Umar Accepts Islam

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It was a Wednesday evening. The Messenger of Allah had raised his hands for prayer in the house of Ibn Arqam in supplication to his Lord. He was so sincere and insistent that it drew the attention of those that were near him. He held up his hands high and wide at the sky, his eyes fixed to the heavens. This is what he was asking for: “O Allah! Whichever is dearer to you, let your religion be exalted with him; Umar ibn al-Khattab or Amr ibn Hisham (Abu Jahl)!”

Umar ibn al-Khattab was the more aggressive of the two men; he was very courageous and he feared no one. It was these attitudes that he had inherited from his father. That is why his brother in law and sister had kept away from him after they had become Muslims. They were performing the Prayers and reading the Qur’an without letting anyone know, and they were secretly communicating the message of the Qur’an.

Umar was watching the developments from afar, and even though he did not become Muslim by throwing off the weight of social pressure, he at least thought that the people who chose this religion were people of virtue. One evening, he had come to the Ka’ba to spend the night there. Meanwhile, the Messenger of Allah came there and started to read the Qur’an. He was reading Surah al-Haqqa.

Umar was hearing it for the first time and he was attracted by the beauty of the words. He had to find fault with it somehow in order to shake off its effect, and like the Quraysh, he said: “He’s a poet.” But the voice continued: “And not a poet’s speech (composed in a poet’s mind). How little is what you believe!” (al-Haqqa 69:41).

This was strange indeed! What he had thought of had immediately been answered. This time he thought, “He’s a soothsayer.” But the voice continued: “Nor is it a soothsayer’s speech (pretending to foretell events). How little it is that you reflect and be mindful! (It is so limited by the poverty of your minds)” (al-Haqqa 69:42).

The Messenger of Allah had thus read the chapter to the end and Umar had listened to it in great astonishment and curiosity. He thought long and hard. There was great calm and flow in his mind. But these weren’t enough to put Umar into action and to make him change sides. The next morning he was with his old friends again, back to his old habits.

Amr ibn Hisham (Abu Jahl) was a man who took pleasure in opposing the Messenger of Allah at every opportunity and preventing each development that would be in favor of religion. Our noble Prophet had tried hard to invite him to Islam; he had gone to his door many times but had always been met with insults, and at times, a spat on the face. Still, the Messenger of Allah continued to try to communicate Allah’s message to Abu Jahl, kept him in his prayers so that Allah may place faith in his heart.

But these prayers would be answered for Umar and Abu Jahl would be the one to lose out. The day following our noble Prophet’s prayer, Umar had turned towards the hill of Safa. He was going in the direction of Ibn Arqam’s house with his sword hanging by his waist, with the intention of doing some harm to the believers gathered there. On the way he met another Companion, Nuaym ibn Abdullah who was hiding the fact that he had become Muslim. The scene he saw worried Nuaym; Umar was so enraged that one could almost see him breathing out steam through his nose. He had to be stopped and the Muslims had to be protected from his malice.

He asked: “Where are you going, O Umar?”

“I am going to kill the sabi Muhammad who puts the Quraysh against each other, who slanders and censures their ancestors and gods.”

Nuaym had been right about his worries; Umar had bad intentions and he had set off to put these intentions into practice, heading towards the house of Ibn Arqam. He had to do everything he can to convince him to turn away. The first argument that came to his mind was that his sister and brother in law had embraced Islam: “You have deceived yourself Umar! You are leaving the sons of Abdimanaf to themselves and are on your way to kill Muhammad? First go to your own house and handle that business.”

Umar was shocked. This could not be! No member from his household could have become a Muslim without his knowing! He asked immediately: “What is there in my own home? Do you mean…?”

Yes, there were those in his family who had visited this sweet water spring and had drank from it till their hearts desired. But Umar had been unaware of this and was now pressuring Nuaym to reveal who it was. At last Nuaym chose the lesser of the two evils and gave the names of his relatives in order to change Umar’s direction and buy some time.

“Your brother in law and cousin Said ibn Zayd and your sister Fatima bint al-Khattab… I swear that they too have become Muslims and are following Muhammad. They entered his religion. You should first see to your own business,” he said to Umar.

A bolt of lightning struck in Umar’s head. How could it be that people from his own home had gone and been swept by this tide? He had to do something about it immediately and so he changed direction. He went with flying speed. But this time his target was not the Messenger of Allah but his sister and brother in law.

