Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate



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Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate

  • Islamic History: the First 150 Years

Session Plan

  • Perceptions & Perspectives
  • Uthman ‘s Background
  • The Shura Committee
  • Uthman & the Bani Umayya
  • The Murder of Uthman: Causes & Consequences

Section I: Perceptions

Perceptions

  • Uthman’s caliphate lasted for some 12 years
  • In some ways, Uthman’s caliphate marks a turning point
  • The conquests brought about large scale and important social changes
  • Shift from nomadic to sedentary life styles
  • Vast expansion of Islamic state
  • Accumulation of vast wealth
  • It was during Uthman’s caliphate that these issues began to come to the fore
  • Uthman’s caliphate thus marks a transition, in some senses
  • This transitional nature probably accounts for the wide divergence of subsequent opinion

Perceptions

  • Some early writers saw Uthman’s caliphate as being divided into two periods:
  • An early period, lasting some six years or so
  • This early period is often viewed as ‘good’, in which Uthman is portrayed as following his predecessor’s example (or sunnah)
  • A later period (the remainder of his caliphate)
  • During this period, Uthman is said to have been increasingly at the mercy of his Umayyad relatives
  • According to this view, this latter period sees Uthman diverge and fall away from this sunnah
  • He is thus said to have favoured his relatives and have given them preferential treatment, despite the fact that many of them were relatively late converts to Islam
  • Cf. Umar’s concept of sabiqa (or ‘precedence’)

Perceptions

  • Such a picture seems, to me, to be overly formulaic
  • Moreover, as we explored last time, in reading early Islamic history we have to account for the influence of later thought
  • The true picture is thus more complicated
  • Modern writers offer interpretations
  • Gibb, for example, sees the crisis as essentially a conflict between the Meccan aristocracy and the ‘tribesmen’
  • Hinds, in an influential article, argues that these difficulties caused by the immediately post-conquest nature of his time

Perspectives

  • As we shall see, Uthman is an important figure in early Islamic history
  • As such, there are a range of views on him within the Islamic tradition
  • Broadly speaking, we can discern three main perspectives
  • The Sunni view: Uthman was a companion of Muhammad and a legitimate caliph (one of the four ‘rightly guided caliphs’)
  • The Shia view: Uthman (along with Abu Bakr and Umar) had usurped control of the Muslim community from Ali
  • The Khawarij view: Uthman had started out as a legitimate caliph but had gone astray and so had had to be removed

Section II: Uthman’s Background

Uthman’s Background

  • Full name: Uthman ibn Affan ibn Abu’l-`As ibn Umayya
  • Uthman thus a member of the wealthy clan of Umayya
  • A close relative of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and many other influential members of Quraysh
  • See the family tree provided
  • Unlike most members of his extended family, Uthman was an early companion of Muhammad
  • As such, Uthman was one of the few converts from the Meccan elite
  • Uthman thus had a unique position
  • Uthman married two of Muhammad’s daughters, Ruqayya and after her death, Umm Kulthum
  • This gave him a distinct advantage, in terms of social prestige, over Abu Bakr and Umar
  • Known as Dhu al-Nurayn due to this marriage (‘One of Two Lights’)

Uthman’s Background

  • Muhammad himself was aware of Uthman’s particular status
  • Ibn `Asakir relates that Muhammad would cover his bare legs in Uthman’s presence, which he would not do for Abu Bakr or Umar
  • Uthman does not seem to have been a warlike person
  • Exempted from fighting at Badr, said to have run from the Battle of Uhud (according to Ibn `Asakir’s report)
  • He was however a very wealthy individual, and used this wealth in the service of the Muslim community
  • Uthman financed important military operations
  • Despite this support, he still seems to have possessed great wealth
  • Uthman was also a useful link for Muhammad to the Meccan aristocracy, especially in negotiating the treaty of al-Hudaybiyya

