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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Omar, Abu-Hafsa, Ibn al-Khatab
the second caliph of the Moslems, and one of the most noted characters in Mohammedan annals, was born about 581. Of his early history little is known. He was the third cousin of Abdullah, the father of the Prophet, but previous to his conversion was an ardent persecutor of Mohammed and his followers. He even attempted to take Mohammed's life. He was, however, most remarkably converted to Islam, and thereafter became as zealous an apostle as he had formerly been a persecutor, and rendered valuable aid to the Prophet in all his warlike expeditions. After Mohammed's death he caused Abu-Bekr to be proclaimed caliph, and was himself appointed hajeb, or prime minister. Though of a fiery and enthusiastic temperament, he proved a sagacious adviser, and it was at his suggestion that the caliph put down with an iron hand the many dissensions which had arisen among the Arabs after the Prophet's decease, and resolved to strengthen and consolidate their new-born national spirit, as well as propagate the doctrines of Islam, by engaging them in continual aggressive wars. (See MOHAMMEDANISM).
Omar succeeded Abu-Bekr in the caliphate by the express wish of the first caliph in A.D. 634, and immediately pushed on the war of conquests with increased vigor. He was a most enthusiastic Moslem, and vowed that the Crescent should receive the homage of the world. Every soldier or officer who had proved himself incompetent for the trust reposed in him was promptly removed, and every precaution taken to put in responsible offices only men of character and bravery. Thus he dismissed from the command of the Syrian armies the celebrated Khaled ibn-Walid, surnamed "The Sword of God," who by his rapacity and cruelty towards the vanquished had made himself obnoxious, and replaced him by Abu Obeydah ibn-al-Jerrah, another brave general who had distinguished himself in the wars against the Greeks. Khtled. fortunately for Omar, had virtue enough to accept the second post in the army, and he continued to serve under the new general. These two officers prosecuted the conquest of Syria, and took Damascus, its capital, in the month of Rejeb, A.H. 14 (August-September A.D. 635). After the capture of Damascus, the Moslems proceeded to the reduction of Emesa, Hamah, and Kennesrin. The emperor Heraclius sent a considerable force to stop the progress of the Arabs, but the Greeks were completely defeated at the bloody battle of Yermuik (636). The following year (637) Omar sent Amru ibn-al-As and Sarjil to besiege Jerusalem. The city was stoutly defended by the garrison; but after a siege of several months the patriarch Sophronius. who commanded in it, agreed to surrender to the Moslems, but refused to treat with any other except the caliph himself. A messenger having been dispatched to Omar, who was then residing at Medina, he hastened to Jerusalem followed by a scanty suite. Omar's journey from Arabia to Palestine is thus described by the historian Tabari:
"He rode a sorrel-colored camel, and was dressed in an old tattered habit of hair-cloth; he carried with him, in two bags, his provisions, consisting of dry fruits, barley, rice, and boiled corn, besides a skin for the water. Whenever he halted to make a repast, he permitted those who. accompanied him to partake of it, eating from the same wooden dish; if he took any rest, the earth was his couch. During his march he administered justice to ail applicants; in several instances he corrected the laxity of morals, and reformed several abuses, especially among the new converts; abolishing also many luxurious indulgences which had spread among the Moslems, such as the drinking of wine, the using of silken garments, etc. Arrived at the camp, he caused several Moslems to be seized and dragged through the mud for having, in disobedience to his orders, arrayed themselves in the silken tunics of the conquered Greeks."
After a short conference with Sophronius, the terms of a capitulation were agreed upon, and the keys of the Holy City were delivered up to Omar. The articles of the capitulation of Jerusalem have been translated (Mines de l'Orient, vol. ii), and as they were the model upon which the Moslems dictated many others to the subdued cities of Africa and Spain, we transcribe them here: "The inhabitants shall retain their lives and property; they shall preserve the use of their churches, but they shall build no new ones; they shall neither place crosses upon those which they already have, nor hinder the Moslems from entering them night or day; they shall not ring their bells, but they shall be allowed to toll them; if a Moslem travels through the city, the inhabitants shall give him hospitality for three days. They shall not be enforced to teach their children the Koran, but they shall not try to convert any Moslem to their religion; they shall in every instance show respect for the Moslems, and give them the precedence; they shall wear turbans and shoes, and use names different from theirs. They shall be allowed to ride on horseback, but without either saddle or arms; they shall never go out without their girdles [the distinctive mark of all Christians then living under the Mohammnedans wary]; they shall not sell wine to the Moslems, and shall remain faithful to the caliph, and pay regularly the taxes imposed upon them."
