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Bay’a in Islamic History: Umar bin Abdul-Aziz changes the bay’a back to shura

How Umar bin Abdul-Aziz became the Heir Apparent

When Sulayman ibn Abdul-Malik was Khaleefah he was advised by the righteous scholar Raja’ bin Haywah al-Kundi, to nominate his nephew and Wazir Umar bin Abdul-Aziz as the next Khaleefah instead of his own son and brother. Sulayman did this, and knowing that Banu Umayyah would not be happy, he nominated his brother Yazeed ibn Abdul-Malik as the Khaleefah after Umar.

Raja’ bin Haywah who was the provisional leader overseeing the transition process to the next Khaleefah, describes the events surrounding Umar bin Abdul-Aziz’s nomination as narrated by Tabari.

Raja’ bin Haywah says: ‘On the day of Jumu’ah, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik was wearing green silk robes and as he looked in mirror, he said: “By Allah! I am a young king.” He then left for prayer, led the people in the Friday congregation and he did not return except that he had fallen ill.

When he later burdened his son, Ayyub, who was just a boy at the time, with writing a book on his Khilafah, I said: “What are you doing, O Amir ul-Mu’mineen? Among the things that can preserve the Khaleefah in his grave is the appointment of a righteous successor.” Sulayman said: “I will seek Allah’s counsel on the book. Wait and see. I have not decided upon it yet.”

After one or two days, however, he had torn up the book and upon summoning me, he said: “What do you think of Dawud bin Sulayman?” I answered: “He is away in Constantinople and you do not know if he is alive or dead.” He said: “O Raja’, who do you see fit?” So I said: “It is your choice, O Amir ul-Mu’mineen. I want to see who you mention.”

He then said: “What do you think of Umar bin Abdul-Aziz?” I replied: “I know, by Allah, that he is a pious, good Muslim.” So he said: “He was certainly that while he was governor. He is not the first in line considering Abd al-Malik’s sons, and will certainly never leave him to be appointed over them unless I make one of them his successor after him. Yazeed ibn Abd al-Malik is absent this season, so I will make him his successor. This should appease Umar and keep the others satisfied.” I said: “It is your choice.” He then wrote down:

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

This is a deed from the servant of Allah, Sulayman bin ‘Abd al-Malik, Amir ul-Mu’mineen, to Umar bin Abdul-Aziz. Verily, I have handed over the Khilafah to him after me, and after him, to Yazeed ibn ‘Abd al-Malik. Therefore, hear and obey him, fear Allah and do not differ over it lest it make you avaricious.

He then sealed the deed and sent Ka’ab bin Hamid, Chief of Police, to the members of his family who he had told to gather, which they did.

Next, he sent the letter with me after giving me instructions to inform them that it was his deed, to pass it on to all of them and then to take their bay’a to the one he appointed therein. Accordingly, I went to them and when I told them that it was the deed of Sulayman, they automatically said: “We hear and we obey whoever is in it. May we enter and give our greetings to the Amir al-Mu’mineen?” I answered in the affirmative and they entered upon Sulayman who said to them: “This deed – and pointed to it for them to look at in my hands – is my covenant, so hear, obey and pledge allegiance to whoever is named therein.” He then left while the sealed deed was in my hand.

After Sulayman’s death, the provisional leader Raja’ ascended the minbar in Dabiq Masjid and opened Sulayman’s sealed deed, which Banu Umayyah had pledged upon previously, and read out its contents. Raja’ says, ‘When I reached the part that mentioned Umar’s name, Hisham exclaimed: “We will never pledge allegiance to him!” I said: “I will, by Allah, have you beheaded! Stand up and give bay’a!” So dragging his feet, he stood up. I then escorted Umar onto the Minbar where I sat him down while Umar was visibly reluctant.[1]

The provisional leader has the power to call on the police to assist him in quelling rebellion and dissent during the transition process if required. The police chief assisting Raja’ was Ka’ab bin Hamid al-‘Unsi.[2]

This is similar to what occurred when Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed the council of six to nominate a new Khaleefah after his death. Suhaib Ar-Rumi was appointed as the Provisional Leader of the state overseeing the election process, and he was assisted by Abu Talha Al-Ansari who had 50 men with him to protect the council.[3]

This incident clearly shows that the adopted laws regarding the bay’a were adhered to by the ahlul hali wal-aqd. No one is above the law in the Khilafah, not even Hisham, a future Khaleefah who was part of the ruling family.

Why didn’t Umar bin Abdul-Aziz want to be Khaleefah?

As mentioned, Sulayman’s decision on nominating Umar bin Abdul-Aziz was sealed so no one could read it. The only one aware of its contents was the provisional leader Raja’ bin Haywah. Umar had a suspicion that Sulayman had nominated him so he went to Raja’ and asked him: “O Abi al-Miqdam! I fear that Sulayman might have attached this affair to me in some way. If Sulayman has any reverence and respect for me, or wished to put my mind at ease, I implore by Allah and my respect and esteem, that you inform me if this is the case, so I can ask him to pardon me of it now before a situation emerges in which I will have no power to do so, as I have no power on the Hour.” Raja’ replied: “No, by Allah, not even a single letter.” Umar then left angrily.

