Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (2 November 682 (26th Safar, 63 AH) – February 720 (16th Rajab, 101 AH)) (Arabic: عمر بن عبد العزيز) was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. He was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik's younger brother, Abd al-Aziz. He was also a matrilineal great-grandson of the second caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab.
Umar was born around 2 November 682 in Madina. His father ruled over Egypt as viceroy to the Caliph. He grew up and lived there until the death of his father, after which he was summoned to Damascus by Abd al-Malik and married to his daughter Fatima. His father-in-law would die soon after, and he would serve as governor of Medina under his cousin Al-Walid I.
Umar I had ordered that nobody should adulterate milk by mixing water into it. Once, while patrolling about at night to inquire into the condition of people, he heard a woman asker her daughter to mix water into the milk before the day-break. The girl refused by reminding her mother of the order given by the Caliph. When the mother retorted by saying that the Caliph was not present and he would not know of it, the daughter replied that God is Omniscient even if Caliph was not present. Umar I was so pleased with the reply that he asked his son Asim to marry the girl, saying that he hoped that she will give birth to a man who would rule over Arabia. Umar II was the son of Asim's daughter from this marriage (Abdul Hakam, pp 17-18).
Al-Walid I's era
Unlike most rulers of that era, Umar formed a council with which he administered the province. His time in Medina was so notable that official grievances sent to Damascus all but ceased. In addition, many people emigrated to Medina from Iraq seeking refuge from their harsh governor, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. That angered Al-Hajjaj, and he pressed al-Walid to remove Umar. Much to the dismay of the people of Medina, al-Walid bowed to Hajjaj's pressure and dismissed Umar from his post. By this time, Umar had developed an impeccable reputation across the Islamic empire.
Umar continued to live in Medina through the remainder of al-Walid's reign and that of Walid's brother Suleiman. As Suleiman fell seriously ill and was unlikely to recover, he was anxious to leave the throne to one of his sons who were still minors, but was unable to do so because of their youth. His advisor Raja ibn Haywah then promptly proposed Umar as the successor to the throne. Suleiman accepted this suggestion and Umar reluctantly accepted the position after trying unsuccessfully to dissuade Suleiman.
Caliphate and his own era
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was a scholar himself and surrounded himself with great scholars like Muhammed bin Kaab and Maimun bin Mehran. He offered stipends to teachers and encouraged education. Through his personal example, he inculcated piety, steadfastness, business ethics and moral rectitude in the general population. His reforms included strict abolition of drinking, forbidding public nudity, elimination of mixed bathrooms for men and women and fair dispensation of Zakat. He undertook extensive public works in Persia, Khorasan and North Africa, including the construction of canals, roads, rest houses for travelers and medical dispensaries.
He continued the welfare programs of the last few Umayyad caliphs, expanding them and including special programs for orphans and the destitute. He would also abolish the jizya tax for converts to Islam, who were former dhimmis, who used to be taxed even after they had converted under other Umayyad rulers.
Umar II is credited with having ordered the first official collection of hadith (sayings and actions attributed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad), fearing that some of it might be lost. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, are among those who compiled hadiths at Umar II’s behest.
He made other reforms:
- State officials were excluded from entering into any business.
- Unpaid labour was made illegal.
- Pasture lands and game reserves, which were reserved for the family of the dignitaries, were evenly distributed among the poor for the purpose of cultivation.
- He urged to all of the officials to listen the complaints of the people and during any occasion, he used to announce that if any subject had seen any officer mistreating others, he should report him to the leader and will be given a reward ranging from 100 to 300 dirhams.
Under previous Umayyad rulers, Arab Muslims had certain financial privileges over non-Arab Muslims. Non-Arab converts to Islam were still expected to pay the jizya poll tax that they paid before becoming Muslims. Umar put into practice a new system that exempted all Muslims, regardless of their heritage, from the jizya tax. He also added some safeguards to the system to make sure that mass conversion to Islam would not cause the collapse of the finances of the Umayyad government. Under the new tax policy, converted mawali would not pay the jizya, but upon conversion, their land would become the property of the villages and remain liable to the full rate of the kharaj, or land tax. This compensated for the loss of income due to the diminished jizya tax base.
Though Umar did not place as much an emphasis on expanding the Empire's borders as his predecessors had, he was not passive. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari states that he sent Ibn Hatim ibn al-Nu'man to repel Turks invading Azerbaijan. He faced a Kharijite uprising and preferred negotiations to armed conflict, personally holding talks with two Kharijite envoys shortly before his death. He recalled the troops besieging Constantinople led by his cousin Maslama. The Second Arab siege of Constantinople had failed to take the city and was sustaining heavy losses at the hands of allied Byzantine and Bulgarian forces. Its defeat was a serious blow to Umayyad prestige.
