In the last two episodes we looked at certain events that had negative impacts on Uthman’s reputation.
We can say that Uthman used questionable judgement when he removed Amr Ibn Al-As as governor of Egypt, in favor of his cousin, Ibn Abi Sarh.
In other events, such as the so-called exile of Abu Dharr, Uthman did not deserve the criticism that he received.
Nonetheless, these events and many others would be used as political fodder by Uthman’s opponents.
There were other events that took place in the first six years of ‘Uthman’s Caliphate that reflected badly on his leadership.
Trouble in Kufah
An example of this was the city if Kufah in modern day Iraq. Like Fustat in Egypt, Kufah was originally founded as a military garrison during Umar’s Caliphate.
It was meant to guard against the Persians attempting to recapture territory lost to the Muslims in southern Iraq. But over the years, that small military encampment had grown into a bustling city.
The first governor of Kufah was the noble companion, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas. He succeeded Khalid Ibn Waleed as the general of the Muslim armies in Persia, and was responsible for much of its conquest.
He is most noted for winning the hard-fought Battle of Qadisiyyah. This victory by the Muslims all but ensured the downfall of the Sassanid Dynasty, the ruling family of the Persian Empire.
Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas was a very strict, rigid, and disciplined man.
On the one hand, he was one of the highest-ranking companions, having accepted Islam in the very early days of Prophet Muhammad’s mission. He was certainly among the first ten Muslims in Mecca.
One the other hand, he also was a lifelong soldier, having fought in small battles alongside Prophet Muhammad, and major campaigns during Umar’s Caliphate.
This combination of religious and military discipline made Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas a stern leader who tolerated no foolishness from his subjects.
Eventually the people of Kufah, who were notoriously difficult to govern, complained to Caliph Umar about Sa’d Ibn Waqqas. Having no true complaints about his character or his ability to lead, they have to make things up about him.
One man even went so far as to accuse Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas of praying incorrectly. This was a strange declaration considering Sa’d was taught to pray by the Prophet himself.
When Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas heard this accusation, he reportedly said the following: “O Allah! If this slave of yours is lying, then take away his eyesight, give him a long life and put him through difficulties.”
Many years later, long after Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas had died, eyewitnesses saw an old man wandering the streets of Kufa. His eyebrows had grown so long, they hung over his unseeing eyes.
He was poor, blind, and known to grope young girls. If anyone were to ask him how he was doing, he would let out a long, sad sigh and reply: “I am an old man in difficulties. The curse of Sa’d has caught up with me.”
Even though Umar Ibn Al-Khattab knew these accusations were false, to avoid further unrest, he decided to depose Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, and recall him to Medina.
However, when Uthman became Caliph, he reversed Umar’s decision, and reinstated Sa’d as governor of Kufah.
But once again, Kufah would live up to its reputation as being nearly impossible to govern.
It wasn’t long before a dispute arose between Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas and Kufah’s treasurer, Ibn Mas’ud. Ibn Mas’ud was the companion who performed the burial for Abu Dharr al-Ghifari.
And once again, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas found himself replaced as governor. This time, he was replaced by another of Uthman’s cousins, Walid Ibn Uqbah.
Walid Ibn Uqbah was also a companion, though not as prominent as Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, Ibn Mas’ud, or Abu Dharr.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before Walid Ibn Uqbah also ran afoul of the people of Kufah.
They accused him of drinking wine with a former Christian poet who had recently converted to Islam. Such accusations were taken seriously and had severe consequences. After all, this was a clear violation of one of Allah’s commandments, recorded directly in the Quran.
Uthman responded by recalling Walid Ibn Uqbah to Medina, and putting him on trial. Even though the primary evidence was eyewitness accounts from the people of Kufah, it was enough to convict him.
Walid Ibn Uqbah was immediately removed from his position, and punished with 40 lashes.
And the city of Kufah had its fourth governor in less than 10 years.
But these changes in government did little to satisfy the residents of Kufah. They remained a restless and uneasy lot, and blamed Uthman for their unhappiness.
Trouble in Basrah
While Kufah was the most difficult city to govern, it most certainly was not the only one.
Basrah is another city in Iraq that began as a military outpost. Another high-ranking companion named Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari was chosen by Caliph Umar as its first governor.
Abu Musa remained governor until two years into Uthman’s Caliphate. By then, the people of Basrah began to complain that he was showing favoritism to the Quraish.
Upon hearing this, Uthman removed Abu Musa as governor, and replaced him with yet another of his cousins, Abdullah Ibn Amir.
By all accounts, Abdullah Ibn Amir was a successful governor and leader. However, his appointment fed the idea that Uthman showed favoritism to his family members.
Hajj of 649
There were two other incidents that contributed to the growing displeasure for Uthman. Both took place during the Hajj season of 649.
