Who is Uthman bin Affan?

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Uthman (r. 644-656 CE)
may Allah be pleased with him

Hadrat `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), the third of the four caliphs, was a Companion who both served the Prophet and was his son-in-law twice over. He continued to serve Islam during the lifetimes of his two predecessors in caliphal office, Hadrat Abu Bakr and Hadrat `Omar, before being elected to the caliphate himself.

Possessor of Two Lights (Dhûn-Nurayn)

Hadrat `Uthman was shattered when his wife Rukayya, the noble daughter of the Prophet, died. When the Prophet asked him about the intensity of his grief, he said, “O Prophet! No one has lost as much as I have. Not only must I say farewell to my beloved wife, but the bond of kinship between you and me no longer exists.”  When his relatives suggested to him that he might marry again, he declared, “I cannot take anyone else after the Prophet as my father-in-law. I cannot marry anyone after his daughter!”

The Prophet was touched by this outburst of love and commitment. When some time had passed, he arranged for `Uthman to marry another of his daughters, Umm Kulthûm. Umm Kulthûm also died during `Uthman’s lifetime. The Prophet told him, “If I had a third unmarried daughter, I would marry her to you as well.”[1] Such were his words of special love for `Uthman.

`Uthman was a very generous, wise, gentle, bashful, lowly, and soft-hearted man. The Prophet said that among the Companions, `Uthman’s personality reminded him the most of his own.[2] `Uthman was a silver-tongued man, the most eloquent of the Companions. He spoke little, but what he said was always wise.

A Monument of Modesty and Compunction

`Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) was an exemplar of modesty and compunction. Even angels felt inferior to `Uthman with regard to these traits.[3]

One day, while the Prophet was having a chat with Our Mother `A’isha in their private quarters, Abu Bakr asked their permission to join them; he was immediately admitted. Then `Omar and Sa`ad ibn Malik asked to come in, and were welcomed in the same way. But when Hadrat `Uthman asked permission, the Prophet tidied himself up and asked `A’isha to withdraw behind the curtain before he greeted their latest visitor.

Hadrat `Uthman joined the conversation for some time, and then left. After he left, Hadrat `A’isha asked the Prophet, “When my father Abu Bakr and other Companions joined us, you did not straighten yourself up or ask me to step back. Yet when `Uthman came, you both straightened yourself up and asked me to step back.”

The Prophet (s) replied, “Even the angels straighten themselves up when they see `Uthman. How could I do otherwise? I swear by Allah that the angels put themselves in order when they see `Uthman just as they do when they see Allah and His messenger. If you had been with me when `Uthman came in, he would have been unable to speak a word or lift a finger.”[4]

`Uthman, that monument of modesty and compunction, said, “Protecting the eye from illicit sights is the best containment for lustful desires.” He always tried to train people in this regard.

The Companion Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, said that one day, while he was on his way to visit Caliph `Uthman, he noticed a woman in the street, and was attracted by her beauty. When he came to `Uthman, he heard to his surprise, “O Anas! You enter my presence with signs of adultery in your eyes.”

Anas felt ashamed.  “Does revelation continue after the Prophet?” he asked.

Hadrat `Uthman answered: “No. This is nothing but insight.”[5]

One day, Hadrat `Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, brought some water to the Prophet for ablution and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Who will be the first person to be questioned on the Day of Judgment?”

The Prophet replied, “It will be I.  I will remain before Allah as long as I like, and will leave there with all my sins forgiven.”

Hadrat `Ali asked again, “Who will come next?”

The Prophet answered, “Next will come Abu Bakr. He will remain before Allah as long as he likes, and he too will have his sins forgiven.”

Hadrat `Ali asked again: “Who comes, then, as the third?”

The Prophet replied, “Then comes `Omar. He will stay remain Allah as long as he likes, and he will have all his sins forgiven as well.”

Hadrat `Ali asked yet again,  “And who comes fourth?”

The Prophet replied,  “It is you who will follow `Omar.”

Hadrat `Ali asked: “When is `Uthman ibn Affan’s turn?”

