Abu Huraira said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “People are like mines of silver and gold; the best of them in the days of Ignorance (jahilliyah) are the best of them in Islam when they attain knowledge.” [Muslim, Mishkat]
When looking at this hadith many people will ask, ‘How is it possible for the best in jahilliyah to become the best in Islam?’ The hadith is describing the reality of people and their radical transformation after committing themselves to Islam. This transformation continues to happen today and happened in the case of one of the most noble companions, Umar – may Allah be pleased with him – whose life is worth our study and contemplation for its rich lessons.Many examples of this can be seen when looking at people around us who were involved in acts of jahilliyah in the modern day, such as organised crime, drugs, alcohol, etc. These very people have – in this day and age – radically changed their behaviour and became Islamic personalities, and the same can be said of many companions of the Prophet (ﷺ).
There are some in the ummah that find it difficult to see the potential for change in others, and indeed themselves. The example of Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) should demonstrate to us all no matter what our errors are, we all have the potential for change nd reform.
Ibn Umar (ra) narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said :
Oh Allah strengthen Islam with whoever is more beloved to you, Umar ibn al Khattab or Abu Jahl ibn Hisham’
The fact that the Prophet (ﷺ) made du’a for these two staunch enemies of Islam demonstrates to us that he could see the potential within these two for change. At this time Umar ibn al Khattab was one of the most vehement opponents of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the Muslims. He was from amongst the nobility of Quraish and an ambassador for jahilliyah. His personality was one filled with arrogance and pride.
Worst of all was the fact that he was a mushrik. His shallow thought made him one who would make Gods out of dates, and indeed later on in life Umar reminisced “We used to make Gods from dates, and used to eat them at night when we were hungry”.
It was once said about him that “His Donkey will embrace Islam before he would.” SubhanAllah!
Compare ourselves to him before his acceptance of Islam. Do we hate Islam? Do we associate partners with Allah (swt)? Would we think of killing the Prophet (ﷺ)?
However, Umar ibn al Khattab did all of these. Yet after his acceptance of Islam he became one of the best from among the people.
Ibn Abbass (ra) said that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
There is no Angel in the heaven that does not respect Umar and there is no shaytan on the earth but that he is afraid of Umar.
Uqbah ibn Amir (ra) narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
If there were to be a Prophet after me it would be Umar.
(This hadith has been narrated by Abu Sa’id al Khudri, Ismah ibn Malik and Ibn Umar)
Abu Sa’id al Khudri narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
Whoever is angry with Umar is angry with me, whoever loves Umar loves me. Allah (swt) glories in the people on the evening of Arafah generally and glories in Umar particularly. Allah has not sent a Prophet except that he put among his Ummah and inspired man and if there is one such in my Ummah then it is Umar. They said, “Prophet of Allah, How inspired?” He said, “The angels speak by his tongue.”
In Sahih Al-Bukhari it is recorded that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
While I was sleeping I saw myself in paradise. Then there was a woman making wudhu by the side of a palace. I said: ‘Whose is this palace?’ They said: ‘It is Umar’s.’ I remembered the jealousy of Umar and I turned to leave. Then, Umar cried and said: ‘Could I be jealous over you, Messenger of Allah?”
Umar’s Acceptance of Islam
The story of Umar’s conversion to Islam is one which provides us with an example of the how the Islamic ‘Aqeedah can transform an individual instantaneously. Anas (ra) narrates that Umar went out wearing his sword, and a man from Bani Zuhrah met him and said ‘Where do you intend going? He said ‘I want to kill Muhammed’. He said ‘How will you be safe from Bani Hashim and Bani Zuhrah if you have killed Muhammed?’ He responded ‘I can only believe that you have converted.’
The man in turn said ‘Shall I show you something astonishing? Your brother in law and sister have converted and abandoned your deen.’
Umar walked on and came to the two of them while Khabbab was with them. When he heard the sound of Umar he hid in the house, and then he (Umar) entered and said ‘What is this murmur of lowered voices?’
They had been reciting Surah Taha.
They said, ‘Nothing but simple conversation which we were holding’.
Umar replied ‘Perhaps you two have converted?’
His brother in law said to him ‘What if the truth were outside of your deen?’
Umar leapt upon him and struck him severely. His came to push him away from her husband and he struck her a blow with his hands so that blood flowed from her face. Then she said while angry ‘And if the truth were outside of your deen?!’
She paused and then said ‘I witness there is No God but Allah and that Muhammed is the messenger of Allah!’
Umar said ‘Give me the writing which you have and I will read it!’
