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Umar's Criteria For Appointment As Governors

In order to maintain the integrity of administration, Umar laid down very difficult criteria for the selection of  candidates for appointment as Governors. Some accounts have come down to us which show how  scrupulous was Umar in choosing his Governors. 

It is related that once Umar decided to appoint a Governor. The Governor-designate came to Umar to get  his orders of appointment. Umar asked his Secretary to draft the order. As the order was being drafted a  younger son of Umar came and sat in his lap. Umar caressed the child. Thereupon the Companion said,  "Amir ul Muminin your children come to you freely, but my children do not dare to come near me".  Thereupon Umar said, "If your own children are afraid of you, the people will be still more afraid of you.  The oppressed will hesitate to bring forward their complaints to you. As such you are not fit to be a  Governor, and the orders about your appointment as Governor stand cancelled." 

Once Umar thought of appointing a Companion as Governor. Before the orders of appointment were  issued that Companion called on Umar and solicited appointment as a Governor. Umar said: 

"I was going to appoint you as a Governor on my own account, but now that you have yourself asked for  this appointment, I think you are not fit for the office. As you have asked for the office I fear you will use it  as an office of profit and I cannot allow that. I would appoint only such men who regard such office as a  burden to he entrusted to them in the name of Allah." 

The appointment of Governor for Kufa became a matter of great headache for Umar. If he appointed a  man who was harsh and stern the people complained against him. If he appointed a soft hearted man,  the people took advantage of his leniency. Umar wanted his comrades to advise him regarding the  selection of a right man for the office of the Governor of Kufa. One man rose up to say that he could  suggest a man who would be the fittest person for the job: Umar enquired who was he, and the man  said,", Abdullah bin Umar" Umar said, "May God curse you, you want that I should expose myself to the  criticism that I have appointed my son to a high office. That can never be". 

Around Umar there were such prominent persons as Usman Ali, Zubair, Talha and others. Umar did not  offer them any office. Some one asked Umar why did he not appoint such prominent persons as  Governors. Umar said, "These notables occupy a high status because of their virtues and other qualities. I  do not appoint them as Governors lest for any lapse they may lose the prominence they enjoy at  present." 

Once the post of the Governor of Hems fell vacant, and Umar thought of offering it to Ibn Abbas. Umar  called Ibn Abbas and said, "I want to appoint you as the Governor of Hems, but I have one misgiving."  "What is that", asked Ibn Abhas. Umar said, "My fear is that some time you would be apt to think that you  are related to the Holy Prophet, and would come to regard yourself above the law." Ibn Abbas said,  "When you have such a misgiving I would not accept the job." Umar then said, "Please advise me what  sort of man should I appoint." Ibn Abbas said, "Appoint a man who is good, and about whom you have no  misgiving". 

Some one asked Umar, "What is your criterion for selecting a man for appointment as a Governor?" Umar  said, "I want a man who when he is among men should look like a chief although he is not a chief, and  when he is a chief, be should look as if he is one of them."

Political Administration

Under Umar the country was divided into number of provinces. Historians differ about the exact number of  provinces. Some say that the number of provinces was eight, while there are others who give a higher  figure. 

From the information that has come down to us, it appears that: 

  1. (1) Arabia was divided into two provinces, Mecca and Madina;  
  2. (2) Iraq was divided into two provinces, Basra and Kufa;  
  3. 3) In the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Jazira was a province;  
  4. (4) Syria was a province;  
  5. (5) Umar divided Palestine in two provinces Aylya and Ramlah;  
  6. (6) Egypt was divided into two provinces, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt;  
  7. (7) Persia was divided into three provinces, Khurasan; Azarbaijan and Fars. 

Each province was in turn divided into districts. The exact number of districts is not known. In Persia alone  the number of districts was 47. The total number of districts in the country must thus be around 100. 

Each province was under the charge of a Governor or Wali. Other officers at the provincial level were: 

  1. (1) Katib, or Chief Secretary;  
  2. (2) Katib-ud-Diwan; Secretary, Army;  
  3. (3) Sahib-ul-Kharaj; Revenue Collector;  
  4. (4) Sahib-ul-Ahdath; Police Officer;  
  5. (5) Sahib-ul-Bait-ul-Mal, Treasury Officer  
  6. (6) Qadi, the Chief Judge. 

