The Role of Aishah in the History of Islam (volume 1)
A'ishah's Historical Verdict
Kill 'Uthman, this stupid, Jewish old man, since he has become an infidel.
'A'ishah 'A'ishah who had a deep rancor for 'Uthman and wished Talhah, her cousin, to take over the leadership, made utmost use of people's rebellion and siege of 'Uthman and issued her historical verdict for his death.
Ibn A'tham writes about this matter in his book214: When 'A'ishah realized that the people were determined unanimously to kill 'Uthman, she addressed him like this: "O 'Uthman! You misused the Muslims' public fund for yourself, and gave the Umayyads a free hand over their life and property and appointed them to governmental posts, and thus placed the ummah of Muhammad in straitened circumstances. May God seize from you heavenly favour and blessing.215 If it were not for the fact that you pray five times a day like other Muslims, they would have cut off your head like a camel.!"
When 'Uthman heard her words, he recited the following verse of the Qur'an216:
History of al-Ya'qubi 2/175.
The Holy Qur'an, Chapter Yusuf, Verse 33.
Ibn A'tham 1/155.
This threat seems to have been uttered by 'A'ishah before her brother discovered 'Uthman's letter, for, after her brother saw the writ for his own death, she no longer paid attention to his devotional act of praying, and issued the verdict for his death.
According to commentators the basis of the descent of Chapter at-Tahrim of the Qur'an was the action of 'A'ishah and another wife of the Prophet, and it is about those two ladies. 'Uthman, too, retailed 'A'ishah's "Allah sets forth an example to those who disbelieve the wife of Noah and the wife of Loot; they were both wives of two of Our righteous servants, but they acted treacherously towards them, so they availed them naught against Allah, and it was said: Enter both the fire will those who enter." 217 Thus with this smashing verse 'Uthman answered 'A'ishah, who was a hot- tempered and unruly woman and could never control herself in anger.
This answer of 'Uthman and his letter which was seized by her brother on the way to Egypt in which order had been given for the death of himself and his companions, roused 'A'ishah, who was devoted to her relations, so violently that she openly and daringly issued the verdict for 'Uthman's death and his infidelity.
She cried out: "Kill this "Na'thal" for his infidelity."218 As soon as these words were uttered by her, they acted as a flame to a heap of dry grass and were repeated by each person to another. This verdict was quoted by all those who never expected it and dared not utter it for their fear of the Quraysh leaders in Medina.
Now let us see what the word "Na'thal" means. The following are the meanings of the word "Na'thal" as found in the dictionary:
1-A male hyena
2-Stupid and ignorant old man.
3-In Egypt: a man with a long beard had this name.
4-In Medina: a Jew who had such a name and 'Uthman was likened to him.
It should be said that to 'A'ishah who was very intelligent, not only was this word familiar in its various meanings, but also owing to her natural eloquence and fluency of expression she concentrated all its meanings in that short and decisive sentence and flung it like a deadly arrow straight at 'Uthman to remain as a lasting stain on him and his character.
That short sentence was used by the enemies of 'Uthman as a maxim, and even after the caliph was overthrown and killed on the basis of that very verdict, the word "Na'thal" continued to be used for a long time by his enemies, and has been recorded in history.
al-A'war ash-Shanni speaks of it in his poem as follows219: "I am wearied of both Na'thal 'Uthman and son of Sakhr, Mu'awiyah." Muhammad ibn Abi Siarah ibn Abi Zuhayr al-Qurayshi says in his poem220: "We killed Na'thal 'Uthman in the name of tradition when he checked the advance of our glittering banners!"
And when 'Amr ibn al-'As recited the following line in the battle of Siffin: "Bring back to us our master (meaning 'Uthman) as he was," 217. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter at-Tahrim, Verse 10. 218. History of at-Tabari 4/477, History of Ibn A'tham 1/155, Ibn al-Athir 3/87, Ibn Abi al-Hadid 2/77, and an- Nihayah of Ibn al-Athir 4/156.
Ansab al-ashraf of al-Baladhuri 5/105.
Book of Siffin, pages 256, 257, 454 and Ibn Abi al-Hadid 1/482.
The Iraqis answered him as follows: "The swords of Madhhaj and Hamdan prevented Na'thal 'Uthman from returning safe and sound." 'Amr ibn al-'As exclaimed again: "Restore to us our master, and that is enough for us." The Iraqis answered221: "How can we restore Na'thal to you now that he has gone rotten and decayed?"
