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The Death of an Ideal Leader: Predictions and Premonitions

Author(s): Avraham Hakim

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 126, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 2006), pp. 1-16
Published by: American Oriental Society
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The Death of an Ideal Leader: Predictions and Premonitions

Avraham Hakim

Tel Aviv University

The three caliphs who ruled after Abu Bakr?cUmar, cUthm?n and cAl?, all four known col
lectively as al-R?shid?n, the rightly guided?were assassinated. cUmar's murder inMedina,
after a ten-year caliphate (13-23/635-644), was the first of the three, and seems to have
been the most traumatic. The assassination of any leader causes distress and re
verberates in the literary works of his people. This is certainly true in the case of cUmar's
assassination, as attested by the large number of traditions dealing with it.
Following the theories of Goldziher, Schacht, and others on the hadith, these traditions
are considered here as texts that do not reflect historical occurrences, but rather the ideas and
beliefs of the scholars who produced and circulated them by the end of the first Hijra century
and the beginning of the second. These texts were projected back to the first era of Islam by
means of chains of transmitters, isn?ds, in order to bestow on them the authority of the
founding fathers of the community, namely the Prophet Muhammad, his companions and
their followers.
These traditions describe both supernatural manifestations that preceded the assassination
and predicted it, as well as the assassination per se. Moreover, they convey the concept that
cUmar's death was perceived as a martyrdom (shah?da) that had been foreseen. The pre
dictions allowed cUmar to comprehend the finality of his coming death and to prepare his
people, his umma, for the hard and turbulent times which would follow. The fact that there
were several predictions was taken to constitute a firm attestation of God's divine interven
tion on cUmar's behalf. The present article is devoted to a description of these supernatural
manifestations, quite ignored inmodern research, which adds another layer to TJmar's image
as an ideal leader.


Many traditions dealing with cUmar's death relate that various people, including cUmar
himself, predicted his assassination. These predictions all contain elements of the super
natural, thus enhancing the grace of God conferred upon the caliph. On the one hand one can
discern in some a universal tendency, since they claim that the murder was already predicted
in the holy scriptures of the Jews and Christians. On the other hand, traditions of a different
kind describe the murder as having been predicted by means of local pagan rites performed
in Arabia since the early pre-Islamic era. Still other traditions describe the murder as having
been predicted by the jinn (demons), by a keen and experienced Bedouin, or in dreams. All
these reports share the idea that the caliph's murder should be considered as a martyrdom.

1.1 Universal Characteristics: (Umar and Kacb al-Ahb?r

The figure of Kacb al-Ahb?r (d. 32/653), a Jew converted to Islam, is closely related to
that of cUmar. In many traditions the two represent views that seem opposed at times and in

All verses from the Qur'an are quoted from A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (New York: Touchstone, 1996).

Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006) 1

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2 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

agreement at others.1 Kacb is quoted as asserting that the Torah and the Gospels contain
hints referring to great Muslim leaders and their deeds. Thus he claims to have found there
a detailed description of the Prophet Muhammad2 and of the whole Muslim community.3
Likewise, the Shicite tradition attributes to Kacb sayings according to which he identified
references to the Shicites in the holy scriptures of the Jews and Christians.4 The following
tradition describes a similar prediction. Itwas transmitted, with minor differences, in three
versions with different family isn?ds on the authority of three people closely related to
cUmar. The first was Aslam (d. 70/80 a.h.),5 the freedman of cUmar; the second was al
Miswar b. Makhrama (d. 64/684),6 who is said to have been a long-standing companion and
pupil of cUmar,7 and the third was a descendent of cUmar, cUbayd Allah b. cUmar b. Hafs
(d. 140-145/758-763).8 Below is Aslam's version with some relevant additions from the
other versions.

When cUmar returned toMedina after his last pilgrimage, Kacb al-Ahb?r approached him
and warned him that he should prepare his will, for his death was due within the same year
(version: within three days). When cUmar asked him how he came by this information,
Kacb replied that he had found it in the Torah. cUmar made Kacb swear that he had found
the name cUmar b. al-Khatt?b in the Torah; Kacb replied that although he did not find cUmar's
name explicitly, he still identified his features, the story of his life, his accomplishments
and the description of his era. The next day, when the two met again, cUmar inquired if any
change had occurred; Kacb replied that two nights remained. On the next day, when they
met once more, cUmar recited two verses of poetry:

Kacb has warned me three days (in advance) and he counts them. No doubt, Kacb's words are true.
I am not afraid to meet death, for surely I will die. But I am afraid of sins followed by more sins.

When cUmar was stabbed to death on the third day, Kacb told him that he had received
advance warning. cUmar replied that he could not flee from the destiny that God had ordained
for him.
Another tradition again confronts cUmar and Kacb. This tradition was circulated with yet
another Medinan isn?d on the authority of cUmar's freedman (mawl?), Sacd al-J?r?,9 who

1. See "Kacb al-Ahbar" (M. Schmitz), Encyclopaedia of Islam, CD ROM edition; see also U. Rubin, Between
Bible and Qur'?n: The Children of Israel and the Islamic Self-image (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1999), 13-17, 56
57, 77.
2. U. Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder: The Life of Muhammad as Viewed by the Early Muslims: a Textual

Analysis (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1995), 30-33.

3. Rubin, Bible and Qur'?n, 14-17.
4. Ibid., 77.
5. cUmar Ibn Shabba, Ta'rikh al-Madlna al-Munawwara, ed. F. M. Shalt?t, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Tur?th, 1990),
3: 891-92; Muhammad b. Yazid al-Mubarrad, al-Ta(?zl wa al-mar?thl, ed. Muhammad al-D?b?j?, 2nd ed. (Beirut:
<- ?- cAbd Allah,
Dar S?dir, 1992), 220-21. The isn?d: Aslam Zayd, his son (d. 136/754) Zayd's son (d. 164/781).
6. Ibn Abi al-Duny?, Kitab al-Muhtadarin, ed. Muh. Kh. R. Y?suf (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1997), 53-54. See
also Muhammad b. Jar?r al-Tabar?, Ta'rikh al-umam wa al-mul?k, ed. Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim, 11 vols.

(Beirut: n.d.), 4: 190-93, who quotes with the same isn?d a long and detailed version of the same tradition. The
isn?d: al-Miswar b. Makhrama <? Jacfar b. cAbd al-Rahm?n b. al-Miswar, his grandson <? cAbd Allah b. Jacfar