Reforming the Umayyad rule from the inside
One of Muawiyah's most controversial and enduring legacies was his decision to designate his son Yazid as his successor. Yazid was experienced militarily and had taken part in expeditions and the siege of Constantinople, but he was politically inexperienced. Marwan also wanted Yazid to be the caliph so that he could run things behind the scenes, as he would become the senior member of the Umayyad clan after Muawiyah's death. Mohammad, Abu Bakr and Umar also mistrusted Marwan, and he had lived in Taif during their rule, where he became friends with AlHajjaj.
Tom Holland writes, "Tempers in Medina were not helped by the fact that the governor in the oasis was none other than the fabulously venal and slippery Marwan. Rumours abounded that it was he, back in the last calamitous days of Uthman's rule who had double crossed the war band that had come to Uthman. The locals mistrust of their governor ran particularly deep. Nothing he had done had helped to improve his reputation for double dealing".
The appointment of Yazid was unpopular in Madina.
Ibn Katheer wrote in his book the Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah that "in the year 56 AH Muawiyah called on the people including those within the outlying territories to pledge allegiance to his son, Yazeed, to be his heir to the Caliphate after him. Almost all the subjects offered their allegiance, with the exception of Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr (the son of Abu Bakr), Abdullah ibn Umar (the son of Umar), al-Husain bin Ali (the son of Ali), Abdullah bin Az-Zubair (The grandson of Abu Bakr) and Abdullah ibn Abbas (Ali's cousin). Because of this Muawiyah passed through al-Madinah on his way back from Makkah upon completion of his Umrah Pilgrimage where he summoned each one of the five aforementioned individuals and threatened them. The speaker who addressed Muawiyah sharply with the greatest firmness amongst them was Abdurrahman bin Abu Bakr, while Abdullah bin Umar bin al-Khattab was the most soft spoken amongst them.
Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr and Abdullah ibn Umar were mid level Muslim commanders at the Battle of Yarmouk that took Syria. Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr sister Asmā' bint Abu Bakr also fought in the Battle of Yarmouk and was opposed to Yazid. Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr had been one of the first to duel in that battle, after taking a sword to hand over to a Qays bin Hubayrah who had lost his sword, while in a duel with the Roman Army's best horseman. Two more Roman horsemen then came forward, saying, "We see no justice when two of you come against one of us." Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr replied, "I only came to give my companion a sword and then return. Were 100 of you to come out against one of us we would not be worried. You are now three men. I am enough to take on all three of you". After which he took down the Roman horsemen on his own. After seeing this, Bannes the Roman general said "Caesar really knew these people best. I now know that a difficult situation is to come on you. If you do not attack them with great numbers, you will have no chance". Abdullah ibn Umar had also been a mid level commander in the Battle of Yarmouk. Some Roman soldiers went to the house of Abu al-Jaid a local Christian in az-Zura ah and after eating all the food, raped his wife and killed his son. His wife complained to the Roman general and he ignored her. Abu al-Jaid then went to the Muslims and told them that he knows the local area and if the Muslims exempt him and his descendents from taxes for ever he will help them defeat the Roman army. He then took horse men led by Abdullah ibn Umar to the Roman camp at night and attacked them and then ran away. The Romans chased them and in the dark tens of thousands of them fell down a cliff at the an-Naqusah Creek into a river. Abdullah bin Az-Zubair had also been a commander in various battles including in North Africa and was also involved in the siege of Constantinople.
Muawiyah then delivered a sermon, having stood these five men below the pulpit in full view of the people after which the people pledged allegiance to Yazeed as they stood in silence without displaying their disagreement or opposition for fear of being massacred or humiliated. Saeed bin Uthman bin Affan, the son of Uthman also criticized Muawiyah for putting forward Yazeed.". They were able to tolerate Muawiyah but did not like Yazeed at all.
The following year Muawiyah removed Marwan bin al Hakam from the position of governor in Madina and appointed al-Waleed bin Utbah bin Abi Sufyan.
According to some sources Muawiyah warned his son Yazid against mistreating Hussein. Regardless, Yazeed's Army still killed Hussein and all his male followers with the exception of Hussein's son Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin
According to Sahih al-Bukhari, the people still referred to the Kharijites by their old name Qurra and most Muslims resented these civil wars and felt that the Arabs had left the teachings of Muhammad and gone back to their old ways of fighting over wealth.
