ʿUthmān b. Affān

views updated May 17 2018

ʿUthmān b. Affān (d. 655 (AH 35)). Third caliph (khalīfa), who was an early convert to Islam. He married the Prophet Muḥammad's daughters, Rukaiya and (after her death) Umm Kulthum. Upon election as caliph he promised to follow and develop ʿUmar's policies of uniformity in religion and government. It was during his time that Islamic conquests reached their peak, bringing with them novel problems of the relation between the original community and the newly acquired territories. ʿUthmān, already old, was unequal to these difficulties. He began to rely on his ʿUmayyah family, and was consequently accused of nepotism and corruption. Opposition to ʿUthmān came to be represented in the figures of ʿĀʾisha ( Prophet Muḥammad's favourite wife) and ʿAlī, with the introduction of a religious accusation that ʿUthmān was not following the precepts of the Qurʾān and the Prophet. ʿUthmān's circulation of the official edition of the Qurʾān, to preserve uniformity in religion, precipitated a chain of events that led to his assassination: the Qurra (‘Qurʾān-reciters’) had been the expositors of the sacred text and had exercised great influence over the new converts, which gave them religious prestige and authority in the provinces. ʿUthmān's official Qurʾān deprived these monopolists of control over divine revelation. The religious grievance over the Qurʾān now became allied to social, economic, and political discontent; anti-ʿUthmān feeling spilled over into open rebellion. Rebel forces from Egypt, Kūfā, and Basra advanced on Madīna, declared ʿUthmān unfit to rule, and murdered him. The bloody end to ʿUthmān's rule marks a turning point in Islamic history: political and religious unity was at an end and the period of schisms and civil wars had begun. The murder of ʿUthmān raised the complex issue of just murder and unjust killing, and this too created further division amongst the Muslim community: had ʿUthmān acted in ways that contravened Islam, and, if so, had he so ceased to be a Muslim that he could be treated accordingly and be legitimately killed? For the main parties to this dispute, see ĪMĀN.


views updated May 23 2018

Uthman See Othman