Like Abu Bakr and Umar, Uthman is a very common name among Muslims. The name is chosen to commemorate Uthman ibn Affan, the third of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, according to Sunnis. The focus of this post, the third in a series of important figures in Islamic history, is Uthman. His life and death left an imprint on the history of the faith.
Uthman was born to the powerful Banu Umayya clan in the Quraysh tribe. His father, Affan ibn Abi al-As, died as a young man and left a large inheritance for Uthman. Following in his father’s footsteps, Uthman was a successful buisnessman and became one of the wealthiest men in Quraysh.
Uthman was one of the first to become Muslim and the only member of the Meccan aristocracy to become a believer in the early period. After learning about the Prophet Muhammad’s mission through Abu Bakr, Uthman joined the faith. From early on, Uthman was known for his dedication to the faith and his generosity. It is documented that he spent much of his wealth on charity and assisting the nascent Muslim community.
After becoming Muslim, Uthman’s wife abandoned him. He then went on to marry Ruqayyah the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. Ruqayyah later died and Uthman then married her sister Umm Kulthum. Uthman was again widowed when Umm Kulthum died. As a result of these two marriages, Uthman was nicknamed Dhun-Nurayn, the possessor of two lights (Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum).
Upon his deathbed, Umar designated a council of six to elect the next caliph. Uthman was chosen and was the caliph from 644 to 656. Although Uthman did not have the political and military astuteness of Umar, the empire continued to expand during his tenure, incorporating most of North Africa, the Caucuses, and Cyprus. Like his predecessors, Uthman left his own contributions, which included sending the first Muslim envoy to China, establishing the first Islamic naval force, and most importantly, having the Qur’an compiled into the single authoritative version known today.
Uthman’s mark on Islamic history extends beyond his contributions. Uthman, like Umar before him, was assassinated. Unlike Umar though, Uthman was not as rigorous in controlling rivalries among various groups. Eventually, pockets of dissent emerged around the empire. One of the grievances was that Uthman appointed many of his kinsmen as governors and some were tyrannical in their rule. Uthman held meetings to examine the grievances but the growing opposition did not find his resolutions to be sufficient. This discontent led to a siege on Uthman’s home that lasted for 20 days. Uthman would not allow his supporters to fight the opposition because he did not want Muslims killing Muslims. Thus, members of the opposition were able to surround Uthman while he was reading Qur’an and stab him repeatedly until he died. He was buried after three days in Jannat al-Baqi, a cemetery in Medina.
While the assassination of Uthman further exacerbated the tensions that had emerged after the Prophet Muhammad’s death that would eventually lead to the Sunni/Shia division, he is remembered for his gentle manner, generosity, patience, and dedication to Islam.
Have you heard of Uthman? What is your impression of him? Why do you think he is relevant today? Please share your comments below.