99-101 A.H. / 717-720 A.D.
IF Suleiman differed from Al-Welid, 'Omar differed incomparably more, not only from both, but also from all other Caliphs both before and after him. An unaffected piety, tinged albeit with bigotry, led to uprightness, moderation, simplicity of life, and to a rule that was eminently just and peaceful. On assuming the Caliphate, the royal grooms brought before him the prancing steeds of the court stables to choose from; but he preferred his own modest equipage. He bade his wife surrender to the treasury the costly jewels given her by her father, 'Abd al-Melik, else he could no longer live with her; and she obeyed. On 'Omar's death, her brother Yezid succeeding to the throne, offered to restore them, but she, mindful of her husband's wish, declined. Calling his other wives and slave-girls to him, 'Omar told them, that as now he had to bear the weight of empire, they must no longer expect from him the same attention and benevolence as before, but it was open to them to leave: they wept, and all declared that they would not be parted from him. In his first oration he invited only those to join his company who would help in doing that which was just and right. Poets, orators, and such like soon found that his court was no place for them, while it was thronged by godly and devout divines. His pious scruples led him sometimes into acts of questionable expediency. The demesnes at Fadak, reserved by the Prophet for public charity,1 but some time back wrongfully appropriated by Merwan for the expenses of the court, were now, against
1 Life of Mohammad, pp. 503, 536.
1 Life of Mohammad, pp. 503, 536.
the ruling of Abu Bekr, handed over to the family of 'Ali; their properties in Mecca were restored to the family of Talha; and these, with other resumptions of the kind, created ill-feeling in the royal house.
His devotion to Islam prejudiced him against the employment of Jews and Christians; and in a rescript addressed to his lieutenants he bade them exalt the true faith, abase all others, and appoint none but Muslims to offices of trustquoting verses of the Kor'an in support of his command.1 The Mawali, or new converts, of Khorasan, who took part in the wars, were put on a level with the Mukatila, or fighting Arabsthat is, they were exempt from taxes and received pensions. He restored to the children also of the Mukatila the pensions which had been curtailed by Mu'awiya and withheld by 'Abd al-Melik. The tithes of the province of 'Oman were returned to that province for distribution amongst its poor. He was also hard and unpitiful in exacting from those of other creeds the severest burdens it was lawful to impose. But whatever the bigotry or even fanaticism of his rule, and however much he may have sought to proselytise by favouring the religion of Islam, his justice in administering the law according to its dictates, was surpassed by none. When appealed to by the Christians of Damascus to give them back the Church of St John turned by Al-Welid into the city Mosquethough unable to concede their request, he allowed them to retain the Church of St Thomas, which was not theirs by right. The people of Nejran, who had, by a breach of faith, been transplanted by 'Omar I. to near Al-Kufa, and of whom Mohammad had laid a tribute of 2000 pieces of cloth (80,000 dirhems), had decreased in numbers by war and conversions. 'Othman had granted them a rebate of 200 pieces, and Mu'awiya of a further 200. Both these were re-imposed by Al-Hajjaj. By the time of 'Omar II., their numbers had fallen from 40,000 to 4000. 'Omar II. therefore reduced the tribute from 2000 pieces of cloth to 200.
Hitherto in the public prayers on Friday throughout the Empire, a petition cursing 'Ali had been in use. The later historians say this was now withdrawn. A sense of duty may have led to this action, justified by a passage in the Kor'an, which enjoins justice and kindness towards
1 Suras iii. 114, and v. 54.
1 Suras iii. 114, and v. 54.
relatives.1 When a schoolboy at Medina, the practice had been denounced to him by a holy man, whose teaching he adopted, and never departed from. 'Omar had urged his father to discontinue it when Governor of Egypt; but he replied that the cessation, however otherwise right and proper, would damage the Umeiyad reign, and favour transfer of the Caliphate to the house of 'Ali. The imprecation was resumed after 'Omar's death. But its temporary abolition, whilst conciliating the feelings of the adherents of the house of 'Ali towards 'Omar himself, did no doubt stimulate the movement now taking shape against the ruling dynasty.
It says much for 'Omar's government that the Khawarij under his Caliphate did not unsheathe the sword. Sending for their leaders to argue their grievances and traitorous tenets with them, he heard their scruples patiently and answered them as far as he could. What troubled him most was their plea that, though he himself was orthodox and saintly, yet the godless Yezid would succeed him. 'Omar could only answer that with succession to the throne he could not interfere, as it had been so provided by the same authority from which his own title was derived. The faction was stimulated by 'Omar's concessions to their prejudices; and equally so were the Umeiyad family troubled at his attitude, as dangerous to their dynasty.2
There is not much to record of adventure, military or administrative, in the reign of 'Omar. His first concern and was to bring safely back what remained of the armament so bootlessly launched by his predecessors against Constantinople. Large supplies of food and carriage were sent to Maslama, and the withdrawal was thus successfully carried out. Elsewhere the efforts of 'Omar were mainly marked by endeavours to convert the nations to Islam. Among the Berbers these were most successful. But in Spain the task was not so easy; and therefore, to reduce the influence of the Christians, their lands were divided amongst the conquerors. A royal Mosque was also
1 Sura xvi. 92.
2 It is even asserted that they set one to poison his drink, and that
of this he died. But this is not consistent with other traditions, and looks like a fabrication of the 'Abbasid
enemies of the Umeiyad line.
1 Sura xvi. 92.
2 It is even asserted that they set one to poison his drink, and that of this he died. But this is not consistent with other traditions, and looks like a fabrication of the 'Abbasid enemies of the Umeiyad line.
founded, in this reign, at Saragossa. To promote conversion in the East, 'Omar addressed a rescript to the kings of Sind, inviting them to embrace Islam, with the promise of thereby enjoying all the privileges and immunities of the Arab race. This they did, and obtained Arabian names, but again, in the reign of Hisham, apostatized.
