Umar or Omar, c.581-644, 2d caliph (see caliphate). At first hostile to Islam, he was converted by 618, becoming an adviser to Muhammad. He succeeded Abu Bakr as caliph without opposition in 634. In his reign Islam became an imperial power. The Muslim generals pushed conquests far and wide—into Syria, Egypt, and the Persian Empire. Umar also laid the administrative base of the empire, creating the office of kadi and establishing fixed taxes. He reopened the canals of Mesopotamia and the waterway from the Nile to the Red Sea. Umar was assassinated by a foreign slave. He had appointed a group to select his successor, and the choice fell on Uthman.

Umar (c. 581-83 CE – 7 November, 644), also known as Umar the Great or Omar the Great was a Muslim convert from the Banu Adi clan of the Quraysh tribe, and a righteous companion of Muhammad. He became the second Caliph (634 – 644) following the death of Abu Bakr, and is thus regarded by Sunni Muslims as one of the Rashidun (four righteously guided Caliphs).


Umer, Umar, Omer, or Omar is an Arabic word which is directly corresponding to the English word "life", thus Umer means "who live longer" `Umar ibn al khataab is also referred to as `Umar al-Farūq (meaning: Umar the Distinguisher [between Truth and Falsehood]). He is regarded by Sunni Muslims as the second of the four Khulafā' ar-Rashīdīn (meaning: rightfully-guided caliphs). In English, his name has also been spelled as Omar or Omer.


Early life

Umar was born in Mecca. In his earlier years, he worked as a shepherd and a merchant, growing up in humble surroundings. His father was Khattab ibn Nufayl, who is said to have been an emotional polytheist belonging to a middle class family. Umar was literate, which by some accounts was uncommon in those times, and he was also well known for his physical strength, being a champion warrior. Although Umar was a very well respected and honourable man, and came from a family of noble descent, he was just like the rest of Quraysh.‘Omar was like most of Quraysh before Islam, yet after Islam he became one of the greatest men to walk this earth.

When Muhammad began preaching Islam, `Umar ibn al-Khattāb resolved to defend the traditional, polytheistic religion of Arabia. He was most adamant in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting the Muslims. In those days, the early Muslims lived in fear of their life and often did not openly pray in the kaaba. To overcome this oppression, Muhammad explicitly prayed, 'to strengthen the religion with Umar' According to an early story, recounted in Ibn Ishaq's Sīrah, `Umar resolved to assassinate Muhammad. On the way to assassinate Muhammad, Umar met a Muslim who told him to set his own house in order first, as his sister and her husband had converted to Islam. Upon arriving at her house, `Umar found her reciting verses of the Qur'an. When he listened carefully to the Surah's verses,he was so struck by the sūrah's verses, that he accepted Islam that very day. When `Umar later went to inform the chief of Quraish, Abu Jahl, about his acceptance of Islam. According to one account, Umar, thereafter prayed openly in Ka'abah as the Quraish chiefs, Abu Jahl and Abu Sufyan were said to have watched in anger. According to the same account, this further helped the Muslims to gain their confidence in practicing Islam openly, since no one dared to interfere with Umar when he was openly praying.

Migration to Medina

`Umar was part of the first migration (Hijrah) to Yathrib (later renamed Medīnat an-Nabī, or simply Medina, which means "the city," in 622. where he was one of two chief advisers to Muhammad, the other being Abu Bakr.

In the following years, he participated at the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khaybar, and the raid on Syria, as well as many other engagements. He was one of Muhammad's companions. In 625, `Umar's daughter Hafsah was married to Muhammad.

Caliphate of Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr was chosen as the new leader, the Khalifah, of the community by a group of men gathered in Saqeefah Bani Saadah, in Medina. The Muslims who were natives of Medina, the Ansar, had met separately and were planning to elect their own leader. This would have split the community between the natives of Medinas and the immigrants from Mecca, known as the Muhajirs. Finally, both Abu Bakr and Umar arrived at the meeting, and, after a day of deliberations, Umar took the initiative by publicly giving his allegiance to Abu Bakr. The Ansar followed suit, and swore allegiance to Abu Bakr, pointing to various hints given by Muhammad that Abu Bakr should be his successor.

Abu Bakr was Caliph for only a short time. Most of his caliphate was occupied with the Ridda Wars, in which tribes who tried to desert the Muslim alliance were brought to heel. Umar was one of his chief advisors. Just before his death in 634, Abū Bakr appointed Umar as his successor.