A survey of 'A'ishah's verdict
Although before 'A'ishah's issue of the verdict for killing 'Uthman there existed a slight hope of reconciliation and compromise between him and the people through the mediation of 'Ali and others, yet with her explicit order there was an end to that hope and 'Uthman's death became inevitable. We know that 'A'ishah had secured that strong position since the time of the two elder caliphs; for they showed such a respect and homage to her and consulted her in high matters that she found an exalted rank in the Muslims' eyes.
Moreover, what enhanced the effect of her verdicts and orders, was her particular opportunism and the perfect readiness of its enforcers. For example she issued the order for 'Uthman's death at a time when there existed a violent difference and conflict between the Umayyad leaders who ruled the land on the one hand and other classes of Muslims on the other and the flames of sedition and riots in various parts oft he country seriously threatened the center and seat of the caliphate. We have narrated some of these events, and avoided further details for the sake of brevity.
The issue of the verdict left two alternatives for all the Muslims including the Prophet's companions and others who wished to carry it out with determination, namely: war or neutrality. For war, too, there existed two ways: either to fight on the caliph's front which was besieged by the people and against them, or to join the ranks of the people and take part in the revolution against the caliph and his government 'Ali ibn Abi Talib and Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas of the council of six remained neutral but Talhah and az-Zubayr took sides with the people and also acted as commanders of the rebels. Those who called 'Uthman "Na'thal"
The word "Na'thal" became a publicly used terminology and 'A'ishah's verdict about killing 'Uthman a slogan. Although she is the first person who used that word for 'Uthman and made it common, but in his life time, too, those who were deeply annoyed with him, used it to his face. One of these people was 221. Book of Siffin, pages 256, 257,454, and Ibn Abi al-Hadid 1/482.
Jabalah ibn 'Amr as-Sa'idi222. at-Tabari writes: Jabalah was standing in front of his house and had a chain in his hand when 'Uthman passed by him. Jabalah said to him: "O, Na'thal! By God, I will kill you and will put you on a camel and send you straight to hell!"
al-Baladhuri writes: While Jabalah had a chain in his hand, 'Uthman arrived and Jabalah said: "Do you see this chain? I will throw it round your neck, unless you abandon your companions! You have made the market of Medina a fief of al-Harith ibn al-Hakam and have done this and that!" Jabalah's protest to 'Uthman was due to the fact that 'Uthman had left the affairs of the market of Medina in the hands of his cousin al-Harith, and the latter bought all the strategic goods which came to Medina, seemingly in the name of the caliph, and then sold them at any price he wished for any profit he desired. In fact he gained huge profit in this way, having no competitor in this process, and no one dared to express any objection.
Moreover, al-Harith, owing to his kinship to 'Uthman, and his position as caliph, enjoyed an extraordinary influence and blackmailed other merchants and committed illegitimate and inhuman acts. The tradesmen and merchants had repeatedly complained to 'Uthman and had discussed with him the bullying acts of al-Harith to persuade him to cut short the hands of his favorite cousin from the control of the Medinan market and remove his molestation of the people there. But 'Uthman paid no attention to their demands and took no step against al-Harith.
The supporters of 'Uthman and those who considered that their lordship and enormous wealth depended on the people's silence and unquestioned obedience towards the absolute power of the caliph, and in order to preserve that scarecrow, named 'Uthman in power insistently asked Jabalah to abandon his opposition to 'Uthman and not to harp on his misdeeds. But he strongly rejected their suggestions and said: "Yes, by God, I am never prepared to follow your wish, and thereby stand remorsefully and dejectedly of the just threshold of God on Resurrection Day and exclaim: O God! I had no alternative or option but to hear and obey the commands of my chiefs and thus they brought about my unhappiness and perversion."
at-Tabari writes elsewhere: One day 'Uthman passing by a group, greeted them and they returned his salutations. Jabalah was among them and he asked others: "Why did you respond to the greeting of a man who has committed so many misdeeds?" Then he turned to 'Uthman and said: "By God, I will throw this chain round your neck, unless you dismiss your wrongful agents and drive them away." 'Uthman asked: "Which ones are you speaking of? I swear to God, I have not made anyone my own favorite nor have shown any 222. A difference of view exists about his lineage, and it is said that he had been one of the wise companions of the Prophet and had taken part with Siffin in the battle of Siffin, and settled down in Egypt in the last years of his life. Refer to Usd al-ghabah 1/269.
discrimination." He said: "How can you make such a claim, while you have made such men as Marwan, Mu'awiyah, 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amir ibn Kurayz, 'Abd Allah ibn Sa'd and others favorites and brought them close to your administration? Among them are such individuals of whom the Qur'an speaks reproachfully and whose blood is considered by the Prophet lawful to shed!"
