To set a good example for other people was one duty of the Prophets—a duty which we must also always observe consciously. After mentioning the prophets in Surat Al-An`am, God commanded His last messenger:
(Those are they whom God has guided, so follow their guidance!) (Al-An`am 6:90)
We are commanded by God to follow the example of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him):
(You have a good example in God’s Messenger for whoever looks unto God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft.) (Al-Ahzab 33: 21)
God’s Messenger is our leader. As we stand in prayer according to the way he prayed, we must also follow him in every walk of our life. Those who followed him in the first Islamic century were the real representatives of the true Islamic life. Concerning this period, God’s Messenger told us that Muslim armies would arrive at the gates of cities, where they would be asked, “Did anyone among you see the Prophet?” The answer would be affirmative, and, therefore, they would be granted victory. Those who succeeded them would also perform jihad and they would be asked, “Are there any people among you who saw those who had seen the Prophet?” They would reply, “Yes,” and the cities would be conquered by them. There would finally come the third generation, who would be asked, “Did anybody among you see those who had seen the followers of the Prophet’s Companions?” When this question, too, received an affirmative answer, the conquest would also be bestowed upon them (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Again, in another narration by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, God’s Messenger says concerning those three succeeding generations:
“The best of you are those who live in my period, then those who succeed them, and then those who follow them.”
Those three generations strictly followed in the Prophet’s footsteps and, accordingly, were granted great victories throughout the world. Among them, `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) set a shining example in submitting himself to God so sincerely and following the model of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). During his caliphate Iran, Iraq, and Egypt were conquered. Muslim armies were fighting in a vast area under the command of great commanders such as Abu `Ubayda ibn Al-Jarrah, Shurahbil ibn Hasanah, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, `Amr ibn Al-`As and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan. Jerusalem, which is now a shame for the Muslim world in its present state, was also conquered during his caliphate. When the supreme commander of the Muslim army wanted the priests to submit the keys of the city, the priests answered, “We cannot see among you the man to whom we are to submit the keys.” They had read in their religious books the features of the person who would take over the keys. It was `Umar.
Umar ruled over lands 20 times the size of Turkey, but he did not have a private camel to travel on. He set out on a camel belonging to the state treasury, accompanied by his servant. The priests and Muslim commanders were waiting in Jerusalem, `Umar was advancing towards his destination on the camel, which he rode in turn with his servant. When they approached the River Jordan, the commanders awaiting his arrival on the other side of the river were excited, praying, “O God, let it be the turn of `Umar to ride the camel when they get to this river, for these Romans are fond of pomp and display. They may not esteem us if they see the Caliph pulling a camel ridden by a servant.” But God had destined that `Umar would pull the camel carrying the servant across the river. When `Umar approached, the priests noticed, among other things, several patches on his robe. This was the man described in their books. They submitted the keys of Jerusalem to him.
`Umar never deviated from the path of God’s Messenger (upon him be peace and blessings). After being stabbed by a Magian slave, while on his deathbed, `Umar would refuse food and water because he was too weak, yet when it was time for prayer, he performed the prayer with his wounds bleeding and said, “The one who abandons prayer has nothing to do with Islam.”
`Umar did so because he was taught by God’s Messenger (upon him be peace and blessings). He followed his “master” strictly and himself was to be followed by the succeeding generations.