“May Allah be the guardian of the couple! After Lot, Othman is the first man who, with his wife, has given up the comfort of his home for the cause of Allah.”
Thus said the Holy Prophet when his son-in-law, Othman, left Mecca for Abyssinia, to excape persecution at the hands of the Meccans.
Othman was born some six years after the birth of the Holy Prophet. His father’s name was Affan. Arwa was the name of his mother. His grandaughter, Baiza, was a daughter of Abdul Muttalib and therefore an aunt of the Holy Prophet. Othman belonged to the Omayya branch of the Quraish. Banu Omayya were thought to be the equals of Banu Hashim. The national flag of the Quraish was in their keeping.
When Othman grew up, he became a cloth merchant. His business grew rapidly and he came to be looked upon as a top business man of the city. He often visited Syria in connection with his business. Flourishing business brought him both wealth and position.
However, Othman was an extremely kindhearted man. He looked upon wealth as a means of helping others. If money could remove suffering, Othman was always ready to help.
Acceptance of Islam
It was Abu Bakr who won Othman for Islam. He and Othman were great friends. The Holy Prophet belonged to Banu Hashim and Othman belonged to Banu Omayya. There was old rivalry between the two tribes. This did not keep back Othman from accepting the truth. As soon as he heard the message of Islam, he accepted it. He was one of the first Muslims. The Holy Prophet gave to him his daughter, Ruaqayya in marriage.
By becoming a Muslim, Othman drew upon himself the anger of his relatives. His uncle, Hakam, tied his hand and foot. He then shut him up in a dark room. Othman gladly underwent all kinds of torture, but refused to give up Islam.
The Quraish who once loved Othman now became his enemies. His own relatives would have nothing to do with him. This made Othman feel miserable. He went to the Holy Prophet and asked permission to go to Abyssinia. The permission was given. Othman was the first Muslim to leave for Abyssinia. He and his wife crossed the Red Sea and sought refuge in Abyssinia. They were the first to give up their home and all they had for the cause of Allah.
When migration from Mecca began, Othman and his wife Ruqayya also went to Medina and settled there.
Closeness to the Prophet
Othman was among those who were very close to the Holy Prophet. He fought by the side of the Prophet in all battles except Badr. He could not go to Badr because his wife, Ruqayya, was very ill. The Prophet himself told Othman to stay back at Medina and attend to his ailing wife. Ruaqayya died of this illness.
Othman took the death of Ruqayya very much to heart. He was all the more sad because he no longer enjoyed the honor of being the son-in-law of the Prophet. The Holy Prophet saw this. So he married to Othman his second daughter, Umm Kulthum. This was a rare honor. It earned for Othman the title of “Zun-Noorain,” or “the possesor of two lights.”
In the sixth year of Hijra was signed the treaty of Hudaibiya. Othman played an important part in the peace talks. It was he who was sent by the Holy Prophet to contact the Quraish. The Quraish said they had no objection if Othman alone visited the Kaaba, but they were unwilling to let the Messenger of Allah enter Mecca. To this Othman replied: “It is unthinkable that I take preference over the Prophet. If he can’t visit the House of Allah, I too, will not visit it.” Othman’s firm stand at last forced the Quraish to yield ground.
In the meantime, a rumor got afoot. It was given out that Othman had been killed by the Quraish. The report shocked the Prophet. He determined to avenge the death of Othman. He stood under a tree and took a pledge from his followers. He struck his hand on each man’s hand and the man said, “I will fight unto death for the sake of Othman.”
Such was the regard in which Othman was held by the Prophet! However, the rumor proved to be untrue. Othman came back safe and sound.
When the Muslim refugees first came to Medina, they had great difficulty in getting drinking water. There was just one well but it was owned by a Jew. The Jew would not allow the refuges to get water from it. So the holy Prophet said, “who is there that will buy this well for the Muslims? Allah will reward him a fountain in Paradise.” Othman at once responded. He brought the well for twenty thousand dirhams and gave it away for the free use of Muslims.
When the Muslims grew in numbers, the Prophet’s Mosque became too small for them. The holy Prophet said, “Who will spend money for the extension of the mosque?” Othman again came forward. He bought the adjoining piece of land for the extension.
In the ninth year of Hijra, reports reached the Holy Prophet that the Emperor of Byzantium was preparing a march on Medina. These reports disturbed the Muslims. The Holy Prophet began to counter preparations. He appealed to people to give whatever they could. Othman gave one thousand camels, fifty horses and one thousand pieces of gold. The holy Prophet looked at the heap of gold and declared, “Whatever Othman does, from this day on, will do him no harm.”
Othman was one of the scribes of the Prophet. He was one of the men who wrote portions of the Qur’an as they were revealed. He was also one of the ten Companions whom the holy Prophet gave the good news of the kingdom of Heaven.
Closeness to the Prophet won Othman a high place among the Companions. He was one of the advisors of Abu Bakr and Omar during their Caliphate.
Omar had nominated a six-man council to choose a Caliph from among its members. These members were: Ali, Othman, Abdur Rehman bin Auf, Saad bin Abi Waqaas, Zubair bin Awwam and Talha bin Obaidullah. The electors were to meet and finish their task within three days of Omar’s death. Such was the will of the late Calpih.
The electors met. Talha had been out of Medina for some days, so he could not attend the meeting.
The council of electors had a long sitting. It could not come to an agreed decision. There was an impasse. So Abdur Rehman bin Auf said, “If any man is willing to withdraw his name, he will have the right to nominate the Caliph. Who will withdraw?” All kept silent. Then Abdur Rehman said, “I withdraw my name.”
All except Ali said they were ready to accept Abdur Rehman’s decision. Abdur Rehman asked Ali what he had to say. He replied, “Promise to be just. Promise not to be partial on account of kinship. Promise to be led by the welfare of the people alone. If you promise these things, I agree to abide by your decision.”
