Caliph Umar's glorious role in early critical years

March 5, 2003 Wednesday Muharram 1, 1424

Caliph Umar's glorious role in early critical years

By Prof Ziauddin Ahmad

Hazrat Umar, the second Caliph, was an ideal and exemplary Muslim Ruler who discharged his duties remarkably setting a model and mould for an Islamic state. His policies and precepts were based on the principles and teachings of the Quran and Sunnah.

All the pious Caliphs had a Consultative Assembly, called the Majlis-i-Shura, composed of some able and learned companions, who were consulted in all important affairs of the administration. During the reign of Hazrat Umar there were two such consultative bodies. One was a general assembly which was convened by making a general announcement and where only affairs of national importance were discussed.

For the conduct of daily business, there was a separate committee on a smaller scale. Even matters in respect of appointment and dismissal of public servants were brought before this working committee. In addition to the deputies from the capital, even the representatives from the outlying parts of the empire were invited to these deliberations.

Non-Muslims were also allowed to participate. For example, in connection with the management of Mesopotamia, the native Parsi chiefs were consulted. This principle was even extended down to the general public who were consulted in certain matters. Every citizen of the State of Islam enjoyed the right to give his opinion and was perfectly free to do so.

No one was above law. Even the Caliphs were questioned by the common man. There was a Public treasury (Bait-al-Mal) in which the revenue of the State derived from different sources, was deposited. Abdullah-bin-Arqam was appointed the Chief Officer of this department. He was directed to increase the production, and the welfare of the peasantry and people at large. Revenues were realised according to planned assessment, therefore agriculture flourished immensely.

The revenue from land was Kharaj, i.e. one-fifth of the produce of land; (2) Ushr, one-tenth of the produce of land; (3) Zakat, two and half per cent of the wealth; (4) Jizya, (military tax paid by non-Muslims), but the poor, the sick and the crippled, women, children, the aged and priests and monks were exempted; (5) Ghanimah or Khums one-fifth of the war booty; (6) Ushoor i.e. import duty of 10 per cent on the traders and businessmen.

From the Public Treasury expenditure was made for the welfare of the people as well as for the poor and needy. The weak and disabled were granted allowances, and in this there was no distinction of Muslim or Non-Muslim.

The system of old-age pension now prevailing in many countries of the West, was first introduced by Hazrat Umar. For wayfarers, large rest houses were made in all big centres. Children without guardians were brought up at the expense of the State. During the famine days, the Caliph worked day and night to render succour to the starving people. To ascertain the weal and woe of his people, he used to go out in the night and visit various places.

During the 30 years that the Republic lasted, the policy derived its character chiefly from Hazrat Umar. To regulate the receipt and expenditure of the revenue, the Caliph established the department of finance under the name of the Diwan. The expenses were on civil administration, the army, the navy and the common people. In the Diwan a register containing the names of Arab and non-Arab allowance-holders was maintained and no favour was shown to any one.

From public revenues the canals for irrigation purposes were built. During Hazrat Umar's reign a canal was made which joined the Nile to the Red Sea. This canal facilitated transport of grains from Egypt to Hejaz. Other famous canals were canal of Abu Musa, Canal of Maaqal and canal of Sa'ad, which solved the irrigation problems.

For smooth running of the State the Empire was divided into fourteen provinces, each governed by a Wali. The provinces were Makkah, Madinah, Syria, Basra, Kufa, Egypt, Algiers, Palestine, Khorasan, Azarbaijan, Faras, Yemen, Najd and Bahrain.

The provinces were sub-divided into districts and each district had its Amils i.e. Revenue Collector and Qazi (Judge). They worked under the jurisdiction of the provincial Governor. The duties of the Governor and the officers were clearly defined so that they should not misuse their powers. Before appointment the Governor and officers had to submit an account of their wealth and properties, and at the time of retirement their accounts were verified and if it was found that any excess had come to them, those additional riches were confiscated.

The Qazis were directed to decide cases according to the Quran and Sunnah, Ijma (consensus of opinion) qiyas and Ijtehad. But this privilege was given to most learned and honest Fuqaha (jurists).

For helping the citizens and giving them free legal advice, a department of Ifta was established by Hazrat Umar which has no parallel in the history of modern world. The most eminent persons were appointed for advice and help, namely, Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Usman, Ma'az ibn Jabal, Abdur Rehman bin Auf, Ubayya bin Ka'ab, Zaib bin Thabit, Abu Huraira and others.

Caliph Omar fully organised the army by 15 A.H. which was composed of infantry, cavalry, and archers. The army was broadly divided into standing and reserve. The regular one, ready for defence of the State and borders; the reserves were called during the time of war. Intelligence and communication were also developed.

Hazrat Umar laid great stress on knowledge and learning and made education compulsory both for boys and girls. A number of schools were built in cities and towns for public instruction. Such distinguished companions as Abu Ayyub, Abu Durda and Ubaida were deputed to Syria for the purpose of organising Islamic education in that country. They spent sometime in Hims, Damascus and Palestine and popularised Quranic teaching in those places.

Prof. Philip K. Hitti in the History of the Arabs writes; Umar, who was of towering height, strong physique, continued, at least for some time after becoming Caliph, to support himself by trade and lived throughout his life in a style as unostentatious as that of a Bedouin Sheikh. In fact Umar whose name according to Muslim tradition is the greatest in early Islam has been idolized by Muslim writers for his piety, justice and patriarchal simplicity and treated as the personification of all the virtues a Caliph ought to possess. His irreproachable character became an exemplar for all conscientious successors to follow.

The glorious period of 10 years, six months and four days of Hazrat Umar's Caliphate came to an end with his martyrdom at the hands of an assassin, Abu Lu'lu (Feroz) an Iranian slave on first Muharram, 24 A.H. (Saturday, Nov. 6, 644 AD).

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