Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Umar Ibn Khattab

Umar Ibn Khattab

Sparing worshippers of Christianity in the Realm of War, but killing your own son for drinking alcohol?! Welcome to the world of Umar Ibn Khattab, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate!

Umar Ibn Khattab Biography

Umar Ibn Khattab was a different leader from his predecessor, Abu Bakr, who served as the first caliph of the Rightly Guided Caliphs or Rashidun Caliphate. A significantly younger man, born in 585 in Mecca, he was the initial choice of the Council of Medina to replace the Prophet Muhammad as the caliph of Islam in 632. In the end, as elders command respect in Islam, Umar convinced the council to elect the more senior Abu Bakr.

Caliph

Derived from the Arabic for 'follower', this was the name given to leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

While Abu Bakr was a calming influence, humble, taking a small salary and keeping his day job of milking cows, Umar was an intimidating man. A warrior with a reputation for a short temper, he was also a heavy drinker of alcohol before his conversion to Islam in 615.

Umar Ibn Khattab Drawing of the arrival of Umar in Jerusalem StudySmarterFig. 1 - Engraving of Umar entering Jerusalem

Umar Ibn Khattab failed to agree with the ideas of the Prophet initially. He was in the Adi clan, part of the Quraysh tribe that dominated Mecca, but became a key player in Islam after he converted. Khattab accompanied Muhammad on his 'hijira' to Medina to avoid persecution. Just as he had done with Abu Bakr, the Prophet married Umar's daughter Hafsah in 625. This helped convince the Medinans of his worth and was certainly a significant factor in the initial choice of Umar as the first caliph, a duty which he refused.

Hijira

The name given to the period of exile for Muhammad, when he fled Mecca to go to Medina and escape persecution from the Quraysh tribe.

The Second Caliph

With the sudden death of Abu Bakr after only two years of rule in 634, Umar was a unanimous replacement. There were no disputes about his ascension to power and he had the endorsement of Muhammad's relative and future caliph Ali.

As the military exploits of Umar Ibn Khattab were a key part of his period as caliph, let's look at some of the key empires and regions that defined this period.

NameDefinition
Byzantine EmpireThe continuation of the Roman Empire that spanned much of Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Sassanid EmpireSometimes referred to as the Persian empire, the Sassanids originated in Iran. Their empire spanned much of Mesopotamia and approached the Arabian Peninsula.
MesopotamiaAn area of Western Asia that spanned modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Iran and Turkey.
The LevantAn area to the east of the Mediterranean Sea of key strategic significance for Umar. It provided a gateway into Mesopotamia and North Africa.
The MaghrebThe area of North Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea.

Umar quickly set about continuing the expansion of the Islamic state. Now that the Muslims controlled the Arabian Peninsula, they were on the doorstep of the Byzantine and Sassanid empires.

Abu Bakr, who sent war veteran Khalid ibn al-Walid to attack and defeat the Sassanid army in Firaz, pre-empted an invasion from one of the two empires. Umar streamlined his plans, winning control of the countryside and then the important Byzantine stronghold of Damascus in 634.

Umar Ibn Drawing of Khattab Heraclius StudySmarterFig. 2 - Byzantine Emperor Heraclius

The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius did not expect an attack from the south. His army had just beaten the Sassanid Empire in the east in 628 in a gruelling conflict that lasted more than two and a half decades. Moreover, seizing the Levant was of great strategic importance to the Muslims, as it was a gateway into Mesopotamia and the Maghreb.

What was the Islamic justification for war?

Although the Qu'ran did not endorse violence, the caliphs justified their military campaigns through the concept of 'jihad' or 'struggle'. As they believed there was only one God, there could only be one community or 'ummah' to worship him. The 'Dar al-Islam' was the name that they coined for this community, meaning 'Realm of Submission to God and Peace'. As a result, anything outside of their ummah was labelled the 'Dar al-Harb' or 'Realm of War'.

For Umar, the Byzantines and Sassanids were non-believers that needed to be converted into the Dar al-Islam.

