Umar Converts to Islam

Umar Resolves to Kill Muhammad:
The conversion to Islam of Umar bin al-Khattab, a future khalifa of the Muslims was the biggest event of AD 616- the 6th year of Proclamation. He was one of the bitterest enemies of Islam and of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and was a great tormentor of the Muslims. He matched Abu Jahl, his maternal uncle, with regards to his hatred of Islam, and his hostility to Muhammad.

One day Umar resolved to kill Muhammad and left his home with this intention. He wished to relieve the Quraysh of its burden, restore its ravaged unity, and re-establish respect for the gods that Muhammad had castigated.

The Muslims, those days, gathered in the house of Arqam bin Abi al-Arqam to say their congregational prayers. Just when they were beginning to assemble, one of them looked out the window and saw Umar approaching towards the house with a drawn sword. They all got very alarmed at seeing this. But Hamza, who was also present there, reassured them, and said that if Umar was coming with good intentions, then he is welcome; but if not, then he (Hamza) would kill him (Umar) with his (Umar's) own sword. But it so happened that Umar had come with the intention of accepting Islam, and he did.

News of His Sister's Conversion Stops Him:
Initially, Umar was going toward Dar-ul-Arqam with the intention of killing Muhammad. On the road to Mecca he was met by Nu'aym ibn Abdullah. Upon learning what Umar was about, Nu'aym said,

"By God, you have deceived yourself, O Umar! Do you think that Banu Abd Manaf would let you run around alive once you had killed their son Muhammad? Why don't you return to your own house and at least set it straight"and informed him that his own sister and her husband had become Muslims.

Umar was furious to hear this and immediately changed his direction from Arqam's house to her house to investigate the matter. When Umar reached his sister's house, he heard a Khabbab (a companion of the Prophet) studying under her guidance the Sura Taha and also "When the Sun is Overthrown" (81:1). When Umar came in, his sister sensed that he meant mischief and hid the sheets from which they were reading. Umar asked what was the talk he had heard, to which she answered that it was merely conversation between them..."

Umar Becomes a Muslim:
Umar exploded in anger and struck his sister in her face causing her mouth to bleed. He was going to strike again but the sight of blood made him pause. He suddenly appeared to relent, and then in a changed tone asked her to show him what she was reading. She sensed a change in him but said: "You are an unclean idolater, and I cannot allow you to touch the Word of God." He immediately went away, washed himself, returned to his sister's home, read the text of Qur'an, and then went to the house of Arqam where he formally accepted Islam. When he was converted to Islam Umar ibn al Khattab was a 35 years of age.

Claims of Muslims with respect to Umar's bravery:

Many Muslims claim that with Umar's conversion, Islam acquired new strength. They could, now come out of their places of hiding, and pray openly in the precincts of Kaaba and that now they were not afraid of Abu Jahl.

The Muslims who had migrated to Abyssinia returned as a result of Umar's conversion. With him, he brought to the Muslim camp the same boldness, determination, and the tribal standing with which he had been fighting the Muslims before.

He never concealed his conversion and he proclaimed his conversion publicly and challenged the Quraysh openly. Umar began to fight the Quraysh as soon as he entered the faith of Islam, constantly pressed his way close to the Kaaba, and performed his prayer there in company with whatever Muslims decided to join him.

Some claims are even more extravagant saying that Umar's conversion to Islam was a death blow to the Quraysh. But these curious claims find little support in evidence. And if the evidence means anything, it appears to run counter to the claims themselves.

What actually happened was that Umar's conversion to Islam coincided with a new and an unprecedented wave of terror that broke over the Muslims. Whereas before his conversion only those Muslims were victims of persecution who had no one to protect them, now no Muslim, not even Muhammad himself, was safe from the attacks of the polytheists.

Those who had returned from Abyssinia, on reaching Mecca, realized that the Quraysh had resumed persecution of the Muslims with stronger hatred and renewed vigor and a number of them returned to Abyssinia while others entered Mecca under the cover of night and went into hiding.

In fact, little more than a week had passed since Umar's conversion to Islam, when Muhammad and all members of his family and clan, had to leave Mecca, and had to go into exile. Therefore, the theory that Umar's conversion to Islam emboldened the Muslims to defy the infidels, is simply not coincident with facts.

....we have no record of any occasion on which Umar displayed remarkable courage, though many examples are at hand of his cruelty and bloodthirstiness; at the battle of Hunain he ran away, and on another occasion owed his life to the good nature of an enemy.(-S. Margoliouth: Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, 1931)

Prof. Margoliouth must be referring to the battle of the Khandak or the Siege of Medina (A.D. 627). In that battle, Ali ibn Abi Talib killed the Meccan general, Amr ibn Abd Wudd, whereupon his (Amr's) comrades-in-arms hastily retreated across the Trench. When they were retreating, Umar tried to overtake one of them.

The enemy had heard and knew that Ali never pursued a fleeing enemy and so figured that whoever was pursuing him then, could not be Ali. He glanced backwards and noticed that it was Umar who was bearing down upon him. When he saw Umar, he immediately turned the reins of his horse to face him, and this made Umar stop.

The knight who knew Umar, said to him: "If my mother had not made me vow that I would never kill a Qurayshi, you would be a dead man now. Be grateful to her, and do not forget that I have spared your life."

Also the fact that Hamza had accepted Islam one year prior to Umar's conversion to Islam and had struck Abu Jahl, the maternal uncle of Umar, with his bow. But there is no record that Umar struck any idolater for showing disrespect to the Apostle of Allah. Also, when Hamza accepted Islam and attacked Abu Jahl, Umar himself was an idolater and it was his duty, in the name of tribal solidarity, to challenge Hamza, and to defend the honor of the brother of his mother.

After all, according to many claims, he was the most fearless, the most fear-inspiring and the most violent-tempered man in Mecca. And who but Umar would dare to challenge Hamza? But the challenge never came.