Ibn Saba, a Yemenite Jew converted to Islam, was the moving spirit behind a conspiracy hatched against Hazrat Usman, the third Caliph of Islam, which in reality, aimed at undermining the very foundations of Islam. His later activities proved beyond doubt that his acceptance of Islam was only a mask to cover his evil designs. The storms brewing in Fustat (Cairo), Kufa and Basrah, later burst upon Medina and culminated in the martyrdom of Usman. On smelling the foul play, Amir Muawiya, the Governor of Syria, had begged the Caliph either to move to Damascus or to keep a strong guard for his self-protection. The pious Caliph refused both, saying that he would be the last person to leave the resting place of the Prophet and that he would never like to be guarded at public expense.
Hazrat Usman ibn Affan, known as Abu Abd Allah, was born in Makkah. Zunnurain was his epithet of honour as he had married two daughters of the Prophet one after another. He belonged to the Bani Umayyad clan of the Quraish and his ancesteral pedigree joins that of the Prophet in the fifth generation. The Bani Umayyads were only second to Bani Hashims in political importance and were entrusted with the custody of National Flag of the Quraish before the advent of Islam.
Hazrat Usman, after his early education, adopted his ancestral occupation and was one of the leading businessmen of Arabia. He was known for his honesty and integrity, piety and modesty throughout Hejaz. He was an intimate friend of Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, the first Caliph of Islam. It was Hazrat Abu Bakr, who was the first man to carry the message of Islam to him. Hazrat Usman along with Talha bin Ubaidullah accepted Islam at the hands of the Prophet, He was much tortured by his uncle Hakem for joining the new faith but he refused to renounce it, even at the cost of his life.
Hazrat Usman migrated to Abyssinia along with other Muslims under the orders of the Prophet. He was only second to Abu Bakr in rendering financial assistance to the new faith. He served Islam whole-heartedly even at the cost of his business. He took active part in the inner councils of Islam. Later on he migrated to Medina along with other Muslims, leaving his valuable properties behind. Medina had then only one well of drinking water called Bir Rumah, which was owned by non-Muslims, who charged heavy water tax from the Muslims. The Holy Prophet wanted some Muslims to purchase it. Hazrat Usman, at once came forward, purchased it for 30 thousand dirhams and made it a public property. Similarly, Hazrat Usman purchased the land adjoining the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, which could not accommodate a large number of Muslims and undertook its extension at his own expense.
Except Badr, Hazrat Usman took part in all battles fought during the lifetime of the Prophet for the defence of the new faith. At the time of Badr he was asked by the Prophet to look after his wife Ruqayya, who was on death bed.
During the caliphate of Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar, he occupied the position of highest trust. He was a prominent member of the inner council and his opinion was sought on all important matters of state. He was one of the two persons who were first consulted by Hazrat Abu Bakr on his death bed for nominating Hazrat Umar as his successor.
The circumstances which led to his election as the third Caliph of Islam are a controversial issue and diverse historical theories have been advanced which greatly differ from one another. But it has been established beyond doubt that Hazrat Umar, on his death bed, had nominated six. persons, out of whom his successor was to be selected. The four nominees withdrew their names, leaving Hazrat Usman and Hazrat Ali, as the contestants. The two consented to accept the verdict of Hazrat Abdur Rahman bin Auf, who, on the third day, cast his vote in favour of Hazrat Usman who became the third Caliph of Islam. Thereafter, the populace of Medina vied with each other in taking the oath of allegiance on the hands of Hazrat Usman., There are certain historical sources, which state that there had been secret machinations in the election of Hazrat Usman and that of Hazrat Ali was the more popular and deserving of the two.
The first six years of the reign of Hazrat Usman are noted for great territorial expansion of the Islamic Empire as well as achievements in other spheres of life. Only six months after the election of the Third Caliph, the Persians rose in revolt against the authority of Islam. The ex-king of Persia, Yezdejird, who was in exile, was at the bottom of this upheaval and his agents were active throughout Persia. Hazrat Usman promptly handled the situation with a strong hand. He immediately despatched reinforcements which quelled the revolt and pursued the insurgents beyond the Persian frontiers, thus annexing extra territories. By 30 A.H., the territories lying north and east of Persia including Balkh, Turkistan, Herat, Kabul, Ghazni, Khorasan, Tus, Neshapur and Merv, fell before the invincible arms of Islam and thus were incorporated in the fast expanding Muslim Empire. Yezdejird, who had fled for his life, died in exile in 32 A.H. It led to the establishment of perpetual peace in Persia. The Muslims who encountered Turks and Romans in the North-West of Persia, inflicted crushing defeats upon their opponents. The Romans were pursued far beyond the western frontiers of Persia and the flag of Islam was firmly planted on the shores of the Black Sea.
