Life of the Caliphs – Part II

Review of Religions: September 2001 35 The third Caliph of Islam was the pious Uthman ibn Aflan(ra) who was elected by a select committee of Companions of the Prophet comprising A l i( r a ), the Prophet’s( s a ) cousin, Zubair ibn al Awwam who had commanded the reinforcements sent into BabyIon, Saa’d ibn abi Waqqas the conqueror of Iraq, and Abdul Rahman ibn Auf one of the earliest converts. The provinces all accepted U t h m a n ’s( r a ) nomination readily because of his piety and affectionate manner. He was seventy years old when called to supreme power. Tradition relates that he had been the fourth male convert to Islam following Abu Bakr( r a ), A l i( r a ) a n d Zaid(ra). Both he and Abu Bakr(ra) had been close friends and when the latter accepted Islam, he sent a messenger to Uthman(ra) telling him about the new faith. Uthman ( r a ) a c c e p t e d without delay. When Uthman(ra) became a convert, his uncle had abused him and tying him up with a rope had vowed that he would never release him until he had renounced Islam. But Uthman(ra) endured the persecution with fortitude and his uncle was finally forced to release him. During the first persecution in Mecca, he had been among those who had emigrated to A b y s s i n i a . When he returned to Mecca, he had then joined in the second flight to Medina. He was of middle height and well- built and was more of a genial and lenient character than the rigid Umar(ra) had been. Uthman(ra) was of the Bani Umaiya tribe of Quraish. which prior to the Lives of the Caliphs – Part II This is the second part of an article first published in the Muslim Herald magazine in the November/ December 1974 issue. It covers the events of the lives of the Caliphs (Khulafa e Rashideen), the first four successors to the Holy Prophet Mohammad(sa). by Dr Fareed Ahmad – UK Lives of the Caliphs – Part II Review of Religions: September 200136 rise of Islam had been among the most wealthiest clans. Himself a rich man, Uthman(ra) had spared all e fforts to help the Prophet( s a ) financially wherever possible. When the Muslims were setting off to Tabuk in the time of the P r o p h e t( s a ), very little means of transport were available. It was then that Uthman(ra) came to the rescue by providing 960 camels and 50 horses out of his own resources. Muhammad(sa) himself had said that Uthman’s generosity had opened the way to Paradise. On another occasion, the Prophet(sa) promised Uthman(ra) that he himself would greet him in heaven, a promise which the old Caliph was to recall in poignant terms immediately before his death. In the critical days of Hudaibya, it was the kind Uthman(ra) who was sent into the city to negotiate with the Quraish. Perhaps, the highest praise of all bestowed upon him by the Prophet(sa) was the remark that even the angels stood ashamed before Uthman(ra). With assassination of Umar in November 644, the Muslim empire was almost everywhere at peace. There was some rebellion in Armenia, but Muawiya who was now governor of Syria, sent in troops to calm the situation. In autumn of 645, the Romans counter-attacked in Egypt regaining Alexandria. The Muslims had at this time no navy and were completely surprised when the Roman assault came by sea. However, Amr ibn Aasi was sent back to Egypt and by the following year he had again ousted the Roman contingent from Alexandria. Realising that the Muslims had been caught completely unaware by the naval attack on A l e x a n d r i a , Muawiya wrote to the Caliph asking for permission to build a Muslim fleet. Permission was granted. By 694, the Muslim fleet was assembled at Alexandria and the ships set sail into the Mediterranean and in that year, the island of Cyprus was conquered. Three years later in 652, the Romans sent a massive naval contingent with the intention of recapturing Alexandria. Review of Religions: September 2001 Lives of the Caliphs – Part II 37 The Muslim navy brilliantly repulsed the attack – the days were past when the Roman navy could ride the sea unchallenged and make descents to the coast wherever they wished. In 655, another decisive battle took place at Phoenix on the coast of Lycia, at which the Byzantine emperor himself was present. After heavy fighting, the Byzantine ships withdrew and the supremacy of the Muslim navy was clearly established. On land, as on the sea, the Muslim forces were