The upbringing of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz

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 in Leadership, 1 comment
4 Fiqh Maxims for General Life Guidance

4 Fiqh Maxims for General Life Guidance

The Maxims of Fiqh (al-Qawāʿid al-Fiqhiyya) refer to simple formulas of Fiqh principles that scholars use in their Ijtihād. These maxims were developed in the second half of Islamic history to make Ijtihād and fatwa-making easier. They are taught in Islamic universities across the globe and memorized by students, in order to facilitate Ijtihād.

In this brief article, however, I want to show a different usage of these same maxims. I believe that these maxims can be used by the general public, not to make fatwas, but rather to guide their lifestyle choices and to keep their lives within an Islamic framework. To show, I have chosen for this article five basic maxims of practical value that all four madhhabs agree upon.

1. Actions are judged by their intentions

This is the first of the five major maxims of Fiqh. Some scholars state that as much as one-third of Fiqh is based on this maxim. In Fiqh, this maxim has multiple usages, which include deciding the ruling on something and whether it is rewarding or not.

In terms of practical everyday usage, we can use this maxim to guide our daily life choices. In everything that we do, we should ask ourselves first, “What is my intention in doing this?” The application of this maxim to our daily lives will ensure sincerity and ward off hypocrisy. It will keep us focused on pleasing Allah, and prevent us from straying in our intentions.

2. Harm must be eliminated

This is also one of the five major maxims of Fiqh. The Fiqh of ḥarām is generally based on this maxim i.e. anything whose harms outweigh its benefits is usually categorized as ḥarām. When judging the value of a thing, scholars weigh the benefits and harms and lean towards prohibition when the thing in question is harmful.

We can apply this maxim to our general lives by living our lives in a manner in which we do not harm anybody, including our own selves, with our actions. By consciously choosing to avoid self-harm and harming others, we can live a life of happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Before doing anything, ask yourself, “Will this action be harmful to me or anyone else?” If the answer is yes, then avoid that action unless it is necessary.

3. The original state of people is innocent

This maxim also translates as ‘The original state of people is freedom from liability’. Not only is this an accepted maxim in all the schools of Fiqh, but it has also been adopted by the West under the maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The application of this maxim in Fiqh is that people are innocent of any crimes they are accused of until sufficient evidence is produced to prove their guilt.

We can apply this maxim to our daily lives by avoiding rumors, gossip, and slander. Currently, there is a trend to believe any accusations made about people online. This is unislamic behavior and can lead to great harm in society. Whenever we hear an accusation, we should assume the individual to be innocent until there is clear evidence of guilt.

4. The lesser of two harms should be chosen

This maxim simply means that when a person is in a situation in which all options cause harm, they should choose the option that causes the least harm. This maxim is used in Fiqh to modify the ruling on prohibited things during times of need. Sometimes we will tolerate minor harm if it prevents greater harm.

We can apply this principle in our daily lives by being practical in our approach to life. It isn’t always possible to be perfect and to have choices that are nice and beneficial. Sometimes we are stuck in situations in which whatever we do, someone gets hurt. In such situations, we should choose the minor harm (usually to ourselves) over major harm. This principle can keep us from causing more harm than necessary in times of difficulty.

I hope you found this article beneficial. In shaa Allah, I will produce another article soon highlighting another four maxims that can be applied to our daily lives in a practical manner.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Advice to Fresh Islamic Studies Graduates

Advice to Fresh Islamic Studies Graduates

I graduated from the ʿalim program in 2006. I spent the first few years making all kinds of crazy mistakes. Although I’ve learned from my mistakes over time, I have noticed a trend. In general, a lot of ‘fresh graduates’ make the same mistakes as I did, or even worse mistakes. (Fresh graduate here includes anybody who recently graduated from any ʿalim program or BA in Islamic Studies)

I am writing this to help you avoid repeating my mistakes. The wise person is the one who learns from the mistakes of others, so they don’t have to go through the same experiences. Some of what I write here may be uncomfortable or difficult for you to digest, but it is all equally important. If you want to truly make a difference in your community, please heed the following advice:

Avoid The Popularity Game

It is very tempting to jump straight into social media and start building your following. Over the past two decades, the position of Islamic teachers in communities has rapidly changed. When I started studying Islam, Islamic studies graduates were considered lower class members of society who lived simple lives and were usually poor.

Nowadays, many Islamic Studies graduates are celebrities. They have millions of followers on social media, earn very well, and are generally looked up by their communities. I believe this is a good social change, as Islamic Studies graduates should be respected, paid well and be considered the role models of their communities.

But it does come with one major problem; a lot more youngsters are studying Islam for the wrong reason now (fame). This is a major problem and can have a negative impact on your life and Afterlife.

