For the Younger People (The Golden Era of Islam): The Manifold Reforms Introduced by Hazrat Umar the Great

by Masud Beg Mirza

The Light (Pakistan), 8th/16th August 1976 Issue (Vol. 56, Nos. 21–22)

Hazrat Umar enjoys a unique position in the history of Islam for adding many a glorious chapter to its annals. His services are outstanding and his contribution magnificent. Not only that he was a great conqueror, a wise administrator, a strong disciplinarian, a just ruler and a builder of democracy, in the mundane life, but he also held an equally high status in the spiritual domain and occupied a prominent position among the Companions of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He was a true follower of the Holy Prophet and a Caliph in the real sense. The Holy Prophet recognized his worth by saying that if a prophet could appear after him, he would have been Umar. On certain occasions the opinion held by Umar was corroborated by Divine revelation and the Holy Prophet acknowledged it openly. And perhaps it was due to all these factors and the glorious services to the cause of Islam that Umar was to make in the course of time, that the Holy Prophet, in the early stages of his mission, so fervently prayed for his conversion to Islam.

Hazrat Umar introduced many reforms in all spheres of life, and some of these were so progressive that the civilised nations, have just thought of them in the 20th century. Old-age pension, for instance, is now prevailing in many advanced countries, but it was introduced by Umar 1300 years ago. The weak and disabled were granted allowances from the public treasury, and in this there was no discrimination between Muslim and non-Muslim. Children without guardians were brought up at the expense of the State. The entire nation was entitled to stipends oat of the public revenue according to a graduated scale. To regulate the receipt and disbursement of the revenue, the Department of Finance was established under the name of the Diwan. A register was kept in the Diwan of all persons, Arab and non-Arab, men, women and children, entitled to a stipend.

Umar is regarded as the founder of the political administration of Islam. He divided Arabia and the conquered lands into provinces or compact governorships. The governors were appointed after consulting the people, and in case of a complaint against the governor, a commission of enquiry was duly appointed and the governor dismissed if found guilty. The governor, by virtue of his office, led the public prayers and delivered the Friday oration. Justice was administered by civil judges, who were appointed by the Caliph and were independent of the governors, thus separating judiciary from the executive power. The title of Hakim (ruler) was reserved for the Qazi or judge, and even the caliphs were amenable to the orders of the legally constituted judge.

The farsighted Caliph perceived that the stability and material development of the empire depended upon the prosperity of the agricultural classes. So he forbade the sale of holdings and agricultural lands in the conquered countries. The Arabs were debarred from acquiring land from the natives of the soil. The peasantry and the landowners were thus doubly protected from eviction. The lands were surveyed field by field, and the assessment was fixed on uniform basis. The record, besides giving the area of lands, describes in detail the quality of the soil, the nature of the produce, the character of the holdings, and so forth. A network of canals was also constructed and the irrigation system greatly improved.

Far-reaching reforms were also introduced in the Military Department. An Array Headquarters was set up, and a Volunteer Corps was established besides the regular army, which consisted of cavalry and infantry. The great superiority of the Muslim armies consisted in their extreme mobility, their perseverance, and their power of endurance—qualities, which joined to enthusiasm, made them invincible. Hazrat Umar directed the construction of permanent stations or cantonments and this was the origin or the military stations of Basra, Kufa, Mosul and Fustat. Impropriety of conduct was strictly prohibited, and drunkenness was punished by eighty stripes. Soldiers on foreign service away from their families were not required to serve for more than four months at a time. For keeping up their endurance and hardy spirit, the soldiers were advised to bask in the sunshine, not to wear clothes made of fine cloth, not to ride a horse by means of a stirrup and to refrain from bathing in a public bath-house. The commanders of the army were generally selected from among the learned, who could disseminate the light of Islam, wherever they went. Every Muslim soldier was also supposed to be a preacher of his faith and to live up to the tenets of Islam. And it was true in this sense that the sword and the faith appeared side by side, but not in the sense that faith was spread by the sword.

Non-Muslims enjoyed perfect freedom of religion. The life and property of a non-Muslim were made inviolate as those of a Muslim, and a Muslim assassin of a Christian was punished with death. Taxes were levied on mild and equitable basis and were realised without causing the least possible hardship. Jews, Christians, Samaritans and Magians, who were styled “People of the Book’” were treated with justice and humanity. Slavery was gradually abolished, and only prisoners of war were considered slaves. But in various treaties, when security of life and property was granted, the vanquished foes would not be converted into slaves. And whatever number of slaves still existed were treated by Muslim soldiers as their brothers.

These and many other reforms introduced by Hazrat Umar were an example for the future generations to follow. He was the first to assume the title Amir-ul-Muminin or Commander of the Faithful. He displayed unique genius in organizing the civil administration of his territories. A census of the population was taken and the total land measured; offices for various departments were established and secretaries and collectors were appointed; a police force was organized and night patrols were introduced; jails were built; public treasuries were started and the Muslim era of Hijrah was introduced, which has been a great help in the preservation of Islamic history. Such was the Caliph Umar, may Allah be pleased with him.