triumphant, with the notable captures of Tripoli in North Africa and the city of Persepolis in Persia. In the task of administration, Uthman’s(ra) first five to six years passed by smoothly. The Qur’an had been written in the form of a standard book and a constabulary had been established. But the Muslims who were confidently marching ahead, in matters home and abroad, they were to be shattered by an enemy within. It is logical to assume that not all the thousands of converts to Islam were genuine. Indeed, some of them were inwardly hostile and jealous and although these men were few, their intrigues were to change the history of Islam. One of these vile men was a so- called convert named Abdullah ibn Sabaa. He started a vigorous campaign against the Caliph making false accusations against his rule and his governors. Abdullah ibn-Sabaa initially started his propaganda in the cantonments of Basra and Kufa, but he was slung out, and he went to Egypt. There, he began to meet with success and a rebel army began forming. Muawiya who was governor of Syria offered to send in troops to quell the uprising, but Uthman(ra) refused to use force. He even suggested that Uthman(ra) make his capital in Damascus instead of Medina but the suggestion was not considered in the slightest. The last thing which Uthman(ra) would do would be to leave the Prophet’s(sa) city, Finally, Muawiya proposed to send a guard of Syrian troops to Medina Lives of the Caliphs – Part II Review of Religions: September 200138 but Uthman said that the soldiers would only cause an inconvenience to the inhabitants of the city. The rebel army left Egypt early in 656 and were reinforced by some parties of malcontent which had suddenly arisen in Basra and Kufa. Camping outside Medina, the rebels sent in a deputation to lay their grievances to three of the surviving members of the council which had elected Uthman ( r a ), that is A l i( r a ), Zubair(ra) and Talha(ra). (Talha had been nominated by Umar ( r a ) b u t happened to be absent when the council elected Uthman(ra)). The three councillors rebuked the mutineers severely for their conduct and the frustrated miscreants returned to camp. It is sad to record that Muhammad, the son of Abu Bakr(ra), had been one of the ringleaders of the sedition of Egypt. The difference between this violent and ambitious agitator and his firm but gentle father, the most intimate disciple of the Prophet(sa), serves to illustrate the degeneration in morals of the new generation, brought up in the midst of wealth and luxury. The rebel contingent then suddenly agreed to depart, but this was just a ruse. As soon as the inhabitants of Medina had unbuckled their armour, the rebels suddenly turned round and dashed into the city and took control. The last days of Uthman(ra) were not unworthy of his high office. As the mutineers gathered round his house and hurled abuse, he calmly faced them and promised to redress their grievances. On no account, he said, would he accede to the mutineers’ demand that he forfeit the Caliphate, as that was a position granted him by God. The rebels shouted that they would accept him as Caliph no longer. If he refused to abdicate, they would fight and kill him. The Caliph replied that death was preferable to him. If he had wanted to fight against them, he said, he could have summoned Muawiya’s troops from Syria. The Friday following the riot in his house, Uthman( r a ) ascended the pulpit to the great mosque to preach the Friday sermon. He appealed to the citizens of Medina not to be afraid of the disorderly soldiers and Review of Religions: September 2001 Lives of the Caliphs – Part II 39 then reminded the assemblage of the wickedness of attacking a successor to the Prophet(sa) of Allah. Several loyal citizens rose to support the Caliph’s appeal but they were set upon by the soldiers and forced to flee. Soon, the mutineers established a regular siege of the Caliph’s house. Truly, the Arabs were returning to the tribal anarchy of the Days of the Ignorance. Ali, Zubair, Talha and a number of the Companions sent their sons along to guard the Caliph’s house, but this small band of supporters was vastly outnumbered by the mutineers. At length, the mutineers succeeded in cutting off the water supply to the house. The heat was oppressive and the inmates were subjected to excessive thirst. Umme Habiba, one of the wives of the