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Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (c. 682 - 720) was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. Unlike previous Umayyad caliphs, he was not a hereditary successor to the former caliph, but was appointed. But he was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik's younger brother Abd al-Aziz.
Umar was born around 682. Some traditions state that he was born in Medina while others that he was born in Egypt. His father was Abd al-Aziz, the governor of Egypt and younger brother of caliph Abd al-Malik. His mother was a granddaughter of Umar ibn al-Khattab. Umar would grow up in Medina and live there until the death of his father. After which he was summoned to Damascus by Abd al-Malik and married to his daughter. His father in law would die soon after, and he would serve under his cousin Al-Walid I. Al-Walid would make him governor of Medina. Unlike most rulers of that era though, Umar formed a council with which he administered the province. His time in the province was so notable that official grievances sent to Damascus all but ceased. In addition, many people emigrated to Medina from Iraq seeking to escape their harsh governor, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. This angered the Iraqi governor, and he pressed al-Walid to remove Umar, which was done, much to the dismay of the people of Medina. Despite this removal, Umar had developed an impeccable reputation across the Islamic empire.
From here, Umar would live in Medina until his cousin Suleiman would appoint him successor to the caliphate. Umar reluctantly accepted the position, after trying unsuccessfully to dissuade the Caliph, and he approached it unlike any other Ummayad caliph before him. Umar was extremely pious and disdainful of worldly luxuries. Replacing the ceremonies that had become a hallmark of the Umayyads, Umar instead preferred to keep things simple, depositing all assets and finery meant for the caliph in the public treasury; abandoning the palace to the family of Suleiman, preferring to live in a tent, as well as wearing rough linens instead of the royal robes. He also publicly encouraged the people to elect someone else if they were not satisfied with him. Umar confiscated all estates seized by Ummayad "royalty" and redistributed it to the people, while making it a personal goal to attend to the needs of every person in his empire. He even confiscated his own wife's royal jewels and sent them to the public treasury, she who was daughter, sister and wife to three caliphs in their turn. At one point he almost caused the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus to be stripped of its precious stones and expensive fixtures in favor of the Treasury but he desisted on learning that the Mosque was a source of envy to his Byzantine rivals in Constantinople. These moves made him unpopular with the Umayyad court, but made him beloved by the masses, so much so that the court could not move against him in the open.
- Surely God enjoins justice, doing of good and giving to kinsfolk
In addition, Umar was keen to enforce the Sharia, pushing to end drinking and bathhouses where men and women would mix freely. He felt that these actions were against the tenets of Islam, and was vigorous in removing them from society. He continued the welfare programs of the last few Umayyad emperors, expanding them and including special programs for orphans and the destitute. He would also abolish the Jizya tax applied on dhimmis, non muslims who lived inside the muslim state.
On the military frontier, the armies of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz were successful in beating off an attack from Turks in Azerbaijan. He also had to contend with Kharijite uprisings, but they were easily quelled.
While Umar's reign was very short, he is considered one of the finest caliphs in Islamic History, second only to the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. In fact, in some circles, he is affectionately referred to as the Fifth and last Rightly Guided Caliph. His reforms in favor of the people greatly angered the nobility of the Umayyads, and they would eventually bribe a servant into poisoning his food. Umar would find out about this on his death bed, and pardoned the culprit, only seizing the bribe money and sending it to the public treasury. He would die in 720 in Aleppo.
He was succeeded by his cousin Yazid II
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