In the last chapter of our story, we concluded the first six years of Uthman’s administration.
We discussed the pent-up feelings of angst and frustration among many inhabitants of the empire. These feelings were due to the political and economic malaise of the times, as well as some of Uthman’s decisions.
Some things were out of Uthman’s control. His administration was saddled with the expensive stipend policy that his predecessor Umar had initiated. On top of that, he also had to deal with the complications of managing a vast empire.
However, some of Uthman’s decisions were very unpopular.
The Problem With Uthman’s Popularity
On top of the list was the perception that he often gave members of his family high positions within the government.
And while it would prove immensely beneficial to the Muslim world, his decision to burn all non-standard Qurans had angered many people.
Still, the first six years of Uthman’s reign were marked by peace, stability, and overall prosperity.
But all of that changed the day he lost the Prophet’s ring.
The Prophet’s Ring
During his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), had a ring engraved with the words “Muhammad Rasullullah”: Muhammad, The Messenger of Allah.
When sending official correspondence, the Prophet would dip this ring in wax and affix his seal to the document.
When he died, the ring passed on to Abu Bakr, and from him to Umar. After he was stabbed, Umar gave the ring to his daughter, Hafsah, with orders to give to the next Caliph. And when Uthman was elected, he inherited the ring.
However, the ring slipped off his finger while he was drawing water from a well. Despite all of his efforts, the ring could not be found. Instead, he had another ring made, with the exact same inscription, and would use that as his official seal.
No one could have predicted the problems this would cause in the future.
Managing The Largest Empire In The World
But for now, Uthman had his hands full managing the largest empire in the world. And as the Caliph, or successor, of the Prophet, he was both the political and religious leader of the Muslims.
Changes to the Adhaan
Friday is a day of worship for Muslims. Every Friday, all over the world, Muslims gather at local mosques to listen to a short sermon and perform a group prayer.
In fact, the word for Friday in Arabic is Yawmul Jumuah, meaning “The Day of Gathering.”
During the Prophet’s time, the muezzin Bilal ibn Rabah would climb on top of the mosque and make the adhan, or the call to prayer. This would signal to everyone in Medina that services were about to begin.
However, by the time Uthman became Caliph, Medina was no longer a small village. It was the bustling capital of the Islamic Empire, and one of the largest cities in Arabia.
To make things easier on the inhabitants of Medina, Uthman instructed his Muezzin to begin making two adhans. One to let people know services will begin soon. Then another just before Uthman began his khutbah, or sermon.
There were two benefits to adding a second adhan.
- The population was growing and people were living further away from the Mosque. Having a second adhan allowed them to reach in time for services.
- The congregation on Fridays had grown very large. One adhan was called from a raised platform to make it easier for the crowd to hear.
This practice of making two adhans for Friday services continues to this day.
Military and Diplomatic Achievements
The years 650 to 655 were very important for the Muslim Empire.
In 650 Abdullah ibn Amir, governor of Basrah and Uthman’s cousin, led a campaign to put down rebellions in eastern Persia.
After quelling the rebellions, Abdullah ibn Amir pushed into Afghanistan, forcing the city of Herat to surrender in 651.
Also in 651, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas led a diplomatic mission to China. He was warmly greeted by Emperor Gaozong of the Tang dynasty who commissioned the building of the first Chinese Mosque.
Three years later, in 654, the Muslim armies began to make their first inroads into what is now Uzbekistan. By 655, most of central Asia had been conquered by the Muslims.
The Baqt Treaty
Perhaps, the most outstanding diplomatic achievement was the Baqt treaty between Muslim Egypt and Christian Nubia.
Since the 640’s, the Egyptian governor Ibn Abi Sarh had been attempting to extend his authority into southern Egypt and Nubia.
The Muslim armies got as far as Dongola in northern Sudan. They laid siege to the city, but their losses were high and they were unable to break through the Nubian defenses. Many Muslims lost their eyes to the keen marksmanship of the Nubian archers.
Finally, the Muslims decided to cut their losses and called for a treaty. The two sides drew up an agreement that would last for the next six hundred years.
This treaty was known as Baqt (perhaps derived from the Greek word for pact) and would develop into a mutual understanding between the Muslims and Christians of the area.
While certain particulars would shift over the years, the core fundamentals of the treaty remained the same. These included:
- Free passage for citizens of both nations.
- Nubia must maintain a mosque for Muslim travelers.
- Neither side would allow settlers in the other’s territory.
Though the Baqt treaty was a success, there were other problems simmering under the surface in Egypt. Most of them had to do with the governor, Ibn Abi Sarh.
Problems In Egypt
Many Egyptian residents felt he was inferior to the man he replaced, Amr ibn Al-As.
Amr ibn Al-As was a respected companion and had proven himself to be an outstanding figure both on and off the battlefield.
He led the first Muslim armies into Egypt and conquered most of the territory including the capital, Alexandria.