Umar Ibn Khattab Jerusalem

After taking Damascus, Umar set his eyes on Jerusalem, deciding that the Byzantine Empire posed a greater threat than the defeated Sassanids. Eager for revenge and fearing further progress into Syria, Heraclius aligned with the Sassanids and sought to buy time by assembling an army from across his empire in northern Syria. Umar's commanders tactically pulled back towards the Yarmouk river at the bidding of al-Walid.

The Battle of Yarmouk in 636 was the crowning glory of Khalid ibn al-Walid's glittering military career. He united and pooled together all the Muslim forces and lurked in waiting at the Yarmouk river, near the Arabian Peninsula for access to resources and the possibility of retreat. He made expert use of the terrain, tempting tens of thousands of Byzantines and their allies to their deaths in the steep valley. Although the true figures are up for debate, the victory was resounding. Despite being heavily outnumbered, al-Walid's army inflicted around 40,000 losses on their enemy and only sacrificed 4000 men to do so.

Umar Ibn Khattab Yarmouk Valley StudySmarterFig. 3 - Yarmouk valley

The road to Jerusalem was now clear and the Muslim armies besieged the city. Sophronius, the man in charge, refused to surrender. He stated that he would only relinquish Jerusalem to Caliph Umar in person. Umar ingratiated himself to the local population with his arrival from Medina at the city gates. Showcasing his humility, Umar also wore the clothes of a poor man, which shocked Sophronius. His rule of Jerusalem was successful, as he made the following changes that mirrored Muslim treatment of conquered territories across the caliphate:

ReligiousPolitical
Umar refused the gesture of Sophronius, who gave him his blessing to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He stated that he wasn't trying to convert local Christians or Jews.The caliph decided not to persecute members of other religions. This was to gain jizyah, a non-Muslim tax that went straight to the caliphate and was less than the Christians were paying under Byzantine rule.
To keep his promise, Umar built a separate mosque near to the church, demonstrating the ability of multiple faiths to coexist peacefully.Individual districts had their own leader known as an emir and a wali who oversaw the leading of provinces. Umar divided these provinces himself, meaning that citizens were able to have a voice and maintain some of their identity.
Umar constructed a wooden structure on top of the Temple Mount, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven.It was the goal of Muslims not to commit war crimes and plunder as they conquered foreign lands. Anything they found had to be divided equally among soldiers and one-fifth of this, known as a 'Bayt-at-mal' went to the poor in Medina.

These actions perfectly capture the ability of Umar to synergise the religious with the political, but they were not his only accomplishments.

Umar Ibn Khattab Achievement

The second caliph referred to himself as 'commander of the faithful', and he truly was a commander in many senses of the word. Let's see what made him such an effective CALIPH by examining his achievements:

Creation of a proto-welfare state: Under Umar's rule, bounty from defeated cities went to the poor in Medina. Taxes were low (even for non-Muslims) and Umar granted free trade across the caliphate.

Appointment of a successor: Uthman. Despite being on his deathbed, Umar commissioned a council to choose the next caliph, who continued his military successes.

Levant: A region of huge strategic importance was now in the hands of the Rashidun Caliphate, having conquered Jerusalem, paving the way for future conquests into the Maghreb and beyond Mesopotamia into Central Asia.

Islamic Doctrine: In 639 Umar created the Islamic or Hijri Calendar, which began from the forced emigration of Muhammad to Medina from Mecca in 622. It had twelve months, but around ten fewer days than the Julian Calendar. He also created a culture of study surrounding the Qu'ran and developed a sunnah.

Profit from territories: The caliphate accumulated collective wealth through their taxing system and also their ability to share profit from conquered lands. It was distributed equally among soldiers, rather than being funnelled straight to the elite.

Humility and hierarchy: Umar showed that he was not a tyrant, casting himself as a peasant upon his arrival in Jerusalem. He also set up provincial leaders and rulers of individual communities in a standardised system of hierarchy.

Sunnah

A body of traditions and practices enforced by the Islamic religion.

Umar Ibn Khattab Death

Despite all these successes, fate cut the life and reign of Umar short. In 644, a Sassanid slave named Firoz attacked and wounded him during morning prayers. He would die shortly after, with the council choosing Uthman as his successor, despite the claim to power of Ali.

