Umar ibn al-Khattab – Peace Pioneer

Umar, also spelled Omar (Arabic: عمر بن الخطاب‎, translit. ʿUmar ibn Al-Khattāb, Umar Son of Al-Khattab, born c.583 CE – died 3 November 644 CE), was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history.

He was a senior Sahaba of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He succeeded Abu Bakr (632–634) as the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. He was an expert Islamic jurist known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the epithet Al-Farooq (“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. According to Sunnis, Umar is the second greatest of the Sahaba after Abu Bakr.

Under Umar, the caliphate expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the Sasanian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire. His attacks against the Sasanian Empire resulted in the conquest of Persia in fewer than two years (642–644). According to Jewish tradition, Umar set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship.

By 637, Muslim armies began to appear in the vicinity of Jerusalem. In charge of Jerusalem was Patriarch Sophronius, a representative of the Byzantine government, as well as a leader in the Christian Church. Although numerous Muslim armies under the command of Khalid ibn al-Walid and Amr ibn al-’As (may Allah be pleased with them) began to surround the city, Sophronius refused to surrender the city unless Umar came to accept the surrender himself.

Having heard of such a condition, Umar ibn al-Khattab left Madinah, travelling alone with one donkey and one servant. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he was greeted by Sophronius, who undoubtedly must have been amazed that the caliph of the Muslims, one of the most powerful people in the world at that point, was dressed in no more than simple robes and was indistinguishable from his servant.

Umar was given a tour of the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When the time for prayer came, Sophronius invited Umar to pray inside the Church, but Umar refused. He insisted that if he prayed there, later Muslims would use it as an excuse to convert it into a mosque – thereby depriving Christendom of one of its holiest sites. Instead, Umar prayed outside the Church, where a mosque (called Masjid Umar – the Mosque of Umar) was later built.

As they did with all other cities they conquered, the Muslims had to write up a treaty detailing the rights and privileges regarding the conquered people and the Muslims in Jerusalem. This treaty was signed by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) and Patriarch Sophronius, along with some of the generals of the Muslim armies. The text of the treaty read:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves  for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. No Jew will live with them in Jerusalem.

The people of Jerusalem must pay the taxes like the people of other cities and must expel the Byzantines and the robbers. Those of the people of Jerusalem who want to leave with the Byzantines, take their property and abandon their churches and crosses will be safe until they reach their place of refuge. The villagers may remain in the city if they wish but must pay taxes like the citizens. Those who wish may go with the Byzantines and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing is to be taken from them before their harvest is reaped.

If they pay their taxes according to their obligations, then the conditions laid out in this letter are under the covenant of God, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the caliphs and of the faithful.

– Quoted in The Great Arab Conquests, from Tarikh Tabari

At the time, this was by far one of the most progressive treaties in history. For comparison, just 23 years earlier when Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians from the Byzantines, a general massacre was ordered. Another massacre ensued when Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders from the Muslims in 1099.

The Treaty of Umar allowed the Christians of Jerusalem religious freedom, as is dictated in the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad ﷺ. This was one of the first and most significant guarantees of religious freedom in history.

One of Umar’s guides in Jerusalem was a Jew named Kaab al-Ahbar. Umar further allowed Jews to worship on the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, while the Byzantines banned them from such activities; the significance of such a progressive and equitable surrender treaty, which protected minority rights. The treaty became the standard for Muslim-Christian relations throughout the former Byzantine Empire, with rights of conquered people being protected in all situations, and forced conversions never being a sanctioned act.

Umar immediately set about making the city an important Muslim landmark. He cleared the area of the Temple Mount, where Muhammad ﷺascended to heaven from. The Christians had used the area as a garbage dump to offend the Jews, and Umar and his army (along with some Jews) personally cleaned it and built a mosque – Masjid al-Aqsa – there.

Throughout the remainder of Umar’s caliphate and into the Umayyad Empire’s reign over the city, Jerusalem became a major center of religious pilgrimage and trade. The Dome of the Rock was added to complement Masjid al-Aqsa in 691. Numerous other mosques and public institutions were soon established throughout the city.

The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem under the caliph Umar in 637 was clearly an important moment in the city’s history. For the next 462 years, it would be ruled by Muslims, with religious freedom for minorities protected according to the Treaty of Umar.

The Pact of Umar (also known as the Covenant of Umar, Treaty of Umar or Laws of Umar; Arabic: شروط عمر‎ or عهد عمر or عقد عمر), is an apocryphal treaty between the Muslims and the Christians of either Syria, Mesopotamia or Jerusalem that later gained a canonical status in Islamic jurisprudence. There are several versions of the pact, differing both in structure and stipulations. While the pact is traditionally attributed to the second Rashidun Caliph Umar ibn Khattab, other jurists and orientalists have doubted this attribution with the treaty being attributed to 9th century Mujtahids (Islamic scholars) or the Umayyad Caliph Umar II. This treaty should not be confused with Umar’s Assurance of safety to the people of Aelia (known as al-ʿUhda al-ʿUmariyya, Arabic: العهدة العمرية‎).

In general, the pact contains a list of rights and restrictions on non-Muslims (dhimmis). By abiding to them, non-Muslims are granted security of their persons, their families, and their possessions. Other rights and stipulations may also apply. According to Ibn Taymiyya, one of the jurists who accepted the authenticity of the pact, the dhimmis have the right “to free themselves from the Covenant of ‘Umar and claim equal status with the Muslims if they enlisted in the army of the state and fought alongside the Muslims in battle.

According to Abu-Munshar, the historical origin of the document may lie in an agreement made between the Muslim conquerors and the Christians of Jazira or Damascus which was later extended to Dhimmis elsewhere. Some Western historians suggest that the document was based on Umar’s Assurance, a treaty concluded between Umar ibn Khattab and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius following the capture of Jerusalem by the Rashidun Caliphate (637), while others believe the document was either the work of 9th century Mujtahids or was forged during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Umar II (717-720), with other clauses added later. Other scholars concluded that the document may have originated in immediate post-conquest milieu and was stylized by later historians.

Western scholars’ opinions varied about the Pact’s authenticity. According to Anver M. Emon, “There is intense discussion in the secondary literature” about the Pact’s authenticity, With scholars disagreeing on whether it might have originated during the reign of Umar b. al-Khattab or was “a later invention retroactively associated with Umar — the caliph who famously led the initial imperial expansion — to endow the contract of dhimma with greater normative weight?” A.S. Tritton is one scholar who has s “suggested that the Pact is a fabrication” because later Muslim conquerors did not apply its terms to their agreements with their non-Muslim subjects, which they would have if the pact had existed earlier. on the other hand Another scholar Daniel C. Dennet believes that the Pact was “no different from any other treaty negotiated in that period and that it is well within reason that the Pact we have today , as preserved in al-Tabari’s chronicle is an authentic version of that early treaty.”

According to Thomas Walker Arnold, the pact “is in harmony” with Umar’s “kindly consideration for his subjects of another faith,

“A later generation attributed to ‘Umar a number of restrictive regulations which hampered the Christians in the free exercise of their religion, but De Goeje and Caetani have proved without doubt that they are the invention of a later age; as, however, Muslim theologians of less tolerant periods accepted these ordinaces as genuine ….

The book Classical Islam: a Sourcebook of Religious Literature, quotes a version of the Pact from Kitab al-Umm of al-Shafi’i (d.204/820) that it says may be “a forerunner to the later document which gained something of a canonical status, making it applicable in many locations …”

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