Ibn Abi Sarh on the other hand, accepted Islam, then left Islam to become a pagan again, all while betraying the Muslims and aiding their enemies, the Quraish.
He would eventually repent for his sins and was pardoned by the Prophet. But his wicked deeds were never forgotten.
As a military leader, Ibn Abi Sarh did fairly well. He conquered Libya, defeated the Romans at sea, and authorized the Baqt treaty.
But as governor, he often left much to be desired.
Ibn Abi Sarh As Governor Of Egypt
He knew that most people felt he only got the job because his cousin was the Caliph. Furthermore, he could never escape the shadow of Amr ibn Al-As, nor the stigma of betraying Prophet Muhammad.
This made Ibn Abi Sarh paranoid and cruel to those who opposed him.
And after nearly ten years as governor of Egypt, many people were beginning to oppose him.
In addition to his checkered past, he was haunted by his inept handling of Egypt’s finances.
Financial Problems In Egypt
The spoils from the conquest of Libya brought a massive influx of wealth into Egypt. From this wealth, Uthman granted a large portion to Ibn Abi Sarh.
Ibn Abi Sarh would subsequently squander this wealth on foolish endeavors.
His financial incompetence was further heightened by the paltry stipends some Egyptians received.
The government stipends were based on seniority and closeness to Prophet Muhammad, as well as service in the military.
Most of the Muslims in Egypt were newly converted Muslims and had never served in the military. Hence, their stipends were relatively small.
Of course, they blamed this on Ibn Abi Sarh, and began calling for his removal.
Though not proven, some historians speculate that these protests were instigated by Amr ibn Al-As.
Ibn Abi Sarh Overreacts
Ibn Abi Sarh responded viciously. He had some of these protestors arrested and imprisoned. Others he had exiled.
And one, he had beaten to death.
The Egyptians sent letters to Medina asking Uthman to dismiss Ibn Abi Sarh. But he either never received them, or did not feel they were warranted.
The anger in Egypt began to shift away from Ibn Abi Sarh, and towards Uthman ibn Affan.
At the center of this storm was a young man who was the youngest son of the second greatest Muslim.
Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was the last son of the Abu Bakr, Prophet Muhammad’s closest friend and the first Caliph of the Muslims.
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was related by marriage and genetics to several prominent Muslims.
His sister was Aisha, the widow of Prophet Muhammad.
His mother Asma, was once married to Jafar ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad and the brother of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
When Jafar died, Asma married Abu Bakr. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was born just a few months before the death of Prophet Muhammad.
As Caliph, his father was kept busy putting down the massive rebellion known as the Wars of Apostasy. When Abu Bakr died, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was only about two years old.
After Abu Bakr died, his mother married her former brother-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Therefore, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was essentially raised by and in the household of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Given this relationship, we can see why Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr supported Ali over Uthman.
Unrest In Iraq
Egypt was not the only place that was beginning to boil over with anger towards Uthman. Iraq, which had always been difficult to govern, was starting to heat up with complaints and frustration.
In Kufah and Basrah, two of the major Iraqi cities, people were upset about Uthman’s land use policy. Several residents had been prevented from grazing their animals on public lands.
At the same time, they could see hundreds of camels grazing in these areas and mistakenly thought they belonged to Uthman. However, these were government owned camels meant to be used for warfare and charity.
As time went on and the number of government camels increased, the amount of land needed for their grazing also increased.
More and more Iraqi’s were squeezed out of public lands and this just raised their animosity towards Uthman.
Unfortunately, Uthman was oblivious to these feelings. He was nearly eighty years old and preferred spending his time in worship and reading Quran with his wife, Nailah.
He had delegated much of the government’s administration to his controversial uncle and secretary, Marwan ibn Al-Hakam.
Marwan Ibn Al-Hakam
Marwan ibn Al-Hakam was involved in at least two controversies during Uthman’s reign.
One was during the early part of Uthman’s administration when Marwan served as treasurer of Egypt. It was under his watch that Ibn Abi Sarh squandered the spoils from the conquest of Libya.
The second point of controversy involving Marwan was his father, Al-Hakam. Al-Hakam was once an enemy of the Prophet and had been exiled upon the Muslim conquest of Mecca.
When Uthman became Caliph, he lifted the ban on Marwan’s father, allowing him to return to Medina. It is not clear how much influence Marwan had on this decision.
But it is clear this did not go unnoticed by Uthman’s detractors.
Another troubling incident involved the companion Ammar ibn Yasir.
Ammar Ibn Yasir
Like Uthman, Ammar ibn Yasir was one of the earliest followers of Prophet Muhammad. However, while Uthman was a wealthy merchant and belonged to the powerful Umayyah clan, Ammar was the son of slaves.
His father was from Yemen and his mother was African, possibly from Ethiopia or Nubia. As slaves and outsiders in pre-Islamic Mecca, they were at the absolute bottom of the social order.
Ammar accepted Islam when he was forty-five years old. Soon after, his elderly parents did the same. Unfortunately, they did this at a time when Muslims were being severely persecuted by the Quraish.
