A Story & Lesson From The Life Of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab


Ash-Sha’bee related that one day Ka’ab Ibn Siwaar was sitting in the company of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) when a woman came and said: “O leader of the believers, I have never seen any man who is better than my husband. By Allaah, during the night he stands to pray, and during the day he fasts. Even on hot days he does not break his fast. (1)” ‘Umar then prayed for her forgiveness, and he praised her, saying: “It is only befitting that I should praise one such as you.” The woman then felt shy (3) and so she stood up to leave. (4)

Ka’ab said: “O leader of the believers, should you not have helped her resolve her problem with her husband?” ‘Umar said: “And what was her complaint?” Ka’ab said: “She is making a strong complaint against her husband.” ‘Umar said: “Is that really what she wanted to convey to me?” Ka’ab said: “Yes.”

So ‘Umar said: “Bring the woman back to me.” When she returned, ‘Umar said, “It is permitted for you to speak the truth. Verily this man claims that you are complaining about your husband, and that your complaint is that he stays away from your bed.”

She said: “Yes. Verily, I am a young woman and I desire what all women desire.”

‘Umar then sent for her husband, and when he came, ‘Umar said to Ka’ab, “Render a judgement in their case.”

Ka’ab said: “The leader of the believers has more of a right to render a judgement in their case.” (5)

‘Umar said: “I insist that you judge before them, for indeed, you have understood from their affair that which I was not able to understand.”

Ka’ab said: “Verily, suppose that she had three co-wives and that she was the fourth wife. In that case, she would have had the right to one out of every four nights. Therefore, my judgement is that he may dedicate himself to worship for three days and nights and that every fourth day she has a right over him both during the day and during the night.”

‘Umar said: “By Allaah, I am just as amazed by this judgement of yours as I was by your initial ability to detect a problem. Go, for you are now the Judge of Basrah.”

[Mawsoo’ah Fiqh ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, p. 723]

Lessons learned:

1) ‘Umar was such that anyone could approach him and ask him a question or request a need of theirs. As busy as he was, he never neglected even the most “minor” of cases. Likewise he was easily accessible to the general population of Muslims, as anyone could easily approach him without having to get an appointment or go through many guards.

2) Women also have sexual desires as men do. It is not immoral of a woman if she has a strong urge for intimacy, as this is the way Allaah has created her. Even women form the Salaf had strong desires for intimacy. So it is not surprising, nor does it contradict piety or shyness if someone has a wife who has a very strong urge for intimacy.

3) The woman asked her “embarrassing” question in such a way that she did not use explicit language, except when it became necessary (after ‘Umar called her back and asked her again). This shows that there is an etiquette when asking open questions. If they can be asked in an indirect way, that is better and more chaste.

4) The woman felt shy when she new that ‘Umar did not understand her indirect question. And indeed shyness is a praiseworthy characteristic. And once she asked her question (which was unanswered as of yet), she immediately got up and left. Again, this shows the shyness of the women in those days. There was no extra gossip, no freemixing, no joking around, nor any irrelevant talking of any nature. She left the company of strange men as soon as she finished what she came for (even though she had not received a solution to her problem). There was no hanging around, or anything of that sort. Nor did she stay in his company while thinking of another way to address the issue. If the issue was not given a solution, she left immediately.

5) She asked ‘Umar the question in such a way that she did not cause embarrassment to her husband, nor did she speak ill of him. In fact the question (or “complaint”) against him was said in a way whereby onlookers only heard good words about him (e.g., he fasts, prays etc.), so anyone who did not understand the question would not have any doubts or ill feelings towards her husband. Her question was put forward without bringing down the high status of her husband.

6) When Ka’ab told ‘Umar what she meant, he admitted he did not know what the woman was “complaining” about. This shows his humility, as even though he was the leader of the believers, he did not fake his piety or knowledge, and instead admitted his shortcoming of not knowing what she really wanted.

7) ‘Umar called her back, thus showing he did not see it as an irrelevant issue. Indeed when a man abstains from being intimate with his wife this can cause problems to arise in the relationship. It can cause her to think of haraam and maybe even fall into haraam. ‘Umar knew that matters related to marital relations are not minor matters and hence they need solutions.

8) When ‘Umar called her back she said “Yes. Verily, I am a young woman and I desire what all women desire.” And here ‘Umar did not rebuke her, as he knew it was an innate feeling and it is something that “all women desire.” Also she clarified what her intent was behind her first visit, but again, she kept her haya even when being a bit more open in her question. She still kept her question half closed and mentioned it in a more open way as compared to before.

9) The narrator does not mention the woman’s name. All we know that it was “a woman” who came to ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. The husband’s name is also not disclosed. Remember this!

10) ‘Umar insisted that Ka’ab judge between them, who then insisted that ‘Umar judge between them. Both referring the case to the other. They both insisted that the other answer the question. Our Salaf did not rush into giving fatwas, nor were they wishing to be the one who is always referred to.

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