, by KHAN YASIR
In this Section
“What’s this?” he asked. “These are royal carriages,” royal servants said with uneasy looks in their eyes “…for your conveyance,” they explained. The new caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz sternly said, “My mule is enough for my conveyance.” He ordered the whole royal stable to be sold and its amount to be surrendered to Baitul Maal (public exchequer). When he reached home he was very upset, his maid sensing the unusual tension asked the cause to which he replied, “What would be a better cause of being tensed than the fact that in the east and in the west not a single soul is there, for whose well-being and rights I am not responsible even if they do not demand, even if they do not claim.”
India has a plethora of problems – poverty, inflation, regional disparity, illiteracy, unemployment, discrimination against minorities/lower castes/women, terrorism, etc. Corruption is one of them. And it is for this menace of corruption that an overenthusiastic civil society has proposed a panacea – Janlokpal Bill. There are dramas, dialogues, dharnas, rallies, political fasts, etc. over this Bill. But let us suppose that the Bill is acceded to by the government in its totality or let’s suppose it passes with more rigorous provisions than those proposed by Anna and co. What would it result in? Between roars of laughter and thunderous applause a person asked the elite panel on NDTV India (in a programme Hum Log), “What would happen if this all powerful Lokpal would itself go corrupt? Would you then propose installation of a grand Lokpal? And if the same happened with that grand Lokpal; a grand grand Lokpal?” Thus the question: who-will-guard-the-guardians? – will continue to haunt each and every solution that is legally put to counter evils like corruption. So I propose a bill namely Umar bin Abdul Aziz bill, which is not legal in strictest sense of the term but besides eradicating corruption can solve all the above-mentioned problems the country is facing and that too within record time of a decade; and I can bet for that… Our leaders have just to step in the shoes of Umar bin Abdul Aziz and then… see the miracle.
After being nominated caliph, Umar bin Abdul Aziz addressed the people from the pulpit: “O people, I have been nominated your caliph despite my unwillingness and without your consent. So here I am, I relieve you of your pledge (baiyat) that you have taken for my allegiance. Elect whomsoever you find suitable as your caliph.” People shouted in unison, “O Umar, we have full faith in you and we want only you as our caliph.” Umar bin Abdul Aziz continued his address, “O people, obey me till I obey Allah; and if I disobey Allah, you are not duty bound to obey me.”
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
The first thing Umar bin Abdul Aziz did as a caliph was to return ancestral fiefs (jagir) of the royal family to their actual owners. When he expressed his intention, his advisers told him, “If you would return these properties then how would you manage your personal and family expenses?” he replied, “I leave that to Allah.” The royal family exerted itself with all its might to dispirit his reforms but he was adamant. Beginning from his person and his family he tore away all the property documents with scissors and allotted them to its rightful owners from whom it had been snatched away in the past. Orders were sent to all the provinces for return of such properties immediately. Claiming the lost property was not as big a task as to claim pension or ration cards today in India; little evidence was enough. In many cases properties were returned to heirs as original owners had died. He was so strict in this regard that he offered his beloved wife a choice between divorce or returning the jewels and precious stones that her father had gifted her. The truthful lady had obviously chosen the latter.
PUBLIC FUNDS ARE PUBLIC’S
Baitul Maal had ceased to be the treasure of the king in the reign of Umar bin Abdul Aziz. Its income and expenditure, both were regulated. All the impermissible sources of income were clogged and all extravagant expenditures were stopped. He abolished all the special stipends to the members of royal family.
To increase the amount of Baitul Maal, Hajjaj used to take poll tax (jizya) even from newly converted Muslims. Umar bin Abdul Aziz strictly put an end to this un-Islamic practice. Governors had to carry out this order, some of them complained of reduction of funds and that they had to take loan to pay regular stipends (it could be compared to balance of payment crisis that India faced in late 80s). Umar bin Abdul Aziz responded, “abolish jizya anyhow, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) was sent as a prophet and not as a tax collector.” He abolished home tax, marriage tax, stamp tax and many other taxes as well.
Once during his reign a dirham, a single dirham went missing from Yemen’s Baitul Maal (think of ‘missing’ millions in India today). Umar bin Abdul Aziz wrote to the official in charge that you do not appear to be dishonest (as one dirham is very paltry an amount) but I consider your negligence an offence. So on behalf of Muslims (read public) I ask you to swear in public by Lord Almighty that you are innocent.
Yazid bin Mehlab – Governor of Khurasan was promptly probed and dismissed by Umar bin Abdul Aziz on the charges of corruption.
