Opinion Editorials, February 2004, www.aljazeerah.info
Ali’s Troubled Reign\
Arab News, 2/9/04
The discussion of the troubles leading to the assassination of Uthman, the third Caliph, who was a most trusted and loved companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him), has been lengthy, because the events were confused and the reports recording them suffer from addition and fabrication. We attempted to provide the most accurate picture, relying on the most accurate reports and rejecting what could not be properly supported even though it might have been widely held.
When studying history, we must always be careful, accepting only what is seen to be reliable. We must not forget that interested parties always resort to fabrication. However one of their preferred methods is to add false details to a true, but general, account so that their lies may be accepted.
We should always remember that the last few years of Uthman’s reign, the entire period of Ali’s rule and the first couple of years of Mu’awiyah’s reign make up a very troubled period in Islamic history, when fabrication, in different methods, was rife. Hence, reports must be read very carefully. It is always easy to give a report an authentic color by mentioning a couple of well known facts, and then add some false details. When this is done with several reports, they tend to confirm other false allegations.
Historians of merit, therefore, do not take reports at face value. They check and compare so that they are able to provide a more accurate picture.
Needless to say, Ali assumed power in the Muslim state at a very difficult time. His integrity and sense of justice could not be faulted. He was the Prophet’s trusted companion, cousin and son-in-law. His knowledge of Islam was of the highest standards, as confirmed by the Prophet himself. He had no personal interest other than the service of Islam.
When he took over the reigns of government, his first preoccupation was to try to make things settle down. But he was struggling against heavy odds. To doubt his intentions is a grave error. Yet there were some who would accuse him and other trusted companions of the Prophet of involvement in political intrigue.
To steer a clear course in the midst of false reports and accusations, we rely once more on Justice Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi, who first mentions the accusations before replying to them. We will also make use of Al-Khateeb’s annotation of Ibn Al-Arabi’s book for more details and authentic reports. Ibn Al-Arabi reports:
“Some people allege that when Ali’s election was completed, Talhah and Al-Zubayr asked him permission to travel to Makkah. He said to them: ‘It may be that you want to travel to Basrah or Syria.’ They swore that they would not do so. At the time Aishah was in Makkah. Moreover, Abdullah ibn Amir, Uthman’s governor of Basrah and Ya’la ibn Umayyah, his governor of Yemen also fled to Makkah. So all of them and Marwan ibn Al-Hakam gathered in Makkah, where they met members of the Umayyad clan. They were keen on the need to avenge Uthman’s killing.
Ya’la ibn Umayyah gave Talhah and Al-Zubayr 400,000 dirhams, (the silver currency at the time), and gave Aishah a camel which he bought in Yemen for 200 dinars, (the gold currency at the time). They wanted to travel to Syria, but Abdullah ibn Amir counseled them otherwise. He said: ‘You have no business with Mu’awiyah. On my part, I have supporters in Basrah, so let us aim there.’
“As they marched, they passed by a well named Al-Haw’ab, where dogs were barking. Aishah inquired about the place, and when she was told its name, she turned her camel back because she remembered the Prophet saying to his wives: ‘Which one of you will have the hairy-faced camel, and will be barked at by the dogs of Al-Haw’ab.’ Talahah and Al-Zubayr asserted to her that it was not the Al-Haw’ab well, and so did fifty of their men. This was the first perjury in Islam.”
There are numerous inaccuracies in this report which aims to show that leading figures among the Prophet’s companions were conspiring to force Ali’s hand or to organize opposition to him. In his footnotes on the book, Muhibb Al-Din Al-Khateeb mentions that several of the Prophet’s companions sought Ali’s permission to go to Makkah. Among them was Abdullah ibn Umar, an authoritative scholar and a companion of the Prophet.
The reason for such travel was that Ali was contemplating a fight against the people of Syria, who were under Mu’awiyah. He asked the people of Madinah to support him, but they counseled him against marching forth. Ali asked Abdullah ibn Umar for support, but he said to him: “I am only one man from Madinah. If the people of Madinah will march forth, I will do so in obedience to you. But I am not contemplating going out to fight this year.” He then prepared himself and departed for Makkah. We will further see that Al-Hasan ibn Ali was opposed to his father’s idea of marching against the people of Syria, or departing Madinah.
Al-Khateeb explains Aishah’s presence in Makkah, saying that when the rebels cut off water supplies to Uthman’s home, he sought people’s help in getting water. Umm Habeebah, a wife of the Prophet, came forward with a supply of water carried on a mule. The rebels insulted her and hit her mule on its face, cutting its rope with a sword. Such an insult to one of the Prophet’s wives described in the Qur’an as “mothers of the believers” was a flagrant aggression that respected no value. Hence, the Prophet’s wives got ready and traveled to Makkah to offer the pilgrimage.
Furthermore, the report accuses two of the leading companions of the Prophet of deliberate lies. Firstly it claims that both Talhah and Al-Zubayr swore to Ali that they would not go to Basrah or Syria, but they did. It also alleges that they deceived Aishah swearing that the well they were at was not that of Al-Haw’ab, when it actually was. Both allegations are false. To start with, we have to remember that Talhah and Al-Zubayr were among the very early Muslims. They embraced Islam shortly after Abu Bakr, perhaps in its first week. At the time, they were young men in their teens. They learned Islamic values directly from the Prophet and were keen to implement them in practice. They supported the Prophet through every difficulty and they were model defenders of Islam. They were peerless in their dedication to the cause of Islam.
The Prophet loved them both and stated more than once that he was pleased with their conduct. He further mentioned on a special occasion that they would be in heaven, including them among his top ten companions.
Their conduct under the first three Caliphs was also faultless. They always upheld the values of Islam. As they were certainly aware of how abhorrent lying is considered in Islam, it is inconceivable that they would tell a deliberate lie. But this report makes such an accusation without providing any evidence.
Hence, it must be rejected out of hand. Besides, the Hadith claimed to be said by the Prophet and mentioned in this report is also false. The whole thing is a blatant lie against people of the highest caliber. It must be rejected as a lie. We will be discussing this further later on.
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