Umar

Focusing on the Hereafter as a Productivity Principle

Focusing on the Hereafter as a Productivity Principle

This article is an extract from my book Productivity Principles of ʿUmar II, available here.

Our life in this world is temporary. It is the everlasting life of the Hereafter that we need to set as our priority. This is exactly what ʿUmar did, and this mindset is what made him such an exceptional leader. ʿUmar II was always preoccupied with the next life and what he was preparing for it. As a result, every decision he made was to preserve and build a better Afterlife for himself.

Yazīd b. Ḥawshab said, “I never saw anyone more fearful of Allah than al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī[1] and ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz. It was as if the Hellfire had solely been created for the two.”[2]

This statement may seem strange for anyone who is not familiar with the Islamic beliefs related to the Afterlife, so a brief explanation is fitting at this point: 

Muslims believe that the Hellfire is a real place, and one of the reasons God created it was to motivate people to do good deeds and abstain from sin. Islam recognizes that different people are motivated differently. Some are motivated by aspirations to attain the love of God, others by the desire for Paradise and some by fear of Hellfire. Each of these rewards or punishments plays a role in bringing people closer to the Creator.

In this way, Muslims do not view the existence of the Hellfire in the same negative sense that many others do. Rather, it is seen as a necessary creation of God that serves a beneficial purpose. This fundamental belief in Heaven and Hell forms part of the fifth pillar of Islamic theology.

ʿUmar II once said, “Take care of your Hereafter and Allah will take care of your worldly life. Take care of your private life and Allah will take care of your public life.”[3]

In this quotation, we see the importance ʿUmar II gave to the Afterlife. He prioritized focusing on the Afterlife and working towards Paradise over worldly goals. He did this with the full conviction that Allah would help him achieve his worldly goals even though the Afterlife was ʿUmar’s primary focus.

In the second half of this quote, ʿUmar II gave another important piece of advice. He advised that we should focus on our private lives. This is crucial for developing sincerity and living a clean life free from hypocrisy. Too often people focus on their public image, while in private they commit many of the evils they publicly preach against. In doing so, they develop a two-faced personality that ruins their Afterlife. In order to meet Allah with a clear conscious, we must be more concerned with our private practice of Islam. When this is straight, everything else will follow.

ʿUmar’s statement is a clear example of the importance ʿUmar II gave to the Afterlife, and how he promoted prioritizing it over worldly goals and public image.

Further proof of ʿUmar’s focus on the Afterlife can be seen in his final sermon, which dealt entirely on the importance of prioritizing the Afterlife. In this sermon, he advised people, “You were not created in vain, nor will you be left without purpose. Verily, you have an appointed time in which Allah, the Most High, will come down to judge you. Wretched and ruined will he be who leaves the mercy of Allah and is denied a Garden whose width is that of the heavens and Earth.

Know you not that no one will be safe tomorrow save one who is wary of today and fears it; and sells the transitory for what will remain, and the little for the plenty, and fear in exchange for security [in the hereafter]? See you not that you are in the loins of the dead, to be taken by those who remain after you until all matters return to the Best of Inheritors?

Every day, [in the funerals] you accompany those returning to Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, having spent their time, until you hide them in a crevice in the ground, in the belly of a bare and unfurnished hole, having parted from their loved ones, stroking the dirt and facing their accounts. Now, they are dependent on their deeds, free of what they left behind, in need of [the deeds] they put before them. So fear Allah before the time He appointed is up and death descends upon you. This is what I have to say.”[4]

Reflecting on the above words shows that his entire focus in this sermon was redirecting people away from chasing the gains to be had in this life and instead focusing on what would benefit them in the Afterlife. This was the final sermon that he delivered, and it shows the high level of priority he gave to attaining the good in the Afterlife.

A final story that indicates the importance ʿUmar II and his advisors gave to the Afterlife is related in the following narration. It is reported that ʿUmar b. ʿAbd Al-ʿAzīz once wrote to Al-Ḥasan Al-Baṣrī to get some advice from him, so Al-Ḥasan wrote back, “The world distracts and preoccupies the heart and body, but Zuhd (asceticism, not giving importance to worldly things) gives rest to the heart and body. Verily, Allāh will ask us about the Ḥalāl things we enjoyed, so what about the Ḥarām!”[5]

Even in their private advice between each other, the focus was on accountability to Allah on the Last Day. This was the guiding force behind all the efforts, goals, and projects of ʿUmar II.