Abdullah Ibn Az-Zubair then sent his brother to Iraq to take on the Kharijites who were by then getting stronger. This depleted Abdullah Ibn Az-Zubair forces and he was later defeated by the Syrians.
Ibn Katheer says that Abdullah Ibn Umar resented Hajjaj. Abu Muhammad Adbullah ibn Abdul Hakam who lived near that time, said in his book the first biography on Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz that Abdullah Ibn Omar's niece was married to one of Marwans son called Abdul Aziz who lived in Madina. Abdul Aziz lived in Madina and had not become an Umayyad ruler, but he had a young son called Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz. Abdullah ibn Umar kept Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz with him for his education when Abdul Aziz and his wife moved to Egypt. Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz was educated in Madina. The scholars in Madina including Abdullah Ibn Umar and Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr who was Jafar as-Sadiq's grandfather and Abu Bakr's grandson felt that they could use Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz to peacefully reform the Umayyad rule.
After his education, Raja bin Haiwah who was also a scholar and an advisor to some of the Umayyad rulers took Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz to Syria. Raja bin Haiwah also worked closely with the scholars in Madina. Ibn Katheer wrote in his book the Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah that during the time of Abdul Malik, Raja bin Haiwah also managed the finances for the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, that stands to this day. Later the future Umayyad ruler Sulaiman would also consult Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz. Hajjaj opposed Sulaiman from becoming Caliph, even though his father had written in his will that after his brother, Sulaiman would be Caliph. So Sulaiman became even closer to Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz who also opposed Hajjaj.
When Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz was made the governor of Madina, he asked the Khalifah that he wished to be excused from Hajjaj coming to Madinah. After which, Hajjaj was prevented from going to Madina.
According to Imam Abu Muhammad Adbullah ibn Abdul Hakam who lived near that time and later Ibn Katheer said that Ibn Jareer said that, Raja bin Haiwah (who was also a scholar) the minister of marriage, for the Umayyad ruler Sulaiman said that when Sulaiman was on his death bed, I told him "Indeed amongst the things that preserves the caliph in his grave is his appointment of a righteous man over the muslims." So he wrote a letter appointing the scholar from Madina, Umar bin Abdul Azeez. To allow the Umayyads to accept this, Raja then advised him to make his brother Yazeed bin Adbul Malik the successor after Umar bin Abdul Azeez. Umar bin Abdul Azeez was a grand son of Omar, the second Caliph from his mothers side. After his appointment he set up a committee of the jurist in Madina headed by Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr and it included Urwah ibn Zubayr, Ubaidullah bin Abdullah bin Utbah, Abu Bakr bin Abdur-Rahman bin al-Harith bin Hisham, Abu Bakr bin Sulaiman bin Abu Hathmah, Sulaiman bin Yasar, Salim bin Abdullah, Abdullah bin Amir bin Rabee'ah and Kharijah bin Zaid bin Thabit, in Madina to advise on legal matters. The work of Malik ibn Anas and successive jurists is also based on the work of this early committee in Madina. Malik ibn Anas also refers to these Fuqaha' of Madina. Madina at the time had the largest number of Muhammad's companions therefore no one could lie about what Muhammad had said, while in Madina during that period. After becoming the Khalifah, Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz worked very closely with the scholars in Madina to make the laws in line with the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad's. He also reduced the allowances of the Umayyad family members. Which they deeply resented.
When Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz reduced the allowances of the Umayyad family members. They sent some one to him to ask for more. When Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz refused, the man said to them "O Banu Umayyah, you should rebuke yourself. You got up and married a person of your family to the grand daughter of umar. He wrapped Umar in a cloth and presented him to you. You should therefore rebuke yourself".
Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz also started peace talks with the Kharijites. He then reduced the taxes for the Muslims. He sacked oppressive governors and replaced them. His policies made him very popular with the population but not so popular with the Umayyads. The reduction in the taxes also reduced further expeditions and the expansion of the state. But lower taxes and better justice allowed the economy to expand. The tax collector Yahya Ibn Sa'id complained that after collecting the taxes, he could not find people willing to take the charity from the welfare state
Imam Abu Muhammad Adbullah ibn Abdul Hakam (died 214 AH) writes that Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz then stopped the allowance of the Banu Umayyah, stopped giving them land and made them the same as every one else. And they complained bitterly. So Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz said to them "By Allah, I want that no impermissible decision should remain on the earth that I will not finish off."
Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz soon died, but when the future rulers tried to reverse his policies, the population started to rebel.
With the death of Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz the scholars in Madina got very upset. But in the short time Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz was in power the changes he made, had a long-lasting effect in the minds of the people. An associate of Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz, Zayd ibn Ali the grandson of Husayns was also very upset. Zayd ibn Ali then started receiving letters from Kufa asking him to come to Kufa. In 740, Abu Hanifah supported his friend Zayd ibn Ali against an Umayyad ruler but asked his friend not to go to Kufa. Abu Hanifah, Malik ibn Anas and Zayd ibn Ali's family advised Zayd ibn Ali not to go to Kufa feared that Zayd ibn Ali would get betrayed in Kufa. But Zayd ibn Ali felt that he needed to oppose the Umayyads by force. Zaydis believe that on his arrival in Kufa, on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, the people in Kufa asked him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.". After which they withdrew their support and Zayd ibn Ali fought bravely against the Umayyad army but was killed. The Scholars kept up the pressure on the Umayyads and as the Umayyads tried to re-impose the taxes abolished by Umar Ibn Adbul Aziz, the population also got more rebellious.
Later after the Abbasids came to power they tried to change the laws, in 767 Abu Hanifah died in prison when he refused to support the Abbasid ruler Al-Mansur and Malik ibn Anas was flogged. But then they backed off and allowed the laws of Madina to be implemented again and the book Muwatta Imam Malik of Malik ibn Anas based on the laws based on the Quran and the example of Muhammad and based on the work of the committee of the main jurist in Madina headed by Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who was jafar Sadiq's grandfather and Abu Bakr's grandson were again implemented.
Later the Abbasids tried to impose the mutazilite philosophy so that they could change the laws. Imam Ahmed Hanbal confronted a ruler and was tortured and sent to an unlit Baghdad prison cell for nearly thirty months.
His reforms in favor of the people greatly angered the nobility of the Umayyads, and they would eventually bribe a servant into poisoning his food. Umar learned of this on his death bed and pardoned the culprit, collecting the punitive payments he was entitled to under Islamic law but depositing them in the public treasury. He died in February 720, probably the 10th and probably forty years old (v. 24, pp. 91–92) in Aleppo.
He was succeeded by his cousin Yazid II.
Efforts in inviting people to Islam (Dawah)
Following the example of the Prophet, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz sent out emissaries to China and Tibet, inviting their rulers to accept Islam. It was during the time of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz that Islam took roots and was accepted by a large segment of the population of Persia and Egypt. When the officials complained that because of conversions, the jizya revenues of the state had experienced a steep decline, Umar wrote back saying that he had accepted the Caliphate to invite people to Islam and not to become a tax collector. The infusion of non-Arabs in large number into the fold of Islam shifted the center of gravity of the empire from Medina and Damascus to Persia and Egypt.
Ibn ‘Asakir recorded that ‘Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote to ‘Adiy ibnu ‘Adiy
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote to the Syrian army as follows:
While Umar's reign was very short (three years), he is very highly regarded in Muslim memory.
When he died, the people came to his wife to express sympathy and say how great a calamity had struck the people of Islam by his death. They said to her, "Tell us about him - for the one who knows best about a man is his wife".
She said, "Indeed, he never used to pray or fast more than the rest of you, but I never saw a servant of God who feared Him more than Umar. He devoted his body and his soul to the people. All day he would sit tending to their affairs, and when night came he would sit up while business remained. One evening when he had finished everything, he called for his lamp - from which he used to buy the oil from his own money - and prayed two prostrations. Then he sat back on his folded legs, with his chin in his hands, and the tears ran down from his cheeks, and this didn't stop until dawn, when he rose for a day of fasting.
I said to him, 'Commander of the Believers, was there some matter that troubled you this night?' And he said, 'Yes, I saw how I was occupied while governing the affairs of the community, all its black sheep and its white sheep, and I remembered the stranger, beggared and straying, and the poor and the needy, and the prisoners in captivity, and all like them in the far places of the earth, and I realised that God Most High would ask me about all of them, and I (Umar) would testify about them, and I feared that I should find no excuse when I was with God, and no defence with me.'
And even when 'Umar was with me in bed, where a man usually find some pleasure with his wife, if he remembered some affair of God's (people), he would be upset as a bird that had fallen into the water. Then his weeping would rise until I would throw off the blankets in kindness to him. 'By God' he would say, 'How I wish that there was between me and this office the distance of the East from the West!'
Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, an 18th century Sunni Islamic scholar stated: