Chapter Four: Some reasons behind the Sahaba’s revolt against Uthman


Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti narrates from Imam Zuhri Tarikh ul Khulafa (English translation) pages 161-162:

“I said to Said ibn al Musayyab ‘Can you tell me how the killing of Uthman was? What people were up to and what he was up to? And why did the companions of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace fail to help him? Ibn al Musayyab said, Uthman was killed unjustly, whoever killed him was wrong and whoever failed to help him is free of blame’. I said ‘How was that?’. He said, ‘When Uthman was appointed, a group of the Companions disliked his appointment, because Uthman used to love his people. He ruled people for twelve years. He used to appoint people from Bani Umayyah who had not kept company with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. His Amirs used to produce matters which the Companions of Muhammad; may Allah bless him and grant him peace, would repudiate. Uthman used to ask people to have good will for them and he would not remove them”
 Tarikh ul Khulafa (English translation) pages 161-162

The third Caliph Uthman, was given the allegiance of the people with the stipulation that he would manage the affairs of the nation according to Sunnah of Sheikhain (Abu Bakr and Umar). But contrary to Sunnah of Sheikhain, Uthman began to to live an extra ordinary luxurious life and broke all limits of nepotism by placing some of the notorious members of his clan (Umayad) at prominent and strong positions in the State. He also made several innovations in Islam, some of those have been discussed by us in the article Bidah. The Companions of the Prophet (s) criticised the Caliph severely for his unjust behaviour. In this chapter we shall highlight some of the reasons that led to the Sahabah revolting against him.

Financial corruption; misuse of public treasury

The acts of financial corruption committed by Uthman in several ways have been recorded in history. Most of the time it was his relatives who were showered with the wealth of Muslims by him. There is doubt the Quran orders us to be good with one’s relatives, but this should be enabled via ones own earnings not by utilizing the national treasury for pleasing one’s relatives, and that too, the relatives of poor character. To quote Sunni scholar Syed Qutub Shaheed:

“Then came Uthman. He saw no reason to follow either or both of these resolves. He left excessive wealth in the hands of its owners and took back none of it. He also left the stipends on the preferential footing on which they stood. But this was not all. He enlarged everyone’s stipend and thus even increased the wealth of the rich, although at the same time he did slight to ameliorate the lot of the poor. Again, he granted to those who already had large resources huge loans, he allowed the Quraish to travel the world, using their amassed wealth in trade so that their wealth was doubled and redoubled. He allowed the wealthy to acquire estates and mansions in southern Iraq and elsewhere, he made assignments of lands, and thus by the end of his caliphate, he had introduced in the Islamic community one of the key elements of feudalism.”
 Social justice in Islam, page 246

On pages 221-222 we read:

Uthman held that his office permitted him free disposal of Muslim funds in gifts and allowances and his frequent retort to those who found faults with him in these matters was “Then for what am I the Imam?” Similarly he held that he had power to promote his immediate family and clan to position of authority over the people, among them al-Hakam, who had formerly been expelled by Allah’s Messenger. It was, he held, his simple right to accord, to his own people honor, advancement and protection.

On the day al-Harith Ibn al-Hakam married the Uthman’s daughter; the latter gave him from the public treasury two hundred thousand Dirhams. The next day the treasurer, Zaid bin Arqam, came to the caliph with grief written large on his features and with tears sparkling in his eyes. He asked Uthman to accept his resignation from his position, and when the caliph discovered that the reason was his gift to his new son in law of the public funds, he asked in astonishment: “Ibn Arqam, are you weeping because I give gifts to my family?” “No, commander of the faithful” returned this man who had keen spirit of Islam. “I am weeping when I think of you taking this money which formerly during the life of Allah’s Messenger, I used to spend in the way of Allah. Even if you had given him only hundred dirham, by Allah, that would have been too much”. Uthman was enraged on such a man whose conscience could not accept such liberal expense out of public on the relation of the Muslim Caliph , and he said: “Leave your keys of office, Ibn Arqam, and we will find some other to take your place.

Examples of such prodigality are numerous in the life of Uthman, he gave al-Zubair six hundred thousand one day, and Talha two hundred thousand, and he presented Marwan bin al-Hakam with one-fifth of the land tax of the province of Ifriqiya. When some of the companions of the Prophet, chief among whom was Ali, expostulated with him about this, his answer was: “I have relatives and kinsmen”. But they still reproved him, asking: “Didn’t Abu Bakar and Umar also have relatives and kinsmen?” He answered: “Abu Bakar and Umar were concerned to deny their relatives, I am concerned to give to mine”. So they left him in anger”
 Social justice in Islam, pages 221-222

We shall also bring in the testimony of someone our opponents whose reliability is such they Imam Dhahabi deemed him “Imam, Hafiz, Hujjah” (Siyar alam al-Nubala, v10 p459). We are referring to the Imam of Ahle Sunnah namely Ali bin Ja’ad (d. 230 H) who also highlighted the financial corruption committed by his third caliph, albeit a fraction of it. We read in Tarikh Baghdad, Volume 13 page 286:

حدثنا هارون بن سفيان المستعلى المعروف بالديك قال كنت عند علي بن الجعد فذكر عثمان بن عفان فقال: أخذ من بيت المال مئة ألف درهم بغير حق

 “Ali bin al-Ja’ad mentioned Uthman bin Afan and said: ‘He unjustly took one hundred thousand Dirham from the treasury’


Nepotism, appointing notorious ones among his relatives at key positions


The appointment of Muawiyah bin Hind

Ibn Katheer records:

“The correct record is that Uthman gathered all the areas of Syria under Muawiyah’s governorship. Umar had appointed him (Muawiyah) as a ruler of just few of the areas of Syria”
Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, Volume 8 page 164

To quote Syed Qutub Shaheed:

“Even apart from money, there were also the governorships which Uthman scattered profously among his relatives. Among these was Muawiyah, whose power Uthman expanded considerably, giving him control of Palestine and the district of Hums he granted to him a single control of four armies and thus made it easier for Muawiyah later to aspire royal power during the caliphate of Ali by which time he had acquired money and built up armies.”
 Social justice in Islam, page 222

The appointment of Marwan bin Al-Hakam

Those who have interest in Islamic history will certainly be aware that Marwan was the son of the notorious Hakam bin al-Aas, the uncle of Uthman, who apparently came into the fold of Islam following the conquest of Makka and then started to live in Madina, but was always busy in actions against Islam. The Holy Prophet (s) used to have confidential meetings with his close companions. Hakam somehow managed to learn of the essence of these secret discussions and made them public, thus the Prophet (s) banished him from Madina.

Ibn Abdul Barr records:

One day, whilst sitting with some of his companions, the Messenger of God said, “A cursed man will enter the room.” Shortly thereafter, al-Hakam entered. (He was the cursed man.)
 Al-Istiab, Volume 1 page 106

Now what connection did the Prophet’s curse on Hakam has with his son Marwan, its answer comes from the statement of Aisha to Marwan:

“God cursed your father while you were still in his loins, hence you too are included amongst the accursed men”
1.  Tafseer Qurtubi, Volume 10 page 245
2. Tafseer Kabeer, Volume 2 page 238

Regarding the accursed tree mentioned in Holy Quran (17:60) Ibn Abi Hatim has related from Ba’adli bin Murrah that the Holy Prophet (s) said:

“The accursed tree denotes Hakam and his offspring”.
 Tafseer Dur al Manthur, Volume 5 page 309

We also read in the same book:

“Ibn Abi Hatim narrated from Ibn Umar [ra] said: ‘One day the Holy Prophet (s) dreamt that Hakam bin al-Aas’s sons are jumping like monkeys on his (Prophet’s) pulpit. Then Allah revealed {and We did not make the vision which We showed you but a trial for men and the cursed tree} meant by it al-Hakam and his son.”

Moreover, Prophet (s) had once clearly stated:

Abdulrahman bin Auf [ra] said: ‘Every new born was taken to the Prophet (s) so that He (s) supplicates for him, therefore they enter Marwan ibn al-Hakam on him, then He (s) said: ‘This is a lizard son of a lizard, an accursed son of an accursed’.
 Al-Mustadrak, Volume 4 page 527 Tradition 8477 (Al-Hakim declared the chain as Sahih)

Uthman not only abrogated the instructions of the Holy Prophet (s) about exiling Hakam he brought him back to Madina and appointed the notorious Marwan as his secretary, the most important position at that time. This was disliked by Sahabah, and why not, because once Prophet (s) had just dreamt of Hakam’s progeny enjoying the reign which had made Him (s) aggreived for days to come, yet Uthman played the sole role in making that dream a reality.