The Fifth Pillar of Faith

In Islam, there are six pillars of faith (iman). These are the six core beliefs of Islam. If a Muslim denies any of these six pillars, then that individual is no longer a Muslim. These beliefs are the belief in the Oneness of Allah, belief in the angels, the divinely revealed scriptures, the prophets, the Afterlife, and destiny.

The fifth pillar of faith or belief in the Afterlife includes the following doctrines. Muslims believe that God created the soul to live forever in the Afterlife. Our existence in this world is temporary and a test. After we die, our souls are transferred to the barzakh (world of the dead) where the soul is either rewarded or punished until the Day of Resurrection.

On that day, all souls will be resurrected in new bodies and will face judgment. Based on that judgment, the souls will either face eternal damnation, eternal bliss, or temporary punishment followed by eternal bliss. Muslims do not have the authority or knowledge to say which individuals will go to Heaven or Hell, rather we trust God’s Perfect Justice and Mercy and leave the judgment to His Perfect Attributes.[6]

But what do these beliefs have to do with productivity?

The Importance of Believing in the Hereafter 

Belief in the Hereafter is one of the fundamental beliefs of Islam, but it is also key to true productivity. Many people don’t see the point in setting goals and working hard if we are all just going to die anyway. This nihilistic attitude causes many people to simply waste their lives away.

However, when we embrace the idea that there is another life after this life, an everlasting life that can be full of bliss and happiness, it motivates us to work for a higher purpose and towards a nobler goal. It then doesn’t matter whether we necessarily see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetime or not.

What matters is that we leave behind beneficial projects that continue to make an impact long after we have passed away. It may seem like we might not see the fruit of our goals, but we will see it on the Last Day when we face our Creator and see the list of deeds we left behind.

Islam encourages us to focus on beneficial projects that last long after we pass away; these projects become a source of continuous reward for us, even centuries after leaving this earth. Such projects include charitable work, knowledge that benefits people, and even righteous offspring that make this world a better place.

Regarding this, Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “When the human being dies, his deeds end except for three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.”[7]

Narrations like this encourage focusing on life after death. Not just doing what we can with our present lives, but looking beyond to what impactful and beneficial legacy we can leave behind after we have passed on to the next life.

A Fuel for Productivity

Belief in the Hereafter forces us to think bigger. It makes us look beyond our lives at what impact we can have even after our deaths. Islam teaches us that certain good deeds continue to pile up on our accounts long after we have passed away.

Dr. Bilal Philips describes the Islamic Belief in the Hereafter as follows:

Those who believe in the Afterlife, resurrection, and the judgment, are obliged to consider carefully the consequence of their deeds. Belief in the Last Day causes them to think beyond their immediate needs and desires. It sets their goals beyond this temporal existence.[8]

When we embrace the concept of an Afterlife, we no longer work for the trivial rewards of this world. Our focus lies beyond the immediate horizon; we work for the everlasting rewards of the next world. In doing so, we elevate our goals and efforts to another level, and everything we do takes on a spiritual dimension.

Belief in the Afterlife also makes us more principled and less likely to violate these principles when facing desperate situations.

Dr. Bilal Philips explains this concept well:

Believers in the Judgement will not compromise the basic commandments of God in order to attain some limited measure of material success. They will be principled individuals, sticking to their beliefs and practices regardless of how odd they may seem or how lonely and isolated the society may make them.

Those who do not believe in the Judgement tend to be good as long as it is convenient. But when everyone else around them is cheating or stealing, or being honest will cost economic loss, they usually compromise their principles with appropriate justifications.[9]

This statement may seem like a generalization. There may exist people who remain honest in all situations even without belief in the Afterlife. However, it can’t be denied that belief that one will be held accountable or called for judgement does provide a stronger basis to remain firm on one’s principles even when things seem desperate.

Belief in the Afterlife leads to a more productive lifestyle in many ways. It causes us to focus on bigger goals that extend beyond our lifetime; it gives life purpose and meaning; and it makes us unwavering in our principles. The life of ʿUmar II is an excellent example of this belief in practice.

