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  • 11/12/2011

Peshawar Nights: Assessment of Umar's knowledge of Islamic law



(Saturday night, 3rd Sha'ban 1345 A.H. )


*Assessment of Umar's knowledge of Islamic law

*Confiscation of any portion of Mehr is unlawful

*Umar's denying the Prophet's death proves that he was ignorant of several verses of the Holy Qur'an

*Umar's order to stone five people and Ali's intervention

*Umar's ordering a pregnant woman to be stoned to death and Ali's intervention

*Umar ordering an insane woman to be stoned and Ali's intervention

*Umar's ignorance concerning Tayammum (substitute for ablution)



Nawab: This morning my son, Abdu'l-Aziz, who is a student at the Islamiyya College, reported to us that his teacher told the class that Caliph Umar Bin Khattab was the greatest jurist of his time in Medina. He had complete knowledge of the Qur'anic verses and their meanings. He was superior to all other prominent jurists, like Ali Bin Abi Talib, Abdullah Bin Mas'ud, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, Akrama, and Zaid Bin Thabit. Even Ali Bin Abi Talib, whose understanding of fiqh (jurisprudence) was extensive, when he was faced with a difficult problem, consulted Umar concerning the rights of Muslims. The caliph always solved the difficult problems of Ali. All of us acknowledged this fact because our ulema say that Caliph Umar held a unique position in learning and knowledge. I ask you to explain this point so that all of us, including my son, may understand the facts.

Well-Wisher: It is strange that the teacher said those things. Even your ulema have never claimed that. If some fanatical people, like Ibn Hazm Zahiri, said that, they were bitterly opposed by your ulema. Moreover, this attribute was not claimed by Caliph Umar himself. None of your ulema has recorded this fact in any of their books.

The traditionists or historians who have written anything of the life of Caliph Umar Bin Khattab have remarked upon his cunning nature, his hard-heartedness, and political contrivances, but they have not dwelt upon his learning.



In fact, the books of both sects are replete with instances which clearly show that Umar was not well versed in problems of learning and jurisprudence. Whenever he was faced with such issues he used to consult with Amiru'l-Mu'minin Ali, Abdullah Bin Mas'ud, and other jurists of Medina.

Ibn Abi'l-Hadid mentions the name of Abdullah Bin Mas'ud in particular, among the jurists of Medina, and says that Umar insisted that Abdullah should always remain with him so that whenever an occasion arose, he could be consulted on matters of jurisprudence.

Sheikh: (In anger) Where is it written that Umar was ignorant of religious problems and the knowledge of jurisprudence?

Well-Wisher: I did not say that Caliph Umar was completely ignorant. I said that he was not well versed in problems of jurisprudence and learning. I can prove what I say.

Sheikh: How would you prove that Caliph Umar had weak knowledge in matters relating to jurisprudence and religious ordinances?

Well-Wisher: There are many hadith in your authentic books. Apart from this, there is Umar's own admission, which he made on several occasions.


Jalalu'd-din Suyuti in his Tafsir-e-Durru'l-Mansur, vol. II, p.133; Ibn Kathir in his Commentary, vol.I, p.468; Jarullah Zamakhshari in his Tafsir-e-Kashshaf, vol.I, p.357; Fazil Nishapuri in his Tafsir-Gharibu'l Qur'an, vol.I, in connection with the sura Nisa (The Women) of the Holy Qur'an; Qartabi in his Tafsir, vol.V, p.99; Ibn Maja' Qazwini in his Sunan, vol.I; Asadi in Hashiyya-e-Sunan, vol.I, p.583; Baihaqi in his Sunan, vol.VII, p.233; Qastalani in his Irshadu's-Sari-Sharh-e-Sahih Bukhari, vol.VIII, p.57; Muttaqi Hindi in his Kanzu'l-'Ummal, vol.VIII, p. 298; Hakim Nishapuri in his Mustadrak, vol.II, p.177; Abu Bakr Baglani in his Tamhid, p.199; Ajluni in his Kashfu'l-Khufa', vol.I, p.270; Qazi Shukani in Futuhu'l-Qadir, vol.I,P.407; Dhahabi in his Takhlis-e-Mustadrak; Ibn Abi'l-Hadid in his Sharh-e-Nahju'l-Balagha, vol.I, p.61 and vol.VII, p.96; Hamidi in his Jam'-e-Bainu's-Sahihain; Faqih Wasiti Ibn Maghazili Shafi'i in his Manaqib; Ibn Athir in his Nihaya, and others have authentically narrated with slight difference in wording that one day Caliph Umar during the course of his sermon to the people, said: "If any one marries and fixes a mehr (dowry) for more than 400 dirhams for his wife, I will inflict the prescribed punishment on him and will deposit the excess amount in the Baitu'l-Mal (Public Treasury)."

