OUTLOOK — By Mohammed Al Hadhrami — The first time I came to know something about the history of Caliph Omar Ibn al Khattab (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was in the early years of schooling when I and my schoolmates learned many lessons and stories about Omar al Farooq (as he is nicknamed and because he set boundaries between right and wrong).
It was the first time the word 'farooq' came into my dictionary; never in my life had I heard anyone uttering this word before that. In another lesson we were told that Caliph Omar was walking along one of Al Madeena streets while a group of boys were playing, and upon seeing him they took to their feet as he was a feared person who was famed for his bravery and bodily strength and no man could beat him in a duel.
The Caliph approached the only boy who didn’t escape and a conversation took place between the two which was recorded in history books as a story telling us how a strong ruler like Omar could be affectionate with little children.
The stories I learned about Caliph Omar are seared into my memory. The picture I had in my mind of him was that of a sturdy man with broad shoulders, high stature and resounding voice.
When I was a little boy I often thought about the right and wrong between which Omar differentiated by means of his sword and imagined how they were mixed up before he separated them. The lesson about Omar converting to Islam was an interesting one; the teacher’s strong personality diminished when he read Surat Taha (Quran Chapter 20).
As years went by, I learnt more about this great personality. Once an envoy of the Sassanian king Chosroes came to Caliph Omar and to his astonishment he found him sleeping underneath a tree, he uttered his famous saying: "O' Omar, you ruled justly, therefore felt secured enough to sleep". This is the state of security and peace of mind that no Arab ruler felt as Omar did.
Later in life I broadened my knowledge of Caliph Omar through reading books such as Mahmoud Abbas al Aqad’s The Genius of Omar and Mohammed Husain Haykal’s Omar Al Farooq. The contents of the books were almost consistent with the picture I drew of Omar from my schooling years with elaborate description of the noble values and ingenuity that distinguished the personality of Umar Ibn al Khattab. The books also focused on Omar’s judgement and attitudes which in many cases were quite concordant with the revelation.
This Ramadhan, the personality of Omar Ibn al Khattab is presented in a TV drama starring an unknown Syrian actor called Thamir Ismail and directed by Hatim Ali who succeeded in drawing Arab viewers to the series from the first episodes. This historical drama has manifested the personality of Caliph Omar in a way that made us feel as if he was living among us.
In another instance, Qatari culture magazine Al Dawha republished Taha Husain’s book Al Shaikhan which first appeared in 1960, as a special gift to its readers on the occasion of Ramadhan. The book is about the life story of two of the four Rashideen Caliphs (truly guided caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, as rulers and commanders of the Muslim nation).
Today all the radio and satellite channels are broadcasting aspects of Omar’s life and role in spreading Islam with scholars, preachers and TV programme editors displaying this iconic Islamic figure. In his TV show Omar: A Civilization Maker, the Muslim preacher Amr Khalid is highlighting the biography of Omar Ibn al Khattab.