Section III: The Shura Committee

The Shura Committee

  • Broadly speaking, shura means ‘consultation’
  • In this context, it refers to the group of six senior companions appointed by Umar to decide upon his successor
  • Umar considered them all to be important members of the Muslim community
  • It is noteworthy that they are all senior companions of Muhammad (cf. Umar’s policy of sabiqa)
  • Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (one of the ‘10 promised paradise’)
  • Uthman ibn Affan
  • Ali ibn Abi Talib (Muhammad’s son-in-law)
  • Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (a senior companion)
  • al-Zubayr ibn Awwam (an early companion and the Prophet’s cousin)
  • Talha ibn Ubaydallah (an early companion)

The Shura Committee

  • Umar seems to have decided upon this course of action quite early on
  • However, the individual members were chosen on his deathbed
  • Umar convinced that all Quraysh had a right to caliphate
  • And, that it should be decided by consultation
  • However, important to note that this does not mean public election
  • Rather, the decision here was restricted to important members of the community
  • In later Islamic political theory, these were the ahl al-hall wa al-aqd (‘Those who loosen and bind’)

The Shura Committee

  • Abdur Rahman ibn Awf said to have given up his claim in return for a casting vote
  • Uthman and Ali were the two main candidates
  • Debate continued for 3 days
  • Let’s look at Tabari’s report of the event now…
  • See the Handout for the passage

The Shura Committee

  • `Abd al-Rahman questioned Ali & Uthman in public about what your might call their ‘policies’
    • ‘”God’s agreement and covenant is binding on you. Will you indeed act in accordance with the Book of God [i.e. the Quran], the practice [sunna] of His Messenger and the example of the two caliphs after him?”
  • To which Ali is reported to have said:
    • ‘I hope to do this and act thus to the best of my ability’
  • The translation here does not fully draw out the significance of the reply, which was felt to be somewhat equivocal support for Abu Bakr & Umar

The Shura Committee

  • Uthman responded with a simple, unequivocal ‘yes’
  • These passges are all drawn from Tabari I. 2786
  • It was on this basis that Abd al-Rahman gave the caliphate to Uthman
  • This point is drawn out more forcefully by Tabari in an alternative version
  • Ali’s response is more forceful:
    • ‘Indeed no, but [only] based on my own effort in all this and in accordance with my own ability’ (I. 2793)
  • Uthman’s first act was to decide on the fate of Ubaydullah ibn Umar, who had murdered 3 people he suspected of being involved in his father’s murder
  • Uthman paid the blood money on his behalf and freed him
  • Very much against the advice of Ali

A Brief Pause

  • Turn to the person next to you and spend a couple of minutes summarising the lecture thus far.
  • Questions?

Section IV: Uthman & The Banu Umayya

The Caliphate

  • Uthman’s understanding seems to have been affected by the circumstances of his election
  • Madelung argues he was quite unprepared for his election and it as a direct act of God
  • Madelung interprets a number of important acts in this light
  • Official Titles
  • Abu Bakr called himself ‘Successor of the Messenger of God’ (Khalifat Rasul Allah)
  • Umar called himself ‘Sucessor of the Successor of the Messenger of God’ (Khalifat Khalifat Rasul Allah)
  • Possibly feeling that this was too cumbersome, he then adopted ‘Commander of the Faithful’ (Amir al-Muminin)
  • Uthman seems to have styled himself ‘Deputy of God’ (Khalifat Allah)
  • He also used Amir al-Muminin

Khalifa

  • The word Khalifa basically means ‘successor’ or ‘deputy’ and is used in the Quran in a number of senses
  • Adam is called a Khalifa (2:28) and here the term most probably means ‘deputy’
  • In 38:25 David is also described as Khalifa (probably with the same meaning)
  • The Umayyad caliphs all either used Amir al-Muminin or Khalifat Allah
  • Generally speaking, the mature Sunni view is that the term khalifat Allah is an abbreviation of Khalifat Rasul Allah
  • This difference is important
  • If Uthman meant ‘successor’ then his policy would presumably be more restricted
  • If the term meant ‘Deputy of God’ then Uthman presumably felt he had a wider ranging authority
  • This topic is one of lively current debate and exploring this question further would make a good essay topic

