The Conversion of `Umar ibn al Khattab

at that time, `umar ibn al khattab was a mature man of thirty to thirty-five years of age. physically he was well built and strong of muscle. temperamentally he was capable of strong passion. he loved wine and amusement, and despite his very harshness of character, he was gentle and compassionate toward his people. as for the muslims, he was one of their strongest opponents, a merciless aggressor upon their peace, security and religion. their emigration to abyssinia and the negus's protection of them caused him no little resentment. his pride as a national of makkah was wounded by the fact that a foreign king and country were protecting makkans who can find neither security nor peace in their own homes. muhammad was meeting one day with his own companions in a house in al safa quarter of makkah. among those present were his uncle hamzah, his cousin, 'all ibn abu talib, abu bakr ibn abu quhafah, and other muslims. `umar learned of their meeting and went there resolved to kill muhammad and thus relieve the quraysh of its burden, restore its ravaged unity, and re-establish respect for the gods that muhammad had castigated. on the road to makkah he was met by nu'aym ibn `abdullah. upon learning what `umar was about, nu'aym said, "by god, you have deceived yourself, o `umar ! do you think that banu `abd manaf would let you run around alive once you had killed their son muhammad? why don't you return to your own house and at least set it straight?" when `umar learned that fatimah, his sister, and her husband, said ibn zayd, had already been converted to islam, he turned around and went straight to their house. upon entering the house without knocking, he found them listening to a third person reciting the qur'an. they, too, having heard him approach, had hid their visitor and put away the manuscript of the qur'an from which they were reading. `umar asked, "what is this cantillation that i have heard as i walked in?" the pair denied hearing anything. flying into a rage, `umar told them that he knew that they had foresworn their faith and entered into that of muhammad. he chastised them and delivered a strong blow to his brotherin-law, said. fatimah rose to protect her husband. as she came between the two men, `umar hit her on the head and caused her to bleed. at this, the pair lost. their fear entirely and said together, "yes, indeed! we have become muslims. do what you will!" at this surge of courage, as well as upon seeing the blood of his sister flow, `umar was moved. after calming down a little, he asked his sister to, let him see the manuscript which she and her husband had been reading together. after she surrendered the manuscript to him, he read it and his face changed to an expression of regret for what he had just done. as for what he had just read, he was deeply shaken by its beauty, its majesty, the nobility of its call, and the magnanimity of its message. in short, `umar's good side got the better of him. he left the house of his sister, his heart mellow and his soul reassured by the new certainty which he had just discovered. he went straight to al safa, where muhammad was meeting with his companions, sought permission to enter, and declared his conversion to islam in front of the prophet. the muslims acclaimed his conversion and found therein, as they did in the conversion of hamzah, new security for the community as a whole.

the conversion of `umar divided the quraysh further. it reduced their power and caused them to reconsider their strategy. in fact, it increased muslim power so greatly and so significantly that both they and the quraysh had to change their positions vis-à-vis each other. moreover, it triggered a whole line of events in inspiring new levels of sacrifices and stirring new forces which, together, led to the emigration of muhammad and to the inception of the political side of his career.

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