DOMESTIC EVENTS DURING THE LATTER DAYS OF 'OTHMAN.
HIS GROWING UNPOPULARITY
30-34 A.H. / 651-655 A.D.
AL-KUFA and Al-Basra at this period exercised an influence on the destinies of Islam hardly less potent than that of Medina itself. The turbulent and factious atmosphere of these cities became rapidly charged with a spirit of disloyalty and rebellion aggravated by the weak and unwise change of their governors.
Al-Moghira did not long enjoy the command at Al-Kufa. He was removed by 'Othman, who, to fill the vacancy, in obedience (some say) to the dying wish of 'Omar, reinstated Sa'd in his former office. The issue again was unsuccessful. To provide for his luxurious living, Sa'd took an advance from Ibn Mas'ud, chancellor of the treasury, who, by and by, became importunate for repayment. A heated altercation ensued, and Sa'd swore angrily at Ibn Mas'ud. The factious city ranged itself, part with the great warrior, and part with the quondam slave and attendant on the Prophet. The quarrel reached the ears of 'Othman, who, much displeased, recalled Sa'd before he had been a year in office.
As successor, the Caliph appointed Al-Welid ibn 'Okba, a brave warrior, but suspected of intemperance, and withal a uterine brother of his own. The choice was all the more unfortunate, because Al-Welid was son of that 'Okba who, when taken prisoner at the battle of Bedr and about to be put to death, exclaimed in the bitterness of his soul, "Who will care for my little children?" and was answered by the Prophet, "Hellfire!"1 The words were not forgotten, and faction was
1 Life of Mohammad p. 230.
1 Life of Mohammad p. 230.
careful now to turn them to account. Nevertheless, Al-Welid was popular; and as he commanded successive campaigns in the East with gallantry and vigour, he managed for a time to divert the restless spirits from discontent at home. But in the end, the unruly populace was too strong for him. A murder took place, and sentence of death was executed at the City gate against the culprits. Their relatives resented the act of justice, and watched for ground of accusation against the Governor, whose habits gave them ready opportunity. Charges of intemperance were repeatedly dismissed by 'Othman for want of legal proof.
At last his enemies succeeded in detaching from his hand the signet ring of office while he slept from the effects of a debauch, and carried it off in triumph to Medina. But still worse, it was established that Al-Welid had conducted the morning Prayers in such a state that, having come to the proper end of the service, he went on, without stopping, to commence another. The scandal was great; and the majesty of Islam must be vindicated. Al-Welid was recalled to Medina, scourged according to law, and deposed.
At Al-Basra, too, things were going from bad to worse. Abu Musa had now been many years Governor, when the restless citizens became impatient of his rule. He had been preaching to the pampered soldiery the virtue of enduring hardness, and going forth on foot to war. When the next expedition was ready, they watched to see whether he would himself set the example. As his ample baggage issued forth, winding from the castle on a long string of mules, they set upon him, crying, "Give us of these beasts to ride upon, and walk thou on foot, a pattern of the hardness thou preachest unto us." Then they repaired to Medina, and complained that he had drained the land of its wealth, pampered Koreish, and tyrannised over the Arab tribes. Instead of checking their petulance with promptitude, 'Othman gave it new life by deposing Abu Musa, and appointing a certain obscure citizen whom they desired, to be their Governor. Found unequal to the post, this man was deposed, and a youthful cousin of the Caliph, Ibn 'Amir, promoted in his room. When tidings of his nomination reached Al-Basra, Abu Musa said: "Now ye shall have a tax-gatherer to your hearts' content, rich in cousins, aunts, and uncles, who will
flood you with his harpies!" And so it turned out; for he soon filled the local offices and the commands in Persia with creatures of his own. In other respects, however, he proved an able ruler; his signal victories in the East have been already noticed, and in the struggle now close at hand he took a leading part.