(d. 170/787).
7. Muscab b. cAbd Allah al-Zubayri, Nasab Quraysh, ed. E. Levy-Provencal, 3rd ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Mac?rif,

n.d.), 262-63.
8. Al-Bal?dhun, Ans?b al-ashr?f ed. Suhayl Zakkar and Riy?d Zirikli, 13 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996),
<- c?sim b. cUmar b. Hafs <- his brother,
10: 429. The isn?d: al-Mad?'ini (d. 224/839) cUbayd Allah b. cUmar
b. Hafs (d. 147/765).
9. Isnad: M?lik b. Anas <- cAbd Allah b. Dinar, Ibn cUmar's freedman <- Sacd
(d. 179/796) (d. 127/745)
(b. Nawfal) al-J?ri, cUmar's freedman.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 3

reports that the caliph summoned his wife Umm Kulth?m, the daughter of CAHb. Abi T?lib,
to meet him. When she came she was crying and her husband asked her about the cause of
her sadness. She replied that "this Jew," meaning Kacb al-Ahb?r, was telling everyone that
cUmar was to be posted at one of the gates of Hell. cUmar, confused, exclaimed that this
was in the hands of God and that he hoped indeed that God created him to be happy (meaning
that he hoped God intended for him to be in Paradise, literally: khalaqani sa'idan).10 He
ordered Kacb to appear before him. As soon as he came into the caliph's presence Kacb
begged him to withhold his wrath until he explained himself. He swore by God that cUmar
would enter Paradise before the end of the month of Dh? al-Hijja of that year. The caliph
inquired how he could be both in Hell and in Paradise. Kacb answered that he found in the
Book of God that cUmar was assigned to stand firmly at one of the gates of Hell where
he would prevent the believers from falling into it. But when he died they would breach the
gate and march into Hell until the day of Resurrection.11
In the first tradition cited above, cUmar's death and its exact time are predicted in the
Torah. The caliph is given ample warning to prepare himself. cUmar expresses his feelings
and thoughts about this by reciting poetry, a frequent practice in connection with momentous
events in Arab culture long before Islam. By asserting that he believes Kacb's statement to
be true, the caliph bestows Islamic legitimacy upon the prophecies of the Holy Scriptures of
the Jews and Christians. The scholars who circulated this tradition embedded universal ele
ments in it in order to convey the idea that God's grace had been conferred upon cUmar.
The second tradition attributes to cUmar the role of guardian or savior of the Muslim
umma, as found in the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians. This image has already been
described in modern research.12 As long as he lived, cUmar protected Muslims from sin
and error, unifying them with his firm grasp and his dreaded whip (al-dirra). When he died,
no one remained to perform this huge task. The Muslim community would therefore err
and sin and fall into never-ending struggles. The scholars who circulated this tradition,
long after cUmar's death, cited the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as having foreseen
the distressing times that began a bare ten years after the caliph's assassination, when the
Muslims began fighting bitterly against each other in an endless series of civil wars and
forgot the glorious and unifying era of cUmar, the ideal caliph and leader.

1.2 Local Characteristics: Predictions by Ornithomancy (ciyafa)

In traditions of another kind cUmar's death is predicted by means of ornithomancy ((iy?fa),
which was practiced throughout the ancient world, including pre-Islamic Arabia. This rite
is performed by watching flying birds and throwing stones at them. Skillful men are said
to be able to predict future events from the birds' flight. In a forthcoming article dealing with
the title khalifat Allah attributed to cUmar, several versions of a tradition transmitted on the
authority of Jubayr b.Mufim were described and analyzed.13 A brief summary is given below.
Jubayr relates that he accompanied cUmar on what would be the latter's last pilgrimage.
As they were performing the rites at cArafa, two other men were performing Hy?fa, divination

10. cUmar is no doubt referring to QI 1/108: "As for the happy, they shall be in Paradise, dwelling therein
forever, so long as the heavens and earth abide."
11. Muhammad Ibn Sacd, Kit?b al-Tabaq?t al-kubr?, 9 vols. (Beirut: Dar S?dir, 1985), 3: 331-32. For a shorter
version, see al-Bal?dhun, Ans?b, 10: 409.
12. See P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1997), 5.
13. See A. Hakim, "cUmar ibn al-Khattab and the Title Khalifat Allah," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and
Islam 30 (2005), forthcoming.

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4 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

by means of the flight of birds, at the same place. The men were members of the Lihb tribe
from Azd, known to be experts in performing Hy?fa. One of them recognized cUmar, who
stood nearby, and addressed him vociferously with the title khalifat Allah, "caliph of God."
His friend cursed him, either because he used that title or because he disturbed the caliph as
he performed his religious duty. Be it as itmay, on the next day, while cUmar was casting
pebbles as part of the raml al-jamar?t rite, a stray pebble hit the caliph's forehead and
injured him. The Lihb? <?'if from the previous day, who witnessed the incident, shouted
that this was a sign he received (by means of the Hy?fa ritual) and interpreted it as meaning
that cUmar would not perform the pilgrimage again. And indeed, cUmar was assassinated
shortly after this incident.14 Here again, the scholars describe how a supernatural ancient
ritual predicted the death of the ideal leader.

13 Predictions by the Demons (jinn)

A widely circulated tradition has the demons (jinn) predicting cUmar's death. This tra
dition is transmitted with aMedinan isn?d on the authority of c?5isha.15 She relates that
cUmar allowed the Prophet's wives to accompany him on what was to be his last pilgrimage
toMecca. When cUmar left al-Muhassab (between Mecca and Min?, where the pebbles are
thrown)16 late that night, masked man came and asked to be guided to the exact spot where
cUmar's camel had knelt down. He was ushered to that place and made his camel kneel down
there. Then he recited a poem praising cUmar and predicting his coming death. c?5isha sent
people to inquire about the man but he vanished. c?5isha commented that he was a demon
belonging to the jinn. After cUmar's assassination people attributed the poem to Samm?kh
b. Dir?r or Jimac (or Jaz5) b. Dir?r.17 Another version attributed it to al-Muzarrad, Sham
m?kh's brother. c?5isha met al-Muzarrad sometime after cUmar's death and asked him about
the poem. He swore that he did not recite any such poem, nor did he perform the Hajj that
year. This contributes to supporting the view that itwas zjinnl demon that had predicted the
caliph's death.18 Another tradition, transmitted by cUrwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 92-101/711-720)
on the authority of his aunt c?'isha, affirms that the jinn wept for cUmar three days before he
was killed and recited an elegy praising him.19 Ascribing the prediction concerning cUmar's
imminent death to jinn in both of these traditions is another technique used by Islamic
scholars to enhance the link between cUmar and the supernatural.

1.4 The Wise and Skilled Bedouin

In a different kind of tradition, it is a wise and experienced Bedouin chief who predicts
TJmar's assassination. The image of the Bedouin (acr?bl) inArabic adab literature is contro
versial. On the one hand he is represented as coarse, untidy and illiterate, with a wavering
belief in Islam. On the other, he appears as a wise and experienced person whose wisdom is

14. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 333.

15. Isnad: Ibrahim b. Sacd (d. 183/800) <- al-Zuhri (d. 125/743) *- Ibrahim b. cAbd al-Rahm?n b. Allah b. Abi
Rab?ca <? his mother, Umm Kulth?m bint Abi Bakr al-Siddiq <? her sister, c?5isha.
16. Y?q?t b. cAbd Allah al-Hamawi, Mu(jam al-udab?\ ed. Ihs?n cAbb?s, 7 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al
Isl?mi, 1993), s.v. al-Muhassab.
17. Ibn Shabba, Tayrikh, 3: 873-74; Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 333; Abu al-Faraj al-Isfah?ni, Kit?b al-Agh?ni,
24 vols. (Cairo: n.d.), 9: 159-60.
18. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 333; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 411. See also Ibn Abi al-Duny?, Kit?b Haw?tif al

jinn?n, ed. Muhammad al-Zughli (Beirut: 1995), 76-77.