Land

  • Uthman seems to have approached the distribution of land and wealth in a different manner to his predecessors
  • Al-Baladhuri relates an interesting story on this point
  • At a certain point, Ali, Talha, Sa’d and `Abd al-Rahman came to complain
  • Uthman answered that he used his wealth to support his family
    • ‘Did not Abu Bakr and Umar have kin and maternal relations?’ he answered: ‘Abu Bakr and Umar sought reward in the hereafter by withholding from their kin, and I seek reward by giving to my kin’ (Ansab al-Ahsraf V.28)
  • Some writers, such as Madelung, argue that this was an outgrowth of Uthman’s view of his own role
  • Uthman also granted his cousin Marwan ibn al-Hakam (the future caliph and father of Abd al-Malik) a fifth of the war booty of Africa
  • This fifth (khums in Arabic) is allotted by the Quran to the Prophet for the running of the Islamic state

Land

  • He also seems to have given money from the public treasury to his close relatives
  • al-Baladhuri’s report:
    • ‘He took the sums of money and borrowed money from the treasury saying: Abu Bakr and Umar left what belonged to them of this money, but I take it and distribute it to my kin from it. The people criticised him for that’ (Ansab al-Ashraf V.25)
  • The estate at the Oasis of Fadak (which Abu bakr and Umar had counted as public land) was given to Marwan ibn al-Hakam
  • Another similar estate in the Mahzur valley of Medina was given to Marwan’s brother al-Harith (see family tree)
  • Uthman also made alterations to the existing use of former crown lands (sawafi)
  • Prior to the conquests, these lands had belonged to the Byzantine and Persian crowns.

Land

  • Umar held that these lands should be used as the communal property of the garrison cities
  • Thus the sawaf of Kufa should be used as the communal property of Kufa, to pay their subsidies
  • Grants from these lands were also given to prominent companions, such as Abdullah ibn Masud, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas and others
  • Uthman then allowed the exchange of privately owned land in Arabia for former crown land in Iraq
  • Grants from this land was then given to prominent Medinans who had fought at al-Qadisiya

Governing the Provinces

  • One of the major contemporary criticisms of Uthman was that of nepotism
  • Although these charges can be viewed in a number of ways, many members of the wider Bani Umayya were appointed governors by Uthman
  • Thus shortly after his accession, Ali ibn Adi ibn Rabia (of Abd Shams) was made governor of Mecca
  • Amr ibn al-As was dismissed from Egypt and replaced by Abdullah ibn Sa’d
  • Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, a respected companion, was dismissed from Basra, which was then given to Uthman’s maternal cousin, Abdullah ibn Amir ibn Kurayz (Abd Shams)
  • Abdullah was also given control over Bahrain and Uman, along with their military forces
  • This was surprising given Abdullah’s youth, being only 25 at the time

Governing the Provinces

  • al-Walid ibn Uqba appointed to the governorship of Kufa (in Iraq) in 26 AH
  • As we have seen, at this time, Kufa was one of the largest and most important garrison cities (amsar)
  • Tabari reports that al-Walid initially governed well, until being accused of public drunkenness and eventually removed (I. 2840 – 2850)
  • Tabari reports that Ali flogged al-Walid himself
  • Another relative, Sa’id ibn al-As, made governor in al-Walid’s place
  • Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan appointed governor of Syria by Umar
  • Uthman confirmed him in his governorship and augmented his province by adding to it Qinnasrin, Hims and Upper Mesopotamia
  • This meant that Mu`awiya had a very large province and army under his personal command
  • Indeed, during Uthman’s reign, Mu`awiya led numerous raids against Byzantine territory, penetrating to some 100 miles from Constantinople
  • As we shall see, Mu`awiya’s control of Syria and its armies were to important later on

Opposition

  • These measures provoked opposition
  • Sa’id ibn al-As is said to have commented that that Iraq was a ‘garden of Quraysh’
  • During an absence in Medina, serious rioting prompted Uthman to dismiss Sa’id and reinstate Abu Musa al-Ash`ari
  • A number of prominent companions began to express their discontent
  • Many of these seem to have been particular supporters of Ali and the Bani Hashim
  • Or, they were claimed as such by later Shiite writers
  • Ammar ibn Yasir, a prominent early convert of humble origins, was reportedly beaten by supporters of Uthman
  • Abdullah ibn Masud, another prominent companion, seems to have been similarly treated