In some districts there were separate military officers, though the Wali was in most cases the  Commander-in-chief of the army quartered in the province. 

During the Caliphate of Umar some of the notable Governors were: 

  1. (1) Abu Ubaidah was the Governor of Syria.  
  2. (2) Yazid b Abi Sufyan became the Governor of Syria after the death of Abu Ubaidah.  
  3. (3) Amir Mu'awiyah became the Governor of Syria after the death of his brother Yazid.  
  4. (4) Amr b. al-Aas was the Governor of Egypt.  
  5. (5) Saad b Abi Waqqas was the Governor of Kufah.  
  6. (6) Utbah b Ghazwan was the Governor of Basra.  
  7. (7) Abu Musa Ashari succeeded Utbah as the Governor of Basra.  
  8. (8) Itab b Usaid was the Governor of Mecca;  
  9. (9) Ayyad b Ghanam was the Governor of Jazira. 

For every district, there were two main office holders, namely: 

  1. (l) Amil who was the main executive and responsible for the general administration; and  
  2. (2) Qadi responsible for the administration of justice. 

Every appointment was made in writing. On appointment every officer was given an instrument of  instructions in which his powers and duties were specified. On arrival at the headquarters of his charge,  the officer in question was required to assemble the people and read the instrument of instructions  before them. In this way the public became aware of the powers and obligations of the officers  concerned, and could call them to account for any sins of omission or commission. 

Umar's general instructions to his officers were: "Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders  and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your  example. Give the Muslims their rights and do not beat them lest they become abused. Do not praise  them unduly, lest they fall into the error of conceit. Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the  more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for  that is tyranny over them." 

At the time of appointment, every officer was required to make the promise: 

  1. (1) that he would not ride a Turkish horse;  
  2. (2) that he would not wear fine clothes;  
  3. (3) that he would not eat sifted flour;  
  4. (4) that he would not keep a porter at his door; and  
  5. (5) that he would always keep his door open to the public. 

At the time of appointment a complete inventory of all the possessions of the person concerned was  prepared and kept in record. If there was an unusual increase in the possessions of the office holder, he  was immediately called to account, and the unlawful property was confiscated by the State. 

The principal officers were required to come to Mecca on the occasion of the Hajj. In public assembly Umar  invited all who had any grievance against any office to present the complaint. In the event of complaints  inquiries were made immediately and grievances redressed on the spot. 

Explaining the functions of the officers, Umar said: "Brethren, officers are appointed not that they should  slap you in your faces and rob you of your properties, but in order that they should teach you the way of  the Prophet of Allah. So, if any officer has acted contrary wise, tell me that I might avenge it." 

A special office was established for the investigation of complaints that reached the Caliph every now and  then against the officers of the State. The Department was under the charge of Muhammad b Maslamah  Ansari a man of undisputed integrity. In important cases Muhammad b Maslamah was deputed by Umar to  proceed to the spot, investigate the charge and take action. Sometimes an Inquiry Commission was  constituted to investigate the charge. On occasions the officers against him complaints were received  were summoned to Madina, and put to explanation by the Caliph himself. 

In order to minimize the chances of corruption, Umar made it a point to pay high salaries to the staff.  Provincial governor received as much as five thousand rupees a month besides their shares of the spoils  of war.

Land Administration

As a consequence of conquests on a large scale in Iraq and Persia and elsewhere a question arose as to  the administration of land in the conquered territories. The Arabs followed the maxim, "Spoils belong to  the victors". On this basis all spoils that were won as a result of any victory were distributed to the extent  of four-fifth among the conquering army, and one-fifth was sent to Madina as the State share. On this  analogy the army insisted that all agricultural lands should be distributed among the conquering army,  and the inhabitants should be made their serfs and slaves. 

Umar convoked a special assembly at Madina to consider the question from all aspects. Eminent  companions like Abdur Rahman b Auf and others supported the viewpoint of the army. They argued that  the lands belonged to the conquerors, and future generations had no right to them. Bilal was so  vehement in the support of the demand of the army that Umar had to exclaim "May Allah save me from  Bilal." 

At the assembly Umar argued that as the conquering army had already had the spoils distributed among  them that was enough and the land should belong to the State. Umar advanced the argument that if the  lands in the conquered territories were divided up among the army, wherefrom would they get the  necessary finance for the raising and equipment of the armies in future for defense against foreign  aggression and for the maintenance of law and order within the country. 

Ali, Usman, and Talha supported Umar but still no decision could be reached. Then Umar recollected Sura  Al-Hashr which spoke of the poor who had fled, and of those to come thereafter. From these verses Umar  inferred that lands were assets in which even the coming generations were interested and as such these  should be the property of the State. These verses proved decisive and a consensus was reached: 

  1. (1) that the lands conquered would be the property of the State and not that of the conquering forces;  
  2. (2) that the former occupants of lands would not be dispossessed;  
  3. (3) that they should continue in possession of the lands and pay specified taxes to the State. 

That was a wise decision attribute to the genius of Umar. Umar took settlement operations in a scientific  way. In Iraq his Settlement Commissioners were Usman b Hanif and Hudhaifah b al-Yaman. These  Settlement Commissioners measured land in Iraq with such care and precision as one measures cloth.  Iraq measured 375 miles long and 240 miles wide with a superficial area of 30,000 square miles. The royal  dynasty's estates, endowments of fire temples, and the estates of those who had died heirless or fled  the country were declared state property. The rest of the lands were left in the possession of their former  occupants and assessed to land revenue per jarib according to the nature of crops sown. These rates  were: wheat two dirhams per jarib per year; barley one dirham; sugar cane six dirhams; cotton five  dirhams; grapes ten dirhams; date palm gardens ten dirhams and so on. In the first year the income from  State land amounted to seventy lakh dirhams. Land revenue assessment under private occupation  worked out at 86 million dirhams. 

The whole settlement was carried out in such a way that fresh lands were extensively brought under  cultivation, and the land produce increased extensively. In the year following the settlement the land  revenue increased from 86 million dirhams to 100 million dirhams. 

In other conquered countries no special settlements were carried out. In such countries the existing  systems continued and the records in existence were adopted. In Iraq and Persia the records were kept  in Persian. Umar allowed the records to be kept in Persian even after their conquest by the Muslims. In  Syria the previous records were kept in Latin, and in Egypt in the Coptic. In all such cases status quo was  allowed to continue. 

Under the Pharaohs taxes on land in Egypt could be paid in cash or kind, and the settlement was for a  period of four years at a time. When the Romans occupied Egypt the same system continued but besides  the normal land revenue they levied additional levies "hereunder large quantities of grain were collected  for presentation to the authorities at Constantinople. Umar abolished the additional levies and the  system in vogue under the Pharaohs was allowed to continue. The rules about the method of collection  were made simpler and milder. In the time of Umar the land revenue collected from Egypt amounted to  twelve million dinars. 

In Syria the annual collection of land revenue in the caliphate of Umar was fourteen million dinars.


In the early days of Islam there was no standing army. On the occasion of any battle contingents were  raised from the various tribes and these were disbanded when the battle was over. No regular salaries  were paid. Those who fought were compensated by distributing the spoils of war among them. 

Umar was the first Muslim ruler to organize the army as a State Department. This reform was introduced  in 637 A.D. A beginning was made with the Quraish and the Ansars and the system was gradually  extended to the whole of Arabia. A register of all adults who could be called to war was prepared, and a  scale of salaries was fixed. 

The scale was: 

  1. (l) Those who had fought in the battle of Badr 5,000 dirhams.  
  2. (2) Those who had fought in the battle of Uhud 4,000 dirhams.  
  3. (3) Those who had migrated before the conquest of Mecca 3,000 dirhams.  
  4. (4) Those who had embraced Islam at the time of the conquest of Mecca 2,000 dirhams  
  5. (5) Those who had fought in the battles of Yermuk or Qadissiya 2,000 dirhams.  
  6. (6) For the Yamanites 400 dirhams  
  7. (7) Those who had fought after the battles of Yermuk and Qadissiya 300 dirhams.  
  8. (8) The rest 200 dirhams

All men registered were liable to military service. They were divided into two categories, namely: 

  1. (l) those who formed the regular standing army; and  
  2. (2) those who lived in their homes, but were liable to be called to the colors whenever needed. 

