Ramadan profiles: Islam’s all-time symbol of leadership Omar bin al-Khattab
During the month of Ramadan, Al Arabiya English is publishing a series of profiles on prominent historical figures in Islamic history.
Omar bin al-Khattab, the second Khalifa of Muslims following the death of Prophet Muhammad, is highly revered among Muslims not only for being a piousness and just nature, but also for being a brilliant leader and statesman.
A pioneering figure in the Islamic world, Omar was and will always be remembered, for his great contributions to the religion of Islam. Descriptions of his appearance suggest that he was a strong, fit, tall man, and the front part of his head was bald.
Before accepting Islam, he was one of the most rabid enemies of Prophet Mohammad. Omar acknowledged Muhammed as the Messenger of God after six years of his prophecy, to become the 40th man to join the religion of Islam and became a senior companion of the Prophet.
When the name of Omar is mentioned, he is always described as al-Farouk, or the distinguisher between right and wrong.
As a leader, Omar was known to be humble, aware of the significance and seriousness of his responsibility. At night, he was known for going around to inspect the conditions of Muslims. Those night tours weren’t common before his reign, and weren’t done at the same pace even after his death.
His sense of responsibility and kindness also extended to animals, whom he valued because they are God’s creations. Omar is often quoted declaring that “if a mule stumbled in Iraq, he was responsible for not having the road paved.”
Dawud ibn Ali quotes Omar as once saying: “If a lost sheep under my care were to die on the banks of the Euphrates, I would expect Allah the Exalted to question me about it on the Day of Resurrection.”
Leadership and management
And because under his leadership the Muslim world expanded to reach Persia, Syria and Egypt, Omar is seen as the architect of the Islamic Empire. As a statesman, he established a political structure to hold the vast Islamic state together.
He divided the state into provinces and appointed governors, whom he did not allow to exceed two years in power, out of fear it would influence their roles.
Among his numerous achievements as a ruler, Omar decreed the Hijri or Islamic calendar, which counts starting from the year Prophet Mohammad left Makkah to Medinah.
In 641, he established Bayt al-mal, or the “House of Wealth”, the first financial institution in the Islamic state to overlook taxes and administrate the distributions of zakat revenues for the public. He also provided stipends for poor Jews and Christians.
Omar valued individual freedoms and applied the principle of equality among Muslims and non-Muslims within the borders of the Islamic state.
It was narrated that Omar once heard that the son of Amr bin As, a companion of the prophet and the ruler Omar appointed for Egypt, has abused and beat up a Coptic Christian.
Omar ordered the son of Amr be punished in public on the hands of the victim. He then was quoted telling both, the father and son: "Since when have you turned men into slaves, whereas they are born free of their mothers?"
Umar was assassinated at the hands of a Persian slave, Piruz Nahavandi (also known as Abu Lulu al-Majousi). It is said that Piruz attacked Omar while he was leading the morning prayers, fatally stabbing him in the belly and on the navel.
Omar succumbed to his wounds three days later.