A couple of years ago, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, while addressing a gathering of Muslims at India Islamic International Centre, claimed that he was ‘deeply impressed by the governance model of Caliph Umar and would try to emulate him’. The Delhi CM, however, did not spell out the reasons for his adoration. It would have been in the fitness of things if he had referred to history of Islam before showering wholesome praises on him.
Although tomes have been written about his valour and administrative acumen, Caliph Umar bin Al- Khatta’b, historians say, was one of the most controversial and cruel personages in the Islamic history. He is reviled by a large section of Muslims because he was the chief tormentor of Prophet Muhammad’s close relatives, including his son-in-law Ali and daughter Fatima. Many Islamic scholars hold him responsible for the death of Fatima at a prime age of 18 years — close on the heels of her father’s demise.
The tragic story
Prophet Muhammad married off his daughter at the age of 15 years to his cousin and most trusted lieutenant Ali. Although Fatima — about whom Muhammad used to say: ‘Fatima is part of me’ — was cynosure of all eyes at the Prophet’s house (Ahl e-Bayt), his young wife Ayesha disliked her and her husband. Author Saiyid Safar Hosain, in his book The Early History of Islam, quoting Hadis and other authentic Arabic and Persian sources, vouches that Prophet had declared Ali his successor months before his death. Taking Ali’s ‘hand into his own and lifting it upright’, Muhammad proclaimed, “Whomsoever I own the guardianship, Ali too owns the guardianship of that. May God uphold those who befriend Ali and may He turn from those who turn enemy to him.” After Muhammad made this announcement, among his supporters, Umar bin Al Khattab was the first person to congratulate Ali and acknowledge him “Guardian of all Believers”. All his wives and ladies in the Prophet’s house congratulated Ali.
However, this move did not go down well with Prophet’s teenaged wife Ayesha and her coterie. Fearing her arch-rival Ali would succeed Muhammad as Caliph, ‘artful’ Ayesha besieged the bed of the Prophet when he was reeling under life-threatening illness, restricting access to others. As his health deteriorated, the power struggle within the nascent faith also assumed monstrous proportions. Some scholars say he wanted to put an end to this by recording his will. But Umar scuttled his plans.
“On Thursday preceding his death, when several of his chief companions were present in bed, asked for writing materials, saying: “Bring me paper and ink so that I may record for you a document which shall prevent your ever backsliding into error. Umar, the Discriminator, at once interposed thus: ‘The man wandereth in delirium, God’s Book is sufficient for us’. Some of those present said that writing materials should be furnished; others sided with Umar. A discussion ensued and the voices rose high to the annoyance of the Prophet. The ladies from behind the screens wished to provide the writing materials, Umar chided them. …..The Prophet hearing this said: ‘Chide them not: Verily they are still much better than ye are.’
The Early History of Islam (Pages 257-58)
Thus, the Prophet died a heartbroken man. According to Islamic scholars, the prophet’s body remained unburied for three days, as his supporters were fighting over who would succeed the Prophet. Finally, Ali gave the burial bath to the body of Prophet, after it started decaying. While Ali was performing the burial, Abu Bakr, the father of Ayesha, and Umar, were busy finalising the succession plan and did not attend the funeral. According to their plan, Abu Bakr would succeed the Prophet who would be succeeded by Umar.
New Caliphate seizes Fatima’s property
The death of the father had affected Fatima’s health. The new Caliphate under Abu Bakr confiscated the property Fatima inherited. Umar and his associates threatened to set ablaze her house if her husband Ali did not extend his support to Abu Bakr. In fact, Umar was taking a leaf out of Muhammad’s book when he used violence to settle disagreements.
Fatima was physically assaulted by Umar’s henchman which led to the abortion of the fetus, namely Muhsin. The attack didn’t stop there. A few months later, her house was burnt down. The mistreatment by her father’s Sahaba (companions) left her a bitter person. She requested her husband not to allow anyone of them to attend her funeral when she dies. In an elegy to her father, she gave expression to her plight and helplessness.
What blame should be on one who smells Ahmed’s soil
That he shall never smell any precious person at all?
Calamities have been poured on me (like waters boil)
Were they poured on days, they would become nights.
In the shade of Muhammad, I enjoyed all protection
And he was my beauty, and I feared no oppression,
But now I surrender to the lowly and fear I am done
Injustice, pushing my oppressor with only my gown.
So, if a dove cries during its night, forlorn,
Out of grief on its twig, I cry in my morn.
So, I shall after you let grief be a companion for me,
And my tears that mourn you my cover they shall be.
Finally she breathed her last 5 August 632 AD — exactly 75 days after her father’s death.