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The Pro-Peace Caliph, Umar II (717-20)

Umar II became caliph in 717. He changed the policy of previous caliphs and sought to put the empire on a Muslim rather than a strictly Arab basis. He accepted the fundamental equality of all Muslims, Arab and non-Arab, and he promulgated new laws to that end.

Many Arabs themselves had been changing from a tribal and clan orientation to a more urban or cosmopolitan outlook. They were mingling with non-Arabs. Arabs in what had been conquered territories were abandoning their old role as occupation soldiers and were taking civilian occupations, and those who had converted to Islam were adopting the Arab language. What had been garrison centers were becoming cities, while those who had not converted remained bound to their ancient heritages.

The second siege of Constantinople began in the summer of 717. It had been initiated by his predecessor, Sulayman (r 715-17), and it failed. Umar wanted peace, and in August 718 he withdrew Islam's forces from around Constantinople. He discouraged raids against peaceful nations and made peace with all he could. He believed that he and other Arab leaders should live up to Islamic ideals. He disbanded his harem and began practicing frugality. Umar tried to address economic grievances. He made his wife give her jewelry to the public treasury.

Umar attempted reconciliation with the Shia, and he supported assimilation between Muslim Arabs and those who had converted to Islam, believing that Islam should bind the empire together. He urged conversion to Islam despite the loss this would bring in tax revenues.

His fervor for Islam and his new policy of integration had a downside for Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Those who did not convert were given restrictions. Christians and Jews would not be allowed to hold public office. They were to be prohibited from wearing turbans and would be required to wear clothing that identified them as Christians or Jews. They could ride only packhorses, and they had to ride without a saddle. They could erect no new places of worship. And Jews were ordered to cut their forelocks.

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