On the death anniversary of Hazrat Umar ibni Khitab (may Allah be pleased with him), one of the greatest reformer, statesman and an architect of the Muslim empire, a little reflection on his life, contribution and accomplishments has enlightened my mind.
A brief review of the contemporary research revolving around his life and his most significant achievements provided the necessary impetus for this article. This blog post makes an attempt to look into some of the salient features of one of the distinguished books written by Michael H. Hart, entitled “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” with focus on Hazrat Umar ibni Khitab (may Allah be pleased with him).
In this manuscript, the author foregrounds the role, success stories and achievements of the 100 greatest leaders of all time in the history of mankind. The event enabled me to have another objective reading and a fresh review of the book to understand the factors that remained under author’s serious consideration for selection of the most radiant and noble minds for inclusion in his thought-provoking manuscript.
This blog post has two-pronged objectives. As the new government is claiming to establish a welfare state on the model of Medina, this article will enable the policymakers to see the history from a different perspective. To have a brief idea, how Hazrat Umar ibni Khitab (may Allah be pleased with him), the brilliant leader, has turned the tide and introduced long-lasting reforms which are espoused even today as a model of good governance and best administration in the contemporary world. More importantly, this review has underlined the areas which were overlooked by the author of the said book inviting the academics and researchers to look into the life and achievements of one of the greatest reformer from a fresh perspective so that others can learn from his reformist ideology.
Leading from the front
Among the most influential persons in the human history, unsurprisingly, the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ) was on the top of the list, since he was the only person in the history of mankind who was incredibly successful on both accounts- the religion as well as worldly affairs. The author, enunciating the personal traits, attributes and distinctive features of the life of the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ) and his overall impact on the course of human history concluded that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) should lead the list as a number one personality among the 100 most influential persons. To me, the book is a bestseller, for the sole reason, that the author has put the name of none other than the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ) on the top of the list, who indeed, is a role model for the entire Muslim world.
The right choice
Obviously, the author’s choice of including Hazrat Umar ibni Al-Khitab (may Allah be pleased with him) among the top 100 influential persons is not without reason. The expansion of the Islamic territory, covering an area of 22 lac square kilometers and consolidating it under his rule was made possible due to his relentless efforts, splendid leadership and dynamic personality. The book has rightly mentioned, “Umar had to devise policies for the rule of the great empire that his armies had conquered” and ordered his commanders that the natives of the conquered areas “to be left in peace” and “in particular they were not to be forcibly converted to Islam” applying the Quranic injunctions, “there is no compulsion in religion”, in true letter and sprite.
Achievements of Hazrat Umar ibni Khitab (R.A)
Under his splendid leadership, the light of Islam spread across the globe, far and wide, not by the power of the sword but by the virtue of its moral values, noble teachings, pragmatism, openness, simplicity, and most importantly the insight provided by him. The book further states, “Umar’s achievements are impressive indeed” and “it would be a grave mistake to ignore Umar’s contributions”. Undoubtedly, the brilliance of his administrative capabilities and innate wisdom were responsible for consolidation of the territories that came under the Islamic rule at that time and are still part of the Islamic world today.
Nevertheless, some of the important aspects of his administration were left unaddressed in the books which are explicated here.
During his reign, non-Muslims enjoyed complete freedom of religion and expression. They were free to perform their religious rites, rituals, ceremonies and fairs. Even treaties were signed with non-Muslims, guaranteeing their freedom of religion. They were not required to change their religion nor any interference was allowed in their religious practices and provided stipends to the poor non- Muslims.
He firmly believed in the equality of humans in the eyes of the law. He followed the same principles, very stringently, and did not tolerate any kind of distinction on the basis of religion, wealth and statutes. He always honoured individual freedom and self-respect. Through his words and actions, he made it abundantly clear that human beings were born free and no one should have to abase himself in front of others. “Since when have you turned men into slaves, whereas they were born free of their mothers?, is one of the widely quoted saying of Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) promoting individual self-respect and freedom.”
Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) appointed judges, jurists and councils in the far-flung areas, towns and cities, however, they referred complicated issues to him for the final verdict. He used to give his ruling after consulting and discussing the matter, in-depth, with his team of companions and advisors. The deliberations used to be conducted with the greatest sense of freedom, autonomy and acumen. He used to consult the experts in the relevant disciplines among the companions of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) and hold discussions with them until a conclusion was drawn and conviction was made.
Managing official business
He was a man of scrupulous professional integrity and sound character which made him a powerful administrator. He developed a team of sound professionals and people of unmatchable honour, having keen insight and wide-ranging learning experience. He implemented an effective system of accountability. He anticipated a higher degree of trustworthiness from the people working in his team. He emphasized upon uprightness, moral values and fairness on all accounts in official business. He expected no less than one hundred percent of his team. He entrusted the responsibilities of important assignments to the most trusted and upright people and kept a close check on their performance.
In one of his letter, he wrote to Abu Musa Ashari (may Allah be pleased with him) one of the close companions of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), “People generally hate their masters and I seek refuge with Allah (Subhanhu wa tala) if my people should entertain similar feelings about me “. In another letter, he wrote, “The thing that strengthens one in the execution of work and that one should not procrastinate”. He wrote a love letter to Amr bin Al-As (may Allah be pleased with him), the Governor of Egypt, “I understand that the thing that has kept you from replying is the fact that your subordinates are not good. They have made you a shield, and it is a disease for which I possess an effective remedy”.
Devolution of power
Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) firmly believed in the devolution of power. He established many new offices, departments and ministries. He established the public treasury- Bait-ul-Mal, courts of justice and appointed judges in sufficient number who were not allowed to do any trade. He separated judiciary from the executive. He established and strengthened the War Department and placed army reserves on the payroll. He instructed the army commanders to submit accounts of war expenditures and list of the spoils of war for accountability. He established Land Revenue Department, carried out survey and assessment of lands and also conducted a census. He set up an effective system of judicial administration and ensured the provision of effective and speedy justice to the people.
Reforms introduced by Hazrat Umar ibni Khitab (R.A)
He divided the vast expanse of the conquered land into manageable administrative zones and provinces, founded new cities and undertook construction and building of canals, roads, and bridges. He started, for the first time, Islamic calendar. Some of his reforms are regarded by historians as innovations in its own right. He ordered collecting customs duties and appointed honest officials for the collection of taxes. He promoted free trade and granted permission to traders from foreign countries to conduct business in the Islamic territory. He organized and strengthened jail department and established military cantonments located at strategic points and organized Police Department. He established schools and provided remuneration, from the national exchequer to the school teachers, Imams and Muazzins.
Indeed, he was a pioneering figure in the Islamic world which changed the dynamics of governance and set a model of the true welfare state. He was a statesman, an administrator, a reformer, a great commander and a true servant of people who showed utmost regards for all the individuals and inspired respect for non-Muslims.