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Shi'a view of Umar

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Part of a series on
Sunni Islam:


The Rashidun Caliph


This article is about the Shi'a view of Umar, the second Sunni caliph.

Shia view

Historical context

Umar ibn al-Khattab was one of the earliest figures in the history of Islam. However, the Shi'a have traditionally asserted that the Sunni perspective of Umar, including ideas inadvertently borrowed by certain Western orientalists, is at best inaccurate, and at worst largely fabricated.

While Sunnis regard Umar ibn al-Khattab in high esteem and respect his place as one of the "Four Righteously Guided Caliphs," Shi'a hold an opposing perspective of him. They do not view him as a legitimate leader of the Ummah and believe it to be factually provable that Umar and Abu Bakr conspired to usurp power from Ali. Shi'a believe that the Sunni view of Umar is an inaccurate one, created by the later Umayyad dynasty to honour the man that gave power to the first Umayyad ruler and third Sunni Caliph, Uthman. In this way, it gives legitimacy to Umar's consultation that started their own dynasty, a corrupt one in both Shi'a and Sunni view.

Shi'a believe that the Umayyad view was propagated with lethal force and heavy duress and as time went on, that view became predominant and eventually taken as truth, cemented by the works of Bukhari. However, Shi'a believe that despite the perceived white washing of Umar, bits of his true qualities can be found in all sources, including Sunni ones. They also believe that invented positive traits attributed to him do not hold a closer scrutiny.


Citations from the Qur'an are used in the following format: (Qur'an 2:124).

However, Shi'as also have their own sources and in most cases the critique towards Umar is much greater in those sources. Shi'as believe that most of the narrations critical to the Caliphs were purged during the Ummayyad dynasty. Some survived, but the most outspoken of them were eradicated. However a small minority group strove to keep alive those narrations, mainly through the descendants of the male Shi'as that survived the Battle of Karbala.

In contrast to Sunnis, Shi'a do not hold as authentic any narrations that depict Umar in a positive view, for example him being promised paradise, and hold as authentic some narrations that depict Umar in a negative view, for example some accusations his sexuality. In neutral cases, Shi'a and Sunni have different views on the narrations. Many times Shi'as feel that Sunnis blatantly disregard narrations that even their own most respected scholars have authenticated. For example, a narration in Sahih Bukhari states explicitly that Ali and Zubair opposed Umar during the succession to Muhammad, or another narration that states that Umar was not invited to Fatima Zahra's secret funeral. According to Shia scholars Umar is also known to have said "I would much rather be a tree or a bird than be human as I would not have to face judgement, and would be free"

The Shi'a view of Umar differs from the Sunni view in mainly two areas. First, regarding his everyday character. The Sunni's claim he was wise and just while the Shi'as describe him as an ignorant usurper. Secondly, his attitudes and actions regarding the succession to Muhammad. The Sunnis argue that he acted in good faith to save the community whilst the Shi'as claim he seized the power in bad faith.

Shi'a Biography

His early life

Shi'as point out that Umar was an idol worshiper and that this disqualifies him from being a leader for all Muslims. Shi'as believe that no God-appointed Muslim leader has ever worshipped anything else than God. In other words, a man designated to protect and guide all Muslims at least must have a pure enough character to have refrained from the grossest sin in Islam. This is also complemented by the Shi'a belief that none can be an Imam (leader), whether prophet (Abraham) or non-prophet (Ali), except from the appointment of God (Qur'an 2:124). It is purity of character that Shi'a address on this issue and not sin, not to be confused with the removal of sin due to accepting Islam.

The Shi'as hold against him the fact that he buried alive his own daughter, despite it being a characteristic of the time he lived in. Another point they make is about the low moral character of his family, exemplified by his uncle, Umar ibn Nufayl, marrying his own mother.

Before embracing Islam

Umar's father, al-Khattab, was a staunch follower of polytheism [1]. When Muhammad first declared his message of Islam, Umar resolved to defend the traditional religion of the Quraish, polytheism or idolatry according to Islamic nomenlauture. Umar was adamant in opposing Muhammad and very prominent in persecuting the Muslims.

Other questionable acts are reported as follows: Lubaynah was a slave girl of Umar. She accepted Islam and Umar would beat her mercilessly until he was tired. He would then say, "I have only stopped beating you because I am tired." She would say, "may God treat you in the same way." He asked her to renounce Islam, but she stuck to her faith. [2]. Zinnira was another slave of Umar. One day when Abu Jahl was visiting Umar and he took it upon himself to beat her. Zinnira was beaten so harshly that she lost her eyesight [3].

Embracing Islam

One day, the Quraish called for somebody to volunteer himself for the assassination of Muhammad. Umar volunteered himself for this job, at which everybody exclaimed: "Surely, you can do it, Umar!" [2]. On his way he met Sad ibn Abi Waqqas, who asked where he was going. Umar said: "I am after finishing Muhammad." Sa'ad replied, "but do you not see that Banu Hashim, Banu Zuhrah and Banu Abd al-Manaf are likely to kill you in retaliation?" Umar, upset at the warning, said, "it seems that you also have renounced the religion of your forefathers. Let me settle with you first." On saying this, Umar drew out his sword. Sa'ad announcing his Islam, also took out his sword. They were about to start a duel when Sa'ad said, "you had better first set your own house in order. Your sister and brother-in-law both have accepted Islam." Umar went to his sister and found her reciting verses of the Qur'an. He became infuriated and gave her a slap which caused her to bleed. However, his sister did not denounce her religion. He went to meet Muhammad [4].

Umar then made his way to the house of al-Arqam [1]. Muhammad had received information of this and he stood up and took hold of Umar's collar saying, "Umar, why do you not desist from this action? Will you not refrain lest Allah reveals that information about you that He has already revealed about Waleed ibn Mugheera?" [5]. Umar then converted to Islam that day.

A Shia scholar states:

Some historians claim that Umar was a most awe-inspiring man, and when he accepted Islam, the idolaters were gripped with fear for their lives. But this is only a case of a dominant myth being in conflict with ugly facts. When Umar accepted Islam, the idolaters remained where they were, and nothing changed for them; but it was Muhammad who was compelled to leave his home, and had to find sanctuary in a desolate ravine. He spent three years in that ravine, and during those years of exile, his life was exposed to deadly perils every day and every night. During this entire period of more than 1000 days, Umar, like many other Muslims in Makkah, was the silent spectator of the ordeals of his master. He made no attempt to bring those ordeals to an end.[6]

During Muhammad's life

Umar became a Muslim just as the persecution against them hardened. While not denying that he helped, Shi'as feel the extent of the help is debatable. Shi'as do not believe that Umar's strength is to be applauded because he abused it repeatedly. For example, he beat people in a mosque [7] and threatened Muslims in front of Muhammad [8]. Umar beat Abu Huraira severely on several occasions, both during Muhammad's life and after. Also, Umar publicly and loudly questioned Muhammad's authority at the Treaty of Hudaybiya. After been given an answer and not being content with it, he went to Abu Bakr and again questioned Muhammad's authority [9].

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

Insert the text of the quote here, without quotation marks.

Shi'as do not see him as a valiant man at all even though he was strong. They contend that he was a coward and argue that there are scarce reports of Umar hurting anyone or even getting hurt in any battle. In fact, he was notorious for not entering combat. When the battle of Uhud went awry and rumors of Muhammad's death started, Umar fled the battle, ran to a hill [10] and discouraged people from entering battle again, arguing that there was no point fighting since Muhammad was dead [11]. In the Battle of the Trench, he did not accept Amr's challenge [12]. Also, at Khaybar, Umar did not direct his troops against the fortress. In all three cases, Ali did the opposite.


Hafsa, the daughter of Umar, was originally married to Khunais ibn Hudhaifa. When he died, Umar sought to find a husband for her. He approached his friend Uthman who said "I am of the opinion that I shall not marry at present," after thinking about the proposal for a few days. Umar became angry with Uthman and asked Abu Bakr the same thing. Abu Bakr did not give him a reply, causing Umar to become even more angry with him than he was with Uthman. However, this was because Abu Bakr was aware that Muhammad desired to marry Hafsa. Umar then preceded to Muhammad to discuss the previous two incidents. Muhammad reassured Umar by saying that "Hafsa will marry one better than Uthman will marry one better than Hafsa." Muhammad was obviously alluding to the fact that Hafsa was to marry Muhammad and that Uthman was to marry a daughter of Muhammad. [13]. Shi'as reject this hadith as forgery because they argue that it makes no sense to keep the intention to marry a secret from Umar but not from Uthman and Abu Bakr.

Hafsa was married to Muhammad in 625. Muhammad's household was not always peaceful as his wives were in two groups [14]. Umar's and Abu Bakr's daughter along with two other wives constituted the group that Shi'as believed troubled Muhammad. Umar said on one occasion:

"Hafsa, the news has reached me that you cause Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) trouble. You know that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) does not love you, and had I not been (your father) he would have divorced you." (On hearing this) she wept bitterly. [15] Then Mohammed married her again after she apologized for her trouble.

Shi'as believe that Umar's behavior towards his daughter is another example of his brute character. They see his fatherly advice to Hafsa in her time of despair as unworthy of any father, and especially of a future supposed protector and guide of the Muslim nation.

Pen and paper

Muhammad became ill in the year 632 and his health took a serious turn on a Thursday. He summoned his companions and announced that he wanted to write a will. It is reported that Muhammad asked for writing materials to write a statement that would prevent the Muslim nation from going astray for ever. The first person to reply was Umar, answering that the is no need for a will, arguing that Muhammad was ill and that Umar had the Qur'an which was sufficient for him. In another report it is stated that the first person replying, Umar by implication, said that Muhammad was delirious and talking non-sense. This reply caused a great commotion resulting in Muhammad rebuking Umar for calling him ill and sending him and his partisians out of the house.

This event is the source of much controversy between the Shi'a and Sunnah; the former claim that Umar wrongly prevented the Prophet from confirming Ali as his chosen successor.

The Sunni view is that Umar was acting out of compassion and love for Muhammad. He sensed that Muhammad was talking from the depths of his death-sickness, and did not want to burden him and argue with him. Muhammad was not known to have written anything in his entire life, and it is the majority view of the Muslims that Muhammad was an ummi, an illiterate man, who knew not how to read or write. This is the primary defense of Muslims against claims that Muhammad wrote the Qur'an, is that he was not literate. So upon hearing a request from the Prophet to write something, Umar knew that this could not be Muhammad talking rationally, or so goes the Sunni argument. [16].

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

If Umar was right in his attempts to inhibit the freedom of action of Muhammad, the Messenger of God, then it means that the latter was "wrong." And if he (Muhammad) was "wrong," then it means that Al-Qur’an al-Majid was also "wrong" because it claimed that:

Nor does he (Muhammad) say (anything) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. (Chapter 53; verses 3 and 4)

If Umar was right, then Muhammad and Qur’an were "wrong." This is the only conclusion to which such a line of argument can lead. It is now for the Muslims to decide if this is the "logic" which appeals to them, and therefore, is acceptable to them [17].

Usama's detachment

Two days later, a Saturday, Umar, Abu Bakr, Uthman and others, were sent away with a military detachment heading to Syria, under the command of an 18 year old man named Usama ibn Zaid. Ali and many others from the Banu Hashim where ordered to stay in Medina. Umar protested to this decision, causing Muhammad to forbid them to abandon Zaid's detachment. They left, but camped outside Medina and returned the next day. [18]}}

After Muhammad

Two days after that, on Monday, Muhammad died. Abu Bakr was not present in Medina, Shia claiming he left it due to embarrassment since Abu Bakrs prayer incident. When Umar heard the news of Muhammad's death, he rushed to Muhammad, raised his sword and said he would "chop of the head" of anybody who claimed that Muhammad had died. Ibn Abbas approached him and reminded him that the Qur'an says Muhammad is mortal("Muhammad is but a messenger; messengers (the like of whom) have died before him. If, then, he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heel?").However Umar did not heed this warning though Abu Bakr came and told the same thing as Ibn Abbas. Abu Bakr then says to him "If anyone worshipped Muhammad, then know that Muhammad is dead, but if anyone worshipped Allah, then Allah is living and does not die.", whereupon Umar calmed down.

Shia claim that the despair felt by Umar at the time of Muhammad's death was not genuine, they insist that there was no despair, only threats aimed to delay matters so that his friend and confederate Abu Bakr could return before Ali was confirmed as the successor. As for Ali's allegiance to Abu Bakr's rule, this too was made up to support Abu Bakr's claim to power.

Coup d'état

Shia assert that Umar and Khalid ibn Walid were at the forefront of a Coup d'état, seizing power for Abu Bakr and mortally wounding Fatimah which resulted in the miscarriage of Al Muhsin.

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

When Muhammad Mustafa died in A.D. 632, his successors - Abu Bakr and Umar - lost no time in seizing the estate of Fadak from his daughter. Umar was a conscientious man, and he was presumably prompted by his moral courage to "rectify" the "error" which Muhammad had made in giving the estate of Fadak to his daughter in A.D. 628

Umar had, to all intents and purposes, appointed himself a "censor" of the words and deeds of Muhammad while the latter was still alive. If he countermanded his (Muhammad's) orders after his death vis-à-vis his succession or the estate of Fadak, there is nothing odd about it. If he had any inhibitions in this matter, he threw them overboard as soon as Muhammad died.[17].

Shi'a denounce Umar's decision to ban the collection of hadith.


Later, after Abu Bakr came into power, Abu Bakr ordered Usama's dispatchment to be sent as ordered to Syria. Umar demanded that Usama was to be replaced, but Abu Bakr refused to do so [19].

Abu Bakr's era

Abu Bakr took power after Muhammad. Shia point to several Sunni sources that claim Abu Bakr was on his way to give in to Fatimah's cries for justice, harshly stopped by Umar.

Shi'a view Umar as the "khalifa-maker" of Abu Bakr and that during Abu Bakr's khilafat, Umar was his principal adviser [6]. Abu Bakr imposed Umar as his successor prior to his death in 634.

One report quotes one Muslim talking to Abu Bakr, asking him what he is going to say to God after leaving Umar in charge of matters. Ali was again passed over.

Shias refuse the Sunni notion of Ali serving Abu Bakr and Umar and claim that Ali simply disdained himself from public matter, judging that claiming his own right would endanger Islam.

Ali is quoted saying:

"I watched the plundering of my inheritance till the first one [Abu Bakr] went his way but handed over the Caliphate to Ibn al-Khattab after himself."

(Then he quoted al-A'sha's verse)[20]:

"My days are now passed on the camel's back (in difficulty) while there were days [of ease] when I enjoyed the company of Jabir's brother Hayyan."

(Implying the contrast between the present and the time of Muhammad)

"It is strange that during his [Abu Bakr] lifetime he wished to be released from the caliphate but he confirmed it for the other one [Umar] after his death. No doubt these two shared its udders strictly among themselves" [21].

Umar's Caliphate

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Twelver Islamic scholar states:

The Banu Umayya were the traditional champions of idolatry and the arch-enemies of Muhammad and his clan, the Banu Hashim. Muhammad had broken their power but Umar revived them. The central component of his policy, as head of the government of Saqifa, was the restoration of the Umayyads. He turned over Syria to them as their "fief," and he made them the first family in the empire [6].

Regarding Umar's marriage to Umm Kulthum: Template:QuoteHadith

Ali is further quoted in the same sermon:

"This one [Umar] put the Caliphate in a tough enclosure where the utterance was haughty and the touch was rough. Mistakes were in plenty and so also the excuses therefore. One in contact with it was like the rider of an unruly camel. If he pulled up its rein the very nostril would be slit, but if he let it loose he would be thrown. Consequently, by Allah people got involved in recklessness, wickedness, unsteadiness and deviation" [21].

Shi'a claim that Umar was not given the title of "Al Faruq" as this was a title given to Ali, but rather Umar later was given that title.

Shi'as claim that Umar's marriage to Ali's daughter is a Umayyad fabrication, with the only goal being to put forth that Ali and Umar where friends, not missing the chance of depicting Ali as weak and inferior to Umar: Umar publicly threatening Ali to submission until he got his daughter for marriage [22].


It is reported that Umar declared in public [23]:

"Anyone who pays more for their dowry than what the Prophet used to pay, will put the excess amount in the Public Treasury."

A woman from the Quraish came to him and said:

"O commander of the Believers, which have more right to be followed, the Book of Allah [the Qur'an]or your statement?""

He answered:

"The Book of Allah."

So she told him,

"You have just prohibited the people from giving the excess amount from the dowry, but Allah Taalah has revealed in His Book, 'And if you have given them a great amount of gold as dower, take not the least bit of it back'(Qur'an 4:20)."

Therefore Umar said a few times:

"The Woman is correct and Umar is mistaken."

He addresses people again, and said:

"Verily a man may do whatever he sees fit with his wealth" [24].

Note: Generally, narrations with broken chains are not considered true according to Sunni Islamic scholars and any legal rulings contained therein are nonbinding.

Shi'as point out that Umar was very ill versed in Islamic law in contrast to Ibn Abbas and Ali, which is shown by these examples:

* Forbidding of Tayammum [25], even though its in the Qur'an[26] and despite being reminded of the Sunnah by Ammar ibn Yasir.
* Gave an incorrect death sentence due to ignorance in basic jurisprudence [27].

The above can be excused due to lack of knowledge. However, there are also incidents where he knowingly changed Muhammad's Sunnah by innovating in religious matters even though he had no authority to do so. For example:

* Enforced the triple talaq [28].

The above point is not disputed by Sunnis, but the following four are:

* Umar took the solitary prayer of the month of Ramadan [29] and changed it to congregational prayer [30].
* Forbade temporary marriage according to the Hadith of Umar's speech of forbidding Mut'ah [31].
* He modified the adhan [32] .
* Changed the number of floggings for drinking alcohol from 40 to 80 lashes [33].

Shi'a books have expanded the list to include 80 points.

Shi'as argue that Umar's legal knowledge can be summarized by his saying:

"If Ali had not been there, Umar would have been perished O Abu'l-Hasan,! I hope I am not alive when you are not among us" [34].


He was killed by Abu-Lu'lu'ah. Again, Umar's lack of knowledge in Muhammad's Sunnah,according to Shia's claims, is shown when Umar forbade Hafsa and others to weep for him, believing that it would cause him to be punished in the grave [35]. This was because he misunderstood Aisha's narration of the hadith [36].

Ali continues on:

Nevertheless, I remained patient despite length of period and stiffness of trial, till when he [Umar] went his way [of death] he put the matter [of Caliphate] in a group and regarded me to be one of them. But good Heavens! what had I to do with this "consultation"? Where was any doubt about me with regard to the first of them [Abu Bakr] that I was now considered akin to these ones [in the consultation]?" [21].

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

The seeds of civil war in Islam were planted on the day when Umar picked out the members of his electoral committee. Instead of one candidate for caliphate, he made six candidates. If his decision to appoint his successor had been as direct and forthright as that of Abu Bakr had been, Islam might have been spared the traumatic and horrendous experience of civil wars so early in its career. The Muslims who fought against and killed each other in these civil wars, did not belong to the distant future; they belonged to the generation of the Prophet himself.

Civil wars broke out in Islam at a time when its idealism was supposed to be still fresh. But the elective system devised by Umar had built-in confrontation, and it took Islam across a great divide. His policy proved to be counter-productive, and his mode of giving the Muslims a leader through his panel of electors turned out to be one of the greatest misfortunes of the history of Islam [17].


Even though he evidently was mistaken on several occasions, which is clearly seen by the evidence, he has still set precedence in Sunni jurisprudence. Due to this Shi'a stress the need to enlighten people of Umar's ignorance, so that they stop following a man that believed he could shape the Sunnah of Muhamamd [37].

