The upbringing of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz

This article is made up of selected passages from my latest book; Productivity Principles Of ʿUmar II. To learn more about this book, click here.

Family Background

ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, aka ʿUmar II, was a descendant of the Umayyads on his father’s side and a descendant of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb on his mother’s side. He was named after his maternal great grandfather.

On his father’s side, he was ʿUmar, son of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, son of Marwān, son of al- Ḥakam, son of Abī al-ʿĀṣ, son of Umayyah.[1] King ʿAbd al-Mālik was his father’s brother, and that made Walīd and Sulaimān his first cousins.

On his mother’s side, he was ʿUmar, son of Layla, daughter of ʿĀṣim, son of ʿUmar, son of al-Khaṭṭāb. The story of how his grandparents met is often retold in Muslim circles due to its mythical and mysterious nature. When ʿUmar I was caliph, he had a habit of going around at night in disguise to see if anybody needed help. One night, he overheard a conversation between a young lady and her mother. The mother was telling her daughter to mix milk with water and sell it in the market. Her daughter reminded her that Caliph ʿUmar had prohibited such practices. The mother said, “ʿUmar cannot see you.” To which the daughter replied, “But the Lord of ʿUmar can.”

ʿUmar was so impressed by this reply that he asked his servant to find out who that young lady was. When he learned more about her, he approached her with an offer to marry his son ʿĀṣim. She accepted the offer, and they got married. It is narrated that later ʿUmar had a dream, after which he used to say, “I wish I knew the man from my descendants, with a scar on his face, [2] who will fill the earth with justice, just as it was full of injustice and oppression.”[3] Many Muslim historians claim that the just ruler ʿUmar saw in his dream was actually ʿUmar II.

How he was raised

Greatness does not occur in a vacuum. Great people are often the products of extraordinary parenting, and the parents of ʿUmar II were extraordinary.

In this section, I will focus primarily on ʿUmar’s mother Layla and how she raised him. The reason for this is twofold: First, as a governor, ʿUmar’s father was very busy running the province, therefore there are fewer narrations about the role he played in his son’s life. As a result, most stories are about ʿUmar’s mother and the choices she made. Secondly, we live in a time in which motherhood is often demeaned and overlooked. Women are taught to choose careers and money over children and parenting, and stay-at-home mums are frowned upon. Because of this, entire generations are losing out on one of the most important factors that contribute to success: extraordinary mothers.

ʿUmar II was born into the second generation of Muslims following Prophet Muhammad (s), at a time when traditional culture was still the norm. Traditional culture dictates that fathers work to provide for their families, while the mother plays the primary role in raising and nurturing the children. This view of clearly identified and balanced roles is part of the Islamic tradition, as well as the tradition of many other cultures and religions, and it is a precept that worked perfectly. It was only in recent times that the dominant culture has changed, and the results have been disastrous.

So, as was the norm at the time, ʿUmar’s father worked to support the family, and his mother focused on raising her children as best as she could. The results of her efforts are clear: an extraordinary and pious king, ʿUmar II.

Layla made several decisions that highlight her concern for her ʿUmar’s upbringing. She sent him to the greatest scholars of Medina to study Islam, so that he would not just learn the knowledge of the religion but would also see the active example of his teachers’ piety and personal virtues. Her decision gave ʿUmar the opportunity to emulate the behavior of the scholars as well as learning the knowledge they shared. ʿUmar’s mother chose ʿUmar’s grand-uncle ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar to be his mentor so that ʿUmar could absorb the religion and piety directly from the first generation of Muslims. (Ibn ʿUmar was a companion of Prophet Muhammad) And when she migrated to Egypt, she left her son back in Madina so that he would grow up in the best possible environment.[4]

The decision to leave ʿUmar in Madina was particularly difficult. ʿUmar lived in an era before technology. By leaving him in Medina, his mother was sacrificing being physically close to her son in exchange for him growing up in a better environment. This would be an extremely difficult sacrifice for any parent to make, but the results speak for themselves.

As a result of these this mother’s three amazing decisions: educating ʿUmar in Medina under the scholars of Islam, choosing ʿUmar’s grand-uncle ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar to be her son’s mentor, and leaving ʿUmar behind when she moved to Egypt, ʿUmar grew up to become one of the most extraordinary Muslims of his generation. ʿUmar benefited greatly from the environment of Medina. He became more religious, knowledgeable, and empathetic than his cousins. His growth into an extraordinary individual can be directly attributed to the amazing sacrifices his mother made in raising him.

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[1] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, p. 48

[2] ʿUmar II had a scar on his face from a horse-accident during his childhood. His parents took this as a good sign that the vision was about him. (As-Sallabi, ʿUmar BinʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, p. 55)

[3] al-Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, vol. 5, p. 122

[4] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, pp. 59-60

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, research manager at Yaqeen Institute, and a freelance writer.

1 comment

Jamila Yakubu Wanka

This story about Umar bin Abdul Aziz’s upbringing is inspiring! I have been thinking about sending my son to study in Madina,this story has encouraged me, I have become convinced that I have made a good decision because I believe that the Islamic knowledge and manners are better than the one’s in my country.

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