Caution – the articles about ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan from here onwards demand an open-minded, objective, and composed reading and understanding. This writer will try his best to present the information available to him in as unprejudiced a discourse as possible.
Unfortunately, there is not much information available that would sheds light on ‘Uthman’s life before he joined the company of Allah’s Prophet (pbuh). It may be fair to say that ‘Uthman and most of the others who joined the Prophet (pbuh) – whether from the Muhajireen or the Ansar – were “reborn”. That is to say they shed their pre-Islamic customs and culture, traditions and tribalism, to become sincere attendants and aides to our dear Prophet (pbuh).
This does not mean that they were flawless or without fault. Being faulty or flawed does not mean being evil or vile. It is a well-known among Muslim scholars that once a person sheds his non-Islamic past and assumes his forward Islamic way of life he, then, is released from his erring past:الاسلام يجب ما قبله [Islam expunges what preceded it].
It is reported that ‘Uthman was born in the 6th year after the Year of the Elephant [عام الفيل]. That year a legion primed with elephants attacked Makkah to destroy the Ka‘bah and eliminate the importance and uniqueness of the city. It is also reported that ‘Uthman was born in the town of al-Ta’if. It is not certain how accurate this information is. An issue that sheds doubt on some of this information arises when there are disagreeing approximations of ‘Uthman’s age when he was assassinated. Some say he was 75 years old. Other versions put his age at 96, 88, or 86. Yet others say ‘Uthman was killed when he was 82 or 83 years old. If anyone had known the exact year ‘Uthman was born, we would not have had all these inconsistent testimonials about his age when he passed on.
One thing, though, seems to be dependable; and that is ‘Uthman’s family lineage. He is ‘Uthman ibn Abi al-‘As ibn Umayyah ibn ‘Abd Shams ibn ‘Abd Manaf ibn Qusay. The great-grandfather of both the Prophet (pbuh) and ‘Uthman is ‘Abd Manaf. That is on ‘Uthman’s father’s side. ‘Uthman is even closer to the Prophet (pbuh) on his mother’s side. ‘Uthman’s mother was Arwa bint Kurize. Arwa’s mother is al-Bayda’ bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim. Therefore, Arwa was the Prophet’s paternal aunt’s daughter.
Later on, when the Umayyads began to churn out their propaganda talking points against the household of the Prophet (pbuh), they made a “big fuss” about their primacy family relationship with the Prophet (pbuh). Thus, power-monger Umayyads said that Imam ‘Ali failed to support his paternal aunt’s son and distant cousin (‘Uthman). ‘Abd Manaf was the father of both Hashim and Umayyah; Hashim was the great grandfather of the Prophet (pbuh) and Umayyah the great grandfather of ‘Uthman.
‘Uthman’s father ‘Affan, as well as ‘Affan’s father, and the Umayyad descendants—like most of Quraish—were tradespersons and merchants. Their commercial pursuits had them establish two regular mercantile routes; the main one being to al-Sham (the Levant and Damascus). ‘Uthman’s father died in one of his commercial journeys and left his son ‘Uthman a fortune of wealth. ‘Uthman followed in the “business” footsteps of his father and family to become a wealthy and prosperous public figure.
After one of his return journeys from al-Sham [Greater Syria], the message of the Prophet (pbuh) had an effect on ‘Uthman as he listened to his family discussing and debating the divine message. It is said that in Greater Syria there were reports or tales about the advent of a prophet. Thus ‘Uthman found himself between what he heard in Greater Syria and what he was hearing from his own family. This prodded him to consider and explore what the Prophet (pbuh) was announcing and asserting.