Even though Umar did make numerous fatwas in direct violation to the Qur'an, admitted by the Sunnis in the case of Tayammum, and even though he believed he could shape the Sunnah in the case of triple talaq and Adhan, also admitted by the Sunnis, Shi'a believe that there are cases where even the evidence clearly proves it, the Sunnis refuse to acknowledge that Umar made those changes, for example in the case of Nikah Mut'ah. Shia argue that there are only single narrations on the occasions where Muhammad supposedly forbade it, on seven contradictory times, and even though the vast majority of the hadith related to the topic unanimously claim that Umar forbade Nikah Mut'ah, even himself saying so, still the Sunnis choose to hold the few claiming Muhammad as the one forbidding it as authentic. In Shia view, this is shows how deep the impact of Umars legacy is, making Sunnis accept traditions that override the Qur'an (4:24), uniquely for this matter, even though those traditions propose that Muhamamd forbade it in 7 AH, when Sahih Muslim puts the date of the verse of Mut'ah Nikah in 9 AH.

Shi'a believe Umar to be the main force behind Abu Bakrs rise to power, since they quote him several times stopping Abu Bakr from giving in to Fatimah's cries for justice. Umar is responsible for the election that followed after him, an election where Ali is quoted to view it as in effect rigged to the extent that he could not win it, in practice giving away the Muslim nation to Islam's former arch-enemies, the Banu Umayyad, starting with Uthman and continuing with the adopted son of Abu Sufyan, Muawiya I, followed by Yazid I, resulting in the slaughter of Banu Hashim in the battle of Karbala and ultimately the pillage and rape of Medina and the catapult assault on the Kaaba.

Shi'a believe that many hadith where Umar is merited by Muhamamd, for example the Hadith of Umar and prophecy, are nothing more than late Umayyad fabrications.

While Shi'as use Sunni ahadeeth to try to bolster their claims, these works are not the basis of their beliefs. A brief examination of Shia religious works would serve to document their viewpoints. According to a sayying attributed to the Shi'a imam, Imam Baqir, Umar and his companion Abu Bakr had left Islam and deserve to be cursed:

"Abu Bakr and Omar did not repent before they parted the world. In fact, they did not even mention what they had done to Ali. So may Allah, His angels and all of mankind curse them" [38].

In Haqq al-Yaqeen it is written:

"Regarding the doctrine of Tabarra, we believe that we should seek disassociation from four idols namely, Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Mu'awiyah; from four women namely, Ayesha, Hafsa, Hind and Ummul Hakam, along with all their associates and followers. These are the worst creation of Allah. It is not possible to believe in Allah, His Messenger and the Imams without disassociating oneself from their enemies."

It is worthy of a note here in the context that Ayesha, despite the views of the statement, is, on the other hand, reported to have mentioned regret over having rebelled against 'Ali before her death and that 'Ali supplicated for her forgiveness.

Regardless, in accordance with the above stated, it is not strange then that Shi'a believe that disassociation from Umar is one of the Furu al-din (Branches of religion).

Furthermore, Shi'as supplicate curses upon Umar (as well as Abu Bakr), in the Dua Sanamain Quraish.

Views on the Shi'a view

Non-Muslim view

Edward Gibbon, a 18th century non-Muslim Islamic scholar wrote:

The mischiefs that flow from the contests of ambition are usually confined to the times and countries in which they have been agitated. But the religious discord of the friends and enemies of Ali has been renewed in every age of the Hegira, and is still maintained in the immortal hatred of the Persians and Turks. (171) The former, who are branded with the appellation of Shiites or sectaries, have enriched the Mahometan creed with a new article of faith; and if Mahomet be the apostle, his companion Ali is the vicar, of God. In their private converse, in their public worship, they bitterly execrate the three usurpers who intercepted his indefeasible right to the dignity of Imam and Caliph; and the name of Omar expresses in their tongue the perfect accomplishment of wickedness and impiety.[39]

And he also writes that Ali...

...has never been accused of prompting the assassin of Omar; though Persia indiscreetly celebrates the festival of that holy martyr. [39]


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