Moreover, Uthman then granted the entire Khums received from the African war booty to Marwan bin al-Hakam, which again incensed the Sahabah. Ibn Atheer records:

“Abdullah Saad bin Abi Sarah brought the Khums of Africa to Madina, Marwan bin al-Hakam bought it for 500,000 Dinars, Uthman forgave that amount to him. It was also amongst those issues due to which Uthman was criticized. Amongst all, this is the most correct tradition on the topic of the Khums of Africa, some people say that Uthman had given the Khums of Africa to Abdullah bin Saad while others say that he had given it to Marwan bin al-Hakam. This tradition has revealed the reality that Uthman had given the Khums of the first war of Africa to Abdullah bin Saad while the Khums of the second war in which the whole African region was conquered, was given by him to Marwan bin al-Hakam.”
 Tarikh Kamil, Volume 3 page 46

Imam Ali (as) frequently reminded Uthman about the danger of Marwan, but in vain. The following conversation between Imam Ali and Uthman testifies this fact. It happened when Uthman was being attacked, and thus he asked Ali for help. Uthman said to Imam Ali:

“You see the trouble caused by this band of dissidents when they came to me today. I know that you enjoy prestige among people and that they will listen to you. I want you to go to them and send them away from me. I do not wish them to come before me, for that would be an insulting act toward me on their part. Let others hear this as well.”

Ali said: “On what grounds shall I send them away?”

Uthman replied: “On the grounds that I shall carry out what you have counseled me to do and you thought right, and I will not deviate from you direction.” Then Ali said: “In fact I have spoken to you time after time, and you and I discussed such matters at length. All this is the doing of Marwan Ibn al-Hakam, Saeed Ibn al-Aas, Ibn Amir, and Muawiyah. You have listened to them and defied me.” Uthman said: “then I shall defy them and listen to you.”
History of al-Tabari, English version, v15, p173

Then Imam Ali spoke to the people and asked them to go away from Uthman, and thus many of them retreated, he then approached Uthman and informed him that people had gone, and said:

“Make a statement which the people will testify that they have heard from you, and God will be witness as to whether or not you desire to repent in your heart.”

Thus, Uthman went out and preached the sermon in which he laid before the people his heartfelt desire to repent, and said: “By God, O people, if any one of you has blamed (me), he has not done anything that is unknown to me. I have done nothing unknowingly. But my soul has raised vain hopes within me and lied to me, and my virtue has slipped away from me. …I ask God’s forgiveness for what I have done and I turn to him. A man like me yearns to repent.”

Then people had pity on him, and some among them wept. Saeed Ibn Zayd stood up before him (Uthman) and said: “O commander of faithful, (from now on) no one comes to you who does not support you. Fear God, in your soul fear God, and fulfill what you have said!”

When Uthman descended (from the pulpit), he found Marwan Ibn al-Hakam and Seed Ibn al-Aas, and a few other Umayad at his house. Marwan said: “Should I speak (to people) or remain silent?” Uthman’s wife said: “Nay! Be silent, for they will kill him of sin. He has made a public statement from which he can not rightfully withdraw.” Marwan said: “What does this have to do with you?”

Then Marwan said to Uthman: “To persist in an error for which you must seek God’s forgiveness is better that to repent because you are afraid. If you so will, you may seek repentance without acknowledging error.” Uthman said: “Go out and speak to them, for I am ashamed to do so.”

So Marwan went (to people) and said: “Why have you gathered here like looters? … You have come to snatch our power (Mulk; kingship) from us. Go! By God, if you mean us (any harm), you will encounter something distasteful from us, and you will not praise the result of your opinions. Return to your homes, for by God we are not men to be robbed of our possessions.”

People informed Ali of the news. Then Ali came to Uthman and said: “Surely you have satisfied Marwan (again), but he is satisfied with you only if you deviate from your religion and reason, like a camel carrying a litter that is led around at will. By God, Marwan is devoid of sense in regard to his religion and his soul. I swear by God, I think he will bring you in and then not send you out again. After this visit, I will not come again to chide you. You have destroyed your own honor and you have been robbed of your authority.”

When Ali departed, Uthman’s wife told him: “I have heard that Ali said to you that he will never return to you, and that you have obeyed Marwan (again), who leads you wherever he wishes.” Uthman said: “What shall I do?” She responded: “You should fear God alone, who has no partner, and you should adhere to the practice of your two predecessors (Abu Bakr and Umar). For if you obey Marwan, he will kill you. Marwan enjoys no prestige among the people, and inspires neither awe nor love. People have only abandoned you due to Marwan’s position (in your councils). Send to Ali, then, and trust in his honesty and uprightness. He is related to you and he is not a man whom people disobey.” So Uthman sent to Ali, but he refused to come, saying: “I told him I would not return.”
History of al-Tabari, English version, v15, pp 176-179

On the death of Uthman, Imam Ali (as) said:

By God! I have persisted in defending him (Uthman) until I was filled with shame. But Marwan, Muawiyah, Abdullah Ibn Amir, and Sa’d Ibn al-Aas have dealt with him as you witnessed. When I gave him sincere counsel and directed him to send them away, he became suspicious of me, until what you now see has happened.
History of al-Tabari, English version, v15, p198

Marwan and his descendants were the basis for some of the most serious charges of corruption and nepotism levied against Uthman.

