CALIPHATE: 644 – 656 AD

Preface:This is only a summary of the life of Uthman ibn Affan and does not cover all the points of his life story. It is not intended to be a biography, but rather a glimpse of the main incidents of his life so that we can get an idea of his character. For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with him (RA)” each time his name or the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.

Uthman said: “I have found the sweetness of worship in four things. The first is in performing the obligatory acts of worship enjoined by Allah; the second is in avoiding the things forbidden by Allah; the third is enjoining that which is good, seeking the reward of Allah; and the fourth is forbidding that which is evil, fearing the wrath of Allah.” 

The first two Rightly Guided Caliphs left large shoes to fill, and historical accounts of them tend to overshadow the achievements of their successors. Yet, the exemplary life of Uthman ibn Affan is one to be emulated, for he is one of the ten Companions who has been promised Paradise.

Uthman bin Affan was born in Taif, near Mecca approximately six years after the Year of the Elephant. Uthman’s birthright was the wealthy Umayyad Clan (Banu Ummaya) of the Quraish tribe in Mecca.

He was said to be very truthful and bashful person who also possessed a powerful personality. A modest, honest, mild, generous and very kindly man, Uthman was also noted for his piety. As a true and generous believer, he was known of the desire to please Allah and sacrifice all his trade and property for the support of Islam. He has also been known to spend nights in prayer, observed fasts most of the days and performed hajj every year.  Uthman knew the Qur’an from memory and has been known to have had an intimate knowledge of the context and circumstances in which each verse had been related to.

Despite his privileged upbringing, Uthman maintained a lifestyle devoid of luxury and the pursuit of worldly possessions. Such was his humility that he has been known to live simply despite his wealth and was known to have often slept on bare sand in the courtyard of the Prophet’s mosque.

It has been said that Uthman’s generosity could not be surpassed by anyone, with the exception of Abu Bakr. Other than significant contributions made during the conquest of the Islamic State, Uthman took it upon himself to give alms and look after widows and orphans. It was also customary for him to free a slave every Friday.

Uthman possessed patience that was unparalleled for he had maintained his elegance, poise and tranquility while faced with challenges in life.  This was an invaluable trait that had kept him above board and on an even keel when he led the Islamic state after the passing of the second caliph, Umar ibn Al-Kattab.

Before conversion

Uthman was a renowned and successful trader who reaped his profits by giving to the needy. After his father’s passing at an early age, Uthman continued to run the family business at a marked profit thereby affording an increase in his charitable works.

Uthman was not one who sought entertainment and songs and other material pleasures. He was a man of high principles and morals and possessed pure thoughts and actions. He said: “Concern of this world is darkness in the heart, but concern with the hereafter is light in the heart.”

Uthman’s wealth grew and by virtue of being so, he was regarded as one of the men of the Umayyad clan who were held in high esteem by all of Quraish. At that time men were respected by their wealth and for the number of children and brothers they had. Uthman was regarded as being of high status among his people, and he was loved dearly.

Events leading up to and including the conversion

By virtue of his travels, primarily to either Yemen or Syria, Uthman had gained exposure to various people and their beliefs, developing the knowledge of their customs and culture.  This experience enhanced his understanding of the people around him whilst influencing his own ideas and thoughts he had of the Arab life and idol worship. One night, on his return journey from Syria, Uthman was about to fall asleep when he heard a voice calling: “O sleepers, get up, for Ahmad has emerged in Mecca.”

An extended trip away from Mecca had resulted in a return to unsettling issues in the city. Among these was the emergence of a man called Muhammad bin Abdullah who had made himself known as the Prophet of Islam. While other Meccans had found it difficult to accept new ideas and concepts in their lives, Uthman recalled the incident in Syria.  It was indeed a calling to Islam, a sign that required a positive response, for Uthman himself could not explain how anyone could have heard of the Prophet before reaching the city in which he lived. It seemed inconceivable to have ignored the sign and the truth of the need for a savior to the life of the Arabs during a gloomy period, where among other things, idol worship and violence had become a way of life.

When he learnt of the new religion and the Prophet, Uthman made his way to Abu Bakr whom he knew to be a close friend of Muhammad’s SAW and who had already converted to Islam. Responding to Abu Bakr’s urging to reject the false worship of idols and to accept the belief in Allah as the One God, Uthman went to Muhammad SAW. The Prophet SAW welcomed Uthman and told him of his experience in Mount Hira, when he received the first revelation. Uthman was thrilled to hear this and recounted the incident in Syria telling him of the advent of a Prophet in Mecca. The Prophet SAW stretched his hand, which Uthman grasped in reverence, and declared “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet.” Uthman was thirty four years and was one of the earliest Muslims.

Uthman’s conversion to Islam led to a violent reaction and he was not exempted despite his family’s standing in society. He had to suffer the wrath of his own uncle, Al Hakam bin Abi Al-‘Aas who tied him up and told him that he will not be freed until he returned to the old religion of his forefathers. Uthman said: “By Allah, I will never give it up or leave it.” Uthman was eventually set free when he remained steadfast in his belief and continued to uphold the religion.

Contributions to Islam during the Prophet’s SAW lifetime

•Son in law of the Prophet SAW

Because of his conversion to Islam, Uthman had to separate from his wives, who refused to accept Islam. He was grieved and distressed by this, but his love for Islam was of more value to him. The Prophet SAW was so impressed by his sacrifice, that he married his second daughter, Ruqayya, to Uthman. It is said that Uthman and Ruqayya made a unique pair, as Uthman was the most beautiful person amongst the men, whereas Ruqayya was the most beautiful amongst the women.