The government of Al-Kufa, vacated by the deposition of Al-Welid, was conferred by 'Othman, together with that of Mesopotamia, upon another young and untried kinsman, Sa'id ibn al-'As. His father was killed fighting against the Prophet at Bedr; and the boy, thus left an orphan had been brought up by 'Omar, who eventually sent him to the wars in Syria. Receiving a good account of his breeding and prowess, 'Omar summoned him to his court, and gave him two Arab maidens to wife.1 This youth, now promoted to the most critical post in the empire, was not only without experience in the art of governing, but, vainly inflated with the pretensions of Koreish, made no account of the powerful Bedawi faction. Accustomed in Syria to the strong discipline of Mu'awiya, he wrote to 'Othman, on reaching Al-Kufa, that licence reigned in the city, that noble birth passed for nothing, and that the Bedawin were altogether out of hand. His first address as Governor was a blustering harangue, in which he glibly talked of crushing the sedition and arrogance of the men of Al-Kufa with a rod of iron. Countenanced in his overbearing course by the Caliph, he fomented discontent by invidious advancement of the nobility, and by treating with contumely the great body of the Citizens.
"One Koreishite succeedeth another as our governor," they said; "the last no better than the first. It is but out of the frying-pan into the fire." The under-current of faction daily gained strength and volume. But the vigorous campaigns of Sa'id in northern Persia, for he was an active soldier, served for a time to occupy men's minds, and to stay the open exhibition of a rebellious spirit.
Meanwhile other causes were at worksome apparently insignificant in themselves, but turned adroitly to account
1 He was nephew to the Khalid who opened so ingloriously the Syrian
campaign. Not satisfied with this pair of wives, he had a numerous harim, and left twenty sons and
as many daughters.
1 He was nephew to the Khalid who opened so ingloriously the Syrian campaign. Not satisfied with this pair of wives, he had a numerous harim, and left twenty sons and as many daughters.
by the enemies of 'Othman.
First was the recension of the Kor'an. The Muslim armies spread over such vast areas and, as well as the converted peoples, were so widely separated one from another, that differences were arising in the recitation of the sacred text, as it had been settled in the previous reign. Al-Basra followed the reading of Abu Musa; Al-Kufa was guided by the authority of Ibn Mas'ud; and the text of Hims differed from that in use even at Damascus. Hodheifa, during his long campaign in Persia and Azerbijan, having witnessed the variations in different provinces, returned to Al-Kufa gravely impressed with the urgent need of revision. Ibn Mas'ud was highly incensed with the slight thus put upon the authority of his text. But Hodheifa, supported by the Governor, urged 'Othman to restore the unity of the divine word, "before that believers begin to differ in their scripture, even as the Jews and Christians."1 The Caliph, advised by the leading Companions at Medina, called for copies of the manuscripts in use throughout the Empire. He then appointed a syndicate of experts from amongst Koreish, to collate these with the sacred originals still in the keeping of Hafsa. Under their supervision the variations were reconciled, and an authoritative exemplar written out, of which duplicates were deposited at Mecca, Medina, Al-Kufa, and Damascus. Copies were multiplied over the empire; former manuscripts called in and committed to the flames; and the standard text brought into exclusive use. The action of 'Othman was received at the moment, as it deserved, with general consent, excepting at Al-Kufa. There Ibn Mas'ud, who prided himself on his faultless recitation of the oracle, pure as it fell from the Prophet's lips, was much displeased; and the charge of sacrilege in having burned copies of the divine Word was readily seized on by the factious Citizens. By and by, the cry was spread abroad; and, taken up with avidity by the enemies of 'Othman, we find it ages afterwards still eagerly urged
1 [Referring apparently (not to the originals, but) to the translations
of the Bible in the various languages of the countries into which Christianity spread. The Koran was
held too sacred to be translated, and was only (as still) read in its original Arabic, whatever the language
of the people. 3rd Ed.)]