In the second year of his caliphate, the Romans poured into Syria through Asia Minor. The garrison at the disposal of Amir Muawiya, Governor of Syria, was numerically much inferior to the invaders, and could hardly cope with the situation. The arrival of fresh reinforcements routed the Romans who were hotly pursued as far as the shores of the Black Sea. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Asia Minor fell into Muslim hands and Tiflis on the Black Sea, was also captured. In 32 A.H., Amir Muawiya laid siege to Constantinople. Strong fortifications were raised on the frontiers in order to check further Roman inroads into Muslim lands.
The Romans had set up in Egypt and West Africa spring boards for the invasion of Muslim lands. They captured Alexandria in 25 A.H. (646 A.C.) but Muslims under the command of Amr bin al-Aas soon recovered it. Gregory, the Roman Commander of Tripoli, had a strong army of 120,000 soldiers under his command. It was a constant menace to the neighbouring Muslim State. A strong contingent which included great veterans like Abdullah bin Zubair, was hurriedly despatched from Medina to face the desperate situation. The Romans offered a stubborn resistance, but, at last, with the fall of their commander at the hand of Abdulla bin Zubair, their resistance crumbled down and they were routed with heavy losses.
It was during Usman’s reign that the Muslims first launched a naval warfare. Earlier, Muawiya was prevented by the Caliph to attack Cyprus, which was a Roman stronghold alongside Syria and was a constant danger for her security. It was from this strategic island that the Romans made repeated incursions on the Syrian coast. Hazrat Usman allowed Muawiya, under certain conditions, to invade the island. Muawiya built a strong naval fleet, which was the first of its kind in Islam. Curiously enough, Cyprus was occupied by the Syrians, without much resistance.
In 31 A.H. (654 A.C.), the Romans launched an invasion of Egypt with 500 ships. The Muslim Governor of Egypt met them with a small fleet. He tied his ships with one another and in a hand to hand fight inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Romans. This established the reputation of the Muslim Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The reasons underlying the dissensions among the Muslims which culminated in an open revolt against the authority of an elected Caliph are manifold. But the main factor at the back of this conspiracy was a hatred for Muslim power, which Ibn Saba and his followers wanted to fan from within. The democratic principles practised in Islam and the simplicity as well as the piety of Hazrat Usman who, at any cost, could not contemplate the horrid prospect of bloodshed among the Muslims, gave a free hand to the conspirators to malign and undermine his regime. The entreaties of the Administrators of affected provinces to be allowed to deal firmly with the agitators could not move the pious Caliph.
The Administration during the first six years of his Caliphate had not lost the effectiveness of his predecessor and the nation-building activities continued as before. The insurrections in Persia were put down with a strong hand; the state frontiers were extended and fortified naval warfare was introduced with great success and the state had not lost the vigour and vitality which characterised the phenomenal growth of Muslim Empire during the reign of the Second Caliph. But a large number of Christians and Jews, who had embraced Islam with mental reservation in order to take advantage of its democratic principles and who disliked the restrictions imposed by it on debauchery and general moral laxity, which they were addicted to, found an able leader in Ibn Saba, a Yemanite Jew newly converted to Islam. The Arab colonies of Basrah, Kufa and Fustat (Cairo) which were inhabited by Arabs of non-Hejaz origin fell an easy prey to the secret machinations of Ibn Saba and his henchmen. Ibn Saba spread the net of his intrigues throughout Iraq and Egypt, Kufa, Basrah and Fustat which formed the nerve centre of his nefarious activities against the Caliph.
The Caliphs adversaries charged him with following a policy of nepotism, favouritism and partisanship. But he had made no change in the old order during the first 6 years of his rule. As far as humanly possible, he was rigid and impartial in dispensing justice. This is borne out from his having awarded the required number of stripes to Waleed, a provincial Governor who was related to him and was accused of drunkenness. He dismissed several governors belong. ing to the Umayyad clan, when charges against them were found to be true. Moreover, Umayyad governors appointed by him justified their selection by their able administration. However, the dictates of statecraft and political acumen demanded of him to streamline his administration by drawing into it non-party elements not wanting in integrity, capabilities and dynamics. He would have been well advised to follow the example of his illustrious predecessor, who ignored even his talented son, Abdulla bin Umar for filling a particular high job. This would have deprived the insurgents of the only weapon, so skilfully used against the Third Caliph. The faulty pieces of advice of Merwan, his Secretary, were no less responsible for hastening the doom which awaited the pious Caliph.
