Umar Bin Khattab (RA), the forerunner of visionary modern state – by Shaukat Masood Zafar

People say good leadership is like a prized perfume. Its very first scented waft announces its presence with astonishing freshness. Bad leadership like skunk just stinks.

Democracy is not a separate ideology from Islam. In fact democracy is very much there in Islam. There is no concept of dictatorship, popism (mullaiyat) and totalitarianism in Islam. Islam doesn’t believe in any kind of monarchy and oligarchy. When we analyze what democracy is we come to the conclusion that it is nothing but the sense of responsibility and accountability. The absolute system of governing, which Islam presents totally based upon three golden fundamentals i.e. Consultation, Responsibility and Accountability. The political system of Islam totally depends upon Shooraiat (consultation). The significance of consultation in governance proves by this that a complete surah in Quran is named “Al-shoorah” (consultation).

The nectar of good governance and effective administration is enshrined in its leadership’s personal integrity and self-accountability; in justice for all, and in people’s freedom to speak out. The American Constitution prides itself for incorporating in its preamble the five basic responsibilities of the government – justice for all; ensuring domestic tranquility; providing for common defense; promoting general welfare and lastly, securing the blessings of liberty to people and to their posterity.

Hazrat Umar, the second Caliph of Islam, in the 7 th century AD extolled and applied these principles – already available to him through Islam – in letter and spirit, and without any exceptions during his reign.

“No man is above the law and no man below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor”. -Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

“Hazrat Umer (R.A) was courageous, unselfish, and passionately committed to the ideals of justice and equity which had been so lacking in the Meccan polity.” – Karen Armstrong, “Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time’, pg185

Hazrat Umar, by all accounts, was an “energetic and brilliant” man. He can, of course, be called the forerunner of any, “visionary modern state”, in the comity of 192 countries of the world, in which people are prosperous and safe, are treated equally by the law of the state, irrespective of their social or financial status; are habitually law-abiding, and fair in their dealings, are literate and tolerant, and above all, are thoroughly charitable and honest. He, during his tenure of ten years, six months and four days, not only accomplished these ideals in some very difficult times, but also lived to see people willingly live by them.

As described in connection with the life of Hazrat Abu-Bakr, during his illness he consulted the “Shura” about the next “Khalifah” and then gave his decision in favour of Hadrat Umar (R.A.) who took the charge of Caliphate after the death of Hadrat Abu Bakr (R.A.) His caliphate marked the “Golden Age” of Islam.

He was a very pious Muslim. His success lay in two things-fear of Allah and his love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He never used even oil from the Bait-ul-Mal (Public Treasury) to burn a lamp at night for his personal needs. Whenever he finished the official work he put off the lamp. He used to patrol in the city at night to find out the needs and requirements, and conditions of the people. He did not hesitate to take his wife to work as a midwife for a poor woman. The salary he got from the Bait-ul-Mal was so low that it was hardly enough for him and his family’s needs. When some of the eminent Muslims requested him to increase the amount he, said, “The Holy Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) has left a standard by his personal example. I must follow him”.

Hadrat Umar was the most just ruler in the Islamic History. All the citizens, including the Caliph himself, were equal before law. Once he appeared before a court at Medina to clarify his position against a complaint. The Qadi (Judge) wanted to stand in his honour, but he did not allow him to do so, so that there would be no distinction between him and an ordinary person before Law. Courts were completely independent and free to give its verdict on any matter that was presented before them even if it was against state or khalifah. The government couldn’t interfere in their decisions. He was really the founder of modern democratic system.

As far as Khalifa is concerned, he had no right and power to forgive or condone those who were prosecuted and convicted by the courts. There was complete supremacy and rule oflaw. They were all equal in the eyes of law whether they were rich or poor, ruler or labourer. Nothing was hidden from anyone regarding matters or policies relating to Government and state.

Khalifa used to tell participants in Jummah prayer in mosque about important issues. Every citizen could enquire about any thing. Democracy was ruling in its best shape. Khalifa was held responsible and was subject to answer to his people. History is full of different examples that how Khalifa consulted Majlis-e-Shoorah on different issues and how sahabah reacted, criticised and gave their opinions.

Hazrat Umar (RA) had given such type of general freedom of criticism and expression to the people on his actions and orders that an ordinary person didn’t hesitate or reluctant to criticise or object on khalifa itself.

Once a person said to Hazrat Umar (RA) many times: “O’Umar, be afraid of Allah”. A person amongst the audience tried to stop that person. Hazrat Umar (RA) said, “No, let him say. If those people will not say anything to me then what is the use of those?

