What was the complexion of Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu)? Someone very recently told me that he was ‘black’. Is this correct?
The Historians and Biographers of Sahabah have stated various different complexions of Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu). Among them are the following:
1) Extremely White (أبيض أمهق)
2) White with extreme redness (أبيض شديد الحمرة)
3) Brown/Wheat coloured (أدم/أدمة)
4) Dark brown (شديد الأدمة)
Majority of the Biographers of Sahabah have described Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) using the word ‘أدم’ . This seems to be the most common word used to describe Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu).
Explanation of the word أدم/أدمة
1) Ibn Manzur (rahimahullah) the famous linguist, has explained أدمة to mean ‘سمرة’. He then explains سمرة as the colour between black and white. (ie. brown).
2) Imam Fayruzabadi, also a famous linguist, explains that أدمة means brown (السمرة).
3) ‘Allamah Ibnul Athir (rahimahullah) states that أدمة means dark brown (السمرة الشديدة), just as the colour of earth/sand.
Reconciliation between these various descriptions
Initially Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was fair in complexion. However when famine had struck (approximately 18 A.H), Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) altered his diet and stopped eating meat and fat. He resorted to consuming olive oil. This led to a change in his complexion resulting in him becoming brown/extremely brown.
This is understood from most of the Historians, Biographers of Sahabah and Muhaddithun.
However Hafiz Ibn ‘Abdil Barr (rahimahullah) differs with this view. He states that Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was always brown in complexion. His brownness was not due to him consuming olive oil.
During the latter part of his life, Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was brown/wheat coloured. There is no difference of opinion regarding this. However some state that he was fair initially and others state that he was never fair, he was always brown in complexion.
1) If by ‘black’ you meant ‘A Habashi’ (Abyssinian), then this is incorrect. Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was not a Habashi.
2) I have come across a narration where ‘Iyad ibn Khalifah states:
‘I saw ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) during the famine and he was black (اسود) in colour, previously he was fair in complexion…’
This is the only narration I have seen that describes Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiallahu ‘anhu) as being black. In light of the aforementioned descriptions, this description needs some interpretation.
It is possible that the word black was used here in comparison to what colour Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was before (ie. white). It is also possible that he regarded the dark brown complexion of Sayyiduna’Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) to be black.
If a person chooses to cling onto this narration and say that Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) was black in complexion, he will have to concede to the fact that Sayyiduna ‘Umar was initially fair, and not always black as this narration clearly states so.
3) The purpose of the above answer was to clarify the issue regarding the complexion of Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) and not to discriminate or ridicule any race, colour or nation. This is strictly forbidden and has no place in Islam.
References for all of the above
Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, vol. 3 pgs. 314, 324, 325, Al Isti’ab, vol. 3 pg. 236, Al Isabah, vol. 4 pg. 484, An Nihayah, vol. 1 pg. 46, Lisanul ‘Arab, vol. 1 pg. 97 and vol. 6 pg. 357, Al Qamusul Muhit, vol. 4 pg. 4 and Tahdhibul Asma Wal Lughat, vol. 2 pg. 30.
And Allah Ta’ala Knows best
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