And the Prophet answered, “`Uthman is a bashful person. I prayed to Allah not to question him, and my prayer has been answered.”[6]

I Will Not Stay Where the Messenger of Allah is Not Allowed

Hadrat `Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, loved the Messenger of Allah more than himself. He regarded all his words as commands. Before the treaty of Hudaybiyya was signed, when the Prophet, at the head of an army of pilgrims, arranged a truce with the idol-worshippers of Makka, `Uthman was sent to Makka as the envoy of the Prophet. He told the idol-worshippers that the Muslims encamped outside their city would only visit the House of Allah in Makka and then turn back to Madina in peace. The idol-worshippers did not agree to admit the pilgrims, but they invited  `Uthman to visit the Ka`ba himself.  He declared, “I cannot visit the Ka`ba if the Prophet is not allowed to do so! I can only visit it after he does. I will not stay where the Messenger of Allah is not allowed.”[7]

The idol-worshippers were not pleased. A rumor spread in the Muslim camp that `Uthman had been martyred. The Prophet obtained approval from the Companions to fight for `Uthman’s sake.  He put one of his hands on top of the other to indicate how close he felt to `Uthman, and exclaimed, “O Allah, this approval of the Companions is for `Uthman. He indeed is in Your service and the service of Your messenger!”[8]

The rumor was false, however, and before long the idol-worshippers sent an envoy to make peace. `Uthman returned safe and sound.

Sun of Generosity

`Uthman is a symbol not only of loyalty, but also of generosity. He used to say, “Wealth is only good for the grateful and generous,” and he used to act according to what he said. He set free, or led other people to set free, hundreds of slaves.[9]

Before the battle of Tabuk, which was one of the critical battles for the Muslims, He donated 300 fully-equipped camels and a thousand dinars to the army. The Prophet remarked, “The generosity of this gift will make `Uthman invulnerable to all harms.”[10]

When `Uthman migrated from Makka to Madina, he found that the Muslims of Madina were suffering from lack of water. The water of most of the wells in Madina was not drinkable. Only one well, named al-Ruma, currently had drinkable water. It was owned by a member of one of the Jewish tribes of Madina, who was selling its water to the Muslims.

The Prophet asked his people,  “Who wants to buy the well of al-Ruma and trade it for a better one in Paradise?”

Hadrat `Uthman went off to purchase the well on the spot, but the owner rejected his offer. Hadrat `Uthman, however, negotiated with him, and managed to buy a half share in the well, so that the Muslims and the Jews could both access water freely on an every-other-day basis. Later on, he bought the whole well. The Prophet asked him if he would be willing to give away the well of al-Ruma as charity, and he accepted the idea right away After that, there were no more water shortages in Madina.

It is narrated that Hadrat `Uthman himself used to line up to draw water from the well that he had once owned, just other people did. It is also narrated that this generosity led to the revelation of the famous Qur’anic verse,

O soul at peace! Return to your Lord well-pleased, well-pleasing. Enter among My servants; enter into My garden. (Fajr/89: 27-30).

When Islam began to spread rapidly and the number of people who visited Madina multiplied, the Prophet’s mosque was not spacious enough for the congregation, and many people pitched their tents around the mosque. The Prophet announced, “Whoever extends our mosque by even one yard will go to Paradise!”

Hadrat `Uthman said, “O Prophet! May all my property be sacrificed for you! I would like to have the honor of extending the mosque.” Then the following verse was revealed:

Only he shall visit the mosques of Allah who believes in Allah and the Last Day, who keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate and fears none but Allah.  (As for) these, it may be that they are followers of the right course. (Tawba/9: 18)[11]

Hadrat `Ali sent his shield to market in order to make money for his wedding to Hadrat Fatima. Hadrat `Uthman recognized that it was Hadrat “Ali’s shield. He called over the porter and asked, “How much is the owner of this shield asking for it?” The porter said the price was 400 silver dirhams. Hadrat `Uthman gave the porter 400 dirhams, added another 400 dirhams, and gave him back the shield, along with a message to deliver to `Ali:  “No one deserves this shield more than you do! The extra amount is for your wedding expenses. I hope you will excuse us for this.”[12]

Here is another incident that illuminates the noble character of Hadrat `Uthman, our model of generosity.

