The following is a response to ValiAsr-Aj.com’s article: Holy Prophet was Afraid of Umar? The article published on SlaveOfAhlubait’s blog, on the 29th of April, 2012, and can be found here.
The article unlike the usual articles, contains a cheerful story, in which A’isha and Sawda, the wives of the Prophet (salalahu alaihi wa salam) were playful with their food.
SlaveOfAhlubait, translated the narration as follows:
Ayesha says that Holy Prophet asws came and I had made food, So I presented that. I told Sauda, and Holy Prophet was between Me and Her: Eat. She refused. So I told Her eat this or I ll put it on your face. She refused again. I put my hand in food and put that on her face. So Holy Prophet laughed. So He put his hand on her and told her: Put that on her face. He laughed. Then Umar came. He said: o Abdullah, o Abdullah. So Holy Prophet presumed that He would enter. He told us to Stand up, and wash our face. So Ayesha said: so I fear Umar like Holy Prophet asws
[Musnad Abu Ya’la, vol 7, page 449, research by Hussein Salim Asad, first edition, 1404]
Even though the title of the article seems irrelevant to the content of the narration, we find that the term “afraid” is what seems to have caused the confusion in the text.
The term used in Arabic in this narration was haiba, which is a higher form of respect. Ancient dictionaries of the language like Al-Azhari’s Tahtheeb Al-Lugha 4/3687 and Ibn Al-Athir’s Al-Nihaya p.1017 explain the term not only as fear, but as a form of respect. They explain it as to be seen in a respected light and thus raised in status.
The term haiba cannot be attributed to petty criminals or to wild animals. One person may have makhafa (fear) towards them, but there is no haiba in the matter, for animals are seen as lower beings, and nobody respects a criminal in the first place.
Furthermore, the term haiba is most commonly found in the hearts of the young towards the old, or the student to the teacher. A student feels haiba towards his teacher not out of fear of being beaten, but due to the respect that fills his heart and the high status of his teacher in his eyes. The student does his best to not be found playing or fooling around when there is a slight chance being caught by his teacher, even if such an action is halal.
Similarly, as we can see above, the Prophet (salalahu alaihi wa salam) did not feel comfortable with Omar walking in on his wives, laughing with food on their faces. It was not because he was afraid that Omar would attack them for being in such a state, for the very notion of such is silly, but it was because Omar’s character and stern nature is one that was to be respected.