Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 H) states about both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar:
أهل العلم بحالهما يقولون ازهد الناس بعد رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم الزهد الشرعي أبو بكر و عمر و ذلك أن أبا بكر كان له مال يكتسبه فأنفقه كله في سبيل الله
The People of Knowledge, concerning both of them, say that the most ascetic of mankind after the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him – in terms of legitimate ascetism – are Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. This is because Abu Bakr earned some wealth and spent all of it in the Path of Allah.1
و قال ابن حزم و قال قائلون علي كان أزهدهم قال و كذب هذا الجاهل
Ibn Hazm said: “Some people say that ‘Ali was the most ascetic of them”. He (Ibn Hazm) replied, “This ignorant one has lied.”2
So, let us see the faces of some of these “ignorant liars”. Imam al-Hakim (d. 403 H) records:
فحدثنا بشرح هذا الحديث الشيخ أبو بكر بن إسحاق أنا الحسن بن علي بن زياد السري ثنا حامد بن يحيى البلخي بمكة ثنا سفيان عن إسماعيل بن أبي خالد عن قيس بن أبي حازم قال كنت بالمدينة فبينا أنا أطوف في السوق إذ بلغت أحجار الزيت فرأيت قوما مجتمعين على فارس قد ركب دابة وهو يشتم علي بن أبي طالب والناس وقوف حواليه إذ أقبل سعد بن أبي وقاص فوقف عليهم فقال : ما هذا ؟ فقالوا : رجل يشتم علي بن أبي طالب فتقدم سعد فأفرجوا له حتى وقف عليه فقال : يا هذا على ما تشتم علي بن أبي طالب ألم يكن أول من أسلم ألم يكن أول من صلى مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ألم يكن ازهد الناس؟
Abu Bakr b. Ishaq – al-Hasan b. ‘Ali b. Ziyad al-Sirri – Hamid b. Yahya al-Balakhi –Sufyan – Isma’il b. Abi Khalid – Qays b. Abi Hazim:
I was in Madinah. While I was moving around in the market, oil stones arrived. So, I saw some people crowding around a Persian man who was riding an animal and cursing ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. People stood round him when Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas turned and stood in front of them and he asked, “What is this?” They replied, “A man cursing ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.” So, Sa’d moved forward and they made way for him until he stood before him and said, “O you! On what basis do you curse ‘Ali b. Abi Talib? Is he not the first to accept Islam? Is he not the first to perform Salat with the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him? Is he not the most ascetic of mankind?”3
هذا حديث صحيح الإسناد
This hadith has a sahih chain.4
Al-Dhahabi (d. 748 H) confirms:
على شرط البخاري ومسلم
(Sahih) upon the standard of al-Bukhari and Muslim5
One would never have guessed correctly that the Ahl al-Sunnah consider Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, radhiyallahu ‘anhu - one of the most senior Sahabah and one of the earliest converts to Islam - to be an ignorant liar! Wait a minute! How come the testimony of Sa’d - an eye-witness - was ignorant fallacy while that of Sunni scholars, born centuries after him, is sound knowledge? Has the world really turned upside down?
Interestingly, another big Sunni name features prominently on the list of “ignorant liars”. Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir (d. 774 H) copies this report:
وقال يحيى بن معين: عن علي بن الجعد عن الحسن بن صالح قال: تذاكروا الزهاد عند عمر بن عبد العزيز فقال قائلون: فلان، وقال قائلون: فلان، فقال عمر بن عبد العزيز: أزهد الناس في الدنيا علي بن أبي طالب.
