Umar ibn al-Khattab was one of the closest companions of Prophet Muhammad (s) and was the second caliph / ruler of the Muslims (after Abu Bakr Siddiq.) This post reviews some historical facts related to Umar’s forces conquering Jerusalem during the 7th century. This article is taken from the book Jerusalem Religious History: The Centuries old Christian, Jewish, and Islamic struggle for the Holy Lands – authored and published by IqraSense.com.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad, Umar ibn al-Khattab’s forces conquered Jerusalem. During Umar’s reign, Jerusalem was conquered bloodlessly for the first time by Muslims in the year 638 CE. As Prophet Muhammad (s) had laid the foundation of the religion of Islam (through revelation from God, Allah), Umar’s conquest of Jerusalem is considered to be the first in Islamic history.
During Umar’s reign, his armies advanced into many territories. During these conquests, as the Muslim forces marched toward Jerusalem, the Byzantines were forced to leave Syria. The Muslim armies under the commandership of Amr ibn Al-As reached Jerusalem and lay siege of the city. Amr was later joined by prominent Muslim commanders such as Khalid bin Waleed and Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah. At that time, Bishop Sophronius was the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Sophronius, who was of an Arab descent, is venerated as a saint in the Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Seeing little hope in resisting, the Christians in Jerusalem decided to surrender at the hands of Caliph Umar’s forces. However, the Bishop demanded that the city keys would be handed over to the Muslims without resistance only if Caliph Umar personally received the city keys. Muslims at that time didn’t favor entertaining the patriarch’s demands saying that as the Christian forces had been vanquished, they were in no position to dictate terms and thus there was no need for the Caliph to go to Jerusalem. On this, Caliph Umar sought the advice of Ali, one of the Prophet’s closet aides and companions. Ali instead advised Umar to go to Jerusalem on the grounds that he was the victor and that it was from Jerusalem that the Prophet Muhammad (s) ascended the Heavens. On this, Caliph Umar agreed to go to Jerusalem to accept the Christian surrender. When Umar entered the city, he first asked about the location of the site of Al-Aqsa and the Rock from where Prophet Muhammad (s) ascended for Me’raj. At that time, the Dome of the Rock had not yet been built. The Bishop took him to the site (known to the Jews as Temple Mount), which to Umar’s disappointment was being used as a garbage dump. This is because under the Christian rule at that time, Jews were not allowed to worship or even enter Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa site (Temple Mount) had no specific religious significance for the Christians. He also found out that the Al-Aqsa mosque was destroyed by the Romans. On seeing the state of the Al-Aqsa site (Temple Mount), Umar said:
(Read more about Umer Ibn Khattab here)
The Caliph then asked Kaab al-Ahbar, a Jewish Rabbi who had converted to Islam and came with Umar from Medina, to guide him to the place of the Rock. Umar used his clothes to remove the trash covering the Rock, and other Muslims followed Umar and they cleaned the Al-Aqsa site. Umar also fenced the rock and an Umayyad ruler later built the Dome of the Rock on the Al-Aqsa site (the site on which stand the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.)
In Jerusalem, Caliph Umar was also taken to the Church of Holy Sepulcher and was offered the opportunity by the Christian leadership to pray in the church. The Caliph, in the view of Muslims, acted with prudence and refused to pray inside the church. He feared that future Muslim generations might decide to follow his footsteps and demand that the church be converted into a mosque. The Caliph therefore preferred to pray outside and a mosque was later built in his name called the Mosque of Umar. This mosque is currently located opposite the southern courtyard of the church.
On the surrender of Jerusalem’s Patriarch Sophronius, no killing or destruction was carried out by Muslims. It was a peaceful transition and all the holy sites of Christians were left untouched. Caliph Umar signed a treaty with Sophronius and as a result, Christians were allowed to live in the city. The treaty Umar signed was as follows:
From the servant of Allah and the Commander of the Faithful, Omar: The inhabitants of Jerusalem are granted security of life and property. Their churches and crosses shall be secure. This treaty applies to all people of the city. Their places of worship shall remain intact. These shall neither be taken over nor pulled down. People shall be quite free to follow their religion. They shall not be put to any trouble…
History notes that before the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the Jews were not allowed to live inside the city. Although Jews were eventually allowed to come to Jerusalem for worship, the Christian ruler had requested that the Jews were not to be allowed to live in Jerusalem. Under the surrender terms, Caliph Umar accepted that request. However, later the Muslims relaxed the rules and the Jews were also allowed to enter the city and settle with the rest of the population. Caliph Umar also assured the Christian ruler that the Christians would have full rights under the Muslim rule and they would not be harmed in any way. They would have complete protection as specifically directed by Islamic laws. The Muslim rulers following Caliph Umar understood the nobility of Jerusalem in the hearts of Jews and Christians and thus the three religions started to practice their beliefs freely in Jerusalem.
In course of time, many scholars belonging to the three religions came and settled in Jerusalem. For Muslims, Jerusalem, especially the Al-Aqsa mosque, became a large hub of learning. It also became common for Muslims to start mentioning in their wills the desire to be buried in Jerusalem. This is one of the reasons why there are thousands of Muslim graves in Jerusalem. The Muslim rulers later also built many schools, religious centers and hospitals in Jerusalem. Large areas of land was purchased and dedicated to religious activities.
Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, Israel.
 Umar was the second Islamic Caliph after Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq. Abu-Bakr was the first Muslim Caliph (ruler) appointed after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
 The Levant includes Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Occasionally Cyprus, Sinai, and Israel are also included. The UCL Institute of Archeology describes the Levant as the “crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa.”
 In general, the highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Roman Catholic Church, are called patriarchs.
 Ali became the Caliph after the reign of Uthman, who in turn became the Caliph after the assassination of Umar.
 Al-Aqsa Mosque – http://muslimwiki.com
 New World Encyclopedia – http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/