The story is told of a woman who travelled a long distance from Iraq to meet the Khalifa of that time, ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Aziz. When she arrived at his abode, she inquired if there was a guard to prevent people from going inside to meet him. She was told, “No, you may go in if you wish.” On entering, the woman saw Fatimah, the wife of ‘Umar busy spinning some cotton. The woman offered her salutation to Fatimah who responded, “Welcome, dear sister, come inside and sit down.”
No sooner had the woman entered the leader’s abode, she started looking around and was surprised to find that there was nothing of value or significance in the house of the Leader of the land. Without realizing that she was speaking out loud, she said, “I came to build and furnish my house from this house which I have found to be devoid of luxuries and totally barren!” On hearing this Fatimah responded, “The emptiness and barrenness of this house allows for the construction and adornment of houses such as yours.”
Soon Umar entered the house, gave greetings of peace to those present and asked his wife about the woman who was sitting with her. He took out a bunch of grapes, chose the best ones and gave them to his wife so that she could offer them to the visitor. ‘Umar then asked the visitor, “What is your need? Can I be of any help?”
The woman was surprised by such courtesy and kindness displayed by Khalifa “Umar bin ‘Abdul Aziz. She said, “I am an inhabitant of the neighboring Iraq, and I have five daughters who cannot work and who have with them no material possessions. I have come to you in the hope that you will be more than willing to help them.” Hearing this, ‘Umar began to cry, took out his inkstand and put his quill pen to paper, writing a note to the governor of Iraq. He asked the woman the name of her eldest daughter and having learnt that he wrote down an amount that was to be given to her. Seeing this, the woman was overjoyed, praised Allah (The Exalted). ‘Umar then asked the woman the names of her second, third and fourth daughters. When the woman realized that ‘Umar had bestowed money upon all of her daughters, she was very happy and supplicated for Khalifa ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Aziz.
The woman left the Khalifa’s house with the note he had so caringly written and handed over to her to be given to the governor of Iraq. After a long and tedious journey she reached Iraq and went to the governor to hand over Khalifa ‘Umar’s note to him. On receiving the note, the governor wept profusely, and while still sobbing said, “May Allah have mercy on the writer of this note and bless him with His choicest blessings.” The woman was taken aback, “What happened?” she inquired, “Is ‘Umar OK?” ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Aziz passed away” lamented the governor. Hearing the news of the Khalifa’s demise, the woman screamed, “Oh, no!” The governor consoled the woman and told her that she need not worry; he was going to honor the words of the noble ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Aziz since words of an honorable man cannot be ignored under any circumstances.
So you see how noble leaders of earlier times were, and how ardently they cared for the welfare of the people they were chosen to lead. Fast forward to modern times–what a total contrast in the behavior of leaders of our times. Is there even an iota of goodness in the treatment the citizenry receive from individuals they appoint to lead them? This is not the case with any one nation but is a scenario the world over, no exception. Most of the leaders of earlier times were like a tree, even if people threw a stone to harm them, they dropped a fruit to benefit them. In contrast leaders of modern times are ignorant and self-centered, they generally have three major faults: self-conceit; much talk in that which does not concern them; and forbidding others from something that they themselves commit. It is stated that during the burial of ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-Aziz, a small paper note came mysteriously swirling down from nowhere and fell on the fresh grave of ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul- Aziz. Those present at the funeral were amazed on reading the words inscribed on the paper in shiny letters: “’Umar is a dweller of paradise.”
The Roman emperor on hearing about his death said, “A virtuous person has passed away…I am hardy surprised to see an ascetic who renounced the world and give himself to the prayers of God. But I am certainly surprised at a person who had all the pleasures of the world at his feet and yet he shut his eyes against them and lived a life of piety and renunciation.”
The above anecdote you just read is about one exemplary good leader, ‘Umar bin Abdul- Aziz, the Fifth Rightly-Guided Khalifa who lived in the times gone by. How wonderful our world would be only if we had such great leaders like him today but alas! The stock of such noble leaders, unfortunately has long been depleted.
‘Umar bin Abdul-Aziz (son of Abdul Aziz bin Marwan, the Governor of Egypt and Umm-i- Aasim, the granddaughter of the renowned Umar ibn al-Khattab), ruled as a Khalifa for only 30 months but during this short period he changed the world. His tenure as a Khalifa is regarded as the brightest period in the 92-year history of Umayyad dynasty.
On being nominated as the Khalifa, ‘Umar addressed the people from the pulpit saying, “O people, I have been nominated your Khalifa despite my unwillingness and without your consent. So here I am, I relieve you of your pledge that you have taken for my allegiance. Elect whomsoever you find suitable as your Khalifa.” People shouted, “O ‘Umar, we have full faith in you and we want you and none other as our leader, as our khalifa.” ‘Umar continued, “O my people, obey me as long as I obey Allah; and if I disobey Allah, you are not duty bound to obey me.”
‘Umar was extremely pious and avoided worldly luxuries. He always preferred simple living to extravagance, arrogance or pride. He deposited all assets and wealth meant for the ruling Khalifa into the national treasury (Bait al-Maal). He even abandoned the royal palace and instead preferred to live in a small modest house, wearing rough clothes in place of royal robes. He often went unrecognized in people just as his great grandfather, Umar ibn al- Khattab.
He never built a house of his own. It is recorded in Allama Suyuti’s Taarikh al Khulafaa that ‘Umar spent only two dirhams a day when he was a Khalifa. He received lesser emoluments than his subordinates. His private property yielded an income of 50, 000 dinars annually prior to his nomination as Khalifa but on being appointed to the post of Khalifa he returned all his properties to the Bait al-Maal and had his income reduced to just 200 dinars per annum. Its worth noting that this was all the wealth he owned when he was commanding the vast Khalifat that stretched from the borders of France in the West to the borders of China in the Far East. Ibn Kathir writes that “..thanks to the reforms undertaken by ‘Umar, the annual revenue from Persia alone increased from 28 million dirham to 124 million dirham.”
There are a few rulers in the world who have left such a lasting impression in history for their simplicity, piety, kindness, compassion and justice. No wonder then that ‘Umar bin Abdul Aziz tops this list. He has been considered one of the finest rulers in Islamic history. How disgustingly sad, they don’t make leaders like ‘Umar anymore!