Reign as Caliph
On 22 August Caliph Abu Bakr died. The same day Umar assumed the office of Caliphate. After the assumption of office as the Caliph, Umar addressed the Muslims in his Inaugural address as:
O ye faithful! Abu Bakr is no more amongst us. He has the satisfaction that he has successfully piloted the ship of the Muslim state to safety after negotiating the stormy sea. He successfully waged the apostasy wars, and thanks to him, Islam is now supreme in Arabia. After Abu Bakr, the mantle of Caliphate has fallen on my shoulders. I swear it before God that I never coveted this office. I wished that it would have devolved on some other person more worthy than me. But now that in national interest, the responsibility for leading the Muslims has come to vest in me, I assure you that I will not run away from my post, and will make an earnest effort to discharge the onerous duties of the office to the best of my capacity in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. Allah has examined me from you and you from me, In the performance of my duties, I will seek guidance from the Holy Book, and will follow the examples set by the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr. In this task I seek your assistance. If I follow the right path, follow me. If I deviate from the right path, correct me so that we are not led
Umar was already not an endearing figure in Medina. Although almost all of the Muslims had given pledge of loyalty to him, nevertheless he was rather more feared than loved. The first challenge for Umar was to win out his subjects and members of Majlis al Shura. Umar was a gifted orator, and he would use his ability to get a soft corner in the hearts of people. On Friday prayers Umar addressed the people as follows:
Brethren, it has come to my notice that the people are afraid of me … they say that he (Umar) has become the Caliph now, God knows how hard he will be. Whoever has said this is not wrong in his assessment ,,, know ye brethren that you will feel a change in me. For those who practise tyranny and deprive others of their rights, I will be harsh and stern, but for those who follow the law, I will be most soft and tender.
Umar’s addresses greatly moved the people. Next time he addressed the people as:
I will be harsh and stern against the aggressor, but I will be a pillar of strength for the weak.
I will not calm down until I will put one cheek of a tyrant on the ground and the other under my feet, and for the poor and weak, I will put my cheek on the ground.
The following are the historic words of Umar, over which he laid foundation of his rule:
By God, he that is weakest among you shall be in my eye the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights; he that is strongest I will treat as the weakest, until he complies with the law.
Umar’s stress was on the well being of poor and underprivileged people. As this class made a bulk of any community, the people were soundly moved by Umar’s speeches and his popularity grew rapidly and continuously over the period of his reign. In addition to this Umar, in order to improve his reputation and relation with Banu Hashim, the tribe of Prophet Muhammad and Ali, delivered to him his disputed estates in Khayber. Though he followed Abu Bakr’s decision over the dispute of land of Fidak, continued its status as a state property. In Ridda wars, thousands of prisoners from rebel and apostate tribes were taken away as slaves during the expeditions. Umar ordered the general amnesty for the prisoners, and their immediate emancipation. This made Umar quite a popular leader among the budoiene tribes. With necessary public support with him, Umar took a bold decision of retrieving Khalid ibn Walid from supreme command on Roman front.
Political and civil administration
The government of Umar was more or less a unitary government, where the sovereign political authority was the Caliph. The empire of Umar was divided into provinces and some autonomous territories like in some regions Azerbaijan and Armenia, that had accepted the suzerainty of the Caliphate. The provinces were administered by the provincial governors or Wali. The selection of which was made personally by Umar, who was very fastidious in it. Provinces were further divided into districts, there were about 100 districts in the empire. Each district or main city was under the charge of a junior governor or Wali, usually appointed by Umar himself, but occasionally they were also appointed by the provincial governor. Other officers at the provincial level were:
Katib, the Chief Secretary.
Katib-ud-Diwan, the Military Secretary.
Sahib-ul-Kharaj, the Revenue Collector.
Sahib-ul-Ahdath, the Police chief.
Sahib-Bait-ul-Mal, the Treasury Officer.
Qadi, the Chief Judge.
In some districts there were separate military officers, though the Governor (Wali) was in most cases the Commander-in-chief of the army quartered in the province. Every appointment was made in writing. At the time of appointment an instrument of instructions was issued with a view to regulating the conduct of Governors. On assuming office, the Governor was required to assemble the people in the main mosque, and read the instrument of instructions before them.
Umar’s general instructions to his officers were:
Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your example. Give the Muslims their rights and do not beat them lest they become abused. Do not praise them unduly, lest they fall into the error of conceit. Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for that is tyranny over them.
Various other strict code of conducts were to be obeyed by the governors and state officials. The principal officers were required to come to Mecca on the occasion of the Hajj, during which people were free to present any complaint against them. In order to minimize the chances of corruption, Umar made it a point to pay high salaries to the staff. Provincial governor received as much as five to seven thousand dirham annually besides their shares of the spoils of war (if they were also the commander in chief of the army of their sector). Under Umar the empire was divided into the following provinces.
Arabia was divided into two provinces, Mecca and Medina;
Iraq was divided into two provinces, Basra and Kufa;
In the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Jazira was a province;
Syria was a province;
Umar divided Palestine in two provinces Elya (Jerusalem) and Ramla;
Egypt was divided into two provinces, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt;
Persia was divided into three provinces, Khorasan; Azarbaijan and Fars.
