The Zuhd Of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA)

The Zuhd Of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA)

Zuhd is an often misunderstood term, most probably because, among certain people – namely, certain followers of Sufi orders it is taken to an extreme; or, it is understood only on a superficial level. In the Arabic language, a Zaahid – one who practices Zuhd – is someone who is abstemious, austere, and self-denying in his lifestyle. As an Islamic term, a Zaahid is someone who abjures worldly pleasures and comforts for the sake of Allah (swt), and because, through leading a self-denying existence in this life, he hopes to enjoy a comfortable and pleasure-filled life in the Hereafter. Based on this definition, ‘Umar (ra) was a paragon of Zuhd.

Based on his understanding of the Noble Qur’an, based on his many years of close companionship with the Prophet (saw), and based on his contemplation of the universe around him, ‘Umar (ra) arrived at the conclusion that this world is a temporary abode, one that is nothing more than an examination hall for human beings. That being said, this life, ‘Umar (ra) realized, did have its uses: It represented fertile ground upon which one can plant seeds for the Hereafter.

Because Umar (ra) knew the reality of this life, worldly temptations – wealth, power, comfort, women – held no sway over him. Thus, a slave to no man and to no false deity, but rather a slave only of the One True God, Allah (swt), ‘Umar (ra) was truly a free man. And he turned away from the pleasures and temptations of this world primarily because of Allah’s Grace, Guidance, and Mercy, and then because of his understanding of the following realities:

‘Umar (ra) understood that he was only passing through this world, just as a traveler passes through a town on his way to a far-off destination. The Prophet (saw) said: “Live in this world as if you are a stranger or a traveler who is only passing through [one place on his way to a distant destination].”

To Allah (swt), this world is of no value, the only exception being the acts of obedience that take place in it for His sake. The Prophet (saw) said: “If, for Allah, this world was worth even the wing of a mosquito, He would not have given a disbeliever in it even a mouthful of water.” According to another narration, the Prophet (saw) said: “The world is cursed, and everything in it is cursed except for the remembrance of Allah, for good deeds that Allah loves, for a scholar, or for a student.”

This world is destined to come to an end sooner rather than later. Sure, the history of the world is long; but the days that have gone by are much more numerous than the days that remain. The Prophet (saw) said: “I and the Hour (i.e., the end of this world) have been sent together like these two,” and upon saying this, the Prophet (saw) pointed to his index and middle fingers. This Hadeeth points to the following meaning: Just as the index and middle fingers are in close proximity towards one another in terms of distance, so too is the Prophet’s being sent on earth in close proximity to the end of this world in terms of time.

As the believer from the family of Fir’aun pointed out, the Hereafter is the world that is eternal and everlasting:

يَـٰقَوْمِ إِنَّمَا هَـٰذِهِ ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَا مَتَـٰعٌ وَإِنَّ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةَ هِىَ دَارُ ٱلْقَرَارِ (٣٩) مَنْ عَمِلَ سَيِّئَةً فَلَا يُجْزَىٰٓ إِلَّا مِثْلَهَا ۖ وَمَنْ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ يُرْزَقُونَ فِيهَا بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ (٤٠)

{“O my people! Truly, this life of the world is nothing but a (quick passing) enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter that is the home that will remain forever.” “Whosoever does an evil deed, will not be requited except the like thereof; and whosoever does a righteous deed, whether male or female and is a true believer (in the Oneness of Allâh), such will enter Paradise, where they will be provided therein (with all things in abundance) without limit.”} (Qur’an 40:39-40)

‘Umar (ra) believed deeply in these realities; consequently, he (ra) became a genuine Zaahid, a man who turned away from the fleeting pleasures and comforts of this life for no reason other than to gain the Good Pleasure of Allah (swt). The following are just a few examples that illustrate ‘Umar’s Zuhd as well as ‘Umar’s attitude towards this life.

Abu Al-Ashhab related that, one day, Umar (ra) and a group of his companions passed by a pit that was used for the disposal of sewage and garbage. For some reason, ‘Umar (ra) was forced to stop for a short while beside the pit; he (ra) soon noticed looks of disgust and nausea on the faces of his companions. And he (ra) then said to them, “This is your world that you strive to gain and that you cry over [when you do not get something from it].”

