OMAR bin Abdul-Aziz, the eighth caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty, whose reign lasted only thirty months, is considered to be one of the most important eras in Islamic history and an example of equality and justice after the era of the four rightly-guided caliphs. It is for this reason that he was considered as the fifth rightly-guided caliph.
Caliph Omar bin Abdul-Aziz’s reign was characterized with justice for all, irrespective of status or class. During his reign, he restored justice and rectified the grievances committed by his predecessors in the Umayyad Dynasty. He also dismissed and even punished any governor or state official who was proven to be corrupt and unjust.
Omar bin Abdul-Aziz did not seek the throne. He was an ascetic who did not wish to carry this great responsibility.
Therefore, after being nominated as the eighth ruler of the Umayyad Dynasty, he addressed the people from the pulpit by saying, “O people, I have been nominated as your caliph despite my unwillingness and without your consent. So here I am… I relieve you of your pledge that you have taken for my allegiance. Elect whomsoever you find suitable as your caliph.”
People then shouted in response, “O Omar, we have full faith in you and we want you as our caliph.”
The first thing he ordered was the return of all the wealth that the rulers of the Umayyad Dynasty seized from the treasury (Bait-ul-Mal), even his wife’s jewelry and luxurious clothes.
It is said that Omar bin Abdul Aziz had enriched people to such an extent that they did not find a single poor man who would accept charity (Zakat). He also ordered wheat to be spread on the tops of mountains/hills so that it would never be said that a bird went hungry in the land of the Muslims.
Omar’s policies of justice, simplicity and equality were against the policies of the other Umayyad’s princes. That is because his policies deprived them of pleasures and enjoyment that the royals are privileged to have. He instead made them similar to the farthest people in the outskirts of the state.
A slave of the caliph was bribed to administer a deadly poison to him. The caliph, having felt the effect of the poison, sent for the slave and asked him why he had poisoned him. The slave replied that he was given 1,000 dinars for the job.
The caliph took the amount from him and deposited it in the public treasury. He then freed the slave and asked him to leave the place immediately, lest anyone would kill him.
As a sign of how people revered him even in his absence, it is said that a wolf attacked a flock of sheep belonging to a woman, killing several sheep. In response to that incident, the woman said, “This is a sign of the death of Omar bin Abdul-Aziz”, which is an indication of the prestige and strength of the ruling.
It is also reported in history that, when the news of Omar bin Abdul-Aziz’s death spread, the king of the Roman Byzantines gathered his entourage and said with tears in his eyes, “A virtuous person has passed away. I would hardly be surprised if I saw an ascetic who renounced the world and gave himself to the prayers of Allah. But I am certainly surprised to see a person who had all the pleasures of the world at his feet but still shut his eyes against them and lived a life of piety and renunciation.”
Upon his death, Omar was found in possession of only 17 dinars, from which he paid three dinars for the shroud, and four dinars for the grave. The remaining ten dinars were distributed to his ten heirs.
This is Omar bin Abdul-Aziz. He restored the prestige of the Islamic state after it was wasted by the corruption of the Umayyad rulers who spread injustice. He prevented looting and unjust grabbing of land, and he believed that there is no power for the state except with justice and equality, and holding the big accountable before the small.
If his Umayyad brethren did not conspire against him, the Umayyad Dynasty wouldn’t have collapsed. This is a lesson that every leader and official should learn from and keep in mind in compliance with the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who said, “All of you are shepherds, and each of you is responsible for his flock.”
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times