Prophet(sa), endeavoured to lead a mule with goatskins of water to the house, doubtless remembering the great affection the Prophet(sa) had held for Uthman( r a ). She thus exposed herself to insults from the mutineers, hoping perhaps that they would at least show some respect to a widow of the Prophet(sa).She was disappointed, and failed to deliver her precious load. Rumour suddenly spread in Medina that a relief column was speeding to Medina from Syria under the command of Abdullah ibn Aamir, governor of Basra. The mutineers were alarmed and decided to press home the final attack. Flights of arrows were directed at the house and Hasan the son of Ali and Muhammad ibn Talha were both wounded in the mêlée. Meanwhile, the Caliph’s household had replied to the attack and one of the mutineers had been killed. Some of the mutineers attempted to rush the door of the house, but Muhammad, the son of Abu Bakr(ra) collecting two companions, climbed up a neighbouring building and thence through a window into the Caliph’s room. Uthman(ra) was seated in his room, quietly reading the Qur’an when Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr and his two companions burst into the room. Sword in hand, he dashed towards the ageing man and shouting loud abuse seized him by the beard. Lives of the Caliphs – Part II Review of Religions: September 200140 In his last moments, the Caliph behaved with dignity and calm which even to this day provokes our admiration and respect. ‘By Allah, O son of my brother’, he said quietly, ‘what you are doing would have indeed been hateful to your father. But I take refuge from you in Allah’. The savage young man was momentarily taken aback by this mention of his father, the dignified and venerable Abu Bakr(ra). He stepped back. But his two accomplices were less sensitive and rushed in forward, they attacked the Caliph with their swords. Uthman ( r a ) fell forward, gathering the leaves of the Qur’an to his breast while his blood saturated the pages. His wife, Naila flung herself forward to save him from the blows and had several of her fingers cut off. Meanwhile, the mutineers had broken through the main gate and rushed into the room where they slashed the dying Uthman(ra) with their daggers and swords. At length, the heartless and brutal killers withdrew and the Caliph’s body was left lying in a pool of blood. It was 17th June, 656. The cruel murder of Uthman(ra) was the turning point of the Khilafat-e- Rashidah. One Muslim had shed the blood of another Muslim and the bonds of Muslim harmony had been shattered. U t h m a n( r a ) had made an ironic prediction before his death which was literally fulfilled: He had said: ‘By God, if you kill me today, the Muslims will never unite in prayers till the end of days. Talib(ra). The fourth Caliph was Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra) and he inherited an empire whose capital, Medina, was being overrun by mutineers. Ali(ra) was at first very unwilling to accept the post but he was persuaded to do so by the Muhajireen and the Ansar, and the oath of allegiance was taken in the Great Mosque. The years ahead were to be years of struggle and civil war, and disillu- sionment as Muslim fought Muslim and the empire of Islam rocked to its foundations. Review of Religions: September 2001 Lives of the Caliphs – Part II 41 Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra) was the son of Muhammad’s uncle Abu Abu Talib being poor, Muhammad had offered to undertake the upbringing of Ali(ra) who was thus virtually his adopted son. When he had grown up, A l i( r a ) h a d married the Prophet’s( s a ) d a u g h t e r, Fatima, by whom he had had two sons Hasan and Hussein to whom M u h a m m a d( s a ) had been very d e v o t e d . He had become a Muslim at the age of ten and was among the first three converts. A l i( r a ) himself said once that M u h a m m a d( s a ) received the divine command on a Monday, and that he A l i( r a ) was converted on Tu e s d a y. In his youth, he had been a great champion in battle. Both at Badr and at Uhud, he had stepped forward and challenged the enemy to single combat and in both instances he had killed his man. He was a man of great intelligence and acted as a councillor and adviser to the three previous caliphs. Umar(ra) had once said that ‘Ali is the best of all in judicial decisions. He was a good speaker and very learned in the