication. He ordered the distraction of liquor shops.

 

Compilation of Hadith

There was no doubt that Omar b.Abd al-Aziz was a scholar. Having had his early education in Madina, he was well versed in the knowledge of Hadith. He recognized the importance of Hadith (the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.a.s). The fear of not compiling the Hadith during the four-guided caliphs was due to the fact that it might get confused with the Quran. As a matter of fact the Quran was not fully solemnized until the period of Uthman.

 

Since that fear of confusing the Hadith with the Quran, he wrote to lead the scholars like Abdullah bin Hazm consulting on the compilation of Hadith. Upon their approval, Omar wrote to all governors instructing them to embark on the task of compilation of Hadith from scholars of their environment. Upon the completion of their task of compilation, he dispatches scholars to some parts states that lack such Ulamas (scholars). They traveled across the Muslim world teaching people the Quran and Hadith. They went as far as Egypt and Morocco.

 

Promotion of education

After the successful task of compilation of Hadith completed, Omar embark on the promotion of knowledge in general and religious education in particular. This is manifested in his writing to his governors. Education is an excerpt of his writings: people ought to propagate knowledge and hold classes, so that those who do not know may learn; for knowledge is never lost unless it become secret (private possession of few). As soon as you receive this letter give a hundred diners each to those who retiring from the world, have dedicated themselves to the teaching of fiqh so that they may be enable to keep it up. (Ibid).

The above quotations speak for themselves. They demonstrate how to caliph was concerned about knowledge. Undoubtly, the caliph was an alim and that is why was so generous to Ulams. His era could be described as that of the revival of religious knowledge.

 

 Social welfare of the state

Omars reign was described as that of prosperity of the Ummah. His welfare policies were so good that everybody became contented. The bait al-maal, which was the backbone of the economy, was managed very strictly. The welfare of the people was entirely dependent on it . ( Nadvi, P.175) People were completely treated on the basis of equality. Among his apparent social policies are the following:

a.       He allocated stipends for every newborn Muslim banish.

b.      He created a special fund in the bait al-mal that caters to the loan of debtors.

c.       He provided a regular supply for grains of a quantity of 4.5 irdabb per person

d.      He instructed governors to construct inns in cities for Muslims traveler to stay free of charge for 24 hours. He also ordered the construction of quest houses at the expense of the bait al-mal.

The Ummah was so prosperous and rich that beggars and slaves became self-reliant. They all abandoned the habit of begging and established their own trade or profession. People were made rich and prosperous that it was very difficult to fine a Muslim who accepted charity. One Muhammad bin Qais was reported to have said the following:

Omar bin Abd al Aziz ordered the distribution of sadaqah among deserving people, but after a year I found that people to whom sadaqah was offered were themselves capable of giving it. (Nadvi, P.170)

Beside the social welfare reforms of Omar, he also secured the privileges and rights of the non-Muslims (Shimmies).

a.       HE assured them of the protection of their lives and property as those of Muslims

b.      He granted them the Freedom of worship. Their places of worship were also protected.

c.       They were treated on equal basis and the prevented them from all sorts of oppression.

Conclusion

This short work illustrated Omars undisputed revival and reform movement. His simplicity, righteousness, justice, religious knowledge, generosity and compassion are reflection of his administration. He has been widely regarded by scholars of periods to be the peak and glorious time of Umayyad dynasty. His reign was of no doubt the continuation of that of the four guided Caliphs. His qualities gained the title of The fifth of the Khulafa al-Rashideen(Genuine Guided Caliphs).

Umar bin Abd. Al Aziza achievement were indeed overdue and necessary. His appointment was a blessing for the poor, oppressed new converts and the shimmies. He was a reformer who came to the rescue of the Ummah after the long decay and predicament. Omar introduced a wide range of policies geared toward the prosperity of the Ummah. He reduced the role of the Muslim armys role from the expansionist policy to protection of the state. He improved the welfare of the commoner by allocating stipends for newborn babies, establishing public facilities and reducing the burden of the oppressive taxes. He lifted the tax, which the Umayyad imposed on new converts by justifying that Allah sent his prophet as a missionary not a tax collector. He honored the Ulama and allocated stipends for them. Above all, he fused the tension of hatred between the Umayyad dynasty and the Ahl al-bait. The memoir of Omar bin Abd. Al Aziz as the fifth of the Khulafa al Rachides will remain a historical fact. The Ummah is indeed, in dare need of another Omar bin Abd. Al Aziz.

 

 

 

References

Omar bin Abdul Aziz,The fifth caliphate, by  Sheik S.Dar Al-Qalam, Damascus1992

The fifth Caliphate Omar bin Abdul Al-Aziz,by Al Sarqawi A.Egypt

The Umayad Dynasty, by Kudri B,Dar Al-Fikr,Lebanon,1st edition1994.

The story of the fifth Caliphate Omar bin Abdul Aziz,by Al Jamal I.M, Dar AlZahbiyah,Egypt1995.

  History of Omar bin Abdul Aziz, by  Faaur A. Al Hadi, Beirut, Lebanon, 1st edition 1999.

The 1st Dynasty of Islam ,The Ummayad calipahate, by Hawting G.R. 1986.

The politic of Omar bin Abdul Al-Aziz in fighting the Transgressor,by Zakariyah F. A-Azizah, Mekkah.1st edition1987.

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