Omar ibn Said

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Omar ibn Said

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Omar ibn Said (1770 – 1864) was born in present day Senegal in Futa Tooro, a region along the Middle Senegal River, in West Africa, to a wealthy family. He was an Islamic scholar and a Fula who spent twenty five years of his life studying with prominent Muslim scholars, learning subjects ranging from arithmitic to theology in Africa.

In 1807, he was captured during a military conflict, enslaved and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.  he escaped from a cruel master in Charleston, South Carolina, and journeyed to Fayetteville, North Carolina. There he was captured and later sold to James Owens.  Said lived into his  mid-nineties and was still a slave at the time of his death in 1864.  he was buried in Bladen County, North Carolina.  Omar ibn Said was also known as Uncle Moreau and Prince Omeroh.

Although converted to Christianity on December 3, 1820, many modern scholars believed he continued to be a practicing Muslim, based on dedications to Prophet Muhammad written in his bible, and a card dated 1857 in which he wrote Surat al-Nasr, a short sura which refers to the conversion of non-muslims to Islam “in mulitudes”.  The back of this card contains another person’s hand writting in English misindentifying the sura as the Lord’s Prayer and attesting to Omar’s status as a good Christian.  Additionally, while others writting on Omar’s behalf identified him as a Christian, his own authobiography and other writtings offer more of an ambiguous position.  In the authobiography, he still offer praise to Muhammad when describing his life in his own country; his reference to “Jesus the Messiah”, in fact parallel Quranic descriptions of Jesus (who is called ‘the Messiah’ a total of 11 times in the Quran), and descriptions of Jesus as “our lord/master” employ the typical islamic honorific for prophets and is not to be confused with “Lord”; and description of Jesus as “bringing grace and truth” (a reference to John 1:14)  is equally appropriate to the conception of Jesus in Islam.

Given Omar’s circumstances of enslavement “among the  Christians” and the possibilities of lobbying for his freedom that only came with confessing Christianity,  his conversion can be argued to be made under duress. In 1991, a masjid in Fayetteville, North Carolina renamed itself Masjid Omar ibn Said in his honor.

Surat al- Nasr (divine support) is the 110th sura of the Quran with three Ayat. Al-Nasr translate into English as “The Victory”.  It is the shortest sura after Al-Asr and Al-Kawthar, only three medium lenghts ayahs.  This is believed to be the last revelation given to Prophet Muhammad and a sign to his approaching death.

English translation by Yusuf Ali:

When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory(1). And thou doest see the people enter Allah’s Religion in crowds (2) Celebrate the praise of thy Lord, and pray for His Forgivness: For He is Oft-Returning (in Grace and Mercy). (3)  


This surah praises Allah for leading numerous people to Islam. According to Tafsir ibn Kathir, this surah, like surah al-Ikhlas, is equivalent to one fourth of the entire Quran. This was the last surah to be revealed, only months before the Prophet’s death.


This short sura bring good news to Rasul Ullah Muhammad concerning the advent of victory, the Conquest, and people collective acceptance of  Islam.  It instructs him to turn toward his Lord in a devoted adoration and a humble request for His forgiveness. This sura also presents the nature and the righteousness of this Faith and its ideology and how high humanity ascends to an ideal and brilliant summit unattainable otherwise than by responding to the call of Islam.

Of the several traditions regarding the revelation of this sura, we quote that of  Imam Ahmad which goes as follows:

Aisha said that the Messenger of Allah used to repeat very freguently, towards the end of his life, “Exaltations and Praises be to Allah, whose forgiveness I ask; I repent of my sins.’ He also said, “My Lord told me I would see a sign in my nation.  He ordered me to praise Him, the Forgiving, and ask His pardon when I see this sign.  Indeed, I have. When the Victory granted by Allah and the Conquest come…(transmitted by Muslim).

Ibn Katheer said in his commentary on the Quaran:

The Conquest’, it is unanimously agreed, is a reference to the conquest of Makka.  The Arab tribes were awaiting the settlement of the conflict between the Quraish and the Muslims, before accepting Islam, saying: ‘If he, Muhammad, prevails over his people, he would indeed be a prophet.’  Consequently, when that was accomplished they accepted islam in large numbers. not two years were to pass after the conquest of Makka when the whole Arabian Peninsula was dominated by Islam, and, all thanks to Allah, every Arab tribe had declared its belief in Islam.   

