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Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and Saint Paul of Tarsis are two of the most revered figures in the world today. Though neither men are considered founders of a faith, they were both important in the establishment of their respective religions.
What is most significant about these two men, is that both of them were at one time enemies of members of the they later came to represent. And both, through amazing conversions, became adamant believers.
Who Was Umar Ibn Al-Khattab?
Today, Umar Al-Khattab is considered one of the most beloved Muslims to have ever lived, especially amongst Sunni Muslims. He is well known for his devotion to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his domineering personality, strong faith, sense of justice, and excellent leadership. During his ten year reign as Caliph, the Muslim empire grew from a struggling collection of tribes to the most powerful empire on earth.
But he wasn’t always Muslim. In fact, at one point he was one of the most arduous persecutors of the early Muslims in Mecca.
Like most people from the Quraish tribe in Mecca, Umar was a merchant. And like most of them, he was also a polytheist and worshiped the many idols prevalent in Mecca at the time. He was known to be very intelligent and loyal. He also drank a lot of alcohol.
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought the message of Islam, Umar was initially opposed to the new faith. He exhorted the other members of the Quraish to stop Muhammad. He also participated in the Muslim’s persecution himself. One story relates that he beat a young Muslim girl so much, he did not stop until he had tired himself out.
At some point, Umar decided it was time to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him) to prevent the continuous spread of Islam and fragmentation of Mecca’s society. So, one day he took up his sword and went to find the Prophet and kill him.
Along the way, he ran into his friend Nuaim Ibn Abdullah. Nuaim asked him where he was going, and replied he was going to kill the Prophet.
Unknown to Umar, Nuaim was also Muslim. So in order to protect the Prophet and buy some time, he told Umar to check his own family first as his sister and her husband had both converted to Islam.
Even more furious than before, Umar rushed to his sister’s house where he found her and her husband reading verses from the Quran. Upon seeing this, Umar began to beat his brother-in-law and when his sister intervened, he beat her too. Finally, Umar hit her so hard she began to bleed, and seeing her blood finally made him calm down.
Despite the beating, his sister and brother-in-law refused to leave Islam. Ashamed of his behavior, Umar asked to see what they were reading. After they showed him how to make ablution, Umar read some verses of Surah Ta Ha.
The words of the Quran touched Umar so much, he immediately decided to become Muslim.
After that, Umar was one of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) most devoted followers. His daughter, Hafsa (may Allah be pleased with her) became one of the Prophet’s wives. And after the death of Abu Bakr, Umar was chosen as the second Caliph of Islam.
During his Caliphate, Umar orchestrated the conquest of the Persian Empire. The Muslim army also chased the Roman (Byzantine) Empire from the Arabian Peninsula. Umar is also famous for his peaceful conquest of Jerusalem. Islam continued to grow, and by the time of his death, the empire covered all of Egypt and much of North Africa.
Who Was Paul Of Tarsis?
Saint Paul of Tarsis was born about 5 years after Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him) returned to Allah. Today, Paul is recognized as the most influential Christian to have ever lived. His writings make up a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was also responsible for spreading Christianity beyond Jerusalem to many other parts of the Mediterranean area.
But he is perhaps most notable for bringing Christianity to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.
Paul was actually born Jewish and was originally named Saul. As a young man he studied Jewish law and became well-versed in Hebrew tradition. He was also a Pharisee, which was a very political segment of Jewish society. According to the New Testament, he was more zealous than other’s his age about sticking to tradition.
In his early life, Paul used to persecute those that followed Isa (peace be upon him). He was on his way to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus when his conversion occurred.
According to the New Testament Paul was struck by a flash of light and fell off his horse. He then claims to have heard a voice (presumably Jesus) coming from the sky saying: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Paul replied: “Who are you, my Lord?”
The voice replied: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
When Paul stood, he was blind. His companions (there’s contradictory reports as to whether they heard the voice or not) led him to Damascus where he remained blind for three days.
In Damascus, another person had a vision, this time a man named Ananias. Ananias was directed by the vision to baptize Paul and heal him of his blindness.
Umar As A Muslim
Umar’s influence upon Islam cannot be underestimated. He participated in several battles alongside Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) including the Battle of Badr, the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Khandaq, and the Battle of Mecca.
The Prophet would confer with Umar to get his opinion on important decisions.
For example, after the Battle of Badr, the Muslim had captured several of the Quraish as prisoners of war. Prophet Muhammad asked both Umar and Abu Bakr their opinions on whether the prisoners should be killed or ransomed. Umar suggested they be killed, but the Prophet decided to take Abu Bakr’s advice and ransom them instead. Later verses of the Quran were revealed showing that Umar’s opinion was the better one.