To continue reading this chapter, get the full ebook here.


[1] Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī was a famous Muslim pious ascetic and scholar that lived during the same period as ʿUmar II.

[2] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, pp. 724-725

[3] Kitāb al-Ikhlāṣ, 50

[4] Abū Bakr Al-Daynūrī, Al-Mujālasah wa Jawāhir Al-‘Ilm Vol. 3 p343

[5] Al-Bayhaqī, Al-Zuhd Al-Kabīr, article 26

[6] Dr. Muhammad Khalil Harras, Ibn Taymiyyah, Sharh al-ʿAqīdat al-Wāṣatiyyah, pp. 163-179,

[7] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1631

[8] Dr. Bilal Philips, The Clash Of Civilisations, p. 141

[9] Ibid. P. 141

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 2 comments

Shūrā as a Productivity Principle

This is an extract from my latest book Productivity Principles of ʿUmar II. You can learn more about the book here.

The Shūrā Committee of ʿUmar II

When ʿUmar II was governor of Medina, he surrounded himself with a panel of pious and experienced consultants. When he became king, he maintained this system, and once again put together a team of experts to consult with on every major decision.

The practice of consulting experts has always been a recommended practice for Muslims. In the Quran, there is an entire chapter titled the Chapter of Shūrā (Consultation) which includes the verse, “And their affairs are decided through consultation among themselves,”[1]

Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “If your brother requests your consultation, let him give counsel.”[2] It was also the practice of the Rightly Guided Caliphs to have a committee of consultants to discuss all important issues. In Islam, such committees are called shūrā committees and are very important for success in any project.

ʿUmar II wanted to emulate the leadership style of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Based on their example, he set up shūrā committees to consult whenever he was in a position of power. He first established such a committee when he was governor of Medina. His committee at that time included ten of Medina’s leading scholars. This included ʿUrwa b. al-Zubayr, ʿUbaydullāh b. ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUtbah, Abū Bakr b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, and many other leading scholars from the second and third generation of Muslims.[3]

This council was given several tasks, which included giving ʿUmar their opinion on any action he planned to take, informing him of any misconduct in his region, and advising him on matters of policy. Based on the advice of this council, he made several improvements to the social structure of Medina. This resulted in a large number of people migrating to Medina during his short reign.[4]

When he was appointed caliph of the Muslim world, ʿUmar again set in place a shūrā council to guide his decisions. This committee included leading scholars from across the Muslim world including Sālim b. ʿAbdullāh, Muhammad al-Qurṭubī, Rajāʾ b. Ḥaywa and Yazīd b. al-Muhallab.[5]

Surrounded by such exemplary individuals, and in contact with various others throughout the Muslim Empire via letters, ʿUmar’s policies and decisions were guided by sincere advice, experience, and piety. This led to some of the most important decisions that shaped the history of the Muslim world.

Because of the wise and righteous advice of these consultants, ʿUmar II was able to set up various long-term projects that benefited the Muslim community for centuries.

Some of the decisions that resulted from consultation include the removal of various unjust taxes, increasing the salaries of religious scholars, sending scholars to teach Islam to the newly conquered regions, and the compilation of hadith into books. Each of these decisions played an important role in improving the lives of the Muslim community.

ʿUmar II’s High Regard for Consultation

ʿUmar II once said, “Nobody is entitled to be a judge unless he has five qualities. He must be chaste, gentle and patient, knowledgeable of the past, accustomed to seeking the consultation of others, and indifferent to criticism from others.”[6]

Among the five most crucial qualities of a judge, ʿUmar II included seeking consultation. A judge cannot always rely on his own opinion or view of a matter, and neither can he always trust his own ability to remain unbiased. A just judge will seek the opinion of righteous experts before making a decision.

ʿUmar II advised his governors, judges, and contemporary scholars to seek consultation on every important issue.

He once wrote to ʿUrwah a letter in which he mentioned, “You have written to me asking about the practice of issuing legal rulings and settling people’s dispute. That heart of the judicial practice is adherence to what you find in the Book of God, the issuing of rulings based on the example set by the Messenger of God as well as the judgments handed down by the Rightly-Guided leaders, and consultation with the learned whose points of view can be trusted.”[7]

In these two quotations, we can see the high status ʿUmar II gave to consultation. He considered it among the most important sources of decision making, policy making, deduction of laws, and application of principles. He would not make any major decisions without consulting experts on the topic, and he advised others to do the same.