A woman from the audience called out: "Umar! Is what you say more acceptable or Allah's ordinance? Does not Allah Almighty say: 'And if you wish to have (one) wife in place of another and you have given one of them a heap of gold, then take not from it anything.'" (4:20)

Having heard this verse and the retort of the woman, Umar said: "You have better knowledge of fiqh and problems than Umar, all of you, including even the women observing purdah sitting in their homes."

Then Umar again mounted the pulpit and said: "Although I have forbidden you to give more than 400 dirhams as dowry to your wives, I now permit you to give as much as you like beyond the appointed limit. There is no harm in it."

This hadith shows that Caliph Umar was not well versed in the Qur'an and jurisprudence. Otherwise, he would not have said something so obviously incorrect that he could be silenced by an informed woman.

Sheikh: No, it is not so. The fact is that the Caliph wanted to force people to decrease the amount of dowry in compliance with the sunna. Although Islam allows us to give a large amount, it is better if we refrain from it so that the poor may not have to suffer. It is for this reason that he said that the amount of mehr should not exceed the amount fixed for the wives of the Holy Prophet.



Well-Wisher: This is such a lame excuse that even Umar had no idea of it. Otherwise he would not have admitted his own fault and would not have said: "You are better jurists than Umar, all of you, including the housewives." Otherwise he also would have said what you are saying.

Besides this, everybody knows that an unlawful act cannot be condoned as a means to accomplish a desirable and lawful result. Obviously the property of the woman, which she has owned, according to the Qur'anic injunction, could not lawfully be snatched away from her and deposited in the Baitu'l-Mal!

Apart from all these considerations, it is unlawful to inflict corporal punishment on a person who has not committed a sin. At least I have not seen any such decision made according to any penal code. Let me know if you can cite such an example. If there is no such ordinance in the penal laws, you will have to admit that the claim of the teacher was false.



Unfortunately, Umar had developed the habit of losing his temper, and in order to frighten others he said: "I will punish you!"

Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal in his Musnad; Hamidi in his Jam'-e-Bainu's-Sahihain; Tabari in his Ta'rikh, and other ulema have reported that when the Holy Prophet died, Umar went to Abu Bakr and told him that he feared that it was possible Muhammad had not died. Perhaps he had only pretended to be dead so that he might recognize his friends and foes, or perhaps he had disappeared, like Moses and would come again and punish those, who were disloyal and disobedient to him.

Umar continued to say: "So if anyone says that the Holy Prophet is dead, I will punish him." When Abu Bakr heard this, he was also uncertain about it, and the people also were confused and differences arose among them. When Ali learned of it, he appeared before the crowd of people and said: "People! Why are you making such a foolish commotion? Have you forgotten the holy verse, in which Allah said to the Holy Prophet: 'Verily you shall die and so also the people of your community'? (39:30) So according to this verse the Holy Prophet has left this world." This argument of Ali convinced the people and they believed that the Holy Prophet had really died. Then Umar said: "It was as if I had never heard this verse."

Ibn Athir in his Kamil and Nihaya; Zamakhshari in Asasu'l-Balagha; Shahrastani in Milal wa'n-Nihal, (Muqaddama IV), and many others of your ulema have written that Umar was shouting: "The Holy Prophet has not died," when Abu Bakr reached him and said: "Does Allah Almighty not say: 'Verily you shall die and so also the people of your community." Also He says: "If then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels?'" (3:144) Umar then became silent and said: "It was as though I had never heard this verse. Now I believe that the Holy Prophet is dead."



Hamidi reports in his Jam'-e-Bainu's-Sahihain that during the caliphate of Umar, five people were arrested on the charge of fornication and brought before Umar. It was proved that the five men had committed fornication with a certain woman. Umar at once ordered them to be stoned to death. At that time Ali entered the mosque and having heard what Umar had ordered said to him: "Here your order is contrary to Allah's ordinance."

Umar said: "Ali! Fornication has been proved. Death by stoning is the prescribed punishment for this sin."

Ali said: "In the matter of fornication, there are different orders in different cases. Accordingly, in the present cases different orders should be passed."

Umar asked him to detail what the orders of Allah and His Holy Prophet were in those cases, for Umar had heard the Holy Prophet say on a number of occasions: "Ali is the most learned man and the best judge."

Ali ordered the five men to be brought to him. He ordered the first man to be beheaded. He ordered the second man to be stoned to death. He ordered the third man be given 100 lashes. The fourth man was given 50 lashes. The fifth man was given 25 lashes.

Umar, surprised and puzzled, said: "Abu'l-Hasan, how did you decide these cases in five different ways?"