Umar was also very loyal to the Prophet. An example of his loyalty is exemplified in the Treaty of Hudaybiyah. This was a treaty between the Muslims of Medina and the pagan Quraish. The details of the treaty seemed to lean in favor of the Quraish.
Being upset about the terms of the treaty, Umar approached the Prophet and asked him: “Are you not the Messenger of Allah?”
The Prophet replied: “I am.”
Umar then asked: “Are not our enemies polytheists?”
The Prophet replied: “They are.”
Then Umar asked: “Then why do we disgrace our faith (with this treaty)?”
The Prophet replied: “I am the Prophet of Allah and I will not violate His order.”
After that, Umar felt better about the treaty. And he admitted the Prophet was right later when the both sides saw how the treaty actually hastened the spread of Islam.
When he became the Caliph, Umar was known to walk the streets of Medina to see how his subjects were living. There are many stories of him learning of individuals who were suffering from poverty or injustice and then taking immediate action to rectify it.
And as an administrator, Umar implemented many improvements including canals for irrigation, a record keeping system, a police force, a national treasury, and most importantly, the Islamic calendar.
Paul As A Christian
It should be noted, that prior to the ministry of Paul, the followers of Jesus were not called Christians. There were not even considered a separate religion. They considered themselves Jews who followed Jesus, while other Jews considered them heretics, but not a different faith.
Paul was more of a teacher than a leader. He wrote several letters, called “epistles”, to the different churches (or early Christian groups) he met during his travels. Thirteen of these epistles are now part of the New Testament. Since Paul never met Jesus, these epistles are more about faith than the Christ’s life. It is from these epistles that modern Christianity was formed.
Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ teachings were vastly different from what was being taught by the “Jewish Christians” of the time.
Perhaps the most important difference is the role of Jesus (peace be upon him) to mankind. The Jewish Christians before Paul believed Jesus was the Messiah. However, Paul taught that Jesus was the Savior.
This is a very crucial difference.
A Messiah would:
- Usher in a new era of peace and justice.
- Restore the true Law of Moses.
- Would rule over the world.
Alternatively, a Savior:
- Is responsible for saving all of mankind from God’s wrath.
- Is an essential part of belief.
- Has died for the sins of mankind.
These radical teachings of Paul initiated the separation of Christianity from Judaism. Many of the Jewish members and leaders of the new church disagreed with his views. However, since Paul’s version of Christianity was less threatening to the Roman Empire, and was preached to non-Jews, it eventually become the dominant view.
Comparison of Umar and Paul
If we compare their influence on their respective faiths, Paul has considerable more than Umar. Here are the reasons why:
- Umar is highly respected in Sunni Islam, but is Shia’s tend to have a negative view of him. Paul is highly regarded throughout all of Christianity.
- Umar did not write any parts of the Quran whereas much of the New Testament came from Paul.
- Umar did not deviate from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, but Paul’s teachings were almost completely different from what Jesus’.
In terms of authenticity, however, Umar is considerably higher.
- Umar was known to be a close companion of Prophet Muhammad, and was even related by marriage. Paul never met Jesus, and was born after Jesus left this world.
- Even though the Shias of today find fault with Umar, during his lifetime Umar was the unquestioned ruler of the Muslim world. However, Paul’s teachings were not accepted by many “Jewish Christians.”
- There are at many witnesses to Umar’s conversion. But there is no one to authenticate Paul’s “vision” and it is disputed if his companions even heard the voice.
- Most importantly, since Paul never met Jesus, how did he know the voice he heard was that of Jesus? How can we know it was not a hallucination?
In terms of global influence, it would be hard to choose one over the other.
- Most Muslims know very little about Paul, and the same can be said about Christians and Umar.
- Umar was a leader and warrior whose legislation effected millions during his lifetime. Paul’s following was large, but he was not a leader and some say reports suggest he was executed by the Romans.
- Outside of Christianity, there are not too many people who are named after Paul. But you will find many non-Muslims named Omar or Umar.
In conclusion, there is no doubt about Umar’s devotion to Islam and his ability as a leader. Paul seems to have been a very influential teacher, but he significantly changed the teachings of Jesus.
Hence, it is fair to say, that Umar continued the legacy of Prophet Muhammad whereas Paul initiated a new belief system and attributed it to Jesus (peace be upon him).
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