'Omar II. appointed his governors, not for the party to which they belonged, but for their honesty and trustworthiness. His governors in Al-Basra, 'Adi ibn Artat, and in Mesopotamia, 'Omar ibn Hubeira, both of Fezara, were of Keis; whilst his governor in Spain was a Yemeni, Samh ibn Malik, and in India a brother of Koteiba. He considered the Kadi or judge a more important official than the governor. His Kadi in Al-Basra was the famous Al-Hasan. Unlike his predecessors he did not leave his governors a free hand so long as the taxes came in regularly, but considered himself as responsible for them.
One instance of this conscientiousness was the arraignment of Yezid, son of Al-Muhallab. Even Suleiman is said to have become dissatisfied with his favourite; and 'Omar, regarding him now as a tyrant, summoned him to give an account of his stewardship in Khorasan. Yezid no sooner set foot in Al-'Irak than he was put in chains, and so conducted to Damascus. 'Omar held him to the letter of his reported victories and prize in Central Asia. In vain Yezid protested that the report was made to magnify the achievement in the people's eyes, and that he had never thought of being called to account for the exact amount which he had named. 'Omar would none of the excuse; Yezid must produce a reckoning of the whole, and make good what was due. Finally, he was banished in coarse prison dress to an island in the Red Sea. But warned of his dangerous aims even in that isolated place, the Caliph removed him to Aleppo, where he was kept in strict confinement. His son, whom he had left to take his place at Merv, came to intercede for him, but in vain; and dying shortly after, 'Omar performed the funeral service over him, saying that he was a better man than his father. Yezid had fancied 'Omar to be but a sanctimonious hypocrite; he now found him terribly in earnest; but he had reason to fear his successor even more. On hearing that 'Omar had sickened,
he bribed the guard, and effected his escape to Al-Basra, where he raised a dangerous rebellion, as we shall in the sequel see.
The policy pursued in Khorasan and Central Asia after the recall of Yezid is another evidence that the Caliph was more intent on the spread of the Faith than on temporal aggrandisement. There were loud cries of harshness and exaction from the professed converts of Khorasan. 'Omar sent for a deputation of these to represent their grievances, and finding their complaint well-founded, deposed Al-Jarrah the viceroy, and insisted that all who said the creed, and joined in the religious services, should be exempt from burdens, and placed on the same footing as themselves. To consolidate his rule, he stayed the sword against outlying countries, and called in the garrisons and columns that had been settled in those heathen parts. Throughout all the provinces retained, the people, finding now the comfort and advantages of conversion, began to flock in multitudes to the Faith. At first they were tested by their willingness to be circumcised; but 'Omar hearing of it, forbade a test nowhere enjoined in the Kor'an; "for Mohammad," said he, was sent to call men to the faith, not to circumcise them." To the warning of an Egyptian official that the number of conversions was seriously affecting the revenue, he replied that "God sent His Prophet as a missionary, not a tax-gatherer." At the same time burdens on unbelievers were imposed, as elsewhere, to the utmost, but justice towards them must also be observed. No churches, synagogues, or fire-temples were to be destroyed; but the erection of new ones was forbidden. The policy of 'Omar was thus to fill Khorasan and the adjoining districts with a population of contented believers; to consolidate the Faith to cast the sword aside. And in this policy so far as his short and transient reign allowed, he was successful.
In spite of his reply to the Egyptian official, 'Omar had to take steps to put a stop to the falling off in the land-tax due to the migration of the peasantry into the towns. His measures were wiser and less violent than those of Al-Hajjaj. After consulting the lawyers of Medina, he apparently forbade the sale of taxable land by non-Muslims to Muslims (who paid no tax) after the year 100 A.H.. This measure held good
under the next two Caliphs and then became a dead letter, and at a later period a third expedient was adopted, which still holds good. A difference was declared between Kharaj and Jizya. The former was said by a legal fiction to be paid by the land, and so both Muslims and non-Muslims were liable for it; but the latter was a poll-tax payable only by non-Muslims in return for the protection afforded them by the Muslims. Thus the Muslims were made to contribute to the revenue, and the State did not suffer loss.
A son of seventeen died before him. Some touching passages are related of 'Omar's conversation with this youth, who was like-minded with him in high religious aspiration. He urged his father to enforce reform and bring back society to the primitive practice of what was right. 'Omar replied that he had done what he could by gentle means, but if Muslim rule were to be regenerated as his son desired, it must be accomplished by force; and there is no good," said he, in that reform which can be enforced by the sword alone."
Though devoid of stirring events, there is much that is attractive in the reign of 'Omar. It is a relief, amidst bloodshed, intrigue, and treachery, to find a Caliph devoted to what he believed the highest good both for himself and for his people. The saint might be morbid, over-scrupulous, and bigoted; but there are few, if any, throughout this history whose life leaves a more pleasing impression on the reader's mind than that of 'Omar.
It was the middle of 101 A.H., after a reign of two years and a half, that 'Omar sickened. In a few weeks he died, at the age of thirty-nine, and was buried at Dair Sim'an, in the province of Hims.1 He was succeeded, according to his brother Suleiman's last will, by his cousin Yezid, son of 'Abd al-Melik, and of 'Atika, daughter of Yezid I.
1 His tomb was not desecrated by the 'Abbasids; like those of the other
Umeiyad Caliphs. Mas'udi, v. 416.Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, pp. 432 f., 497.
1 His tomb was not desecrated by the 'Abbasids; like those of the other Umeiyad Caliphs. Mas'udi, v. 416.Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, pp. 432 f., 497.
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