Consultation is one of those principles that ʿUmar both practiced and preached, and it is one of the most important principles that led to his success in various fields.

The Benefits of Consultation

There are many benefits of seeking the counsel of experts. Ahmad al-Raysuni, in his book al-Shūrā, lists ten major benefits of consultation.

These are:

  1. Choosing the most correct opinion
  2. Protecting the decision from bias and desire
  3. Preventing tyranny
  4. Promoting humility
  5. Giving people their due
  6. Promoting an atmosphere of freedom
  7. Improving one’s thinking and planning capabilities
  8. Building support structures
  9. Promoting unity and goodwill
  10. Increasing the ability to deal with unwanted consequences.[8]

Each of these is important for achieving maximum productivity from one’s goals. When we consult others, we increase the chance of arriving at the correct opinion and therefore increase our chances of succeeding at our goals.

Sometimes when we make decisions on our own, these decisions are clouded by bias or desire. Seeking the counsel of someone unbiased helps us see past these distortions and helps us arrive at a better conclusion. In doing so, we also protect ourselves and others from any unintentional tyranny that our biased opinions may cause.

It takes humility to seek the counsel of others. This makes consultation an act that strengthens humility and reduces arrogance. This increases the chance of success, as humble people are far more likely to excel than the arrogant.

Consultation with specialists actively demonstrates appreciation and respect for the experts. This is a way of giving people their dues, promoting an atmosphere of freedom and discussion, as well as promoting unity and goodwill among people.

The more we discuss our ideas with others, our thinking and planning capabilities grow accordingly. Each discussion teaches us a new way of looking at things and refines our thinking process.

Finally, consultation is a team task. When you consult others, they become invested in your outcome, which gives you a stronger support structure and an increased ability to deal with any obstacles or problems that may arise.

These are just ten benefits of consultation.

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[1] Quran 42:38

[2] Ibn Mājah 3747

[3] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, pp. 77-78

[4] Ibid. pp. 78-81

[5] Ibid. pp. 115-118

[6] Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 15, p. 50

[7] Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm, vol. 2, p. 30

[8] Al-Raysuni, al-Shura, pp.24-40

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 0 comments

Leadership lessons from the life of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA)

ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz – The Rightly Guided Umayyad

Umar Ibn Abdul Azeez

The Umayyad Masjid, Damascus

ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz aka ʿUmar II was the eight Umayyad ruler, who ruled the ummah for just two years from 99 to 101 AH.

Despite the brevity of his reign, ʿUmar (RA) is considered one of the greatest and most influential leaders in the history of this ummah. In fact, many historians even call him the Fifth Rightly Guided Caliph.

Many books and article have been written about this amazing man. If you would like to read his detailed biography, I highly recommend Dr Ali As-Sallabi’s book, Umar Bin Abd Al-Aziz. It is a 700 page detailed account of his life and lessons extracted from it. Alternatively, you can also purchase my book, which discusses his life from a productivity perspective. My book is available here.

In this article, however, I wish to discuss some of my personal reflections on the life of this great man. I have reflected a lot on the life of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz as I consider him a role model, and someone I aspire to be like. From a leadership perspective, the following lessons stood out to me:

1. Extraordinary parenting produces extraordinary leaders

Nobody becomes a great person in a vacuum. There are many factors that lead to greatness. In the case of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, parenting played an important role. ʿUmar’s mother was the granddaughter of ʿUmar bin Al-Khattab (RA) and she raised her son to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather.

He was raised in Madinah, studied Islam under some of the greatest scholars among the Sahaba and Tabi’een, and was taught the confidence, skills, and manners needed to succeed in his field. ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA) is a great example of what three generations of righteous parenting can produce.

2. It takes a community to produce extraordinary leaders

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, proposes that there is no such thing as a self-made success. Rather every successful person is the combination of many factors including being born in the right time and place, having a good upbringing, and being part of the right community. All of these factors can clearly be seen in Umar’s success.

He was born into the Umayyad family, raised in Madinah, a descendant of rulers on both sides of his family, and given a great education. The factor I want to focus on here is the role his community played in shaping him. ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA) was raised in the best possible community, Madinah!

