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Hope and Despair -Umar ibn Al-Khattab Embraces Islam -Part 9

Under category : Muhammad: Man and Prophet
5518 2008/06/26 2024/04/21
the emigration to abyssinia gave the impression that there were fewer muslims in makkah than their actual number. this helped to avert any all out aggression the hardliners of the quraysh in makkah might have been contemplating. support for such an action would not be readily forthcoming if the problem was made to appear much smaller.


the emigration however made those who were left behind much more vulnerable. there would be many more tormentors for every muslim left in makkah. in that tribal society, where personal and tribal influence counted for much more than physical or numerical strength, the balance could be restored easily if people of the right caliber came forward.


it was in recognition of this fact that the prophet used to pray god in those days to support islam by making either amr ibn hisham, most famous for his nickname, abu jahl, or umar ibn al-khattab join the ranks of the muslims.


the latter were very hostile to islam. abu jahl was the archenemy. umar betrayed no soft feelings towards the muslims. indeed, he tortured a slave woman in an attempt to make her renounce islam. it speaks volumes for the prophet's confidence in the truth of what he was preaching that he should hope for a change of heart by either one of these two men.


it was in the nature of things that umar should be the first to want to bring the conflict in makkah between the quraysh and islam to a final end. perhaps the easiest and surest way to achieve that was to kill muhammad, a feat which was certain to kill his message too.


umar was not a man who shrank from a difficult task or pretended not to know what he could or should do. if muhammad was to be killed, then he would be the one to kill him. he therefore went out carrying his sword in search of muhammad.


he was soon met by a man called nuaym ibn abdullah who like many others, hoped to escape trouble by keeping secret the fact that he was a muslim. nuaym asked umar where he was going. unhesitatingly, umar declared his purpose. nuaym than said: "your strength has certainly fooled you.


do you imagine that the abd-manaf clan, to which the prophet belonged, would leave you to walk these roads when you have killed muhammad? you would be better advised if you went back to your own household and put them on the right course.


the shocking news


umar asked: "what do you mean, and who of my household?" nuaym replied: "your cousin and brother in law said ibn zed and your sister, fatimah, have both followed muhammad and become muslims." obviously nuyam's purpose was to divert umar's attention. if umar was preoccupied with his own household, the prophet would be in non imminent danger from that quarter.


said and his wife fatimah also kept secret the fact that they were muslims. when umar approached their home, they were studying the quran with a fellow muslim called khabbab. when they realized that umar was approaching, khabbab sought somewhere to hide, while fatimah hid the sheet they were reading. in his fury, umar asked as he entered about the voices he overheard. receiving an unsatisfactory answer from is sister, he assaulted his brother in law making it clear that he knew their secret.


his sister rushed to push him away from her husband but he struck her, causing blood to gush from her face. she then said, with a boldness and determination which surprised umar himself: "yes indeed, we are muslims, we believe in god and his messenger. you may do as you please."


the sight of blood on his sister's face made umar feel sorry for her. he said in a rather conciliatory tone: "give me what you have been reading. let me see what muhammad teaches." when she hesitated, expressing her fear that he might destroy the sheet, he swore by his idols to give it back to her after he had read it.


the sheet contained the opening verses of chapter 20, entitled taha. the meaning of these opening verses may be rendered as follows:


{ we have not bestowed the quran on you from on high to make you unhappy, but only as an exhortation to all who stand in awe  of god: a revelation from him who has created the earth and the high heavens, the merciful, the one established on the throne of his almightiness.


to him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, as well as all that is between them and all that is beneath the sod. and if you say anything aloud, well, he indeed knows even the secret thoughts as well as that which is hidden even more deeply. god, there is no deity other than him, his alone are the attributes of perfection.}  (ta-ha 20: 1-8)


softening of a hard heart


impressed, umar read on, and then he read the whole sheet again. he felt the powerful verses striking their notes on the strings of his heart. he looked at the floor for a moment as he repeated verse 14,


{for certain, i –i alone- am god; there is no deity other than me. hence, worship me alone and be constant in prayer, so as to remember me.}


he then raised his head and said: " how beautiful and how noble." at this point khabbab came out and told umar about the prophet's prayer for fresh support to islam, saying: "i sincerely hope that you will come forward in answer to the prophet's prayers."