My advice: avoid the spotlight for the first five years after graduating. Focus instead on all the things mentioned below. A spotlight is a dangerous place where intentions can be corrupted, and mistakes made permanent. If you had to deliver a lecture full of mistakes to a private audience of 30 locals, it will be much easier to correct, than if you made the same mistake on YouTube and it went viral. Stay away until your teachers feel you are ready.

Get to know your community

If you have been away studying Islam in a foreign country for several years, you may be out of touch with your community. Coming straight back and lecturing your community on issues that may not even be relevant to them is a big mistake. Before you start writing or lecturing, spend some time getting to know your community again.

Find out their problems and struggles. Learn what the common beliefs and schools of thought in your community are. Understand their needs and hopes. Develop close relationships with them. Become a beneficial member of your society. Do all of this, and your da’wa will have a lot more impact in later years, as it will be laser-focused on the things that really matter.

Spend time with the elders

Your elders are your fortress. It is from them that you will gain access to decades of experience, wisdom, and knowledge. They have been working in your community longer than you have. They also probably understand the community and its needs much better than you do. Every moment spent in their company is blessed and beneficial. Spend quality time with time and seek their counsel in all your projects.

When you are spending time with them, take time to especially learn from their mistakes and experiences. Ask them about Fiqh positions they have changed over the years and the reasons for the change. Ask them how to engage with the community in the most beneficial manner. Consult them regarding controversial topics, and when/where to discuss them. Their experience in these areas will save you from years of crucial mistakes.

Engage with other types of Muslims

Most likely, you graduated in a specific version of Islam. You may have graduated as a Hanafī Maulana, Salafī Ṭālib al-ʿIlm, or a Mālikī Shaykh. Whatever it is, you would have learned a lot of bad things about the ‘other Muslims’. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t believe what you learned, but at least take the time to learn for yourself from experience.

Visit the local Islamic centers of other groups, and get to know them. Learn their beliefs, practices, and ideas first hand, then make an informed decision on whether you are willing to work with them or not. Do not rely entirely on what you learned in university, because it is often inaccurate or misrepresentation of the beliefs of the ‘others’.

Many ‘fresh graduates’ assume that what they learned is the ‘haqq‘ (truth). They also believe that they are the ones who are going to purify their communities of deviants and innovations. This unrealistic way of thinking leads to community problems, unnecessary clashes, breaking off ties, and irreparable harm.

Calm down. These differences existed before you were born, and may continue to exist centuries after you have passed away. At least take the time you learn about others through personal experience before judging and condemning them. After that, make an informed decision with advice from your elders on how you are going to interact with them.

Build your experience

While you should avoid the spotlight, you shouldn’t avoid doing daʿwa (propagation) either. Instead, build your experience with grassroots level daʿwa. Teach at your local Islamic center, serve as an Imam at the Masjid, or teach at a local Muslim school. Take up a low key role similar to these and build your experience in the field of Islamic work. At least this way, any mistakes you make will affect fewer people and could be repaired.

Utilize at least the first five years after graduation to build your experience in the field. It may be better to avoid social media or public platforms altogether unless your mentors feel you are ready. However, if an opportunity pops up during this time to serve the community on the bigger scale, take it but do so with humility, sincerity and the consultation of your elders. Just remember that the bigger the platform, the harder it is to recover from your blunders.

Always have someone to keep you in your place

As you grow in knowledge, influence and maybe even fame, your Nafs (ego) will become your biggest enemy. You will find yourself constantly battling desires, arrogance, wrong intentions, and other spiritual problems. This doesn’t go away, it will remain a test for life. This is why it is very important to have sincere teachers, mentors, and friends who have your back.

Surround yourself with people who care about you, are not afraid to correct you, and who will humble you when you start developing arrogance. We all need such people in our lives to keep us grounded, and to protect us from our own selves.


Upon graduating, a lot of us are full of zeal and excitement. We can’t wait to share with our communities what we have learned, and ‘fix them’. Take a step back, breath, and give yourself space to develop. Get to know your community, understanding their needs and problems, seek advice from your elders, and stay grounded. Do this and you will accomplish far more, and your efforts will have a lot more barakah (blessings) and impact.

Oh yes, one more thing; Please get married! A young single good-looking celebrity speaker is a huge fitna (trial) in any community. 🙂

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
Does Islamic Studies need an update?

Does Islamic Studies need an update?

I sat with my children looking at the Islamic Studies curriculum for their ages. My children browsed through the textbooks and commented, “We already studied all this year. We want to learn something new.” I agreed with them. I had the same experience when I was their age. I found the Islamic Studies curriculum going around in circles, teaching the exact same topics: Imaan, Salah, Zakah, Sawm, Wudu, Seerah, Tajweed, every single year for almost a decade.

After a while, it grew tedious and boring for me as a student. I found myself looking for new sources of knowledge of Islam and eventually found it outside the curriculum. So for my own children, I decided to do the same. I put aside the national curriculum and decided to formulate my own based on their interests.