Umar’s sister said to him ‘You are dirty and no one reads it but the purified (so stand and bathe yourself)’
He stood and performed wudhu and read Surah Taha until he came to
Truly I, I am Allah there is no God except me so worship me and establish the prayer for my Remembrance (20:14)
Umar then said ‘Show me the way to Muhammed!’
After Umar (ra) embraced Islam, he was immediately transformed into a da’ee characterised by frankness, courage, strength and thought.
It has been narrated that after Umar (ra) embraced Islam the Muslims said ‘Allahu Akbar’ so loudly that it was heard in the valleys of Makkah.
Umar (ra) said once speaking about his past:
I did not wish to see a man striking and being struck that I experience it myself and none of that touched me. I went to my uncle Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, who was of the nobility, and knocked on his door. He said ‘Who is it?’ I said, “Ibn al Khattab and I have converted.” He said, “Don’t do it,” and slammed the door on me. I said, ‘This isn’t anything,’ and went to one of the great ones of Quraish, called out to him and he came out to me.
I said to him the same as I had to my uncle he said to me the same as my uncle had said to me, and slammed the door on me. I said, ‘This isn’t anything, the Muslims are being struck and I am not being struck.’ A man said to me, ‘would you like your acceptance of Islam to be known?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘When people were sitting in the Hijr, go to so and so, a man who cannot possibly keep a secret, and say to him, just between yourself and him, I have converted, for it is very rarely he has ever concealed a secret. I went and people had already gathered in the Hijr. I said, just between me and him, ‘I have converted.’ He said, ‘Did you really do that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He cried at the top of his voice ‘ibn al Khattab has converted!’ They ran upto me; I was hitting them they were hitting me; people gathered around me…I continued to hit and be hit until Allah strengthened Islam.
Al Farooq – The Distinguisher between Truth and Falsehood
Mujahid, on the authority of Ibn Al-Abbas, related that he had asked ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab why he had been given the name of Al-Farooq, which means who he who distinguishes truth from falsehood.
After I had embraced Islam, I asked the Prophet (ﷺ): ‘Aren’t we on the right path here and Hereafter?’ The Prophet (ﷺ) answered: ‘Of course you are! I swear by Allâh in Whose Hand my soul is, that you are right in this world and in the hereafter.’ I, therefore, asked the Prophet (ﷺ): ‘Why we then had to conduct our activity in a clandestine way i.e. not in a open provocative manner’. The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, ‘I swear by Allâh Who has sent you with the Truth, that we will leave our concealment and proclaim our noble cause publicly.’ We then went out in two groups, Hamzah leading one and I the other. We headed for the Mosque in broad daylight when the Mushriks of Quraish saw us, their faces went pale and got incredibly depressed and resentful. On that very occasion, the Prophet (ﷺ) attached to me the name of Al-Farooq.
Suhaib (ra) said:
When Umar (ra), accepted Islam he was open about it, he invited people to it openly; we sat around the house in Halaqaat (circles), we made Tawaf around the House.
Umar’s (ra) strong personality from his days of jahiliyyah was now utilised for the carrying of the da’wah and for the strengthening of Islam.
His Emigration (Hijra)
Ali (May Allah ennoble his face) said:
I don’t know of anyone who didn’t emigrate in secret except for Umar ibn al Khattab; because when he wanted to emigrate, he strapped on his sword, put his bow over his shoulder, carried his arrows in his hand and came to the Ka’aba where the nobles of Quraish were in the courtyard, he performed seven Tawaf (circuits) and then prayed two Rakaat at the Maqaam (station) of Ibrahim (as), then he approached there circle, one step at a time and said, ‘What ugly faces! Whoever wishes to bereave his mother, orphan his children and widow his wife then let him meet me behind the valley. Not one of them followed him.
Umar fought in many battles alongside the Prophet (ﷺ), he was one of the delegated assistants (mu‘awin tafweed) of the Prophet (ﷺ) and a pillar of society. After the death of Muhammed (ﷺ), and Abu Bakr Al-Siddique (ra) he became one of the greatest of the Khulafah ever to have ruled this Ummah.
The way that Umar (ra) transformed his personality should show us that people have the potential for change. The story of Umar (ra) provides the believers with hope and instils within us the drive to seek perfection and goodness. Abdullah ibn Masood said of him: “We are still noble by virtue of Umar’s submission to Islam.”
He also said “Umar’s submission to Islam was a conquest, His migration was a victory, His Imamate (Khilafah) was a blessing, I have seen when we were unable to pray at “the house” (Ka’ba) until Umar submitted, when he submitted to Islam he fought them (the antagonistic idolaters) until they left us alone and we prayed.”
May Allah enable us to achieve the change and drive for perfection that Umar (ra) achieved. Ameen.