19. Ibn Shabba, Ta'rikh 3: 874-75; al-Isfah?ni, Agh?ni, 9: 159.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 5

the result of a life spent in the harsh desert.20 This dichotomy recurs in the Islamic tradition,
where the Bedouin represents both the shrewdness and the stupidity of the desert Arabs.
The Bedouin who best embodies this dual and contradictory nature is cUyayna b. Hisn,
the chief of the Faz?ra tribe. In Islamic tradition he is pictured as a coarse Bedouin and
self-confessed mun?fiq, who freely admitted that his conversion to Islam was a sham.21 He
was among those whom the Prophet Muhammad attracted to Islam by means of gifts (al
muyallafa qul?buhum), literally bribing them in order to incline them toward the faith.22 The
Prophet used to call him "the fool whose tribe obeys him" (al-ahmaq al-mut?cfl qawmihi)23
and it therefore comes as no surprise that he was labeled as one of "the fools of the Arabs"
(hamq? al-carab)2A After the death of Muhammad he reneged on Islam and led his tribe to
support the false prophet Tulayha al-Asad?.25 And yet, in the tradition below, cUyayna is
represented in a completely different way.
Al-Mada^in? (d. 224/839) relates that cUyayna b. Hisn addressed cUmar, saying that God
had appointed him (cUmar) to be a trial for the Prophet's umma (inna ll?ha qad jaclaka
fitnatan (al? ummati Muhammadin).26 cUmar retorted harshly that cUyayna was a liar, for
God surely knew that his heart held only justice and benevolence towards his people.
cUyayna explained that cUmar misunderstood him and what he meant was that the people
would forego his model way of life (yafqid?na slrataka) after he died and would fight
bitterly against one another. cUmar replied that he did not believe that would happen. Then
cUyayna warned the caliph against people of Persian origin and advised him to expel them
from Medina. When cUmar was stabbed by a Persian slave, he inquired about cUyayna and
was told that he had died in al-H?jir (where the Faz?ra tribe dwelt). Whereupon cUmar said:
"Indeed, there is a (man with a) profound vision in al-H?jir" (inna bi-al-H?jiri la-rayyan).21
In another version it is related that cUyayna warned cUmar against the increasing number
of Muslims of Persian origin inMedina and advised him to beware of them. cUmar replied
that Islam protects them and that they could not be harmed. TJyayna pointed at cUmar's belly
and warned him, again, that he was able to foresee a Persian ahmar azraq (lit., "ruddy blue",
see below) who would stab him in the place he was pointing at.When cUmar was stabbed,
he inquired about cUyayna and was told that he was in al-H?jir. cUmar uttered that in that
place there was a man with profound vision who foresaw exactly where he would be stabbed
by "that dog" (meaning the Persian assassin Abu Lu'lu'a).28

20. See J. Sadan, "An Admirable and Ridiculous

Hero," Poetics Today 10 (1989): 486.
21. Ibn Qutayba, cUy?n al-akhb?r, 4 vols.
(Cairo: n.d.), 3: 73.
22. Q9:60 mentions al-muyallafa qul?buhum; among the early exegetes considered as such, and who interpreted
this verse was cUyayna b. Hisn. See cAbd al-Razz?q b. Hammam al-Sanc?ni, Tafslr al-Qur*?n, ed. Mustafa Muslim
Muhammad, 4 vols. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1989), 2/a: 201-2.
23. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Dhahabi, Siyar a(l?m al-nubal?\ ed Shucayb al-Arn?^?t, 25 vols. (Beirut:
Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1992), 2: 167.
24. Muhammad Ibn Habib, Kit?b al-Muhabbar, ed. Ilse Lichtenst?dter (Hyderabad: Matbacat Jamciyat D?5irat
al-Mac?rif al-cUthm?niyya, 1362/1942; rpt. Beirut: n.d.), 380.
25. Ibn Sacd, al-Tabaq?t al-kubra: al-Tabaqa al-r?bica min al-sah?ba, ed. cAbd al-cAziz al-Sall?mi, 2 vols.
(T?'if. Maktabat al-Siddiq, 1995), 2: 556-62. See also M. J. Kister, "Some Notes on Ridda Verses," Israel Oriental
Studies 5 (1975): 120-21.
26. This expression is borrowed from the Qur'?n where it recurs frequently. See, for instance, Q25:20 where it
is stated: wa-ja(aln? ba(dakum li-ba(din fitnatan, "We appointed some of you to be a trial for others."
27. Al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 427-28, also 419-20.
28. Ibn Shabba, Tayrlkh, 3: 890. Here the dwelling place of Faz?ra is said to be al-Jub?b, which should be cor
rected to al-H?jir. See cAbu cUbayd Allah b. cAbd al-cAziz al-Bakn, Mu(jam m?-sta(jama min asma* al-bil?d wa
al-maw?di(, ed. Mustafa al-Saqq?, 2 vols. (Beirut: n.d.), s.v. al-H?jir. See also Ibn Sacd, al-Tabaqa al-r?bi(a, 2: 562.

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6 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

At the beginning of this article we discussed the scholars' technique of using the Scrip
tures of the Jews and Christians to project backwards both cUmar's assassination and the
hard times that befell theMuslim community afterwards. In the view of the scholars, these
occurrences were foreseen in the In the case, it was a Bedouin
already Scriptures. present
who predicted it all, shortly before it occurred, thanks to his wide experience and profound
vision. Although his experience was acquired from his everyday life, his vision was attributed
to supernatural knowledge. Here the image of the Bedouin projected by the scholars is far
from negative. cUyayna b. Hisn, "the fool whose tribe obeys him," who is usually calum
niated in Islamic tradition, is represented in the traditions quoted above as possessing a
sublime mind at its finest hour.
One should also consider whether the warning given to cUmar to beware of Persians, even
if were Muslims, was not the result of later anti-Persian on some scholars'
they prejudice
part. Their aim was to calumniate non-Arabs, especially Persians, while the Bedouin,
the primal Arab element, to the utmost extent. The versions quoted above were transmitted
without isn?d in the sources by the famous early storyteller (akhb?rl) al-Mad?^ini.29 This
may point to a certain prejudice on the part of this scholar or some of his anonymous in
formants toward non-Ar abs.

The Persian assassin is described as ahmar azraq, meaning that he was ruddy-skinned
with blue eyes. The attribute ahmar usually designates a Persian,30 while azraq is the color
term used to designate an enemy.31 In many traditions ahmar azraq describes a man if ill
repute, not necessarily a Persian. This is how tradition describes the man who slaughtered
the she-camel ((?qir al-n?qa) of Tham?d, which brought down the wrath of God and
caused the extinction of their entire people.32 This is also the attribute used by the Prophet
Muhammad to designate both cAmr b. Luhayy al-Khuzac?, who introduced polytheism into
Arabia,33 and to the future Kh?riji assassin of cAli b. Abi T?lib.34 It stands to reason, there
fore, that the Bedouin cUyayna b. Hisn, taking pride in his Arab birth, would describe
cUmar's assassin as ahmar azraq.

1.5 Dreams Predicting 'Umar's Death

In every culture dreams are used as a means of foreseeing the future.35 Ibn Qutayba
(d. 276/890) defined the dream as a "kind of revelation and a sort of prophecy."36 This may
serve as a starting point for the prediction of cUmar's death in dreams. Many people, in
cluding cUmar himself, all of them God-fearing Muslims, foresaw his death in their dreams.
Here again, the prediction is an indication of the grace of God bestowed on the ideal leader.

