Children’s Page (The Golden Era of Islam): Umar the Great
by Masud Beg Mirza
The Light (Pakistan), 8th/16th June 1976 Issue (Vol. 56, Nos. 22–23, pp. 21–22, 24)
Hazrat Umar, the second Caliph, is regarded as the greatest in the Kingdom of Islam after the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Abu Bakr had successfully beat down the Apostate tribes; but at his death the armies of Islam had just crossed the Syrian frontier. Umar, at the beginning of his reign, was master only of Arabia, but he died as the Caliph of an Empire comprising Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia. He was a great conqueror, a wise administrator, a just ruler and one of the most illustrious monarchs that the world has seen.
Before accepting Islam, Umar was bitterly opposed to the Holy Prophet. He was a very strong man and enjoyed a position of marked distinction and esteem among the Arabs notwithstanding his fiery temperament. The Holy Prophet would pray to Allah to strengthen Islam by bringing to its fold one of the two Umars — Umar ibn Khattab or Umar ibn Hisham, generally known as Abu Jahl. That prayer was granted in favour of the former, and Hazrat Umar embraced Islam in the 6th year of the Call. His conversion to Islam really added to the strength of the New Faith, as the Holy Prophet came out into the open to preach his religion and the Muslims were henceforth able to say their prayers in the sacred Kabah. So Umar received the title al-Faruq i.e. one who separated truth from falsehood. He was a man of strong moral fibre and a keen sense of Justice, possessed of great energy and force of character. Sir William Muir says:
“Omar’s life requires but few lines to sketch. Simplicity and duty were his guiding principles, impartiality and devotion the leading features of his administration. Responsibility so weighed upon him that he was heard to exclaim, ‘O that my mother had not borne me; would that I had been this stalk of grass instead.’”
Hazrat Umar zealously pursued the frontier policy of Hazrat Abu Bakr, with the result that in the course of a few years the mighty empires of Persia and Rome crumbled before the armies of Islam. But the non-Muslim historians have attributed this to the territorial lust of Muslims and their fanatical zeal to convert people to Islam. This, however, is not the truth. The Muslims unsheathed the sword in self-defence during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the reign of Abu Bakr. The Romans and the Persians struck the first blow. The Muslims, on the other hand, tried to avert war, and they were driven to it only by the repeated attacks of the Persians and the Romans. They viewed the rising power of Islam with jealousy and alarm, and were anxious to crush it and subjugate Arabia. They helped the false prophets and the rebels against Islam, and when they met with reverses, it wounded their pride, and with a passion of revenge they came out with full force to smash Arabia. The Muslims sent envoys to these powers for cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace, but they met with contemptuous refusal. Thus, war was forced on them and the Muslims had no choice but to carry it to the finish. Because when a nation attacks another nation, it becomes the latter’s duty not merely to repulse the attack but to continue it till one of the two should completely surrender.
After the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Muslim general sought the Caliph’s permission to advance to Khurasan in pursuit of the Persian army; but Hazrat Umar forbade him saying:
“I desire that between Mesopotamia and the countries beyond, the hills were a barrier so that the Persians shall not be able to get at us, nor we at them.”
He is also reported to have said,
“I wish between ourselves and Persia there were a mountain of fire.”
He also said,
“I would prefer the safety of my people to thousands of spoils and further conquest.”
Thus national defence and “safety of my people” were the only motives underlying these conquests, and not the lust for spoils or extension of territory or the fanatic zeal for proselytism. The conquests made by Muslims have been the wonder of history in so far as the most remarkable feats of valour, indomitable courage, strong determination and self-sacrifice of the Muslim soldiers is concerned. The Arabs were utterly insignificant in the eyes of the Persians and the Romans. The northern part of Arabia was under the Caesar and the eastern under the Chosroes, and they held the Arabs in constant terror. To take up arms against these powers was beyond the imagination of the poor Arabs. But when they were driven into warfare, the Muslims fought with invincible bravery regardless of life and death as inspired by the noble passion of Jihad and the firm conviction that they were fighting in the way of Allah and performing their duty towards Islam. In military training, the Arabs were as deficient as their opponents were skilled. The Muslims were ill-equipped but their enemy was clad in iron from head to foot. The Muslim army did not exceed 40,000 in number in any field, but the enemy at times put into the field as large an army as 250,000.
The battle of Qadisiyah completely broke the strength of Persia. The Persian army under the famous Rustam, was five times the Muslim army and its front line was fortified with elephants. The huge beasts swayed to and fro like moving castles and affrighted the Arab forces which broke away at the horrid sight. The elephant caused havoc on the first two days. On the third day, the Muslim Commander, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, asked a valiant soldier Qaqa to aim at the eye of “the great white elephant” and the maddened creature darted forward and followed by others it turned back and charged right into the Persian line. The same brave soldier then rushed upon Rustam, who had tried to run away but was killed by a Muslim soldier.
In another battle, the Muslim and Persian forces were encamped on the opposite banks of the river Tigris. The boats were in the possession of the Persians, and they could swoop down on the Muslims whenever they chose. The Muslims had no boats and crossing the river was not possible. But they possessed one thing — the indomitable pluck before which could stand neither mountain, nor rivers. The Muslims threw their horses into the river and in the teeth of the swift current gained the opposite bank. The Persians were seized with such a terror that they fled in utter confusion thinking that they were being attacked by “Genii”.
The spoils of war accruing from the battle of Qadisiyah are described by Muir in the following words,
“The spoil was great beyond all parallel, both in amount and costliness. Each soldier had six thousand pieces, besides the special gifts for veterans and such as showed extra-ordinary valour. The jewels stripped from Rustam’s body were worth 70,000 pieces, although its most costly portion, the tiara, had been swept away. The great banner of the Empire was captured on the field, made of panther’s skins, and so richly garnished with gems as to be valued at 100,000 pieces. Thus did the needy Arabs revel in the treasures of the East, the preciousness of which exceeded almost their power to comprehend.”