Omar ibn Al-Khattab was born in Mecca sometime between 579 and 583 AD and was a member of the prominent Banu Adi clan of the Quraysh tribe. He was initially hostile to Mohammed and Islam and even took part in the persecution of Muslims before the first migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He then converted to Islam in 616 AD and joined the Hegira (migration) from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. Eventually, this would lead to the fall of Jerusalem in 638 AD according to the Biblical Timeline with World History.
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As Rashidun Caliph
A succession issue rose between his father-in-law Abu Bakr and son-in-law Ali (as well their supporters) upon the death of Mohammed. Abu Bakr, however, prevailed as Mohammed’s successor and leader of the ummah (Muslim community). Even without Islam’s first and most revered Prophet, Abu Bakr managed to bind together the Muslims during his short two-year rule and expand their territory first by going against the weakened Persian empire. The Byzantine Empire, once a powerful force in the Near East and Asia Minor, was also weakened by internal strife. This made the Byzantine provinces of Syria and Palestine (where Jerusalem was a part of) vulnerable to attacks by the newly-unified and stronger Muslim community. Damascus was first captured by Abu Bakr and his general Khalid, and they soon looked beyond the borders of Syria to conquer Palestine.
Abu Bakr, however, died at the height of his power as Caliph of the united ummah. He was sixty-one and unlike Mohammed before him, he had named his son-in-law Omar (also spelled Umar) as his successor. The new caliph realized that the practice of caravan raids could not sustain the community any longer now that Islam was embraced by most of the Arab tribes, so he looked for Christian and Persian territories to plunder as another way to sustain the ummah. This was also done to harness the energies of the community into one common goal and prevent the tribes from falling back into old blood feuds. It was under Omar’s leadership when the Muslims wrested large parts of Syria and Palestine from the Byzantine empire, while Jerusalem soon fell to the Muslims in 638 AD. With the fall of Syria and Palestine, much of the Middle East was now under Muslim rule.
Omar in Jerusalem
In spring of 638 AD, Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem officially surrendered the city to Omar. According to the treaty signed by both sides, Christians were allowed to live in the city and practice their religion but were compelled to pay jizya (tax for non-Muslims) to the Muslim conquerors. For the first time in hundreds of years, the Jews were also allowed to return and live in Jerusalem. Omar himself was invited by Patriarch Sophronius to come inside a Christian church, but he declined to prevent future Muslims from converting the church into a mosque. The caliph went home to Medina after he stayed ten days in Jerusalem.
Picture By Usmanreddy at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6063644
Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 634-1099. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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