29. See Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, ed Rid? Tajaddud, 3rd ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Mas?ra, 1988), 113-17; al-Dhahab?,
Siyar, 10: 400-402.
30. Ibn Manz?r, Lis?n al-(Arab, 6 vols. (Cairo, n.d.), s.v. hmr.
31. Ibid., s.v. z r q.
32. Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, 6 vols. (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), 1: 257. The story of Tham?d is related in

33. Y?q?t al-Hamaw?, Mu'jam al-buld?n, ed. Far?d al-Jund?, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-cIlmiyya, 1990?),
s.v. Wadd.
34. Al-Tabar?, Ta'r?kh, 1: 595.
35. On dreams in Islamic tradition see Ibn Ab? al-Duny?, Kit?b al-Man?m, ed. L. Kinberg (Leiden: Brill, 1994),
especially the editor's introduction, 11-58. On the topic of dreams and death, see also L. Kinberg, "An Examination
of Six Dream Narrations with the Islamic Understanding of Death," al-Qantara 21 (2000); 425-44.
36. Ibn Qutayba, Kit?b Tacblr al-ruyy?, ed. Mashh?r b. Hasan and cUmar b. Ibrahim (Kuwait: Dar Gharas,
2003), 72. See also M. J. Kister, "The Interpretation of Dreams: An Unknown Manuscript of Ibn Qutayba," Israel
Oriental Studies 4 (1974): 74.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 7

1.5.1 cAwfb. Malik's Dream. In a previous article I have described in detail the various
versions of the dream of cAwf b.Malik al-Ashjaci.37 Here is a summary: cAwf b. Malik relates
that during the caliphate of Abu Bakr he saw in a dream that "something" (shayy) was sus
from heaven and that everyone was to reach for it. cUmar was the tallest
pended trying by
three cubits and reached it.Malik asked why cUmar was so privileged, and was told that
"he was one of the caliphs of God on earth, that he was not weighed down by any blame
concerning God's commandments, and that he would be killed as a martyr." cAwf b. Malik
approached Abu Bakr and began to narrate his dream in cUmar's presence. When he came to
the expression, "one of the caliphs of God on Earth," cUmar interrupted him for Abu Bakr's
sake by commenting that no one could possibly see all this in a dream. Years later, after
cUmar became caliph, he met cAwf b. Malik again and asked him to tell him his dream once
more. cAwf commented that he thought cUmar was not interested in the story, and the caliph
replied that he had been obliged to deceive him at that time in order to avoid offending Abu
Bakr. cAwf repeated his story and when he came to the expression "one of the caliphs of God
on earth," cUmar remarked: "Indeed, I was (from Heaven) what all of you can see." The

caliph's comments on the two other components of the dream were that he hoped not to be
weighed down by any blame concerning God's commandments and that he could not die as
a martyr since he had not left Arabia in order to do battle against the unbelievers. Here we
see that cAwf b. Malik predicted already in Abu Bakr's caliphate that cUmar would die as a
martyr, a topic that will be discussed further below.

7.5.2 Abu M?s?'s Dream. Another dream is attributed to the companion cAbd Allah
b. Qays Abu M?s? al-Ashcar? (d. 42-53/663-673), whom cUmar appointed governor of
Iraq. He related to the Prophet's servant Anas b. Malik (d. 91-95/710-714) that he dreamed
he reached a mountain at whose top he saw the Prophet Muhammad accompanied by Abu
Bakr. Then he saw the Prophet signaling cUmar to approach him. Abu M?s? exclaimed: "We
belong to God (and to Him we return), the commander of the faithful is going to die." Anas
advised him to write to cUmar about this prediction, but Abu M?s? preferred not to be the
bearer of bad tidings.38

7.5.3 The Dream about the Rooster (al-dik). The most widespread dream in which
cUmar's assassination was foreseen is the dream about the rooster. In one tra
dition this dream is attributed to Khawla bint Hak?m, the wife of the companion cUthm?n
b. Mazc?n. Another version was transmitted by cUthm?n b. Ibrahim al-H?tibi (fl. second/
eighth century) on the authority of his mother, c?5isha bint Qud?ma b. Mazc?n. She related
that cUmarmet her uncle's wife, Khawla bint Hakim, in themosque, but she remained seated
as he approached her and did not welcome him. The caliph inquired about her well-being,
having noticed that she was sad. She answered that she saw in a dream that a rooster pecked
cUmar thrice. He asked her for her interpretation of that dream and she replied that a man of
Persian origin (rajul min al-cajam) would stab him thrice. cUmar wondered about how this
could happen, but on that very night he was indeed stabbed.39
In a different version of this tradition, al-Mad?^ini relates that cUmar heard weeping
coming from the roofed pavilion (saqlfa) of the women. He approached and saw Khawla bint
Hak?m crying. He inquired about the cause of her sadness and she replied that she dreamed

37. See Hakim, "Khalifat Allah."

38. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq? t, 3: 333; Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 877; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 410.
39. Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 889-90.

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8 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

that a red rooster jumped on cUmar and pecked him thrice. Her interpretation of the dream
was that an unbeliever of Persian origin ((ilj ahmar) would stab him thrice. cUmar wondered
how he could achieve martyrdom when he was so far from where martyrdom could be
obtained, a full month's journey between Medina and the Byzantines (al-R?m).40
In these traditions it is Khawla's dream about the rooster that predicts cUmar's assassi
nation. We have already discussed themeaning of the term ahmar as indicating the assassin's
Persian origin; this is how Khawla interpreted the "red" rooster. cUmar considered his death
at the hand of that Persian assassin as martyrdom. Yet he specifically pointed out thatmartyr
dom meant falling in battle against the Byzantines and not the Persians. It stands to reason
that this tradition reflects the continuous struggle of the Muslims against the Byzantines,
while their struggle against the Persians had already been concluded with a total victory.
Khawla bint Hakim, to whom the dream is attributed, was described by the pious
Umayyad caliph cUmar b. cAbd al-cAz?z (d. 101/720) as "the righteous" or "the virtuous"
woman (al-mar'a al-s?liha).41 In the biographical compilations she is referred to as "virtuous
and benevolent" (s?lihaf?dila).42 The interpreters of the Qur'?n identified her as the "woman
believer" mentioned in Q33:50, which states: "O Prophet, we have made lawful for thee
thy wives . . . and any woman believer, if she
gives herself to the Prophet and if the Prophet
desires to take her inmarriage, for thee exclusively, apart from the believers."43 It is related
that when her husband cUthm?n b. Mazc?n died, she was one of the women who offered to
marry the Prophet. Although Muhammad refused her offer, she still continued to serve him
wholeheartedly.44 In other words, Khawla was a virtuous women who freely offered herself
to the Prophet and let him decide whether tomarry her or not. It is understandable, therefore,
why the tradition attributed the dream that predicted cUmar's death to this virtuous woman.
Only a woman with such an aura of sanctity could be linked to the death of this leader who
enjoyed God's grace.