Yahya b. Ma’in – ‘Ali b. al-Ja’d – al-Hasan b. Salih:
They mentioned ascetism in the presence of ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Some people said, “So-and-so (is the most ascetic)”. Others said, “So-and-so (is the most ascetic)”. So, ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz said, “The most ascetic of mankind - as far as this world (i.e. material possessions, power, and worldly pleasures) is concerned - is ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.”6
Al-Hafiz says about the first narrator:
يحيى بن معين بن عون الغطفاني مولاهم أبو زكريا البغدادي ثقة حافظ مشهور إمام الجرح والتعديل
Yahya b. Ma’in b. ‘Awn al-Ghaṭfani, their freed slave, Abu Zakariyah al-Baghdadi: Thiqah (trustworthy), a well-known hafiz (hadith scientist), Imam of al-jarh wa al-ta’dil.7
Concerning the second narrator, he also states:
علي بن الجعد بن عبيد أبو الحسن الجوهري البغدادي ثقة ثبت رمي بالتشيع
‘Ali b. al-Ja’d b. ‘Ubayd, Abu al-Hasan al-Jawhari al-Baghdadi: Thiqah (trustworthy), thabt (accurate), he was accused of Shi’ism.8
Lastly, he has this verdict on the third narrator:
الحسن بن صالح بن صالح بن حي وهو حيان بن شفي بضم بالمعجمة والفاء مصغر الهمداني بسكون الميم الثوري ثقة فقيه عابد رمي بالتشيع
Al-Hasan b. Salih b. Salih b. Hayy, and he was Hayyan b. Shufay al-Hamdani al-Thawri: Thiqah (trustworthy), a jurist, a great worshipper of Allah, he was accused of Shi’ism.9
The sanad, therefore, is sahih. All the narrators are trustworthy, and there is no disconnection among the narrators. So, ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz – the righteous khalifah in the sight of most of the Ahl al-Sunnah – was actually an “ignorant liar” according to the view of Imam Ibn Hazm, endorsed by Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah!
It is fair, at this point, to compare the asceticism of either Abu Bakr or ‘Umar with that of ‘Ali, ‘alaihi al-salam, for further verification. We prefer ‘Umar for the research, since more materials are available on his lifetime and death than on his predecessor. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah claims that ‘Umar was more ascetic than ‘Ali. Let us test the submission against reality. We open the investigation with this athar from Sahih al-Bukhari:
حدثنا محمد بن سلام أخبرنا مخلد بن يزيد أخبرنا ابن جريج قال أخبرني عطاء عن عبيد الله بن عمير :أن أبا موسى الأشعري استأذن على عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه فلم يؤذن له وكأنه كان مشغولا فرجع أبو موسى ففرغ عمر فقال ألم أسمع صوت عبد الله بن قيس ائذنوا له . قيل قد رجع فدعاه فقال كنا نؤمر بذلك . فقال تأتيني على ذلك بالبينة فانطلق إلى مجلس الأنصار فسألهم فقالوا لا يشهد على هذا إلا أصغرنا أبو سعيد الخدري فذهب بأبي سعيد الخدري فقال عمر أخفي هذا علي من أمر رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم ؟ ألهاني الصفق بالأسواق . يعني الخروج إلى تجارة
Muhammad b. Salam – Mukhlid b. Yazid – Ibn Jurayh – ‘Aṭa – ‘Ubayd Allah b. ‘Umayr:
Abu Musa al-Ash’ari sought permission of ‘Umar b. al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, to enter his house. But, he (‘Umar) did not give him permission. It was as though he (‘Umar) was busy. So Abu Musa went back. When ‘Umar finished his job, he asked, “Didn't I hear the voice of ‘Abd Allah b. Qays (i.e. the real name of Abu Musa)? Allow him to come in.” It was said, “He (Abu Musa) has returned.” So, he (‘Umar) sent for him and (on his arrival), he (Abu Musa) said, “We were ordered to do so”. ‘Umar told him, “Bring witness in proof of that.” Abu Musa went to the assembly of the Ansar and asked them. They said, “None amongst us will testify to that except the youngest of us, Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri.” Abu Musa then took Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (to ‘Umar) and ‘Umar said “Has this order of the Messenger of Allah been hidden from me? I used to be busy trading in markets.”10
