Uthman bin Affan was born seven years after the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He belonged to the Omayyad branch of the Quraish tribe. He learned to read and write at an early age, and as a young man he became a successful merchant. Even before Islam, Uthman had been noted for his truthfulness and integrity.
He and Abu Bakr were close friends, and it was Abu Bakr who brought him to Islam when he was thirty-four years of age. Some years later he married the Prophet’s second daughter, Ruqayya.
Despite his wealth and position, his relatives subjected him to torture because he had embraced Islam, and he was forced to emigrate to Abyssinia. Sometime later he returned to Mecca but soon migrated to Medina with the other Muslims. In Medina his business began to flourish again, and he regained his former prosperity. Uthman’s generosity had no limits. On various occasions he spent a great portion of his wealth for the welfare of the Muslims, for charity and for equipping the Muslim armies. Therefore, he came to be known as ‘Ghani’ meaning ‘Generous.’
Uthman participated in the Battles of Uhud and the Trench. The portrait we have of Uthman is of an unassuming, honest, mild, generous and very kindly man, noted especially for his modesty and his piety.
To highlight the man Uthman (r) was and the respect our Prophet (s) had for him, Aisha (r) relates that on an occasion, “The Prophet was in a position in my home, with his thigh uncovered when Abu Bakr sought to see him. The Prophet allowed Abu Bakr to come in without changing his position. Abu Bakr spoke to him about whatever he wanted and left.
Later, Umar who was the second closest companion to the Prophet also sought to see the Prophet. Again, the Prophet allowed him to come in maintaining his reclining posture on his wife’s bed. Umar explained his business and left. A short while later, Uthman later sought to see the Prophet.
The Prophet immediately sat up and tidied up his clothes before letting in Uthman. When he left, I asked: O Messenger of God, Abu Bakr came in and you remained in your casual position. Umar then came in and you maintained the same position. When Uthman came in, you sat up and, tidied up your clothes.” He answered: “Would I not feel shy in the presence of a man who inspires shyness in angels?’
Uthman often spent a part of the night in prayer, fasted every second or third day, performed hajj every year, and looked after the needy of the whole community. Despite his wealth, he lived life very simply and slept on bare sand in the courtyard of the Prophet’s mosque. Uthman knew the Qur’an from memory and had an intimate knowledge of the context and circumstances relating to each verse.
During Uthman’s rule, the characteristics of Abu Bakr’s and Umar’s caliphates (impartial justice for all, mild and humane policies, striving in the path of God, and the expansion of Islam) continued. Uthman’s realm extended in the west to Morocco, in the east to Afghanistan, and in the north to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Uthman’s most notable contribution to the religion of God was the compilation of a complete and authoritative text of the Qur’an. Many copies of this text were made and distributed all over the Muslim world.
Uthman ruled for twelve years. The first six years were marked by internal peace and tranquility, but during the second half of his caliphate, a rebellion arose. The Jews and the Magians, taking advantage of dissatisfaction among the people, began conspiring against Uthman. By them publicly airing their complaints and grievances, they gained so much sympathy that it became difficult to distinguish friend from foe.
It may seem surprising that a ruler of such vast territories, whose armies were matchless, was unable to deal with these rebels. If Uthman had wished, the rebellion could have been crushed at the very moment it began. But he was reluctant to be the first to shed the blood of Muslims, however rebellious they might be. He preferred to reason with them, to persuade them with kindness and generosity. He well remembered hearing the Prophet (PBUH) say, “Once the sword is unsheathed among my followers, it will not be sheathed until the Last Day.”
The rebels demanded that he abdicate and some of the Companions advised him to do so. He would gladly have followed this course of action, but again he was bound by a solemn pledge he had given to the Prophet. “Perhaps God will clothe you with a shirt, Uthman” the Prophet had told him once, “and if the people want you to take it off, do not take it off for them.”
Uthman said to a well-wisher on a day when his house was surrounded by the rebels, “God’s Messenger made a covenant with me and I shall show endurance in adhering to it.”
After a long siege, the rebels broke into Uthman’s house and murdered him. When the first assassin’s sword struck Uthman, he was reciting the verse, “Verily, God sufficeth thee; He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing” [2:137].
Uthman breathed his last on the afternoon of Friday, 17 Dhul Hijja, 35 A.H. (June. (656 A.C.). He was eighty-four years old. The power of the rebels was so great that Uthman’s body lay unburied until Saturday night when he was buried in his blood-stained clothes, the shroud which befits all martyrs in the cause of God.
The Message Magazine September 2005
Volume 3, Issue 2