Omar made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem towards the middle of the year 16 of the Hegira (A.D. 637). After conversing for a while with Sophronius, and addressing to him several questions on the antiquities of the place, visiting the Church of the Resurrection. and saying his prayers under its portico, he desired to be conveyed to Bethlehem, where he also performed his devotions. Returning again to the city, he caused a magnificent mosque to be erected on the site of Solomon's Temple, the predecessor of that which still bears his name and remains an object of great veneration to the Mussulmans. The taking of Jerusalem wasfollowed by the reduction of all the principal cities of Palestine while Khaled and Abu Obeydah made themselves masters of Laodicea, Antioch, Aleppo, and Baalbek. Omar next prepared to invade Persia, a kingdom: then ruled by a king named Yezdegerd, against which he had at the beginning of his reign unsuccessfully contended (634). Saad ibn-Abi Wakas, who was, now entrusted with the command of the army, penetrated far into Persia; defeated at Kadeslyah a powerful army commanded by Rustam, who fell in the battle; took: possession of Bahr-Shir, in the western quarter of the. city of Madavin, the ancient Ctesiphon; founded the city of Kfifah, near the Euphrates (638); crossed the Tigris; and at last took Madayin, the capital of Yezdegerd's kingdom. In the mean while Amru ibn-al-As, who commanded the armies of Egypt, completed the conquest of that country by the reduction of Alexandria: (640). It was then that the famous library founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus is said to have been destroyed by the conquerors. Upon an application from Amru to; the caliph to know his pleasure concerning its contents,. an answer was returned commanding its destruction; for, said Omar, "if the books of the Greeks agree with the book of God (Koran), they are superfluous, and need not be preserved; and if they disagree, they are pernicious, and ought to be destroyed." In consequence of this decision, we are told, and (notwithstanding all Gibbon's ingenuity to discredit the account) we are inclined to believe, that the manuscripts were delivered up to the four (others say five) thousand public baths in the city, to which they served as precious fiel for six months. The conquest of Egypt was followed by that of part of Africa. Amru pushed his victorious arms as far as the deserts of Tripoli and Barca. Armenia was in the meanwhile subdued by Mugheyrah (641), and Khorassan (642). by Ahnaf ibn-Kays, another of Omar's lieutenants. In the same year was fought the famous battle of Nehavend, which decided the fate of Persia. Firiz, who now commanded the armies of Yezdegerd, was killed; and the monarch himself was obliged to seek an asylum at Farghanah among the Turks, where he died soon after in poverty.
The success which attended the arms of Omar, his unflinching severity towards the vanquished who would not embrace the religion of the Prophet, and, more than all, the inexorable justice which he dealt among his own people, excited against him numerous enemies at home and abroad, and several attempts were made upon his life. Iabalah ibn-Ahyam, chief of the Arabian tribe of Ghosan, became one of his most implacable enemies. Although a tributary to the Greek emperor, in whose states he lived with his tribe, and though professing the Christian religion, Iabalah went to see Omar at Medina, swore obedience to him, and embraced Islam with all his followers. Omar then took him with him on a pilgrimage to Mecca. While the nieophyte was making, as usual, seven times the circuit of the Kaaba, an Arab of low extraction happened to run against him, and was the cause of the prince's cloak falling off his shoulders. Iabalah resented the incivility by immediately striking the man a blow on the face. The man made his complaint to Omar, who, having summoned Iabalah to his presence, sentenced him to receive a similar blow from the complainant. Against this sentence, just as it was, Iabalah most warmly remonstrated, saying that he was a king among his own people, and that the offender deserved to be punished with death. "My friend," said Omar to him, "the religion that thou and I follow makes no distinction between the king and the subject." Rather than submit to the indignity, Iabalah secretly left Mecca with all his suite, abjured Islam, and sought the protection of the Greek emperor. He had, moreover, sworn to revenge the outrage. Having communicated his plans to a resolute young slave of his, Wathek ibn- Musafer by name, he promised him his liberty if he should succeed in killing Omar. Having arrived at Medina (638), where the caliph was then residing, Wathek was informed that Omar was in the habit of sitting down every day under a tree on his way to the mosque. Wathek, having climbed up the tree, awaited the arrival of Omar, who took his seat beneath it and fell asleep. Wathek, according to the account of the Mohammedan historians, was upon the point of coming down for the purpose of stabbing Omar with his dagger, when, lifting up his eyes, he saw a lion walking around him and licking his feet. Nor did the lion cease to guard the caliph until he awoke, when the lion instantly went away. Wathek was so much struck by this circumstance that he came down, kissed the caliph's hand, confessed his intended crime, and embraced the Mohammedan religion.