Saalim ibn ‘Abdullah related that ‘Umar (ra) would talk about various delicious foods and drinks; and that he (ra) would then say that, while he (ra) and his companions could have eaten and drank delicious foods and drinks, they preferred not to, desiring instead to save their share of pleasures and good things for the Hereafter. Umar (ra) would then recite the following verse, as if to say that he didn’t want to be among the people regarding whom it was revealed:

أَذْهَبْتُمْ طَيِّبَـٰتِكُمْ فِى حَيَاتِكُمُ ٱلدُّنْيَا

{“…You received your good things in the life of the world,…”} (Qur’an 46:20)

Abu ‘Imraan Al-Joonee related that ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) said, “We indeed know more about soft [expensive] food than do many people who eat it. But we forsake that food because of the [terror of the day [regarding which Allah (swt) says]…” ‘Umar (ra) then recited the following verse:

يَوْمَ تَرَوْنَهَا تَذْهَلُ كُلُّ مُرْضِعَةٍ عَمَّآ أَرْضَعَتْ وَتَضَعُ كُلُّ ذَاتِ حَمْلٍ حَمْلَهَا

{The Day you shall see it, every nursing mother will forget her nursling, and every pregnant one will drop her load,…”} (Qur,an 22:2)

According to another narration, ‘Umar (ra) said, “I considered this matter, and I realized that, if I sought out this life, I would be doing so to the detriment of my Hereafter; and that, if I sought out the Hereafter, I would be doing so to the detriment of this life. That being the case, I choose to do that which will be to the detriment of the transient life [of this world rather than the everlasting life of the Hereafter].”

After Umar (ra) became Khaleefah of the Muslim Nation, he (ra) was once seen delivering a sermon while wearing a lower garment that was patched in 12 different places. And he (ra) was similarly seen with 12 patches on his lower garment while he (ra) was performing Tawaaf around the Ka’bah; one of the patches, the narrator of this story recalled, was made of red leather.

On one particular Friday, ‘Umar (ra) did not come out to Friday Prayer on time; and since he (ra) was to deliver the Friday Sermon, the people had to wait until he came out to them. When ‘Umar (ra) finally did come out to them, he (ra) apologized, explaining that. “I was prevented from coming out because this garment I am wearing was being washed; and I own no other outfit.”

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Aamir ibn Rabee’ah (ra) reported that, one particular year, he (ra) accompanied ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) during Hajj, remaining in his company both during the journey from Madeenah to Makkah and during the return voyage. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Aamir (ra) said that, throughout the entire journey to Makkah in addition to the return voyage to Madeenah, ‘Umar (ra), despite being Khaleefah, allowed no one to erect a pavilion or even a tent for him. As an alternate means of seeking shade from the sun, Umar (ra) would simply hang clothing or a rug on a branch of a tree and then seek protection from the sun underneath. Here was the Leader of the Believers, the man who governed millions of Muslims both far to the East and far to the West, sitting down on dirt, with no mattress or pillow underneath him, but instead only his own garment – as if he were the poorest of citizens or a common man from among the masses of Muslims.

On another occasion, Hafsah (ra), the Mother of the Believers, entered upon ‘Umar (ra), and was saddened by the obvious signs of austerity and harshness and plainness that could be seen in ‘Umar’s face, clothing, and general living conditions. She (ra) said, “Verily, Allah (swt) has given us an abundant supply [of wealth and things of value, and He (swt) has provided you with a more-than-adequate amount of sustenance. Would, therefore, that you ate food that was softer [and of better quality] than this [food you now eat]; and would that you wore an outfit that was softer [and more comfortable] than the one you now wear.”

‘Umar (ra) replied, “I will make you a judge against yourself,” after which he (ra) proceeded to remind her about the Messenger of Allah’s life, and about the many hardships the Messenger of Allah (saw) endured while she (ra) was with him. And he (ra) continued to remind her about days she remembered very well herself, until finally she broke down into tears. ‘Umar (ra) then said, “Verily, I had two Companions who followed the same path. And I hope that if I follow the path of difficulty [and hardship], perhaps I will join them in the easy and comfortable life that they now enjoy.”

When we speak about Umar’s Zund, we are likely to get confused into thinking that he (ra) ruled over Muslims during hard and difficult times. That, however, certainly was not the case: The world and its riches were opened up to Muslims, and the major Empires of the world were conquered by Muslims during the period of ‘Umar’s rule. But the more the world came to ‘Umar (ra), the less he cared about its riches and pleasures. ‘Umar’s happiness lied not in the world and its pleasures and riches, but instead in honoring Allah’s Religion and subduing the strength of Polytheists. Consequently, Zuhd was a salient feature of ‘Umar’s character. Sa’ad ibn Waqqaas (ra) once said, “By Allah, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khataab (ra) was not the first among us to perform Hijrah (so it was not his early Hijrah that made him the best among us). I came to know what made him better than us: He (ra) renounced the world [and its trifling pleasures] to a greater degree than any other person among us.”

[The Biography of Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (RA) by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, Vol. 1, p.336-342]

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