Legacy of Umar Ibn Khattab

Along with all of his achievements, many of Umar's decisions have permeated into Islamic doctrine today. He helped create a culture of scholarship in terms of the Prophet's teachings, reduced sexual temptation by having men and women pray separately and characterised drinking alcohol as slander, to be punished by lashing.

Lashing

The act of beating with a whip. The whip was synonymous with the image of Umar.

Though seemingly pious and tolerant, certainly in his treatment of conquered cities and by the standards of the period, Simon Sebag Montefiore paints a different picture of the second caliph, reminding us of the fearsome warrior image from his younger days:

It was said that when Muhammad entered a room, women and children would continue to laugh and chat, but when they saw Umar they fell silent. It was he who started to collate the Qu'ran, created the Muslim calendar and much Islamic law. He enforced far more severe laws on women than the Prophet himself. When his own son got drunk, Umar had him scourged with eighty lashes which killed him."

-Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (2020)1

We will never be able to assert any certainty about Umar the man. However, we can characterise his rule as successful, through his pragmatism. It was a continuation of Abu Bakr's groundwork and (until his assassination) a period of stability and growth in what would turn out to be a turbulent Rashidun Caliphate.

Umar Ibn Khattab - Key takeaways

  • Umar Ibn Khattab was the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. He ruled from 634 to 644.
  • His reign was successful and characterised by important military victories against the Byzantine and Sassanid empires.
  • Umar conquered Jerusalem and allowed the different religions to continue their beliefs if they paid a tax to the caliphate.
  • A sunnah with different Islam traditions and practices was developed under Umar, with some enduring features today, such as the outlawing of drinking alcohol and the decision of men and women to pray separately.
  • Despite his humility and mercy as a conqueror, Umar was also ruthless and feared. His uncompromising nature contributed to his success but also meant he ordered the death of his son by lashing.

References

  1. Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (2020), pp 209-210.

Frequently Asked Questions about Umar Ibn Khattab

The second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, Umar Ibn al-Khattab is known for his successful military campaigns in Damascus and Jerusalem and his foundations for aspects of Islamic governance. 

Al-Khattab's most outstanding achievement was his conquering of the Byzantine stronghold of Jerusalem. In addition to this, his ability to unite the different religions through his progressive policies of tolerance.

Muhammad said that if one of his followers would succeed him as a prophet of God it would be Umar.

Having control of the Arabian Peninsula, there were already plans under the first caliph Abu Bakr to expand into Byzantine and Sassanid territories. Umar continued these plans and won the pivotal Battle of Yarmouk in 636, exploiting weaknesses with the expert military tactics of his generals.

Umar Ibn Khattab was the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate who ruled the Islamic state from 634 to 644.

Final Umar Ibn Khattab Quiz

Question

What was the relationship of Umar to the Prophet Muhammad?

Show answer

Answer

Father-in-law

Show question

Question

Why was Abu Bakr put forward to be the first caliph by Umar?

Show answer

Answer

Because he was his elder, an important factor in Arabic culture.

Show question

Question

Which of these facts about Umar was NOT true?

Show answer

Answer

He milked cows while he was caliph

Show question

Question

Which important strategic area did Umar want control of?

Show answer

Answer

The Levant

Show question

Question

Who was the key military leader in the Battle of Yarmouk?

Show answer

Answer

Khalid ibn al-Walid

Show question

Question

What does 'jihad' mean for Muslims?

Show answer

Answer

struggle

Show question

Question

What does 'Dar al-Harb' mean for Muslims?

Show answer

Answer

Realm of War

Show question

Question

How did Umar surprise the leader of Jerusalem when he arrived in the city?

Show answer

Answer

He was wearing the clothes of a poor man.

Show question

Question

What three things did Umar do when he arrived in Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

Built a structure at the Temple Mount

Show question

Question

Who benefitted from the Bayt-at-mal?

Show answer

Answer

The poor and needy

Show question

Question

What was the sunnah?

