The Conversion of Umar ibn al-Khattab
Umar was exasperated by the turn of events. He decided the only thing that could be done was to kill the Prophet. This was the surest means of putting an end to the disorder and sedition that were welling up and endangering Meccan society as a whole.
He went out of his house, his sword in his hand, to look for Muhammad. On the way, he met Nuaym ibn Abdullah, who had secretly converted to Islam. Nuaym asked him why he looked so angry, and Umar told him about his intention to kill the Prophet. Nuaym quickly thought of a means to divert him from his plan: he advised Umar to restore order in his own family before setting upon Muhammad. He informed him that his sister Fatimah and his brother-in-law Said had already converted to Islam. Astonished and infuriated, Umar changed his plans and made straight for his sister's home.
She and her husband were reading and studying the Quran with a young companion, Khabbab, when they heard someone approaching their house. Khabbab stopped reading and hid. Umar had heard the sound of the recitation inside, and he accosted them coldly, bluntly asking what they had been reciting. They both denied the fact, but Umar insisted that he definitely had heard them reciting a text. They refined to discuss the matter, which caused Umar's anger to flare. He sprang to his brother in law to strike him, and when his sister tried to intervene, he struck her, causing blood to gush out.
The sight of blood on his sister's face produced an immediate effect of a soft heart and Umar stopped short at that very moment, his sister exclaimed with spirit. "Yes, indeed, we are Muslims and we believe in God and His Messenger. As for you, you can now do as you please!" Umar was taken aback; he was torn between remorse at having hurt his sister and bewilderment at the news he had just received. He asked his sister to give him the text they had been reading when he arrived. His sister demanded that he should first perform ablutions to purify himself. Sobered but still upset, Umar accepted, performed ablutions, then started reading:
"Ta, ha. We have not sent down the Quran to you to [cause] your distress, but only as an admonition for those who fear [God]. A Revelation from Him who created the earth and the heavens on high. The Most Gracious is firmly established on the throne. To Him belongs what is in the heavens and on earth, and all between them, and all beneath the soil. Whether [or not] you speak aloud, verily He knows what is secret and what is yet more hidden. He is God! There is no God but Him! To Him belong the most beautiful names." Quran; 20:1-14
Those were the first verses, and Umar went on reading the rest of the text, which was an account of God's call to Moses on Mount Sinai, until he reached this verse;
Verily, I am God: there is no God but I: so serve Me, and establish regular prayer for My remembrance. Quran 20:14
Umar then stopped reading and expressed his enthusiasm about the beauty and nobleness of those words. Khabbab, encouraged by Umar's apparent good disposition, then came out of his hiding place and informed him that he had heard the Prophet praying to God to grant his community support through the conversion of Abu al-Hakam or of Umar ibn al-Khattab. Umar asked him where Muhammad was, and when told he was at al-Arqam's dwelling place, Umar went there. When he reached the door, the occupants were afraid because Umar was still carrying his sword in his belt. But the Prophet told them to let him in, and Umar immediately announced his intention of becoming a Muslim. The Prophet exclaimed, Allahu akbar!" (God is the Most Great) and received this conversion as an answer to his prayer.
The Prophet knew he had no power over hearts. In the face of persecution, in great difficulty; he had turned to God, hoping that He would guide one or the other of those two men who he knew possessed the human qualities as well as the power necessary to reverse the order of things. The Prophet of course knew that God alone has the power to guide hearts. For some individuals, conversion was a long process that required years of questioning, doubt, and steps forward and backward, while for others conversion was instantaneous, immediately following the reading of a text or responding to a particular gesture or behavior. This cannot be explained. The conversions that took longest were not necessarily the most solid, and the reverse was not true either: when it comes to conversion, the heart's dispositions, faith, and love, there is no logic, and all that remains is the extraordinary power of the divine. Umar had gone out of his home determined to kill the Prophet, blinded by his absolute negation of the One God; there he was, a few hours later, changed, transformed, as the result of a conversion induced by a text and the meaning of God. He was to become one of the most faithful Companions of the man he had wished dead. Nobody among the Muslims could have imagined that Umar would recognize the message of Islam, so forcefully had he expressed his hatred for it. This heart's revolution was a sign, and it carried a twofold teaching: that nothing is impossible for God, and that one should not pronounce final judgments on anything or anybody. This was a new reminder of the need for humility in all circumstances: for a human being, remembering God's infinite power should mean healthy self-doubt as to oneself and suspending one's judgment as to others. Thus, the more he moved forward with God, every day becoming more of a model for his Companions and for eternity; the more the Prophet was attaining humility and modesty as expressed in being, knowledge, and judgment.
Umar, with his spirit and courage, had decided to make his conversion public. He immediately went to Abu Jahl to tell him the news, and he suggested to the Prophet that they should pray publicly at the Kaba. This certainly involved risks, but it was also a matter of showing the Quraysh clan chiefs that Muslims were present among them and were determined. Umar and Hamzah, both known for their strong personalities, entered the Kaba enclosure ahead of the group, and the Muslims prayed in a group without anyone daring to interfere.
So was the story of the awakening of Umar the Great, a man known for his physical strength and a compassionate heart for the weak and needy and his dedication to Islamic Monotheism.
The excerpt was taken from In The Footsteps of The Prophet- Lessons from the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan
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