Abdur Rehman promised all these things. The election of the Caliph now rested with Abdur Rehman bin Auf.
Abdur Rehman was fully alive to the heavy responsibility he had placed upon himself. The news of Omar’s death had drawn to Medina the leaders of public opinion from all over the empire. Abdur Rehman went to each one of them and held long talks. The Banu Hashim were for Ali. All others favored Othman. Other candidates were out of the picture.
Abdur Rehman now talked to the two likely candidates.
“Who do you think is the fittest person after you?” he asked Ali.
“Othman,” was the reply.
He put Othman the same question and he named Ali.
At last the third night came. In the morning Abdur Rehman was to announce his decision. He sat up whole night, holding long talks with the other four members of the council. He made a last effort to get a unanimous decision. But he failed in this effort. The differences between Banu Hashim and Banu Omiyyah could not be patched up. At last the call to the morning prayer brought these talks to an end.
When the prayer was over, people in the mosque were all ears to hear what Abdur Rehman had to say.
Abdur Rehman stood up. For some minutes he prayed to Allah to guide his thoughts. Then he said, “O people,” I have given my best thought to the matter. I have talked to different people and got their opinion. I hope you will not differ with my decision.”
Then Abdur Rehman called Othman and said, “Promise that you will act according to the commandments of the Qur’an and the example set by the Holy Prophet and his two Caliphs.”
“I promise to do that to the best of my knowledge and ability,” declared Othman.
Thereupon Abdur Rehman bin Auf pledged loyalty to Othman. His example was followed by all present. Ali also pledged loyalt to the new Caliph. Othman became the third Caliph of Islam.
When the pledge was over, Othman rose to address the gathering. All were eager to hear what the new Caliph had to say. But the weight of the new responsibility made Othman’s body shake. All he could say was, “O people, it is not easy to manage a new horse. There will be several occasions to speak to you. If I live, I will address you some other day. But you know, I am not very good at speech-making.”
The First Case
The first case that came up before Othman was the case of Obaidullah the second son of Omar. Obaidullah had slain to Persians, Hurmuzan and Jafina. That was because he believed them to be co-plotters with Abu Lolo. Abu Lolo was the murderer of his father.
The evening before Omar was mortally wounded, Abdur Rehman son of Abu Bakr had seen Abu Lolo standing with Hurmuzan and Jafina. The three were whispering to one another. As Abdur Rehman passed by, the three got startled. A double edge dagger had falled on the ground. After his father’s death, Obaidullah examined the dagger of the asassin. It answered exactly to the description given by Abdur Rehman. Obaidullah felt sure that Abu Lolo alone was not responsible for killing his father. He flew into a rage and killed the other two partners in the plot.
The case came up before Othman. He put the matter before the leading Companions. Ali said that the evidence of one man was not enough to prove Huramuzan and Jafina guilty. The other Companions differed with this view. Othman found a way out of the difficulty. He himself laid the bloodmoney for the two Persians. As they had no relatives, the Caliph had the legal right to act in their behalf. The decision of Othman was liked by all.
The new Caliph issued a directive to all civil and military officers. It said that they should be just in their dealings, honest in money matters and tolerant towards non-Muslims. Further, the officers were told to keep their word, even with the enemy. They were reminded that they were no more than the servants and guardians of the people not their masters and rulers.
Saad bin Waqqas was the Governor of Kufa. He took a loan from the public treasury and foiled to return it in time. The Treasury Officer, Abdullah bin Masud, reported the matter to the Caliph. Othman dismissed Saad bin Waqqas. This was in the year 26 A.H.
Muawia was the Governor of Syria under Othman. Anatolia was still under Byzantium. Skirmishes with the Byzantine troops were common. In the year 26 A.H., Muawia led an army into Anatolia and took the city of Amuria. He wanted to advance, but troop movement by land seemed difficult. So he had to stop short.
Muawia now turned his attention to the Mediterranean. He saw the importance of the islands in this sea and made plans to occupy them.
Muawia had a strong liking for the sea. He foresaw the Islam could not be strong without a powerful navy. During Omar’s caliphate he put this plan before the Calpih, but Omar was opposed to sea fighting. He did not think it was wise to risk the lives of Muslims in sea-battles. So he did not approve of Muawia’s plan. When Othman became Caliph, Muawia again took up the question of the navy with the Caliph. Othman agreed to Muawia’s plan, on condition that no one was to be forced against his will to take part in the naval campaign.
In 28 A.H., Muawia prepared a fleet of ships. The Governor of Egypt joined him with his own fleet. The two fleets jointly invaded Cypress. The people of the island fought bravely but had to give in at last. They made peace with the Muslims. The victors undertook to defend the island. In return they got the right to use the island as a military base.
Occupation of North Africa
Amr bin As was the first Muslim Governor of Egypt. For some time he continued to be the Governor under Othman. He was replaced by Abdullah bin Sarah, in 25 A.H. Soon there was a rising in Alexandria. Byzantium was at the back of this rising. Othman again sent Amr bin As to Egypt, who put down the rising. After this, Abdulah bin Sarah again took over as Governor of Egypt.
In 26 A.H., the Governor of Egypt got order from the Caliph to advance into North Africa. In Omar’s time, Amr bin As had occupied Tripoli. Abdullah bin Sarah was now to march into Tunisia. The Caliph also sent an army from Medina to help his Egyptian governor. This army men included men like Ibn Abbas, Ibn Omar, Ibn Jaafar, Ibn Zubair, Hasan and Hussain. The Caliph wanted to make sure that the North Africa campaign succeeded well. So he went some of the best men to Medina to help Ibn Sarah.
The rising in Alexandria had under lined the need of occupying North Africa. Byzantine bases in North Africa were an ever-present threat to Safety of Egypt. The Caliph decided to remove this threat.
