ʿUmar Ibn Al-Khaṭṭāb

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ʿUMAR IBN AL-KHAĀB (assassinated ah 23/644 ce), second caliph and founder of the Muslim Arab empire. Born in pagan Mecca, he accepted the mission of Muammad as God's prophet before the emigration (hijrah ) of that city's nascent Muslim community to Medina. Muammad later married his daughter afah, whose name is linked with the collation of the Qurʾān. ʿUmar's fame as caliph (634644) justly rests on his energetic leadership and shrewd counsel during the expansion of the Medinan commonwealth, which was ultimately transformed into an imperial structure displacing both Byzantine and Persian power in the Middle East.

While traditional accounts attribute a great number of "firsts" to ʿUmar, modern scholars have not always been able to distinguish ʿUmar's achievements from those of a later period. His adoption of the title Amīr al-Muʾminīn ("counselor of the believers") rather than Khalīfat Rasūl Allāh ("successor of the Messenger of God"), as his predecessor Abū Bakr was called, indicates at least the emergence of a selfconscious, permanent community, if not that of a well-defined political office. It seems clear that he set the precedent for religious endowments (awqāf, plural of waqf), first on his own land and then on the conquered land of the Sawād in Iraq, the revenue from which was to be used for the benefit of future generations of Muslims. He probably also instituted the prayers (al-tarāwī ) during the fasting month of Ramaān, the obligatory pilgrimage (ajj ), and the Hijrah as the commencement of the Muslim era (622 ce). Of more doubtful origin are the specific punishments for drunkenness, adultery, and lampooning, and most controversial of all is the so-called Covenant of ʿUmar, promulgating fiscal, religious, and civil regulations with regard to the non-Muslim population. The document is almost certainly a conflation, with only the fiscal and religious provisions properly belonging to ʿUmar's time.


A fifteenth-century account of ʿUmar's life is available in H. S. Jarrett's English translation of al-Suyūī's History of the Caliphs (1881; reprint, Karachi, 1977). A modern account, useful albeit brief, is the biographical entry by Giorgio Levi della Vida in the Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953; reprint, Leiden, 1974). Daniel C. Dennett's Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam (Cambridge, Mass., 1950) summarizes various views on and details of the Covenant of ʿUmar. Also of interest is Hava Lazarus-Yafeh's "ʿUmar b. Al-KhaābPaul of Islam?" in Some Religious Aspects of Islam: A Collection of Articles. (Leiden, 1981), published as a supplement to Numen, vol. 42.

David Waines (1987)