Umar's Reign as a caliph

During Umar's reign, the Islamic empire grew at an unprecedented rate, taking Mesopotamia and parts of Persia from the Sassanids (effectively ending that empire), and taking Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa and Armenia from the Byzantines. Many of these conquests followed major battles on both the western and eastern fronts. The Battle of Yarmūk, fought near Damascus in 636, saw a small Muslim army defeat a much larger Byzantine force, permanently ending Byzantine rule south of Asia Minor. A Muslim army achieved victory over a larger force in the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah (c. 636), near the banks of the Euphrates River. During the course of the battle, Muslim general Sa'ad bin Abu Waqqas routed the Sassanid army and killed the Persian general Rostam Farrokhzād.

The Treaty of `Umar

In 637, after a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, the Muslims finally entered the city peacefully following the signing of a treaty by the Patriach of Elya Al-Quds (i.e. Jerusalem) and Umar himself. Several years earlier, the Patriach had announced that he would not sign a treaty with anyone other than the Caliph himself. For this reason, `Umar personally came to Jerusalem after Muslims had established control of all the surrounding territory. According to both Muslim and Christian accounts, `Umar entered the city humbly, walking beside a camel upon which his servant was sitting, due to the reason they share turns over it and it was his servant's turn when they happen to reach the city. He is said to have been given the keys to the city by the Orthodox Christian Patriarch Sophronius, after conducting the peace treaty known as the Treaty of Umar, the English translation of which is provided below:

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Beneficent. This is what the slave of Allah, Umar b.Al-Khattab, the Amir of the believers, has offered the people of Illyaa’[1] of security granting them Amaan (protection) for their selves, their money, their churches, their children, their lowly and their innocent, and the remainder of their people.

Their churches are not to be taken, nor are they to be destroyed, nor are they to be degraded or belittled, neither are their crosses or their money, and they are not to be forced to change their religion, nor is any one of them to be harmed.

No Jews are to live with them in Illyaa’ and it is required of the people of Illyaa’ to pay the Jizya, like the people of the cities. It is also required of them to remove the Romans from the land; and whoever amongst the people of Illyaa’ that wishes to depart with their money together with the Romans, leaving their trading goods and children behind, then they selves, their trading goods and their children are secure until they reach their destination.

Upon what is in this book is the word of Allah, the covenant of His Messenger, of the Khulafaa’ and of the believers if they (the people of Illyaa’) gave what was required of them of Jizya.

The witnesses upon this were Khalid ibn Al-Walid, 'Amr ibn al-'As, Abdur Rahman bin Awf and Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. Written and passed on the 15th year (after Hijrah)

Then Umar asked the Patriach to lead him to the place of the old Jewish Temple. Umar was shocked to find the site covered in rubbish, as the Romans had initiated the custom of using it as a dung heap. `Umar knelt down immediately, and began to clear the area with his hands. When the Muslims saw what he was doing, they followed his example, and soon the entire area of al-Aqsa, approximately 35 acres, was cleaned up. Thereafter, commissioned the construction of a wooden mosque on the southern end of the site, exactly where the present-day mosque of Al-Aqsa stands.

`Umar was then led to the sites of the Foundation Stone by a rabbi, Ka'ab al-Ahbar, who had converted to Islam. The rock was surrounded it by a fence, and several years later an Umayyad Khalif built the Dome of the Rock over the site.

Upon taking Jerusalem, `Umar demonstrated the utmost respect for members of the other faiths living in the city. For the first time in 500 years since their expulsion from the Holy Land, Jews were allowed to practice their religion freely and live in the vicinity of Jerusalem. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, seventy Jewish families took up residence in the city. `Umar also agreed to several pacts, called the Umariyya Covenant, with the local Christian population, determining their rights and obligations under Muslim rule.

As a conqueror, `Umar undertook many administrative reforms and closely oversaw public policy. He established an advanced administration for the newly conquered lands, including several new ministries and bureaucracies, and ordered a census of all the Muslim territories. During his rule, the garrison cities (amsar) of Basra and Kufa were founded or expanded. In 638, he extended and renovated the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. He also began the process of codifying Islamic law. At the same time, `Umar also ordered the expulsion of the Christian and Jewish communities of Najran and Khaibar and forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hijaz for longer than three days. (G. Levi DellaVida and M. Bonner, Encyclopedia of Islam, and Madelung, The Succession to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), p. 74)

As a leader, `Umar was known for his simple, austere lifestyle. Rather than adopt the pomp and display affected by the rulers of the time, he continued to live much as he had when Muslims were poor and persecuted. In 639, his fourth year as caliph and the seventeenth year 17 since the Hijra, he decreed that the years of the Islamic era should be counted from the year of the Hijra.

