Caliphate, Featured, Ruling

Law-making in the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab

When Umar ibn Al-Khattab was Caliph he wanted to adopt a law which would limit the Mahr for women.[1] So one day Umar delivered a khutbah[2] and said: “Do not give more than forty uqiyahs[3] in dowries to women, even if she is the daughter of Dhu al-Qissah – i.e., Yazeed ibn al-Husayn[4]. Whoever gives more than that, I will seize the extra amount and put it in the Bayt ul-mal[5].”

A woman objected to that and said, “You do not have the right to do that!” Umar asked, “Why not?” She said, “Because Allah, the Exalted, Almighty says:

وَآتَيْتُمْ إِحْدَاهُنَّ قِنطَارًا فَلَا تَأْخُذُوا مِنْهُ شَيْئًا ۚ أَتَأْخُذُونَهُ بُهْتَانًا وَإِثْمًا مُّبِينًا

“And if you have given one of them a Qintar[6], take not the least bit of it back; would you take it wrongfully without a right and with a manifest sin?” (An-Nisaa, 4:20)

‘Umar replied, “A woman is right and a man is wrong.”

According to another report, Umar said: “O’ Allah, forgive me! Everyone has more knowledge of religion than ‘Umar.” Then he went back and ascended the minbar and said: “O’ people, I used to forbid you to give women more than four hundred dirhams in their dowries, but now whatever anyone wants to give of his wealth of his own accord, let him do so.”[7]

This is Islam, where no one including the ruler is above the law. The Caliph is not a lawmaker, but is restricted by the legislative arm of the state which is the sharia. This fact was even noted by a number of orientalists.

C.A. Nallino said: But these universal monarchs of Islam, just like all other Muslim sovereigns, while they possessed to an unlimited degree executive power and some judicial power, are entirely lacking in legislative power; because legislation properly so called can only be the divine law itself, the shari’a, of which the ulama, or doctors, are alone the interpreters.[8]

Thomas Arnold said: The law being thus of divine origin demanded the obedience even of the Caliph himself, and theoretically at least the administration of the state was supposed to be brought into harmony with the dictates of the sacred law. It is true that by theory the Caliph could be a mujtahid, that is an authority on law, but the legal decisions of a mujtahid are limited to interpretation of the law in its application to such particular problems as may from time to time arise, and he is thus in no sense a creator of new legislation.[9]

In the Islamic State any law which the Caliph or his wazirs[10] or governors want to introduce will be scrutinised by the Mahkamat ul-Mazalim[11] and also by the sharia committee of the Majlis ul-Ummah[12] which contains the prominent ulema[13], both men and women, of the state. This is what happened when the believing woman stood up and accounted Umar.



[1] Dowry paid to women as part of the marriage contract

[2] Speech

[3] Uqiyah = 40 dirhams. 1 dirham approx. £1.28. 40 Uqiyah = 40×40 = 1600 dirhams approx. £2,048

[4] One of the nobility

[5] State Treasury

[6] Qintar: A weight of varying measures in different periods of Muslim history. One opinion is a Qintar (300Kg of gold) = £11million. This is for mubaalagah (hyperbole) meaning no limit.

[7] Muhammad As-Sallaabi, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, his life and times,’ vol.1, p.215

[8] C.A. Nallino, Appunti sulla natura del ‘Califfato’ in genere e sul presunto ‘Califfato Otttomano’, p. 200

[9] Thomas W. Arnold, ‘The Caliphate,’ Oxford University Press, 1924, p. 53

[10] Assistants

[11] Court of Unjust Acts

[12] House of Elected Representatives

[13] Scholars