The First Naval Battle
In the year 31 A.H., the Arabs fought their first naval battle. Constantine was now the emperor of Byzantium. He made a daring bid to take back Alexandria. A fleet of 500 ships sailed off to Egypt.
The Muslims got ready to beat back the attack. Muawia’s fleet set sail from Syria. Abdullah bin Sarah, the Governor of Egypt, also advanced with the fleet. The two fleets met in mid-sea. Together they sailed on until the enemy fleet was sighted.
A terrible naval battle took place. It was the first experience of sea-fighting for the Arabs. But they found no difficulty in proving their superiority. The sea around was soon cultured with the dead bodies of the Byzantine troops. So much blood flowed that the sea-water became red all around. The Byzantine fleet was crippled. Enemy ships that remained took refuge in the island of Sicily. The Muslim fleet came back victorious.
This fateful sea battle laid the foundation of Muslim sea power. It was to give the Arabs the unchallenged mastery of the seas for long centuries to come. It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the Arabs lost their hold on the seas. And with it the decline of the Muslim world began.
Persia and Tabristan
In the years 26 A.H., there was a rising in Persia. The Muslim governor of Basra marched against the rebels. They were defeated and punished. Once again peace and order returned to Persia.
In 30 A.H., the Governor of Kufa lead a huge army to Tabristan. Tabristan was conquered. In the following year there was a rising in Khurusan. It was soon put down.
In 31 A.H., Yezdgird, the former king of Iran, was also killed. He had lost his empire but had not lost hope. He wandered from place to place and created unrest in the frontier districts. It was he who had been the cause of most of the risings in Iran.
His last exploit was a raid on Sistan. With the help of some chiefs of Turkistan, he fell upon Sistan. He was utterly defeated and fled for life. Wandering alone, he sought refuge in a water-mill. The miller did not know him but was tempted by his jewels and rich clothes. So he killed the wretched king and threw his body in the river. Thus ended the wandering career of the last emperor of Iran. With the death of Yezdgird also ended the constant trouble in Iran.
The Civil War
Othman’s caliphate was marred by a terrible civil war. It led to the murder of the Caliph himself. Othman was a very gentle and soft-hearted man. He often overlooked the faults of others. This made the provincial governors and other officers overbold. Omar’s stern hand had stopped his officers from adopting the undemocratic customs and practices of the courts of Iran and Byzantium. Othman’s hand proved too weak to do the job. The result was unrest in the provincial capitals. It grew until it engulfed the whole of Islam.
Moreover, Othman was an old man when he took over. Clever people took advantage of his weakening grip on state affairs.
Abdullah bin Saba
Abdullah bin Saba, a clever Jew or Yemen, played a leading role in this drama. During Othman’s calpihate, he came to Medina, and made a show of becoming a devout Muslim, but he had his own plans. He stayed for some months in Medina and studied things. He saw that Banu Hashim regarded the Caliphate their natural right. They thought that Ali, and not Othman, should have been the Caliph. Abdullah bin Saba determined to make capital out of this.
With great cunning, he set about his task. He made “love of the Holy Prophet and his relatives” his starting-point. Out of this, he spun a clever story. Every Prophet, he said, left behind a “Wasi.” The Wasi must be a near relative of the Prophet. Aaron was the Wasi of Moses. In the same way, the Holy Prophet must also have a Wasi, to carry on his mission. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the last of the Prophets. So, his Wasi, Ali, was the last of the Wasis. Being the Wasi, Ali was the only rightful man to be the Caliph. Othman, therefore had to be removed from the caliphate.
Abdullah bin Saba began to preach his views secretly. He visited important cities in the Muslim empire. In each city, he set up a secret society. He picked up men who lent an easy ear to what he said. These were generally the men who had some real or imaginary complaint against the officers. It was easy to tell these men that the Caliph was the real cause of all trouble.
When the network of secret societies was complete, Abdullah bin Saba set up his headquarters in Egypt. The secret societies rapidly increased their strength. For this they used the following method:
Their members made a great show of piety. They posed as the real well wishers of the people.
They invented complaints against Othman and his officers. Some of the complaints were no doubt real. Under cover of these, they also said things that did not exist.
A regular campaign was started against all officers. They were described as irreligions and inefficient.
Forged letters were sent from city to city. These letters talked of injustice and unrest in the city of origin. The Sabaites read out the letters to as many people as possible. Letters were also forged to show that Ali, Talha, Zubair and other noted Companions had full sympathy with the movement. This led people to think that there was widespread unrest and that the leading Companions wanted to remove the Caliph.
Abdullah bin Saba’s plan worked well. Basra was the capital of one of the provinces. Abu Musa Ashari was its governor. One day Abu Musa gave an address. In it he told the people how, in the early years of Islam, Muslims walked on foot all the way to the field of battle. He went on to explain what great reward such people had found from Allah.
After some days, Abu Musa had to goto a battle-front. He rode on a horse. This produced an uproar against him.
“Look at the Governor!” went round the story, “he says one thing and does another. Why does he go to the battlefield riding on a horse? Why does he not earn a greater reward from Allah by walking on foot?”
The agents of Ibn Saba played with the feelings of people. So much so, that the people get really angry with Abu Musa. A deputation marched to Medina. The Caliph foundh his hands forced to dismiss Abu Musa.
Abdullah bin Amir became the new governor of Basra. The Sabaites started a campaign against him too.
“He is a raw yougn man,” they said, “moreover, he is a relative of the Caliph. Othman is filling all key-posts with his kinsmen.”
Kufa in the Grip of Hooligans
Kufa was the capital of another province. Saad bin Waqqas was its governor. He was the conquerer of Iran. He took a loan out of public funds and could not return it in time. The complaint reached the Caliph and Othman dismissed him.
Saad was replaced by Wali bin Uqba. Walid was a strong man. He took quick action against mischief-mongers. Some of them one night broke into the house of a man. They took away all his money and killed him also. They were all arrested and put to death.