Besides, Hazrat Umer, by temperament, was a hard taskmaster, and was very strict and uncompromising in matters of justice and accountability. But, his kind of leader was the need of the day. Hazrat Abu Bakr was very right when during the last days of his life, he said about Hazrat Umer. “Umer has been strict because I was soft. The burden of the State affairs will soften him out”. Hazrat Talha on hearing that Hazrat Umer was to become the Caliph, had come running to Hazrat Abu Bakr with this concern, “ In your presence, Umer treated us so. How will he treat us when you are gone and he becomes the Caliph? Now that you are about to meet God; think how you will explain this to Him”. Hazrat Abu Bakr replied, “I’ll tell God. For Your people, I have appointed one who has been the best”.

Hazrat Umer was, no doubt, strict, but he was always resolute, decisive, assertive, and clear headed. Quick, not hasty decision and its compliance was the hallmark of his rule. It is important to know that he was never unpopular or unacceptable to the Tribal Arabs, because he was totally transparent, and honest. “His inner self is better than his outer self. He has no second among us”, was what was said about him by Hazrat Usman at the time of his becoming the caliph. Besides, there was around him ever present, the wisest among the wise, Hazrat Ali.

Be it fixing the stipend for the caliph, or acting as caliph in his absence when Hazrat Umer had had to leave for Syria to apprise himself of the condition of the soldiers during the breakout of an epidemic; or advising Hazrat Umer not to leave Medina, but ask the governors of Kufa, Basra and Syria to send their army contingents to counter the Iranians at Nehavend in 642,, to count only a few occasions, Hazrat Ali’s able guidance like a guiding star had always been there for him.

Once Hazrat Umer fell ill. It was suggested that he be given honey as a cure, and there was no honey at his home. A good stock of it, however, was there in the Bait-ul-Maal. Hazrat Umer sough the permission of the people in Masjid-i-Nabvi if he could take a little bit of honey from there. One express purpose behind seeking this open permission was to let the people know what little rights the caliph had in the use of public money.

Once the first lady, Um-e- Kulsum, sent some perfume vials as a gift to the women of Kaiser of Rome. They, out of goodwill, returned the bottles of perfume, but filled with precious jewels. Hazrat Umer heard about the exchange. He ordered confiscation of the jewels, stating, “Perfume was yours, but the messenger used in the process was a government employee”. He ordered that the jewels be deposited in Baitul Maal, and his wife be compensated for the actual value of the perfume.

Once his daughter, and Prophet’s wife, Hazrat Hafsa, came to him to claim her share in the war-booty on account of her special double status, “Zuwalqarba”. Hazrat Umer disappointed her by saying, “You will have your share in my portion, not in the war booty. It is sad that you tried to hoodwink your own father”. She felt ashamed for ever putting up such a demand.

One big factor in the success of Hazrat Umer was his strict control over the public exchequer. He suspended Hazrat Khalid bin Walid, (and Hazrat Bilal as well), for his failure to submit the details of the expenditures. The relaxed supervision of the fiscal matter in later periods, (and in modern times), created un-surmountable problems for them.

In one khutba, he made it clear on all the eight governors, “Always keep in mind that I have appointed you over people, not as their masters, or as their over-lords with a view to suppressing them; but as their ‘Imams’, as their ‘Role-Models’, so that people may follow you. You are to guard their rights, and not to humble or manhandle them… do not keep your doors closed at them in a manner that the strong is able to cause harm to the weak. Don’t rank yourselves above people because that will amount being unfair to them”. Some of the conditions he laid down for them were:

You shall not ride a Turkish horse (symbol of elitism)
You shall not attire yourself in fine/silken clothes (sign of extravagance)
You shall not eat flour bread free of brawn. (excessive worldliness)
You shall not post a guard/security at your door (inaccessibility)
You shall remain available to the complainant all the time.

This declaration was to be read out in front of the appointees as well as in the public. In one such meeting, a person rose and said that one of his governors had unjustly inflicted 100 lashes on him. The official who had done this was none else but Hazrat Umro bin Al Aas. Hazrat Umer asked the complainant to redress his grievance by inflicting the same number of lashes on the governor. Hazrat Umro bin Al-Aas, stood up and said that such a practice was to make it difficult for an official to perform his duties. Hazrat Umer instantly replied, “But I do not want to be on the side of a criminal, too”. Hazrat Umro bin Al Aas had had to plead for clemency from the accuser, who agreed to accept two gold coins for each lash. (Kitab Al Kharaj pg 66).

Hazrat Umer never compromised in matters of justice and accountability. People tolerated his severe punishments when they saw him doing the same in case of his own kith and kin. His son, Abu Shehma when found drunk, was inflicted 10 lashes by none else but by the caliph himself. And he expired during the award of the punishment. Qadama bin Mazoon was a Sahabi of great standing and was his brother-in-law too. He, too, was charged on the same account, and was publicly awarded 10 lashes.

