How Was Umar (RA) During The Drought With His People?

How Was Umar (RA) During The Drought With His People?

Once during the early stages of the drought, ‘Umar (ra) was given bread that had been soaked in oil. Not wanting to eat the food all by himself, he (ra) invited a Bedouin man to share it with him. When they began to eat, the Bedouin did something strange: After eating each morsel of food, he would eat some ghee from the side of the dish. ‘Umar (ra) said to him, “It is as if you have not eaten ghee in quite some time.” The Bedouin replied, “That is the case. Since such and such time until today, I have not eaten either ghee or olive oil; nor, in fact, have I seen anyone else eat those foods.”

Just by that statement alone, ‘Umar (ra) knew that it was not acceptable for him to enjoy even common foods, if others under his rule were deprived of them. And so he (ra) took an oath to refrain from eating meat and ghee until people’s lives improved and the drought came to an end. All narrators are in agreement that ‘Umar (ra) was very determined to fulfill his oath. For instance, when a large shipment of ghee and milk arrived in Madeenah, a young servant bought quantities of each for Umar (ra) paying 40 Dirhams for the transaction. The young boy felt that he was justified in buying the food since the large shipment meant that the situation in the Arabian Peninsula was improving. And so when he went to ‘Umar (ra), he said, “O Leader of the Believers, Allah has fulfilled your oath and has increased your rewards. A large quantity of milk and ghee has arrived in the marketplace, and I bought some of each for 40 Dirhams.”

“You have paid too much for them,” replied ‘Umar (ra). Give what you have purchased away in charity, for I abhor the idea of eating from the proceeds of an extravagant purchase.” ‘Umar (ra) then said something that showed what kind of a great leader he was: “How will I come to care about the affairs of the people if I am not afflicted by that which afflicts them.”[1] This was not mere rhetoric; to the contrary, Umar (ra) lived by these words, suffering The same -and perhaps even more – hardships during the drought man the people suffered. Umar (ra) went through many hardships throughout his life, especially the years during which he stood steadfast alongside the Prophet ﷺ in Makkah and Madeenah. But the Year of the Ashes was different: Umar (ra) felt responsible for each and every citizen; and since he was not able to alleviate their situation, he (ra) at the very least was determined to set a good example for them. And so he went without food, even though, as the Leader of an entire Nation, he could have had anything he wanted. As the months passed by, he became weak, and the color of his skin changed to an unhealthy-looking hue.

Iyaadh ibn Khaleefah said, “When I saw Umar (ra) during the Year of the Ashes, his face had turned black. He was an Arab man who ate ghee and yoghurt. But when drought afflicted the people, he forbade himself from eating those foods; instead, he ate olive oil until the color of his skin changed. And he very often went hungry for long periods of time.”[2] And it is related that Aslam said, “We used to say among ourselves that had not Allah – the Most High – ended the drought that took place during the Year of the Ashes, ‘Umar (ra) would have died out of concern for the plight of the Muslims.”[3] 

If all Muslims could not enjoy specific types of food, ‘Umar (ra), as a show of solidarity to them, refused to eat those very foods, opting instead to eat simple, inexpensive foods that were available to everyone. ‘Umar (ra) would fast for many consecutive days.[4] During the Year of the Ashes, whenever evening-time Would arrive, he (ra) would take some bread, dip it in oil in order to soften it, and then eat it – and that would be his meal for the day. Then one day, a camel was slaughtered, and its meat was distributed among the people. The people who were in charge of the slaughtering saved the best parts of the camel for ‘Umar (ra) – meat from the hump of the camel and from its liver. When the meat was presented to him, ‘Umar (ra) asked, “Where did this meat come from?” Someone replied, “O Leader of the Believers, from the camel that we slaughtered today.” ‘Umar (ra) replied, “Wonderful! Wonderful! But what a vile leader I would be if I ate the best part of the camel and left the people to eat its bones. Lift up this tray, and bring me some other food.” Some bread and oil were procured for him, and he began to break the bread with his hand and dip it in the oil.[5] He then said, “Woe upon you, O Yarfa’![6] Lift up this tray and take it to the household of Yathmagh. I have not gone to them in three days, and I fear that they have not eaten anything since that time. So go and give it to them.”[7]

Following the requirements of true Islamic leadership, ‘Umar (ra) placed the needs and wants of his people ahead of his own: They ate better food than he ate, they attired themselves in better clothing, and they enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle. Umar (ra), in contrast, was the one who carried on his shoulders more responsibility than anyone else. Het went without, so that they could eat; and he stayed up at night, so that they could sleep.

‘Umar (ra) imposed strict standards not just upon himself, but upon his family as well. According to ‘Umar’s rules, they too had to suffer more during hard times than did the rest of the population, a point that is clearly illustrated in the following narrative. One day, during the Year of the Ashes, Umar (ra) saw a watermelon in the hands of one of his sons. ‘Umar (ra) immediately exclaimed, “What indeed! O son of the Leader of the Believers, are you eating a fruit while the members of the Nation of Muhammad ﷺ have emaciated bodies [due to a lack of food]?” The young boy ran out crying, but ‘Umar (ra) did not let the issue rest until he inquired further into the matter and found out that his son had purchased the watermelon for a handful of seeds.”[8] 

With every nerve in his body, ‘Umar (ra) felt an overburdening sense of responsibility towards his people, for he (ra) knew that, one day, Allah de would hold him accountable for how he acted and ruled during his caliphate. Consequently, he did everything he could to alleviate the suffering of his people. For one thing, he a prayed and repented constantly, always supplicating to Allah for relief; furthermore, he (ra) did everything that was humanly possible to make sure that his people had enough food to survive. His efforts were directed at helping not just those who moved to Madeenah, but also those who still lived in the desert. Through faith, determination, sacrifice, and sound strategy, ‘Umar (ra) skillfully led his people through the storm that was the drought, and brought them to the shores of safety. And throughout it all, he (ra) was very hard on himself, making sure that he suffered just as much, if not more, than his people did. It is for this reason that some of his companions later said, “We thought that, had not Allah – the Most High – ended the drought that took place during the Year of the Ashes, ‘Umar (ra) would have died out of concern for the plight of the Muslims.”[9]

[The Biography of Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (RA) by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, Vol. 1, p. 614-617]


[1] Taareekh At-Tabaree (5/78), and Fannul-Hukm (pg. 71).

[2] At-Tabaqaat (3/314).

[3] At-Tabaqaat (3/315), and Mahd As-Sawaab (1/363).

[4] Mahd As-Sawaab (1/362).

[5] Nidhaam Al-Hukm Fish-Sharee’an WAt-Taareekh Al-Islaamee (1/87).

[6] Yarfa’ acted as a guard for Umar (ra); he was born during the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, and he performed Hajj with ‘Umar (ra) during the caliphate of

Abu Bakr (ra). 

[7] At-Tabaqaat (3/312), and Ash-Shaikhaan Min Riwaayatil-Balaadhiree (P9 .


[8] At-Tabaqaat (3/315), and Mahd As-Sawaab (1/363).

[9] At-Tabaqaat (3/315), and Mad As-Sawaab (1/363).

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