Opinion Editorials, November 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
The Rebellion Against Uthman: People Behind the Conspiracy
Arab News, 11/17/03
We have seen how the case presented by the rebels against Uthman, the third rightly guided caliph, falls apart when closely examined, despite the long list of indictment his enemies had coined up. But those rebels were determined to achieve their purpose. So it is important to know who led the rebellion against such a great servant of Islam as Uthman, whom the Prophet (peace be upon him) highly valued and praised in clear terms. In his very concise style, Justice Ibn Al-Arabi has the following to say about them:
“The best that has been reported in this case is that his judgment led some people to turn against him because of some grudges they harbored. They either were denied something they sought, or coveted some gains to which they had no claim, or were hardly religious people - looking for worldly gains rather than what they might have in the hereafter. When you look at them, their reputation will tell you that they were mean and had no case whatsoever. Their leader was Al-Ghafiqi, an Egyptian, and their main figures included Kinanh ibn Bishr Al-Tujaybi, Sudan ibn Hamran, Abdullah ibn Budayl ibn Warqaa Al-Khuaz’ie, Hukaym ibn Jablah of Basrah and Malik ibn Al-Harith who was known as Al-Ashtar. These were the leaders of the rebels, so what can be said about the rest?”
The last sentence we quoted gives a clear impression of what Justice Ibn Al-Arabi thought of these people. But we need to have some more details about them. For this we turn to Al-Khateeb who writes in his annotation of Ibn Al-Arabi’s book that their leader was Al-Ghafiqi ibn Harb Al-Akki, a descendent of some prominent Yemeni families that settled in Egypt after it was taken over by the Muslims. Then Abdullah ibn Saba’, the true instigator of the whole rebellion, professed to be loyal to Ali, but he found no fertile soil for his intrigue in either the Hijaz or Syria. He managed, however, to win some following in Kufah and Basrah in Iraq before moving to Al-Fustat, the then capital of Egypt. There he was able to win some recruits, including Al-Ghafiqi ibn Harb. It was not difficult to win him over because of his leadership ambitions. The main culprits in preparing for the rebellion in Egypt were Muhammad ibn Abi Hudhayfah, Uthman’s undutiful stepson, who kept a low profile but was a main plotter, while Al-Ghafiqi was the main public face.
In Shawwal of year 35 H, they prepared to move from Egypt with four battalions made up of around 600 fighters. Each battalion had its commander but Al-Ghafiqi was the overall commander. They pretended that they were traveling to perform the pilgrimage, but when they arrived in Madinah, they began to carry out their conspiracy. Tension was high and the rebels were able to prevent the caliph from leading the congregational prayer in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It was Al-Ghafiqi who led the prayer instead. When Satan was able to persuade them to commit their most serious of crimes and murder the caliph, Al-Ghafiqi was one of the culprits, hitting Uthman with an iron bar he was carrying, and kicking his copy of the Qur’an. After Uthman’s assassination, Al-Ghafiqi wielded power in Madinah for five days.
Kinanah ibn Bishr, the second man mentioned by Ibn Al-Arabi belonged to the Tujayb tribe. He was another of those recruited by Abdullah ibn Saba’ who was of Jewish origins. The rebels traveled in their four battalions, Kinanah commanding one of them. He was one of the first people to storm Uthman’s house, getting in through the adjacent house belonging to Amr ibn Hazm. When he saw Uthman, he stabbed him with a long and narrow blade. As Uthman was reading the Qur’an, some of his blood spilled over the Qur’an. Kinanah was killed three years later in a battle that took place in Egypt between Ali’s followers and the army commanded by Amr ibn Al-Aas who supported Mu’awiyah.
Sudan ibn Hamran of Al-Sakoon, a Yemeni tribe some of whose people settled in Egypt, was another commander of the four battalions. When they arrived in Madinah, Muhammad ibn Maslamah, a companion of the Prophet, spoke to them emphasizing the importance of loyalty to Uthman and reminding them that they were accountable before God for the pledge of loyalty to him. Yet Sudan was one of those who stormed the caliph’s house and participated in the heinous crime of killing him. Afterward, he came out of the house boasting: “We have killed Uthman ibn Affan.”
Abdullah ibn Budayl ibn Warqaa Al-Khuaz’ie was another recruit who fought with his brother Abd Al-Rahman alongside Ali in the Battle of Siffeen, and were killed. His father was an old man when he embraced Islam after the peaceful conquest of Makkah by the Prophet.
Hukaym ibn Jablah of Basrah, whose ancestors belonged to Oman, was apparently a man of courage who sought adventure. Uthman’s army attacking India in some daring reconnaissance missions previously used him. Moreover, he used to attack non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim state and cause damage in their farms. They complained to the caliph about him, and the caliph wrote to his governor in Basrah to restrict his movement inside Basrah, until he showed a responsible attitude. When Abdullah ibn Saba’ arrived in Basrah, he was his host. A group of people attended him and he was able to win them over. But then the governor expelled Abdullah ibn Saba’. Therefore, Hukaym continued to recruit people for the rebellion. When the time to march to Madinah arrived a similar number to those marching from Egypt moved out of Basrah, also in four battalions, one of which was under Hukaym’s command. He was also one of those who hit Uthman with stones as he addressed them, putting his case. Most of the rebels then left, but Hukaym stayed behind with Al-Ashtar, and they appear to be the ones that forged the letter addressed to the governor of Egypt. Al-Khateeb also mentions that he was the one to start the fighting in the Battle of the Camel, between Ali and his opponents led by Aishah, Talahah and Al-Zubayr. All of them had agreed to meet and negotiate a settlement, but people who were keen that the Muslims should not have a chance to settle their differences started fighting before the meeting could take place, apparently. It is reported that a woman from his own tribe heard him abusing Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, and she was angry. She said to him: “You, son of a bad woman, are more deserving of such abuse.” He immediately stabbed and killed her. He was executed later in Basrah.
Malik ibn Al-Harith who was known as Al-Ashtar, belonged to the Yemeni tribe of Nakha’. He was a very courageous fighter, and had religious zeal and aspiration for leadership. He played a very active role in the rebellion against Uthman, and was one of its leaders. He then joined Ali and was appointed governor of Egypt, but he died on his way to take up his position. It appears that Ali realized that he could stir trouble easily, and he wanted to foil any attempt at creating trouble within the Muslim state. Hence, his appointment of Al-Ashtar as governor. These were then the leaders of the rebellion against Uthman. We can imagine what sort of following such people would command.
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