Opposition

  • Abu Dharr al-Ghifari
  • A prominent and early Bedouin convert
  • Of an ascetic bent
  • He is reported to have publicly denounced the large fortunes of many people
  • His agitation seems to have caused discontent and Uthman sent him to Syria
  • He continued his agitation there and Mu’`awiya eventually returned him to Medina
  • There is a divergence of opinion in some of the sources about his treatment
  • Some sources state that he was treated well during his return journey
  • Others state that he was tied to a camel and treated harshly
  • He then left and went to al-Rabadhah (just outside of Medina), where he died soon afterwards
  • See Handout provided

Opposition

  • More importantly, a number of senior companions began to withdraw their support
  • Talha ibn Ubaydullah withdrew his support and seems to have criticised Uthman sharply
  • Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf is reported to have become extremely discontented and in his last years refused to speak to Uthman
  • He is also reported as refusing to let Uthman bury him

Section V: The Murder of Uthman

The Death of Uthman

  • With the dismissal of Amr ibn al-As from the governorship of Egypt, discontent became open rebellion
  • The sources refer to letters sent to the provinces encouraging revolt from Talha ibn Ubaydullah and Aisha bint Abi Bakr (Muhammad’s widow)
  • A group of Egyptian soldiers marched on Medina, calling on Uthman to repent for his misdeeds
  • They were joined by others from Kufa, where they laid siege to Uthman’s house
  • Uthman at first seems to have acceded to their demands, but once they left he seems to have been persuaded by Marwan to change his mind
  • This drew the rebels back to Medina, where a second siege then began
  • Attempts at negotiating a solution wore on for some time, but eventually came to nought
  • On 17 Dhu’l-Hijja, the peace was broken when a freedman of Marwan killed one of the besiegers

The Death of Uthman

  • Uthman’s house was then attacked
  • Uthman ordered his guards to lay down their arms and leave
  • According to the sources, these included sons of the some of the most prominent companions, such as
  • Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr
  • al-Hasan ibn Ali
  • al-Husayn ibn Ali
  • The sources state that Uthman was murdered by Muhammad ibn Abi Bar, Kinana ibn Bishr, Sudan ibn Humran and Amr ibn al-Hamiq
  • Muhammad was Abu Bakr’s son, and since his father’s death had been raised by Ali (his mother had married Ali)
  • Uthman was said to have been murdered whilst reciting the Quran
  • And, this image of a pious old man, murdered unjustly is the predominant image of the Sunni tradition

Consequences

  • The murder of Uthman marked a major turning point in early Islamic history
  • Although there had been problems, up to this point that had not boiled over into armed conflict
  • Also, although Umar had been murdered, Uthman’s death had been caused by other Muslims
  • This set a very dangerous precedent
  • The deed sent shockwaves around the Muslim world
  • It also caused a deep split amongst Muslims
  • A wide range of views
  • Some groups believed that Uthman had to be removed for his alleged wickedness
  • Others felt that he had been killed unlawfully
  • In some ways, the question of Uthman’s murder became the key defining issue of the time

Consequences

  • In the immediate aftermath, Ali was elected caliph in Medina
  • However, unlike his predecessors, Ali’s election was concluded hastily, in somewhat confused circumstances
  • That said, he seems to have received the unanimous support of the Medinan and Meccan aristocracy
  • Most of the other provincial governors seem to have quickly acknowledged his authority
  • All except Mu`awiya, the governor Syria
  • We will look more at this in the next session

Assessment

  • In assessing Uthman’s caliphate, it is important to understand the nature of the times he faced
  • During the course of some 25 years (after Muhammad’s death) the Muslim state had expanded dramatically from a small, semi-nomadic polity to a large imperial power
  • This created social, economic and political tensions
  • Moreover, the growing need for centralised government also played an important role

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