He was just about to knock on the door when he heard a deep voice resonating from the inside. This was a voice that was reminiscent of the night he had spent at the Ka’ba. Although the owner of the voice was different, it was obvious that it came from the same source. This was the voice of Habbab ibn Arat: “Ta-Ha. We did not send down this Qur’an to you so that you may have hardship…” (Ta-Ha 20:1–2), the voice continued.

Even though he was not aware of it yet, the great Umar’s heart had already started to melt.

But it didn’t look like he would submit so easily. He gathered himself and started to pound the mallet of the door. He was also shouting at the top of his lungs, telling the people inside to open the door. The household was seized with worry when they heard Umar’s voice at the door. It was clear why he had come. They hid Habbab, who was teaching them the Qur’an at the time, somewhere in the house. Umar’s sister Fatima hid the verses of the Qur’an under her knees. When it was fit for Umar to see the house, they opened the door, their hair standing on end.

Umar was a very clever man; he had already become suspicious when the door opened late. He asked at once: “What was that voice I heard a minute ago?” They tried to convince him that he had heard nothing.

“No, I did,” he said and then came towards them in rage.

He was mumbling in anger and he said: “I heard that you entered the religion of Muhammad and that you are now his followers,” and not able to contain his rage, he pounced on his brother in law Said ibn Zayd and hit him. When his sister Fatima tried to stop him, he also hit her. It was difficult to stand the blows of someone like Umar; she was covered in blood. But this was the start of another attempt for her. There was nothing she felt she could lose anymore. Now her brother knew everything anyway. Fatima was made of the same mettle as his brother as member of the Khattab family. There was no sense in hiding it anymore so she stood up to her brother and exclaimed: “Yes, we have become Muslim! What is there in that? We have submitted in faith to Allah and His Messenger. Now you can do as you like.” This was the third blow for Umar. It would have been unthinkable that someone should talk back to him like that under normal circumstances. Least of all a woman! How could his sister talk back to him like that and show such attitude? There was an aggressive silence. Umar looked long and hard at his sister; although she was covered in blood, there was nobility in her stance. She looked like an injured lioness and yet she was still after her honor. There was a dare in her stare: “What if you kill us? We have found true peace with Muhammad.” This dare seemed to have worked on Umar. For Umar to understand, it seemed that his brother in law and sister had to be subjected to violence by him. It was fate’s work that Umar would start to melt at the house of his sister after having opposed Islam till that day. He sincerely regretted what he had done. The change in Umar surfaced when he called out to his sister: “Give me the pages that you were reading as I was coming here, let me look at what it is that Muhammad has come with.” They were surprised. They hesitated as to whether or not to give them to him, for Umar could take the verses and rip them, start slandering the Qur’an and say unseemly things about the beloved Prophet. That is why Fatima said: “We fear that you will do some evil.”

“Do not fear,” said Umar, and then he assured her that he would give the pages back without damaging it in any way.

His sister, who had been beaten till blood was drawn, was overjoyed and she could sense that his brother was slowly coming towards Islam. She knew him well… Umar was beginning to unravel. That is why she took another step: “O my brother! You are still in the dirt of shirk, the unclean cannot touch the Qur’an.”

Fatima told him about the ghusl (the major ablution), for what he was about to hold was the Word of Allah and it had be held in a way that would be pleasing to Allah.

This was a great test for Umar. But after this blow, he had already caved in and made his last decision. He went and took ablution like his sister described. The gloom of a while ago had left its place to the peace of Paradise, one could see the happiness on their faces.

Meanwhile, Fatima had given Umar the pages on which chapter Ta-Ha was written, and he started reading. At one point he could not contain himself and said: “What beautiful words! What sweet expressions!”

Habbab ibn Arat who could hear Umar reading the Qur’an and observe his response to it from where he was hidden could hardly stop himself from crying out the takbir, the proclamation of the greatness of Allah. The prayer that had been made only last night from Ibn Arqam’s house was fresh in their memories. How amazing that a prayer should be answered so quickly! Here was one of the Umar’s already at the presence of the Qur’an! This was what Habbab was observing from where he was hiding. Before long, he could not stop himself from coming out from where he was hiding. He walked up to Umar and said: “O Umar, I believe you have been the recipient of the prayer of the Messenger of Allah! Only yesterday I heard him say ‘O Allah! Please validate your religion with one of the two Umars. Umar ibn al-Khattab or Amr ibn Hisham.’ I swear by Allah you are him, O Umar.”

Umar was experiencing two surprises at the same time. First of all, what was Habbab doing here? And secondly, where had he been till now? Why had he hidden and why was he coming now to say these things? The second surprise was the greatness of the Messenger of Allah whom he had come armed just hours ago to kill. There could be no greater difference in the outcome. He had come with the intention to kill him, and he was, unbeknownst to him, praying for his deliverance to his Lord, that he may come into the faith. What magnificence is this!

