The critics of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum accuse Sayyidina ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu of not being a scholar of shari’ah, and that he possessed lesser knowledge than others. Whenever they would convene to decide a matter then Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu would counter his wrong decisions. Upon this, Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would say:
لولا علي لهلك عمر
If it was not for ‘Ali then ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would have been destroyed.
The purpose of this objection is to prove that Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was ignorant of shar’i rulings, which is an essential requirement of imamah and khilafah. Since he was ignorant of these rulings, he was not worthy of the khilafah.
We shall present a number of aspects in order to remove this doubt. Pay close attention to them, and the doubt will be removed.
1. The qualities required by the khalifah are justice, piety, taqwa, knowledge of din and its shar’i rulings. In addition, he should have the ability to execute administrative commands and execute the laws of the shari’ah. It is not a condition that the khalifah must be acquainted with every single shar’i ruling and that nothing should be hidden from his knowledge.
There are reasons and supporting evidence for this not being a condition. Amongst them are the narrations regarding Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who is accepted by both groups as a just khalifah and one who is aware of the sciences of the shari’ah, wherein it is found that he erred in certain rulings. On other occasions, he clearly stated that he does not have knowledge of that particular ruling. For example, it is narrated:
ان عليا حرق قوما ارتدوا عن الاسلام فبلغ ذالك ابن عباس فقال لو كنت انا لقتلتهم بقول رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من بدل دينه فاقتلوه ولم اكن لا حرقهم لان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا تعذبوا بعذاب الله فبلغ ذالك عليا فقال صدق ابن عباس . هذا حديث حسن صحيح
Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu burnt a group who reneged from Islam. When Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu came to know of this, he said: “If I had to punish them, I would have executed them because the hadith of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam says that whoever changes his religion should be executed. (However) I would not have burnt them because Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “Do not issue the punishment of Allah.” When Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was informed of this, he said: “Ibn ‘Abbas has spoken the truth.”
2. Sometimes, it happened in this way that a person enquired a ruling from Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu gave the answer. The person said that the ruling was not as stated, but it was different. Upon hearing the answer, Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
You have spoken correctly and I have erred. Above every person of knowledge there is someone greater in knowledge.
In Kanz al ‘Ummal it is mentioned:
عن محمد بن كعب قال سال رجل عليا عن مسئلة فقال فيها فقال الرجل ليس هكذا ولكن كذا وكذا قال اصبت واخطأت وفوق كل ذي علم عليم
Muhammad ibn Ka’b narrates: “A man enquired a ruling from ‘Ali and he gave the answer. The man said: “It is not like this, but like this.” ‘Ali said: “You are correct and I have erred, and above every person of knowledge, there is someone greater in knowledge.”
Similarly, there are a number of incidents of this type regarding Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. We have mentioned only two incidents here that support the original stance.
3. In Nahj al Balaghah, Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu attests:
فلا تكفوا عن مقاله بحق او مشوره بعدل فاني لست في نفسي بفوق ان اخطى ولا امن ذالك من فعلي الا ان يكفي الله من نفسي ما هو املك به مني
I am not above error and I am not without fear regarding error in my deed, except that Allah will suffice me, who is more powerful than me.
It is proven from the above that it is not a defect or fault if a person expresses his lack of knowledge in a certain matter, or for an error to occur, or for a person to abandon his stance and adopt the research of another. This is not an action worthy of criticism or rebuke, and has been the practice of the great luminaries of the ummah.
Note: – This subject matter is discussed in detail in my work, Ruhama’ Baynahum Faruqi Section p. 135 till p. 139. See the detail there.
In this regard there is a famous incident reported that Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu issued a ruling of pelting for a woman that committed adultery. Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu learnt that this woman was pregnant. Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu then said to Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu: “Your ruling will apply to the woman, but your ruling cannot be applied to the child in her stomach.” Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu accepted what he said and replied:
If it was not for ‘Ali, ‘Umar would have been destroyed.
This means that Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not aware of the pregnancy of the woman and Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was aware. When he informed him of this, Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was saved from a major error and he said these words out of gratitude. In this way he showed his appreciation and lifted the spirits of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, as is the way of the senior luminaries.
The personality of Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu is extremely lofty and his just character is found to be at the perfect level, such that he expressed his gratitude when corrected by another Sahabi.
We present to you another incident which illustrates the lofty character of Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu.Various scholars of hadith have reported it with their chains of narration. Hafiz al Darqutni rahimahu Llah mentions the incident in the following text:
عن ابي سفيان قال حدثني اشياخ منا قالوا : جاء رجل الى عمر بن الخطاب فقال يا امير المؤمنين! اني غبت عن امراتي سنتين فجئت وهي حبلى فنشاور عمر رضي الله عنه الناس في رجمها قال فقال معاذ بن جبل يا امير المؤمنين! ان كان لك عليها سبيل فليس لك على ما في بطنها سبيل فاتركها حتى تضع فتركها فولدت غلاما قد خرجت ثنياه فعرف الرجل الشبه فيه فقال ابني ورب الكعبة فقال عمر عجزت النساء ان يلدن مثل معاذ لولا معاذ لهلك عمر
A person came to ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu and said: “Amir al Mu’minin, I remained absent from my wife for two years and when I came, she was pregnant.” (Therefore, my wife deserves punishment). ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu consulted with the other Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, regarding stoning this woman, so Sayyidina Muaz ibn Jabal radiya Llahu ‘anhu said: “O Amir al Mu’minin, you have the right to stone the woman but you do not have control over that which is in her belly. Therefore, put it off until birth.”
‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu put it off until birth. The woman then later gave birth to a boy whose front teeth had come out. This person found that the child resembled him and said: “By the Rabb of the Ka’bah, this is my child.” Upon this, Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu said: “Women are incapable of producing the likes of Muaz ibn Jabal. If it were not for Muaz, ‘Umar would have been destroyed.”
In summary, Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu accepted the counsel of Sayyidina Muaz radiya Llahu ‘anhu and expressed his appreciation of him, which in turn lifted the spirits of Sayyidina Muaz radiya Llahu ‘anhu. This is desired, this is the way an accomplished and perfect person acts.
The summary is that the critics give this matter a different colour due to their ignorance hurling unfounded accusations at Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The reality, however, is that such words actually indicate the sense of justice and truthfulness which was prevalent in Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
If they insist that Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was ignorant of shar’i rulings, then similar incidents also occurred in the life of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. There are a number of such incidents narrated from Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu in which he attested to not knowing something, as was explained previously.
Why only Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu is made a target for such criticism? It is not mandatory for the khalifah to be a scholar of every science and to be aware of every single matter.
The best course of action is that such objections should not be raised against the pioneers of Islam, and one should hold his tongue regarding them. The safety of one’s iman lies in this.
 ʿA’inah Mazhab Sunni, p. 153
 Tirmidhi vol. 1 p. 244, 245
 Kanz al ʿUmmal vol. 5 p. 241
 Nahj al Balaghah vol. 1 p. 437
 Sunan al Darqutni vol. 3 p. 322