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What are the differences in the narrations of Umar ibn al-Khattab's conversion to Islam?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
There are several differences in the story including: the name of the man who met Umar (ra); who approached whom; how many companions were in the house of Fatima (ra); whether Khabab (ra) was even there; whether Umar (ra) performed wudu or ghusl and if Umar (ra) read sura Taha or sura al-Hadeed.

Background

The narrations of this story differ a little in marginal details. I will highlight some of the more important differences and explain what I think probably happened.

I will compare these four narrations:

  • Mujahid narrated on the authority of ibn Abbas (al-Asfahani, Ma'rifat as-Sahabah 3410);
  • Uthman al-Basri narrated on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (Bayahqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwah, Vol. 2, p. 219-220, Daraqutni, Sunan Daraqutni 441, Ibn Assakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 44, p. 35);
  • Usamah ibn Zayd ibn Aslam narrated on the authority of his father who narrated it from his grandfather who heard it from Umar himself (al-Bazar, al-Bahr az-Zakhir, Vol. 1, p. 403, Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 44, p. 33);
  • Ibn Ishaq narrated through people whom he did not name (Ibn Ishaq, as-Siyar wa al-Maghazi, pp. 181-184, Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, pp. 343-346, Ibn Kathir al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, Vol. 3. Pp. 100-101).


The Name of the Man who met Umar (ra)

The narration of ibn Abbas (ra) mentions the clan and the name of the man:

فُلَانٌ ابْنُ فُلَانٍ الْمَخْزُومِيُّ
"So and so who is the son of so and so from Makhzum clan."

Anas ibn Malik (ra) narrated he was one of Banu Zuhrah:

فَلَقِيَهُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ بَنِي زُهْرَةَ
"A man from Banu Zuhrah met him."

But the narration of Usamah ibn Zayd mentioned only he was a man from Quraysh. Ibn Ishaq narrated a more detailed reference:

نُعَيْمُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللهِ النَّحَّامُ، رَجُلٌ مِنْ قَوْمِهِ، مِنْ بَنِي عَدِيِّ بْنِ كَعْبٍ
"Nu'aym ibn Abdullah an-Naham from Banu Adi ibn Ka'b."

All the above-mentioned clans meet at the lineage in Ka'b who is the father of Adi (mentioned in the narration of ibn Ishaq) and Murah.

Murah is, in turn, the father of Yaqadhah the father of Makhzum (mentioned in the narration of ibn Abbas); Murah is also the father of Kilab the father of Banu Zuhrah (mentioned in the narration of Anas ibn Malik).

Given Umar was from Banu Adi, it is probably one of his neighbours – normally from the same clan – who heard him preparing for the act. Wearing the sword alone did not mean one is heading to kill someone, let alone the Prophet (saw), as it was normal to carry a sword.

What supports this understanding, is after Umar embraced Islam at his sister's house, he asked them to guide him to the Prophet (saw) and they guided him to Dar al-Arqam. So, it is not possible to argue he saw him and realised he was heading to Dar al-Arqam to kill the Prophet (saw). He had to have realised his intention earlier.

So the narration of ibn Ishaq, mentioning he was Nu'aym ibn Abdullah an-Naham from Banu Adi, is more probable especially as he is the earlier historian and a specialist in seera when compared to later narrators i.e., Bayhaqi, Bazar, Asfahani and ibn Asakir who also quoted the narration of ibn Ishaq.

Who approached whom?

The narrations disagree regarding Umar (ra) and the man of Banu Adi as to who initiated the conversation first.

What are the differences in the narrations of Umar ibn al-Khattabs conversion to Islam?

For example, the narration of ibn Abbas (ra) states Umar (ra) went out one day and knew this man embraced Islam and started criticising him for leaving his forefather's deen:

خَرَجْتُ بَعْدَ إِسْلَامِ حَمْزَةَ بِثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ، فَإِذَا فُلَانٌ ابْنُ فُلَانٍ الْمَخْزُومِيُّ، فَقُلْتُ لَهُ: أَرَغِبْتَ عَنْ دِينِ آبَائِكَ وَاتَّبَعْتَ دِينَ مُحَمَّدٍ؟
"I went out three days after the conversion of Hamzah (ra). Then (I saw) so and so from Banu Makhzum and I told him, 'Have you abounded the deen of your forefathers and followed the deen of Muhammad?'"

In the narration of Anas ibn Malik (ra), he argued the man proactively approached Umar (ra) when he saw him wearing his sword and heading to the Prophet (saw):

خَرَجَ عُمَرُ مُتَقَلِّدًا السَّيْفَ، فَلَقِيَهُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ بَنِي زُهْرَةَ، فَقَالَ لَهُ: أَيْنَ تَعَمِدُ يَا عُمَرُ؟ فَقَالَ: أُرِيدُ أَنْ أَقْتُلَ مُحَمَّدًا! ... فَقَالَ لَهُ عُمَرُ: مَا أَرَاكَ إِلَّا قَدْ صَبَوْتَ وَتَرَكْتَ دِينَكَ الَّذِي أَنْتَ عَلَيْهِ.
"Umar went out wearing on his sword, a man of Banu Zahrah met him and said, 'Where are you heading to Umar?' Umar replied, 'I want to kill Muhammad.' … Umar told him, 'I see you have apostatised and left the deen you were embracing.'"

