The compelling and towering character of Allah’s Prophet (pbuh) and his extraordinary moral standards lived on in the lives of nearly all of the Muhajireen and Ansar. They knew and they learned through their affinity and struggle with the Prophet (pbuh) that he was selfless in every sense of the word. He went to battle in their company when they went to battle, and he made peace together when they all agreed to make peace.
He physically participated with them in building the masjid. When they dug the trench around al-Madinah to protect it from the attacking Makkan mushriks he (pbuh) was there breaking the earth with them. In their light moments when they all were digging the trench and “taking a break” from the perspiration of “hard labor” by chanting, he joined them with his harmonious voice.
He unselfishly carried the rocks that were needed and cleared out the soil as was required. The Prophet (pbuh) considered himself one of them—distinguished only by receiving revelation and being Allah’s most trusted messenger. The books of Seerah and history tell us that when the Prophet (pbuh) was in his final days as he was passing on to Allah (swt) he inquired about whatever gold he was trusted with—belonging to the Islamic treasury—and when it was brought to him, he gave it out to those in need and left this world without being in possession of any “assets”. This is a snapshot of the lifelong influence that our dear Prophet (pbuh) had on those who dedicated their lives to Allah and His Prophet.
The most important influence our beloved Prophet (pbuh) had on his disciples and devotees was self-abnegation—in pursuit of fairness in society and truthfulness in self. For a level-minded and thinking Muslim there is no doubt that both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar tried their best and without prejudice to live up to the standards of their dearly loved Prophet (pbuh) as they understood him.
Abu Bakr began his “official duties” by “multi-tasking” his public duties as a leader along with his personal responsibilities as a family man. He had to serve the Muslim public as did the Prophet (pbuh) and he had to support a family at the same time. One day, early in his term, Muslims observed him carrying some goods and going to the market to sell some merchandise as he used to do before becoming the Islamic chief-executive and as other ordinary Muslims would do.
They felt for him and he began to feel that the task of supporting himself and his family by being “self-employed” and tending to the demanding affairs of the Muslims had become quite an encumbrance that was getting more difficult by the day. At that moment in time the public decision by the Muhajireen and Ansar committed Muslims was to have Abu Bakr receive remuneration from the Islamic treasury. The amount he received was enough to defray his and his family’s necessary particular expenses—and not one extra dirham.
Abu Bakr followed the austere behavioral pattern of the Prophet (pbuh); and he, too, at the time of death was very conscious of leaving this world as the Prophet (pbuh) left this world; i.e. without any money or valuables in his possession. He directed his family to return anything that did not belong to them to their owner.
This Prophetic self-effacing conduct continued when ‘Umar became the commander of the committed Muslims. [Later on, when the sectarian syndrome took hold among the Muslims there were two extremes that chronicled ‘Umar as either a superior to Imam ‘Ali or an enemy of Imam ‘Ali—both are deceptive and dishonest]. Leaving aside such false and misleading characterizations of ‘Umar, we can dispassionately state that ‘Umar was very stern and exceedingly demanding of the Muslims. But he was even more harsh and unsympathetic to his own self. ‘Umar’s personality was unique in the sense that his conscience was very irritable and hypersensitive to “doing the wrong thing”. True, he was uncompromising in the public eye but he was almost brutally uncompromising when it came to his own self.
To hold out an example we remind you of the year-of-the-drought عام الرمادة or the famine time when all people under his jurisdiction were suffering and in appalling economic and social conditions. ‘Umar insisted that he himself must suffer the same conditions that the most underprivileged of his fellow citizens were suffering; i.e. scarcity, deprivation, and hunger. ‘Umar knew very well that the average person could not get hold of butter; so, he refused to have butter. He limited himself to eating dry bread and (olive) oil. After having this meal for days upon days, ‘Umar began to suffer what we may refer to in our everyday language as “digestive problems”.
He then thought that if the (olive) oil was heated it may become palatable and digestible. But after he ingested it, he felt more pain and misery. The Muhajireen and Ansar Muslim public was aware of this but they could not convince him to part with his self-denial and austerity.
This type of deprivation took its toll on ‘Umar. The color of his skin changed. Still, he did not want to have a life-style above his fellow Muslims. What the Sunni-Shi‘i sectarians both fail to mention in their books is the positive influence that Imam ‘Ali had on ‘Umar as the latter no doubt was aware of the same behavior of self-denial that Imam ‘Ali exemplified.
When ‘Umar became the commander of the committed Muslims he humbly realized the transformation that he had gone through: from being a shepherd tending to his father’s herd to managing an ummah. He would tell people of his very modest beginnings and not hide the fact that he came from a down-to-earth background. On occasions he could be seen counting the domestic animals belonging to the Islamic authority and ‘Umar himself would iron-brand the livestock for identification—a job left for a commoner. Never for a moment did ‘Umar consider doing so to be debasing or degrading.
‘Umar was very demanding of his own family. He would summon his family and tell them that I instructed people to do or not to do so-and-so and I warned them of [severe] penalties if they “break the law” and these people look up to you because you are my family members and should I come to know that any of you has “broken the law” that I instructed people to observe, I will see to it that your penalty is twice as severe.
During the year-of-famine, ‘Umar kept a close watch over what his family was consuming. If he saw any of them with more quantity or better quality of food than anyone from the Muslim public he would haul him—his own family member—over the coals.
On a final note, we provide another instance from among many that tells us how strict ‘Umar was in doing his due diligence. One day ‘Umar was allocating entitlements/benefits to people when a crowd of people amassed to claim their share. Then came Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas whose affiliation with the Prophet (pbuh) is well known as well as his military service in the deliverance of Persia. Sa‘d jumped the queue and made his way to ‘Umar. Upon realizing what Sa‘d had done, ‘Umar came upon him and said: You did not stand in awe of Allah’s authority on earth [by being impolite, aggressive, and inconsiderate of others] so I want you to know that Allah’s authority has no regard for you.
‘Umar was very concerned with people being equal to each other and treating each other equally—in society and in family life. He was remarkably dispassionate towards himself and he wanted people to be evenhanded among their selves.
Without doubt, in the Apostle of Allah you have an excellent role model for he who looks forward to Allah and the Final Day [with hope and anticipation] and who persistently is conscious of Allah — Al-Ahzab, 21.