False Accusations Against Uthman Ibn Affan
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
The opponents of Uthman who took part in the rebellion that led to his wrongful assassination had a long list of false accusations against him. These are refuted by Justice Ibn Al-Arabi in a direct, brief and powerful manner. His method of approach is to state first all the argument given against the Caliph before refuting it point by point. Thus he says:
“Following the reports made by clear liars, they unjustly claimed that Uthman perpetrated a number of unjust actions and things that could not be condoned. These include:
1. He had Ammar beaten so badly that his bowels were left open;
2. He beat up Abdullah ibn Massoud and broke his ribs, and denied him his allowance;
3. He perpetrated a deviation from the Sunnah when he collated copies of the Qur’an and burned the rest;
4. He made certain land a protectorate;
5. He exiled Abu Dharr to Rabidhah;
6. He sent Abu Al-Dardaa’ out of Syria into exile;
7. He allowed Al-Hakam back into Madinah when it was the Prophet who expelled him;
8. He stopped the Sunnah of shortening prayers during travel;
9. He appointed people like Muawiyah, Abdullah ibn Amir and Marwan as governors; as he did with Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah who was a transgressor, unfit for such a post;
10. He gave Marwan one-fifth of Afriqia;
11. While Umar used his whip, Uthman used a stick to beat people;
12. He mounted a step up on the pulpit to be at the level used by the Prophet while Abu Bakr and Umar moved a step down;
13. He did not take part in the Battle of Badr, and fled during the Battle of Uhud, and was absent on the day when the Prophet’s companions made the pledge under the tree, known as Bay’at Al-Ridwan;
14. He refused to put Ubaydellah ibn Umar to death for killing Al-Hurmuzan (who had given Abu Lu’lu’ah a knife to kill Umar); and
15. He sent a letter to Abdullah ibn Abi Sarh with a slave of his, riding his own camel, asking him to kill all those mentioned in the letter.
Such were the indictments against Uthman as summarized by Ibn Al-Arabi. He now goes on to refute every item in this long list. He says: “This is all false, both in form and substance. Their claim that Uthman perpetrated ‘unjust actions and things that could not be condoned’ is absolutely false. The whole report that he beat up Abdullah ibn Massoud and denied him his allowance is false, as is the report that he beat up Ammar badly.
Had it been true that he left his bowels open, he would not have survived at all. Some scholars have tried to justify that in certain ways, but it is futile to carry on with this, because the whole report is false. No right thing can be based on what is false. We should know better than to waste our time over what some ignorant people might say, for it is futile and has no end.”
We note here that Ibn Al-Arabi does not engage in any detailed discussion of the first two accusations against Uthman, except to assert that they are both false, and to point out that had the first one been true, Ammar would not have survived. Muhibb Al-Deen Al-Khateeb explains the sort of relations that existed between Uthman and these two highly-respected companions of the Prophet. He quotes Ibn Massoud’s statement concerning the choice of Uthman as the third Caliph, as he said: “We have chosen the best one among us, sparing no effort in our choice.”
At the time when Uthman was chosen, Ibn Massoud was in charge of finance in the Kufah province, while Saad ibn Abi Waqqas was in charge of prayer and defense. Both were appointed by Umar. However, disagreement between the two crept up over a question of a loan taken by Saad (which we will discuss in detail later), and Uthman sacked Saad as a result. Up till then, relations between Uthman and Ibn Massoud were at their best. Later,
Uthman resolved to produce a standard copy of the Qur’an to be the reference work throughout the Muslim world, unanimously approved by all the Prophet’s companions as absolutely conforming to the last reading by the Prophet. Ibn Massoud dearly wished that the task would have been assigned to him. He also wished that his own copy that he used to write for himself during the lifetime of the Prophet could be retained. However, on both counts Uthman chose differently.
Uthman chose Zayd ibn Thabit to write the standard copy of the Qur’an. The basis of his decision was the fact that Zayd was the one chosen earlier by Abu Bakr and Umar, during the reign of the former, to collate a complete, standard copy of the Qur’an.
Their choice was based on the fact that he was the one who learned the last reading of God’s book by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet, shortly before his death. This means that Uthman was right in his choice, even though he, and other companions of the Prophet, were fully aware of Ibn Massoud’s standing as a scholar and a greatly devout believer.
Uthman was also right when he ordered that all other copies, including that of Ibn Massoud, should be washed out. Unifying the writing of the Qur’an as perfectly as human beings can do was indeed Uthman’s greatest action. In the disagreement between the two, the overwhelming majority of the Prophet’s companions supported Uthman.
As for Uthman beating Ibn Massoud and denying him his allowance, all this is absolutely false. Indeed, Uthman remained keenly aware of Ibn Massoud’s high standing. In return, Ibn Massoud remained firmly loyal to the Caliph he described as the best at the time of his choice.
As for Ammar’s case, Al-Khateeb mentions a report related by Al-Tabari which suggests that there was some friction between Ammar and Abbas ibn Utbah. Uthman felt that the two needed to be disciplined by physical punishment. Al-Khateeb states that this is within the right and jurisdiction of the Caliph. Umar used to do that with many people, several of whom were of a higher standing than Ammar.
But this was nothing like the hard beating that the rebels alleged, stating that it was a torture leading to his bowels being torn apart. That would have resulted in his death. Indeed, the punishment did not spoil relations between Uthman and Ammar.
When the rebel leaders began their campaign of false rumors against Uthman, some of the Prophet’s companions counseled him to dispatch some trusted people to different provinces to gather information on what was happening in these places. He acted on their advice and one of those emissaries was Ammar, whom he sent to Egypt.
We see here that Ammar was one of the people Uthman trusted at his time of trouble. Had he been so severely tortured by Uthman, he would have never been chosen by the Caliph for such a task.
That there was friction between Uthman and some of the Prophet’s companions does not detract from the standing of any of them. Uthman is certainly a better person and a better servant of Islam than all the people cited as having disagreed with him, including Ibn Massoud, Ammar, Abu Dharr and others.
Yet this does not mean that any of them should not enjoy our love and respect. They were all among the Prophet’s companions with whom the Prophet was pleased. They are all among the dwellers of heaven as confirmed by the Prophet. May God shower His grace on them all.