Umar bin al-Khattab, the Second Khalifa of the Muslims
Umar, also spelled Omar (Arabic: عمر بن الخطاب, translit.: `Umar ibn Al-Khattāb, Umar Son of Al-Khattab, born 579 CE, was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs (guardians) in history. He was a Sahabah or companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He succeeded Abu Bakr (632–634) as the second Rashid of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. He was an expert Islamic jurist and is best known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the title Al-Faruq (“the one who distinguishes between right and wrong”). He is sometimes referred to as Umar I by historians of Islam, since a later Umayyad caliph, Umar II, also bore that name.
Under Umar, the Rashidun Caliphate expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the whole Sasanian Empire and more than two thirds of the Byzantine Empire. His attacks against the Sassanid Persian Empire resulted in the conquest of Persia in fewer than two years. It was Umar, according to Jewish tradition, who set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship.
In 610 Muhammad started preaching the message of Islam. Umar, alongside others in Mecca, opposed Islam and threatened to kill Muhammad. He resolved to defend the traditional, polytheistic religion of Arabia. He was adamant and cruel in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting the Muslims. Umar was among the first to conclude that Muhammad had to be murdered in order to finish Islam. He firmly believed in the unity of the Quraish and saw the new faith of Islam as a cause of division and discord among the Quraish.
Due to the persecution at the hands of the Quraish, Muhammad ordered his followers to migrate to Abyssinia. As a small group of Muslims migrated Umar became worried about the future unity of the Quraish and decided to have Muhammad assassinated.
Umar converted to Islam in 616, one year after the Migration to Abyssinia. The story was recounted in Ibn Ishaq’s Sīrah. On his way to murder Muhammad, Umar met his best friend Na’eem bin Abdullah who had secretly converted to Islam but had not told Umar. When Umar informed him that he had set out to kill Muhammad, Na’eem feared the worst.
“While ‘Umar was at home in a state of fear, there came Al-‘As bin Wail As-Sahmi Abu ‘Amr who was an open enemy to Muhammad, wearing an embroidered cloak and a shirt having silk hems. He was from the tribe of Bani Sahm who were our allies during the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. Al-‘As said to ‘Umar “What is wrong with you?” He said, “Your people claim that they would kill me if I become a Muslim.” Al-‘As said, “Nobody will harm you after I have given protection to you.” So Al-‘As went out and met the people streaming in the whole valley. He said, “Where are you going?” They said, “We want Ibn Al-Khattab who has embraced Islam.” Al-‘As said, “There is no way for anybody to touch him.” So the people retreated.” Umar was a man of his word and would attempt to do what he said. So in order to divert his attention, Nuaim told him to inquire about his own house where his sister and her husband had converted to Islam. Upon arriving at her house, Umar found his sister and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zaid (Umar’s cousin) reciting the verses of the Quran from sura Ta-ha. He started quarreling with his brother-in-law. When his sister came to rescue her husband, he also started quarreling with her. Yet still they kept on saying “you may kill us but we will not give up Islam”. Upon hearing these words, Umar slapped his sister so hard that she fell to the ground bleeding from her mouth. When he saw what he did to his sister, he calmed down out of guilt and asked his sister to give him what she was reciting. His sister replied in the negative and said “You are unclean, and no unclean person can touch the Scripture.” He insisted, but his sister was not prepared to allow him to touch the pages unless he washed his body. Umar at last gave in. He washed his body and then began to read the verses that were: Verily, I am Allah: there is no God but Me; so serve Me (only), and establish regular prayer for My remembrance (Quran 20:14). He wept and declared, “Surely this is the word of Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” On hearing this, Hadhrat Khabbab came out from inside and said: ” O, Umar! Glad tidings for you. Yesterday Muhammad prayed to Allah, ” O, Allah strengthen Islam with either Umar or Abu Jahl, whomsoever Thou Likest.” It seems that his prayer has been answered in your favour. He then went to Muhammad with the same sword he intended to kill him with and accepted Islam in front of him and his companions. Umar was 27 when he accepted Islam.
Following his conversion, Umar went to inform the chief of Quraish, Amr ibn Hishām, about his acceptance of Islam. According to one account, Umar thereafter openly prayed at the Kaaba as the Quraish chiefs, Amr ibn Hishām and Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, reportedly watched in anger. This further helped the Muslims to gain confidence in practicing Islam openly. At this stage Umar even challenged anyone who dared to stop the Muslims from praying, although no one dared to interfere with Umar when he was openly praying.
Umar’s conversion to Islam granted power to the Muslims and to the Islamic faith in Mecca. It was after this event that Muslims offered prayers openly in Masjid al-Haram for the first time. Abdullah bin Masoud said,
Umar’s embracing Islam was our victory, his migration to Medina was our success, and his reign a blessing from Allah. We didn’t offer prayers in Al-Haram Mosque until Umar had accepted Islam. When he accepted Islam, the Quraysh were compelled to let us pray in the Mosque.
Umar’s caliphate is notable for its many conquests. His generals conquered Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kirman, Seistan, Khurasan, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt, and incorporated them into the empire of the Muslims. All of these were permanent conquests. The Romans lost Syria, Palestine and Egypt for ever; and in Persia, the Sassani empire ceased to exist.
Umar was assassinated on the last Saturday of Dhul-Hijja (the last month of the Islamic calendar) of 23 A.H. (A.D. 644), and he was buried next to the Prophet and Abu Bakr.