At last the fateful hour drew near. The insurgents besieged Medina and the inhabitants of the Metropolis of Islam, who wanted to defend the Caliph with their lives, were prevented by him lest it might shed Muslim blood. Notwithstanding all this, Hazrat Ali posted his two sons at the Caliph’s door to defend his person even at the cost of their lives. Others too, followed suit. The Caliph also conceded one of the demands of the insurgents and appointed Muhammad bin Abu Bakr as the Governor of Egypt, whereupon the rebels withdrew apparently satisfied with the appointment letter in their hands and it seemed that the storm clouds which threatened Medina had melted away. But, after a few days, the rebels reappeared and laid siege of Medina. On enquiry, it was given out they had intercepted a secret letter of the Caliph ordering the Governor of Egypt to behead Muhammad bin Abu Bakr as soon as he reached there. The messenger who was said to be carrying the letter was never produced.
The Caliph denied knowledge of any such letter, which was accepted by the insurgents who held his Secretary Merwan responsible for this forgery. They demanded that he should be handed over to them, but the Caliph refused to oblige them without any definite proof against him. The insurgents, however, could not give satisfactory reply to the query of Hazrat Ali. “How all of them returned together at the same time when their routes led to divergent directions.” He considered the letter to be forged. The pious Caliph addressed the rebels
“As to death, I have no fear of it and I consider it the easiest thing. As to fighting, if I wished such a thing, thousands would have come forward to fight for me. But I cannot be the cause of shedding a drop of Muslim blood.”
At last the critical hour arrived. A large number of Medinites had gone to Makkah for pilgrimage. The insurgents considered it a suitable opportunity for carrying out their evil designs. They stormed the Caliph’s house, as they could not dare to enter through the gate which was guarded by the valiant sons of Ali. They scaled the walls on the opposite side and slew the aged Caliph, who was reciting the Quran with extraordinary composure. The little fingers of his wife raised for his protection were chopped off. The Caliph attained his martyrdom on June 17, 656 A.C. and thus offered his life as a sacrifice at the altar of Muslim solidarity.” He was at this time 82. His Caliphate lasted 12 years.
Hazrat Usman rendered very valuable financial help to the new faith before and after his election as Caliph. He placed his entire resources at the disposal of the Prophet of Islam. His generosity knew no bounds. When he was elected to the high post of the Caliph, he did not take anything from the Baitul Mal (Public Treasury) and served the people even at the cost of his flourishing business. Tabari, the celebrated historian of Islam, quotes as follows from an address of the Third Caliph :
“When the reins of the Government were entrusted to me, I was the biggest owner of camels and goats in Arabia. Today I possess neither a goat nor a camel save two, which are meant for the pilgrimage. By God I have taxed no city beyond its capacity so that such a thing might be imputed to me. And whatever I have taken from the people I have spent on their own welfare. Only fifth of it comes to me (i.e., in Baitul Mal or in Public Treasury). Out of this, too, I consider nothing for my personal use. This is spent on the deserving people, not by me, but by the Muslims themselves, and not a farthing of public funds is misappropriated. I take nothing out of it, so that even what I eat out of my own earnings.”
His financial help was indeed invaluable for the growth of a new organization during the lifetime of the Prophet.
The greatest achievement of Hazrat Usman is the compiling of a standard copy of the Holy Quran. During his regime Islam had spread far and wide in distant lands-lands inhabited by diverse nationalities. The differences of pronunciations and dialects in Arabia led to variety of Quranic recitations. Hence, he felt the necessity of compiling a standard copy of the Quran, which might ensure uniformity in pronunciation of Quranic lines all over the world. Hazrat Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, had got compiled a standard copy of the Quran after comparing it with the help of reliable sources. This copy was in possession of Prophet’s wife. Several copies of this volume were prepared by the Caliph after consultation with prominent Companions of the Prophet and despatched to centres of Islamic Empire to serve as the standard version. In order to avoid differences in versions, all unauthentic copies were burnt down. These steps were taken with the consent of all the well-known Companions of the Prophet, who formed a committee for ensuring wide circulation of the standard copy. The step taken was also in conformity with the wishes of the Holy Prophet who desired the compilation of a standard volume of the Quran.
There had been no slackening of nation-building activities during his reign. New colonies, bridges, roads, mosques and guest houses were built and new cities sprang up throughout the vast Islamic dominions. The roads leading to Medina were fully equipped with caravan serais and other amenities of life for the travellers. The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina was enlarged and built of stones. Extensive arrangements for drinking water were made in Medina and other desert towns. Farms for camel and horse breeding were opened on a large scale. The Council of Consultation was maintained as before, which comprised of prominent Companions of the Prophet, who counselled the Caliph on all important matters. The Caliph, like his predecessors, was at all times accessible to the meanest of his subjects and the complaints against the highest authorities of the state were promptly attended to.
The Third Caliph of Islam was particularly known for his integrity and simplicity, piety and modesty of character. His character was above suspicion and none, not even his greatest enemies, ever doubted his sincerity. No doubt, certain people took advantage of his simplicity, but whatever he did he did with the best of intentions.