Marriage to the Prophet’s SAW daughter had elevated the bond shared between them. However, the marriage was short lived. Ruqayya was taken ill at a time when the Muslims went to war at Badr and subsequently passed away when the Holy Prophet SAW and the Muslims were fighting the Quraish at the battlefield of Badr.

Deeply grieved by the loss, Uthman was asked by the Prophet SAW to marry his other daughter, Umm Kulthum. When she too passed away six years later, the Prophet SAW noted Uthman’s grief in his manner of walking and expression on his face and said: “Had we a third daughter, surely, we would have given her in marriage to you.” What an endorsement when the Prophet of Allah SAW considers you worthy of marrying his own daughters!

It has been said that marriage to two daughters of the Prophet SAW had earned Uthman the nickname Dhun-Noorayn (the one with the two lights) as there was no one else had the privilege of having the Prophet SAW as a father-in-law twice over.

• The First Migration

The series of persecution started in the fourth year of Prophethood and accelerated and worsened by the day. In the fifth year it began to seem intolerable for the Muslims and Allah saw to this when He made it known in Surah Az-Zumar that it is time for the religion to spread further afield with the migration of a few Muslims.

“Good is for those who do good in this world, and Allah’s earth is spacious. Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full, without reckoning.” [39:10]

In Rajab of the fifth year of the revelation, a group of twelve men and four women, including Uthman and his wife Ruqayya, left for Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The Prophet SAW had directed this small group to migrate for he wanted to preserve the Muslim community from increasing belligerence. He chose Abyssinia as much had been heard of the Christian ruler, Al Najashi, who did not allow any form of persecution in his land. The Prophet SAW, when bidding Uthman and Ruqayya farewell, said “No doubt, they are the first to emigrate to Allah after the Prophet of Allah, Lut.”

Uthman’s migration to Abyssinia, while escaping the harassment by the Quraish and the oppression in Mecca, was also a means for him to lead by example, the peaceful life of worship to Allah. It has been said that migration from life to life, from existence to existence is a journey to Allah with new provisions as one concedes what is old with its sanctities and glories. For Uthman the migration had strengthened his good characteristics and made them more effective and elegant. It was primarily a migration of spirit.

• Oppression in Mecca

When Uthman returned to Mecca he discovered that the Muslims had remained oppressed and in fact their living conditions had worsened. The Quraish had decided to cut all social, economic and familial relations with Muslims and Bani Hashim (the Prophet’s SAW clan). Banishing them to a valley and depriving them of a reasonable living, the Muslims did not even have sufficient food and water. Uthman ordered his agents to buy food and secretly supply the Muslims.

• The second migration and continued hardship in Yathrib (Medina)

Again, the Prophet had asked his companions and other Muslims to migrate, this time to Medina, to save themselves from enduring further evil plots of the Quraish. Among the emigrants to Medina were Uthman and Ruqayya.

The Muslims in Medina were poor as they had left their worldly possessions in Mecca. Much depended on the Ansar (dwellers of Medina) to adopt a Muhajireen (emigrants from Mecca) to support them in maintaining their livelihood and for survival. A Jewish trader had taken advantage of the need for the city dwellers’ survival when he sold water (a precious commodity indeed) at a very high price. Uthman took the initiative to relieve them of such high expenses. He offered to buy the well at Rawmah from the Jew but was only allowed to purchase half of it. Uthman then told the Muslims to purchase enough water for two days each time it was his turn to sell water, thereby avoiding purchase of water on the second day when it was the Jew’s turn to use the well. The Jew was then unable to get any buyers and eventually had to sell his share to Uthman. The well then overflowed with its sweet water and provided the people of Medina with water at no price or account.

• Uthman’s generosity continues

When the number of converts to Islam increased in Medina, the space available for them at the mosque in Medina decreased. The Prophet SAW had hoped that perhaps one of his Companions could help with the purchase of the neighbouring area to facilitate the expansion of the mosque. Uthman was only too willing to oblige and proceeded to the owners of this area with an offer to purchase. The Prophet SAW had said, “Who will buy the land of so and so add it to the mosque in return for something good for him in Paradise?”

Again, when the Prophet SAW returned from their victorious campaign in Mecca, he sought to expand the area of the sacred mosque. He suggested that the owners of the home beside the mosque to donate it but they did not, saying that they had nothing else to their name and no other means of finding another home. For the third time Uthman came forward, purchased a house for the owners with an even larger one than they had given up.

During the rule of Abu Bakr, the Muslims had undergone great hardship and one of them was the need for food. As a merchant Uthman was due to receive a substantial delivery of food and other goods from Damascus but he had chosen to give up the entire caravan to the poor to help them survive the harsh conditions.

• Bay’a Al Ridwan

On the 1st of Dhul Qa’idah, on the sixth year of Hijrah, the Prophet with 1,400 Muslims from Medina began their journey to Mecca to perform their pilgrimage . As they journeyed, they heard that the Quraish would not allow them to enter the city. Upon reaching Hudaibiyah, the Prophet sent three messengers to the Meccans to convince them to allow the pilgrimage as that was their sole intention. Each returned unsuccessful. The Prophet then sent Uthman to cheer the believing men and women still in Mecca with the tidings that Allah was about to make their religious victorious.

Uthman entered Mecca under the protection of Abban bin Sayeed Umwi and conveyed the message. The Quraish offered him the opportunity to make tawaf but he refused for as long as the Prophet had been prevented to do so. The Quraish then decided to detain Uthman, perhaps wanting to ensure they had a “card to play” in negotiations with the Muslims but this resulted in rumors that he had suffered death in the hands of the Quraish.

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