During the government of Hadrat Abu Bakr, a famine occurred in Madina. Hadrat `Uthman imported wheat, which arrived carried by a hundred camels. People rushed to buy it. Some offered much more than the going price. But Hadrat `Uthman said, “I am only selling to someone who pays more than you are offering.” Upon hearing Hadrat `Uthman’s words, the Companions went to Abu Bakr and complained. Hadrat Abu Bakr realized what Hadrat `Uthman had in mind. He said, “Don’t rush to think of `Uthman like that! He is the son-in-law of the Prophet; the two of them will be friends in Paradise. Perhaps you misunderstood.”

So they went back to Hadrat `Uthman together. Abu Bakr said, “`Uthman, the Companions are upset by what you said.”

Hadrat `Uthman replied: “Yes, O caliph of the Prophet! They offered me only seven times more than the going price. But I am selling the wheat to Someone who pays seven hundred times the going price.” And he donated the entire wheat shipment to the poor people of Madina, along with the meat of all the hundred camels: all sacrificed for Allah.

Abu Bakr was delighted. He kissed `Uthman on the forehead, saying, “I understood in the first place that the Companions had got you wrong.”[13]

A Lover of the Qur’an

The character of Hadrat `Uthman had been enlightened by the spirit of the Revelation. He was indeed a lover of the Qur’an. He remarked, “I was made to love three things in this world: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and reading the Qur’an.”

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, the chapters of the Qur’an had been assembled in a loose collection with no specific order. When Hadrat `Uthman became caliph, he asked a group of Companions to organize the Qur’anic material in a specific order; he also produced many copies of this newly organized Qur’an. In the year 30 AH he sent a number of these copies to important centers of the world: they became master-copies available for reference. This act of Hadrat `Uthman prevented the emergence of differing versions of the Qur’an.

It was Hadrat `Uthman’s custom to kiss the Qur’an as soon as he woke up every morning. He said: “I hate missing the chance of reading the Qur’an every day and every night.”[14] He read the Qur’an so often so that he wore out two copies in his lifetime.

Abdur-Rahman ibn `Uthman al-Taymi said, “One night, at his office, Hadrat `Uthman recited the entire Qur’an in a single cycle of prayer.”[15]

Commitment and Modesty

It was their characters and their principles that elevated the famous Companions of the Prophet to the level of stars in the spiritual skies. Though after the triumph of Islam they were all rich, they lived humble and modest lives simply for the sake of following the way of the Prophet.

Hadrat `Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, wore inexpensive ordinary clothes, but they were always clean. He would sleep on the ground in the mosque after the noon prayer, so that the marks of stones were often found on his body. He offered delicious feasts to people, but contented himself with vinegar and olive oil to season his private meals. He spent whole days fasting and whole nights praying, yet he never imposed upon his servants to prepare ablution water outside of their working hours.

Hadrat `Uthman was very watchful about treating people justly. Abul-Furat related a representative incident. “Hadrat `Uthman once asked his servant to pull him by the ear, because he had done the same to that servant once upon a time. When the servant grasped Hadrat `Uthman’s ear, he asked him to pull it harder, saying that retaliation was limited to formal exactness in this world, but it would not be so limited in the next.”[16]

Uthman the Martyr

Muslims were successful in conquering many new lands during the caliphate of Hadrat `Uthman. Muslim rule was established in Cyprus, Tabaristan, Tripoli, and Armenia, and Muslim armies attacked the islands of Rhodes and Malta, as well as the great Byzantine capital, Constantinople. The biggest part of the Byzantine armada was destroyed in the Mediterranean Sea, and Muslim sea trade ventured to many new places.  Such movements prospered all the people of Muslim lands, as well as enriching the treasuries of the state.

The dramatically increasing prosperity made some people prefer the pleasures of this world, and political controversies over the control of the new wealth and power began to arise. The struggle became a widespread crisis of government. Finally, insurgents from Egypt, Basra, and Kufa gathered in Madina and laid siege to the dwelling of Hadrat `Uthman. The blockade was so severe that they debarred him from the water of the well which he himself had bought and donated for the benefit of Muslims.

Hadrat `Uthman expressed the grief he felt, and warned with great insight against the troubles that would follow. He said, “I am like the father of sons who do not obey him when they are alive, and who will still cause him anxiety after their deaths.” When the Companions who supported him suggested that he raise an army to destroy the rebels, he declined, as he did not want to introduce violence into the community. He told them, “I prefer dying of persecution to instigating bloodshed.”