Imam Muslim (d. 261 H) records another report with some more details:
حدثني عمرو بن محمد بن بكير الناقد حدثنا سفيان بن عيينة حدثنا والله يزيد بن حصيفة عن بسر بن سعيد قال سمعت أبا سعيد الخدري يقول كنت جالسا بالمدينة في مجلس الأنصار فأتانا أبو موسى فزعا أو مذعورا قلنا ما شأنك ؟ قال إن عمر أرسل إلي أن آتيه فأتيت بابه فسلمت ثلاثا فلم يرد علي فرجعت فقال ما منعك أن تأتينا ؟ فقلت إني أتيت فسلمت على بابك ثلاثا فلم يردوا علي فرجعت وقد قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم إذا استأذن أحدكم ثلاثا فلم يؤذن له فليرجع فقال عمر أقم عليه البينة وإلا أوجعتك فقال أبي بن كعب لا يقوم معه إلا أصغر القوم قال أبو سعيد قلت أنا أصغر القوم قال فاذهب به
‘Amr b. Muhammad b. Bukayr al-Naqid – Sufyan b. ‘Uyaynah –Yazid b. Husayfah – Busr b. Sa’id – Abu Sa’id al-Khudri:
I was sitting in Madinah in the assembly of the Ansar when Abu Musa came to us trembling with fear. We said, “What is the problem with you?” He replied, “’Umar sent for me. So, I went to his door, and said as-salam ‘alaikum three times and he did not reply me. Therefore, I returned. On that, he said, “Why did you not come to us?” I said, “I came to you and said as-salam ‘alaikum three times at your door but I was not given any response. So, I returned. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, had said, ‘When any of you seeks permission to enter three times, and he is not permitted, he must turn back’”. So, ‘Umar said, “Bring evidence to support it. Otherwise, I will take you to task.” Ubayy b. Ka’b said, “None shall stand with him (to testify) but the youngest of the people.” Abu Sa’id said, “I am the youngest”. He (Ubayy) said, “Then go with him.”11
‘Umar literally heard him saying as-salamu ‘alaikum three times, but did not respond. In line with the Sunnah, Abu Musa returned. Strangely, ‘Umar proceeded to accuse him of NOT having come to his door at all despite his message! That certainly was a deliberately false accusation from the khalifah of the believers! In any case, Abu Musa explained himself, and excused his action through the Sunnah of the Messenger, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa alihi.
Quite weirdly, ‘Umar had absolutely no clue about this Sunnah! From the narrations, it is clear that all the Ansar knew of the Prophetic order. In what looks like a humiliation of the khalifah, they randomly picked the youngest of them, to narrate it to him. But, what was ‘Umar’s excuse? He used “to be busy trading in markets”. ‘Umar was moving from market to market doing business in order to make money. Therefore, he did not have time to learn the Sunnah from the Messenger! As such, he was clueless about even some of the most basic Sunnahs.
Apparently, money had more priority over the Sunnah in the sight of ‘Umar. What about ‘Ali? Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir states:
قال شعبة بن الحجاج ، عن سِمَاك ، عن خالد بن عَرْعَرَة أنه سمع عليا وشعبة أيضًا ، عن القاسم بن أبي بزَّة ، عن أبي الطُّفَيْل ، سمع عليًا. وثبت أيضًا من غير وجه ، عن أمير المؤمنين علي بن أبي طالب : أنه صعد منبر الكوفة فقال : لا تسألوني عن آية في كتاب الله ، ولا عن سنة عن رسول الله ، إلا أنبأتكم بذلك.