Abdullah Ibn Sa’ad bin Abi Sarah

Uthman appointed his foster brother, Abdullah Ibn Sa’ad bin Abi Sarah, as the governor of Egypt. At that time, Egypt was the largest province in the Muslim state. Ibn Sa’ad had declared his Islam and moved from Mecca to Medina. The Prophet listed him as a recorder of the revelation. However, Ibn Sa’ad then deserted the faith and returned to Mecca. He used to say: “I shall reveal equal to what God revealed to Muhammad.” (Tarikh Dimashq, v29 v35).

When Mecca was conquered, Prophet ordered some people to be killed even if they hide behind the curtain of Kaaba, Abdullah Ibn Saad was one of those people. Ibn Sa’ad hid in the house of Uthman. When the situation calmed down, Uthman brought Ibn Sa’ad to the Prophet and informed him that he had put Ibn Sa’ad under his protection. The Prophet remained silent for a long while, hoping that one of those who were present would kill Ibn Sa’ad before he honors Uthman’s request. The companions, however, did not understand what the Prophet meant by his long silence. Since no one moved to kill Ibn Sa’ad, the Prophet approved the protection of Uthman.

Waleed bin Uqba

Uthman appointed Walid Ibn Uqbah (one of his Umayad relatives) as the governor of Kufa after dismissing the previous governor, the famous companion of Prophet, Sa’ad Ibn Abi Waqqas. Sa’ad was a famous marksman known for combating the enemies of Islam in the Battle of Uhud.

On the other hand, the behavior of Walid during the time of the Prophet was not honorable. Quran discredited him and declared him a transgressor. Prophet (s) sent him to Bani al-Mustalaq to collect their Zakat. Walid witnessed from a distance that Mustalaqites coming toward him on their horses. He became frightened due to a previous hostility between the Mustalaqites and him. He returned to the Messenger of God and informed him that the Mustalaqites wanted to kill him. This was not true. However, Walid’s information infuriated the Muslims of Medina, and they wanted to attack the Mustalaqites. At this time, the following revelation came down:

“O you who believe, if a transgressor comes to you with news, try to verify it, lest you inflict damage on people unwittingly; then you may consequently regret your hasty action.”

  1. Tafsir Muqatel bin Sulaiman, v3, p259
  2. Tafsir Abdulrazq al-S’anani, v3, p231
  3. Tafsir Tabari, v26, p159
  4. Tafsir ibn Abi Hatim, v10, p3303
  5. Ahkam al-Quran, by Jassas, v3, p529
  6. Tafsir al-Samarqandi, v3, p308
  7. Tafsir ibn Zamnin, v4, p261
  8. Tafsir al-Thalabi, v9, p77
  9. Asbab Nazoul al-ayat, by al-Wahidi, p261
  10. Tafsir al-Wahidi, v2, p1016
  11. Tafsir al-Sam’ani, v5, p217
  12. Tafsir al-Baghawi, v4, p212
  13. Tafsir al-Nasafi, v4, p163
  14. Ahkam al-Quran, by ibn al-Arabi, v4, p146
  15. Tafsir al-Muharar al-Wajiz, by Ibn Atya al-Andlusi, v5, p146
  16. Tafsir Zad al-Masir, by ibn al-Jawzi, v7, p179
  17. Tafsir al-ez bin Salam, v3, p213
  18. Tafsir al-Qurtubi, v16, p311
  19. Tafsir al-Baydhawi, v5, p214
  20. Tafsir al-Tashil le Uloom al-Tanzil, by al-Ghurnati, v4, p58
  21. Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit, by Ibn Hayan, v8, p109
  22. Tafsir ibn Katheer, v4, p223
  23. Tafsir Tanwir al-Meqbas, by Fayroz Abaadi, p436
  24. Tafsir al-Dur al-Manthur, v6, p88
  25. Tafsir abi al-Suoad, v8, p118
  26. Tafsir Fath al-Qdir, by Shawkani, v5, p62
  27. Tafsir al-Aloosi, v26, p144
  28. Tafsir Adwa al-Bayan, by Shanqiti, v7, p410

Imam Jalaluddun Suyuti said: ‘The narrators are reliable’ (Lubab al-Nuqul, p197) while Imam Shawkani said: ‘The chain is good’ (Fath al-Qadir v5 p62).

