28 – ‘Umar

When the two envoys returned to Mecca with the news that they had been rebuffed and that the Muslims had been established in the favor of the Negus, Quraysh were indignant and dismayed. They immediately set about intensifying their repression and persecution of the believers, largely under the direction of Abu Jahl, whose nephew ‘Umar was one of the most violent and unrestrained in carrying out his instructions. ‘Umar was at this time about twenty-six years old, a head-strong young man, not easily deterred, and of great resolution. But unlike his uncle he was pious, and here in fact lay his chief motive for opposing the new religion. Khattab had brought him up to venerate the Ka’bah and to respect everything that had come to be inseparably connected with it in the way of gods and goddesses. It was all woven together for him into a sacred unity that was not to be questioned and still less tampered with. Quraysh also had been one; but Mecca was now a city of two religions and two communities. He saw clearly, moreover, that the trouble had one cause only. Remove the man who was that cause, and everything would soon be as it had been before. There was no other remedy, but that would be a certain remedy. He continued to brood along these lines, and eventually the day came -it was soon after the return of the unsuccessful envoys from Abyssinia- when a sudden wave of anger goaded him to action, and taking up his sword he set out from his house.

No sooner had he left it than he came face to face with Nu’aym ibn ‘Abd Allah, one of his fellow clansmen. Nu’aym had entered Islam, but he kept this a secret in fear of ‘Umar and others of his people. The grim expression which he now saw on ‘Umar’s face prompted him to ask him where he was going. “I am going to Muhammad, that renegade, who hath split Quraysh into two,” said ‘Umar, “and I shall kill him.” Nu’aym tried to stop him by pointing out that he himself would certainly be killed. But when he saw that ‘Umar was deaf to such an argument he thought of another way by which he might at least delay him, in time to give the alarm. This would mean betraying a secret of fellow Muslims who, like himself, were concealing their Islam; but he knew that they would forgive him, and even applaud him, in the circumstances. “O ‘Umar,” he said, “why not first go back to the people of thine own house, and set them to rights.” What people of my house?” said ‘Umar. “Thy brother -in-law Sa’id and thy sister Fatimah,” said Nu’aym. “They are both followers of Muhammad in his religion. On thy head may it fall if thou let them be.” WIthout a word ‘Umar turned and made straight for his sister’s house.

Now there was a poor confederate of Zuhrh named Khabbab who often came to recite the Qur’an to Sa’id and Fatimah; and he was with them at that moment with some written pages of the Surah named Ta-Ha[1] which had just been revealed and which they were reading together. When they heard the voice of ‘Umar angrily calling out his sister’s name as he approached, Khabbab hid in a corner of the house, and Fatimah took the manuscript and put it under her gown. But ‘Umar had heard the sound of their reading, and when he came in he said to them: “What was that gibbering I heard?” They tried to assure him he had heard nothing. “Hear it I did,” he said, “and I am told that ye both have become followers of Muhammad.” Then he set upon his brother-in-law Sa’id and grappled with him, and when Fatimah went to the defense of he husband, ‘Umar struck her a blow which broke the skin. “It is even so,” they said, “we are Muslims and we believe in God and in His Messenger. So do what thou wilt.” Fatimah’s wound was bleeding, and when ‘Umar saw the blood he was sorry for what he had done. A change came over him, and he said to his sister: “Give me that script that I even now heard you reading, that I may see what it is that Muhammad hath brought.” Like them, ‘Umar could read; but when he asked for the script she said, “We fear to trust thee with it.” “Fear not,” he said, and, unbuckling his sword-belt and laying down his sword, he swore by his gods that he would give it back when he had read it. She could see that he was softened, and she was filled with longing that he should enter Islam. “O my brother,” she said, “thou art impure in thine idolatry, and only the pure may touch it.” Thereupon ‘Umar went and washed himself, and she gave him the page on which was written the opening of Ta-Ha. He began to read it, and when he had read a passage he said, “How beautiful and how noble are these words!” When Khabbab heard this he came out from his hiding-place and said: “‘Umar, I have hope that God hath chosen thee through the prayer of His Prophet, whom yesterday I heard pray: ‘O God, strengthen Islam with Abu l-Hakam the son of Hisham or with ‘Umar the son of Khattab!'” “O Khabbab,” said ‘Umar, “where will Muhammad now be, that I may go to him and enter Islam?” Khabbab told him that he was at the house of Arqam near the Safa Gate with many of his companions; and ‘Umart girt on his sword again and went to Safa, knocked at the door of the house, and said who he was. They had been warned by Nu’aym, so that his coming was not unepected, but they were struck by the subdued tone of his voice. One of the companions went to the door and looked through a chink and came back in some dismay. “O Messenger of God,” he said, “it is indeed ‘Umar and he is girt with his sword.” “Let him come on,” said Hamzah. “If he hath come with good intent, we will give him a wealth of good; and if his intent be evil, we will slay him with his own sword.” The Prophet agreed that he should be admitted and, advancing to meet him, he seized him by the belt and pulled him into the middle of the room, saying: “What hath brought thee here, O son of Khattab? I cannot see thee desisting until God send down some calamity upon thee.” “O Messenger of God,” said ‘Umar, “I have come to thee that I may declare my faith in God, and in His Messenger and in what he hath brought from God.” “Allahu Akbar (God is Most Great),” said the Prophet, in such a way that every man and woman in the house knew that ‘Umar had entered Islam; and they all rejoiced.[1]

There was no question of ‘Umar’s keeping his Islam secret. He wished to tell everyone, in particular those who were most hostile to the Prophet. In after years he used to say: “When I entered Islam that night, I thought to myself: Which of the people in Mecca is the most violent in enmity against God’s Messenger, that I may go to him and tell him I have become a Muslim? My answer was: Abu Jahl. So the next morning I went and knocked at his door, and Abu Jahl came out and said: “The best of welcomes to my sister’s son! What hath brough thee here?” I answered: “I came to tell thee that I believe in god and in His Messenger Muhammad; and I testify to the truth of that which he hath brought.” “God curse thee!” he said, “and may His curse be on the tidings thou hast brought!” Then he slammed the door in my face.”[2]


[1] I.I. 227
[2] I.I. 230

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