'Abd Allah ibn 'Amir was a cousin of 'Uthman on his mother's side, for, Arwa, 'Uthman's mother was the daughter of Kurayz. As to how the governorship of Basra was granted to 'Abd Allah, there is an interesting story connected with it. One day Shabal ibn Khalid, half-brother of Ziyad ibn Abihi and son of Sumayyah Ma'rufah, arrived when the Umayyad chiefs were sitting around 'Uthman, and said: "Is there no one among you who desires to be as wealthy as he is? Is there no obscure person among you who wishes to be as famous as he is? Is there no one among you who... Is there no one among you... that you have had to hand over Iraq as fief to Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (who is not of the Quraysh line and Mudar tribe and belongs to the Yemen tribes?"223 'Uthman who was moved by Shabal's words, immediately granted the governorship of Basra to his sixteen year old cousin, 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amir ibn Kurayz, and removed Abu Musa al-Ash'ari from that position.224 at-Tabari quotes Hatib, saying225: I was present on the mosque one day, and 'Uthman was leaning on the Prophet's staff, which was held in sermon times by Abu Bakr and 'Umar, and speaking when Jahjah suddenly cried out:
"Na'thal! Descend from the pulpit!"226 Abu Habibah says: Jahjah al-Ghifari rose and exclaimed: "O 'Uthman! We have prepared for you a feeble camel, a cloak and a chain! Descend from the pulpit! We will cover you up in the cloak, and put the chain round your neck and mount you on the camel and will send you to the volcano mountain!" 'Uthman said to Jahjah in answer: "May God make you and what you have prepared for me uglier!"
The narrator says: Jahjah did not address these words in private to 'Uthman, but he did so in public, and at this time 'Uthman's supporters and kinsmen surrounded him and took him home. Abu Habibah says: "This was the last time I saw 'Uthman."
It is said that after this incident he did not leave his house more than one or two times, for, after that he was arrested by the people and assassinated.
We know that Shabal al-Mudari was greatly vexed to see that the governor of Basra was a man of Yemen.
Refer to al-Isti'ab in connection with Shabal, also to Usd al-ghabah 2/385 and al-Isabah 2/159.
History of at-Tabari 5/114, al-Baladhuri 5/47, Ibn al-Athir 3/70, Ibn Abi al-Hadid 1/165, Ibn Kathir 7/157, al-Isabah 1/253, History of Khamis 2/260.
There is no unanimity about Jahjah's parentage. he was present at the ar-Ridwan allegiance. He seized the staff on which 'Uthman was leaning and broke it on his own knee and the broken pieces caused a suppuration which remain with him, and he died year after 'Uthman's death. Usd al-ghabah 1/309.
al-Baladhuri 5/81 and 5/103.
'Uthman turns to 'A'ishah for help
When 'Uthman ignored the people's demand and 'A'ishah issued the verdict of his death, the people besieged him. Meanwhile the people of other cities who bad been driven to extremities by the oppression of 'Uthman's agents, after receiving her letters inciting them to rise against the caliph, proceeded to Medina to carry Out her order.227 Talhah, 'A'ishah's cousin, acted as leader of the rebels and issued necessary orders.
228 There remained no refuge for the caliph now, especially as no hope was left to save his life after the issue of 'A'ishah's verdict. When 'Uthman found himself in this strait, he ordered Marwan ibn al-Hakam and 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Attab229 to meet 'A'ishah who was preparing herself for pilgrimage to bring about reconciliation between her and him. These two men went to meet 'A'ishah and said to her: "If you forget your journey and remain in Medina, there is a hope that with the blessing of your presence God may protect this man ('Uthman)." And Marwan added: "The caliph promises to offer you two drachmas for every drachma that you intended to spend for this travel."