1 [Referring apparently (not to the originals, but) to the translations of the Bible in the various languages of the countries into which Christianity spread. The Koran was held too sacred to be translated, and was only (as still) read in its original Arabic, whatever the language of the people. 3rd Ed.)]
by the partisans of the 'Abbasid dynasty as an unpardonable offence committed by the ungodly Caliph. The accusation thus trumped up was really without foundation. Indeed, it was scouted by 'Ali himself. When, several years after, as Caliph, he found the citizens of Al-Kufa still blaming his ill-starred predecessor for the act;"Silence!" he cried; 'Othman acted with the advice of the leading men amongst us; and had I been ruler at the time, I should myself have done the same."1
A great body of the nobility from Mecca and Medina about this time transferred their residence to Al-Kufa and Al-Basra. These had no right to share in the endowments of Al-'Irak, the special privileges of which, in virtue of conquest, were reserved for the original settlers. They were allowed, however, now to do so on condition that they surrendered their properties in the Hijaz. The concession afforded fresh ground for discontent at the extravagant pretensions of Koreish.
The story of Abu Dharr is singularly illustrative of the times, and his treatment formed one of the grounds of complaint against the Caliph.2 He was an early convert to the Faith; and is said even to have anticipated Mohammad in some of the observances of Islam. An ascetic in habit, he inveighed against the riches and indulgences of the day as altogether alien from the Faith, and as evils which, rushing in like a flood, were now demoralising the people. Gorgeous palaces, crowds of slaves, horses and camels, flocks and herds, costly garments, sumptuous fare, and splendid equipage were the fashion, not only in Syria and Al-'Irak, but even now within the Holy Cities.3 The protest of Abu Dharr was
1 On this recension, see Excursus on the "Sources for the Biography
of Mohammad," in the Life of Mohammad. The manner in which the 'Abbasid faction perverted
the facts and turned the charge to malignant purpose against the Umeiyad house, is well illustrated
in the Apology of Al Kindy, pp. 25 et seq. The charge against Al-Hajjaj is equally
groundless.Ibid. p. xi.
2 Ibn-Koteiba, p. 130.
3 Al-Mas'udi dwells on this as one of the causes of demoralisation
and disloyalty now setting in so rapidly, and he gives some remarkable Instances. Az-Zubeir
had 1000 slaves, male and female, and 1000 horses. At all the great cities he had palaces, and the one
1 On this recension, see Excursus on the "Sources for the Biography of Mohammad," in the Life of Mohammad. The manner in which the 'Abbasid faction perverted the facts and turned the charge to malignant purpose against the Umeiyad house, is well illustrated in the Apology of Al Kindy, pp. 25 et seq. The charge against Al-Hajjaj is equally groundless.Ibid. p. xi.
2 Ibn-Koteiba, p. 130.
3 Al-Mas'udi dwells on this as one of the causes of demoralisation and disloyalty now setting in so rapidly, and he gives some remarkable Instances. Az-Zubeir had 1000 slaves, male and female, and 1000 horses. At all the great cities he had palaces, and the one at Al-Basra
the natural recoil of a strict and fervid believer from the graceless and licentious luxury of the day: but it was seized by the discontented classes as a weapon against the Government. Visiting Syria, the ascetic, whose spirit was stirred at the pomps and vanities around him, preached repentance. "This gold and silver of yours," he cried, "shall one day be heated red-hot in the fire of hell; and therewith shall ye be seared in your foreheads, sides, and backs, ye ungodly spendthrifts!1 Wherefore, spend now the same in alms, leaving yourselves enough but for your daily bread; else woe be unto you in that day!" Crowds flocked round him at Damascus, some trembling under his rebuke; others rejoicing at the contempt poured on the rich and noble; while the people at large were dazzled by the vision of sharing in the treasures of the classes thus denounced. Uneasy at the disturbing effect of these diatribes, Mu'awiya resolved to test the spirit of the preacher. He sent him a purse of 1000 pieces, and in the morning, affecting to have made a mistake, demanded its return; but during the night Abu Dharr had distributed the whole in charity. On this, Mu'awiya, convinced of his sincerity, and apprehensive of the spread of his socialistic doctrines, despatched the preacher to Medina telling 'Othman that he was an honest but misguided enthusiast. Before the Caliph, Abu Dharr persisted in fearlessly denouncing the great and wealthy, and urged that they should be forced to disgorge their riches. 'Othman condescended to reason with him. "When once men have fulfilled their obligations," he asked, "what power remaineth with me to compel any further sacrifice?" and he turned to Ka'b, a learned Jewish convert, to confirm what he had said. "Out upon thee, son of a
was still to be seen in the fourth century A.H. His landed estate in Al-'Irak was rated at 1000 golden
pieces a day. 'Abd ar-Rahman had 1000 camels, 10,000 sheep, and left property valued
at four hundred thousand dinars. Zeid left gold and silver in great ingots, and had land
valued at 10,000 dinars. The Koreishite nobles built themselves grand palaces in Mecca and
Medina and their environs. 'Othman himself had a splendid palace at Medina, with marble pillars,
walls of costly stucco, grand gates and gardens; he also amassed vast treasures.
