Biography: the third Caliph of Islam Usman bin Affaan
Hadrat Usman bin Affaan (may Allah be pleased with him) was the third caliph (successor) after the demise of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He was a man of utmost generosity and modesty. He was born into the Umayyad family, one of the very influential families of Mecca and before his conversion to Islam; he had gained a reputation for being a very wealthy merchant. He was elected as a caliph after the demise of the second caliph, Hadrat Umar, by a counsel.
His main achievement was the centralization of the institute of caliph hood, its administrative setup, and most importantly, compiling an official version of the Holy Qur’an. His tenure, however, was also marked by a series of civil wars and unrest among Muslims. His death, due to an assassination at the hands of a rebellious group signified the beginning of the first fitna (a series of civil wars that threatened the unity of Muslims).
His full name was Usman bin Affaan bin Abu Al-As bin Ummayah bin Abd Shams bin Abd Munaf bin Qusai bin Kilab bin Murrah bin Kab bin Luayy bin Ghalib. He was a close relative of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as his maternal grandmother was the biological sister of the Prophet’s paternal grandfather, Abdul Muttalib. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) were therefore cousins.
Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) was of middle height, fair complexioned, had a full beard and curly-hair, was large-limbed and had the most beautiful teeth. He also possessed an exceptionally handsome face, and anyone who gazed upon his face unanimously agreed that they had never seen anyone as handsome as he.
The Holy prophet (peace be upon him) held Usman in the highest honor and gave two of his daughters in marriage to him. Usman first got married to Ruqayyah (May Allah be please with her), but she died during the Battle of Badr, it was then that the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave his second daughter, Umm Kulsoom (may Allah be pleased with her) to Usman.
Having had the unique privilege of marrying two of the daughters of the Prophet, Usman was known as ‘Dhun-Nurayn’, the possessor of two lights. This was an immense honor for Usman, one that is unprecedented in history, and one that could only be bestowed to someone through the grace of Allah and through his nearness to Allah.
Like Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), and Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Usman was also a merchant by trade and an extremely wealthy one, a millionaire by today’s standards, and was considered to be one of the wealthiest in all of Mecca. However, he never showed any signs of pride or boastfulness.
Early days as a Muslim
He was the fourth convert to Islam after Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) and Zaid (may Allah be pleased with him), and was about thirty-five years of age when he converted through Abu Bakr. Despite being very wealthy, he was amongst the most generous companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). From the day he entered Islam, he would set a slave free every Friday.
During the early years of the prophet’s ministry, persecution against the Muslims in Mecca was at its peak. Muslims had to endure sufferings at the hands of non-Muslims. Usman, although a member of a powerful family, also bore hardships like the other Muslims.
When the oppression reached an intolerable level, the Prophet (peace be upon him), told his followers to migrate to a land where they could practice their faith without any fear. Thus, a group of Muslim men, women and children migrated to Abyssinia. Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) was also part of the emigrants along with his family.
When the Meccans found out that a band of Muslim refugees had fled from their hometown, they tried to convince the King of Abyssinia to hand them over but the King refused to yield to them. The Meccans then began a rumor in Abyssinia that all of Mecca had joined Islam. Some returned to Mecca only to find out that the story was false, Usman being one of them.
According to the prevalent Arab tradition, a returning emigrant had to seek protection from a chief or high ranking resident. Since Usman was the son of a prominent Meccan chief, he was given protection by Walid bin Mughairah, a friend of his father’s, and thus he was able to live in peace. However, when he saw the plight of the other Muslims in Mecca who continued to suffer from prosecution, he become disheartened and went to Walid bin Mughairah to renounce his protection and this was accordingly announced in Mecca.
Usman’s generosity is an example for all to follow. When a famine occurred in Madinah, Usman (may Allah be pleased with him); gave food to the needy. In another instance, there was a shortage of water in Madinah; a Jewish person owned a well, which he would only sell at a very high price. Usman purchased the well for thirty-five dirhams and gave it to the Muslims of Madinah to use.
Whenever the Prophet would ask Muslims to give alms for any purpose, Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) would give bountifully.
Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) was elected as the third caliph by a panel of senior companions who pledged allegiance to him three days after Hadrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was buried in Madinah.
His caliph hood, which lasted for twelve years, during which there were major developments in the first six years, whilst the second six years of his tenure were characterized by violence and unrest and his attempts to quell it.
His biggest achievement was the initiative that he took to preserve the Holy Qur’an in book form and all variations should be forbidden and a single method of enunciating words should be dictated, the reason for this initiative was that during his time the various tribes of Arabia pronounced words of the Qur’an in their own distinctive style and consequently non-believers assumed that the differences in pronunciations meant that there were variations in the text of the Qur’an.
Usman wisely decided to forbid all variations, even enunciation of vowel points. He then introduced a single method of pronunciation of Qur’anic words. He then sent seven copies of the standardised version of the texts to all parts of the Muslim world. Copies were dispatched over time until almost every Muslim who could read had in his possession a standardized version of the Qur’an.
Disagreement with the decisions of the Caliph and false rumours which were spread by some of the new converts who lacked understanding of Islam and were susceptible to false propaganda and the malicious designs of the hypocrites led to the violent situation during the last six years of Usman’s caliph hood.
The situation reached such a point that Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) called for an emergency conference in which all the governors of Muslim territories were called to discuss the growing discord in the Muslim community.
The rebels came forward with their grievances and despite being provided with perfect and logical answers but they would not listen- they were bent on abdicating the caliph and were prepared to kill him.
Even though their demands were met, the rebels came back once again with a false story, determined to cause harm to Usman. They led siege to his house for forty days and even cut off the water supply. Usman had written letters to various people in Muslim lands to come to his aid. The rebels decided to act fast before help arrived for the caliph; they broke into Usman’s house from the rear, and struck the caliph. Usman was struck from behind by two men whilst his wife, Naela, put her hand in front of her husband to protect him and lost three of her fingers. At the time of his death, Usman was reciting the Qur’an and his blood dripped on to the pages that he was reciting.
Usman’s life was full of kind deeds towards everyone. He was generous, extremely tolerant so much so that he refused to use force against the rebels but rather to engage in dialogue so as to solve the matter in a peaceful manner. Even though he his life was blessed, it was also one of tragedy. The rebels did not listen to anything that he had to say because of their arrogance and the fact that they were hypocrites. They put to death, a man of numerous good qualities, thereby depriving the world of an excellent leader.