Abu Bakr bin Hazm – Governor of Madinah submitted an application to the caliph demanding more funds for candlesticks, lamp glasses, paper, pen, ink, etc. for official work. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wrote back in reply, “Remember the days when in the darkness of night, without any light, you used to tread all the way from your home to Masjid-e-Nabawi. Now surely you are better off. Make the point of your pen finer, write closely (leave little space between the lines). And be frugal in your public expenses.” (One can only think of the government servants’ extravagant usage of amenities that they are provided with in India; especially wastage of petrol, electricity, phone; even if petty things like ink and paper are not mentioned).
Besides, Umar bin Abdul Aziz made it mandatory to register every handicap of the empire and gave special stipends to each and every one of them. (I am recalling letters of severely handicap people, who being fed up with their penury, wrote to the President of India asking the permission for committing suicide).
Umar bin Abdul Aziz devoted a portion of the public exchequer to pay off the debt of the parsimonious people, who due to some reason could not pay off their loans. (At this moment, can anyone stop thinking of debt-ridden farmers of Vidarbha who are committing suicides for years as they cannot repay their loans and interests?)
In his reign food was provided as a basic right and state managed free stalls of food for poor and beggars. (…and what is the situation of starvation deaths in India? And how many in our country couldn’t afford two square meals a day?)
Umar bin Abdul Aziz ordered for construction of caravanserais and lodges for travellers throughout his reign. In these lodges one day and night stay with food was free for all the travellers. For those who were unwell this term was for two days and two nights. If some traveller had no money or means of transportation to return home, he was despatched home on the state expenses. (And today, if we lose our wallet i.e. if it is pick-pocketed – as often is the case – we couldn’t travel back home without resorting to begging for travel expenses in the first place).
Once for some official work a Muslim caught hold of a horse belonging to a dhimmi without giving him any pay. Umar bin Abdul Aziz ordered forty lashes to him for this oppression.
Once a dhimmi charged Prince Abbas bin Waleed of grabbing his land. Umar bin Abdul Aziz summoned Abbas. Abbas said: “I have been allotted this land by caliph Waleed and I have its papers with me.” Dhimmi said, “But I want justice according to the Book of God.” Umar bin Abdul Aziz pronounced his verdict, “The word of God (Qur’ān) is prior to the certificates of Waleed” and allotted the land to the dhimmi. (And now Muslims can only lament at the plight of their waqf lands in India!)
In Damascus a church was razed at the behest of some influential aristocratic Muslim family, and according to some narrations a mosque was erected in its place. Christians approached the court of Umar bin Abdul Aziz. He investigated their claim and had the settlement (a mosque?) demolished, making way for the church in its rightful place. (Babri Masjid! – no explanations are needed the very name spells tragedy of the minorities in this largest democratic country of the world).
DEALING WITH TERRORISM
Umar bin Abdul Aziz dismissed and banished Hajjaj’s whole family and aides from positions of power and authority as they were indulged in oppression and misdeeds. (Contrary is the case of India where our Narendra Modi is still in the saddle, and many officers who aggravated the riots with their indifference, inaction and sometimes actual rioting have actually got promotions for a job well done).
Due to frequent rebellion and anti-state movements in Umayyad dynasty; arrests, punishments even beheading on suspicion was tolerated. Umar bin Abdul Aziz abolished all this. In Mausil incidents of theft and burglary, due to various reasons, soared. Yahaya Ghassani – Governor of Mausil wrote to the caliph that, “Collecting evidences as per the standards of sharia is a tough task and without punishing people on doubt, crimes could not be curtailed.” Umar bin Abdul Aziz in his reply said, “Punish the offenders only when conclusive evidence is found. If truth cannot reform them, let them not be reformed.” Likewise, governor of Khurasan wrote that people of Khurasan were wild and rebellious in nature; and nothing but scourge and sword could control them. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wrote in reply, “Your theory that nothing but scourge and sword could control your people is absolutely nonsensical. Truth and justice can control them; spread truth and justice in your reign (and see for yourself).” (I could not stop thinking of erstwhile TADA, POTA, AFSPA and various other so-called special acts in India that make a mockery of rule of law and human rights).
News reached Umar bin Abdul Aziz that some officials in Persia used to buy fruit from local farmers at a price lower than its market value. And that some tribes levy journey tax on travellers. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wrote to the governor of the province, “I am sending an investigating commission to inquire into these matters; it will return the fruit to its owners and will take other necessary steps if complaints are found justifiable. Do not dare interrupting with its proceedings. And if I found that all this happened with your acquiescence or even with your tacit support then I will not spare you for sure.” (One can recollect at the moment the pot-bellied hawaldar that we could find in every street of India relishing tea, cigarette, paan, bidi, etc. – all for free).
