On Being Just; even within your Household (Umar bin Al-Khattab)

Umar bin Al-Khattab


During the caliphate of Umar bin Al-Khattab (radiallahu ‘anh), Amr bin Al-Aas (radiallahu ‘anh) was appointed the Governor of Egypt. One of Amr’s first projects was to expand the main mosque of Cairo, which was at the time surrounded by the dwellings of ordinary Egyptians. Amr’s workers proceeded to buy the houses of the Egyptians so that they could be destroyed to pave the way for the expansion. All the people agreed to sell their houses except one Coptic Christian man. He refused to give up his home as it was of sentimental value to him. The matter reached all the way to Amr, so he asked to see the Copt. Amr offered the Copt double, triple and quadruple the value of his house but the Copt refused to sell it whatever the price. After much persuasion the Copt refused to budge so Amr became angry and ordered the Copt’s house to be destroyed by force and for him to be offered to take or leave its price.


The Copt was distraught and felt that he had been wronged by this new Muslim Governor of Egypt. Unsure who to seek help from he was eventually advised: “Go to Madinah and speak to the Caliph, Umar bin Al Khattab, for no man is wronged in his lands.” So the Copt decided to travel to Madinah to complain to the Caliph about how he had been unjustly treated by one of his governors. When he arrived in Madinah and asked to see the Caliph he was told, “Go to the Sacred Mosque of the Prophet (salallahu ‘alayhe wasalam) and there you will find a man sweeping the floor. Speak to him.” The Copt thus went to the Sacred Mosque hoping that its sweeper would be able to direct him to the Caliph.


When the Copt entered the Sacred Mosque, he found this man sweeping its floor so the Copt asked him if he could help him get to the Caliph. The Sweeper asked him, “And what business do you have to speak to the Caliph about?” The Copt replied, “I have been wronged by one of his governors so the people asked me to complain to the Caliph as he is a just man and no one is wronged in his lands,” and he related to the Sweeper the story of what had happened to his house in Cairo.


Having listened attentively to the Copt’s story, the Sweeper picked up a stone and with another stone he scratched two lines on it, one crossing the other at right angles. He gave the stone containing the lines to the Copt and told him to give it to the Governor of Egypt with the words, “This stone is from the Sweeper of the Sacred Mosque of Allah’s Messenger .” The Copt thought that the Sweeper was mocking him but the Sweeper reassured him to do as he said and his problem would be resolved. The Sweeper made no mention of the Caliph. The Copt thus returned to Egypt with the stone given to him by the Sweeper of the Sacred Mosque of Allah’s Messenger .


When the Copt arrived back in Egypt he went to Amr straight away and gave him the stone saying that it was from the Sweeper of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. No sooner had Amr seen the lines on the stone except that his face went pale in fright. Amr began to apologise profusely to the Copt and immediately ordered that the part of the mosque built over the Copt’s house must be rebuilt exactly as and where it was. Puzzled by this sudden change of heart in the Governor, the Copt asked Amr what the significance was of a simple stone with two lines on it. Amr thus related to him the story behind The Stone of Justice.


During their early adulthood in Makkah before the advent of the Prophet , Umar bin Al Khattab and Amr bin Al-Aas were the best of friends. They were also business partners, trading in fine Arabian horses. Once they received an order for a significant quantity of horses from King Numan, the Arab King of the Al-Mundhir Governate which, being under the rule of the Persian Empire was a buffer region between Arabia and Persia (represented today by parts of modern-day Iraq). King Numan made a down payment to Umar and Amr, who promptly set about finding and training horses to meet the King’s requirements. When the horses were ready, the two friends set off to Al-Mundhir to deliver them to their buyer, King Numan.


Whilst they were travelling through the desert in Al-Mundhir, they came across a royal entourage. It turned out to belong to a Persian prince, a son of the Emperor Kisra, who had come on a hunting expedition to Al-Mundhir. The Prince, upon sighting the fine Arabian horses, asked to see their owners. He offered to buy the horses from the two friends but was told by them that they had already been sold to a buyer, but that he could place a fresh order with them if he wanted to. The Prince doubled and trebled his offer but Umar and Amr refused to go back on their contract with King Numan, so they politely declined the Prince’s offers. After much haggling the pompous Prince grew impatient and ordered his guards to seize (without payment) the horses from the two men and to send them away.


Distraught, Umar and Amr were unsure of what to do. Local tribesmen advised them to travel to the capital of the Persian Empire itself and speak to the Emperor, Kisra, as he was a just man and no one was wronged in his empire. The two friends thus journeyed into Persia and, weary and dishevelled, eventually reached Kisra’s court. They complained to him that their horses had been stolen by a man who claimed to be a son of the Emperor. Kisra listened to them intently and then asked the two men to return to him the following day whilst he looked into the matter. He ordered his palace courtiers to arrange hospitality for the two men, as guests of the Emperor.


The following day Umar and Amr went to Kisra and he came down to them from his throne, asking the two to accompany him. He led them to a courtyard where, lo and behold, they saw their stolen horses. Kisra asked them to confirm if these were their horses that the Prince had seized from them and if so, that they should check that they were okay. Umar and Amr carefully checked each horse and informed Kisra that everything was just fine. Kisra then profusely apologised to the two for what had happened and he asked them if he could be of any further assistance to them. They told him that they were satisfied now and would like to continue on their journey. Kisra ordered his staff to give the men some provisions and he guaranteed them safe passage until they left the precincts of his territory. Just before they left, Kisra asked the two to leave the palace grounds from their two different gates: the Eastern Gate and the Western Gate.


Umar bin Al Khattab left via the Eastern Gate and, to his astonishment, he saw hanging there half of the body of the Persian Prince, son of Kisra, as if he had been sawn in two. When he rejoined Amr, Amr told him that he had seen the other half of the Prince’s corpse hanging from the Western Gate. Kisra was not prepared to let a spoilt son of his damage his widespread reputation as the beacon of justice in the East. He not only wanted justice to be done, but he wanted that justice must be seen to be done.


Having related this story to the Copt, Amr bin Al Aas , by now Governor of Egypt, told the Copt that the man sweeping the Sacred Mosque of the Prophet was none other than the Caliph himself: Umar bin Al Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him. And what Amr understood from the two lines scratched on the stone was that if he did not return the house to the Copt then Umar would cut him not in two halves like the Persian prince was, but into four quarters. Since Amr knew that whenever Umar said something he meant it, he took no chances and ordered the Copt’s house to be rebuilt, albeit at the expense of destroying part of the newly built mosque. No sooner had the Copt seen with his own eyes the concept of justice amongst the Muslims that he accepted Islam immediately and gave his consent for the mosque grounds to remain on the same spot where his house used to be.


O Umar! If only you would return,


To spread justice so the world would learn,


That even a stone of your justice,


Would rescue it from this fathomless abyss.