Uthman endeavored to give advice to the rebels, but it was of no use.  Ultimately they broke into his house and killed him.

Hadrat `Uthman was martyred while fasting and reading the Qur’an. He was over 80 years old. He was stabbed, and his blood fell upon this verse: “… So Allah will suffice you against them, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Baqara/2:137).

The Prophet (s) once said: “I swear by Allah that `Uthman will intercede with Allah to save seventy thousand Muslims from the fires of Hell.”[17]

May Allah help us grasp the meaning of the wisdom of Hadrat `Uthman.

Words of Wisdom from Hadrat Uthman

“The wisest of people question and govern their lower selves, perform good deeds for the Next World, and make use of Allah’s glory to guard against the darkness of the tomb.”

“Let Allah’s servant fear Him, so as not to be resurrected blind, though now he has eyes! One meaningful word is enough for the wise. Those who are spiritually deaf cannot hear anyway…”

“Five things are the signs of the righteous. They keep company with those who work for religion. They govern their desires and guard their tongues. They distinguish between good and bad uses of wealth when others are inclined to forget Allah and indulge themselves. They live modest lives and avoid devouring the unlawful. They think others are likely to be saved, while they are likely to be lost.”

“True Muslims have six types of fear. The first is fear of losing their religion. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘Our Lord! Make not our hearts to deviate after You have guided us aright”[18] and ‘O you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allah with the care which is due to Him, and do not die unless you are Muslims.’[19]

“The second is fear of being disgraced by the records the angels have written of their worldly deeds. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘On that day the earth shall tell her news, because your Lord had inspired her.’[20]

The third is the fear of having their good deeds invalidated by the Devil. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘He said: My Lord! Because You have made life evil to me, I will certainly make (evil) fair-seeming to them on earth, and I will certainly cause them all to deviate, except Your servants from among them, the devoted ones.’[21]

The fourth is the fear of being captured by the angel of death with no preparation. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.’[22] The Prophet said: ‘Man dies as he lives, and he is resurrected and questioned as he dies.’[23]

(It is worth noting that Hadrat `Uthman lived fully obeying the principles displayed in the Qur’an, and was martyred and reached Allah while reading the Qur’an.)

“The fifth is the fear of losing themselves in this world’s pleasures and forgetting the Hereafter. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘… and the life of this world is nothing but a provision of vanities.’[24]

“The sixth is the fear of pursuing family advantage and  forgetting Allah. It is said in the Qur’an: ‘And know that your property and your children are a temptation, and that Allah is He with whom there is a mighty reward.’[25]

“The world is indeed ephemeral, but the Hereafter is eternal. Do not let what is ephemeral lead you astray and keep you away from the eternal. Prefer the eternal to the ephemeral. This world is finite: you will all return to Allah. Fear Allah.”[26]

“Try to do all good deeds before death reaches you.”

May Allah help us to act according to these principles, and grant us the blessing of the distinguished companionship of Hadrat `Uthman. May Allah engrave his love in our hearts and make us a neighbor to Hadrat `Uthman in the Hereafter!

Amîn…

[1] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 12.[2] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 13.[3] Ahmad, I, 71; VI, 155.[4] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 143-144.[5] al-Qushayri, al-Risala, Beirut, 1990, 238.[6] Muhammad al-Rafi`i al-Qazwini, al-Tadwin fi akhbari Qazwin, 1/114.[7] Ahmad, IV, 324.[8] Bukhari, al-Ashab al-nabi, 7.[9] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 163.[10] Tirmidhi, al-Manaqib, 18/3700; Ahmad, V, 63.[11] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 145.[12] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 139.[13] Ibid, 140.[14] al-Kanz, I, 225[15] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 144.[16] Ramazanoglu Mahmud Sami, Hz. `Uthman Zinnureyn, 141.[17] al-Daylami, al-Firdaws, 4/360.[18] ’Al `Imran/3: 8.[19] Al `Imran/3: 102.[20] Zilzal/99: 4-5.[21] Hijr/15: 39-40.[22] Hijr /15: 99.[23] Muslim, al-Jannah, 83; al-Munawi, V, 663.[24] Al `Imran/3: 185.[25] Anfal/8: 28.[26] Ibn Abi al-Dunya, al-Mawdu`a, I, 77.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş,Principles from the Lives of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Erkam Publications

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