Umar was first to established a special department for the investigation of complaints against the officers of the State. This department acted as Administrative court, where the legal proceedings were personally led by Umar. The Department was under the charge of Muhammad ibn Maslamah, one of Umar’s most trusted men. In important cases Muhammad ibn Maslamah was deputed by Umar to proceed to the spot, investigate the charge and take action. Sometimes an Inquiry Commission was constituted to investigate the charge. On occasions the officers against whom complaints were received were summoned to Medina, and charged in Umar’s administrative court.
Umar was a pioneer in some affairs:
Umar was the first to introduce the public ministry system, where the records of officials and soldiers were kept. He also kept a record system that had the messages he sent to Governors and heads of states.
He was the first to appoint police forces to keep civil order.
He was the first to discipline the people when they became disordered.
The Umar’s Mosque in Bethlehem. Umar had traveled to Bethlehem in 637 CE to issue a law that would guarantee respect for the shrine and safety for Christians and clergy.
Umar is regarded as one of the greatest political geniuses in history. While under his leadership, the empire was expanding at a unprecedented rate, he also began to build the political structure that would hold together the vast empire that was being built. He undertook many administrative reforms and closely oversaw public policy. He established an advanced administration for the newly conquered lands, including several new ministries and bureaucracies, and ordered a census of all the Muslim territories. During his rule, the garrison cities (amsar) of Basra and Kufa were founded or expanded. In 638, he extended and renovated the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet) in Medina. Umar also ordered the expulsion of the Christian and Jewish communities of Najran and Khaybar allowing them to reside in Syria or Iraq. He issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well and allotted them the equivalent land in their new settlements. Umar also forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hejaz for longer than three days. He was first to establish army as a state department. Umar was founder of Fiqh, the Islamic jurisprudence. He is regarded by Sunni Muslims to be one of the greatest Faqih. Umar as a jurist started the process of codifying Islamic Law. In 641, he established Bayt al-mal, a financial institution and started annual state sponsored allowance for the poor Muslims in Makkah and Al Madinah. A year later he also started allowance for the poor, underprivileged and old non-Muslim citizens of the empire. As a leader, ‘Umar was known for his simple, austere lifestyle. Rather than adopt the pomp and display affected by the rulers of the time, he continued to live much as he had when Muslims were poor and persecuted. In 639, his fourth year as caliph and the seventeenth year since the Hijra, he decreed that the Islamic calendar should be counted from the year of the Hijra of Muhammad from Mecca to Madinah.
It is widely believed that Umar stressed more on consolidating his power and political influence in the conquered land, rather than pursuing conquests. Nevertheless under Umar, The Islamic empire grew at an unprecedented rate. In 638, after the conquest of Syria, Umar dismissed Khalid, his most successful general due to his ever growing fame and influence. Later however Umar regretted this decision. The military conquest were partially terminated between 638–639 during the years of great famine and plague in Arabia and Levant respectively. During his reign the Levant, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan, Eastern Anatolia, almost the whole of the Sassanid Persian Empire including Bactria, Persia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Caucasus and Makran were annexed to Islamic Empire. According to one estimate more than 4050 cities were captured during these military conquest. Prior to his death in 644, Umar had ceased all military expeditions apparently to consolidate his rule in Egypt and the newly conquered Sassanid Empire (642–644). At his death in November 644, the domain of his rule extended from present day Libya in west to the Indus river in east and the Oxus river in north.
The great famine
In the year 638, Arabia fell into severe drought followed by a famine. Bedouin people began to die because of hunger and epidemic disease. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over Arabia gathered at Madinah where food was rationed. Soon the reserves of food at Madinah began to decline, and Umar wrote to the provincial governors of Syria, Palestine and Iraq for aid. A state of emergency was declared in Madinah and Arabia. The timely aid of Umar’s governors saved the lives of thousands of people throughout Arabia. The first governor to respond was Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, the governor of Syria and supreme commander of Rashidun army. He sent a historic letter to Umar saying
I am sending you the Caravans whose one end will be here at Syria and the other will be at Madinah.
Later, Abu Ubaidah paid a personal visit to Madinah and acted as an officer of Disaster management cell, which was headed personally by Umar. Once an adequate supply of rations reached Madinah, Umar dispatched his men to the routes of Iraq, Palestine and Syria to take the supply caravans to the desert settlements deeper into Arabia, which in turn saved millions from starvation. For internally displaced people, Umar hosted a dinner every night at Madinah, which according to one estimate had attendance of more than hundred thousand people. By early 639 conditions began to improve. Arabia received precipitation and as soon as the famine ended, Umar personally supervised the rehabilitation of the displaced people. They were given adequate amounts of rations and were exempted from payment of zakat for that year and the next year.
The great plague
While famine was ending in Arabia, many districts in Syria and Palestine were devastated by plague. While Umar was on his way to visit Syria, at Elat, he was received by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, governor of Syria, who informed him about plague.and its intensity and he was suggested to go back to Madinah. Umar tried to persuade Abu Ubaidah to come with him to Madinah but he declined to leave his troops in that critical situation. Abu Ubaidah died in 639 due to plague, which also cost the life of 25,000 Muslims in Syria. After the plague had weakened in late 639 Umar visited Syria for political and administrative re-organization, as most of the veteran commanders and governors had died of plague.