Kharjites were staunch opponent of the Umayyad dynasty since the beginning. Despite great amount of blood spilling they still existed; though not powerful but they were still a nuisance. Umar bin Abdul Aziz invited them unconditionally for a dialogue. (Could Indian government even think of this in order to resolve the various regional disputes?) He wrote to them, “Come let’s debate, if we are true, accept our rule and if you are true then we would reconsider our position” (can India dare think of reconsidering its position in matters such disputes?). And finally when dialogues failed he allowed violent action as a last resort on the following conditions:
Women, children, prisoners and the wounded should not be killed. Those who would run off from the battlefield must not be chased down.
Booty would be returned to the families of the enemy.
Prisoners will be held only till their repentance.
(I wonder what code of conduct our armed forces followed in Forbesganj? And who has given them licence to unleash atrocities of every kind and magnitude in Kashmir and North East?)
CHARACTER OF UMAR BIN ABDUL AZIZ
Umar bin Abdul Aziz once asked his wife, “Do you have a dirham? I feel like eating grapes.” His wife – empty-handed as she was – argued in a fit of anger, “You are caliph and you don’t even afford a dirham for yourself?” The Caliph said with a sigh, “It is easier for me than being handcuffed in the hell-fire.”
Despite strict orders to the contrary, perhaps a new servant heated the water for Umar bin Abdul Aziz’s ablutions, from the public mess (meant for state guests, poor and needy people). When Umar bin Abdul Aziz realised this after a month, he repaid that much amount of wood to the public exchequer.
Once he told his servant to roast meat. The servant roasted that in the public mess and came back. Umar bin Abdul Aziz told him, “Eat it, it was not in my destiny.”
Earlier Umar bin Abdul Aziz didn’t eat at the state mess but he was forced to eat there because of some guests who refused to eat in absence of the caliph. From then onwards he used to eat with guests in the public mess but always paid for every single diet.
In the night till the time he would perform state duties he would use a candle provided to him from Baitul Maal, but if in between he was interrupted with some personal task, he would put off that candle and either light his own or in its absence (as more often was the case) grope in darkness.
Once he was distributing apples when his small child came out and picked up an apple and was about to bite when Umar bin Abdul Aziz saw and snatched it away from him. When an inconsolable child complained to his mother she bought a few apples for him. When Umar bin Abdul Aziz returned home he smelled of apples and fearfully asked, “Any Baitul Maal’s apple had been brought in?” When his wife narrated the story, he said, “By God, I had not snatched that apple from his hand but from my heart itself. But I didn’t like that for an apple I would ruin my honesty before my Lord.”
Once musk from Baitul Maal was brought to him and he tightly closed his mouth and nose in order not to inhale its fragrance.
If a state is ruled with piety, sense of responsibility towards the ruled and sense of accountability towards the Almighty then it would result in an abode of happiness and paradise on earth where everybody is content and satisfied, where there is no oppression, no violation of human rights and no corruption. Umar bin Abdul Aziz in merely two-years--five-months period of his caliphate left an empire in which governors of the provinces had funds of zakat and sadaqa to distribute among the poor and the needy but they were not able to find one; an empire in which the amount of tax collected (despite so many unjust taxes abolished and leniency in collection) increased manifold compared to his predecessors’ reign; an empire where a governor complained to him that people are so happy and content that there is a fear that they would indulge in pride and conceit. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wrote to him that, “When Allah would order people of paradise to enter paradise on the Day of Judgment he would order them to say Alhamdulillah (all the praise and thanks belong to the Allah). So you too tell your people to thank Allah for their present happiness.”
As we would have realised by now that we don’t need new incompetent laws, as we are already overflowing with them. We have only made laws since independence and made the existing ones more stringent at times. But to what avail? As new laws are blocking extant areas of corruption, new avenues are found out to defy their meaningfulness by our creative criminals of every stratum in the society. It is high time we realised that LAW ALONE IS NOT THE REMEDY. Laws are useless if we can defy them and get away with it. What is required is strengthening of the police – police within our heart. What is required is the belief in the CCTV cameras – the ones with which angels are recording our deeds no matter how many curtains behind we live. What is required is a faith in the court – court on the day of judgement in which despite all our influences we would be unable to bribe The Judge or to mislead Him. These are the articles of the Umar bin Abdul Aziz Bill that could be summarised in the following three points, 1. Faith in One Omnipotent and Omniscient Allah, 2. Faith in prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him), 3. Faith in the Day of Judgement. These beliefs manifest themselves in the character of Umar bin Abdul Aziz – and it is such type of characters that we lack in today, not anything else.
I have faith in humanity’s rational faculties. And so I bet that nobody if presented with an Umar bin Abdul Aziz bill would oppose its passage. The billion dollar question however is that: are we Muslims prepared to propose Umar bin Abdul Aziz bill with our deeds in the street and with our words in the parliament?