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Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate

Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate

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Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate

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  1. Uthman & Crisis of the Early Caliphate Islamic History: the First 150 Years

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

  3. Section I: Perceptions

  4. 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

  5. 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’)

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. Section II: Uthman’s Background

  9. 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’)

  10. 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

  11. Section III: The Shura Committee

  12. 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)

  13. 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’)

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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

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

  18. Section IV: Uthman & The Banu Umayya

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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

  27. 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

  28. 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

  29. Section V: The Murder of Uthman

  30. 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

  31. 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

  32. 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

  33. 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

  34. 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