Umar ibn al-Khattab
(592 - 644)
Second of the four "rightly guided" caliphs. Umar was born
in Mecca around 581 to the Adi clan of the Quraish tribe. Umar belonged
to a family of average class, but he was able to become literate, and
was well known for his physical strength, becoming a champion wrestler.
When Muhammad first declared
his message of Islam, Umar
believed Islam was heretical rhetoric against the Quraish and his ancestors,
and he resolved to kill Muhammad. He was stopped on his way to Muhammad's
house, however, with news of his sister's conversion to Islam. Umar
was initially angered by the news, but after reading some of the Quran
he was instantly changed. Rather than killing Muhammad, he determined
to accept Islam.
Umar was part of the first emigration to Medina, and
became an important companion of Muhammad. He participated in all of
the Muslim battles against the Quraish. Upon the death of Muhammad,
Umar was in such a state of despair that he threatened to decapitate
anyone who said that Muhammad was dead.
Abu Bakr became the first successor to Muhammad. During Abu Bakr's short reign
as caliph, Umar was an important advisor to him, and Abu Bakr selected
Umar as his successor prior to his death. Umar reigned as caliph from
633 until his assassination in 644. Umar's time as caliph saw the Islamic
empire grow at an unprecedented rate, taking Iraq and parts of Iran from the
Sassanids, and thereby ending that empire, and taking Egypt,
Palestine, Syria, North Africa
and Armenia from the Byzantines.
Umar also codified Islamic law, and was known for his simple lifestyle
and modest living. A famous story tells of him arriving in Jerusalem walking beside his camel upon which his servant was sitting.
Umar was murdered in 644 by a Persian slave who was
angered by a personal quarrel with Umar; he stabbed the caliph six times
as Umar led prayers in Masjid al Nabawi. Umar died two days later, and
is buried alongside Muhammad and Abu Bakr. Prior to dying, he appointed
a council of six men to elect his successor from amongst themselves,
chosing Uthman ibn Affan.
Umar is most recognized for originating most of the major political
institutions of the Muslim state and stabilizing the rapidly expanding Arab empire.
Sources: Saudi Aramco World, (January-February