The death of this gang made Sabaites angry. A strong man like Walid bin Uqba was a real danger to them. So they brought a false complaint against him. They said that he was given to drinking. A deputation set off to Medina. Two men bore witness before the Caliph and his advisory council that they had seen their Governor drinking wine. Ali gave the ruling that the man was guilty. So Othman dismissed the Governor.
Walid was replaced by Saad bin As. The new governor received people at his house each night. He sat among them and discussed things with them. Everyone was free to drop in. The Sabaites came to these meetings in large numbers. Gradually, the started creating trouble. One night they came down upon a man and beat him in the presence of the Governor.
The Governor felt humbled. But he also felt helpless. The mischief-mongers were all-powerful. He could not lay hands on them. Things became so unbearable that the people wrote to the Caliph. They begged him to rid the city of the hooligans.
Othman wrote to the governor to send this gang to Muawia, in Syria. He hoped that Muawia would set them right. The Caliph’s order was carried out. Muawia treated these people well. He tried to win them over with kindness. They began to be rude to Muawia. So Muawia wrote to the Caliph, telling him that he could do nothing to reform such bad men.
Othman next sent them to Abdur Rehman bin Khalid, the governor of Hims. Abdur Rehman was a stern man. He was really hard on these fellows. This brought them to senses. They repented for what they had done and promised to behave well in the future. Abdur Rehman informed the Caliph about it. Othman wrote back to him, telling him to send the men back to Kufa, if they really meant what they said. But once in Kufa they were as active in mischief-making as ever.
The Central Command
Abdullah bin Saba chose Egypt to be the center of his party. He did this for a number of reasons. In the first place, Egypt lay in the middle of the eastern and western wings of the empire. Secondly, Amr bin As, the former governor of Egypt, had been a popular governor. His successor, Abdullah bin Sarah, could not be equally popular. Amr bin As had been removed by Othman. This gave Saba ready ground to whip up discontent among the people. Thirdly, the North African campaign kept the new governor away from Egypt for more than a year. This gave Saba a free hand to work out his plans.
In Egypt Saba also had two powerful allies in Muhammad bin Hudhifa and Muhammad bin Abu Bakr. Both of them were against Othman. The former had been left an orphan and was brought up by Othman. When he grew up, he asked the Caliph to make him the Governor of some province. Othman did not see him fit for so high an office and turned down the request. This made Muhammad bin Hudhifa angry with the Caliph. He came over to Egypt and became active against Othman.
Muhammad bin Abu Bakr was also angry with the Caliph on personal grounds. He had been brought up by Ali. His mother, the widow of Abu Bakr, had married Ali, after the first Caliph’s death. Muhammad bin Abu Bakr owed a debt to a certain creditor. He failed to pay back the money in time. The creditor complained to the Caliph. Othman was very impartial in his ruling. This offended Muhammad bin Abu Bakr. So he also came to Egypt and joined hands with the enemies of the Caliph.
Abdullah bin Saba took full advantage of these factors. The central command of the Sabaites in Egypt sent forth a flood of propoganda against Othman. Letters poured into each city, telling stories of the terrible plight of people in other places. Local Sabaite agents gave full publicity to these letters. Before long the people of each city came to think that theirs was the happinest lot. They came to believe that life was unbearable in other parts of the Mulsim empire. And they held the Caliph responsible for this all.
The means of communication being difficult in those days, people had no way of knowing the real truth about life in provinces other than their own. The Sabaites took full advantage of this situation.
The Socialist Companion
Since Omar’s day, Muawia had been the governor of Syria. Muawia was a very wise and tactful ruler. He knew how to keep the situation in hand. So the Sabaite agents had no success in Syria.
Abu Dhar Ghiffari, a well-known Companion of the Holy Prophet, lived in Syria. He always kept aloof from the affairs of the world and its riches. He held that public income should be spent on the poor the moment it was received. He was against hoarding any money in the public treasury. “Public money is people’s money,” he said, “and should be spent on people the moment it comes in.” Muawia was of a different view. He thought that public income could be kept in the treasury to meet unforseen public needs of the future. He called public money “Allah’s money.” He said that the ruler, as the agent of Allah, had a right to spend public money as he thought fit. Abu Dhar thought otherwise.
In Syria Saba tried to take advantage of the difference of opinion between the Governor and Abu Dhar, the noted Companion. He went to Abu Dhar and said, “It is strange that Muawia calls public money, ‘the money of Allah.’ He means there by that people should have no say about the way public money is spent.”
Abu Dhar easily fell into the Sabaite trap. He went straight to Muawia and said, “How is it that you call public money the ‘money of Allah’?”
“Oh Abu Dhar?” replied Muawia mildly, “we are all the servants of Allah. So all our money is Allah’s money.”
The reply did not satisfy Abu Dhar.
“All right,” siad Muawia, “in future I will call this money public money.”
Now Abu Dhar raised another point. He preached that the rich had no right to amass wealth. Whatever was over and above their immediate needs, he said, should be given away to the poor. In support of this, he cited the following words of the Qur’an:
“They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, tell them of a painful doom on the day when it will all be heated in the fire of hell. Then their foreheads, their flanks and their backs will be branded therwith. Here is what you hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what you used to hoard.”
Here again Muawia differed with Abu Dhar. He held that after a man had paid the poor-rate of two and a half percent, he was free to own health.
Abu Dhar’s views made a great appeal to the masses. The great majority of people were poor. They wanted to share the comforts of the rich. Abu Dhar’s movement began to gain ground rather rapidly.
Muawia wrote about this to Othman. The Caliph wrote back that Abu Dhar be sent to Medina, with all the honor due to him.
In Medina, Abu Dhar started the same movement. Othman called him and said, “O Abu Dhar, I will force people to pay whatever they owe to Allah and His Apostle. In return, I will grant them the rights they have over me. But I can force no one to give up the world.”