Nowadays, when you make Hajj, the group you’re traveling with will choose the Amir, or leader, to guide you through the pilgrimage rites.
But back then, there was only one Amir, and that was the Caliph, or someone appointed by the Caliph. In 649, Uthman chose to make Hajj, and lead the people through the pilgrimage rites.
To understand what happened next, we have to go back to the days of Prophet Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad only made Hajj once in his life, and that was less than a year before he died. As it came so close to the end of his life, it is known as the Farewell Hajj in Islamic literature.
Our current understanding of the rules and rites of Hajj all come from this one event.
It is reported that over two hundred thousand Muslims participated in the Farewell Hajj. Hence, there were many eyewitnesses to the Prophet’s actions.
One of the rites of Hajj include spending several days in the tent city of Mina, just outside the religious sanctuary. It is known that the Prophet shortened his prayers while in Mina during the Farewell Hajj.
Non-Muslims may not understand the concept of “shortening the prayers.”
Muslims are encouraged to make an abbreviated version of their prayers when they’re traveling. This is considered a convenience and a blessing for Muslims, allowing them to maintain their religious duties while in uncertain conditions.
When Uthman led the Hajj in the year 649, he did not follow this convention. Since he owned a house in Mecca, he did not consider himself to be a traveler. When the Prophet made the Farewell Hajj many years earlier, his official residence was Medina, over one hundred miles away.
Many people took exception to Uthman’s decision. They were shocked that a close companion of the Prophet would violate one of his religious traditions. Especially considering the two previous Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar, had never done such a thing.
The whispers began to spread, and one more item was added to the list of grievances against Uthman.
Another event that happened during the Hajj of 649 was a woman who was accused of adultery.
She was a widow who had recently remarried. Within six months of her second marriage, she gave birth to a baby boy.
During the Hajj, the woman was brought before Uthman for trial. Since a normal pregnancy lasts nine months, Uthman determined she had committed adultery while married to her second husband. He then sentenced her to death by stoning.
When the news of her sentencing reached Ali ibn Abi Talib, he rushed to meet Uthman. Though not one of Uthman’s official advisors, Ali had served in the courts of both Abu Bakr and Umar. Furthermore, no one understood the Shariah, or Islamic law, better than Ali.
Ali informed Uthman of two verses in the Quran which would exonerate the woman.
Chapter 46 verse 15 says:
And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months.
And Chapter 2 verse 233 says:
Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period].
The first verse shows that the pregnancy and nursing period of a child can be at least 30 months. The second verse shows that mothers may nurse their children for up to two years, that is, 24 months.
The difference between 30 and 24 is 6.
Using this logic, Ali argued that the minimum timeframe for a viable pregnancy, according to the Quran, is 6 months. Therefore, it is possible the woman was impregnated by her second husband.
Uthman immediately rushed a stay of execution. But it was too late. The woman had already been killed.
Uthman was deeply saddened by this and paid financial restitution to the woman’s family.
There is no indication that this unjust execution damaged Uthman’s character. However, it is possible it may have made his detractors view Ali as a favorable replacement.
The Compilation and Standardization of the Quran
It is without question that Uthman’s greatest accomplishment was the compilation of the Quran. It is also a great irony that this was one of the biggest complaints against him.
In the year 651, about halfway through Uthman’s 12-year Caliphate, one of the Prophet’s companions named Hudhaifah was traveling through Iraq.
While in Iraq, he was shocked to hear people boasting about their Quran recitation. He was even more shocked by the different styles of recitation floating around the province.
The Quran had originally been revealed in the dialect of the Quraish, a single tribe in Mecca on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
As Islam spread beyond the Peninsula into North Africa and Central Asia, the message of the Quran went with it. However, there was no printing press nor any standardized version of the Quran. Therefore, it passed by word of mouth, from one person to another.
The Muslim community not only consisted of hundreds of Arab tribes and their various dialects, but also Persians, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, Africans, Berbers, and many others for whom Arabic was not their first language.
And without a standardized Quran to unify this diverse group, there were now various dialects and methods of recitation.
Hudhaifah recognized the potential consequences. Not only did the Quran run the risk of being watered down and losing its original message.
These multiple methods of recitation could lead to multiple texts and eventually, multiple Qurans.
Hudhaifah rushed to Medina and informed Uthman of what he saw and what he feared. Uthman agreed, and began putting together a plan to curtail the fracturing of the Quran.
Many years earlier, Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s successor and first Caliph of the Muslim world, faced a similar threat. It was barely a year after the Prophet’s death and he was dealing with a massive rebellion.
During this rebellion, dozens of Hufadh, or memorizers of the Quran, lost their lives fighting against the rebellion. Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Abu Bakr’s primary advisor at the time, feared the Quran would be lost if too many Hufadh were killed.
