Writers' Articles

Medina Surrenders to Sedition


Rebellious crowds numbering between 600-1000 men from Egypt, Kufa and Basra.

Supposedly they had set out for the pilgrimage, but these caravans were in league with one another. Leaving from three different cities and meeting at the entrance to Medina, these caravans had another common purpose: To intimidate the caliph and challenge the government in power.

Even though from the early period of his caliphate both Uthman and his governors had been frequently criticized for various practices, this criticism had not led to an atmosphere of dissention. Caliph Uthman's term of rule had coincided with the second period when conquests slowed down. The slow-down in the flow of riches, which accompanied rapid geographical expansion, with the decrease in conquests had caused serious crises in garrison towns like Fustat (Egypt), Kufa and Basra. Angry crowds like this appeared with the emergence of conflict between powerful tribal members who had seen great benefits from the conquests and governors from the Bani-Ommaya. Actually, these developments were a reflection of a return to the tribal patriotism of the Age of Ignorance.

Criticism made casually during days of plenty became serious reason for rebellion during days of scarcity: Uthman's appointing his relatives to important government positions and thereby turning over major state positions to the Bani-Ommaya and his appointing provincial governors whose capabilities were debatable comprised important reasons for the explosive unrest. Matters like the caliph's making donations from the state treasury to those close to him, his sending prominent Quraish members out of Medina and settling them in newly conquered regions and his remaining silent to their taking property there, his giving fiefs to some Companions, his having other copies of the Quran burned after the complete Quran was duplicated, his showing leniency to governors who gave priority to tribal instincts, his permitting his uncle Hakem b. Abu'l-As (who was exiled to Taif by the Prophet) to enter Medina, and his dropping the caliphate seal, which had been handed down from the Prophet (pbuh), into a well each became an individual incident of instigation on the road to rebellion.

Neither the positive news brought by the inspectors the caliph had sent to the provinces for investigation nor the meeting he made in Medina with governors he had invited through moderation had any meaning left. Abdullah b. Saba, a man with Jewish roots who is shown by some in Islamic history texts as the source of dissention, is now a symbol. Thus, an atmosphere of dissention had been entered which used tribal interests as material for criticism and which encouraged unrest. The common objective was the overthrow of the caliph. The mentality behind these crowds of rebels aimed to remove this caliph and put another in his place, thereby establishing its own power.

The people were called to holy war with letters circulating hand to hand, town to town. Even if the people did not see any negative effects in the areas where they lived, the dark atmosphere working against the state began to affect them with the adverse news brought from other districts. There was an unceasing buzz surrounding all Islamic provinces. The choking smoke rising from the fire of dissent began to burn all hearts; Medina, the city of peace, was now mentioned with crisis.

Ali was certain the crowds had not set out for the purpose of pilgrimage. He was wary of the anger of these groups who were mad at the caliph and upset with the government in power. He sent his son Hassan to the caliph's house to protect him and stand guard at his door. He himself put on his sword and mixed in the crowds. Ali b. Abu Talib had been a natural recipient for complaints against the caliph for some time now. Sometimes he acted as mediator in the resolution of complaints and sometimes, angered by certain practices himself, Ali had tried to calm down the crowds out of good intention. He got promises from the caliph and exerted great efforts to convince the crowds. Finally, the angry groups from Egypt, Kufa and Basra had begun to return to their countries without waiting for pilgrimage.

However, the fire of sedition had long since begun to burn. Letters received on the road and some hearsay were enough to cause the dissatisfied crowds to turn around and enter Medina with a fury. Ali wanted to stand in front of the outraged crowds and explain the good intentions of the caliph and talk about the intrigue going on, but he was not effective this time. The crowds had no patience to listen. They surrounded the caliph's house and declared they would not leave until he stepped down.

At first the caliph did not pay attention; he continued to lead Muslims in prayer at the masjid. Those guarding his house made a line behind him at the masjid. The caliph recommended that the rebels fear God. He said that those making the siege were people cursed by the Prophet and that they should correct their mistake as soon as possible. Against the heavy pressure to give up his duty, the caliph persisted in his stand: "I won't take off a shirt God put on me, but if I've made a mistake, I'll repent." The rebels claimed that the caliph had reneged on his repentance. The rebels said they would murder him if he did not step down from his duty. Uthman expressed that he was ready to die for this cause, but that he did not want to be a party to violence. He said that if he had chosen violence, he could have called his commanders and soldiers to remove them. He got a guarantee from the people of Medina not to fight.

The rebels who had put the caliph under siege had grown greatly in number. They silenced the prominent Companions who supported the caliph and stoned them as they took them from the masjid. Not stopping at this, they stoned Uthman, the commander of the Muslims, and tried to make him faint. As the siege continued, the house of the caliph, who had forbidden the people to use arms, was surrounded by bigger and bigger crowds as vagrant and unemployed slaves and Bedouins joined in. While the Medina people stayed inside their homes, the caliph was prevented from leaving his house even for prayer and he was even left without water. The water jug that Ummu Habibe, the mother of believers, was taking to the caliph was broken by the crowds. Even a drop of water was denied to Uthman who had bought the Rume well to relieve the thirst of all Muslims in that difficult time.

There was fear that pilgrims, who would pour into Medina with the approaching pilgrimage season, would be able to save the caliph and a letter was sent to his governors who could send help. These triggered the crowds into action. The efforts and hopes of Companions who went at intervals to protect the caliph were for nothing. The caliph was fully abandoned to fate.

That ill-omened day began with quarreling among the crowd in the arbor in front of the caliph's door. The caliph personally prevented the conflict in that atmosphere of panic. He did not back down before the warning, "If you forego the caliphate, we'll set you free." Eventually the hand of Gafiki, an enraged leader of the rebels, rose and the piece of iron he held came down on the head of all Muslims who will live until Doomsday, not just the caliph. Later the raised sword of another rebel cut the fingers of Naile who had raised his hand to protect his wife. Then it gave the final blow that raised Uthman to the level of martyr. The caliph's blessed blood reddened this verse of the Quran he read: "Allah is enough for you against them. He hears all and knows all."

Days later wife related this dream to Naile which she had seen during the days of Uthman's besiegement: Abu Bakr was on one side of the Prophet, and Umar was on the other side. The Prophet extended his arms to Uthman and said, "Tonight you will break your fast with us."



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