From Persecutor To Defender: Umar Ibn al-Khattab’s Early Days

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Kaleef K. Karim

Umar Ibn al-Khattab was an arch enemy of the Prophet Muhammed (p). His intention one day was to head over to where Muhammed (p) was and murder him. Before he headed over to murder the Prophet, he was inquired by Nu’aym as to where he was going. Umar responded by saying he intended to put an end to Prophet Muhammed’s (p) mission by killing him. Nu’aym said that he should put his own family in order before heading to Muhammed (p). He told him that some of his family members converted to the new faith i.e., Islam.

Umar Ibn al-Khattab in his rage quickly went home to inquire about his own family. Upon entering the property, he attacked his sister. She started crying, he realised that he did wrong for attacking his sister. While Umar barged to the home of his sister, he noticed that his sister and someone else were reciting something. He asked what they were reading, she was denying that they read anything. The full story is detailed by Ibn Ishaq (704 – 768 AD):

“The Islam of Umar, so I have heard, was on this wise. His sister was Fatima d. al-Khattab, and was married to Sa’id b. Zayd b. Amr b. Nufayl, both of whom had become Muslims and concealed the fact from Umar. Now Nu’aym b. Abdullah al-Nahham, a man of his tribe from B. Adiy b. Ka’b, had become a Muslim and he also concealed the fact out of fear of his people. Khabbab b. al-Aratt used often to come to Fatima to read the Quran to her. One day Umar came out, girt with his sword, making for the apostle, and a number of his companions, who he had been informed had gathered in a house at al-Saffa, in all about forty, including women. With the apostle was his uncle Hamza, and Abu Bakr, and Ali, from the Muslims, who stayed with the apostle and had not gone out with those who went to Abyssinia.
Nu’aym met him and asked him where he was going. ‘I am making for Muhammad, the apostate, who has split up the Quraysh, made mockery of their traditions, insulted their faith, and their gods, to kill him.’ ‘You deceive yourself, ‘Umar,’ he answered, ‘do you suppose that B. Abdu Manaf will allow you to continue walking upon the earth when you have killed Muhammad? Had not you better go back to your own family and set their affairs in order?’ ‘What is the matter with me family?’ he said. ‘Your brother-in-law, your nephew Sa’id, and your sister Fatima, have both become Muslims and followed Muhammad in his religion, so you had better go and deal with them.’ Thereupon Umar returned to his sister and brother-in-law at the time when Khabbab was with them with the manuscript of Ta Ha, which he was reading to them. When they heard Umar’s voice Khabbab hid in a small room, or in a part of the house, and Fatima took the page and put it under her thigh.
Now Umar had heard the reading of Khabbab as he came near the house, so when he came in he said, ‘What is this balderdash I heard?’ ‘You have not heard anything,’ they answered. ‘By God, I have,’ he said, ‘and I have been told that you have followed Muhammad in his religion;’ and he seized his brother-in-law Sa’id, and his sister Fatima rose in of her husband, and he hit her and wounded her. When he did that they sai to him, ‘Yes, we are Muslims, and we believe in God and His Apostle, and you can do what you like.’ When Umar saw the blood on his sister he was sorry for what he had done and turned back and said to his sister, ‘Give me this sheet which I heard you reading just now so that I may see just what it is which Muhammad has brought,’ for Umar could write. When he said that, his sister replied that she was afraid to trust him with it. ‘Do not be afraid,’ he said, and he sword by his gods that he would return it when he had read it. When he said that, she had hopes that he would become a Muslim, and said to him, ‘My brother, you are unclean in your polytheism and only the clean may touch it.’ So Umar rose and washed himself and she gave him the page in which was Ta Ha, and when he had read the beginning he said, ‘How fine and noble is this speech.’ When he heard that, Khabbab emerged and said, ‘How fine and noble is this speech.’ When he heard that, Khabbab emerged and said, ‘O Umar, by God, I hope that God has singled you out by His Prophet’s call, for but last night I heard him saying, ‘O God, strengthen Islam by Abu’l-Hakam b. Hisham or by Umar b. al-Khattab.’ Come to God, come to God, O Umar.’ At that Umar said, ‘Lead me to Muhammad so that I may accept Islam.’ Khabbab replied that he was in a house at al-Saffa with a number of his companions. So Umar took his sword and girt it on, and for the apostle and his companions, and knocked on the door. When they heard his voice one of the companions got up and looked through a chink in the door, and when he saw him girt with his sword, he went back to the apostle in fear, and said, ‘It is Umar with his sword on.’ Hamza said, ‘Let him in; if he has come with peaceful intent, we will treat him well; if he has come with ill intent, we will kill him with his own sword.’ The apostle gave the word and he was let in. The apostle rose and met him in the room, seized him round the girdle or by the middle of his cloak, and dragged him along violently, saying, ‘What has brought you, son of Khattab, for by God, I do not you will cease (your persecution) until God brings calamity upon you.’ Umar replied, ‘O apostle of God, I have come to you to believe in God and what he has brought from God.’ The apostle gave thanks to God so loudly that the whole household knew that Umar had become a Muslim.” (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 156 – 157)

This is the story of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, how he eventually converted to Islam. He went from someone who persecuted Muslims, to defending them after his conversion.

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