“Well, then send me out of Medina,” said Abu Dhar, “The Prophet of Allah told me to leave Medina when it had expanded up to Salah.”
So Othman sent Abu Dhar to a small village away from Medina. He gave him some camels and also two servants to look after him.
It is true that Abdullah bin Saba and his men did much to stir up discontent against Othman. But it is equally true that under Othman several things did go wrong. Things were very smooth when Othman took over. In the years that followed, disturbing factors slowly crept in.
Omar did not allow his officers to own property outside their native city. One of his Governors once asked permission to build ahouse in the provincial capital.
“No,” replied Omar, “you have a house of your own in Medina. You do not need another as long as this one is there.”
This policy of Omar kept the leading families of Islam in the national capital. Othman gave up this policy and allowed people to settle and own property wherever they liked. The result was that the leading families of the Quraish spread out in different cities. There they built up power. This naturally lead to a race for supreme power. Each family tried to outshine all others.
Banu Umayya and Banu Hashim were old rivals. The first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Omar, belonged to Banu Umayya. He gave his kinsmen high offices in the State. This offended Banu Hashim and their supporters. In later years, Othman came to depend to much on one of his kinsment. Marwan, who was a very clever man and was disliked by the people.
During Othman’s calpihate, the expansion of the Muslim empire almost came to an end. Man who had been kept busy by military campaigns now began to take interest in politics.
Kufa, Basra, Egypt and Syria were important military bases. These bases were mostly in the hands of men who had spent no time in the company of the Holy Prophet. The ultra-democratic spirit of Islam was a thing unknown to them. As soon as Omar’s strong hand was gone, these officers went back to old ways of dealing with people. They tried to be the rulers of people, rather than their servants. They tried to have for themselves the same comforts and luxuries as the old rulers of Iran and Byzantium enjoyed.
This created a distance between the rulers and the ruled. There free spirit of Islam got a set-back. Naturally people who knew what equality was felt bitter. And the common man who had tasted of it in full measure during Omar’s regime, put the whole blame on the new Caliph.
Discontent and unrest went on growing in parts of the empire. At last its effects began to be felt in Medina. All leading Companions pressed the Caliph to do something in the matter. Othman agreed. He wrote to all his Governors to meet him when they came for the Haj of 34 A.H.
The Calpih and the governors met in a conference.
“What is the real cause of unrest?” asked Othman.
“It is the doing of the mischief-mongers,” they replied. “They throw mud at the Caliph and his officers. They want to overthrow the government.”
“How do we put a stop to this?” demanded the Caliph.
Different remedies were suggested. But all agreed on one thing. They said that the Calpih should adopt a stern policy towards those who created trouble. To this Othman did not agree. In a spirited speech, he said, addressing his Governors.
“I have heard your opinions. I fear this is the evil foretold by the Prophet of Allah. If so, I will do what I can, with all the kindness and forgiveness at my command, to keep its gates shut. I will prove by my deeds that I was not slack in doing good to the people. I will not allow any blame to rest on me when I face Allah tomorrow. I feel sure that the evil time is sure to come. Yet blessed will be Othman if he lays down his life but does not bring the curse nearer.”
The conference ended. Othman allowed the Governors to leave. Muawia said, “O Commander of the Faithful! I do not think Medina is a safe place for you to live. You better go with me to Syria.”
“Even if my head is cut off,” replied Othman, “I will not leave Medina. No price can take away from the neighborhood of the Prophet.”
“Then allow me to send some troops from Syria,” said Muawia, “to serve as your guards.”
“No,” was the reply. “I do not want that people living in the neighborhood of the Prophet should be put to any trouble on my account.”
Then the Caliph sent four men to tour the provincess and report on things. Three of them came back with the report that conditions were normal. Ammar bin Yasir, however, who was sent to Egypt, did not come back. The Governor of Egypt informed the Caliph that Ammar had gone over to the Sabaites.
The plan of the Caliph’s enemies was to cause a general rising when the Governors were away for the conference at Medina. But the plot could not be carried out The hooligans of Kufa, however, did not allow their Governor to enter the city when he came back from the conference. They wanted Abu Musa Ashari to be their Governor. The Calpih granted their request and made Abu Musa the Governor of Kufa.
The hooligans now made another plot. Their ring-leaders, from each province, decided to meet in Medina. They were to study things in the capital and decide upon the future course of action.
Accordingly, the ring-leaders from all provinces met outside Medina. The Calpih came to know of their coming. He sent of them two men whom they trusted. The men came back with an alarming plot. They said the ring-leaders were bent on mischief. Their plan was to go back and tell the people that the Caliph had refused to listen to their complaints. In the following year, they intended to march on Medina at the head of large parties and to kill the Caliph. The Caliph heard the report calmly but did nothing in the matter.
The ring-leaders then entered Medina. The Caliph had been told about their future plans. Some people suggested that they should all be killed. That would dry up the source of mischief, they suggested. But the Caliph replied, “I cannot kill any man without sufficient legal reasons. These people have some misunderstandings. I will try to remove these. I will be kind and forgiving to them and try to bring them to the right path. If kindness fails to work, I shall give myself up to Allah’s will.
“It is said I have reserved some pastures for public use. By Allah, I have not reserved any pasture which was not so reserved before me. In these pastures graze the animals that are public property. Moreover, the pastures are open to everybody. Only those were disallowed their use who offered bribes to get more than what was their due. As for my use of these pastures, I have no more than two camels. These camels serve me at the time of Hajj. You all know that before I became Caliph, no one in Arabia had more animals than I.
I have sent authorized copies of the Qur’an in all parts of the empire. There are people who object to this. You all know that the Qur’an is only one book sent down by Allah. The Companions who wrote down this book, under the eyes of the Holy Prophet, are still alive. It is they who compiled the copy which I have sent everywhere.