umar then declared that he wanted to be a muslim and asked to be taken to the prophet to declare his submission to god and his belief in the message of muhammad.


umar did not need much persuasion to tackle such a step. indeed nobody tried to persuade him, not even his injured sister. everybody was aware of umar's enmity towards islam which was so fierce that no one close to him would have imagined such a change was at all possible.


some may wonder whether umar's sense of guilt, which must have been very acute as he saw the blood gushing from his sister's face when he hit her, was the main factor in brining about such a change.

what is known of umar's personality, before and after his conversion to islam, lend no support to this argument. what happened was that the sight of blood awakened umar's sense of justice.

he decided to listen to the case of the other side. hence he asked to look at the sheet his sister was studying. when he read it, he was overwhelmed by the power of the argument and submitted to the truth.


although umar asked to be taken to the prophet, it was judged that it would be better if he went alone with his sword tied to his side. he went to the house which served as a school and a hideout for the  new muslims.


someone looked through a little hole in the door when he knocked. alarmed at the sight of umar carrying  his sword, he went hurriedly to the prophet.


everyone in makkah was aware of umar's strength and courage. hamzah, the prophet's uncle and a very powerful warrior in his own right, said to the prophet "shall we let him in? if he has come for something good, we will grant him that. if his motive is evil, we will kill him with his own sword."


the door was opened. umar came in. the prophet went up to him, took him by the collar and pulled  him hard and said: "what brings you here, umar? it looks to me as if you will not mend your ways until a calamity befalls on you."


umar replied humbly" "messenger of god! i have come to you to declare that i believe in god and his messenger and accept what god has revealed." the prophet said: "god is supreme." everybody in the  house realized that umar had joined the islamic camp. they were so delighted because with him the muslims had become infinitely stronger.


it may seem illogical that one man should make such difference but the peculiarities of the arabian tribal society confirm this difference. two things umar did immediately after adopting his new religion would provide an insight into the nature of that society.


umar said: "the night when i became a muslim i sat up thinking who was the hardest opponent of the prophet. abu jahl was undoubtedly the one. so i went to his house in the morning. he welcomed me heartily and asked what i wanted.

i said " i have come to tell you that i have embraced islam and that i now believe in god and his messenger, muhammad." furious, abu jahl slammed the door in my face saying " confound you and what you have here for".

this incident acquires more significance when one realizes that umar's mother was abu jahl's own sister.


that morning, umar also made the fact of his conversion known to jamil ibn ma'mar, who made it his business to spread every piece of news around makkah.


immediately, jamil was ding this act, telling everybody. umar was near at hand, confirming the fact with a challenging attitude. a number of men went up to him and he fought them single handed for an hour or so. worn out, he sat down and said: "you may do as you like. had we been three hundred in number, i swear we would have fought it out with you to the bitter end."


at that moment, a wise old man from the quraysh came along. he reprimanded the men, reminding them that the adiy clan, to which umar belonged, would not hesitate to avenge him if he came to any harm. so they left him alone.


a show of strength


it did not take umar long to grasp the true nature of islam. he was a man of keen native intelligence. moreover, he fully appreciated what was needed to grant the small muslims community in makkah some sort of status. he wanted to throw a challenge to the quraysh. therefore he suggested to the prophet that muslims should go out from their secret school to pray at the kabah as a group.


he defended his view by asking rhetorically: "are we not following the truth?" the prophet affirmed that the muslims were. umar then asked: "are they, the quraysh, not following false beliefs?" again the prophet answered in the affirmative. umar then asked: " why then should be the ones who accept humility when it comes to the question of faith?"


the prophet himself was not against the idea of launching a demonstration of power. he chose forty of his companions who walked in double file from the house of al-arqam to the kabah, with his uncle hamzah at the head of one file and umar at the head of the other. they offered a congregational prayer at the kabah and dispersed.


the demonstration gave the quraysh a clear signal that islam was there to stay. its followers might be few in number, particularly after many of them had left for abyssinia, but they had strength of character and powerful new converts.


the conflict might be prolonged, unless something was done about it quickly. any thought of a total war against the muslims was abandoned, at least for the time being, because the shrewd move of emigration to abyssinia, but they had strength of character and powerful new converts. 

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