There are few leaders in the world who have left such a giant impact on history. The Khalifa Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz is one of the best leaders in history. Throughout Muslim history he’s often considered one of the finest rulers after the four rightly guided khalifahs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali (ra). Some even refer to Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz as the fifth and last caliph who truly worked for Islam.
Even amongst his non-Muslim contemporaries he was widely respected. When Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz passed away, the Roman emperor said, “A virtuous person has passed away…I am hardly surprised to see an ascetic who renounced the world and give himself to the prayers of Allah (swt). But I am certainly surprised at a person who had all the pleasures of the world at his feet and yet he shut his eyes against them and lived a life of piety and renunciation.”
Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz only ruled as khalifa for 30 months. However during this short time he was able to change the history of the world. During the 92 years of the Umayyad Caliphate, these 30 months were the golden period. His mother Umm-e-Asim was the granddaughter of Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra). He received his education in Madinah from respected scholars from his maternal line. He became governor of Madinah until he was appointed by one of the advisors to the khalifah. After being nominated as khalifah, he addressed the people with the following words.
“O people, I have been nominated your caliph despite my unwillingness and without your consent. So here I am, I relieve you of your pledge (bayah) that you have taken for my allegiance. Elect whomsoever you find suitable as your khalifah.” People shouted: “O Umar, we have full faith in you and we want you as our khalifah.” Umar continued, “O people, obey me as long as I obey Allah (swt); and if I disobey Allah (swt), you are not duty-bound to obey me.”
The khalifahs of the Umayyad had become largely extravagant and materialistic. However Umar was the exception and preferred simplicity. He deposited all his assets and wealth into the Bayt al-Maal (House of Wealth). He didn’t even live in the royal palaces and instead chose to live in a simple house. He wore simple clothes and didn’t wear the fancy robes and cloaks other khalifah’s would wear. He would often went unrecognized in public just like his great-grandfather Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra).
After being appointed as khalifah, he made sure to dispose of all the perks and benefits that were allocated to him. Servants, slaves, maids, horses, palaces, robes, real estate, etc were all deposited into the Bayt al-Maal for the general public. He was extremely charitable and Allah (swt) blessed his tenure as the best years of the Umayyad Caliphate.
In addition, its recorded that he received less salary than many of his ministers and advisors. His private income was a meager 200 dinars per year only. Such was the financial state of the leader who controlled lands stretching from the borders of France in the west to China in the east.
Once his wife found him weeping after prayers. She asked what had happened. He replied: “I have been made the ruler over the Muslims and I was thinking of the poor who are starving, and the sick who are destitute, and the naked who are in distress, and the oppressed that are stricken, and the stranger that is in prison, and the venerable elder, and him that hath a large family and small means, and the like of them in countries of the earth and the distant provinces, and I felt that my Lord would ask me about them on the Day of Resurrection, and I feared that no defense would avail me (at that time), and I wept.”
His fair and considerate attitude made his subjects very happy and grateful. His tax reforms and honesty even led the people to deposit their taxes willingly. Because of his simplicity and following the teachings of the Prophet (saw), Allah (swt) increased the annual revenue from Persia from 28 billion dirham to 124 million dirham.
His short tenure also included investment in public works. All across the empire from Persia to North Africa, there was a boom in construction. Canals, roads, rest houses, and hospitals sprang up. This genuine and faithful rule resulted in so much wealth across the Umayyad caliphate that it became hard to find a person who would accept Sadaqah.
It was during his rule that the people of Egypt and Persia started to fully embrace Islam. He emulated the Prophet (saw) by inviting other world leaders such as the ruler of Tibet and China to Islam.
Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz died in Rajab 101 AH at the young age of 38. He died in a rented house near the Syrian city of Homs. He was buried in the small town in a tract of land that he had purchased from a Christian. He left behind only 17 dinars. Just like that, the great ruler who revolutionized the Muslim population of so many lands had passed from this world. May Allah (swt) rest his soul and give him a high rank in Jannah.