Hazrat Ayaz bin Ghanam was appointed as the governor of Egypt. A report was received that Ayaz was leading a lifestyle that was not in line with the stated declaration. He had given himself to wearing fine silken clothes, and had also begun posting a guard at his residence. Hazrat Mohammad bin Musalama Ansari, a great Sahabi and his Ombudsman, or Chief Investigator was asked to look into the matter. On enquiry, the charges were found true. Hazrat Umer ordered that Ayaz bin Ghanam’s robe be replaced with a coarse woolen outfit, and he be reassigned to the tending of a herd of sheep. People heard Ayaz saying, “I wish I had been dead”. Hazrat Umer reminded him. “Why do not feel small in shepherding a herd. After all your father had earned this title of ‘Ghanam’ for being a shepherd”. Al Kharaj page 66.

These days in Pakistan, a lot of mud slinging is being carried out against the different chairmen of the National Accountability Bureau in the alleged corruption cases of high officials. Hazrat Umer in that post had appointed Hazrat Mohammad bin Musalama Ansari, one of the most respected Sahabis. His credentials were that he had participated in all the battles fought during the Prophet’s time. In one case, the Prophet himself had appointed him as his assistant in Medina. So when Hazrat Mohammad bin Musalama Ansari investigated against an official, it meant total transparency. Truth would not stay hidden, nor anybody could dare disputing that the action taken was politically motivated.

Once a son of Hazrat Umro bin Al-Aas, the conqueror of Egypt, beat a non-Muslim without any reason. Hazrat Umer had that respected son of Hazrat Umro bin Al Aas thrashed publicly, stating, “Since when did you begin enslaving people whose mothers had given birth to them as free?”

On one occasion he said from the pulpit, “O People, in case you ever find me tilting towards worldliness; what will you do then?” A man rose from the gathering, drew his sword and said, “You will be beheaded with it”. Hazrat Umer in order to further test him, said, “You, daring to say so to me”. He remained resolved and said, “Yes, it will be like this for you”. Hazrat Umer then said, ‘Thank God. I have men like you who have the courage to straighten me out if I ever I chose to deviate from the right path”.

Once a Christian complained to Hazrat Umer when he was in the Harem in Makka that he had been doubly taxed on his horse. He submitted this complaint when Umer was delivering the khutba there. Later when he returned to the capital, the same Nasrani (Christian) who had lodged the complaint came to him to remind him of it. Hazrat Umer told him, “I’m the Hanifi, who took care of your complaint there and then”.

During the famine days in 639 or around and while returning from Syria, he stopped by a lone tent in which there lived an old woman. He asked her, “How is Umer doing?” She replied, “I heard about him coming from Syria. God’s curse be on him, I haven’t received a single Hibba from him during these hard times.” “How should Umer know about you, living so far away?’ asked Hazrat Umer. She angrily replied, “What kind of caliph is he if he doesn’t know how people are living under him”. Hazrat Umer cried bitterly outside her tent. He later fixed a daily allowance for all those who were poor, jobless, or were people with special needs. Anybody leading apparently an easy life, but availing himself of that allowance was personally tested on the caliph whenever possible. If found guilty, he was chided in such words as, “You have belittled yourself in my eyes”. During those hard times, Hazrat Umer was often found in a great agonizing state. He would cry and pray, “O God, do not inflict these people with hardships because of my doings”.

Hazrat Umer did not believe in the concept of pre-destination as did many of his veteran officials and Sahabis such as Hazrat Abu Obaida, and Hazrat Muaz bin Jabal. During the breakout of an epidemic in 639 in Syria and Egypt. The army had been stationed at a low lying area. Hazrat Umer asked the commander, Hazrat Abu Obaidah, to remove it to the higher lands. He refused to do so contending it was, “Ifrar min Qadrutullah, i.e. it amounted to running from Taqdeer-e-Illahi”. Meanwhile about 25 thousand soldiers perished. Hazrat Umer and Hazrat Umro bin al Aas always contented that the epidemic was a curse like the one which once had befallen Bani Israel. It needed to be dealt with “Tadbeer, logic and effort”. But Hazrat Obaidullah and later Hazrat Muaz died, sticking to their pre-fated philosophy, contending that it was a blessing in the sense that it was test of their faith in God.

In short he was the best example of an ideal character, and was the greatest “Khalifah” of Islam after Abu Bakr (R.A.). He selflessly devoted his whole energy for the cause of Islam. Muslims will always be indebted to him for his great achievements.



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