Opinion Editorials, March 2004, www.aljazeerah.info
Uthman’s Martyrdom and the Verdict on Ali’s Status
Arab News, 3/22/04
Continuing his refutation of what is falsely attributed to Ali concerning his alleged refusal to put Uthman’s killers to justice, Ibn Al-Arabi makes clear that although Ali would have loved to bring to justice all those who participated in murdering Uthman, that was impossible in the circumstances. He mentions that when Mu’awiyah became caliph, he could not do so either. He then says:
“What will be especially pleasing to you, Muslims, is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) referred to such troubles, making clear indications. He warned about Al-Khawarij, who would rebel against Ali after having served in his army. Referring to them, he said: ‘A splinter group will break away from a Muslim party, and they will be killed by the party that is closer to the truth.’ (Related by Muslim). This means that both parties try to uphold the truth, but Ali’s party are closer to it. God says in the Qur’an: ‘If two groups of believers fall to fighting, make peace between them. But then, if one of the two goes on acting wrongfully toward the other, fight against the one that acts wrongfully until it reverts to God’s commandment; and if they revert, make peace between them with justice, and deal equitably with them. Indeed, God loves those who act equitably.’ (49: 9) Thus, God did not deprive the other party of being believers on grounds of their stand against the caliph which they would take on the basis of their understanding. Nor did He deprive them of being brothers to their fellow Muslims, as He says in the following verse: ‘All believers are but brothers. Hence, make peace between your two brothers.’ (49: 10)
“Referring to Ammar, the Prophet says: ‘He will be killed by the party in the wrong.’ The Prophet also pointed to his grandson, Al-Hasan, and said: ‘This son of mine is a leader. Through him God may bring about peace between two great Muslim groups.’ This was a hint to Al-Hasan that encouraged him to renounce any claim to the post of caliph in order to bring about peace within the Muslim community. It is also reported that the Prophet permitted Uthman, in a dream, to surrender himself and break his fast with the Prophet.
“All these matters were subject to contention. Every attitude adopted by either party could rely on sound basis, which means that they were all within the domain of what my be subject to discretion based on scholarly insight. Such discretion, or ijtihad, earns a single reward for a person adopting the wrong conclusion, while the one choosing the right option receives a reward multiplied ten times.
“Whatever reports you read in books of history that are at variance with what we have mentioned are all false and should be utterly discounted.”
Al-Khateeb has much to add by way of explaining what Ibn Al-Arabi says. In reference to the two parties trying to uphold the truth, Al-Khateeb says that the Sunni Muslims believe that Ali and Mu’awiyah, and those companions of the Prophet who were with either side, were all people who sincerely advocated the truth. Their disagreement was simply based on genuine discretion, as happens in a countless number of cases. Because they held their views and took their stands on the basis of sincerely made effort to arrive at the truth, they would earn reward from God, whether they were right or wrong. Those who were right would get far greater reward, but the mistaken ones will also be rewarded. It should be remembered that only the Prophet was infallible. Other people are liable to err, and they may err at times and be right at others.
An exception must be made here, as Al-Khateeb says, in the case of the rebels against Uthman, including those of them who subsequently joined either one of the two parties and committed themselves to supporting it by fighting its battles. These were liable to punishment under Islamic law. If the caliph could not do that, their offence remained as heinous as ever. Moreover, the leading figures among them continued to stir up conflict among Muslims, whenever they felt that they were about to mend their differences and unite. What must be stressed here is that only those of the Prophet’s companions who were in both parties, and those following their lead, were the ones who strove for the truth. These are the ones who earn a reward from God, whether they were right or wrong.
Al-Khateeb further explains that it is acknowledged by all Sunni Muslims that Ali, whom the Prophet included in the ten of his companions assured of going to heaven, was in a better position with God than Mu’awiyah, who also was a companion of the Prophet. Both were noble people. A group of wicked people joined either one or the other, but then everyone will have their deserts as God determines in His unfailing justice.
Commenting on the Hadith concerning Ammar ibn Yasir and that he would be killed by “the party in the wrong,” Al-Khateeb mentions that the Prophet said this to him as he was taking part in the digging of the moat around Madinah as a barrier to prevent the attacking forces from entering it. While everyone carried one brick at a time, Ammar carried two. The Prophet said this to him, indicating that Ammar would always be supporting the right cause.
Yet Mu’awiyah was not staging a rebellion when he marched to Siffeen. He neither started the fight with Ali nor wanted it. He only marched after he learnt that Ali was marching toward him. Hence, Mu’awiyah said of Ammar: “It was the ones who brought him out to fight that killed him.”
Al-Khateeb maintains that all those killed in the troubles which started against Uthman were primarily killed by those rebels who continued to stir up trouble right until they caused the assassination of Ali himself.
The Hadith speaking of Al-Hasan, the Prophet’s grandson, being instrumental in making peace between two large groups of Muslims was fulfilled. After Ali’s assassination, Al-Hasan was chosen as leader and caliph by the party that supported his father. Within a few months, he relinquished the post, leaving it to Mu’awiyah, which meant the end of the internal conflict within the Muslim community.
Ibn Al-Arabi also refers to Uthman’s dream in the last night of his life, when he saw the Prophet saying to him that he could choose either to be supported against the rebels or to surrender himself. Uthman chose the latter, insisting that those who were staying in his home to guard him should leave.
They did as he bid them, a move which tempted the rebels and they stormed his home and killed him. Thus Uthman preferred to sacrifice himself, believing that this would prevent further bloodshed among Muslims.
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