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Religion Library: Islam

Early Developments

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Tradition holds that Abu Bakr designated one of his military advisors, Umar ibn al-Khattab as his successor. A brilliant general, Umar continued the campaign of military conquest with astonishing success. In the ten years of Umar's reign as Islam's second caliph, Arab armies conquered Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.

Umar was also responsible for establishing a variety of important social and legal institutions. Throughout the newly-conquered provinces, Umar appointed provincial judges (Arabic, qadi), to settle disputes. He established regulations to govern public observance of important Quranic teaching, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca, the observance of the holy month of Ramadan, and the punishment of adultery and drunkenness. During Umar's reign, Jews and Christians in the newly-conquered territory were assigned the status of dhimmi, or "People of the Book." The dhimmi were not forced to convert. They were exempted from the zakat, or alms tax obligatory on all Muslims, although they were required to pay the jizyah, or poll tax, which was higher. Whether due to the higher tax burden on the dhimmi, or due to Islam's message of egalitarianism, Islam ultimately won many converts in the newly-conquered territories.

Legacy of Umar ibn-al-Khattab (-644)
Appoints provincial judges (Arabic, qadi)
Establishes regulations to govern observance of Quranic teaching, such as:
  • pilgrimage to Mecca
  • observance of Ramadan
  • punishment of adultery and drunkenness
Jews and Christians assigned status of "People of the Book" (Arabic, dhimmi)
Establishes a council (Arabic, shura to select his successor)

The poll tax was particularly burdensome for poor Christians and Jews, and this caused strong resentment. Some believe this was the motive behind the murder of Umar by a Christian slave in 644. On his deathbed, Umar established a council (Arabic, shura) to select his successor. The shura chose Uthman ibn Affan, a man with a strong reputation for loyalty to Muhammad, as the third caliph. Uthman continued the policies established by Umar, and spearheaded the production of an official written version of the Quran.


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