Similarly, Usamah ibn Zayd's narration missed only the issue of wearing the sword and noting the man was a Muslim. Ibn Ishaq also agreed with the narration of Anas ibn Malik (ra) missing only the issue of Umar realising the man was a Muslim.

So, there may be a gap in the narration of Anas ibn Malik (ra) and ibn Abbas (ra) regarding the issue of wearing the sword and Nu'aym's starting the conversation. Given the above assumption, it is more probable Abdullah saw or heard him planning such an act so approached Umar trying to protect the Prophet's life.

Number of Companions in Fatima's House

The narration of ibn Abbas (ra) does not mention Khabab (ra) was educating Fatima and her husband (ra) nor did he tell Umar (ra) the Prophet (saw) was praying for his conversion.

Whilst the narration of Anas ibn Malik (ra) and ibn Ishaq mentioned the above missing information, the narration of Usamah ibn Zayd added the Prophet (saw) used to organise groups for new Muslims learning and meeting together. The group of Fatima and her husband included two other men who hid – along with Fatima's husband – after Umar (ra) knocked. But after he read the Qur'an and testified, they reappeared and told him about the Prophet's prayer.

It is more probable Khabab, along with another companion, was there in the house because it is compatible with the notion of brotherhood and appointing a leader for groups the Prophet (saw) used to establish.

It is also more probable because – as the rule in Textual Criticism says – narrators are more probable to forget certain information than adding. In addition, the narrator may have focused only on Khabab because he engaged in the event while the other mentioned all the attendances.

The same criteria are to be applied on the narration Usamah ibn Zayd that missed out beating of Fatima's husband, the issue mentioned by all the other narrations.

Did Umar perform Wudu or Ghusl?

The narrations of ibn Abbas (ra) and ibn Ishaq mentions Fatima (ra) asked Umar (ra) to perform ghusl before reading the Qur'an.

But the narration of Anas ibn Malik (ra) narrated she asked him to either perform wudu or ghusl and Umar performed wudu:

فَقُمْ فَاغْتَسِلْ أَوْ تَوَضَّأْ. قَالَ: فَقَامَ عُمَرُ فَتَوَضَّأَ
"So go ahead and make ghusl of wudu, Umar stood up and made wudu."

Usamah ibn Zayd argued Umar (ra) neither performed ghusl nor wudu, he rather kept insisting to read it:

فَمَا زِلْتُ بِهَا حَتَّى أَعْطَتْنِيهَا
"I kept asking her until she gave (the Qur'anic parchment) to me."

In light of the above, the insistence of Umar should be seen as having been followed by either ghusl or wudu because the narration does not deny the fact, he may have done it, rather it may simply omitted mentioning it.

Umar (ra) is more likely to have performed ghusl, rather than wudu, because ghusl was mentioned by most of the narrations even the one that mentions wudu. Wudu is also not known by non-Muslims and it does not make sense asking Umar to do something he does not know.

Fatima (ra) also explained why she asked him to do such an act: you don't wash your body from janabah (post-discharge state) and you are still a mushrik which is a state of impurity. These two impure states can't be removed by performing wudu alone, rather requiring ghusl.

Sura Taha or Sura Al-Hadeed

Whilst all the narrations mentioned Umar read sura Taha, the narration of Usamah ibn Zayd noted he read sura al-Hadeed.

But they agreed on Umar's reflection on the name of Allah in the verses. Given, on the one hand, the beginning of both suras focused Allah's names, attributes, actions, creation and so on; what gives weight to sura Taha, on the other hand, is the agreement of all the other narrations on sura Taha being read by Umar.

The Hypothesized Scenario

Umar (ra) was one of the Quraysh elites who used to torture Muslims. One day, he decided he would kill the Prophet (saw) to stop the chaos he had created and the spread of his message. He took his sword and headed to where the Prophet (saw) used to sit (probably his home).

Nu'aym ibn Abdullah who hid his faith, was of his intention and plan (probably as he was a neighbour). He asked Umar where he was heading. Umar (ra) told him he wanted to kill the Prophet (saw). Nu'aym diverted his attention to the conversion of his sister Fatimah (ra), advising him to get his own house in order first, as a way of protecting the Prophet (saw).

Umar went to his sister's house immediately where al-Khabab (ra) was teaching them the Qur'an. Umar knocked on the door and heard the recitation inside. Al-Khabab and another companion hid himself and Fatima and her husband hid the Qur'anic parchment.

On entering, Umar questioned them and beat them, but when he saw the blood on his sister's face and the parchment in her hand, and her defiance in the face of his violence, he asked her to give him the parchment. She agreed, provided he undertook ghusl (bathed) first.

Umar then read the Qur'anic words that contained the beginning of sura Taha and accepted the truth.

He then went to Dar al-Arqam and proclaimed his conversion at the hands of the Prophet (saw).

Conclusion

There are several differences in the story of Umar ibn al-Khattab's conversion. They include: the name of the man who met Umar (ra); who approached whom; how many companions were at the house of Fatima (ra) and whether Khabab (ra) was there or not; whether Umar (ra) performed wudu or ghusl and whether Umar (ra) read sura Taha or sura al-Hadeed.

References

al-Asfahani, Ma'rifat as-Sahabah

al-Bazar, al-Bahr az-Zakhir

Bayhaqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwwah

Daraqutni, Sunan Daraqutni

Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq

Ibn Ishaq, as-Siyar wa al-Maghazi​​​​​​​

Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah


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