There seems to be an agreement in the history books that ‘Uthman had a thoughtful conversation with Abu Bakr regarding the Prophet (pbuh). At that time Abu Bakr had obviously become an ardent follower of the Prophet (pbuh). Abu Bakr heartened and inspired ‘Uthman to commit himself to Allah and the Prophet (pbuh). ‘Uthman accompanied Abu Bakr as they both set out to meet the Prophet (pbuh). And after the Prophet (pbuh) clarified and enlightened ‘Uthman about Islam, ‘Uthman unfalteringly became a Muslim. It is reported that Talhah also became a Muslim in that same setting which followed al-Zubair ibn al-‘Awwam’s affirmation of Islam. However, and whatever the exact details may have been, ‘Uthman was an early Muslim of commitment. He became a follower of the Prophet (pbuh) before the committed Muslims convened their regular meetings at Dar al-Arqam.
It is important to mention that ‘Uthman was also to become the son-in-law of the Prophet (pbuh) as he married the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayyah. Like others who became first responders to the Prophet (pbuh), ‘Uthman was to experience and undergo his own anguish and ordeal for having become a committed Muslim. When his uncle, al-Hakam ibn Abi al-‘Aas, realized that ‘Uthman had joined the Prophet’s ranks, he subjected ‘Uthman to denunciation and diatribe – he even had him fettered; furthermore, he vowed not to release him until ‘Uthman returns to the faith of his forefathers. But when he realized that ‘Uthman was serious and determined to keep his Islamic affiliation, he released him from confinement. It is also said that ‘Uthman was shunned by his own mother because he had become a follower of Muhammad (pbuh). But, she too, made up with him after realizinging that her own son was sincerely devoted to the Prophet (pbuh).
When the Prophet (pbuh) authorized some of his companions to travel to al-Habashah [East Africa] in what is known as the first hijrah, ‘Uthman was among them along with his wife. Subsequently, both of them returned. Then ‘Uthman, after that, went back with his wife to al-Habashah in what is known as the second hijrah. Later on, ‘Uthman would also leave Makkah to join the statesman Prophet (pbuh) in an Islamic Madinah in what is known as The (Main) Hijrah.
The first Islamic military encounter with the mushriks took place near al-Madinah in what is known as the battle of Badr. As the Prophet (pbuh) set out with his companions to militarily engage the mushriks at Badr ‘Uthman was not there with the Prophet (pbuh). ‘Uthman’s apology was his immediate care for his ill wife Ruqayyah (the Prophet’s daughter). The Prophet (pbuh) and the combat committed Muslims with him defeated the mushriks and the spoils of war were allocated and the Prophet (pbuh) gave a portion to ‘Uthman, even though ‘Uthman was absent from combat duty. Ruqayyah passed away and ‘Uthman was extremely saddened and distressed for having lost his wife. The Prophet (pbuh) subsequently betrothed his daughter Umm Kalthum to ‘Uthman. And she, too, passed away after a very short time with ‘Uthman.
At the very least, this tells us that our beloved Prophet (P) was affectionate towards ‘Uthman. Ruqayyah’s marriage to ‘Uthman resulted in a newborn whose name was ‘Abdullah. But ‘Abdullah died when he was six years old. Had ‘Abdullah the son of ‘Uthman and Ruqayyah lived on, history may have taken another turn. ‘Abdullah may have bonded dearly with his cousins al-Hasan and al-Huseyn thus preventing the yet to come Umayyad “controlling” and “owning” of ‘Uthman.
‘Uthman, though, was one of the companions who accompanied the Prophet (pbuh) unto the battlefield of Uhud. But he did not stand his ground with the small number of committed Muslims who did not abandon the Prophet (pbuh) when many others did. ‘Uthman actually absconded with the bulk of Muslim fighters who left the battlefield positions. Persons who are poisoned with sectarianism will at this point spew their sectarian venom. But the reply to them comes from on high:
Behold, as for those who abandoned [their military duties at Uhud] on the day when the two armies met in battle, Satan caused them to slip only by means of something they [themselves] had done. But now Allah has forgiven them; verily, Allah is much forgiving, forbearing. (Aal ‘Imran, 155)