Narratives from Sunni Islamic literature

According to Sunni tradition, after the siege of Jerusalem, Sophronius welcomed `Umar because, according to biblical prophecies allegedly known to the church in Jerusalem, "a poor, but just and powerful man" will rise as a be a protector and an ally to the Christians of Jerusalem. Sophronius believed that `Umar, a great warrior who led an austere life, was a fulfilment of this prophecy.

In the account by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Eutichius, it is said that `Umar paid a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and sat in its courtyard. When the time for prayer arrived, however, he left the church and prayed outside the compound, in order to avoid having future generations of Muslims use his prayer there as a pretext for converting the church into a mosque. Eutichius adds that `Umar also wrote a decree which he handed to the Patriarch, in which he prohibited that Muslims gather in prayer at the site.

Another story tells of the meeting between `Umar and Hurmuzan, a Persian leader who fought against the Muslims, but later converted to Islam. He found `Umar sleeping on the ground after he had sought him out for battle, and was amazed at his humility and austere lifestyle. The story continues that Hurmuzan declared: "You ruled by justice, therefore you became safe; only because of that, you are now able to sleep peacefully anywhere.


Umar died in 644, the victim of an assassin's dagger. His killer, Pirouz Nahavandi (also known as Abu Lulua) was a Persian Soldier who was in both wars of Jaloola and Nahavand and taken as a captive in the second. Most probably Firuzan was a Zoroastrian as the majority of Iranian were at the time of Arab occupation of Iran in 7th century. One day when the caliph was leading prayers in the mosque, Pirouz Nahavandi walked over to him and stabbed him. There are varying accounts about the actual events that took place. Some believe that when Pirooz got to Umar he used his dagger to rip his stomach open from below belly all the way to his neck. and then stabbed him in his back as well and some say that he stabbed Umar six times. `Umar died two days later, and was buried alongside Muhammad and Abū Bakr. Uthman ibn Affan was chosen as his successor, by a group of people appointed by Umar before his death.

Sunni views

Sunnis remember Umar as a Farooq, meaning "leader, jurist and statesman", and the second of the rightly-guided Caliphs. He did not seek advancement for his own family, but rather sought to advance the interests of the Muslim community, the ummah. The general Sunni sentiment for Umar is summarized by one of Muhammad's companions, Abdullah ibn Masud:
Omar's submission to Islam was a conquest, his migration was a victory, his Imamate (period of rule) was a blessing, I have seen when we were unable to pray at the Kaabah until Umar submitted, when he submitted to Islam, he fought them (the pagans) until they left us alone and we prayed.

Shi'a view

The Shi'a regard `Umar as an usurper and brute, citing his repudiation of Ali as Muhammad's heir, his role as a fugitive from the battles of Uhud and Hunayn, and his threat of violence against Ali, to induce him to submit to Abu Bakr (see for instance Tabari, I, 1819-20).

Non-Muslim View

Non-Muslim scholars generally treat Umar as a pivotal figure in the history of Islam, since it was under his aegis that the Muslims expanded outwards from the Syro-Arabian steppe to conquer the Sassanid (Persian) empire and to capture much of the Byzantine Empire's territory in Asia and Northern Africa. They analyze his decisions primarily in military and political terms, while some praise his religious and character judgments. For example, in speaking about his devotedness to Islam, the academic David Norcliffe, stated:
Umar was a very pious individual who applied the laws of Islam sternly both to himself and others, and no Muslim would stand against him.

In making reference to Umar's political skills, the Italian orientalist Laura Veccia Vaglieri, was quoted as stating:

if an isolated episode in Arab history, such as Islam was before the death of Muhammad, was transformed into an event of world-wide importance, and the foundations of a Muslim empire which civil wars, lack of unity, and attacks from abroad might shake, but could not destroy, the chief credit for these things must be attributed to the political gifts of Umar.

See also



  • Donner, Fred, The Early Islamic Conquests, Princeton University Press, 1981
  • Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1955
  • Madelung, Wilferd, The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997
  • "G.LeviDellaVida and M.Bonner "Umar" in Encyclopedia of Islam CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands 1999"
  • Previte-Orton, C. W (1971). The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

External links


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