Apart from Khawla, all the dreams about the rooster are attributed to cUmar himself.
In one short version, transmitted by cUrwa b. al-Zubayr, cUmar related that he dreamt that
a rooster pecked him twice or thrice. He believed this to mean that a man of Persian origin
would kill him.45 In a similar version, transmitted by Muhammad b. Sirin, cUmar is said to
have added to the above utterance that God would grant him the privileged status of martyr
dom.46 In both these versions it is cUmar who interprets his own dream. Being represented
as an of dreams enhanced his as the possessor of
interpreter certainly image supernatural
powers from God's grace granted to him.
Another tradition ascribes the interpretation of cUmar's dream to Asm?5 bint cUmays,
another prominent female companion of the Prophet. The Medinan-Egyptian Sac?d b. Ab?
Hil?l (d. 133-149/751-767) recounts that cUmar delivered a Friday sermon and after praising
God, as usual, said that he had been given a vision in his dream (uritu ruyy?) that signified

40. Al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10:427 See also Ibn Shabba, Ta'rikh, 3: 889-90.
41.Ibn Hanbai, Musnad, 4: 406; Muhammad b. Muhammad Ibn al-B?ghandi, Musnad (Umar b. (Abd al-(Aziz,
ed. Muhammad cAww?ma (Damascus/Beirut: 1984), 66-70.
42. Ibn Hajar al-cAsqal?ni, al-Is?bafi tamylz al-sah?ba, ed. cAliMuhammad al-Bij?wi, 9 vols. (Beirut: 1992),
43. See cAbd al-Rahm?n al-Suy?ti, al-Durr al-manth?rfl al-tafslr bi al-ma'th?r, 6 vols. (Cairo: Dar al-Macrifa,
n.d.), 5: 208.
44. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 8: 158.
45. Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 891.
46. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 335; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 412. It is worth noting that a famous book on dream

interpretation is attributed toMuhammad b. Sirin (d. 110/728).

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 9

without a doubt that his death was near. He saw a red rooster pecking him twice, and in
formed Asm?5 bint cUmays about it. She interpreted it to mean that a Persian would assas
sinate him.47 The wording of this tradition is unusual. cUmar states, "I was given a vision in
a dream" (urltu ruyya)\ the passive urltu may indicate the prophetic aspect of the dream. In
other versions cUmar usually uses the expression rayaytuf? man?mi, "I saw in my dream."48

Another singularity in this tradition is the opening statement of cUmar's sermon. He praised
God and went on to tell the people about his dream about the rooster, omitting mention of the
Prophet or of Abu Bakr, as was usual in sermons of this kind. Indeed, this "flaw" is "cor
rected" in other versions in which cUmar mentions both Muhammad and Abu Bakr in the
opening statement of the sermon pertaining to his dream.49 The uncommon wording of Sac?d
b. Abi Hil?l's version may indicate that itwas circulated prior to the other, more conventional

Asm?5 bint cUmays al-Khathcamiyya, who interpreted the dream, was the stepsister (on
her mother's side) of Maym?na bint al-H?rith, a wife of the Prophet. An early convert to
Islam, she married, one after the other, three famous companions of Muhammad. The first
was Jacfar b. Abi T?lib, the Prophet's cousin and the brother of CA1L With Jacfar she emi
grated from Mecca to Ethiopia (al-hijra al-?l?), escaping from the Quraysh? persecutions
against the first Muslims. After coming back, she emigrated toMedina, becoming one of
those who participated in the two emigrations (al-hijrat?n). The Prophet stated that, contrary
to those who emigrated only once, she would be twice rewarded for having accomplished
both.50 After Jacfar's death (as a martyr) and the mutilation of his corpse at the battle of
Mu5ta (8/630),51 Asm?5 married Abu Bakr al-Sidd?q. The Prophet is said to have stated that
Asm?5 and Abu Bakr were the most skilled dream interpreters in Islam.52 After Abu Bakr's
death, she married cAl?b. Ab? T?lib. It is related that cUmar used to ask her to interpret dreams
for him.53 It is this most virtuous woman who was given the privilege to interpret the dream
which predicted cUmar's assassination.

Beside these short versions, the dream about the rooster was also embedded inside long
and detailed reports in which cUmar delivered his last testament to his people. In other
words, after it became evident that his death was near, the caliph felt duty-bound to inform
>theMuslims what would become of them after him.
Juwayriyya (or J?riya) b. Qud?ma al
Tam?m? (died in the sixties of the first century/the eighties of the seventh century)54 related
that he performed the pilgrimage toMecca, after which he went toMedina. There he wit
nessed cUmar delivering a sermon in which he told his listeners about his dream of the
previous night in which he saw a rooster pecking him once or twice. Hardly a week later

47. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 335.

48. for instance, the version
See, transmitted on the authority of cUmar's freedman
Aslam b. Abi Shayba, al
Musannaffl al-ah?dith wa al-ath?r, ed. Muhammad (Beirut: 1995), 4: 180-81. The name of the
Sh?hin, 9 vols.
woman who interpreted the dream should be corrected in this source to Ash?5 bint cUmays (not Asma5 bint Qays).
49. Abu D?w?d Sulaym?n b. D?w?d al-Tay?lis?, al-Musnad (Hyderabad: Matbacat Majlis D?'irat al-Mac?rif al
Niz?miyya, 1321/1905; rpt. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-cIlmiyya, n.d.), 11.
50. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 8: 281.
51. Jacfar lost both hands during the battle, and the Prophet stated that he would be given two wings in Paradise
where he would fly with the angels; hence he nicknamed him al-Tayy?r. See cAli b. Abi Bakr al-Haythami, Majmac
al-zaw?'id wa manba( al-faw?'id, ed. cAbd Allah al-Darwish, 10 vols. (Beirut: Dar al Fikr, 1994), 10: 165.
52. cAl? b. Muhammad al-Tilims?ni, Takhrlj al-dal?l?t al-samHyya, ed. Ahmad Muhammad Abu Sal?ma (Cairo:
Lajnat Ihy?5 al-Tur?th al-<Arabi, 1981), 92.
53. Ibn Hajar al-cAsqal?ni, Is?ba, 489-91.
54. See Ibn Hajar al-cAsqal?ni, Tahdhlb al-Tahdhlb, ed. Sidqi al-cAtt?r, 10 vols. (Beirut, 1995), s.v. J?riya
b. Qud?ma.

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10 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

cUmar was stabbed. On his deathbed the caliph allowed delegations of Muslims to visit him.
Delegation after delegation came to him: first the Prophet's companions, followed by the
people of Medina, of Syria and of Iraq. They all cried and praised his endeavors on their
behalf. Juwayriyya was among the people of Iraq, the last delegation to visit him. He saw
cUmar lying on his bed, his bleeding wound dressed with a black turban or a black mantle.
Juwayriyya and his companions requested the caliph to deliver his last testament to them;
they were the only people to do so. cUmar enjoined them first to abide by the Book of God,
commenting that as long as they did they would not err. He then ordered them to protect the
very few Muh?jir?n (those who emigrated with the Prophet from Mecca) and the Ans?r (the
people of Medina who gave haven to Islam); he advised them to look after the Bedouins (al
A(r?b), who were the source from which they stemmed, their forefathers, their brothers and
the enemies of their foes; he recommended that they should take care of the Ahl al-Dhimma,
because they enjoyed Muhammad's protection and because they supplied income for the
Muslim community. After these pieces of advice cUmar dismissed them.55 The primary
intention of this tradition was to praise the people of Iraq; they were the one delegation that
requested to hear the caliph's testament. The Basr? isn?d supports this assumption.56
cUmar's testament focuses on the Qur5?n, the Book of God, as the sole guide forMuslims,
making no mention of the Prophet's sunna. One explanation for this discrepancy could be
that the tradition was circulated prior to the crystallization of the concept that Qur5?n and
sunna complement each other in guiding theMuslim community.57 The testament reaches all
the components of theMuslim umma, including the People of the Book, who are described
as a source of revenue for theMuslims, because of the jizya they paid for being permitted to
live inMuslim lands. It is also significant that, while cUmar duly requested protection for the
Bedouins, no mention is made of the mawall, the non-Arab element of the Muslim com
munity. One wonders if the scholars who circulated this tradition did not demonstrate here
a hint of anti-Persian antagonism against non-Arab maw?li. Another significant point in this
tradition is the color of the turban or mantle dressing cUmar's wound. It is specified that the
color was black; this suggests a predisposition of the scholars who circulated the tradition for
the Abbasids, whose color was black.58 Other versions that the wound was dressed
with a yellow mantle (milhafa safra*),59 indicating an anti-Umayyad or pro-Yemenite
cUmar's dream is embedded within another long tradition having to do with the distri
bution of booty (anf?l) among Muslims as well as other important issues. This exceptional
tradition is transmitted with Medinan isn?d by Abu Macshar (Naj?h b. cAbd al-Rahm?n al
Sind?, d. 170/787) on the authority of cUmar b. cAbdAllah (d. 145/763), known in the sources
as "the freedman of Ghufra" (mawl? Ghufra), the sister of Bil?l b. Abi Rab?h. It is related
that the caliph Abu Bakr used to allocate booty equally among the Muslims. When cUmar

