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Chapter 7 : THE CALIPHATE OF UTHMAN

The election of Uthman on the 1st Muharram 24 AH at seventy years of age as Caliph of the Muslim nation, was regarded by the Umayyads as a triumph for the whole clan, whose long-standing disputes with the Hashimites over the leadership of the Quraish, extended back to the pre-Islamic days. The conquest of the Byzantine and Persian empires opened up tremendous new opportunities and the clan considered it natural that the Caliph should let them share the fruits of the Caliphate.

Indeed Uthman made no secret of bestowing favors on his kinsmen, feeling that his strength lay in their good will and support. Thus the governorships of Kufa, Syria, Egypt and Basra, which was the capital of a vast territory including Iran and Central Asia and extending to Sind, were given to the Umayyads. These governors in turn relied on the support of their own kinsmen who were allowed to dominate the caliphal councils.

Not surprisingly the Umayyads incurred dissatisfaction and hatred of many Muslims not so much for their advantage but rather because they were allowed enough latitude to use their powers arbitrarily for personal benefit.

Abd Allah Sa'd, Uthman's milk-brother for example, whom the Prophet himself had ordered to be killed during the conquest of Mecca, was put to administer Egypt and was oppressive and excessive. Another example was Uthman's half-brother, Al-

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Walid 'Uqba who was very much hated by the Kufans, only to be replaced by Sa'id al-As who infuriated the local notables by his high-handed treatment of them.

The intelligentsia of the people, the respected Qur'an readers or Qurra, protested to Uthman about the situations in Kufa, Basra and Egypt but to no avail. This set the seal to Uthman unpopularity in religious circles in the provinces. Towards the last few years of Uthmanís reign, the major part of the population was seething with discontent.

In the year 35 Hijira (636 CE), disenchantment exploded into revolt. Contingents from Kufa, Basra and Egypt led by the Qurra urged Ali for his support yet on the other side, Caliph Uthman himself was appealing to Ali to mediate with the rebels.

Talha who had some support in Basra and Zubayr with support in Kufa, also conducted propaganda activities against 'Uthman. Even the widows of the Prophet, notably A'isha daughter of Abu Bakr, opposed the Caliph whom she called Na'thal which means 'of the big beard and hairy chest'.

Ali played a conciliatory and mediatory role and many times did succeed in dispersing the unruly crowd that wanted to depose Uthman. Taking Ali's advice, Uthman at first repented and wanted to make changes to the government to improve the situation and announced it as such to the people at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. Unfortunately, at the instigation of

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Marwan al-Hakam, his secretary, Uthman back-tracked, enraging the people. Accessing the roof of Uthman's house through the adjacent house, some insurgents besieged the residence and killed the Caliph. 'Uthman had reigned for 12 years and was killed on 18th Zul-Hijja 35 AH and buried in Hash Koukab.

 

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