Political Genius of Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab


Beautiful Arabic calligraphy that says "Umar Al-Farooq"

Beautiful Arabic calligraphy that says “Umar Al-Farooq” Source: Unkown

Khalifah ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was truly a genius. He was a natural leader and had a great political acumen. Following are few examples to briefly explain this point.

Khalifah ‘Umar had established an inquiry commission to ensure that his governors and other state officials abide by the rules and do not transgress a tiny bit. The Chief Inquirer was Muhammad bin Maslamah Ansari to investigate complaints and any citizen of the state could directly report their complaint to the Khalifah in person or via letter.

He had a rule that the governors should live a simple and modest life like an average citizen. This meant that the governors and officials were not allowed to wear fancy clothes or robes, eat expensive delicacies, build mansions or palaces and have security guards, because that would set them apart from the masses, which would restrict citizens from having easy access to them.

Simplicity Among the State Officials:

Once a complaint was filed against S’ad bin Waqas, governor of Kufah who was also a distinguished companion of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, that he had built a palace and appointed two guards at the door. Khalifah ‘Umar sent Muhammad b. Maslamah with the order to verify the complaint and burn the palace. Inquiry Commissioner found the complaint to be true, and he burnt down the palace while Governor S’ad bin Waqas stood and watched. (Nu’mani, 227)

According to a narration in Kitab-ul-Kharaj, on another occasion Khalifah ‘Umar was walking in the streets of Madinah (the capital), when a citizen rebuked him saying “Omar, do you think you will escape divine punishment by devising few regulations for your officers? Do you know that ‘Ayyad bin Ghanam, governor of Jazirah, wears fine robes and keeps a security guard at his door?”

Khalifah ‘Umar immediately dispatched his Chief Inquirer to investigate and bring ‘Ayyad back to the capital in whatever condition he is found. Muhammad bin Maslamah reached Egypt and found a guard at ‘Ayyad’s house and him in a fine robe. He brought him to Madinah in the same clothes. Khalifah ‘Umar had him change his fine clothes to coarse wool, and ordered him to take a flock of goats and graze them in the jungle. Governor ‘Ayyad showed hesitation and felt this to be a sort of humiliation but Khalifah ‘Umar said to ‘Ayyad bin Ghanam that he should not be ashamed of the job, as his father had been a goatherd and therefore had for this reason got the name of Ghanam. Governor ‘Ayyad made sincere repentance and did his duty conscientiously as long as he lived. (Nu’mani, 227)

However, on the other hand, when Khalifah ‘Umar was visiting Syria, he saw Ameer Mu’awiyyah, Governor of Syria, in fine robes and in all his glory. ‘Umar remarked: “Why all this Khosrau like splendor?”  Ameer Mu’awiyyah explained that he had to deal with those who were used to the ways of the Romans and it was not possible to maintain the Empire’s prestige in their eyes without such paraphernalia. Khalifah ‘Umar was satisfied with this answer. (Nu’mani, 227)

Him being genius is that he knew how the citizens of each province felt, what were their expectations from their political leaders, and what will earn the masses respect. ‘Umar knew how to take these variations into consideration and establish a flourishing state.

Some may feel that burning a palace down or not allowing fine clothes for officials might violate the governor’s individual right. ‘Allamah Shibli No’mani addresses this concern and explains the wisdom behind Khalifah ‘Umar order. He explains as follows:

“Such proceedings do appear objectionable, as interference in the people’s private lives and manner of living is negatory to the principle of individual freedom, but the spirit of equality and democracy which ‘Omar wished to infuse into the country was not possible of realization unless he himself and those associated with him in government set the highest example of it in their own lives. The commonality might do what they please, for the effect of their example remains confined to a narrow circle. But if the people who are charged with governance and form the pillars of the state live in a manner which distinguishes them from the common people, the latter will soon develop a sense of alienation and inferiority.” (Nu’mani, 228)

Preventing Corruption From Taking Root:

Another example of his political ingenuity is that he took active steps to ensure corruption doesn’t take root during his reign. Since the purpose of the state was to serve the people and not to oppress them, he took measures that for many of us today may seem a obvious solution, but not so much during that era. ‘Allamah Shibli No’mani explains it eloquently as follows:

“An excellent rule which Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab adopted to ensure the honesty and rectitude of officials was of giving them high salaries. Europe has learnt this principle after centuries of experience, while Asiatic countries have not yet realized its wisdom, for which reason bribery and peculation have become a common feature here. In the time of ‘Umar, living was exceedingly cheap and money was scarce. For all that, salaries were comparatively high. Provincial governors received as much as five thousand rupees a month in addition to their shares in the spoils of war. Mu’awiyyah received one thousand dinars a month.” (Ist’ah Qadi ibn ‘Abd-ul-Bar and Izalat-ul-Khifa‘ of Shah Waliullah.)  (Nu’mani, 228-229)

‘Allamah Shibli No’mani’s book was originally published around 1898 CE when he mentioned that Asiatic countries haven’t realized the wisdom behind having higher salaries for the state officials. Ironically, Asiatic countries still have this problem, the only difference is that it has gotten way worst.

Khalifah ‘Umar established a state that was truly at the service of the masses. The above examples were just few of the many administrative decisions he made to establish such a state.  More can be read on this in ‘Allamah Shibli No’mani’s work called “Al-Farooq: The Life of Omar the Great”

Source:

Nu’mani, Shibli, and Trans. Maulvi Zafar Ali Khan. “Administrative Divisions.” Al-Farooq: The Life of Omar the Great. New Delhi: Idara Isha’at-e-Diniyat, 2005. Print.

Kitab-ul-Kharaj, pg. 66, as cited by ‘Allamah Shibli Nu’mani on pg. 229.

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Filed under History, Umer Sultan

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