'Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz
'Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz was born of a royal family, his father being the governor of the province of Egypt. When he came of age, he was himself appointed as the governor of the province of Egypt by the Umayyads. His mother was the granddaughter of ‘Umar bin al-Khattab and he was born hardly fifty years after the death of the Prophet (†). This was a time when a large number of the holy Prophet’s companions were still living. His education started with a training in hadith and fiqh and soon he came to be recognised as a first-rate muhaddith and faqih. Hence he could easily differentiate between monarchy and the Khilafah.
At the age of 37, he acquired the throne by mere accident and suddenly he came to realise the great burden of responsibility that had fallen on his shoulders. This accident changed him outright and he chose Islam against the path of ignorance. As soon as he was seated in authority, he dismissed the false-ruling pride, the court practices of worldly kings and all other show of power and authority and pledged himself to lead the life of a true Khalifa of Muslims. All the estates in possession of the royal family including his own were returned to public treasury, all properties moveable and immoveable that had been unlawfully seized were restored to their rightful owners. As a result of this his personal treasury suffered a heavy loss. The annual income of 50,000 diners was reduced to 200 dinars. After setting in order the family and household affairs he turned to reform the system of government. He removed unjust governors from office and launched a search for righteous men to replace them.
1) He reformed the whole policy pertaining to taxation and abolished all the unlawful taxes including the duty on distilleries that had been imposed by the Umayyads.
2) He re-organised and reformed the system of collecting Zakah.
3) He opened the state treasury for general public works.
4) He compensated and remedied all injustices which had been administered to the non-Muslims, restored their unlawfully seized houses of worship, released their lands and granted them their rights and privileges under the Shari‘ah.
5) He made the judiciary independent of the executive.
6) He removed all the shadows of royal influence which generally cast a slur on the administration of justice and enforced the Islamic principles of equity and fair-play instead.
7) He checked the propagation of unislamic beliefs and made large scale arrangements of education for the masses and drew attention the of the intelligentsia towards the sciences of the Qur’an and fiqh, thereby succeeding in generating a powerful intellectual movement which eventually produced great authorities in Islam of the calibre of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi‘i and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal.
8) He revived the true spirit of practising Shari‘ah and discouraged all ease-loving tendencies that had taken root among the people during the monarchic rule.
Thus was he able to bring back a sense of justice and piety to the Ummah.
“When we gave them authority in the earth, they strive to establish Salah, make arrangement for collecting Zakah, enforced good and forbade evil.” (22:41)
It is said that during the reign of Walid, the people would meet and talk about buildings and gardens. Under Suleman bin ‘Abdul Malik their main interest was romance and procreation, but when ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz became Khalifah conditions quickly changed and Salah, fasting and Qur’an became the popular subject for conversation. The non-Muslims were so much impressed by his rule that then they embraced Islam in their thousands.
With some reform under way, the Khalifah turned his attention to the neighbouring non-Muslim states and exhorted them to accept the Islam which a number of them did. This first mujaddid of Islam worked hardly for two and a half years and during this brief period he was able to revolutionise life in all its various aspects. However it was not long before the Umayyads turned against this pious man. They saw their death in the life of Islam and therefore could not tolerate the work of his revival. They conspired against him and poisoned him at a young age of 39.
When the Khalifah died the Roman emperor is reported to have said:
“I should not be the least surprised if a monk renounces the world and busies himself in worship behind closed doors, but I am simply amazed at this man who has a vast empire at his feet but he rejected it and lived the life of a monk.”