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Omar's conduct towards the Dhimmis

by Maher Y. Abu-Munshar

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Dealing justly with non-Muslims

The Qur'anic verse, { let there be no compulsion in religion } [fn1] , was the cornerstone of Muslim relations with Christians in religious matters during the time of the second caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif. It should be clearly stated that neither Muslim jurists, Muslim chronicles, nor orientalists past or present have provided any example of an incident in which a Christian was forced to embrace Islam. In fact, Muslim history and literature cite a large number of examples confirming freedom of religion at that time. For example, Abu Ubayd, in his book "al-Amwal", cites the story of Caliph Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif and his personal servant Astiq, a Christian. [fn2] Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif frequently tried to convince Astiq to embrace Islam, but when he refused, Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif did nothing except recite the words of the Holy Qur'an, { let there be no compulsion in religion }. [fn3] Astiq says that when Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif was about to die, he freed Astiq from slavery and told him he could go wherever he wanted. This bears witness to Omar's spirit of tolerance: in spite of his immense power as leader of the Muslim nation, he propagated Islam only in the form of exhortation and persuasion. Beyond that, he made it clear that nobody should be compelled to change his or her religion. This tolerance is evident in the pacts and treaties that Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif concluded with conquered peoples. [fn4]

A large number of incidents reported in the Muslim juristic and historical literature illustrate Omar's favourable conduct towards dhimmis [fn10]. He was well-known for instructing his army commanders to deal justly with non-Muslims. For example, it was reported that Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif ( after he was stabbed by a dhimmi ) told his would-be successor: "I commend to the Caliph after me that he conduct good treatment to those who are under the Prophet's protection. He should keep the covenant with them, fight those who are after them, and not tax them beyond their capacity". [fn5] Omar's concern for the well-being of dhimmis was thus shown even on his death bed.

The manner of Omar's treatment of dhimmis was supported by his interpretation of the Qur'anic verse:{ Alms are for the poor and the needy } [fn6] According to Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif, the poor ( "al-fuqara" ) were the Muslims and the needy ( "al-masakin" ) were the dhimmis, including Christians and Jews. Omar's interpretation was promulgated after the following incident reported by Abu Yusuf:

Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif passed by the door of people at which there was a beggar who was an old blind man. Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif struck his arm from behind and asked, to which People of the Book do you belong ? He said, I am a Jew. Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif said: " what has compelled you to begging ? " The Jewish man replied, " I am begging in order to get money to pay for jizyah and my need, as I am old ". Then Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif held his hand, and took him to his house and gave him something and some money. Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif then sent him to the Muslim treasurer ( bayt al-mal ). Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif instructed the treasurer to take care of this man and whoever was like him. Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif added that with this man we have not done justice to him as we took jizyah from him when he was young but we forsook him when he was old. Verily, the sadaqa is for the poor and destitute. And this one is a destitute from the People of the Book. So Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif exempted taking the jizyah from him. [fn7]

Finally, Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif combined words with deeds when he sanctioned blood retaliation ( qisas ) in favour of an Egyptian Coptic man against Muhammad, the son of ʿAmr Ibn al-ʿAs, ruler of Egypt. Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif uttered these historic words to ʿAmr: "O, ʿAmr, how could you have enslaved the people, when their mothers have born them free". [fn8] This incident occurred when the son of ʿAmr hit the Coptic man, saying: "I am the son of the honoured people". The Copt reported this to Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif, who did not hesitate to recall Amr and his son from Ehypt, and he told the Copt to hit ʿAmr's son back". [fn9]

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The complete article discusses The Pact of Umar, and its authenticity. It is written by Maher Y. Abu-Munshar; at: Islamic-answers.com

The conclusion of the article is that the Pact of Umar was not the work of Omar Ibn al-Khattab raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif, and the conditions of the treaty issued to the banu Taghlib tribe did not originate with him. During his reign Omar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif issued several pacts and treaties, none of which was in the same style as the documents under discussion, nor did they contain similar conditions.
[see: Professor Thomas Arnold on the Pact of Umar: scribd.com - pdf]

However, the stories and facts reported above from the final chapter of the original article by Sidi Abu-Munshar: Omar's Conduct Towards The Dhimmis, are authentic and rooted in standard Islamic sources.

"In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order."
René Guénon, East And West, 1924

صلّى الله على سيّدنا محمّد و على آله و صحبه و سلّم

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions, ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) .

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Related texts


fn1: Qur'an,.al-Baqarah,.v. 256 [back to text]
fn2: Abu.ʿUbayd,.al-Qasim.Ibn.Sallam 1986 "Kitab.al-Amwal" Beirut:.Dar.al-Kutub.al-ʿIlmiyyah,.p 39 [back to text]
fn3: Qur'an,.al-Baqarah,.v. 256 [back to text]
fn4: In addition, the conduct of Caliph ʿOmar raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif towards the Christians who were in the Muslim state clearly demonstrated full adherence to the concept of freedom of religion. [back to text]
fn5: Al-Bukhari, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad, n.d. "Sahih Al-Bukhari" Riyadh: Dar Ishbilyya. vol. 2, part 4 p. 6 Ibn Adam, n.d. "Kitab al-Kharaj". Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifa, pp. 65-68 ; Abu Yusuf, n.d. "Kitab ul-Kharaj". Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifa, pp. 120-21 ; Al-Tabari, 1997. "Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk". Beirut: Manshurat Muhammad ʿAli Baydun. Dar al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah. Vol. 2, p. 560 ; Ibn Hajar, 1997. "Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari". Riyadh and Damascus: Dar al-Salam and Dar al-Fayha' , Vol. 6 , p. 322, Haidth no. 3126 [back to text]
fn6: Qur'an,.al-Tauba,.v. 60. [back to text]
fn7: Abu.Yusuf, n.d ."Kitab.ul-Kharaj" Beirut: Dar.al-Ma'rifa, p 126.; Abu.Yusaf 1979 "Kitab.ul-Kharaj.( Islamic Revenue Code.)., trans. ʿAli, A. Lahore: Islamic Book Centre , p. 254 [back to text]
fn8: Ibn al-Jawzi, Abu al-Farai. 2001. "Sirat wa Manaqb Amir al-Mu'minin Umar Ibn al-Khattab". Cairo: Dar al-Da'wah.al-Islamiyyah,.p 89 [back to text]
fn9: Ibid. , p. 89 [back to text]
fn10: dhimmi: a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance with sharia law. The term connotes an obligation of the state to protect the individual, including the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion and worship, and required loyalty to the empire, and a poll tax known as the jizya, which complemented the Islamic tax paid by the Muslim subjects, called Zakat. [wikipedia] [back to text]


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