The Holy Imam said: "The first man was an infidel under the protection of Islam. He committed fornication with a Muslim woman. Since he lost the protection of Islam he was liable to be killed. The second man had a wife, so he was stoned to death. The third man was unmarried; hence, he was ordered to be given 100 lashes. The fourth man was a slave who deserves a sentence half that of a free man, that is, 50 lashes. And the fifth man was an imbecile, so he was given a mild punishment, that is, 25 lashes."

Then Umar said: "If Ali had not been there, Umar would have been ruined O Abu'l-Hasan,! I hope I am not alive when you are not among us."



Muhammad Bin Yusuf Ganji Shafi'i in his Kifayatu't-Talib Fi Manaqib-e-Amiru'l-Mu'minin Ali Bin Abi Talib; Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in his Musnad; Bukhari in his Sahih; Hamidi in Jam'-e-Bainu's-Sahihain; Sheikh Sulayman Balkhi in Yanabiu'l-Mawadda, chapter IV, p.75, from Khawarizmi's Manaqib; Imam Fakhru'd-din Razi in Arba'in, p.466; Muhibu'd-din Tabari in Riyazu'n-Nazara, vol.II, p.196; Khatib Khawarizmi in Manaqib, p.48; Muhammad Bin Talha Shafi'i in Matalibu's-Su'ul, p.113; and Imamu'l-Haram in Dhakha'iru'l-Uqba, p.80, quote the following report.

A pregnant woman was brought before Umar Bin Khattab. On being questioned, she admitted that she was guilty of illicit sexual intercourse, and so the Caliph ordered her to be stoned. Then Ali said: "Your order is applicable to this woman, but you have no authority over her child."

Umar acquitted the woman and said: "Women are incapable of giving birth to a man like Ali: If Ali had not been there, Umar would have been ruined." He continued, saying: "May Allah not let me live so long as to face a difficult problem which Ali is not present to solve."



Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal in his Musnad; Imamu'l-Haram Ahmad Bin Abdullah Shafi'i in Dhakha'iru'l-Mawadda, chapter II, p.75, from Hasan Basri; Ibn Hajar in Fathu'l-Bari, vol.XII, P.101; Abu Dawud in Sunan, vol. II, p.227; Munadi in Faizu'l-Qadir, vol. IV, p. 257; Hakim Nishapuri in Mustadrak, vol.II, p.59; Qastalani in Irshadu's-Sari, vol.X, p. 9; Baihaqi in Sunan, vol.VIII, p. 164; Muhibu'd-din Tabari in Riyazu'n-Nazara, v.II, p.196; Khatib Khawarizmi in his Munaqab, p.48; Muhammad Ibn Talha Shafi'i in Matalibu's-Su'ul; Imamu'l-Haram in Dhakha'iru'l-'Uqba, p.80; Ibn Maja in his Sunan, v.II, p.227; Bukhari in his Sahih, chapter la yarjumu'l-majnun wa'l-majnuna and most of your other ulema have reported the following incident:

One day an insane woman was brought before Caliph Umar Bin Khattab. She had committed fornication and admitted her fault. Umar ordered her to be stoned. Amiru'l-Mu'minin was there. He said to Umar: "What are you doing? I have heard the Holy Prophet saying that three kinds of people are free from the hold of law: a sleeping man until he wakes; a lunatic until he recovers himself and regains consciousness; and the child until he comes of age." Hearing this, Umar acquitted the woman.

Ibnu's-Saman in his Kitabu'l-Muwafiqa has recorded many such cases. There are some accounts which record about 100 erroneous and fallacious findings of Umar.



Nuru'd-din Bin Sabbagh Malaki in his Fusulu'l-Muhimma, chapter 3, p. 17, writing about Ali said: " This chapter contains matter relating to the knowledge of Ali. One of those aspects is the knowledge of fiqh (jurisprudence) on which is based the lawful and unlawful acts of man. Ali understood the intricacies of law. Its complex problems were easy for him, and he fully understood their interpretations.

It was for this reason that the Holy Prophet said that Ali was the most worthy man of the community to interpret questions of law."

Imam Abu Muhammad Husain Bin Mas'ud Baghawi in his Masabih reports from Anas that when the Holy Prophet appointed each one of the Companions to a particular position, he appointed Ali to the rank of judge and said: "Ali is the best judge among all of you (companions and community)."

Surely when you compare the words of this ignorant college teacher with the hadith of your own eminent scholars, you will confirm that his assertion is baseless. This teacher is claiming more than his leader did. Umar himself always expressed his inferiority to Ali.

Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal in his Musnad, Imamu'l-Haram Ahmad Makki Shafi'i in Dhakha'iru'l-Uqba, Sheikh Sulayman Balkhi Hanafi in Yanabiu'l-Mawadda, chapter 56, and Muhibu'd-din Tabari in his Riyazu'n-Nazara, vol.II, p.195, quote Mu'awiya as saying: "Whenever Umar Bin Khattab faced a difficult problem, he sought the assistance of Ali." Abu'l-Hajjaj Balawi in his Alif-Ba, vol.I, p.222, writes that when Mu'awiya heard the news of Ali's martyrdom, he said: "With the death of Ali, jurisprudence and knowledge have collapsed."

He also quotes Sa'id Bin Musayyab as saying that Mu'awiya said: "Umar always sought shelter from difficulties for which Ali was not there to help him."

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Ali al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi in his commentary on Risalat-e-Fathu'l-Mubin writes: "The companions of the Holy Prophet consulted Ali in matters relating to ordinances of the Holy Qur'an and accepted his verdicts. Umar Bin Khattab has said on various occasions: "If Ali had not been there, Umar would have been ruined." The Holy Prophet of Allah also said: "The most highly learned man among my community is Ali Bin Abi Talib."

What is recorded in hadith and historical accounts proves that Umar was so devoid of common knowledge and knowledge of jurisprudence that he was mistaken even regarding ordinary problems. Companions who were his contemporaries warned him about this weakness.

Sheikh: You are very unkind to impute such things to Umar. Is it possible for the caliph to be mistaken in religious matters?

Well-Wisher: This unkindness is not from my side. Your own ulema have revealed the truth about it.

Sheikh: If you can, please let us know these things with proper sources so that truth may be clearly revealed.

Well-Wisher: There are many such instances. About 100 of them are in your books, but I will submit one of them by way of example.



Muslim Ibn Hajjaj in his Sahih, chapter Tayammum; Hamidi in Jam'-e-Bainu's-Sahihain, Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal in Musnad, vol.IV, p.265,319; Baihaqi in Sunan, vol.I, p.209; Abi Dawud in Sunan , vol.I, p.53; Ibn Maja in Sunan, vol.I, p.200; Imam Nisa'i in his Sunan, vol.I, pp. 59-61, and others of your eminent ulema have in different ways and words, reported that during the caliphate of Umar a man came to him and said: "It is necessary for me to perform ghusl (the bath of ritual purification) but no water is available. What should I do in this circumstance?"

Umar said: "Unless you can obtain water and perform ghusl, you should not offer prayers."

At that time Ammar-e-Yasir, a companion of the Holy Prophet was present. He said: "Umar! Have you forgotten that on one of the journeys you and I happened to be in need of performing ghusl. Since water was not available you did not offer prayers, but I thought the method of tayammum in place of ghusl was that dust should be rubbed on my whole body. So I rubbed dust on my body and offered prayers. When we went to the Holy Prophet, he said, smiling: 'For tayammum this much is sufficient that the palms of both hands be tapped on the ground simultaneously and the palms be rubbed on the forehead; then the back of the right hand be rubbed with the left palm and then the back of the left hand be rubbed with the right palm.' Now why are you telling the man not to offer prayers?"

When Umar could make no reply he said: "Ammar, fear Allah."

Then Ammar said: "Do you permit me to narrate this hadith?" Umar said: "I leave it to you to do what you like."

In light of this reliable hadith which your own ulema have narrated, you will surely acknowledge that the teacher's claim was utterly false. Could a man well versed in jurisprudence and who had frequently been in the company of the Holy Prophet and had heard from the Prophet how 'tayammum' should be performed when water was not available tell a Muslim that if he does not find water he should abstain from offering his prayers? This is particularly strange since the Holy Qur'an tells us that in such a case we should perform 'tayammum.'

The practice of tayammum among the Muslims is so commonly known that even an illiterate Muslim knows that, under certain conditions it takes the place of ritual ablution and the ritual bath. Now what should we say about a companion of the Holy Prophet and caliph? Shouldn't he be knowledgeable about this matter?

I do not claim in this case that Caliph Umar deliberately changed Allah's ordinances. But this much is certainly possible: he was weak in his ability to retain information and it was difficult for him to remember ordinances. And this was the reason, as your ulema have written, he used to say to an accomplished jurist Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud: "You should always remain with me so that whenever somebody asks me a question, you may answer him."

Now, gentlemen! You should decide what a difference there is between a man whose knowledge is so meager that he is unable to understand simple problems and one who immediately understands difficult problems.

Sheikh: Who else can that man be except the Holy Prophet?

Well-Wisher: Obviously, after the Holy Prophet no one among the Companions had such knowledge except the Holy Prophet's "gate of knowledge", Ali, about whom the Holy Prophet himself said: "Ali is the most learned of all of you."

Source: al-islam.org

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