tenets of Islam When proclaimed Caliph in 656, he was already middle-aged. With his election as Caliph, Ali(ra) was faced with the immediate problem of calming the dangerous situation now existing in Medina. There were over two thousand of these insurgents roaming the city and no troops were at hand to restore o r d e r. Meanwhile, he was approached by his principal advisers comprising Zubair, Talha and Saad ibn Waqqas and urged to apprehend the murderers of Uthman( r a ) a s quickly as possible. Ali(ra) explained that he could take little action until loyal troops were able to take control of the city. In other parts of the Muslim world, things were also not well. A l i ’s( r a ) new nominees to the governorship of Kufa and Damascus were rebuffed. And when he wrote a letter to Muawiya, the governor of Syria (who came from the same Bani Umaiya tribe as Uthman(ra)) asking for his allegiance, there was no reply. As Ali(ra) bided his time, Zubair and Talha decided to make their move. Lives of the Caliphs – Part II Review of Religions: September 200142 Accompanied by A i s h a( r a ), the Prophet’s(sa) widow, they set out for Mecca to raise troops and settle the matter with Ali(ra). And in September 656, three months after the murder, and when things seemed to be returning to normal in Medina, Muawiya sent word to Ali(ra) that as no action had yet been taken against Uthman’s(ra) assassins, he would do things his own way. For the first time in the annals of Islam, the word civil war had been spoken. Ali(ra) decided that the time to make a move had come. He gave orders for an expedition to go against Muawiya’s Syria. Ali(ra) left Medina with a small force in October 656. The date of his departure was doubly significant. Firstly, it meant that a Caliph was leading out an army not to fight the unbelievers but to wage war against fellow Muslims. Secondly, never again was a Muslim caliph to reside in the Prophet’s(sa) city. Zubair, Talha and Aisha meanwhile had raised a force comprising elements from Kufa and Basra. Their army gathered in Mecca, and when it departed the people of Mecca began to cry. It was a tragic day for the Muslims and for Islam, and was long remembered as the ‘day of tears’. Ali(ra) had meanwhile had crossed the desert to Dul Qar near the river Euphrates. He was short of troops and reasoned that as he had some sympathisers in Kufa, he might gain more manpower from there. His first emissaries to Kufa met with little success but then Ali(ra) sent his eldest son, Hasan, to beckon the people to join him. The presence of the Prophet’s( s a ) dearly loved grandson in Kufa turned the tide. The many Companions who had settled in the town were moved to tears at the sight of the Prophet’s(sa) grandson appealing for their help. Soon, a force of nearly 10,000 men had answered the call and set out from Kufa to join Ali’s(ra) army. As the Caliph’s army approached Basra, the rebel army led by Zubair and Talha came out to meet it. Ali(ra)did not want to fight if he could avoid it. And he tried to reason with Talha and Zubair. He pointed out that until order and discipline could be re-established, it would be very difficult to bring the guilty to trial. Review of Religions: September 2001 Lives of the Caliphs – Part II 43 He needed time, he argued, and this confrontation of the two forces was not helping the situation one bit. Talha and Zubair agreed to negotiate. During the discussions, Ali(ra) and Zubair began recounting the great adventures they had shared during the time of the Prophet(sa). Zubair’s mother had been the sister of the Prophet’s(sa) father, and both Zubair and Ali had been friends since they were young boys. They had fought in the same regiments in the great battles of Islam, and now ironically, they were facing each other as rivals. Zubair was moved to tears and vowed that he would never oppose Ali(ra) with force. The negotiations were going well and it seemed likely that the risk of battle would be removed. But the last thing that the murderers of Uthman(ra) wanted was that peace be restored. With the return of proper organisation, they would be hunted and punished for their crimes. The situation with regard to the mutineers, as the two armies relaxed for the night, was this. Although they had all been opposed to Uthman(ra), some had now sided with Ali(ra) and some with Zubair and Talha. The mutineers planned again that