Furthermore, he was raised there in a time when there were scholars in Madinah from among the Sahaba and Tabi’een. Add to this, his grandfather’s brother ʿAbdullah Bin ʿUmar (RA) was a scholar of Madinah who personally taught him Islam!

ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA) was the product of not just good parenting, but also of great teachers, and a righteous community. If we want to produce great leaders, we too need to establish communities like that of early Madinah.

3. Setbacks can be opportunities in disguise

During the reign of his cousin, Walid, ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz served as the governor of Madinah. Due to political reasons, Walid dismissed him from this post and had him relocate from Madinah to Damascus. In theory, being forced out of a position of power and forced to move from your hometown to another town seems very negative.

However, Damascus was the capital of the empire, and it was there that ʿUmar would become the vizier of the next Caliph, Sulaiman, and eventually after Sulaiman, ʿUmar succeeded him and become the eight Umayyad Caliph. As is the case in the lives of many other amazing people, the so-called setback in Umar’s life was actually an opportunity, as Allah had much greater plans for him.

4. Importance of Good Counsel

One of the first things that ʿUmar did as Caliph was establish for himself a counsel of righteous scholars and advisors. ʿUmar (RA) would consult this counsel for all major decisions, leading to many brilliant politic moves that improved the overall state of the ummah.

The key lesson here is that Muslim leaders must surround themselves with righteous and qualified individuals who can offer counsel that is both wise and Islamic. Who you choose to advise you plays a major role in what you end up doing with your position of power.

Linked to this is the importance of the leader recognizing that he needs the advice of others. A leader should not be arrogant and think he can do it all on his own. Rather, leaders must be humble, take advice, reflect on it and follow it if it proves to be beneficial.

5. Leading by example

When ʿUmar (RA) became Caliph, one of his first political moves was to undo the misuse of the Muslim treasury. This meant leading a simple life and avoiding luxuries himself, despite being raised in luxury. ʿUmar (RA) and his righteous wife Fatima (RA) immediately changed their lifestyle, and chose to live a simple life until the very end.

This is a very important leadership lesson. A leader cannot expect sacrifice from his followers if he is not willing to make similar sacrifices himself. Leaders must do, and when they do, people will follow.

6. Focus on Allah’s pleasure and justice

ʿUmar (RA) made many decisions that were not popular at his time. He sort to make a reform across the empire that took things back to the way they were at the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. In trying to change many things at once, he faced the anger of many people, including his own cousins and relatives.

ʿUmar (RA) stuck to his principles until the very end. Within two years of rising to power, ʿUmar (RA) was poisoned by his relatives and died. He remained uncompromising on what he believed was justice and the right way.

ʿUmar’s Leadership Mistake:

No human is perfect, and no leader is perfect. ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA) is someone I look up to, and consider a role model. Yet a detailed study of his life led me to realize his one mistake, which in my view also cost him his life.

Note: We believe that life and death is in Allah’s Hand, and we can’t change Qadar. But we can reflect on history, so that we do not make the same mistakes as those before us.

ʿUmar’s (RA) mistake was trying to change too much too fast. In doing so, he created a backlash that led to his own death. From my study of history, I have realized that the most effective leaders were those who focused on gradual sustainable change. In doing so, they eased change upon their followers and avoid major backlash.

Islam itself came gradually, and even the first generation of Muslims needed gradual change. People, in general, fear change and can react very poorly when they feel threatened by change. This is what happened when ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (RA) tried to change too many things in two years. It created a negative reaction, which led to his death.

NOTE: I discuss and analyze this mistake in more details in the appendix of my book about ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz.

Final Word

It is crucial when studying history that we don’t just focus on memorizing facts. It was far more important to analyze, reflect and extract lessons. History is full of amazing people who accomplished great things. Take the time to learn their lives, and reflect on both their victories and mistakes.

Even the greatest of heroes made mistakes, and there is no shame in that. What amazes us is the fact that they existed, and accomplished so much, despite their human flaws. This should inspire us to realize that we too can accomplish amazing things, despite our mistakes.

To learn more about ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, check out our full book on his life and lessons here: https://gumroad.com/l/umar2

Umar Book

Kindle Edition

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Leadership, 6 comments