The great Umar was now humbled. He turned to Habbab and said: “O Habbab! Can you tell me where Muhammad is? I want to go to him right now.”

“He is with his friends in a house on Safa hill right now,” Habbab said.

Now the destination of Umar was clear. In fact it was the same destination as the one he had set out that morning, but amazingly now, the intention was different.

Before long, Umar was knocking on the door of Ibn Arqam. The Companions of the Prophet looked through the keyhole and when they saw that it was Umar they ran to the noble Prophet in excitement and fear:

“O Messenger of Allah! Umar is at the door and he is armed.”

 Hamza came forward:

“Let him come in, O Messenger of Allah! If he means well, then we will embrace him, but if he has bad intentions we will take his sword and kill him with it!”

The Messenger of Allah was not thinking otherwise. It was him who had said that prayer was the greatest weapon, and it was him who had prayed for Umar. Naturally Allah the Almighty would not leave His Beloved alone in such dire circumstances and would answer his call. Our noble Prophet was feeling deep gratitude for the acceptance of his prayer and said to them: “Let him come in.”

He then stood up from where he was sitting. He wanted to welcome Umar standing. The door opened and the heavily built Umar came in. The Messenger of Allah welcomed him with affection. Such warmth and love could only be found in Paradise. The Pride of Humankind first embraced Umar and then said: “Where have you been until now, O son of Al-Khattab! I swear by Allah that I had started to think that you were not going to come until some trouble would touch you.”

“Here I am, O Messenger of Allah! I am here to submit in faith to Allah, His Messenger and what comes from Him.”

From the house of Ibn Arqam on Safa hill, a takbir started echoing towards Mecca, and these words proclaiming Allah’s greatness continued to resonate through the night. The Companions who had witnessed the supplication of the Messenger of Allah the night before, including the Messenger himself could not contain themselves and they were also calling out the takbir, proclaiming the greatness of Allah in unison. This was a fitting way to welcome the great Umar into the faith! The coming of Umar signified the start of a new period. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah who now had another force like Hamza beside them, were leaving the house of Ibn Arqam with their takbir into Mecca from Safa hill. The coming of Umar had given extra zeal to the Companions, with him a Muslim by their side they would now be walking with more pride; they would now be performing their Prayers more easily and they would not worry about being heard as they used to when they were reading the Qur’an. Just like ibn Mas’ud had said, Umar’s coming to Islam meant a conquest for religion.

Umar had indeed become Muslim, but it seemed he did not feel comfortable unless he let everyone know the change he had just gone through. That is why he turned to the Pride of Humankind and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Why are we hiding our faith even though we are in the right? They are in error and they have no qualms about making it public.”

Our noble Prophet was a man of patience and caution. Just as he had cautioned Abu Bakr, he also said to Umar: “O Umar, you see what we already have to put up with. We do not have enough numbers to be able to do as you suggest yet.”

“I swear by Allah who sent you in Truth that I will go to all the circles I used to attend before and will declare my faith to them,” and thus he left the house of Ibn Arqam. The first place he went to was the Ka’ba. First he circumambulated it to show the error in the way people had been worshipping in the Ka’ba. Then he went to the Quraysh. It was clear that they had expected him to come. Abu Jahl came forward: “So you have become sabi,” he said mockingly

Umar roared: “I swear there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.”

They could not stand to hear these words, even if it did come from someone whom they had called friend only yesterday, and they all pounced on him.

But Umar was a force to be reckoned with. Utba was the first to attack him and he took him down in no time. He had put his finger in Utba’s eye, and Utba was crying out of pain, his cry echoing throughout Mecca. It was clear they would not be able to beat him easily; it seemed that Umar was even more powerful than before. The crowd around him dispersed at once. Umar was now walking in the streets of Mecca, representing the pride of Islam and no one was able to challenge him.

He visited all the circles he used to visit in order to keep the promise he had made in the presence of the Messenger of Allah and he even let the deaf know about the beauties of Islam. Still, the Messenger of Allah was worried. When he saw him come, he asked delicately what had happened. Umar started to speak with the satisfaction of someone who had carried out his duty: “May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, O Messenger of Allah! There is nothing to be worried about! I swear by Allah that I visited all the circles I used to frequent before I was honored with Islam and I declared my faith without fear for anyone.”

Kesmez, Umit. “The Luminous Life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)” Tughra Books Press. December 2014.