Uthman ibn Affan was a man so loved by
Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, that he was
called the possessor of two lights. Uthman was married to Prophet
Muhammad’s daughter Ruqiayah and when she died, he married Muhammad’s other
daughter, Umm Kulthum, thus possessing the two lights.
Uthman ibn Affan was appointed Caliph (leader of the
Muslim nation) through a process of consultation and careful deliberation. On
his deathbed, Omar ibn Al Khattab appointed a council of six men to choose a
new leader. It was a time of confusion and chaos for the Muslims, small
disagreements were becoming obstacles. Some people wanted to appoint Ali ibn Abu
Talib because he was from Prophet Muhammad’s family, others wanted to appoint
Uthman because he was from one of the great tribes of Mecca. Ibn Kathir, the respected
Islamic scholar of the 14th century suggests that the leader of the council,
Abdu Rahman ibn Awf questioned both men and then chose Uthman.
Abdurrahman asked Ali, “Do you swear to rule by the
glorious book of God (Quran) and the Sunnah (traditions) of His messenger?” To
which he replied, “I hope to act according to my best knowledge and capacity”.
When Abdurrahman asked Uthman the same question, he replied simply, “I do”. It
would be too simplistic to suggest that the decision was made solely by the
answer to this question but rather it was part of a process of reflection and
deliberation. Both men were amongst several who were eminently qualified to
lead the Muslim nation. Uthman was a man known to be pious, generous, and
modest, perhaps his simple answer reflected his personality. A shy man, who
spoke few words but whose heart was filled with love for God and His messenger.
Immediately after being elected, Uthman ibn Affan
addressed the people from the minbar previously used by Prophet Muhammad. He looked
at the Muslims and praised God, sent blessings upon Prophet Muhammad, and
reminded the people that this world was full of deception. He advised the
people to shun living luxurious lives and to seek a place in the hereafter, full
of happiness and peace.
“And put forward to them the example of the life of this
world, it is like water (rain) which We send down from the sky, and the
vegetation of the earth mingles with it, and becomes fresh and green. But (later)
it becomes dry and broken pieces, which the winds scatter. And God is Able to
do everything. Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world.
But the good righteous deeds (five compulsory prayers, deeds of God’s
obedience, good and nice talk, remembrance of God with glorification, praises
and thanks, etc.), that last, are better with your Lord for rewards and better
in respect of hope.” (Quran 18: 45 - 46)
Uthman was a pious man who loved and trusted God
completely, thus his first action as leader was to assure the people that he
would guide them according to the way of the Prophet and Caliphs Abu Bakr and
Omar ibn Al Khattab. Uthman was turning 70 when he became leader of the
Muslims and for many years, he had refrained from the pleasures of this life in
order to seek nearness to God. After setting a tone of piety and concern for
Muslims that would be the hallmark of his reign, Uthman turned his attention to
giving direction to the governors and the Muslim armies.
To the governors Uthman expressed his desire for them to
serve the people, and never to exploit them. He sent prominent companions of Prophet
Muhammad, as his personal deputies to the provinces to scrutinize the conduct
of officials and the condition of the people. Uthman reminded the armies to
follow the clear guidelines set down by Omar ibn Al Khattab and asked them
never to forget that they were defending the believers. Extensive conquests
were made during the reign of Uthman, including parts of Spain, Morocco, and Afghanistan. Uthman was also the first Caliph to organise a navy. He
reorganised the administrative divisions of the Muslim Caliphate, expanded, and
initiated many public projects. Perhaps Uthman’s most astounding contribution
to the Muslims was his compilation of the Quran.
The Uthmani Quran
After the death of Prophet Muhammad and during the time
of the Caliphs, hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs converted to Islam.
Consequently, the Quran began to be recited and written in various different
dialects and scripts. One of Prophet Mohammad’s companions, and Uthman’s
friend Hudhaifah, whilst on a journey noticed that there were many different
recitations of Quran throughout the Muslim Empire. Hudhaifah suggested to
Uthman that there be an official version written in the style used in Medina.
Uthman knew the Quran by heart and had intimate
knowledge of the context and circumstances relating to each verse. The Quran
had been gathered during the time of Abu Bakr and was in the safekeeping of
Prophet Muhammad’s wife Hafsah. Uthman took possession of the originals and ordered
some of the most trusted companions to make careful copies. He then ordered
all other unofficial copies to be burned or otherwise destroyed. Five
official copies were sent to the greatest cities of the Muslim Caliphate. Original
copies exist to this day in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.
A Tragic End
The final six years of Uthman’s reign were marked by
rebellion. Some of the governors that had been appointed during the reign of Uthman
were heavy handed and to some extent unjust. In this way, the seeds of
dissension spread and many of the people began to love the luxuries of life that
Uthman had warned against. Conspiracies arose and it was difficult for Uthman
to discern friend from foe. He was reluctant to shed the blood of any Muslim
however rebellious they may be. Uthman preferred to persuade with kindness and
generosity for he always remembered the words of Prophet Muhammad. “Once
the sword is unsheathed among my followers, it will not be sheathed until the
The rebels called for Uthman to step down and indeed
many of the companions advised him to do so. Uthman, now an old man of more than
80 years, heard the words of his beloved prophet ringing in his ears and
refused to stand down from his position. “Perhaps God will clothe you with
a shirt, Uthman and if the people want you to take it off, do not take it off
for them.” Uthman remained true to his covenant but after a long siege,
the rebels broke into his house and murdered him. As the assassin’s sword struck,
Uthman was reciting the following verse.
“So God will suffice for you against them. And He is the All
Hearer and the All Knower.” (Quran 2:137)
Such was the tragic end of one of the most pious, kind
and selfless men in Islam.