night and as morning approached, cries rang out from both armies that the other was attacking. Ali(ra) immediately realised that this was a trick to force the opposing armies into battle, but his shouts to his soldiers to stay where they were, went unheeded. Within minutes, a terrible battle had begun, the plan of the mutineers had worked. When the fighting had been joined, Zubair in compliance with his oath the previous day, withdrew from the battle. Wandering in a desert valley, he was apparently set upon and killed by some passing stranger. Thus futilely and ignominiously died one of the great early heroes of Islam. Meanwhile, Talha(ra) too had been wounded. He had also been one of the great Companions and had had his hand crippled when he had tried to ward off arrows from the Prophet’s(sa) person at Uhud. Within a few days, he too died. Lives of the Caliphs – Part II Review of Religions: September 200144 The rebel army was now losing ground. Aisha who was on a camel tried to urge on the attack but to no avail. A group of brave men gathered around her to protect her from injury. The slumbering embers of passion for the Prophet( s a ) w e r e suddenly aroused by the thought that his favourite wife was in danger. The ranks reformed round the Mother of the Faithful. Seventy brave men died one after another, holding the bridle of the camel until A l i ’s( r a ) concerted attack set the others to flight. When A l i( r a ) entered Basra, he endeavoured to reconcile the parties and urged everybody to forget the past and look to the future. He treated Aisha with great respect and sent her back to Medina. In January 657, seven months after the murder of Uthman( r a ), A l i( r a ) entered Kufa and made it his capital. The Battle of the Camel had been fought in December, 656. Some fifteen thousand men had lost their lives and the unity of the empire had been put in grave danger. But, now things were to become worse. The following year, in May, Muawiya who had still not accepted Ali(ra) as the true Caliph, marched out with 50,000 men and battle was joined at Siffeen. Before the battle, Ali(ra) again tried to negotiate but Muawiya was unwilling to comply. When Ali(ra) then challenged Muawiya to single combat, to prevent the loss of so many lives, the latter politely excused himself doubtless aware of Ali’s(ra) skill as a swordsman. The battle of Siffeen, although accompanied by heavy losses was inconclusive and an agreement was signed whereby Ali(ra) returned to Kufa and Muawiya to Damascus. Thus the situation was still unresolved. But worse was to follow. Amr ibn al Aasi who had joined with Muawiya, marched into Egypt to remove Ali’s(ra) supporters there, and in 658 and 659, attacks were launched on Iraq itself. In 660, even worse befell. An army from Syria occupied the Hejaz and forced the people of the holy cities to accept Muawiya as caliph. Review of Religions: September 2001 Lives of the Caliphs – Part II 45 Although, Ali’s(ra) troops ousted the invaders a few months earlier, trouble persisted in other areas. At the end of 660, a kind of truce was agreed. Active hostilities ceased. A l i( r a ) remained in possession of Iraq and Persia while Muawiya held control of Syria and Egypt. Truce it may have been, but the conscientious Muslims realised that the empire lay shattered and the great conquests were at a standstill. On 20th January, 661, Ali(ra) was assassinated as he came out to lead the prayers in the mosque at Kufa. With his violent death ended the grandeur of the Khilafat-e- Rashidah. He was 60 years old when the assassin struck. The site of his tomb is still uncertain. After his death, Muawiya lost no time in annexing the territories which had previously been owned by Ali(ra). Hasan and Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet (sa) were to die tragically in the civil war which was to rage in for more dreaded years- and the Muslims would regret their laxity in not uprooting the insurgents at the first hints of intrigue and treason in the time of Uthman (ra). Allah has now granted us the opportunity to live under and serve a new blessed Caliphate. It should be our duty to guard this institution with our lives and to pray that Allah forever save us from the troubles which afflicted the Khilafat-e-Rashindah and that He bless us with the glories that accompanied it.

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