Shu’bah b. al-Hajjaj, from Simak, from Khalid b. ‘Ar’arah that he heard ‘Ali; and Shu’bah again narrated from al-Qasim b. Abi Barrah from Abu al-Tufayl that he heard ‘Ali; and IT IS ALSO AUTHENTICALLY TRANSMITTED through many chains that Amir al-Muminin ‘Ali b. Abi Talib climbed the pulpit of Kufah and said, “You will not ask me about ANY verse in the Book of Allah, or about ANY Sunnah from the Messenger of Allah, except that I will inform you about that.”12
‘Ali knew all the Sunnahs, without absolutely any exception. The only way he was able to achieve this was that he placed the supreme priority upon learning the Qur’an and Sunnah from the Messenger of Allah. In all honesty, it is extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to rationalize how our Ahl al-Sunnah brothers reach their conclusion that ‘Umar was more ascetic or more knowledgeable than ‘Ali!
As a final point, let us compare both ‘Umar and ‘Ali from another angle. Imam Ibn Shabah (d. 262 H) records:
حدثنا موسى بن إسماعيل قال حدثنا سلام بن أبي مطيع عن أيوب قال قلت لنافع هل كان على عمر رضي الله عنه دين فقال ومن أين يدع عمر دينا وقد باع رجل من ورثته ميراثه بمائة ألف .
Musa b. Isma’il – Salam b. Abi Muṭi’ – Ayub:
I said to Nafi’, “Did ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, have any debt?” So, he replied, “From where can ‘Umar claim to have any debt when a man from his inheritors sold his inheritance for 100,000 (dinars)?”13
Al-Hafiz has this to say about the report:
فروى عمر بن شبة في كتاب المدينة بإسناد صحيح ان نافعا قال من أين يكون على عمر دين وقد باع رجل من ورثته ميراثه بمائة الف انتهى وهذا لا ينفي ان يكون عند موته عليه دين فقد يكون الشخص كثير المال ولا يستلزم نفي الدين عنه فلعل نافعا أنكر ان يكون دينه لم يقض
‘Umar b. Shabah recorded in Kitab al-Madinah with a sahih chain that Nafi’ said, “From where can ‘Umar claim to have any debt when a man from his inheritors sold his inheritance for 100,000 (dinars)?”. This does not negate the possibility that when he died he had a debt. The person can be very rich person. But, that does not necessarily mean that he does not have any debt. Perhaps, Nafi’ was denying the existence of any unpaid debt for him.14
The dinar was the default Arabian currency at that time. It was a gold coin. In modern terms, each classical dinar equals approximately US $193.0015 (one hundred and ninety-three US dollars). So, each male son of ‘Umar inherited from him net wealth worth at least US $19, 300000 (nineteen million and three hundred thousand US dollars). If he had any daughters, her inheritance would be half of that, which is US $9, 650000 (nine million and six hundred and fifty thousand US dollars). So, how many were ‘Umar’s children who survived him? Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir states about ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭab:
قلت: فجملة أولاده رضي الله عنه وأرضاه ثلاثة عشر ولدا، وهم زيد الأكبر، وزيد الأصغر، وعاصم، وعبد الله، وعبد الرحمن الأكبر، وعبد الرحمن الأوسط، قال الزبير بن بكار وهو أبو شحمة، وعبد الرحمن الأصغر وعبيد الله، وعياض، وحفصة، ورقية، وزينب، وفاطمة، رضي الله عنهم.
I (Ibn Kathir) say: In summary, his (i.e. ‘Umar’s) children, may Allah be pleased with him, were thirteen, and they were Zayd al-Akbar, Zayd al-Asghar, ‘Asim, ‘Abd Allah, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Akbar, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Awsaṭ - al-Zubayr b. Bakar said he was Abu Shahmah, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Asghar, ‘Ubayd Allah, ‘Iyad, Hafsah, Ruqayyah, Zaynab and Faṭimah, may Allah be pleased with them.16
The second khalifah had thirteen children. Only four of them were females. So, there were nine males. Of his children generally, one of them – Abu Shahmah – died during his lifetime. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (d. 463 H) explains the circumstances of his death:
وعبد الرحمن بن عمر الأوسط هو أبو شحمة هو الذي ضربه عمرو بن العاص بمصر في الخمر ثم حمله إلى المدينة فضربه أبوه أدب الوالد ثم مرض ومات بعد شهر
‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Umar al-Awsaṭ was Abu Shahmah. He was the one who was beaten in Egypt by ‘Amr b. al-As for alcohol drinking. Then, he took him to Madinah, and his father (i.e. ‘Umar) beat him as a parental correctional measure. Then he became sick and died after a month.17
It looks like unintentional manslaughter by the angry khalifah. Whatever the case, eight males and four females inherited ‘Umar among his children alone. We will completely ignore what his wives and some other people might also have inherited from the second khalifah. We will also not take into account any gifts from his vast wealth which he might have given to some people. We will equally take our eyes away from any debts he had, which was re-paid from his estate, before the remainder was distributed among his inheritors. Our focus, strictly, is upon what passed to his sons and daughters from him.