Walid continued in his non-Islamic way for the rest of his life. Once after Uthman had appointed him as the governor of Kufa, Walid led a congregational prayer in the morning and performed four Rakats in drunkan state and on the top of that, he turned around and asked the followers: “Shall I (lead) you more (Rakats)?”. (Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, Volume 7 page 155). According to Ibn Abdul Barr:

وقوله ازيدكم بعد ان صلى الصبح اربعاً مشهور من رواية الثقات من نقل اهل الحديث واهل الاخبار

His statement ‘Shall I (lead) you more (Rakats)’, after when he prayed four (Rakats) in the morning, is popularly known from the authentic narrations of Ahlul Hadith and historians.
Al-Istiab, Volume 4 page page 1555

This news reached Madina and resulted in an uproar. Ibn Hajar Asqalani records in Fathul Bari, Volume 7 page 47, Baab al-Manaqib, Baab al-Uthman:

“The thing due to which people were copiously making objections in Walid’s case was that Uthman was abandoing to apply Hadd (penalty) against Walid, and the second thing was that people had disliked the removal of Saad bin Abi Waqas and the appointment of Walid at that place”
 Fatah ul Bari, Volume 7 page 47

Badruddin al-Aini records in Umadat ul Qari, Volume 16 page 203, Manaqib Uthman:

“People were copiously making objections about Walid’s matter because ofthe the action that had been committed by him, which was, that he led the people of Kufa in morning prayers and performed four Rakats in a druken state and then he turned around and asked: ‘Shall I (lead) you with more (Rakats)?”. Objection was also being made on the fact that Uthman had been informed about this incident but Uthman lagged in applying Hadd against him. Moreover, people had also disliked that Walid was appointed after the sacking of Saad bin Abi Waqas”
 Umadat ul Qari, Volume 16 page 203

The Caliph was expected to replace this transgressor with a good companion of the Prophet but, instead, he replaced Walid with Saeed Ibn al-Aas, another member of his Umayad relatives!

Sahaba deemed Uthman to be the type of ruler that commands others to perform good deeds but personally commits disreputable acts

The above mentioned acts of Uthman and other similar transgressions, resulted in the Sahaba categorizing Uthman as one of those rulers that instruct their subjects to do good but personally indulge in all manner of sin. This is why we read the following testimony of the famed Sahabi Usama bin Zaid in Sahih Muslim, Book 042, Number 7122:

Shaqiq reported that it was said to Usama b. Zaid: Why don’t you visit ‘Uthman and talk to him? Thereupon he said: Do you think that I have not talked to him but that I have made you hear? By Allaah. I have talked to him (about things) concerning me and him and I did not like to divulge those things about which I had to take the initiative and I do not say to my ruler:” You are the best among people,” after I beard Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) as saying: A man will be brought on the Day of Resurrection and thrown in Hell-Fire and his intestines will pour forth in Hell and he will go round along with them, as an ass goes round the mill. stone. The denizens of Hell would gather round him and say: 0, so and so, what has happened to you? Were you not enjoining us to do what was reputable and forbid us to do what was disreputable? He will say: Of course, it is so; I used to enjoin (upon people) to do what was reputable but did not practise that myself. I had been forbidding people to do what was disreputable, but practised it myself.

Most relevantly, this tradition has been recorded under a chapter “The punistiment of one who commands others to do good but does not do it himself and re forbids others to do evil but does not himself refrain from it”.

So in this chapter, we shed light on some of the reasons which made the Sahabah revolt against him and subsequently kille him. Perhaps, Umar was quite aware of Uthman’s nature to the extent that he had a great idea of what Uthman would do if he attains power and what will be the result, Sunni scholar Abu Bakr Muhammad bin al-Tayeb al-Baqelani (d. 403 H) records:

وأقبل على عثمان فقال له أما أنت فوالله لئن وليت هذا الأمر لتحملن بني أبي معيط على رقاب الناس وليأكلن مال الله ولتسيرن العرب إليك ولتقتلنك

Then he (Umar) looked at Uthman and said to him: ‘If I appoint you (as Caliph), you will thrust Bani Abi Moit over the people and they will steal the money of Allah and the Arabs will rise against you and kill you’.
Tamhid al-Awael, page 510


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