Over the next two years in Islamic Studies, we studied; a brief history of the Muslim world, the Muslim Golden Ages, comparative religion, refutations of Atheism, purification of the soul, the wisdom behind the various acts of worship, Islamic manners and character, Tafseer of various Surahs, and explanation of several hadiths.

It is safe to say that my children, despite being only 10 and 11 years old, each of them have a much deeper understanding of Islam than the average child their age. But this got me wondering? Why isn’t all of the above taught adequately in most Islamic schools and madrassas? Why instead do we go around in circles teaching the same subjects every year?

A Proposed New Curriculum

This is my proposal for a revamped Islamic Studies Curriculum for children and what it should include. I have categorized it according to age group, rather than grades.

Ages 5-7:
1) Basic Aqeedah
2) Memorization of Surahs & Duas
3) How to pray and do wudu
4) 5 Pillars of Islam
5) Basic Tajweed
6) Islamic character and manners

Ages 8-10:
1) Basic Fiqh
2) Core Islamic beliefs
3) Introduction to other world religions
4) Tafseer of short Surahs
5) Explanation of important Hadiths
6) Seerah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and other prophets

Ages 11-13:
1) Puberty, sex, being responsible for one’s actions and related topics
2) Detailed History of Islam
3) Muslim Golden Ages: Scientific Accomplishments
4) Purification of the soul
5) The wisdom behind various acts of worship
6) Deeper Tafseer and explanation of Hadith

Ages 14-16:
1) Fiqh of Marriage, Sexual Relations, and Parenting
2) Fiqh of Business, and Islamic work ethic
3) Introduction to Usool of Fiqh, Tafseer, and Hadith
4) Contemporary Issues related to Islam and the modern world (Atheism, Feminism, Liberalism)
5) How to deal with temptation and the traps of Shaytaan
6) Studies of the biographies of contemporary Muslim heroes

Scholars need to work on this

The above are just suggestions. I’m sure the scholars of our time can look at this list, get some ideas, and refine the list into actual subjects, textbooks, etc. The point I am trying to make is that we cannot rely on an Islamic Studies curriculum developed ages ago in the modern.

We need to be constantly updated the curriculum according to challenges of the time we are living in. I believe that if scholars work together, we can come up with much more comprehensive Islamic Studies curriculums that will have a far deeper impact on the hearts and minds of our students.

Learn more about the Islamic Golden Age by clicking here.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Homeschooling, 4 comments

Unedited Thoughts #4: Being A Muslim is more than you think

Being a Muslim

Being A Muslim is more than you think

One think that really bothers me is the different attitudes Muslims have towards being a Muslim. For some it is just a culture. For others a scary set of rules. And for others a means to feel superior to people and for some it isn’t even something they think about.

Islam is something so beautiful, so pure, and so deep that it really hurts to see how people misunderstand and misapply it in their lives.

Sometimes I wonder: Do Muslims not know what Islam is all about? 

Regarding Aqeedah: Do Muslims not know that Islam is about loving and trusting Allah, and obeying Him out of love and respect? Or do they think Aqeedah is just a means to declare others as deviant and feel superior about themselves?

Regarding Shariah: Do Muslims not know that Allah revealed the Shariah to protect us from harm and open the doors of goodness for us? Or do they just assume it is a harsh set of rules to impose upon others without mercy?

Regarding the Quran: Do Muslims not know that the Quran is guidance from Allah for every aspect of our lives? Or do they just think it was revealed to be recited without understanding?

Regarding the Hadith: Do Muslims not know that the Hadith is a preservation of the best way of life through the words and actions of the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)? Or do they just assume it is “just Sunnah” and not important.

Being a Muslim is so much more

Being a Muslim is so much more than just having a Muslim name. It is so much more than just practicing personal acts of worship or studying ancient texts.

Being a Muslim means to develop a close relationship with your Creator. To Love Allah, His religion, His Prophets, His Laws, and His Will.

Being a Muslim means caring for the ummah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It means caring for their worldly needs, but even more caring for their souls and salvation. It means praying to Allah to guide and forgive the ummah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Being a Muslim means living this life knowing it is going to end. It means living this life knowing that an eternal life awaits us and we must prepare for it. Knowing that this life will end means learning to move through our problems and to stay focused on obeying Allah and preparing for the real life that will come later.

Being a Muslim means hating sin, even our own. It means seeking forgiveness for our sins, not seeking justification for them. It means realizing we are sinners, and then using that realization to become repenters, not repeat offenders.

Being a Muslim means recognizing that Allah alone knows what is truly morally right and wrong, and submitting to His Laws, trusting His Wisdom. A Muslim does not dispute when Allah declares something right or wrong.

So don’t just be a Muslim for cultural or ego-centric reasons. Being a Muslim means being submissive to Allah.

So be, oh servants of Allah, true servants of Allah!

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace, 3 comments