For the purpose of army administration, Umar established Military Centers which were called 'Jund'. These  Centers were set up at Madina; Kufa; Basra; Mosul; Fustat; Damascus; Jordan; and Palestine. At these  centers barracks were built for the residence of troops. Big stables were constructed where four  thousand horses fully equipped were kept ready for service at short notice at every Military Center. All  records pertaining to the army were kept at Military Centers. Food stores of the commissariat were kept  at these places and there from sent to other places. 

In addition to Military Centers, cantonments were established in big towns and places of strategic  importance. 

Under the Army Department, there was a separate Commissariat Department. All the food stores were  collected at one place, and from there disbursed on the first of every month. 

Pay and Bhatta were disbursed at different times. The pay was paid in the beginning of the Mohurram.  The Bhatta was paid in spring and some extra allowances were paid during the harvesting season. 

Every tribal unit had its leader called Arifs. Such units if under Arifs were grouped and each group was  under a Commander called Umar-ul-Ashar. 

Promotions in the army were made on the strength of the length of service or exceptional merit. 

Expeditions were undertaken according to seasons. Expeditions in cold countries were undertaken during  the summer, and in hot countries in winter. In spring the troops were generally sent to lands which had a  salubrious climate and a good pasturage. 

Much thought was given to climate and sanitation in the lay out of cantonments and the construction of  barracks. Special provisions were made for roads and streets in cantonments, and Umar issued  instructions prescribing the width of roads and streets. 

When the army was on the march, it always halted on Fridays. When on march, the day's march was  never allowed to be so long as to tire out the troops. The stages were selected with reference to the  availability of water and other provisions. 

Leave of absence was given to army men at regular intervals. The troops stationed at far off places were  given leave once a year and some time twice. 

Each army corps was accompanied by an officer of the treasury, an Accountant, a Qazi, and a number of  interpreters besides a number of physicians and surgeons. 

Umar issued instructions laying stress on the teaching of four things to the soldiers, namely: horse-racing;  archery; walking barefoot, and swimming. 

On the battlefield the army was divided into sections. These sections were: 

  1. (1) Qalb or the center;  
  2. (2) Maqaddamah or the vanguard;  
  3. (3) Maimanah or the right wing;  
  4. (4) Maisarah or the left wing;  
  5. (5) Saqah or the rear;  
  6. (6) Rid-extreme rear 

Other components were: 

  1. (1) Talaiah or patrols to keep watch over the movements of the enemy;  
  2. (2) Ra'id or foraging parties,  
  3. (3) Rukban or the camel corps;  
  4. (4) Farsan or the cavalry;  
  5. (5) Rajil or the infantry;  
  6. (6) Ramat or the Archers.

According to instructions every soldier was required to keep with him several things of personal need.  These included among other things needles, cotton, twine, scissors, and a feeding-bag. 

Catapults were used extensively in siege operations. Under Umar another machine employed in siege  operations was Dabbabah. It was a wooden tower which moved on wheels and consisted of several  storeys. The tower was wheeled up to the foot of the fort under siege, and then the walls were pierced  by stone throwers' wall-piercers and archers who manned the Dabbabah. 

Under the instructions of Umar, suitable arrange, meets were made for the clearance and construction of  roads, and bridges. These operations were usually performed by the conquered people under the  supervision of the Muslim army. 

A remarkable feature of the army organization under Umar was that he had complete control over the  army at all times as if he were present in person at every field. The control was facilitated because of the  sense of awe and majesty that the person of Umar inspired. The espionage and intelligence services in  the army were well organized. Reporters were attached to every unit, and they kept the Caliph fully  informed about everything pertaining to the army. 

Under Umar vast conquests were made in Iraq, Persia, Syria, and Egypt and this speaks for the efficiency  of the army and the military organization.

Judicial Administration

Umar took particular pains to provide effective and speedy justice for the people. He set up an effective  system of judicial administration, "hereunder justice was administered according to the principles of Islam. 

