by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 7, Safar, 1445)
One vital fact that must be on every Muslim’s mind when traveling through the vast landscape of information and deep fissures of our early history is that the solidarity of the first Islamic society depended on the cohesion of the Muhajireen and the Ansar. The proper status of the Muhajireen and Ansar is established in the Book of Allah and the Seerah of His Prophet (pbuh).
This does not mean that each and every individual belonging to the Muhajireen and the Ansar was faultless. Let us demonstrate what we mean.
We all should know that during ‘Uthman’s time in office, a serious deviation from the Prophet and his two successors (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar) occurred. This worrying policy deviation by ‘Uthman’s inner circle, and initially not from ‘Uthman himself, did not sit well with most of the Muslim public.
What was it? It was ‘Uthman’s decision to apportion a share of the Islamic state treasury to his relatives. When ‘Uthman was asked why do you allocate money out of the state’s budget to your relatives, he answered: If ‘Umar was denying [funds to] his relatives as a sacrifice – anticipating Allah’s reward, then I am granting [funds] to my relatives as a benevolence (kindheartedness) – anticipating Allah’s reward… In this problematic answer by ‘Uthman the door of popular discontent and fitnah was flung open.
‘Uthman explained what he was doing as a matter of silat al-rahm [obliging and assisting relatives]. Silat al-rahm is a well-established Islamic concept and value. The fine print here is that ‘Uthman’s relatives were well-off and members of the “aristocracy”. Further, he was not being kind to them out of his own pocket but rather out of the state treasury! To complicate matters even more, most of those relatives of ‘Uthman were thinking of their own political ambitions besides being new-comers to Islam.
Sure, we have our share of sheikhs for shekels who conveniently brush aside such a terrible mistake by attributing a character of big-heartedness and open-handedness to ‘Uthman. This writer does not doubt the benign intention of ‘Uthman but certainly the recipients of ‘Uthman’s generosity were anything but benign.
The Muslim public did not see this policy of ‘Uthman in favorable light. The common understanding was that the Islamic treasury belonged to all the Muslims and no ruler has any right to “dip into it as he pleases”, unless the people authorize such discretion. No thinking Muslim would reach the conclusion that the Islamic state funds are the possession of the leader. Truth and justice demand that the assets of an Islamic government belong to the citizens of the Islamic state.
When this errant policy of ‘Uthman caught up with him and he realized that there was a populist “anti-elitist” movement challenging him he said to his opponents: If you find anything in the Book of Allah that demands you to shackle my feet, then go ahead and do it. Obviously, there is no such directive in the Qur’an to deal with such policy deviation.
‘Uthman, it appears, knew very well that his adversaries had no Qur’anic justification for taking him “into custody”. As far as he was concerned, he thought he did not do any wrong or commit any crime. Old age may have contributed to such thinking. Had there been a statute or charter drawn up by the Muslims from a comprehension of the Qur’an’s guidance and the probing of the Prophet’s conduct to address such issues we would have spared ourselves many of the problems that were to cause rifts and drive wedges between and among the Muslims since then.
Keep in mind that ‘Uthman said just before he became the Khalifah that he would honor the Book of Allah, the shining example of the Prophet (pbuh), and the course of action of al-Sheikhain [Abu Bakr and ‘Umar] and compare what he said with what he did!
Neither the Prophet (pbuh), nor Abu Bakr, or ‘Umar ever take money out of the treasury and give it to their relatives and then justify that by saying it was an act of silat al-rahm [kindness and accommodating family members].
Some sectarian zealot may rush to the conclusion that it is all Abu Bakr and ‘Umar’s fault! This rush to judgment dismisses all the excruciating details of that chapter of history that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar had to deal with. True, at times they may have had to improvise certain courses of action to the best of their knowledge and ability. But we must bear in mind that they were living in an Arabian Bedouin setting that had no prior experience with the demands of development and the requisites of civilization.
They were ruling over a population that was not developed or urbane. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were trying to civilize, as it were, nomadic wanderers. ‘Umar did his best to integrate the “civic” and “administrative” methods of the Persian and Byzantine societies. Remember also that those 23 years preceding ‘Uthman were years of “existential threats”.
Internally there were the breakaway factions that went to war against the central Islamic authority in al-Madinah [Hurub al-Riddah] and there were the armies of Byzantium and Persia trying to use their proxies to combat the Islamic government at one time, and direct military battles and wars at other times.
Another overlooked fact that is very important to understand when reading the history of those first Prophetic contemporaries is the gradual fading away of the solid base of Muhajireen and Ansar foundation. A new and younger generation of Muslims was on the rise. This new generation was in need of social guidelines to be able to properly choose a leader and bring to a court of law any public office holder who appeared to be in violation of the Qur’an and the Prophet instead of taking the law “into their own hands”.
Guidelines were urgently required to, more or less, scrutinize and hold accountable any decision-maker who crossed a red line. The disastrous fact of the matter is that the initial Islamic genre of committed Muslims was hemorrhaging because of the internal battles and external wars. They did not have the luxury of a peaceful decade that would offer them time to assiduously work on outlining such a civic instrument of governance. Had that been the case, the Muslim society and the rest of the Muslims would not have had to live through the historical controversy and sectarian polemic that followed the assassination of ‘Uthman.
The immediate falling-out due to the unlawful death of ‘Uthman were first the Khawarij who were obsessive, reckless or fanatic in trying to honor the standard of the Prophet (pbuh) and the simulation of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Another outcome from the murder of ‘Uthman were those who persisted that the leader of the Muslims has to be from Ahl al-Bayt. And then there were those who eventually reconciled, in their own minds, the [legitimate] system of Khilafah turning into an [illegitimate] system of monarchy. Additionally, there were those who demanded that this whole issue be resolved through the process of shura among the Muslims – though the mechanisms, means, and method of that shura was not thoroughly outlined.
Today, after fourteen centuries, we, the Muslims of the world, have still not gained enough open-mindedness to pick up where our first generation(s) left off. The two billion-plus Muslims in the world today still don’t have a unanimous agreement as to whom and how will a leader succeed the preceding leader. Cronyism, classism, clannish politics, “connections” and brute force are still as prevalent today as they were then.
To be sure, they who are awake and aware of Allah [as life’s sole power and authority] bethink themselves [of Him] whenever any dark suggestion from Satan touches them --- whereupon, lo! They begin to see [things] insightfully (Al-A‘raf: 201)