The Missing Link (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)


(Islamic History – Part 2)

“It was during the ten years of ‘Umar’s caliphate that the most important conquests of the Arabs occurred,” says Michael Hart in his book, THE 100. Khalifa ‘Umar’s reign saw the largest expansion in the history of Islam. To sustain this expansion, Khalifa ‘Umar (R) embarked upon one of the most innovative administrative reforms the world had yet seen. The political, economic, and social reforms he instituted to run the affairs of the state became the model for efficient public administration. In a very short time, he transformed a primitive and local administrative structure into a modern and global one. People enjoyed basic human rights and freedoms for the first time during his rule. When an old woman could question and criticize Khalifa ‘Umar (R) in public without any fear of retribution, there can be no doubt about the freedom of expression prevailing during his rule.

In its concise edition, Encyclopedia Britannica says Khalifa ‘Umar’s “innovations affected taxation, social welfare, and the empire’s entire financial and administrative fabric, and he was noted for his justice, social ideals, and candour.”

  • He is credited to have established new government departments. Khalifa ‘Umar’s major innovations (mentioned in Abu Hilal al-‘Askari’s Kitab al-Awa’il (“Book of Firsts”) and Imam Tabari’s history) include:
    Establishment of Bayt al-mâl or the Department of the Treasury
  • Establishment of the judicial branch of the government, i.e., courts of justice
  • The establishment of the Hegira calendar
  • Organization of the War Department
  • The putting of army reserves on the payroll
  • Establishment of the Land Revenue Department
  • The surveying and assessment of lands
  • Establishment of Census
  • Establishment of provinces and districts (within each province)
  • Establishment of taxation and customs departments
  • Organization of the Police Department
  • Establishment of military barracks at strategic points
  • Establishment of rest houses on the way from Mecca to Medina for the comfort of travelers.
  • Establishment of welfare allowances for children.
  • Provision for the care and bringing up of foundlings
  • Declaration of the end of slavery for both Muslims and non-Muslims
  • Stipends for the poor among the Jews and the Christians
  • Establishment of the Department of Public Education
  • Development of a system of canals and dams
  • Development of new cities and roads
    Khalifa ‘Umar (R) established, what in modern times is known as a government secretariat, to run the affairs of these various departments. Every government department had an office in this secretariat where separate registers were kept to deal with different matters. All official business of the state was done in writing. Detailed accounts pertaining to the day-to-day running of the state were maintained in written records in these offices. Written memos were issued by Khalifa ‘Umar to government officials, including to provincial governors. Written texts of treaties and agreements with other states were kept as official records in these offices.

This is how the affairs of the Islamic State were conducted under Khalifa’s Umar’s reign.

But here is a point worthy of special note.

The Islamic State was established during the Prophet’s time. It expanded during the period of Khalifa Abu Bakr (R) and covered about two-and-a-half million square miles during Khalifa ‘Umar’s period. During this entire period, and even during Khalifa ‘Usman’s period, Medina was the capital of the Islamic state.  The aforementioned secretariat including all of its offices (where written records were maintained) were in Medina.  How surprising then, that not a single original written record of that time exists today?

Medina up until the present has been free from natural disasters. No earthquake, no flood, nor any large fire has ever occurred in Medina that could have destroyed those records. Neither has Medina ever come under the control of any crusading army that could have destroyed the records. From the time of the Prophet (PBUH) until now, it has remained under continuous control of Muslims. Moreover, the sacred status of Medina and love for the Prophet’s hometown, resides in every Muslim’s heart. Under these circumstances then, it is hard to understand how or why the records are missing? What happened to all those records? Who took them? Who destroyed them, and why? – And why not a trace remains today? Historians who have presented imprints of some of the records of those times have not mentioned where they saw the originals or what happened to them. There is no trace of the original records in our history books.

Our early historians, such as Imam Tabari, and hadith collectors, such as Imam Bukhari, struggled very hard (according to their own accounts) to search for original material for their books. They traveled to far-off places and met thousands of people. If there had been any written records of Khalifa Umar’s administration, they would definitely have found and referred to them. It is obvious, therefore, that no original records existed at that time, and these early historians were led to compile their books on the basis of oral narrations. [Given this situation, is it not strange to find in our history books, accounts of detailed dialogue, verbatim, of soldiers on the battlefield, none of whom survived?]

Obviously, the original written documents were precious historical treasures of Islamic history. These should have been preserved as a sacred trust for the Muslim Ummah. These documents would have been extremely valuable as a guide and blueprint for the establishment and administration of a true Islamic state. They would also have served as a deterrent to future changes in the basic nature of the Islamic State.

Would the presence of these documents have made it more difficult to change Islam’s political and economic structure? Could Muslim rulers have established kingships in the name of Islam in the presence of these documents? Is it possible that Muslim kings and their supporters among the ‘Ulema wanted to develop a ritual-based Islam, which would have been hard to do in the presence of these original documents?

These are hard questions. But, surprisingly, no research has been done to address this missing link in our history. Why?  Keeping in mind that Khalifa ‘Umar’s innovations for running a government are generally recognized as a model for good governance even by non-Muslims – Gandhi, often cited Khalifa ‘Umar’s period of rule – why has no effort been made by Muslim scholars to search for or retrieve these documents?

Archeologists have found the Code of Hammurabi in the ruins of ancient Babylon and Nineveh. They are hard at work deciphering writings on the stones and walls in the tombs of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Historians have even found the Dead Sea scrolls from the time before Christ. But, as noted before, not a single written document relating to the government of the Islamic State has ever been found from the city of Medina when it served as the capital of Islam. [A few of the Prophet’s letters brought to light have come from areas outside of Medina, under the control of non-Muslims.]

Imagine the difference it would make in deciding the Islamic way of governance had those original documents been present today.  Those documents would have been invaluable in helping us resolve the endless sectarian arguments about what is in accordance with Shariah and what is secular. After all, Khalifa ‘Umar‘s (R) successful governance of a substantial part of the Islamic world, is legendary.

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