It is said I have appointed young men as officers. The fact is that it is not age but ability and character that guides my choice. Here are men from the provinces. They cannot deny the ability and honesty of my officers. Young age is no disqualification. The Holy Prophet gave Usama the command of an army, although he was younger than all the men I have appointed.
It is said I gave to the Governor of Egypt the whole booty of North Africa as a reward. The fact is that he was given only one-fifth of the fifth part due to the State. There are examples of such rewards before my time. Anyhow, when I came to know that people objected to it, I took back the money from the Governor.
It is said I love my kinsmen and bestow rewards on them. It is no sin to love one’s kinsmen. But this love has never made me unjust to other people. As for rewards, I have never given a kinsmen any thing out of public funds except what was his due. But I do make gifts to my kinsmen out of my own pocket. I spent on them before I became Caliph. Now that I am old and do not hope to live long, I do not wish to keep anything with me. I do not think it right to spend anything on my kinsmen out of public funds. In fact, I do not get anything out of these funds for my own expenses either. The revenue of each province is spent on the people of that province. The public treasury at Medina receives nothing but the fifth part of booty. This money is spent by the people themselves in times of need.
It is said I have given lands to my friends. This is not true. Many people from Medina went with the conquering armies. Some of them settled in the conquered lands. There they acquired pieces of land. Afterward, some of them came back to sell their lands in distant parts of the empire and give them the price therof.”
The Caliph asked his hearers if these facts were true. All said they were!
It became clear to all present that the charges heaped on the Caliph were false. However, no one suggested a way to clear him in the eyes of the common man of these false charges.
Rioters March on Medina
The ring-leaders went back to their provinces. They told people that the Caliph was not willing to set things light. They waited for the next Haj. As the time for Haj came near, they decided to send strong parties from Basra, Kufa and Egypt, seemingly for Haj. From Mecca, these parties were to march on Medina and decided things with the sword.
The Caliph had known about this plot of the mischief-mongers long before. But he did not want to use force against his enemies. He was determined to win them with love or to perish in the attempt.
In the month of Shawwal 35 A.H., rioters set off from Basra, Kufa and Egypt. They left in small parties. They numbered about one thousand from each province. They marched on Medina and encamped some miles away from the city, at three different places. Some of the Egyptians came to Ali and requested him to accept their leadership. He refused. Some men from Basra went to Talha with a similar request and got the same answer. The rioters of Kufa made the same request to Zubair. He too refused to be a party to their evil plans.
“Did I not tell you so often,” said Ali, “not to be led by your kinsmen? But you listned to Marwan, Muawia, Ibn Amr, Ibn Abi Sarah, and Saeed bin As. How can I sent back these men now?”
Othman assured Ali that in the future he would be guided by his advice and would not listen to his kinsmen.
“You better say this thing publicly in the mosque,” said Ali. “That would make the change in State policy known to everyone. The rioters then will have no excuse to create trouble.”
Accordingly, Othman went to the mosque and said in his address: “If I have made any mistakes, I beg Allah’s forgiveness. I request all men of insight among you to give me the right advice. By Allah, for the cause of truth, I am ready to obey even a slave. I promise to be led by your wishes. No longer will I listen to Marwan and his men.”
Tears flowed down the Caliph’s cheeks as he finished the address. The hearers also began to weep.
Ali now went to the Egyptians. He assured them that all their complaints would be removed. They seemed to be satisfied and set off on the road to Egypt. Rioters from Basra and Kufa also marched off to their cities. The storm seemed to have blown over.
The Mysterious Letter
Everybody in Medina thought that the trouble had ended. Presently, the streets of the city began to ring with the shouts of the rioters. They trooped aroung the Caliph’s house and ringed in on all sides. Loud shouts of “Revenge! Revenge!” rented the air of Medina.
Ali came to the Egyptians and asked why the had come back.
“You assured us,” they said, “that our complaints would be removed, but we saw a messenger hurry past ut. We stopped him and searched his person. We found him carrying a letter from the Caliph, ordering the Governor to kill us as soon as we were back. Here is the letter It bears the Caliph’s seal. This is a clear breach of faith. The Caliph must suffer for it.”
“And what has brought you back?” Ali asked the rioters from Kufa nd Basra.
“We had to help our Egyptian brothers,” they said.
“But your roads were so apart. How did you come to know of the letter, after having gone several miles on your roads?”
To this there was no reply.
“It is clear,” said Ali, “that you have made a plot. You seem to be bent on putting it through.”
“Say what you will,” replied the rioters, “we do not want Othman to be the Caliph. Allah had made his blood lawful to us. You too, should help our cause.”
“By Allah,” replied Ali, “I will have nothing to do with you.”
“Then why did you write letters to us?” they demanded.
“What letters?” said Ali in amazement. “By Allah, I never wrote to you anything.”
Ali saw that things were beyond his control. The rioters seemed bent on dragging him in as well. Ali saw that his position was becoming difficult. So he left for Ahjaruzzet, a place some miles from Medina.
The rioters showed the letter to the Caliph and said, “Did you pass this death sentence on us?”
“I swear by Allah,” replied Othman, “I know nothing about this letter.”
“Well, then you are not fit to continue as Calpih,” roared the rioters. “If you wrote the letter, then you are clearly unfit to be the Caliph. But if someone else wrote it and you know it not, even then you are equally unfit. If such important orders can be sent out without your knowledge, you should not continue as head of the State. We demand that you give up the Caliphate.”
Othman rejected the demand. “I will not take off with my own hands,” he delcared, “the robe of honor which Allah made me put on.”
Seeing that Othman would not part with the Caliphate, the rioters laid siege to his house. For forty days the siege went on. As days went by, the blockade became more tight. Rioters disallowed even the supply of water to reach the aged Caliph.
There were other men inside the house besides the Caliph and his family. Among them were Hasan, Husain, Muhammad bin Talha, Abdullah bin Zubair, Abu Huraira, Marwan and others. These men served as the guards of the Caliph. They had some encounters with the rioters. In these encounters Hasan and Marwan got wounded. Marwan’s wounds were serious. But the rioters avoided a pitched battle. They knew that because of Hasan and Husain, men of Banu Hashim would join the fight against them.
