Hazrat Omar Al Khattab(RA): The Epitome of Good Governance

Hazrat Omar Al Khattab(RA): The Epitome of Good Governance
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ZAHID MAJEED

“Behold each one of you is a guardian; each one of you will be asked about his subjects .A leader is a guardian over people and he will be asked about them. “Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Bukhari]
Good Governance a buzzword today, rests on the principles of the rule of law, responsiveness, transparency, participation, accountability, inclusiveness and equity. It aims for integrated human development of people and ensures those values in society which foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance. Good Governance, as a concept, was devised by the World Bank in 1989, but most of the modern democracies lag behind in implementing it in letter and spirit as they are characterized by rampant corruption, maladministration, nepotism and red tapism. According to a Transparency International Report 2016, “over two thirds of the 176 countries and territories fall below the midpoint of our scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The global average score is partly 43 indicating endemic corruption in a country’s public sector’. « In many countries, people are deprived off their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyle with impunity (Jose Ugaiz, Chairman of Transparency International).”
Islamic law provides a better and comprehensive vision of effective, efficient and good governance. The principles of Amanah(accountability), Akhlaq (morality), Shura (mutual consultation) and Ijitihad (respect for opinions) form the basis of Islamic administration. These principles were effectively implemented under the rule of second caliph of Islam, Omar ibn al Khattab (RA).Omar(RA) succeeded Abu Bakr(RA) as the second caliph of Islam in 634 AD. After numerous deliberations and consultations from men of knowledge, Abu Bakr(RA) addressed the general public, “I have appointed no one from amongst my own kith and kin as caliph but Omar. Does this arrangement suit you?. The people with one voice replied: ‘We listen and we obey’.” (Al Farooq – The life Of Omar the Great: Shibli Nomani).
Omar’s(RA) ten years reign was characterized by accountability, reform and innovation and it resembled the whole of thegood governance discourse today. His rule ensured ‘public participation’ .In his first address to the public, he said, “Oh slaves of Allah, try to help me in keeping your evil away and by enjoining what is good and what is bad and by giving me sincere advice with regard to the way I am running your affairs” Omar (RA) ensured “accountability” in governance by enquiring from general public about the nature of the rule of provincial governors. He would punish governors on account of their injustice and maladministration. The governor had to make an oath, that,
1 He would not ride on a Turkic horse.
2. He would not wear fine clothes.
3. He would not eat sifted flour.
4. He would always keep his door open to the public.
It was a reign of responsiveness at its peak.Omar(RA) personally visited markets to resolve conflicts, if any, between people during day time and spent his nights to ensure that nobody slept hungry. He even aspired to explore all the Islamic territories personally to get a view of his subjects. He stated that, “If I’m being able to live for a long time, I will go and explore all the Islamic territories by myself to view on my people. I know that they have various needs that cannot be fulfilled without my presence.’’ Omar(RA) also said that, “I am afraid that a mule might fall from the mountain roads of Iraq and God might ask him why he had not paved the roads in the area”
Everyone was equal before the law. A dispute between Caliph Omar(RA) and Abi Bin Kaab was settled by Zaid Bin Saabit(AS). Zaid (AS) while enquiring the case told Omar to sit right to him. Omar(AS) refused and said that ‘the Caliph and Kaab are equal before law’ (Hayat us Sahaba; Moulana Muhammad Yusuf). Merit based recruitment was introduced during his reign. Administrators needed to be pious and trustworthy and they were tested for few months before joining the administration permanently. It was a consensus oriented rule. Omar devised an institution called the ‘Shura’ which advised him on all important matters. Caliph ‘Omar (RA)said, “I find out that all of you are the leaders of your community and all matters that need to be decided stop upon all of you” Omar also introduced following reforms:
1.”Hisbah”. This is an institution to maintain law and order in the marketplace. It is headed by an officer known as muhtasib.
2. A special office for investigating complaints that reaches caliph. A very reliable and trustworthy person is appointed for the post.
3. A bait al-mal or Treasury House.
Omar’s(RA) caliphate can be regarded as the first welfare state of the world. Taxes (zakat and jizya) were used to provide income to destitute, needy, disabled, and weak, orphans and elders. He (RA) introduced a system of state allowance. After setting up the treasury, Omar (RA) started various programs for the welfare of the community. Everyone was entitled to an allowance regardless of the religion. A non Muslim who was unfit for work because of old age or due to some other calamity or misfortune was given maintenance and exempted from paying jizya. Omar (RA) also introduced child allowance. He (RA) ordered that as soon as mother stops breast feeding she should receive child allowance. But, Omar (RA) changed his order on seeing a woman whose baby was crying. Omar told her ‘your baby seems to be hungry’, you should therefore feed the baby first’. A little later when Omar again was passing the same place , he saw that the baby was still crying. Omar (RA) told the woman that ‘why aren’t you breastfeeding the baby? She replied that she was trying to wean the baby, so that she could get child allowance. Omar was shocked and said to himself that “God knows better how many babies suffered because of my order”. Next morning, he(RA) issued the order that mothers would get allowances as soon as the babies were born. (Hadhrat Umar Farooq; Rashid Ahmad Chaudry). In a famine, which hit areas of North Arabia and Syria, Omar (RA) sent food grains from Egypt and Medina. He (RA) visited the affected areas and distributed food grains and avoided meals most of the times. When Omar (RA) was asked to take care of his health. He replied, ‘’If I don’t taste suffering, how can I know the suffering of others”?
The treaty which was signed when Jerusalem was conquered clearly reflects the protection of minority rights as it read like this, “In the name of God, the Merciful, and the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Omar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land, on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. No Jew will live with them in Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem must pay the taxes like the people of other cities and must expel the Byzantines and the robbers. Those of the people of Jerusalem, who want to leave with the Byzantines, take their property and abandon their churches and crosses will be safe until they reach their place of refuge. The villagers may remain in the city if they wish but must pay taxes like the citizens. Those who wish may go with the Byzantines and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing is to be taken from them before their harvest is reaped. If they pay their taxes according to their obligations, then the conditions laid out in this letter are under the covenant of God, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the caliphs and of the faithful.”
The personal life of Omar(RA) was very austere and quite different from modern rulers. One of his companions said of him, “When he walked, he walked so quickly to find some place. When he spoke, he spoke loudly enough to be heard”. Omar’s (RA) food was simple which consisted of bread and olive oil. He(RA) wore a shirt only which was known
to have a number of patches in it.
Omar(RA) set an unparalleled and unique model of governance in the annals of history. The poor were given maintenance, the weak were offered a helping hand, women were given full rights, minorities were protected and the ruler patrolled in the city at night to find out the needs and requirements of people and worked like a slave for the welfare of people. Gibbon in his immortal work ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ says, ’Yet the abstinence and humility of Omar(RA) were not inferior to the virtues of Abu Bakr(RA), his food consisted of barley bread or dates, his drink was water, he preached in a gown that was torn or tattered at twelve places and a Persian Satrap who paid his homage to the conqueror found him asleep among the beggars on the steps on mosk (mosque) of Medina. Similarly, Sir William Muir says, ‘’Omar’s life requires but a few lines to sketch. Simplicity and duty were his guiding principles; impartiality and devotion the leading features if his administration; responsibility so weighed upon him that he was heard to exclaim that ‘my mother had not borne me, would that I had been this stalk of grass instead ’’.

—The author is a 3rd semester student at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.