Qadis were appointed at all administrative levels for the administration of justice. Umar was the first ruler  in history to separate judiciary from the executive. The Qadis were chosen for their integrity and learning  in Islamic law. High salaries were fixed for the Qadis so that there was no temptation to bribery. Wealthy  men and men of high social status were appointed as Qadis so that they might not have the temptation  to take bribes, or be influenced by the social position of any body. The Qadis were not allowed to engage  in trade. Judges were appointed in sufficient number, and there was no district which did not have a Qadi. 

Umar issued 'Farmans' from time to time laying down the principles for the administration of justice. In one  of the Farmans issued to Judicial Officers, Umar laid down the following principles: 

"Praise to God. 

Verily justice is an important obligation to God and man. You have been charged with this responsibility.  Discharge the responsibility so that you may win the approbation of God and the goodwill of the people. 

Treat the people equally in your presence, in your company, and in your decisions, so that the weak  despair not of justice, and the high-placed have no hope of your favor. 

The onus of proof lies on the plaintiff. He who denies must do so on oath. Compromise is permissible,  provided it does not turn the unlawful into lawful, and the lawful into unlawful. Let nothing prevent you  from changing your previous decision if after consideration you feel that the previous decision was  incorrect. 

When you are in doubt on a question and find nothing about it in the Quran or in the Sunnah of the  Prophet, think over the question over and over again. Ponder over the precedents and analogous cases,  and then decide by analogy. 

A term should be fixed for the person who wants to produce witnesses. If he proves his case, get him his  right. Otherwise, the suit should be dismissed. 

All Muslims are reliable, except those who have been punished with flogging, or who have borne false  witness or are doubtful in integrity." 

History has preserved the names of some of the eminent persons who held judicial office during the  caliphate of Umar. 

Zaid bin Thabit was appointed by Umar as the Qadi of Madina. He was well versed is Syriac and Hebrew,  and was an expert in civil law. 

Ka'b-b. Sur al-Azdi was the Qadi of Basra. He was a man of keen insight and wide learning. Many of the  dicta laid down by him became classical and were reported by Imam Ibn Sirin. 

Ibada b. al-Samat was the Qadi of Palestine. He was one of the five men who had memorized the Holy  Quran in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet. Umar held him in great esteem. 

Abdullah b Masud was the Qadi of Kufa. He was a man of great scholarship and judicial acumen. He is  considered the Father of the Hanafi law. 

Qadi Shuraih succeeded Abdullah b Masud as the Qadi of Kufa. He was well known throughout the  country for his intelligence and keen sense of judgment. He was regarded as a model Judge. Ali used to  call him 'Aqd-ul-Arab'-i.e. the most judicious of all the Judges of Arabia. 

About Qadi Shuraih's appointment as a Judge there is a story on record. It is related that Umar purchased  a horse on approval, and gave it to somebody to try it. The horse got hurt in the ride, and Umar wanted  to return it, but the owner refused to take it back. In the dispute that arose as a consequence, Shuraih  was chosen as the arbitrator. He gave the verdict that if the horse was ridden with the permission of the  owner it could be returned; otherwise not. Umar said that that was the right decision and at once  appointed Shuraih as the Qadi of Kufa.

Public Treasury and Coins

In the time of the Holy Prophet there was no public treasury. Whatever revenues or other amounts were  received were distributed immediately. There were no salaries to be paid, and there was no state  expenditure. Hence the need for the treasury at public level was not felt. 

In the time of Abu Bakr as well there was not treasury. Abu Bakr earmarked a house where all money  was kept on receipt. As all money was distributed immediately the treasury generally remained locked up.  At the time of the death of Abu Bakr there was only one dirham in the public treasury. 

In the time of Umar things changed. With the extension in conquests money came in larger quantities,  Umar also allowed salaries to men fighting in the army. In A.D., Abu Huraira who was the Governor of  Bahrain sent a revenue of five lakh dirhams. Umar summoned a meeting of his Consultative Assembly and  sought the opinion of the Companions about the disposal of the money. Most of the Companions advised  immediate distribution of the money. Usman advised that the amount should be kept for future needs.  Walid bin Hisham suggested that like the Byzantines separate departments of Treasury and Accounts  should be set up. 