It was during the siege that Othman sent Abdullah bin Abbas to Mecca. He was to lead the Haj as the Caliph’s deputy. The Caliph also sent messengers to provincial Governors to tell them of the siege.
When the hardship of the siege grew, Mughira bin Shaaba requested the Caliph to do something about it. He put three proposals before him. “Come out of the house,” he proposed, “and fight the rioters. You have men with you. The people of Medina will also fight at your side. Moreover, you are in the right truth and must win. Or, leave by the back-door and reach Mecca. The rioters cannot lay hands on you in the holy city. Or, go to Syria. There you will be safe with Muawia to protect you.”
To this Othman replied, “I do not agree to the first proposal because I do not want to be the first Caliph to shed the blood of Muslims. I do not accept the second proposal either. This is because I do not want to become a danger to the holy city of Mecca. The third proposal is also unnacceptable. At no price will I give up the neighborhood of the Prophet.”
Things were getting worse every day, but Othman was bent upon fighting evil with love, even though it cost him his life.
Othman made use of only one weapon. It was his kind and soft words. He went to the roof of his house several times and spoke to the rioters. He told them how close he had been to the Holy Prophet. He reminded them what services he had rendered to Islam. But his words fell on deaf ears. Nothing could stop the rioters from mischief.
As the day of Haj grew near, the rioters’ anxiety grew. In a few days hundreds of men would be back from Haj, they knew. Help from provinces might also arrive. They had to put through their plot without delay or it would be too late. They had to act quickly.
Othman’s house was very big. Hasan, Husain, Muhammad bin Talha and Abdullah bin Zubair stood guard at the main gate. The rioters had no wish to cross swords with these men. That would draw the kinsmen of these men into the fight. To avoid this, a part of rioters stealthily jumped over the backwall of the house, and rushed towards where the aged Caliph was. The guards at the main gate knew nothing about what was going on inside.
Othman was sitting with the Holy Book open before him. He was reciting the Qur’an. Muhammad bin Abu Bakr was leading the party of assassins. He got hold of the Caliph’s beard and pulled it.
“My dear nephew,” said Othman, looking into Muhammad’s eyes, “if your father had been alive, he would not have liked this conduct of yours.”
The young man was cut to the quick and turned back.
Then another another man hit the Caliph on the head with an axe. The third struck him with a sword. Naila, the faithful wife of Othman, had her fingers cut off in trying to shield her husband. Then all the rioters fell upon the aged Caliph. They inflicted several wounds on his body. One of them, Amr bin Hamq by name, cut off his head.
The news of Othman’s cruel murder came as a rude shock to everybody. Ali was stunned when he heard of it. He rushed to Medina.
“Where were you?” he rebuked his sons, Hasan and Husain, “when the Commander of the Faithful was murdered?”
Similarly, he was angry with Abdullah bin Zubair and others who stood guard at the gate.
Othman was murdered on Friday, the 17th of Dhul Hijja, 35 A.H.
After killing the Caliph, the rioters plundered his house. Then they rushed to the public treasury and looted it. Horror-stricken people looked on the orgy from behind closed doors. No one dared to call a halt to it. Medina seemed to be at the mercy of the rioters. For three days, Othman’s dead body lay unburied. Rioters would not allow anyone to bury it. At last some people went to Ali and spoke to him about the matter. At Ali’s request, the rioters allowed the burial. Late in the evening, seventeen men carried the dead body to the graveyard of Medina and buried it there.
Such was the end of Othman, the apostle of love and peace. He wanted to prevent blood-shed at all costs. He did his utmost to counter trickery and violence with love and kindness. The attempt failed. Othman had to pay with his own life for this failure.
Twelve Years of Othman’s Caliphate
Othman was Caliph for about twelve years. Compared with the caliphate of Omar, this period looks desolate. The end of the period saw the forces of lawlessness get the upper hand. But Othman was not much to blame for this.
Omar’s period was a period of conquests. In the wake of conquests came a flood of riches. Omar himself once wept when he saw a heap of riches lying in the Prophet’s Mosque. Asked why he wept, he had said that riches always brought with them jealosy and malice and these were the real seeds of disunity. Omar was perfectly right. His fears came true in the years that followed his death.
The holy Prophet, too, had foretold a period of great unrest. This period was to accompany the prosperity of his people. He awoke one night greatly disturbed. He looked agitated and said, “Glory be to Allah! What great treasures He has given my people! And what an unrest has come down upon the people in the wake of the treasures!”
From the beginning of the unrest, Othman felt sure that the terrible unrest foretold by the Prophet was at hand. The calamity he thought, was inevitable and must come down. He could delay it, but could not stop it. Firm and strong action, he believed, would bring it nearer. So he tried to delay the onset of unrest with kindness and forgiveness. These were the weapons on which he relied. If they did not work, the fault was not Othman’s. It was the fault of men who could not see right from wrong.
Othman also had another prophecy of the Prophet constantly in mind. It said, “When the sword is once out among my followers, it will be three till the Last Day.”
There had been two Caliphs before Othman. Their swords fought the enemies of Islam. They never led an army against the Muslims. Here were Muslims up in arms against Othman. Should he draw his sword against them? He could easily do this. The rioters were no more than three thousand in number. Medina had beaten back much larger armies. If only Othman had drawn his sword, there must have been hundreds of swords to fight for him. In fact, he could have obtained troops from Syria well in time to crush any number of rioters. But nothing could induce Othman to make use of the sword. That would have made him the first Caliph of Islam to shed the blood of Muslims. The sword once out would always be there. And Othman was the last person to let loose a curse that would hanve over the Muslims for ever. It was far easier for him to lay down his life. So he chose the easier course. He gave his life so that his people might be saved the terrible curse of the sword.