The monetary value of the inheritance of a male inheritor was US $19, 300000 (nineteen million and three hundred thousand US dollars). For all eight sons, the total would be US $ 154, 400000 (one hundred and fifty four million and four hundred thousand dollars). The share of each daughter was US $9, 650000 (nine million and six hundred and fifty thousand US dollars). For the four daughters, their total inheritance was worth US $38, 600000 (thirty-eight million and six hundred thousand US dollars). Adding US $ 154, 400000 to $38, 600000, we get US $193, 000000 (one hundred and ninety-three million US dollars). This was the wealth that the children of ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭab alone inherited from him.
How ‘Umar acquired such vast wealth is unclear. Before he became the khalifah, he was only an average businessman, with no record of any spectacular success. Moreover, he was not an oil tycoon or weapons merchant, nor was he a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Even his entire business empire, in modern terms, would be only a small-scale rural enterprise. Considering the extreme poverty levels back then, ‘Umar’s fortune of at least US $193, 000000 (one hundred and ninety-three million US dollars) placed him in the position of multibillionaires in our times. He was most likely the richest man on earth during his khilafah.
So, what about Amir al-Muminin ‘Ali? Was he really worldlier than ‘Umar, as claimed by Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah? Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241 H) records:
حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا وكيع عن إسرائيل عن أبي إسحاق عن عمرو بن حبشي قال خطبنا الحسن بن علي بعد قتل علي رضي الله عنهما فقال: لقد فارقكم رجل بالأمس ما سبقه الأولون بعلم ولا أدركه الآخرون ان كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم ليبعثه ويعطيه الراية فلا ينصرف حتى يفتح له وما ترك من صفراء ولا بيضاء الا سبعمائة درهم من عطائه كان يرصدها لخادم لأهله
‘Abd Allah (b. Ahmad) – my father (Ahmad b. Hanbal) – Waki’ – Israil – Abu Ishaq – ‘Amr b. Habashi:
Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali delievered a sermon to us after the killing of ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, and said: “Verily, a man has left you yesterday. The awwalun (people of old) never surpassed him in knowledge, and the akhirun (later ones) never reach his level (in knowledge). Whever the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, appointed him and gave him the flag, he never returned until he is granted victory (by Allah). He left behind no gold coin and no silver coin except 700 (seven hundred) dirhams from his salary. He set it aside to procure with it a servant for his family.”18
Shaykh al-Arnauṭ says:
A dirham which was a silver coin, in modern terms, equals approximately US $3 (three US dollars)20. So, ‘Ali’s monetary wealth when he died was only US $2100 (two thousand and one hundred US dollars). Apart from his living quarters and his battle equipment (and possibly a few other minor items), there is no reliable record of him possessing and leaving behind anything else. Rather, the fact that he had to set aside seven hundred dirhams from his salary in order to purchase a servant shows that he had no other means. Perhaps, his entire estate was only US $5,000 (five thousand US dollars) at the most. To our dear Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, a khalifah with a total estate of less than US $5,000 (five thousand US dollars) was more worldly and materialistic than another khalifah who left behind more than US $193, 000000 (one hundred and ninety-three million US dollars). Isn’t that very weird?