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Home » Entertainment » “Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 28

“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 28

Synopsis: The episode begins with al-Khansa’ looking anxiously in the Muslim encampment at al-Qadisiyya for her sons. When she finds out they have been killed, she remarks that God has honored her with their martyrdom and she prays that God will reunite her with them in the abode of mercy. The next scene shows both armies preparing for a third day of battle. The battle then gets underway and the two armies charge against each other. During the battle, the Muslims focus their attack on the elephants in the Persian army and take out several of them. This prompts a retreat from many of the Persian soldiers. The result is a complete rout and a victory for the Muslims.

The next scene goes back to Medina where Umar is anxious to hear word about events in Iraq. He sits by the road on the outskirts of the city for any news. Finally a messenger arrives and delivers the news about the Muslim victory at al-Qadisiyya; Umar is elated and overcome at such good tidings. The messenger tells Umar that all the top Persian military leadership, including Rustam, were killed and only the general Hurmuzan survived. He continues and explains how the Muslims completely routed the Persian army and pursued those retreating. Umar asks how many Muslims were killed in the battle, and the messenger replies that over 8500 Muslims were martyred. Umar then begins to weep in sorrow. The messenger then asks where he can find the Commander of the Believers (i.e. the caliph). Between his tears, Umar cannot help but be amused at this question.

The next scene goes to Ctesiphon, where Yazdgard III is in his palace where he is gathering his things and orders his wife to prepare to depart from the city. His wife urges him to stand his ground and fight for his patrimony but Yazdgard insists on a withdrawal from the city. The next scene shows the Muslim army, led by Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas entering Ctesiphon in triumph. As the Muslim commanders enter the royal palace, they express their awe and praise God that they were blessed enough to triumph and realize this historic moment. The next scene shows all the booty and riches from the royal palace at Ctesiphon brought to Medina. Ali, Umar, and other prominent Companions are staring at the pile of riches. Umar begins weeping and says that he does not fear the Muslims falling into poverty, but he fears what will follow due to their enrichment and acquisition of such riches. He asserts that the temptations of this world will deter the Muslims from pursuing the rewards of the Hereafter. Umar then summons Suraqah ibn Malik and asks him if he knows what the pile of riches in front of him is; the latter answers that he does not. Umar explains that this is the treasury, bracelets, and crown of the Persian emperor. Suraqah still looks confused. Umar tells him that this is the fulfillment of the Prophet’s promise and allows him to wear these items. After he has, Umar then orders him to place them back on the pile, explaining that–although he wore them as the Prophet promised–at the end of the day this wealth is the property of the Muslims and will be divided accordingly.

The next scene shows Umar making his nightly rounds around the city, in order to check on the well-being of the Muslims. The next morning, Umar is with Ali and Uthman, as well as some other major Companions, and they are discussing how to divide the spoils from the conquests among the Muslims. Umar explains that Abu Bakr used to divide the spoils equally among all the Muslims. Umar explains that his opinion is entirely different. He asserts that he feels it is not correct to reward those who fought against the Prophet in the same manner as those who fought with him, nor to place those who converted before the conquest of Mecca with those who converted afterwards. He asks the opinion of the rest of the Companions and they respond that, whatever they may feel about this, the final decision is in Umar’s hands. However, they recommend that a register (diwan) is drawn up in order to keep track of the salaries (ata’) granted to different individuals. Umar agrees, and Ali insists that a similar register be drawn up to keep track of the kharaj (land tax). Here, we have the beginnings of the Muslim bureaucracy. In another discussion (during a later scene), Ali and Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf are disagreeing about the division of spoils/land in Iraq and Syria. Ali insists that the wealth reverts to the control of the caliph and is distributed among the Muslims according to need, rather than allowing such wealth to be divided between the soldiers. Umar strongly agrees with Ali’s position and decides to make the lands conquered part of the patrimony of the Muslims rather than the property of the individual conquerors, a situation he feels would lead to the rise of a wealthy aristocracy which would not benefit the Muslim masses. He also explains that such a policy would maintain the interests of the local peasantry.

Next, we see Umar receiving a letter from ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, who has been besieging Jerusalem for months and explains to the caliph that the city’s notables refuse to surrender to anyone except the caliph himself. The major Companions, notably Ali, tell Umar that, indeed, he should go to Jerusalem himself and accept the surrender and draw up peace terms. Ali explains that by accepting the surrender himself and guaranteeing the rights of the inhabitants, this will ensure that future generations of Muslims do not violate these terms. The next scene shows Umar, riding on a camel, arriving at the gates of Jerusalem with his entourage. The patriarch, Sophronius, asks his servant which of the Arabs is actually the caliph and the servant points him out. As Umar approaches, Sophronius welcomes the caliph into the city. Umar then is heard giving the terms of the peace treaty (known as the “Pact of Umar”) to the inhabitants of the city, which include freedom of religion, guarantees for their lives and properties and churches. The episode ends as the two men, Sophronius and Umar, approach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Review: I’ll keep this review short. Overall, a good episode which moves the story along significantly. I’ll start with the things I really liked before moving on to the criticisms. First, I really enjoyed how they emphasizes Umar’s role (in conjunction with the other Companions) in establishing the Muslim chancery and bureaucracy since this allows the viewer to appreciate that until this moment the Islamic community and did not have the apparatus of a functioning “state”. As with previous episodes, I think Umar’s style of rule and his demeanor were brought out really well in this one and enjoyed the scenes where an individual had trouble distinguishing the caliph from the other members of the Muslim community. The debates between the Companions about the division of spoils and the establishment of the diwan system was also well done and underscored that there were serious disagreements among prominent Muslims about the way to go about establishing a viable economic and political system…in other words, nothing was set in stone. The final scene, showing the caliph’s entry into Jerusalem, was also done quite well and I appreciated its inclusion.

My main criticism surrounds the representation of the battle of Qadisiyya. Historically-speaking, this was perhaps one of the most important and decisive battles of the Islamic conquests, but the show did not underscore how epic and central it was. In fact, the viewer doesn’t really get the impression that it was an encounter on the scale of Yarmouk, which in fact it was. I was disappointed by this and felt that more effort could have been put into the depiction of this battle. Even the death of Rustam, a scene which attracts the attention of many classical chroniclers, was not represented on screen. More troubling was the lack of any reference to the thousands of Persian prisoners of war who converted to Islam following the battle, a hugely important event since this represents the beginnings of non-Arab Islam and these converts would play a major role in the Muslim community. Overall, although I was satisfied with the episode, it feel rather rushed and certain details could have been emphasized more over others.

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