'A'ishah answered: "I have packed my baggage and consider this pilgrimage obligatory for myself, and I swear to God that I will not act upon your demand." 'Abd ar-Rahman and Marwan rose in the disappointment of Marwan recited the following lines:
"Qays set fire to a city against me and when the flames rose high and swallowed me, he let me alone." When 'A'ishah heard this ironical remark of Marwan, she said in a serious and determined tone: "Marwan! You imagine that I am in doubt about your master 'Uthman! I swear to God that I long to place him in one of my packets and have the strength to carry it to throw him into the sea!"230 'A'ishah left Medina for Mecca, and in that year 'Abd Allah ibn al-'Abbas was appointed as pilgrimage leader by 'Uthman. When Ibn 'Abbas saw 'A'ishah in al-Salsal, she said to him: "Ibn 'Abbas I beg you in the name of God not to scatter these people who have revolted against this man ('Uthman) with your reasoning and persuasive tongue, and do not make them waver about this unruly and selfish man. The people have become clear-sighted and distinguish the right. They have gathered together from every city about the matter, which has risen high, I myself saw Talhah having seized the keys of the government treasury. If he assumes the rein of affairs, he will undoubtedly 228. al-Baladhuri 5/81 and 5/103.
- 'Abd ar-Rahman took part in the battle of al-Jamal under 'A'ishah. It is said that he lost one arm in that battle and it was picked up by a vulture and dropped on al-Yamamah, and it was recognized by the people from the ring. Nasab Quraysh 187 to 193. 230. al-Baladhuri 5/75, History of Ibn A'tham 155, Tabaqat of Ibn Sa'd 5/25 printed in Leaden. A part of this story in History of al-Ya'qubi 2/124.
follow the line of his cousin Abu Bakr."
Ibn 'Abbas answered: "But dear mother, if a calamity befalls him and he be killed, the people will not obey anyone but our leader 'Ali." 'A'ishah said hurriedly: "It is enough! I have no intention of arguing with you!"231 'Uthman in siege of Talhah, 'A'ishah's cousin
'Uthman was in siege for forty days and during this time Talhah held the rein of affairs, and performed congregation prayer with the people. at-Tabari History Talhah, 'A'ishah's cousin who was strongly supported by her, was gradually getting the control of the situation and increasing his power and influence until he seized the treasury of public funds and this helped to enhance his power. On the other hand the siege of 'Uthman was becoming tighter and his power and influence rapidly diminishing and becoming more limited.232 When 'Uthman found the conditions extremely serious, and his position as caliph wholly unstable, and his life in great danger, he sent 'Abd Allah ibn al- Harith ibn Nufal, a descendant of 'Abd al-Muttalib to Imam 'Ali with these lines233:
"If I am to be eaten, eat me yourself; otherwise save me before they tear me to pieces." At that time 'Ali was in Khaybar, not in Medina and the people had gathered round Talhah and received orders from him. When 'Uthman's messenger arrived and delivered the written message, 'Ali returned to Medina and went straight to 'Uthman.
'Uthman said to him: "I have a right over you in several ways: Islam, brotherhood, family ties, and being the Prophet's son-in-law. Even if you disregard all these and we suppose ourselves to be living in pagan times, it would be a disgrace for the house of 'Abd Manaf to have its power and rule seized by a son of Taym tribe (Talhah)."
History of at-Tabari 5/140, History of Ibn A'tham 156, We have quoted this story from at-Tabari and al- Baladhuri.
History of at-Tabari 5/140, Ibn A'tham 156. We have quoted this story from at-Tabari and al-Baladhuri.
Ansab al-ashraf of al-Baladhuri 5/78, History of at-Tabari 5/154, Ibn al-Athir 3/64, Kanz 6/389, Tradition 5965, We have quoted Ibn al-Athir's narrative which was the briefest. Refer also to al-Kamil of al-Mubrrad 11, printed Leaden, Zuhar al-adab 1/75 published by ar-Rahmaniyah, and Ibn A'tham 156-157.
'Ali said: "You will soon see!" Saying this, he left 'Uthman's house and went to the Prophet's mosque, and placing his hand on Usamah's shoulder they proceeded together to Talhah's house. When they reached its entrance, the uproar and clamor of the people shook the house. 'Ali managed to reach Talhah and said to him: "Talhah! What is this turmoil that you have started?" Talhah answered: "O Abu al-Hasan! You have come too late! Everything is over at your arrival."
