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Shirt of 'Uthman

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The Shirt of ʿUthmān (Arabic: قَمیصُ عثمان) is a well-known idiom referring to the story of Uthman b. Affan's murder in 35/655-56 and Mu'awiya b. Abu Sufyan's abuse of the event. In Persian and Arabic, the idiom generally refers to using something right as a pretext for advancing a wrong goal.

Meaning of the Idiom

The idiom of "the shirt of Uthman" is used when something right is appealed to as a pretext to achieve a wrong goal.

Story of the Shirt

When Uthman b. Affan was murdered by rioters, his wife sent Uthman's bloody shirt and part of his beard to Mu'awiya along with a letter asking for revenge. Mu'awiya used the letter and the shirt of Uthman to take people's oaths for allegiance by announcing Imam Ali (a) as the culprit for the murder of Uthman. Moreover, he encouraged people of Syria to start a war against Imam Ali (a) by showing the shirt of Uthman. Thus, Uthman's bloody shirt and his avenge turned into a pretext to resist the caliphate of Imam Ali (a) and the legitimacy of Mu'awiya's caliphate. People of Syria were deceived by Mu'awiya's propaganda and told him, "Uthman was your cousin and you are the guardian of his blood, and we are with you."[1]

In reply to people who asked him to follow the legitimate caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib (a), he said: "Ali is the culprit in the murder of Uthman. If he is not, then he has to hand over the murderers of him to us. Then we will concern ourselves with the issue of the caliphate."[2]

In some remarks by Imam Ali (a), it is explicitly said that Uthman's avenge was merely a pretext with which Mu'awiya wished to fulfill his mundane wishes. For example, in a letter to Mu'awiya, Imam Ali (a) wrote: "I know you have made it a pretext for your wishes and a means for your own progress, and you have no intention to avenge Uthman's blood."[3]

According to sources of the Islamic history, Amr b. al-As contributed to the conspiracy of the shirt of Uthman and encouraged Mu'awiya to propagate the rumor that Ali b. Abi Talib (a) had a role in the murder of Uthman in order to defame him. According to these sources, Mu'awiya managed to gain the support of the people of Syria in this way.[4]


  1. Ibn Qutayba al-Dīnawarī, al-Imāma wa l-Sīyāsa, p. 110.
  2. See: Ibn Muzāhim, Waqʿat Ṣiffīn, p. 271.
  3. Dīnawarī, Akhbār al-ṭiwāl, p. 203.
  4. See: Ibn Muzāhim, Waqʿat Ṣiffīn, p. 60, Dīnawarī, Akhbār al-ṭiwāl, p. 194-198.


  • Dīnawarī, Āḥmad b. Dāwūd al-. Akhbār al-ṭiwāl. Translated by Mahmūd Mahdawī Dāmghānī. Fourth edition. Tehran: Nashr-i Niy, 1371 Sh.
  • Naṣr b. Muzāhim Minqarī. Waqʿat Ṣiffīn. Translated by Parwīz Atābakī. Second edition. Tehran: Intishārāt wa Āmūzish-i Inqilāb-i Islāmī, 1370 Sh.
  • Ibn Qutayba al-Dīnawarī, ʿAbd Allah b. Muslim. Al-Imāma wa l-sīyāsa (Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ). Translated by Sayyid Nāṣir Ṭabāṭabāyī. Tehran: Quqnūs, 1380 Sh.