Opinion, September 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
Islamic History - 17: Uthman’s Relatives as Governors
Arab News, 9/22/03
When Uthman, the third Caliph, is mentioned today, many people react in a way indicating that they consider him to be at a different level to his predecessors. While the first two Caliphs were exceptional in their greatness, Uthman would rank among the greatest rulers in the history of any nation. Yet somehow, he is begrudged his outstanding position of distinction, even by people who profess to love him as one of the earliest companions of the Prophet. When pressed for a reason, they say that his main fault was to appoint his relatives as governors of different provinces. They point out Mu’awiyah and a couple more. We mentioned that when Uthman became Caliph, Mu’awiyah was already the governor of Syria, appointed in that post by Umar who trusted him without reservations.
When people say this, they are only echoing those rebels who had no love for the Prophet’s companions. They were the ones who took up this issue, saying that in addition to Mu’awiyah, he appointed people like Abdullah ibn Amir and Marwan as governors; as well as Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah who was a transgressor, unfit for such a post. But when people thoughtlessly repeat such accusations, they simply do not know what they are talking about. In his refutation of the accusations against Uthman, Justice Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi, a leading authority among the scholars of Andalusia, says:
As for Abdullah ibn Amir, Uthman appointed him because he belonged to a distinguished family, with noble paternal and maternal aunts. Because some people harbor ill intentions, they rush to highlight the bad rather than the good. The fabricators alleged that Uthman only appointed Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah for the first reason he mentioned when he said: “I have not appointed Al-Waleed because he is my brother, but because he is the grandson of Umm Hakeem Al-Baydaa’, the twin sister of the Prophet’s father.” But more of this later.
Choosing governors and officials is a matter of discretion. Umar appointed Saad ibn Abi Waqqas then replaced him with someone who was of a lesser degree. What those people say about Marwan and Al-Waleed is an enormity. To label them as transgressors is indeed an act of transgression on their part.
Before we move forward with Ibn Al-Arabi in his defense of Uthman in appointing such people as province governors, we need to know more about them. Today with most people receiving only very scanty knowledge about Islamic history, we need to answer the question: who were Abdullah ibn Amir, Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah and Marwan? We will speak about the first two today and will continue next week, God willing.
Abdullah ibn Amir belonged to the Abd Shams branch of the Quraysh tribe, but his maternal uncles belonged to the Hashim branch to which the Prophet belonged. His father’s mother was Arwa bint Kurayz, and Arwa’s mother was Al-Baydaa’ bint Abd Al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s aunt. When Abdullah was born, he was brought to the Prophet who looked at him and said to his paternal uncles: “He looks more like us than he looks like you.” He placed a little of his saliva in his mouth and the child swallowed it. The Prophet commented: “I hope he will have plenty of water.” When he grew up, water gushed out of any piece of land he looked after.
He was known to be very generous and a military commander who combined foresight with courage. He fought in what is today the Islamic Republic of Iran, defeating the armies of the Persian Empire, and liberating vast areas of its land, including Khurasan and Sejistan, reaching today’s Afghanistan. His battles resulted in the final collapse of the Persian Empire. Hence, it is not surprising that the remnants of the pre-Islamic Persian regime should harbor grudges against him and try to distort his image. In fact, Ibn Katheer says of him: “He was the first to provide basins for water storage in Arafat, so that the pilgrims would not be short of clean water.” Ibn Taymiyah says: “Abdullah had many good qualities and undeniably enjoyed people’s love.”
Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah was also a man of great talent, intelligence and immense courage. Long before Uthman’s reign, Abu Bakr used him to carry his military correspondence to Khalid ibn Al-Waleed, his commander who was about to engage the Persian army in a major battle in year 12. He subsequently sent him at the head of reinforcements given to Iyad ibn Ghunm Al-Fihri. He also served in a civilian capacity for Abu Bakr, administering the zakah of the Quda’ah, a major Arabian tribe. When Abu Bakr subsequently embarked on fighting the Byzantine Empire in Syria, he appointed Amr ibn Al-As and Al-Waleed to lead the Muslim armies. Amr moved to Palestine while Al-Waleed moved to the areas that today form Jordan.
In year 15, during Umar’s reign, Al-Waleed was appointed governor of the northern provinces in eastern Syria, where the Arab tribes of Rabeeah and Tanookh lived. This was a sensitive province because large sections of its inhabitants were non-Muslims, and his forces included many of them. He secured the region and provided cover for Muslim armies fighting the Byzantines in northern Syria.
At the same time he was very active in Islamic advocacy among the non-Muslim population of these tribes. Needless to say, there was no coercion employed in such activities, because Islam lays down that no compulsion may be exercised in promoting religious belief. People must choose their faith with complete freedom. However, some people in Rabeeah resented his advocacy efforts and feared that the young among them might be influenced by the strong and logical argument of Islam. To avoid any problem with Rabeeah, Umar decided to replace Al-Waleed.
This shows that Al-Waleed was a trusted official during the reigns of Abu Bakr and Umar. Uthman could not be blamed for using such a person with proven qualities of leadership. But then people speak ill of Uthman and Al-Waleed because they were half brothers. We will discuss this in more detail next week, God willing.
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