“Othman is the most modest of my Companions,” once said the Holy Prophet. His modesty did not leave Othman even after he was the ruler of a big empire. He was generous and soft-hearted. He was always inclined to overlook people’s faults. High virtues indeed! But as the head of a big State, Othman needed to be something more. He needed to be strong, firm and prompt. However, Othman’s heart would not allow him to follow the course of firmness. He knew full well where the path of love was going to lead and gladly paid the price with his life.
Since Othman, was kind to all people, he was all the more kind to his kinsmen. Some of them took undue advantage of this thing. They made a bid to gather all power into their hands. Many of the key-posts in the empire came to be filled by them of by their friends. Marwan got such a hold on the old Caliph that he sometimes acted in his name without telling him what he was doing. The Caliph came in for criticism for the doings of Marwan.
The courage and faith showed by Othman have few parallels in history. He prized the neighborhood of the Prophet over all things – even his life. Nothing could drive him away from Medina, where the Prophet lay in eternal rest. Death started him in the face but he welcomed the death that would send him to a grave in Medina. This death was far more precious to Othman than life elsewhere. That explains the courage with which he met his death.
Despite internal troubles, Othman’s Caliphate did see expansion of the empire. North Africa was added to it. Risings in different parts were quickly put down. Byzantium was not allowed to take advantage of the internal troubles of Islam.
At bottom, Othman’s murder was the result of political differences. A party of men wanted to remove him from the Caliphate. They wanted to see another man as the Caliph. But the method they used to bring this about was unfortunate. HItherto Caliphs had been chosen by the general vote of the people. The Companions were the leaders of public opinion. It were they who by a majority vote decided who should be the Caliph. The rioters of Egypt, Kufa and Basra did away with this tradition. They made the sword the deciding factor.
Their method of violence produced another unfortunate result. Political parties soon hardened into religious groups. These groups were further subdivided. This dealt a sever blow to the unity of Muslims. The sects came to stay. That which the Prophet had foretold did come to pass! The sword was out among his followers and it had come to stay!
Othman did a great service to Islam by sending out standard copies of the Qur’an to provincial capitals. The need arose from a dispute about the way of reciting the Holy Qur’an. People of Iraq recited it one way and the people of Syria in another way. The matter came up before the Caliph in 30 A.H.
“We copy the way of Abu Musa Ashari,” said the Iraqis.
“And we follow the way of Miqdad bin al-Aswad,” declared the Syrians.
Othman put the matter before the Companions. All agreed that the copy prepared in Abu Bakr’s time was the standard one. After Abu Bakr, it had passed into the hands of Omar, and now it was with his daughter, Hafsa. Othman got this copy. Zahid bin Thabit, the trusted scribe of the revelation, was asked to prepare seven copies from it. He was to be helped by three more men, who had the Qur’an by heart.
Zaid himself had the whole Qur’an by heart. He was also one of the scribes of the revelation. First, he wrote out the whole book from memory. Then he read it out to a gathering of Muhajirun and Ansar three times. Then he compared this copy with the one that was with Hafsa. The two copies were exactly alike. Seven more copies were then written out and sent to different parts of the country.
A word here may be said about relations between Othman and Ali. It is true that Ali disagreed with the aged Caliph on many points. He particularly disliked the man who acted in his name. All the same, Ali did nothing that might have harmed Othman. He advised him to get rid of Marwan and other Omayyads. But he also pleaded with the rioters to give up mischief. He flatly refused to help their evil cause in any way.
When Ali came to know that the rioters had cut off the water supply of the Caliph, he went to them and said, “O people. you are doing an evil thing. Such an act does not befit Muslims. Even non-Muslims do not do this. Why do you cut off the food and water supply of Othman? When the Iranians and the Christians take someone a prisoner, they give him food and water. What harm had Othman done to you? Why have you beseiged him?? Why are you sent on taking his life?”
These words had no effect on the rioters. Seeing this, Ali threw his turbon in Othman’s house. He wanted the Caliph to know that he did come to plead with the rioters but could not succeed.
Othman knew that Ali was sincere. He never said a word of complaint against Ali. All he said was that Ali should have been more active in his support. But for this lukewarmness, Ali had reasons. He believed that all trouble was due to Othman’s advisors. He wanted them to go. The rioters made the same demand. Othman assured Ali that he would dismiss these men. He said so publicly in the Mosque. This removed all misunderstanding between the two sons in-law of the holy Prophet. They were once again as close to each other as ever.
But nothing could have been more hateful to the rioters. Throughout they had been using Ali’s name to fan the fire of discontent. How could they see him stand by the side of the Caliph? So they forged the fateful letter. That letter put both Othman and Ali in awkward positions. It gave the rioters a good excuse to go ahead with their evil plans. They simply refused to listen to Ali. Ali felt helpless. In the face of the mysterious letter, he could do nothing. So he left the city. However, he ordered his sons to stand guard at the gate of the Caliph.
The most remarkable thing about Othman is his faith. He had heard the Prophet say that civil war, when once touched off, would know no end. Othman did not want to be the man to touch it off. He would allow no one to draw sword for his sake. On the last day of his life, there was a fighting between the rioters and the guards at the gate. The rioters wanted to force an entry into the house. The sons of Ali, Zubaid and Talha put up a stiff fight. Othman came to know of it.
“No,” he exclaimed, “I do not want to spill the blood of Muslims, to save my own neck.”
Saying this, he sent them all home. If civil war could be stopped at the cost of his life, Othman was most happy to pay that price. He believed that by laying down his life he could delay the advent of the cursed sword foretold by the Prophet (peace be upon him). So he would neither use sword to hit back, nor flee from the city of the Prophet. He willingly died that Islam might live. For a great cause and a great conviction, he made the greatest sacrifice a man can possibly make. Thus he joined the ranks of the great martyrs of all time.