The reason for this reluctance was due to the immense responsibility on the neck of the ruler, and the taqwa of Umar bin Abdul-Aziz which is an essential attribute of any leader. Without taqwa the ruler has the propensity for severe oppression as we witness throughout the world today. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “A ruler who, having obtained control over the affairs of the Muslims, does not strive for their betterment and does not serve them sincerely shall not enter Paradise with them.”[4]

Despite this heavy responsibility and reluctance Umar accepted the position of Khaleefah and was a just Khaleefah , an Imam ‘Adil as mentioned in the hadith:

 سبعة يظلهم الله في ظله يوم لا ظل إلا ظله‏:‏ إما عادل

“Seven types of people Allah will shade them by His Shade on the Day of Resurrection when there will be no shade except His Shade. They will be, a just ruler…”[5]

He discharged his duties in an exemplary manner and so is exempt from the humiliation on the day of judgement. It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Dharr who said:

قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَلاَ تَسْتَعْمِلُنِي قَالَ فَضَرَبَ بِيَدِهِ عَلَى مَنْكِبِي ثُمَّ قَالَ

يَا أَبَا ذَرٍّ إِنَّكَ ضَعِيفٌ وَإِنَّهَا أَمَانَةٌ وَإِنَّهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ خِزْىٌ وَنَدَامَةٌ إِلاَّ مَنْ أَخَذَهَا بِحَقِّهَا وَأَدَّى الَّذِي عَلَيْهِ فِيهَا

I said to the Prophet ﷺ: “Messenger of Allah, will you not appoint me to a public office?” He stroked my shoulder with his hand and said: “Abu Dharr, you are weak and authority is a trust, and on the Day of judgment it is a cause of humiliation and repentance except for one who fulfils its obligations and (properly) discharges the duties attendant therein.”[6]

Changing the bay’a back to shura

As-Sallabi mentions the events after Umar bin Abdul-Aziz had received the bay’a. “Having now officially assumed the seat of the Khilafah, Umar ascended the Minbar (pulpit) in what would be his first encounter with the Ummah. He said: “O people! I have been burdened with the responsibilities of the Khilafah against my own will and without your consent. I thereby remove the bay’a to me that is on your necks so that you are at liberty to elect anyone whom you like.” But the audience cried out with one voice that he was the fittest person for the high office and said: “We have chosen you, O Amir al-Mu’mineen, and we are pleased that you have blessed and honoured our good affair.” At this juncture, Umar sensed that he was not going to be able to evade bearing the responsibility of the Khilafah, and so he decided to go on with determining his method and approach in dealing with the politics of the Muslim Ummah…”[7]

After Umar bin Abdul-Aziz’s death, the Umayyads continued with the wiliyatul-Ahd (succession contract) and so Yazeed ibn Abdul-Malik (Yazeed II) became the Khaleefah according to the contract laid down by Sulayman.

The Mujaddid (reviver) of the first century

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْعَثُ لِهَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ عَلَى رَأْسِ كُلِّ مِائَةِ سَنَةٍ مَنْ يُجَدِّدُ لَهَا دِينَهَا

“At the turn of every century, Allah will send a person to rectify (tujaddidu) the religious affairs of this Ummah.”[8]

The scholars and historians unanimously agree that Umar bin Abd al-Aziz was the first Mujaddid (Reviver; Renewer) in Islam. The first person to ascribe this title to him was Imam Muhammad bin Shihab az-Zuhri, followed by Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal who said: “It is narrated in the Hadith that at the turn of every century Allah will send a person to rectify the religious affairs of this Ummah. We saw that the Mujaddid of the first century was Umar bin Abdul-Aziz.”[9]

The reason he is known as a mujaddid is because he renewed the ruling principles of the rightly guided Khilafah. He started with abolishing hereditary rule, and reviving the concept of shura where the ahlul hali wal-aqd freely choose the leader. He went on to revive the principles of accountability and justice for all citizens, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and he applied justice not just internally but externally in the state’s foreign policy. This occurred with his abolition of unjust customs duties (maks)[10], and withdrawing the army from Samarkand because it didn’t follow the sharia method of conquest.[11]

Notes


[1] al-Tabari, ‘The History of Al-Tabari’, State University of New York Press, Volume XXIV, pp.70

[2] Dr. Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘Umar bin Abd al-Aziz,’ Darussalam, p.106

[3] al-Tabari, Op.cit., Volume XIV, p.146

[4] Sahih Muslim, https://sunnah.com/muslim:142g

[5] Al-Bukhari and Muslim, https://sunnah.com/riyadussalihin:376

[6] Sahih Muslim 1825, https://www.sunnah.com/muslim/33/19

[7] As-Sallabi, Op.cit. pp.107

[8] Sunan Abi Dawud 4291, https://sunnah.com/abudawud:4291

[9] As-Sallabi, Op.cit. pp.203

[10] Ibid, pp.154

[11] Ibid, pp.150