1 Sura ix. 35; originally applied to Christian priests and
monks.Life of Mohammad, p. 454.
1 Sura ix. 35; originally applied to Christian priests and monks.Life of Mohammad, p. 454.
Jew! What have I to do with thee?" cried Abu Dharr, smiting Ka'b violently on the stomach.
Argument being thus of no further use, 'Othman banished the preacher to Ar-Rabadha in the desert, where two years after he died in penury. Finding the end approach, the hermit desired his daughter to slay a kid, and have it ready for a party of travellers who, he said, would shortly pass that way to Mecca; then, making her turn his face toward the Ka'ba, he quietly breathed his last. Soon after, the expected party came up, and amongst them Ibn Mas'ud from Al-Kufa, who, weeping over the departed saint, bewailed his fate, and buried him on the spot, which became one of holy memory. The death of Ibn Mas'ud himself, a few days after, added to the pathos of the incident. The plaintive tale was soon in everyone's mouth; and the banishment of the famous preacher of righteousness was made much of by the enemies of the Caliph. The necessity for it was forgotten, but the obloquy remained.1
When himself minded to assume the office of censor and rebuke the ungodliness of the day, the unfortunate Caliph fared no better. The laxity of Syria had reached even to the sacred precincts of the Hijaz; and 'Othman, on attempting to check the games and other practices held to be inconsistent with the profession of Islam, incurred resentment, especially from the gay youth whose amusements he thwarted. Gambling and wagering, indeed, were put down with the approval of the stricter classes of society; but there
1 Attempts are made by 'Abbasid tradition to show that
Abu Dharr was driven into opposition by the tyranny of Mu'awiya's rule, and by divers ungodly
practices permitted by 'Othman at Medina. But Ibn al-Athir justly doubts this, and distinctly says
that his preaching tended to excite the poor against the rich. Abu Dharr's doctrines were based
on the equality of believers and the danger lay in their popularity with the Socialists, who decried
the pretensions of Koreish. Before Mu'awiya, he reasoned thus "Riches, ye say, belong unto
the Lord; and thereby ye frustrate the people's right therein for the Lord hath given them to
His people." "Out upon thee!" replied Mu'awiya; "what is this but a quibble of words? Are
we not all of us the Lord's people, and the riches belong unto us all?" Tradition dwells on the
want and wretchedness of Abu Dharr's life at Ar-Rabadha, to add point to 'Othman 's unkind
treatment. His own tribe are said to have resented his ill-treatment by joining the rebellion.
1 Attempts are made by 'Abbasid tradition to show that Abu Dharr was driven into opposition by the tyranny of Mu'awiya's rule, and by divers ungodly practices permitted by 'Othman at Medina. But Ibn al-Athir justly doubts this, and distinctly says that his preaching tended to excite the poor against the rich. Abu Dharr's doctrines were based on the equality of believers and the danger lay in their popularity with the Socialists, who decried the pretensions of Koreish. Before Mu'awiya, he reasoned thus "Riches, ye say, belong unto the Lord; and thereby ye frustrate the people's right therein for the Lord hath given them to His people." "Out upon thee!" replied Mu'awiya; "what is this but a quibble of words? Are we not all of us the Lord's people, and the riches belong unto us all?" Tradition dwells on the want and wretchedness of Abu Dharr's life at Ar-Rabadha, to add point to 'Othman 's unkind treatment. His own tribe are said to have resented his ill-treatment by joining the rebellion.
were not wanting many who, displeased with the Caliph's interference, joined in the cry of his detractors.