Al-Bukhari in his Sahih related:

Amr ibn Salama said that when Makka was conquered, every tribe hastened to declare acceptance of Islam to Allah’s Messenger.  They were waiting for it to take place saying, leave them to themselves. He would indeed be a prophet if he prevailed over them.  

This version is the one which agrees chronologically with the beginning of the sura in the sense that its revelation was a sign of something to follow with some instructions to the Prophet, on what he should do when this event took place.

There is, nevertheless another fairly similar version in agreement with the one we have chosen and it is that of Ibn ‘Abbas which says:

Umar used to let me join the company of elders who were present at Badr, some of whom  felt uneasy and asked why I should be allowed with them when I was young. But, Umar said to them, ‘You know that he is of high standing.’  One day ‘Umar invited them all and invited me as well.  I felt that he wanted to show them who I was  so he asked them, ‘What do you make of Allah’s saying, ‘When the Victory  granted by Allah and the Conquest come’?  Some of them replied, ‘He ordered us to praise Him and seek His forgiveness when He helps us to triumph and bestows His favours on us.’ The others remained silent. Then ‘Umar asked me, ‘Do you agree with this view Ibn Abbas?  I answered in the nagative. ‘Umar asked me again. ‘What then do you say?’  It was a sign from Allah to His Messenger indicating the approach of the end of his life meaning, when the Victory from Allah and the Conquest come, your end is near, so extol the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness,’  ‘Umar commented, ‘I have known no more than what you have said. (transmitted by  al Bukhari).

So it is possible that the Messenger, having witnessed his Lord’s sign, realized that he had fulfilled his mission on this earth and that it was time for him to leave, which was what Ibn Abbas actually meant.

However, there is another account narrated by Al-Hafiz al Baihaqi also attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas who according to it said:

When this surah was first revealed, the Messenger of Allah called Fatimah and said, ‘My death has been announced to me.’ She was seen to start crying, then she smiled.  She explained later, ‘ I cried when he told me of his approaching death. But he said to me, ‘Be restrained, because you will be the first of my family to join me’, so I smiled.’

According to the last tradition quoted the time of the revelation of the surah is actually fixed as coming later than the sign, that is, the Conquest and the people’s collective movement into Islam.  When events took place in this fashion, Muhammad knew that his life would soon come to a close. But again the first account is more authentic and fits in more suitably with the outline of the beginning of the surah, especially as the Fatimah incident is related in a different form which gives more weight to what we have suggested.  This other form goes as follow:

Umm Salamah, the Prophet’s wife said: The Messenger of Allah called Fatimah to him sometime during the year of the Conquest and he said something to her. She cried. Then he spoke to her again and she was smiling. After he had died, I asked her about the incident and she explained ‘The Messenger of Allah told me he was soon to die, so I cried. Then he told me that I would be the next most celebrted woman in Paradise after Miriam (Mary) the daughter of Imran, so I smiled.’

This narration agrees with the general meaning of the Qur’anic text and with what Imam Ahmad related which appeares in the Sahih of Muslim – that is, there was a sign (in the surah) between Allah and His Messenger and when the Conquest was accomplished the latter knew that he was soon to meet his Lord, so he spoke with Fatimah in the manner described by Umm Salamah.

Let us now consider the actual text of the surah and the injunction it gives for all time: When the Victory granted by Allah and the Conquest come, and you see people embracing the Religion of Allah in large numbers. Then, celebrate the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness.  he is ever disposed to mercy.

The beginning of the first verse implicitly presents a concept of what goes on in this Universe: the events that take place in this life, and the actual role of Muhammad and his followers in the progress of Islam, and to what extent it depends on their efforts. “When the Victory granted by Allah”, denotes that it is Allah’s victory and Allah is the One who brings it about in His Own good time, in the form He decides and for the purpose He Determines. The Prophet and his companions have nothing to do with it at all, and they obtain no personal gain from it. It suffices them that He does it through them, appoints them as its guards and entrust it with them.  This is all they acquire from the victory of Allah, the Conquest and the people’s acceptance en masse of His religion.