55. cAl? Ibn al-Jacd, al-Musnad, ed. cAbd al-H?di b. cAbd al-Q?dir b. cAbd al-Had?, 2 vols. (Beirut: Maktabat
al-Falah, 1985), 1: 586-87. See for a similar version Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 336; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 1: 51.
56. Isn?d: Shucba b. al-Hajj?j (d. 160 a.h.) <? Abu Jamra (Nasr b. cImr?n, d. 128 a.h.).
57. See I. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, tr. C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern, 2 vols. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1967),
58. Ibn Habib, Muhabbar, 484. See also M. Sharon, Black Banners from the East: The Establishment of the
cAbbasid State (Jerusalem and Leiden: Magnes/Brill, 1983), 177-78.
59. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 329. For milhafa, see R. Dozy, Dictionnaire d?taill? des noms des v?tements chez les
Arabes (Amsterdam: 1843, rpt. Beirut: Libraire du Liban, 1969), s.v.
60. See M. Fierro, "Al-Asfar, Again," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 22 (1998): 196-213.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 11

became caliph and the great conquests began, he ruled that his view on this issue differed
from that of his predecessor. He commented that it was not right to apportion the booty
equally among those who fought with the Prophet Muhammad and those who fought against
him in the beginning of Islam. Therefore, he ordered the preparation of a register (dlw?n)
listing theMuslims according to their proximity to the Prophet and allocating a greater share
to those closest to him.61 This new system of allocation caused much resentment within the
community, especially among those who believed they deserved more. During cUmar's last
pilgrimage toMecca in 23/643 these people openly declared that after his death they would
swear allegiance to a certain person,62 and even questioned the oath of allegiance they had
given to Abu Bakr, who appointed cUmar as his successor. cUmar wanted to reply to them
immediately, but cAbd al-Rahm?n b. cAwf advised him thatMecca, crowded with vile people
at this time of year, was not suitable for that purpose and that he should wait until he returned
toMedina. cUmar rushed back toMedina and delivered a sermon in which he praised Abu
Bakr and his caliphate as a model and reported to his listeners about what had been said by
the embittered people. Then he informed them about his dream pertaining to the rooster that
pecked him three times and about Asm?5 bint cUmays' interpretation that he would be assas
sinated by a Persian. He stated that no caliph should be given an oath of allegiance unless
he was acknowledged after consultation. He appointed a sh?r?, a council of six prominent
companions of Muhammad, to decide who should lead the community in case of his death.63
He declared that if these people differed, they should take the advice of cAl? b. Abi T?lib.
At the end of his sermon he stated his opinion on several legal issues such as the inheritance
of the aunt and niece of the deceased. He stressed the need to fortify the frontier towns and
expressed his fear of civil wars due to differences in the interpretation of the Qur'?n or to
disagreements regarding stipends paid by the state. Last, he presented in detail his accom
plishments during his caliphate. cUmar delivered this sermon on Friday and was assassi
nated on Wednesday of the following week.64 The scholars who circulated this tradition
incorporated several unresolved issues that needed the ruling of an authority of cUmar's
stature in order to be determined. cUmar's dream served them as an introduction to deal
with these topics.
In another tradition of this kind scholars incorporated other important issues into the
sermon attributed to cUmar. The famous Qur'?n interpreter Qat?da b. Dic?ma (Basra, d. 177/
794) transmitted on the authority of S?lim b. Ab? al-Jacd (K?fa, d. 97-101/716-720) a report
of Macd?n b. Ab? Talha (Syria, fl. first/seventh century) to that effect. The report states that
cUmar delivered a sermon on a Friday. He praised God, the Prophet and Abu Bakr and went
on to tell about his dream of the rooster that pecked him, which he interpreted as predicting
his impending death. Then he ruled on various complicated issues such as the kal?la

61. On the creation of the diw?n and the related topoi, see A. Noth, The Early Arabic Historical Tradition:
A Source-Critical Study, in collaboration with L. I. Conrad, tr.M. Bonner (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1994), 180,
and the author's references.
62. In a different version of this tradition, Abu Macshar commented that this person was Talha b. cUbayd Allah,
a prominent companion of Muhammad from the Taym clan. See Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Tah?wi, Sharh Ma(?ni
al-?th?r, ed. Y?suf al-Marcashl?, 4 vols. (Beirut: c?lam al-Kutub, 1994), 3: 304-6.
63. See M. J. Kister, "Notes on an Account of the Sh?r? appointed by cUmar b. al-Khatt?b," Journal of Semitic
Studies 9 (1964): 320-26.
64. Ibn Abi Shayba, Musannaf 4: 456-57. For a shorter version, see Ibn Shabba, Tayrlkh, 3: 895-96. A part of
this sermon is also quoted without mentioning cUmar's dream; see cAbd al-Malik Ibn Hish?m, al-Slra al-nabawiyya,
ed. M. al-Saqq?, I. al-Iby?ri and M. M. al-Shalabi, 4 vols. (Beirut: 1995), 4: 229-31.

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12 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

