Opinion Editorials, March 2004, www.aljazeerah.info
Dispute Over Uthmanís Killers
Arab News, 3/15/04
In his refutation of the false accusation that Ali was lenient toward Uthmanís killers, Justice Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi outlines all possibilities, even the most remote ones, and explains the right attitude in each case. He says:
ďIf an accusation of participation in Uthmanís assassination were to be leveled at Ali, then every companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah at the time could be similarly accused of, or we may even say actually took part in, killing him. The point here is that if one thousand people came to Madinah to kill Uthman, they would be no match to 40,000 people in Madinah.
ďEven if it is hypothetically argued that Ali, Talhah and Al-Zubayr colluded in Uthmanís assassination, the question that needs an answer is about the attitude of the rest of the Prophetís companions who belonged to the Muhajireen and the Ansar, as well as those who were supporting them: why had they all fallen short of helping and defending him?
ďThe possible explanations here are 1) that they thought that the rebels against Uthman were out for what was right and justified. This would be a judgment against Uthman. In such a situation the Syrians would have had no case. 2) It could be said that they simply did not care about what might have happened, and that it did not matter to them in the least what long-term effects it might have had on Islam.
If so, then this is a case of apostasy, not mere disobedience of Godís orders. For, complacency concerning the faith and carelessness about fundamental Islamic principles are tantamount to total disbelief. 3) They might have refrained from defending Uthman because they felt that they could not disobey his clear and express order. In this case, what blame could be laid at their doorstep? What other argument could be said for Marwan when Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr, Al-Hasan, Al-Husain, Abdullah ibn Umar and the other prominent figures were with Uthman in his home, going in and out fully armed, in full view of the rebels? Had the rebels felt powerful enough, they would not have let any of these see Uthman or visit him. They could do nothing but watch as these went in and out. Had Al-Hasan, Al-Husain, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr confronted them, they would not have dared to oppose them. Had they killed them, none of the rebels would have remained alive.
ďThe fact is that Uthman decided to surrender himself, and they left him to his decision. This is a matter of personal discretion, as we have already explained.Ē
Here we see Ibn Al-Arabi analyzing the situation that took place at the time of Uthmanís assassination, to determine the motives of the Prophetís companions in Madinah and their attitude at the time when the crisis reached its climax. He even speaks about the possibility of the great figures among the Prophetís companions, such as Ali, Talhah and Al-Zubayr, being involved in the assassination. It is important to remember that no Sunni Muslim has ever suggested even remotely that there is even a tiny shred of evidence to support such a hypothesis. Yet Ibn Al-Arabi mentions it in order to refute it. Had there been any possibility that this was the case the rest of the Prophetís companions would not have left the matter without enforcing the Islamic law against them.
He then speaks about the attitude of the people of Madinah who could have defended Uthman, stating the three possibilities behind their attitude and concluding that they simply acted on Uthmanís orders who expressly demanded that they should not put up any fight on his behalf. The point here is that Uthman felt that by sacrificing his own life, he would spare the Muslim community much greater trouble.
Ibn Al-Arabi further explains Aliís attitude:
ďWhat would have been Aliís attitude, after he had been chosen as caliph and people pledged allegiance to him, had Uthmanís relatives come to him and said: ďOne thousand people have all conspired together and killed Uthman, and all of them can be identified?Ē He could not have said anything other than to demand proof and to promise satisfaction. It would have not required more than one day to prove who killed Uthman.
He would then have acted on that and administered justice, inflicting the proper punishment, unless they could have proved that Uthman perpetrated something that made him liable to the death penalty.
ďAll Muslims know that no violation of any law could have been proven against Uthman. Had such demands been made, coupled with the required proof, the case would have been far more easily adjudicated and the desired result would have been easier to achieve.
ďWhat totally clarifies the issue is that when Muawiyah became the caliph, he could only punish Uthmanís assassins through the legal process, with the exception of those who were killed in fighting, or those who were said to be given away.
This continued to be the case until Al-Hajjaj became governor. Throughout this time they were killed on the basis of accusation, not solid proof. This means that those who demanded justice in the case of Uthmanís assassination could not do, when they were in power, what they demanded from Ali.Ē
In his explanation, Ibn Al-Arabi admits that the proof against Uthmanís assassins was available, because the crime was committed in full daylight, and the perpetrators did not hide their involvement. However, it was very difficult to put them to account, and by whom, when they were practically in control of Madinah. Indeed, had Ali attempted to put those people to justice, they might have killed him and landed the Muslim community in greater trouble. They surely discussed the possibility when they were in consultation at Dhi Qar, after he had made a speech denouncing the troublemakers. Al-Ashtar, for example, was in a rebellious mood when Ali appointed his cousin Abdullah ibn Abbas as governor of Basra, while he coveted that post himself. Al-Ashtar decided to leave Ali, but Ali caught up with him to forestall any attempt he could make to stir further trouble.
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