According to this concept, the duty of the Messenger and his companions whom Allah chose and gave the privillage of being the instrument of His Victory, was to turn to Him at the climax of the victory in praises, expressing gratitude and seeking forgiveness.  Gratitude and praise are for His being so generous to have chosen them to be the standard bearers of His religion; for the mercy and favour He did to all humanity for making His religion victorious; and for the Conquest of Makka and the people’s collective acceptance of his religion.

His forgiveness is sought for the various unrevealed, defective feelings, such as vanity, which sometimes creep into one’s heart at the overwhelming moment of victory attained after a long struggle. Human beings can hardly prevent this happening and therefore Allah’s forgiveness is to be sought for it. Forgiveness also has to be sought for what might have been insinuated into one’s heart during the long and cruel struggle and for petulance resulting from the belatedness of the victory or the effects of convulsive despair, as the Quran brings out elswhere: ‘Or think you that you will enter Paradise while yet there has not come to you the like of that which came to those who died before you? Affliction and adversity befell them; they were shaken as with earthquake, till the Messenger (of Allah) and those who believed along with him said: ‘When will Allah’s help come?’ Now surely Allah’s help is near.’ (Al-Quran 2:214).

It is also necessary  to seek Allah’s forgiveness for one’s shortcomings in praising Allah and thanking Him for His favours which are perpetual and infinite. ‘And if you were to count the favours of Allah, never will you be able to number them.’ (Al-Quran 16:18).

However much one’s efforts in this respect, they are never adequate.  Another touching thought is that seeking forgiveness at the moment of triumph arouses in one’s mind the feeling of impotence and imperfection at the time when an attitude of self-esteem and conceit seems natural. All these factors guarantee that no tyranny will afflict the conquered.  The victorious is made to realized that it is Allah who has appointed him, a man who has no power of his own and is devoid of any strenght, for a pre-determined purpose; consequently the triumph and the conquest as well as the religion is all His, to Whom all things ultimately return.

This is the lofty, dignified ideal the Qur’an exhorts people to toil towards and attain, an ideal in which man’s exaltation is in neglecting his own pride and where his soul’s freedom is in his subservience to Allah.  The goal set is the total release of human souls from their egoistic shackles, their only ambitions being to attain Allah’s pleasure. Along with this release there must be exerted a striving which helps man to flourish in the world, promote human civilization and provide a rightly-guided, unblemished, constructive, just leadership devoted to Allah.

In constrast, man’s efforts to liberate himself while in the grips of egoism, shackled by his zest for worldly things, or overpowered by his cravings, turn out to be obsolutely in vain unless he sets himself free from self and lets his loyalty to Allah override everything else, particularly at the moment of triumph and the collecting of booty.

Such a standard of behavior, which Allah wants humanity to aspire towards and to attain, was the characteristic feature of the Prophets at all times.

So it was the case with Prophet Yusef (Joseph), when all he wanted was acheived and his dream came true:

And he placed his parents high on the throne of dignity and they fell down prostrate before him. He said: “Father! this is the fulfillment of my dreams of old. My Lord has made it come true. He has been gracious to me. He has released me from prison and has brought you from the desert after Satan has stirred-up strife between me and my brothers. My Lord is Gracious with all that He plans to do . He is full of Knowlege and Wisdom. (Al-Qur’an 12:101).

Thus vanished the feeling of predominace and reputation and the happiness brought by the reunion  with his family, and the picture we are left with is of that individual, Yussuf, praying to Allah to help him remain submissive to Him until he dies and to let him, out of His mercy and grace, join His righteous servants. So it was also with Prophet Suliaman (Salomon), when he saw the Queen of Sheba’s throne brought into his very reach in a flash: And when he (Suliaman) saw it set in his presence he said: “This is of the bounty of myh Lord that He may try me, whether I give thanks or remain ungrateful. He who give thanks does so for his own good, and he who is ungrateful”’ my Lord is All-Sufficient and Bountiful. (Al-Qur’an 27:40).

And so indeed it was with Muhammad all through his life.  In the moment of triumph , as the Conquest of Makkah was accomplished, he entered it on the back of his camel with his head bowed down.  He forgot the joy of victory and thankfully bowed is head seeking his Lord’s forgiveness, though he had just conquered makkah, the city whose people had openly and unashamedly persecuted and expelled him.  This also was the practice of his companions after him.

Thus, upon belief in Allah, was that great generation of humanity raised very high, reaching an unparalleledstandard of greatness, power and freedom.


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