inheritance,65 the appointment of the sh?ra, the functions of the governors in the frontier
towns and the aftereffects of eating onion and garlic.66
One may wonder about the role of the rooster that pecked cUmar in his dream once or
more, indicating his coming death, in all the above traditions. Islamic traditions also report
other people dreaming about roosters. Such a dream is even attributed to the Prophet Mu
hammad himself. It is related that he laid an extended siege against T?5if without being able
to subdue the city. He saw in a dream that he was offered a cup full of butter and as he was
reaching for it, a rooster came and pecked the cup, causing the butter to spill. He recounted
that vision to Abu Bakr, who interpreted it as meaning that the Prophet would not be able
to breach the city. Since Abu Bakr was renowned for his skill at interpreting dreams,67 Mu
hammad concurred.68
At first glance itmay appear that the role of the rooster in these dreams is utterly negative:
it symbolizes the failure of a prophet in a battle and the death of an ideal caliph. It is tempting
to agree with the usual interpretation offered by the sources that the rooster in the dream
means a hostile and slave.69 However, a meticulous and of
unruly comprehensive reading
Islamic traditions pertaining to the rooster reveals that it enjoys a quite positive reputation:
the Prophet loved that fowl and admired it profoundly.70 In fact, several traditions portray the
rooster as a animal with an aura of
legendary sanctity.
One tradition of this kind relates thatGod inHeaven has a personal angel called "Rooster."
When it calls God's name all the roosters on earth imitate him. This is how he calls: "Praise
to God, Exalted beyond any evil, Blessed and Holy, Merciful, King and Judge, One and
Unique." A sick or distressed person who utters that prayer will be cured from sickness and
anguish.71 A different tradition relates that God has a rooster, its claws deep in the seventh
earth, its head high above the seventh sky, and when it calls for prayer every rooster on earth
calls after him.72
The Prophet is said to have stated that the rooster is one of the signs of Judgment Day
(Ashr?t al-S?ca). He related that God has a rooster with wings adorned with emeralds, pearls
and other jewels. One of its wings reaches eastward and the other westward; its claws are
entrenched in the deepest earth and its head under God's throne. At dawn it flutters its wings
and praises God, Exalted beyond any evil, Blessed and Sanctified, One and Unique. Then
all the roosters on earth flutter their wings and call the praise of God. As Judgment Day
approaches, God orders His rooster to close its wings and be quiet. At that moment all

65. Kal?la: the inheritance of a man who died leaving no parents or offspring. On this, see A. Cilardo, "Pre

liminary notes on the Qur'anic term Kal?la," in Law, Christianity and Modernism in Islamic Society, Proceedings of
the Eighteenth Congress of the Union Europ?enne des Arabisants et Islamisants 1996, ed. U. Vermeulen and J.M. F.
van Peeters, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 86 (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 2-12.
66. YacqOb b. Ish?q Abu cUwwana, al-Musnad, ed. Ayman b. c?rif al-Dimashq?, 4 vols. (Beirut: 1998), 1: 408.
67. It is related that "he was among the most skilled at interpreting dreams"; see al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 11: 185.
Muhammad b. Sirin (see n. 46 above), himself a dream interpreter, stated that Abu Bakr was the most skillful in

terpreter of dreams after the Prophet (see al-Bal?dhuri, 10: 66).

68. Ibn Hish?m, Sira, 4: 100.
69. Muhammad b. M?s? al-Damiri, Hay?t al-hayaw?n al-kubr?, 3 vols. (Cairo: Mustafa al-B?bi al-Halabi,
1970; rpt. Qum & Tehran: Mansh?r?t al-Radi/Mansh?r?t N?sir Khusraw, 1985), 1: 497.
70. See R. Tottoli, 'At Cock-Crow: Some Muslim Traditions about the Rooster," Der Islam 76 (1999): 139-47.
71. Abu al-Shaykh al-Isbah?ni, cAbd Allah b. Muhammad b. Hayy?n, Kit?b al-(Azama, ed. Mahd? Najm Khalaf,
5 vols. (Riyadh: 1990), 3: 1013-14.
72. Ibid., 3: 1002-3.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 13

God's creatures will know of the coming of Judgment Day.73 With this aura of sanctity in
mind, it is unlikely that the rooster that appeared in cUmar's dream, or in the Prophet's dream,
evil. It is certainly more that this rooster has the same characteristics as
represents plausible
the holy rooster described above.
The rooster in cUmar's dream is indeed a holy figure: it apprises the caliph, a person
blessed with God's grace, of his coming death and allows him to prepare his people before
hand for the hard times waiting ahead. This is one way to understand the notion that cUmar's
dream introduces his last will and testament for theMuslims. Had the rooster not warned him,
he would not have had time to formulate rulings on legal issues that needed his authority to
be resolved. Moreover, the rooster informed cUmar of his a great virtue
coming martyrdom,
for any Muslim.
The same applies for the rooster in the Prophet's dream near the walls of T?5if. He
announced that the Prophet would not be able to overcome the city and saved him from a
shameful defeat. This assumption is further supported by a tradition relating the incidents
after the siege on T?5if was lifted. In a conversation between Khawla bint Hak?m, the
"righteous woman" mentioned above, cUmar, and the Prophet, it became evident that God
Himself had not allowed the Prophet to invade the city, thus forcing him to lift the siege and
return to Medina.74 In this case, the rooster God's view on this matter in advance.


Many traditions describe cUmar's assassination as a martyrdom (shah?da), adding this

virtue to his other qualities.75 This martyrdom, also predicted, represents the caliph as a
warrior who fell in battle for the glory of God.76 Yet in some of these reports cUmar is rep
resented as doubting the prediction of his martyrdom, as will be described below.
Kacb al-Ahb?r, as described above, predicted cUmar's assassination on the basis of the
Holy Scriptures of the Jews and Christians. He also predicted the caliph's martyrdom based
on these same Scriptures. It is related that after cUmar was stabbed, Kacb approached him and
reminded him that he had informed him beforehand of his coming martyrdom; yet cUmar
expressed his doubts, wondering how this could be when he is out of harm's way in the
Arabian Peninsula.77 In another report Kacb's statement sounds more like a reproof. After
cUmar's stabbing, Kacb approached him and recited in his ear Q3/60: "The truth is of God,
be not of the doubters" Kacb reminded the caliph that he had informed him well in advance
of his martyrdom, yet cUmar had doubted, wondering how he could achieve martyrdom in the
middle of Arabia.78 The purpose of the scholars who circulated these traditions is twofold: on
the one hand to re-affirm the concept that the Qur'?n fully adopts the revelations in the pre
ceding Holy Scriptures, in this instance, the prediction of cUmar's martyrdom; on the other
hand to admonish anyone, cUmar being the model, who would cast doubt on this notion.
In another tradition it is related that cUmar asked Kacb to describe Paradise for him. Kacb
depicted sumptuous palaces selected for a prophet, a fervent believer (siddlq), a righteous

73. Ibid., 3: 1007-9.

74. Ibn Hish?m, Slra, 4: 100-101.
75. On martyrdom in Islam see E. Kohlberg, "Medieval views on Martyrdom," Mededelingen van de Afdeling
Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, d. 60/7 (Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandische, 1997), 281-307.
76. On the topoi of martyrdom in Islamic literature dealing with wars, see Noth, Tradition, 145-46.
77. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 339-40; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 416-17.
78. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 340-42; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 417-19.

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14 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

