Issue 20 / October - December 1997
The Governor With Four Faults
The second Caliph after the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab has a world-wide reputation for justice and simple life-style despite ruling a very vast area stretching from Abyssinia to Caucasia and from Egypt to Afghanistan. Every year during the Hajj season he summoned his governors to Makka and questioned the inhabitants of the cities about their governors. In one Hajj season, the inhabitants of Hims (Emessa) in Syria complained about their governor, Sa'id ibn 'Amir, and said: 'We have four complaints about him. First: He comes to his office late in the morning. Second: He does not attend to our wants at night. Third: He never comes out among us one day a week. Fourth: He sometimes loses his senses and almost goes mad.' 'Umar sent for the governor. When he came, he questioned him about the complaints of the people in their presence.
The governor explained the reason why he came to his office late in the morning:
It is not proper to explain it, but since you want me to, I consent to do it: I do not have any servants and my wife is ill. I knead the dough myself and make the bread, and only after doing other work at home am I able to leave for my office.
In answer to the second complaint of the people, the governor said:
Although it is not proper to explain this either, I will explain it since you want me to. I spend all my day among them to attend to their work and needs. When it is night, shall I not worship my Lord and accuse myself before Him for what I did during the long day?
The third complaint of the people was that Sa'id ibn 'Amir stayed at home one day a week and did not come out among the people. The governor answered that complaint:
As I said before, I do not have any servants and my wife is ill. I have only one suit of clothes and wash it on that day. That is why I cannot go out among them one day in the week.
The last complaint was that the governor sometimes lost his senses and almost went mad. The explanation was as follows:
When Hubayb was martyred by the Makkan polytheists I had not yet become a Muslim and was present on the scene. [Hubayb was among the deputation the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, sent to the tribes of Adal and al-Qarah to teach them the Qur'an upon their request. However, when the deputation halted to have a rest in the area where the Hudayl tribe lived, and while sleeping, they were all at once attacked by the Hudayli unbelievers. Three of the deputation were martyred, the rest, among whom were Hubayb and Zayd ibn Dasina were submitted to the Makkans. The Makkans kept Hubayb and Zayd as prisoners for some time and then took them out of the city to kill them.] When Hubayb was about to be killed, Abu Sufyan stepped forward and said to him:
I adjure you by God, Hubayb, don't you wish that Muhammad was with us now in your place so that we might cut off his head, and that you were with your family?'
'By God,' said Hubayb, 'let alone wishing that Muhammad were here in my place so that I were with my family, I do not wish that even a thorn should hurt his foot in Madina.'
Abu Sufyan was astonished by this answer. He turned to those present, and said:
'By God, I swear I have never seen a man who was so loved as Muhammad's Companions love him.'
I could have helped Hubayb then, but since I was then among those who associated partners with God, I did not. So, whenever I remember this event, thinking that God will never forgive me, I lose my senses and go almost mad.
'Umar, may God be pleased with him, was content with his governor's conduct and gave him one thousand gold pieces to meet his needs. However, the pious, righteous governor turned to his wife and said: 'Let us spend this for a day when we will need it more than at any other time. Let us distribute it among those poorer than us.'
The governor handed the gold pieces to one among his family to distribute them among the poor, which he did.
Almost all the governors of Caliph 'Umar were of a like quality in belief, conduct and understanding of administration. God-fearing, piety and righteousness were the lights by which they made their decisions and conducted their lives. It was the golden age in human history, or 'the Happy Time' as it is called in Islamic tradition.