What are the differences and significant changes that Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz, the 8th caliph of the Umayyad, made during his ruling time, and which of them are still valid till today.
Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz (Omar II) was the first revivalist in Islamic history. He was the eighth caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate in year 717 until his assassination in year 719. Although he only had two and a half years in power, he revived the duties and responsibilities of the caliph, gave back the wealth to the people, set policies that are active till today, and worked on uniting the Muslim communities.
The Umayyad caliphate was generally a very successful caliphate that expanded its jurisdiction from Andalusia (Spain) to Khorasan (Central Asia). Although the Umayyads managed to maintain political and religious unity of the Ummah (nation), corruption started to manifest in the government, leaving the caliphate ruled by a very powerful autocratic dynasty. The Umayyads built luxurious palaces, wore expensive clothing, spent the public treasury as their own wealth. No one could question or hold the Umayyads accountable for any of their actions as they held supreme power in all public affairs.
When the Umayyad caliph Sulaiman lay on his deathbed in 717, he wanted to revive the Rashidun practice by nominating a caliph other than his son. Therefore, he nominated his distant cousin who had been the governor of Egypt and Medina for twenty-two years. According to Professor Dr. Nazeer Ahmed from Cornell University “Before his accession to the Caliphate, Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a dashing young man, fond of fashion and fragrance. But when he accepted the responsibilities of Caliphate, he proved to be the most pious, able, far-sighted and responsible of all the Omayyad Emirs.” 
The very first policy that Omar established as a caliph was that he discarded all his servants, palaces, robes, and wealth by returning them back to the public treasurer for the people. After doing so, he ordered all his family and relatives to do the same. One example of Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz giving back to the public was the beautiful oasis of Fidak located in Khaybar, modern day Saudi Arabia. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was rewarded the oasis as a bounty after the battle of Khaybar. However, the Prophet left no inheritance and gave whatever he had to the community. The Umayyads had taken Fidak for their own private use, which then Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz restored to the public treasury for the whole community to benefit from. However, not all his relatives were very fond of this, which amongst his other decisions, led to his assassination two and a half years later.
The second policy that Omar established was to battle the corruption of the caliphate. The Umayyads frequently accepted bribes from merchants in exchange for favors. In addition to stealing from the treasury, the Umayyads harshly mistreated conquered people by unfairly enforcing heavy non-Muslim Jizya (taxes) even after they had accepted Islam. Omar abolished these practices and ensured that every citizen, be it Arab or Persian, had to pay equal tax. According to Ibn Kathir, a prominent scholar and historian in the 14th Century, due to the reforms taken by Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz, Persia alone saw an increased revenue from 28 million dirhams to 124 million dirhams (the dirham that was used as a currency at the time is not of the same value as current day AED). The reason was that less money was being stolen and a lot more was invested into the infrastructure and development, which leads to the third policy. 
Rules were established regarding education, social, and infrastructure developments. According to Dr. Nazeer, Omar offered high stipends to educators and scholars, abolished consumption of alcohol, fairly distributed zakat (charity) and undertook extensive developments of roads, canals, and hospitals in Persia, Khorasan, and Northern Africa. These developments contributed greatly to the increasing state revenue and livelihood of many residents.
Social tolerance and peace was highly encouraged between the various ethnic and sectarian divide of the Muslim community. When Yazid I came into power of the Umayyad caliphate in 680 AD, a few companions of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) refused to swear allegiance to him. The main reason was primarily the corruption, theft, and injustice that the Umayyad caliphate was practicing during its reign of power. Because of this, the Umayyad declared war on those who refused to pledge allegiance, thus leading to the battle of Karbala in 680 AD in modern day Iraq, Karbala. The battle of Karbala and the refusal of allegiance caused a divide in the Islamic community that has existed ever since, leading to modern day Sunni and Shiite sects. Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz established various policies to prevent this divide in growing by promoting unity and cooperation between the two sects. Amongst many policies and peaceful negotiations Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz initiated, there was one policy that is still present today. According to Dr. Nazeer, since the time of Muawiyah I, it was customary practice for a khatib (preacher) to insult the name of Ali ibn Ali Talib. Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz abolished this practice and decreed the following passage from the Quran to be read instead.
“God commands you to practice justice, enjoins you to help and assist your kin and He forbids obscenity, evil or oppression, so that you may remember Him” (Qur’an, 16:90). Today this decree and the reading of this passage at the beginning of a sermon is still a very common practice throughout the Muslim world.
Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz led by example and became the change he wished to see in the world. He saw everyone as a responsibility to him and held himself accountable in front of his Lord for all his actions. There is so much we can learn from Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz, such as making sure you never obstruct the rights of others, be humble in your actions, and act towards the benefit of uniting and bringing together communities. Omar ibn Abdul’Aziz was rich and from a profound family, he could’ve had all what he wanted in addition to supreme power of a caliphate. Yet although all the society and those around him would not have stopped him, he held strong to what he felt was right and gave up all his possessions for the benefit of his people.
|||P. N. Ahmed, “Omar bin Abdul Aziz,” 2009. [Online]. Available: http://historyofislam.com/contents/the-age-of-faith/omar-bin-abdul-aziz/?blogsub=confirming#blog_subscription-3.|
|||Ibn-Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000.|
Nasser AlFalasi was born the year the cold war ended. For those who don’t know the year the cold war ended, Nasser’s columns in SAIL is exactly for that reason. Nasser’s undergrad was in Financial Services at the Higher Colleges of Technology. He then pursued his graduate studies at NYU, NYC concentrating in global affairs with a specialization in international relations and transnational security. His major interests include history and global affairs. Most of his columns will be in regards to those topics. By the way, if you haven’t already found out the year Nasser was born, its 1991.
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