Yet the life of Omar was finally cut short by assassination. A Persian slave of the Magian sect, whose name was Abu Lulu Firuz, had been obliged by his master, Almugheyrah ibn-es-shaabah, to pay him two dirhems daily, in conformity with the Mohammedan custom, for the free exercise of this religion. Firiz, resenting this treatment, brought a complaint before the caliph, and requested that some part at least of the tribute exacted of him might be remitted; but this favor being refused by Omar, the Persian swore his destruction, and some days afterwards while Omar was performing his morning devotions in the mosque at Medinna, he stabbed him thrice in the belly with a sharp dagger. The people fell upon the assassin, but he made so desperate a defense that, although he was armed with no other weapon than his dagger, he wounded thirteen of the assailants, and seven of them mortally. At last one of the caliph's attendants drew his cloak over his head, and seized him; upon which he stabbed himself, and soon after expired, Omar languished five days. He died on a Friday, in the month of Dhu-l-hajjah, A.H. 23, answering to the month of November, A.D. 644. He was buried on the following. Saturday, close to the Prophet and Abu-Bekr in a mosque which he had founded at Medina, where his tomb is still visited with great respect by the Mussulmans. Having been asked, some time before his death, to name his successor, he refused; and upon the suggestion of one of his courtiers that he should leave the caliphate to his son Abdullah, he remarked, "It is enough that one out of my family has been forced to bear this burden, and account afterwards to his God for the command and government of the faithful." Mohammedanism cannot boast of a more virtuous sovereign or a more zealous apostle. It has been said of him that he contributed more efficaciously to the advancement of the Mohammedan religion than the Prophet himself Khondemir, the celebrated Persian historian, thus recapitulates the praiseworthy acts of this caliph: "He took from the infidels 36,000 cities or castles, destroyed 4000 temples or churches, and founded or endowed 1400 mosques." The Prophet had the greatest esteem for Omar, whose daughter Hafsah he married. On a certain occasion he was heard to' say, "If God had wished to send a second messenger to this world, his choice would undoubtedly have fallen on Omar."
The devotion, humility, and abstinence of this caliph had become proverbial among the Mussulmans. He never tasted any other food than barley-bread and dates; water was his only drink; and he was often found asleep under the porch of a mosque or beneath a tree. He complied most strictly with all the precepts of the Koran. Eutychius tells us that during his caliphate he performed nine times the pilgrimage to Mecca. In order better to conform to the regulations of the Koran, he lived by the work of his hands, supporting himself entirely by the sale of leather belts which he manufactured. But the quality for which Omar was most conspicuous was justice, which he is said to have administered with an even hand to infidels as well as believers. The historian Wakedi says that the staff of Omar was more dreaded than the sword of his successors. In the lifetime of Mohammed, a Moslem, condemned for his iniquitous treatment of a Jew, happening to appeal to Omar from the sentence of the Prophet, was immediately cut down with the scimitar for not acquiescing in the sentence of so upright a judge. From this circumstance Mohammed gave Omar the surname of Al-faruk which he retained ever afterwards, a word meaning the divider, or the discriminator, thus doubly alluding to his action and the discernment which prompted it. Several of the best Mohammedan institutions date from the reign of Omar. It was in his time that the aera of the Hegira, or flight of Mohammed, by which all Mohammedan nations compute their years, was established, and its beginning fixed on July 16, A.D. 622. He was the first who kept armies under pay, and assigned pensions to officers out of the public revenue; he instituted a sort of police force to watch at night for the security of the citizens; and he promulgated some excellent regulations respecting the duties of masters towards their slaves. He was also the first who assumed the title of Amir el-mumenin (commander of the faithful), instead of that of Khalifah-rasuli-llahi (vicar of the messenger of God), which his predecessor Abu-Bekr had used. Omar's memory is an object of the greatest veneration among Mussulmans of the Sunni, or orthodox sect; not so among the Shiites, or partisans of Ali, who look upon the first three caliphs, Abu-Bekr, Omar, and Othman, as usurpers of the caliphate, to the prejudice of Ali, to whom, they pretend, it belonged as the nearest relative of the Prophet. See Abulfeda, Annales Moslemici (transl. by Reiske, Hafnire, 1790), 1:2-0 sq.; Almakin, Hist. Saracenica (ap. Erpenium, Lugd. Batav. 1625), p. 20 sq.; Ibn-Shihnah (MS.), Raudhaztrt -l- manadhidr; Ockley, Hist. of the Sarcacens, 1:300: Ibn-al-Khattib Hist. Calipharum (ap. Casiri); Bib. Ar. Hisp. Esc. 2:177 sq.; D'Herbelot, Bib. Or. s.v. Omar ben-al-Khattab, Khaled, Damashk, Iskandriah, et al.: Weil, Isla.nitische Vhlker, p. 4787; Wright, Chrisiianity in Arabia, p. 186 sq.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 9:222, etc.; and especially the article in the English Cyclopaedia, S. .
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Omar, Abu-Hafsa, Ibn al-Khatab'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/o/omar-abu-hafsa-ibn-al-khatab.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.