Ammar and his parents endured unspeakable torture.
The Torture Of Ammar’s Family
They were burned, beaten, and left exposed in the 100 degree temperatures of the Arabian desert.
The Quraish would hold Ammar’s head in water, almost to the point of drowning. Then they would pull him up and command him to renounce Islam.
To add to his suffering, they would force Ammar to watch as his parents were whipped and mutilated.
Despite this torment, none of them said anything against Prophet Muhammad, nor did they give up their faith.
Finally, after several days of this agony, the Quraish had grown frustrated. They killed Ammar’s father Yasir, and his mother Sumayyah, right in front of him.
They turned towards Ammar and threatened to do the same thing to him if he did not give up Islam.
Seeing his parents tortured and killed must have broken him. Ammar ibn Yasir finally said the words they wanted to hear.
The Quraish released Ammar ibn Yasir, and he hurried back to Prophet Muhammad to relate what happened.
The Prophet knew Ammar only said what he had to say in order to save his life. It by no means reflected what was in his heart.
Prophet Muhammad advised Ammar that if this happened in the future, he should do the same thing.
Ammar, The Constant Fighter
But far from weakening him, this torture only seemed to strengthen Ammar’s faith. He would go on to become one of Prophet Muhammad’s most devoted and ardent followers.
Ammar ibn Yasir participated in all of the major battles. Badr. Uhud. Khandaq. Mecca.
Even after the Prophet’s death, he continued to serve in the military. He was well into his sixties when he fought against the rebels during the Wars of Apostasy.
He was there in the front ranks in the Battle of Yamamah against the false prophet, Musailamah Al-Kadhab.
And after the conquest of Persia, Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed him governor of Kufah.
Like many others in the empire, Ammar ibn Yasir disagreed with some of Uthman’s policies. However, he remained in Medina and continued to support the Caliph.
Until one fateful day drove a permanent wedge between Ammar ibn Yasir and Uthman ibn Affan.
The Split Between Ammar And Uthman
One day, Ammar went to Uthman’s house to discuss the unrest and unhappiness in the empire. And normally, Uthman would have no problem giving him an audience.
Despite ruling over a large empire, Uthman led a simple life and was very accessible. It was not uncommon for regular citizens to come to his house and request a meeting.
However, on this occasion, Uthman was unavailable and instructed his servant to tell Ammar to return at a later time.
Ammar ibn Yasir was not a regular citizen. He was an old man who had suffered and sacrificed his entire adult life for the cause of Islam.
He had been one of the closest companions of Prophet Muhammad. And were it not for the fact he wasn’t a Quraishi, would have been a candidate for the Caliphate himself.
He did not take kindly to being brushed aside by anyone; not even the Caliph. Ammar and the servant got into an argument. It only ended when the servant picked up a stick and began to beat the elderly companion.
While Uthman was unaware of this incident, it ruined the relationship between him and Ammar.
The Defection Of Ammar
But it seems Uthman did not fully grasp the damage that had been done. Because when he decided to investigate the cause of the unrest in Egypt, he appointed none other than Ammar ibn Yasir.
Ammar ibn Yasir obediently traveled to Egypt and met with the dissident ringleader, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr.
After a few days of discussion, Ammar ibn Yasir was convinced of their cause, and decided to join them. He chose to remain in Egypt and never returned to Uthman in Medina.
The defection of Ammar ibn Yasir was a serious blow to Uthman. He could no longer treat the unrest lightly.
While he did not understand the cause of the unhappiness, he knew there was something serious underfoot.
Uthman’s Emergency Meeting
In the year 655, he requested all of his governors to meet in Medina after the Hajj pilgrimage. He wanted an account of the situation in their provinces, and their opinion on how to deal with them.
When the governors met with Uthman, they all had different ideas on how to deal with the dissidents.
One suggested the protestors had too much time on their hands. Sending them to the front lines would keep them occupied.
Another said they only wanted money and paying them off would calm them down.
Other suggestions were much more severe.
- “Exile them from the provinces.”
- “Set an example by whipping and imprisoning the ringleaders.”
- And finally, “Just kill them all.”
Uthman was unwilling to take such harsh actions. He also wanted to know the reason for their discontent.
When he asked the governors why so many people were upset, none of them had an answer. There were lots of rumors and ideas. But there was nothing concrete that Uthman could fix.
Ultimately, the meeting adjourned with no real progress having been made. In fact, the only decision to come from this meeting, was to have another meeting the following year.
A Plan For the Future
Uthman instructed his governors to return to their provinces and continue monitoring events in their areas.
He invited them and anyone with complaints to an assembly after the next Hajj. He promised everyone would have a chance to speak and that justice would be done on their behalf.
At this point, Uthman did not yet comprehend how deep the resentment was among the dissidents. He still felt that if he just knew what they were upset about, he could find a way to fix it.
He did not know that the main problem they had with Uthman’s government, was Uthman himself.
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