Show answer

Answer

A body of Islamic traditions and practices derived from the teachings of Muhammad.

Show question

Question

What was Umar NOT responsible for?

Show answer

Answer

Persecution of other religions

Show question

Question

Who killed Umar?

Show answer

Answer

A Sassanid

Show question

Question

Who was appointed as Umar's successor?

Show answer

Answer

Uthman

Show question

Question

Why did Umar order his son to be lashed eighty times?

Show answer

Answer

He was found drunk which equated to slander.

Show question

Question

What did Umar do to prevent sexual urges in the mosque?

Show answer

Answer

He ordered that men and women should pray separately.

Show question

Question

What was NOT a prominent religion in Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

Hinduism

Show question

Question

Why was the Temple Mount significant to Muslims?

Show answer

Answer

It is where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Show question

Question

Which areas did the Levant provide a gateway for the Rashidun Caliphate to conquer?

Show answer

Answer

The Maghreb

Show question

Question

Who was the caliph during the Siege of Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

Umar Ibn Khattab

Show question

Question

A decisive victory at                  paved the way for the Muslim Siege of Jerusalem.


Complete the sentence

Show answer

Answer

Yarmouk

Show question

Question

What role did Sophronius play in the Siege of Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

He demanded to discuss terms of surrender with Caliph Umar.

Show question

Question

What is a lectica?

Show answer

Answer

seat

Show question

Question

Where is it believed that Umar refused to pray?

Show answer

Answer

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Show question

Question

What had the Temple Mount become under the Byzantine rule?

Show answer

Answer

a rubbish dump

Show question

Question

What was the most important architectural contribution of the Muslims to Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

The Dome of the Rock, built on Temple Mount, which dominates the city's skyline.

Show question

Question

What was the name of the non-Muslim tax?

Show answer

Answer

jizyah

Show question

Question

How did the Muslims deal with members of other religions?

Show answer

Answer

kill them

Show question

Question

Who built the Dome of the Rock?

Show answer

Answer

Abd al-Malik of the Ummayad Caliphate

Show question

Question

Did the Muslims shed blood in Jerusalem?

Show answer

Answer

No, the handover of the city to Caliph Umar was peaceful.

Show question

Question

Why did the Muslim rule of Jerusalem end in 1099?

Show answer

Answer

A Christian crusade led to the collapse of the Fatimid Caliphate's monopoly over the city.

Show question

Question

What was another name for the Eastern Roman Empire?

Show answer

Answer

Byzantine.

Show question

Question

What did the Sassanids burn in Jerusalem in 614?

Show answer

Answer

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Show question

Question

The Sassanids won the Byzantine-Sassanid conflict.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Who was the Byzantine Emperor during the Arab Conquest of the Levant in 634?

Show answer

Answer

Heraclius

Show question

Question

Who played the most active role in the military effectiveness of the Rashidun Caliphate?

Show answer

Answer

Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Show question

Question

Who was the caliph when the Muslims conquered Firaz in early 634?

Show answer

Answer

Abu Bakr.

Show question

Question

What was the Sassanid capital?

Show answer

Answer

Ctesiphon.

Show question

Question

Which landmark was located to the west of the Levant?

Show answer

Answer

The Mediterranean Sea

Show question

Question

Where was Emperor Heraclius during the Siege of Damascus?

Show answer

Answer

Antioch

Show question

Question

How did the Muslim army gain entrance to the city?

Show answer

Answer

A Greek accomplice opened the gate for them.

Show question

Question

What was jizya?

Show answer

Answer

A compulsory tax for non-Muslims living in the Rashidun Caliphate.

Show question

Question

Where did Heraclius die?

Show answer

Answer

Constantinople.

Show question

Question

Damascus became the capital of the Rashidun Caliphate.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Where did al-Walid defeat the relief sent by Heraclius to help save Damascus?

Show answer

Answer

At Eagle Pass, to the north of the city.

Show question

Question

The Rashidun Caliphate was more merciful than the Sassanid Empire.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Umar Ibn Khattab quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Get FREE ACCESS to all of our study material, tailor-made!

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.

Get Started for Free
Illustration