Umar convinced Abu Bakr to create a standard version of the Quran. Abu Bakr then commissioned the companion Zaid Ibn Thabit, to compile the various texts of the Quran into one collection.
When Zaid had completed his work, he submitted it to Abu Bakr. Upon his death, Abu Bakr passed the book on to his successor, Umar ibn Al-Khattab. When he died, his daughter Hafsah, who was one of the Prophet’s widows, took possession of it.
This book would be the standard upon which Uthman would base his compilation. And like Abu Bakr before him, he commissioned Zaid Ibn Thabit for the job.
Zaid put together a group of trusted scribes, retrieved the original book from Hafsah, and began making several copies. Some reports state the group made five copies, others say six.
Once completed, these copies were taken to the six major regions of the Islamic Empire. An order was given that all other versions of the Quran were to be burned.
It is here that we must make a clarification for our Western listeners.
In the West, burning books is considered the highest form of ignorance and disregard for knowledge and enlightenment. But in Islam, the only way to properly dispose of the Quran is by burning it.
Most other forms of disposal, such as tossing it in the garbage, would be considered dishonorable. Therefore, even today, old Qurans are still incinerated rather than thrown away.
Uthman also ordered that all future copies of the Quran had to come from his official version. And from that point onward, Uthman’s codex, as it has come to be known, is the only accepted compilation of the Quran.
Even the Shiites, who have a generally unfavorable of Uthman, use the same book based on his codex.
Today, Uthman’s codex is accepted without question. And most of the Muslims of his time accepted it also.
But there were many who did not. And many who resented their Qurans being confiscated and burned.
Even some companions refused to accept Uthman’s codex. Ibn Mas’ud, the same companion who buried Abu Dharr, continued to recite the Quran in his own preferred way. He stated that was how the Prophet taught him, and he saw reason to change for anyone.
Without a doubt, this move by Uthman ensured the veracity and authenticity of the Quran, and prevented its fracturing. It would be his most important and long-lasting accomplishment.
However, it would also feed into the overall discontent of growing segment of the Muslim world.
Concluding the First Half of Uthman’s Caliphate
In closing out the first six years of Uthman’s rule, we can see that there were many great accomplishments.
These include the conquest of North Africa and the Caucasus, the creation of the first Muslim navy, and the compilation of the Quran.
And while most of the populace agreed with Uthman’s rule, there was a portion who were dissatisfied with him. There were even some companions who disagreed with Uthman’s decisions.
In our review, we saw how Uthman did make some mistakes and had some errors of judgement.
Compared to the two Caliphs who came before him, Uthman did seem to appoint a disproportionate number of his family members to high position.
We may question his decision to remove several competent governors such as Amr Ibn Al-As, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, and Abu Musa Al-Ashari, only to replace them with his cousins.
However, other complaints against Uthman were misunderstandings, or deliberately misconstrued by his detractors.
These include the final years of Abu Dharr, not shortening the prayer during Hajj, and the burning of individual Qurans.
Furthermore, Uthman was much softer than Umar. Many people took advantage of this and tried to get away with things Umar would never have tolerated.
Other factors that led to this discontent had nothing to do with Uthman’s leadership.
Though were still some military conquests, they were happening at a much slower pace. This meant less wealth coming into the Empire, and more men with idle time.
In an attempt to combat poverty, Uthman’s predecessor Umar had established government stipends. While these stipends did alleviate poverty for many, it left Uthman was a hefty financial responsibility.
And in spite of these stipends, there was still a large gulf between the very wealthy and the very poor.
And we cannot overlook that Uthman ruled over hundreds of thousands of conquered people. Many of them did not appreciate their new rulers and resented what they had lost in the old regimes.
Uthman’s legacy was also seen as lacking when compared to Abu Bakr, Umar and Ali.
He did not take part in the Battle of Badr, the first conflict between the Muslims and the pagan Quraish.
At the time, Uthman was married to one of the Prophet’s daughters who was suffering from a fatal illness. The Prophet excused Uthman from the battle so he could care for his dying wife.
However, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali all took part in that battle.
The year after the Battle of Badr, there was the Battle of Uhud. While the Muslims won the Battle of Badr, the Battle of Uhud was at best a draw, but closer to a defeat for the Muslims.
During the Battle of Uhud, the Quraish broke through the Muslim lines, sending many of them scattering for their lives. Uthman was among those who fled the battle.
Even though the Quran states Allah forgave those who ran away, this was a culture that prized bravery and valor above all else. Uthman would be forever tainted with the badge of cowardice.
In the next episode, we will explore the second half of Uthman’s Caliphate. We will see how this growing discontent led to outright protests against Uthman’s rule, and his eventual murder.