Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the celebrated Umayyad Caliph, was sitting in his private chamber examining a pile of State documents, when his wife, Fatima, addressed him:
“Sir! Will you spare a few moments for me?
“But, please put off this State lamp and light your own, as I do not want to burn the State oil for private talk.”
The obedient wife, who was the daughter of Abdul Malik, the mighty Umayyad Caliph and the sister of two successive Umayyad Caliphs, Waleed and Sulayman, complied accordingly. This incident is a brief reflection of the short, but memorable two year reign of Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the brightest period in the 91-year Caliphate of the Umayyads, which, though short lived, had entirely transformed the outlook of the State.
He came in the form of a reviver, which was also prophesized by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as:
Born in 61 AH in Madinah, Umar was raised amongst the company of righteous people, thus their noble practices were reflected in his personality both as Governor of Madinah and later as Caliph of the Muslim Ummah. A brief account of his contributions is given below.
Shura Council in Madinah
The decision of Caliph Waleed bin Abdal –Malik’s nomination of Umar as the Governor of Madinah in 91AH, was warmly welcomed by the Madeenites. Umar also stood true to their expectations.
Immediately on arrival in Madinah, he formed an advisory council of ten eminent jurists and notables of the city for his guidance on all important matters, thus following the footsteps of his great grandfather Umar bin al-Khattab.
The same practice was continued by him even when he became the caliph in 99 AH. He attracted around him a galaxy of talented men, thus distancing himself from those only interested in worldly pleasures and personal gain.
The Caliph sincerely believed that responsibility and authority demanded granting the subjects their due rights. To achieve the same, he worked endlessly to achieve the same. He also sought advice from Al-Hassan Al-Basri to achieve a better insight into the characteristics of a just leader and applied that in all his dealings as given below.
He left no stone unturned to return the illegal properties occupied by the Umayyad back to the rightful owners.
Dismissal of all Unjust Governors
Another great reflection of his justice is his decision to immediately remove all unjust governors and commanders, who were famous for carrying out huge atrocities on people. He looked for the most pious people in faith and religious observance to better serve the Ummah.
Lifting Unlawful Taxes
The Ummayads had no accountability with regards to their treasury. Their lavish lifestyle was funded by imposing unnecessary and heavy taxes. The quality of goods had decreased due to the heavy taxes in addition to Zakat, Jizyah, ‘Ushr and Kharaj. Umar alleviated the trading taxes in every land and forbade the Governors from taking Jizyah from newly converted Muslims.
Kindness to Animals
Umar’s justice was not just limited to human beings; rather he issued strict instructions regarding dealings with animals as well. He forbade goading the animals with iron rods. He even fixed the maximum load for camels and made it compulsory for all his governors to comply with the instructions.
Intellectual & Religious Freedom
This was manifested in his compliance with various covenants and agreements he underwent with the Jews and the Christians, thereby following the Quranic teachings that:
Umar ensured that the Non-Muslims were given their due rights as citizens of the state and did not force them to enter Islam. During his rule, people were given freedom of speech, so they could easily express their opinions and put forward their complaints to the Government.
Freedom of Trade and Commerce
Umar granted people complete freedom to invest their wealth and trade through land and sea. He sincerely believed that when Allah had allowed man to pursue and earn livelihood without any restrictions, the state had no right to intervene, as the land and sea both belonged to Allah. Once he was asked:
“Why is that the price of things is high in your time, and they were lower under former governments? “
had been smashed to pieces. I do not burden anyone with more than they can bear. The price of something has nothing to do with us, only Allah.”
However, he imposed a strict ban on the sale and use of alcohol for Muslims.
Dealing with Kharijites and Shias
Umar did not order to wage war on the Kharijites on the grounds of their differences of opinion, rather he showed utmost perseverance, with the hope that Allah might guide them to the correct path.
It was only when the situation went beyond control due to the Kharijites spilling blood of Muslims that he ordered to fight against them. However, following in the footsteps of Ali, he also forbade keeping their women and children as captives, and deemed their wealth unlawful.
Similarly, Umar’s stance towards Shias was also filled with wisdom, a practice which all Muslim nations who are victim of sectarianism riots should adopt in full letter and spirit. He forbade cursing Ali in Jummu’ah Prayers, which had unfortunately become a usual practice in the previous Umayyad Governments. He gave special instructions to his officials in Kufah, the stronghold of Shia community, on how to deal with them.
“Do not demand obedience on the grounds of abandoning Ali ibn Abi Talib, for he was a righteous man. Read to them, and do not delve into it with them. Speak to them and do not listen to what they have to say. Teach them and do not learn from them.” Thus, he advised not to involve in direct confrontation with this group. Instead he insisted on staying away from the company of innovators and heretics to avoid bloodshed.
Umar’s policy of disciplined commercial and economic freedom flourished and bore abundant fruits in the form of a massive influx of business and trade initiatives. This led to a significant rise in total yield of income collected as Zakah, through which the quality of life improved in the lower social classes. Thus during his reign, a time of economic prosperity reached when there were no receivers of Zakah available. He also lifted unnecessary taxes imposed on farmers, thus encouraging them to re-vitalize their barren lands, and did not charge any revenue out of it. His infrastructural projects included expanding the Prophet’s mosque, and thousands of wells, inns and guest houses were constructed to facilitate travelers.
The legislative system during his reign was exemplary in the sense that he himself would scrutinize the appointment of judges and stipulated five criteria (knowledge, discernment, integrity, seeking of advice and tenaciousness in the truth) for selection.He himself gave many independent rulings in the light of Quran and Sunni and the Consensus of the Companions of the Prophet. For example regarding the period of absence from one’s wife, he gave the ruling that: “Whoever is absent from his wife for two years must either divorce her or return to her.”However, the Umayyads who were accustomed to such lavish lifestyles could not tolerate his attitude of strict justice, so they plotted against him, poisoning him which eventually led to his death in the year 101 AH.