By Ubaidullah Alhassan
In this modern era, we mostly complain about the failure and inefficiency of our leaders. This is true as most of them have failed to measure up to our standards and expectations. It has become worse to a point that our ideologies and perception of leadership have been influenced; we feel that all things are the same and the recurrent pattern of failure will remain forever. It is sad enough that little or nothing has been done to make us feel better. Whenever I reflect on the present state of our leadership system, I compare everything to a great man who lived many centuries ago. He is the Muslim hero, Umar ‘Al-Faruq’ the son of Al-Khattab, and also the second successor (Caliph) of the holy prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I always say to myself: “If only our leaders possess one percent of the character of Umar, we would all feel safe and happy.” Our focus should not be on the religion, class, race or tribe of our leaders, but we need to make sure they are able to follow a praiseworthy example which is clearly evident in the beautiful model of the renowned great Caliph Umar.
Before embracing Islam, Umar was a typical figure during the age of ignorance, with a ruthless and savage character. After being blessed with faith, he became altruistic, self-controlled, and meticulous about the law. His harsh and brutal nature metamorphosed into a merciful and tender one. This even increased when he was appointed as the leader of the Muslims. He became more God-fearing, conscious and affectionate towards his affairs, people and jurisdiction.
As caliph, he was a highly responsible person who always maintained the peace of his community. He would say, “I fear that Allah may ask me about if a sheep is lost by the Euphrates river.” This is such a wonderful statement that shows how much a compassionate leader he was. It is interesting to note that the distance between the river and the Muslim headquarters in Madinah is over 1600 kilometers.
In the evenings, he used to go around the neighborhoods of the city carrying supplies on his shoulders to help the orphans and the needy. He was never satisfied in spirit until he consoles broken hearts, wipes tears from eyes, and makes the downcast to smile. He was much aware of what he had been entrusted with that he worked hard, day and night, to fulfill his task. Yet he was never contented with the services he rendered. He was never at ease. He followed the noble footsteps of his predecessors and he forever remains renowned as a just and praiseworthy leader, for he was in awe of his responsibility.
The basic goal of this venerable man was to ensure the wellbeing of his community. He forgot his own problems and he took on the community’s problems, turning them into his constant concern. He strictly followed the examples set by the Prophet who led before him. He never forgot how much the Prophet suffered and struggled to succeed, and he followed in the Prophet’s sacred track and managed to find the right way.
The most notable of Umar’s caliphate was the vast expansion of Islam. Along with the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, and what is today Iran also came under the protection of his government. The wealth of the Byzantine and Persian empires began to flow into Madinah, and the standard of living of the Muslim community began to improve. Yet Umar maintained the same lifestyle that he had followed before. Though his state grew in splendor and its treasuries were overflowing, he kept on giving the Friday sermon in patched clothes. He lived a humble life to protect himself from the seduction of his lower self.
In a famous incident, when Umar traveled to Damascus to put the new Islamic government on a firm footing after the conquest of Syria, he was accompanied by only a single attendant, and rode only a single camel. He suggested to his attendant that the two of them ride the camel by turns. The attendant rejected the offer, saying that the people would be confused. Yet Umar insisted, and made the man get on the camel. As the turns fell out, when the two of them entered Damascus, the servant was riding and the ruler was walking.
He was also known as “Al-Faruq” which means the distinguisher between truth and falsehood. He served as a staunch advocate for justice. He kept all measures in place to avoid any form of corruption, nepotism or mismanagement.
Though he governed an empire, he kept its public funds separate from his private funds. He personally fall into debts and faced difficulties in life. He accepted only a small allowance from the treasury, and living on that amount, led a hand-to-mouth existence. He lived so humble a life that many visitors did not grasp that he was, indeed, the great Caliph Umar. When the people insisted that he increased his allowances, Umar beautifully said: “My two friends and I are like three travelers. The first (the Prophet) reached his place. The second (Abu Bakr, the immediate leader after the Prophet) reunited with the first by following the same path. And I, as the third, wants to join them. If I go over-laden, I won’t be able to catch them! Don’t you want me to be the third traveler on this path?”
The following are beautiful statements made by the great Caliph Umar:
“The one I love most is the one who tells me my faults.”
“Among people whom I do not know, the most beloved to me is the one who has a good name. Among people whom I do know, the most beloved to me is the one who has a good manner. Among people who I am examining, the most beloved to me is the one who speaks the truth.”
“Once a task is postponed, it is difficult to move it forward again.”
“If you do not live what you believe, you will begin to believe what you live.”
“The hidden witness of an evil act is our conscience.”
Indeed there are countless lessons left for us to derive from the exemplary leadership and character of the great Caliph Umar. He is not only an example for all Muslims but also for every leader in the world. If only our leaders could follow the “Umar Model,” we would move from a society filled with selfish, incompetent, irresponsible and inefficient leaders to a one mainly characterised with overall growth and development in every sector.
Ubaidullah Alhassan is from Kogi State, Nigeria. He is a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.