According to another narration, 'Ali said to Talhah: "I ask you for God's sake to scatter the people from around 'Uthman!" Talhah answered: "By God I shall never do that unless Banu Umayyah grant people's right."
'Ali said nothing in answer to Talhah, and went out till he reached the treasury and ordered to open its door. But as there was no key at hand, he ordered to break down the door and then poured out everything and began dividing it among the people. The news of this distribution reached Talhah's house, and the people who had gathered there, wishing to have a share of the public fund, left Talhah's house stealthily and hastened towards 'Ali and thus Talhah was left alone.
When 'Uthman heard what 'Ali had done, he was very pleased, and at this moment Talhah arrived and said to 'Uthman: "O Commander of the faithful! I beg God's forgiveness for what I have done. I had an idea in my mind, but God did not favour it and created an obstacle between me and my purpose!" 'Uthman answered: "I swear to God that you have not come here to repent. You have come because you find yourselves defeated in this process! I leave it to God to avenge this action of yours.!"
Talhah blocks the water from reaching 'Uthman but 'Ali provides it for him at-Tabari writes: " 'Uthman was besieged for forty days and during this time Talhah performed congregational prayer with the people!"234 Ansab al-Ashraf al-Baladhuri writes235: None of the Prophet's companions showed such opposition to 'Uthman as Talhah did. Talhah and az-Zubayr had taken control of affairs, and Talhah prevented water from reaching 'Uthman's house. 'Ali who stayed in his own land within a mile of Medina, sent a message to Talhah to let 'Uthman get water from his own well of Rumah and abstain from making them suffer thirst. But Talhah refused to comply.
at-Tabari writes236: When the besiegers tightened their siege and prevented water from reaching 'Uthman's house, 'Uthman sent someone to 'Ali, asking for help by supplying him with water. 'Ali talked to Talhah, but as the latter evaded giving an answer, 'Ali was so enraged that Talhah had no alternative 234. History of at-Tabari 5/117.
Ansab al-ashraf of al-Baladhuri 5/81 and 90.
History of at-Tabari 5/117. 5/113.
but to agree, and at last water was carried on animals to 'Uthman's house. al-Baladhuri writes237: The people besieged 'Uthman and blocked the way of water to him. So he was forced to come out of the house and ask the people if 'Ali was amidst them. They said no. He asked if Sa'd was there, and they gave a negative answer.
'Uthman remained silent for some moments and then said: "Is there anyone here to go and tell 'Ali to get us water?" When this was reported to 'Ali, he sent 'Uthman three water-skins full of water. The Banu Hashim and Banu Umayyah slaves surrounded the water-skins to keep them secure from the rebels. Nevertheless by the time the water reached 'Uthman's house, some of these slaves received injuries.238
Talhah insists upon 'Uthman's assassination
At this time Mujamma' ibn Jariyah al-Ansari happened to come upon Talhah who asked him: "Mujamma'! What is your master doing?" Mujamma' answered: "By God, I believe that you intend to kill him eventually." Talhah said sarcastically: "Would the world turn upside down if he is killed?" 'Abd Allah ibn 'Ayyash ibn Abi Rabi'ah says239: (When 'Uthman was besieged) one day I visited him and talked with him for an hour. During the conversation 'Uthman held my hand and asked me to listen to the noise outside his house. Someone was saying:
-What are you waiting for? Another answered: Wait! He may come back! While we were listening we heard Talhah's voice asking someone "Where is Ibn 'Udays?" Someone answered: "He is here!" Ibn 'Udays went forward and Talhah whispered something in his ear. Ibn 'Udays returned and said to his friends: "From this moment let not anyone visit 'Uthman." At this moment 'Uthman said: "O God! Remove the evil of Talhah from me, for, he has roused and instigated the people against me. I pray to God not to let him benefit from this turmoil but bring about his blood to be shed. He has trodden upon my respect when he had no such right!" Ibn 'Ayyash says: As I wanted to leave the caliph's house, they stopped me by the order of Ibn 'Udays until Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, happening to pass by ordered them: "Leave him alone" and then they let me go.
Ansab al-ashraf of al-Baladhuri 5/74.
History of at-Tabari 5/112, History of Ibn al-Athir 3/73.