judge and a martyr. cUmar commented that the prophecy had ended with the death of Mu
hammad, that he himself is a fervent believer in God and his Prophet, and that he hoped he
was a righteous judge. As for martyrdom, he wondered how he could possibly achieve it.79
In a different version, cUmar's doubt about his martyrdom is expressed by his wondering how
he could possibly achieve itwhen Syria stood between him and Byzantium, Yemen between
him and Abyssinia and Iraq between him and Persia. The transmitter of this version com
mented that God brought him martyrdom at the threshold of his own house.80
These three traditions, based on supposed knowledge of the ancient Holy Scriptures, rep
resent the caliph as doubting his predicted martyrdom. But it seems that other scholars were
not satisfied with this image of the caliph as someone who doubted the visions and predic
tions of Holy Scripture and expressed uncertainty as to God's ability to bestow martyrdom
on a believer. Therefore other traditions were circulated that "corrected" these deficiencies.
One such report, for example, describes cUmar as doubting his predicted martyrdom by
saying that it was not probable because he dwelled in Arabia and did not go to war. Imme
diately after this utterance he exclaimed: "Woe tome (wayl?), God will provide martyrdom if
He so wishes,"81 or, in a different version, "of course, of course (bal? bal?), God will pro
vide it if He so wishes."82 It seems that the wayl? exclamation in the first version was later
replaced by bal? because of the former's undue harshness, bearing inmind that the likes of
cUmar were not expected to express themselves in such a manner. In a third version cUmar
categorically states: "God will provide it twice if He so wishes."83 All three utterances in
dicate that cUmar doubted no more.
A different tradition shifts the blame of doubting from cUmar to his daughter Hafsa, the
Prophet's wife. She is said to have heard her father ask God to bestow martyrdom on him
in the Prophet's city (Medina). She wondered how this could be possible and cUmar replied
that God had the power to put His word into effect in any way He wished.84 Here cUmar
wished for martyrdom and was certain that God could and would provide it for him.
cUmar's wish to die as a martyr is expressed in various traditions. Zayd b. Aslam (d. 136/
754), son of cUmar's freedman, related that the caliph used to say in his prayer: "O God, I
beseech Thee to confer martyrdom on me and to die in Thy Prophet's city."85 It seems that
due to its importance for jih?d in Islam, this quest for martyrdom became a canonical
formula, quoted in the most revered canonical compilations of Islamic traditions.86 It is
significant that al-Bukh?r? (d. 256/870) selected this prayer as the formula introducing a
chapter he entitled: "A prayer for the quest of jih?d and martyrdom for men and women."87
Thus, the quest for martyrdom became a canonical in Islam.

79. cAbd Allah Kitab al-Zuhd, ed. Habib al-Rahman

Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Aczami (Hyderabad, n.d., rpt. Beirut
Mu^assasat 1971?), 535; Abu Nucaym Ahmad b. cAbd Allah al-Isfah?ni, Hilyat al-awliy?y wa tabaq?t al
asfiy?\ 10 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Kh?nji/Matbacat al-Sac?da, 1952-58), 5: 387-88.
80. Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 892.
81. IbnSacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 331.
82. Al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 409.
83. Ibn Hanbai, Fad?yil al-sah?ba, ed. Wasiyy Allah b. Muh. cAbb?s, 2 vols. (Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Ris?la,
1983), 1:267.
84. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 331; Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 872; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 409.
85. M?lik b. Anas, al-Muwatta*, ed. Muh. Fu'?d cAbd al-B?qi, 2 vols. (Cairo: Dar Ihya5 al-Kutub al-cArabiyya,
1951), 2:462.
86. Al-Bukh?ri, Sahlh, in Ibn Hajar al-cAsqal?ni, Fath al-b?ri bi-sharh Sahlh al-Bukh?rl, ed. cAbd al-cAziz
b. B?z, 17 vols. (Beirut: 1995), 4: 588.
87. Al-Bukh?ri, in ibid., 6: 86.

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Hakim: The Death of an Ideal Leader 15

Tradition could not do without linking cUmar's martyrdom to the Prophet Muhammad.
It is as if it strove to bestow it on the revered caliph not only on the authority of the Holy
Scriptures of Jews and Christians but also that of the highest instance of the Muslim com
as well. Thus, we find an utterance of the Prophet martyrdom for cUmar.
munity wishing
cAbdAllah b. cUmar recounts thatMuhammad saw cUmar wearing a cloth (version: a white
cloth) and inquired if it was new or freshly washed. cUmar replied that itwas washed. Then
Muhammad said: "Wear new cloth, live to be worthy of praise and die as a martyr (Ubis
jadldan wa cish ham?dan wa mut shahldan). May God please you in this life and in the life
to come."88 The scholars who circulated this utterance used rhymed prose (saj() in the first
part in order to render it captivating, slogan-like and easy to remember.

cUmar and his two successors were assassinated; all three are perceived by the Muslim
community as martyrs. Yet the uniqueness of cUmar's martyrdom resides in the fact that he
was murdered by a non-Muslim while his successors fell at the hand of Muslim assassins.
The tradition focuses on this detail to enhance the image of cUmar and differentiate it from
that of his successors. It is related that after he was stabbed, cUmar sent Ibn cAbb?s to inquire
who the perpetrator was. When he was informed that it was the Persian unbeliever Abu
Lu^hPa, he was relieved and affirmed: "Praise God Who did not bring my death at the hand
of aMuslim believer."89 In another version he is said to have asserted: "Praise God I did not
die as a result of a disagreement with aMuslim pertaining to my belief."90 In yet another
version, he uttered: "Praise God I did not die by the hand of a man who will argue with me
on the Day of Judgment regarding the declaration: There is no God but Allah."91
Another utterance of cUmar's focuses on the perception that his assassin was not a
non-Muslim but a non-Arab as well. Thus he is said to have exclaimed after the assassin was

identified: "Praise God my assassin will not quarrel with me in the presence of God regarding
one of his prostrations to Him. The Arabs would not have killed me."92 There ismore than
a hint in this utterance as to the uniqueness of cUmar's assassination, compared to that of his
two successors: he was killed by a non-Muslim Persian foreigner while they were killed by
Muslim Arabs. These traditions all convey an undisputed fact, namely that cUmar was killed
by a non-Muslim; therefore his death was to be considered as martyrdom.
The connotation accorded tomartyrdom, shah?da, developed gradually in the following
centuries. It came to include not only warriors who fell in battle for the glory of God, but
also anyone who died as a result of unnatural circumstances (drowning for example).93 The
traditions pertaining to the martyrdom of cUmar convey both the limited and the broader
meaning of shah?da. When they describe cUmar as doubting his martyrdom, saying that he
could not have achieved it because he was not involved in fighting against enemies, they
convey the concept that only warriors killed in battle can attain shah?da. This is the highest
reward aMuslim fighter achieves in jihad, and every Muslim must strive to reach it. How
ever, when cUmar doubts no more, saying that God may bestow it on anyone if He so wishes,
then martyrdom is conveyed in its broader sense.

88. cAbd al-Razzaq b. Hammam al-Sancan?, al-Musannaf ed. Habib al-Rahman al-Aczami, 11 vols. (Beirut:
Tawzic al-Maktab al-Isl?mi, 1983), 11: 223; Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 329; Ibn Hanbai, Fad?'il, 1: 255-56.
89. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 237-39.
90. Ibn Shabba, Ta'rlkh, 3: 903-4.
91. Ahmad b. cAmr Ibn Abi c?sim al-Dahh?k, Kit?b al-ah?d wa al-math?ni, ed. B?sim al-Jaw?bira, 6 vols.
(Riyadh: Dar al-Raya, 1991), 1: 108.
92. Ibn Sacd, Tabaq?t, 3: 345-46; al-Bal?dhuri, Ans?b, 10: 422-24. For a similar version, see also Ibn Shabba,
Ta'rlkh, 3: 902-3.
93. See Kohlberg, "Martyrdom," 24-27.

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16 Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.1 (2006)

In conclusion, one should consider that it is natural that martyrdom in both its senses is
associated with cUmar.More than any other leader, he is identified in theMuslim collective
memory with conquests and jih?d where amultitude of Muslims fell in battle. The scholars
who produced texts describing cUmar's assassination as martyrdom intended to portray him
as the perfect model for the warriors in the battlefields: their reward in the afterlife will be
similar to his. Thus the scholars add an important layer to his image as the ideal leader of
theMuslim community, chosen by God.

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