After consulting the Companions Umar decided to establish the Central Treasury at Madina. Abdullah bin  Arqam was appointed as the Treasury Officer. He was assisted by Abdur Rahman and Muiqib. A separate  Accounts Department was also set up and it was required to maintain record of all that was spent. 

Later provincial treasuries were set up in the provinces. After meeting the local expenditure the provincial  treasuries were required to remit the surplus amount to the central treasury at Madina. According to  Yaqubi the salaries and stipends charged to the central treasury amounted to over three crore dirhams. 

In most of the histories of the Muslim period it is stated that among the Muslim rulers, the Umayyad Caliph  Abdul Malik bin Marwan was the first to strike coins. Further historical research has established that Umar  has the distinction of being the first Muslim ruler to strike Islamic coins. 

It is stated in Maqrizi's Kitab-ul-Nuqad ul-Islamia and Mawardi's Al-Ahkam us-Sultaniyah that Islamic coins  were first struck by Umar. Umar struck the coins of dirhams. The coins of Umar resembled the coins of  Anusherwan. These, however, bore the legends "Praise to Allah"; "Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah";  and "There is no god but Allah". 

According to Mawardi when Persia was conquered three types of coins were current in the conquered  territories, namely Baghli of 8 dang; Tabari of 4 dang; and Maghribi of 3 dang. Umar made an innovation  and struck an Islamic dirham of 6 dang.

Public Words

Umar stood for simplicity and austerity. Consequently he did not believe in any large scale program of  public works involving extravagance. Nevertheless as a consequence of the extension of the Muslim rule  to distant lands, the undertaking of works of public utility became imperative. 

As Muslim conquests extended east and west, and more people embraced Islam, it became necessary to  construct mosques. The mosques were not mere places for offering prayers; these were community  centers as well where the faithful gathered to discuss problems of social and cultural importance. During  the caliphate of Umar as many as four thousand mosques were constructed extending from Persia in the  east to Egypt in the west Umar enlarged and improved the Prophet's mosque in Madina. He also paved  the Holy Kaaba. 

During the caliphate of Umar many new cities were founded. These included Kufa, Basra, and Fustat.  These cities were laid in according with the principles of town planning. All streets in these cities led to the  Friday mosque which was sited in the central chauk. Markets were established at convenient points. The  cities were divided into quarters, and each quarter was reserved for particular tribes. In the construction  of houses, strict instructions were laid down prohibiting the construction of palatial buildings. The houses  were to be single storeyed, not exceeding specified dimensions. These instructions were vigorously  enforced, and if any body constructed a double storey in violation of these instructions, such double  storeys were invariably demolished. The houses did not reflect the opulence or poverty of the owners.  These were symbolic of the egalitarian society of Islam, where under all were equal. 

Many buildings were built for administrative purposes. In the quarters called "Dar-ul-Amarat" Government  offices and houses for the residence of officers were provided. Buildings known as 'Diwans' were  constructed for the keeping of official records. Buildings known as Bait-ul-Mal, were constructed to house  public treasuries. For the lodging of persons suffering sentences as punishment, prison houses were  constructed for the first time in Muslim history. In important cities Guest Houses were constructed to serve  as rest houses. Roads and bridges were constructed for public use. On the road from Madina to Mecca,  shelters, wells, and meal houses were constructed at every stage. 

Military cantonments were constructed at strategic points. Special stables were provided for cavalry.  These stables could accommodate as many as 4,000 horses. Special pasture grounds were provided and  maintained for Bait-ul-Mal animals. 

Canals were dug to irrigate fields as well as provide drinking water for the people. Abu Musa Canal was a  nine mile long, canal which brought water from the Tigris to Basra. Another canal known as Maqal canal  was also dug from the Tigris. A canal known as the Amirul Mumnin canal was dug to join the Nile to the  Red Sea. During the famine of 639 A.D. food grains were brought from Egypt to Madina through this canal  and the sea. Saad canal dug from the Euphrates brought water to Anbar. Amr bin Al Aas the Governor of  Egypt even proposed the digging of a canal to join the Mediterranean to Red Sea. The proposal, however,  did not materialize, and it was 1200 years later that such a canal was dug in the shape of the Suez  Canal.

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