The enlargement of the grand square of the Ka'ba, commenced by 'Omar, was carried on by 'Othman while he visited Mecca on pilgrimage. And here, too, the ill-fated Caliph met with opposition. The owners of the demolished houses refused to accept the compensation offered, and raised a great outcry. The Caliph put them into prison, for, said he, "My predecessor did the same, and ye made no outcry against him." But what the firm arm of 'Omar could do, and none stir hand or foot against him, was a different thing for the weak and unpopular 'Othman to attempt.
He was more successful with the Mosque at Medina, originally built by Mohammad, and hallowed by the mortal remains of the Prophet and his two successors. This was now enlarged and beautified. The supports, at first the trunks of date-trees, were removed, and the roof made to rest on pillars of hewn stone. The walls, too, were built up with masonry, richly carved and inlaid with rare and precious stones. It was a pious work, and none objected.
Yet another cause of murmuring arose from certain changes made by 'Othman in the ceremonial of the annual Pilgrimage, which, though in themselves trivial and unmeaning, excited strong disapprobation at the Caliph's court. He pitched tents for shelter during the few days spent for sacrifice at Mina, a thing never done before; and, to the prayers heretofore recited there and on Mount 'Arafat, he added new ones, with two more series of prostrations. The ritual, as established by the Prophet himself, had been scrupulously followed by his two successors, and a superstitious reverence attached even to its minutest detail. When expostulated with on the unhallowed innovation, 'Othman gave no reasonable answer, but simply said it was his will to do so. Disregard of the sacred example of the Founder of the Faith offended many, and raised a cry among the Companions unfavourable to 'Othman.
Again, beyond the immediate circle of his kinsfolk, 'Othman made no personal friends. Narrow, selfish, indiscreet, and obstinate,more and more so, indeed, with advancing years,he alienated those who would otherwise have stood loyally by him and made many enemies who
pursued him with relentless hatred. Mohammad, son of Abu Bekr, and Mohammad, son of Abu Hodheifa, were among those embittered against him at the naval victory of Alexandria. And yet no very special cause can be assigned for their enmity. The first is said to have been actuated by "passion and ambition." The other, nearly related to 'Othman, and as an orphan kindly brought up by him, was now offended at being passed over for office and command. Both joined the rebellion which shortly broke out in Egypt, and were amongst the most dangerous of the Caliph's enemies. Nor was it otherwise with the people at large. A factious spirit set in against the unfortunate monarch. The leaven fermented all around; and every man who had a grievance, real or supposed, hastened to swell the hostile cry.
To crown the Caliph's ill-fortune, in the 7th year, he lost the signet-ring of silver which, engraved for the Prophet, had been worn and used officially both by him and his successors. It was a favourite and meritorious occupation of 'Othman to deepen the old wells, and to sink new ones, in the neighbourhood of Medina. He was thus engaged when, directing the labourers with his pointed finger, the ring slipped and fell into a well. Every effort was made to recover the priceless relic. The well was emptied, the mud cleared out, and a great reward offered; but no trace of the ring appeared. 'Othman grieved over the loss. The omen weighed heavily on his mind; and it was some time before he consented to supply the lost signet by another of like fashion.
Besides the two daughters of the Prophet, both of whom died before their father, 'Othman had other wives. Three still survived when, in the 5th year of his Caliphate, being then above seventy years of age, he took Naila to wife. Of her previous history we know little more than that, once a Christian, she had embraced Islam. She bore him a daughter; and through all his trials clung faithfully by her aged lord to the bitter end. The days were coming when he needed such a helper by his side.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page