Umar was a son of Abdul Aziz, brother of Abdul Malik. From his mother’s side he was a great-great grandson of Hazrat Umar.
He was pious, saintly, moderate, simple, just, peaceful, and upright. Although brought up as a prince, he renounced the life of ostentatious-ness.
His first act as a Caliph was to sell the horses of royal stable and put the proceeds in Bayt al-Mal. He also asked his wife to restitute the jewellery she had received from Sulaiman, for it belonged to Bayt al-Mal.
Administrative and financial problems
In this matter too, he was different from his predecessors as well as successors.
The administrative and financial system that Umayyads had built was founded upon the supremacy of Arabs over non-Arabs. The Jizya and Kharaj were heavy on non-Muslims.
Umayyads, in past, had relied upon allegiance from Arab tribes who were hostile to Ahl e Bayt and descendants of companions. Instead they relied heavily on the Syrian tribes, who weren’t literally Arab, anyway.
In fact, the later converts or Mawalis were still compelled to pay Jizya on the pretext that the revenues would dwindle if everyone turned Muslim. Whereas the feudal lords of Arabia paid minute Usher on their lands.
His piety, simplicity, and his sense of justice and devotion to Islam would not let him continue the unjust and un-Islamic system of his predecessors.
His governors and administration
Umar bin Abdul Aziz adopted a policy of equality, impartiality, and public welfare. His Governors, Qazis, or Amils were not appointed on the basis of tribal affiliations but on the basis of uprightness and simplicity.
Unlike Sulaiman, who favored Himayarites, he remained neutral. In fact, he chose officials from both sides.
His sense of justice can be gauged from the fact that he held Qazi in an as esteemed position as a governor. His predecessors focused only on tax and revenue collection, whereas he only cared for the prevalence of justice.
Treatment of the Alides
Since the days of Muawiyah, I had become customary that the officials would hurl abuses and imprecations from the pulpits on the memory of Hazrat Ali and his descendants.
Umar 2 ordered the garden of Fadak, appropriated by Merwan, be returned to Ahl e Bayt.
Similarly, the properties of Talha in Madinah, seized by Malik, were also returned to his descendants.
The crisis of Arabian Feudalism: Jizya and Kharaj
In the course of time, large multitudes of Dhimmis adopted Islam, but Umayyads continued to extract Kharaj from them. In Iraq, Hajjaj compelled Mawalis to return to their forefathers’ lands and cultivate and then pay Kharaj.
These new converts were also refused a share in Bayt al-Mal.
Umar 2 laid down these rules:
a. Kharaj-paying lands of the non-Muslims should not be transferred to Muslims after the year 100 A.H.
b. The lands already acquired would be in hands of those Muslims who would continue to pay Usher
c. If non-Muslim converted, he would have to leave his land with his non-Muslim brethren. He would be free of Kharaj and Jizya.
In this way, Umar tackled the crisis which was only amplified with each new successor in the past. He saved Mawalis from further downgrading and also included them in Bayt al-Mal.
The act was more pious than practical. Although the reforms had no radical consequences for the state treasury, historians believe it was a flawed reform.
His policy was to make adoption look more attractive to non-Muslims. He was one of the few rulers of Islam who employed his political power for purposes o peaceful conversions.
He always issued orders in which he declared that any convert would be treated equally. He never used the word Mawali or anything like that.
His governors complained that the revenues were falling and that the conversions may have risen due to avoid the jizya. But the Caliph wouldn’t hear it. He would say, “the Prophet was sent as a messenger, not as a tax-collector.”
Himself highly pious, but never encroached anyone’s liberty. His era was an era of tolerance. Although he was intent upon conversions, but never forced anyone. Nor any religion or faith’s worship places were destroyed or anything.
His death and review of his reign
He died in 720 after 2.5 years of rule.
G.E. Browne writes, “Umar bin Abdul Aziz stands out as bright and noble exception amidst the greedy and self-seeking Rulers of the House of Umayyad.”
His aim was to consolidate the empire rather than expand it through sword. He was content with what he had if no one breached the lands’ liberty.
Sunnis regard him has “fifth pious Caliph”, for his rule looked more like the rightly guided Caliphs than that days’ Umayyads who were bent on acquiring only more power.
He sought to convert as many non-Muslims as possible through peaceful means.
A number of historians lambast him for his conservative approach towards running a state. They believe he blindly followed the policies of Umar 1 without keeping mind the changes that time had brought.
First, the officials found it difficult to adjust to such radical changes in governance.
Second, his leniency towards Mawalis and non-Muslims had given them hope which was dashed by his successors, thus giving rise to new apprehensions.
Third, his policy of consolidation rather than expansion halted the army’s morale which was lazy by now.
Last, the revenue reforms may not have shown their colors in the start, but as time passed the revenues started to decline whereas the expenditure rose.