Umar bin Khattab, popularly known as Umar Farooq (the Distinguisher between truth and falsehood), was a companion (sahabi) and father-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He was the second Caliph of Rashidun Caliphate after Abu Bakr (RA). His reign span for ten years and he is known as one of the best Muslim rulers due to expansion of Islamic State, his social security measures for well-being of people and prosperity of the state. He is included in Michael Hart’s famous book The 100 which is about the 100 greatest personalities of human history.
Life Before Islam
Umar was born in Makkah in 579 AD to the Banu Adi clan of Quraysh. The names of his father and mother were Khattab bin Nufayl and Hantama bint Hisham respectively. He was among the few literate people of Makkah who can read and write. He was tall and well-built and also was a good wrestler and athlete. Like many other people of Quraysh, he became a merchant during his early life.
He was a strict opponent of Islam before his conversion. His attitude towards his Muslim slaves was very harsh and merciless and he was among the worst enemies of Islam who was even ready to kill Muhammad (PBUH) in order to end Islam.
Conversion to Islam
On a day in 616 AD, Umar was on his way to kill Muhammad (PBUH). He met his friend Naeem bin Abdullah in the way and told him about his intention. Naeem had also secretly embraced Islam. In order to save him from doing anything wrong, he told Umar that his sister and brother-in-law have also accepted Islam. He angrily reached his sister’s house and beat both his sister Fatimah and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zaid. But they refused to give up Islam. This made Umar to recite few verses of Holy Qur’an and then decided to embrace Islam in front of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Before that, Muhammad (PBUH) himself prayed for conversion of Umar bin Khattab or Amr bin Hisham (Abu Juhl). His conversion allowed the Muslims to pray openly for the first time due to bravery and importance of Umar (RA).
Migration & Life in Madinah
When Muhammad (PBUH) allowed the Muslims to migrate towards Madinah in 622 AD, Umar (RA) also migrated but openly at day time contrary to other Muslims who left Makkah secretly.
He took part in all the major battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, battles against Jewish tribes, Battle of Hunayn etc. During Battle of Tabuk, Umar (RA) gave half of his total wealth in the cause of Islam.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Umar (RA) staunchly supported the caliphate of Abu Bakr (RA). He paved the way for his caliphate by ensuring the support from majority of Muhajirun and Ansar. He also remained the advisor and right-hand man of Abu Bakr (RA) during his caliphate. There is also contribution of Umar (RA) in the unity and stability of Islamic State during Abu Bakr’s era. On seeing the ability, wisdom and piety of Umar, Abu Bakr decided to nominate Umar (RA) as his successor and second Caliph of Islam.
Umar (RA) As Caliph
The first Caliph Abu Bakr (RA) died in 634 AD and before his death he appointed Umar (RA) to be the next Caliph. Few people argued on this decision due to strictness of Umar (RA) but Abu Bakr (RA) said that the burden of caliphate will make him soft. The decision later proved absolutely right because Umar (RA) not only completed the conquests of Persia and Levent (Sham) but his internal reforms about administration and social justice strengthen the state and it also became the first welfare state of history.
Iraq was conquered by Khalid bin Waleed (RA) during Abu Bakr’s reign and later Umar continued the conquest of Persia and his military commanders finally captured the mainland Persia in 644 AD which ended the Sassanid Empire.
In 638 AD, Muslim armies captured the whole of Levant which include modern-day Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine/Israel and Eastern Anatolia from the Byzantines.
In 642 AD, Muslim commander Amr bin al-A’as (RA) conquered Egypt from Byzantine Empire and ended their rule there.
Umar’s ten-year era was a golden period of internal prosperity due to his social and administrative reforms. He was the first to build a state Army while before that men from different tribes came to fight a battle. He founded the garrison cities (cantonments) of Basra and Kufa in Iraq. He established Bayt al-mal (treasury) in 641 AD. He introduced social security for elderly, poor, widows, disabled and orphans either Muslim or non-Muslim. He started the Islamic calendar (Hijri) from the migration of Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah. He also established postal service. He ordered 80 lashes for alcohol-drinking and introduced punishment for targeting a woman’s modesty in poetry. He was more interested in expansion of Islam instead of territorial gain. Due to this reason the areas conquered by Umar are still Muslim-majority areas. All these reforms earned him the place to be recognized as one of the best administrators and founder of a welfare state.
Martyrdom and Achievements
On 3rd November 644 AD, a non-Muslim Persian slave Abu Lulu Firuz attacked Umar with knife and wounded him. He later committed suicide and his tomb is in Kashan (Iran). Umar (RA) died on 26th Dhul Hijja 23 AH (7th November 644) with these wounds. he was buried alongside Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and first Caliph Abu Bakr (RA) according to his will. The plan of Umar’s assassination was made by Persians living in Madinah to take revenge of Muslim conquest of Persia. Before his martyrdom, Umar (RA) appointed a six-member committee to choose the next Caliph. The committee later chose Usmanbin Affan (RA) and he became the third Caliph after Umar’s martyrdom.
The above-mentioned account clearly shows that he was one of the greatest rulers and reformers of human history. The impact of his military achievements was long-lasting and his laws about social security are still acted upon. He is appreciated by not only Muslims but also by non-Muslim and and western historians.