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Murder of Uthman

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The murder of Uthman, the third Muslim caliph, by the people who revolted against him marked the beginning of civil wars among Muslims and reignited the conflicts between the Umayyads and the Hashimites.

Toward the end of his caliphate, Uthman appointed his relatives to various administrational positions and would bestow upon them great amounts from public treasuries such that, it is said, he sought to establish an Umayyad empire.

When Uthman changed the governor of Egypt, a group of Egyptians came to Medina to object to this decision. Uthman requested that Imam Ali (a) meet with the Egyptians to mediate between them and Uthman. As a result of the mediation, Uthman promised that the new governor will distribute public treasuries justly and appoint qualified people to administrational posts, and thus the Egyptians returned to Egypt.

On the way back, Egyptians found a letter from Uthman to the governor, in which Uthman had ordered their execution and imprisonment. Thus, they returned to Medina and called the dissidents from other cities to join them, aiming at overthrowing the caliph. Uthman denied that he had written that letter, but the insurgents were not convinced and stated that they would accept nothing but the resignation of Uthman. Finally, after besieging Uthman's house for forty days, some of the rebels invaded his house and murdered him in Dhu l-Hijja 35 AH/May 656. Although Imam Ali (a) agreed that Uthman had made mistakes, he was against murdering Uthman.

Some Sunni scholars have called this incident the "incident of the day of home" (waqi'at yawm al-dar).

Significance in Islamic History

According to Rasul Jafarian, Uthman's conduct in the first six years of his caliphate was restrained and aimed at consolidating his power. However, in the second six years of his caliphate, he began favoring the Umayyads and appointing them to important administrational and political roles. His unjust way of ruling raised objections among people and led to the siege of his house and his murder.

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the renowned Sunni historian, described the murder of Uthman as the beginning of conflict and chaos in the Muslim world. It reignited the conflicts between the Umayyads and the Hashimites. The Umayyads declared themselves to be the heirs of Uthman and sought revenge on his murderers. They used Uthman's murder as a means to regain their superiority and influence among the Arabs.

After the murder of Uthman, a new phase in Islamic history started. His murder led to a series of civil wars among Muslims. In the first of these battles, the Battle of Jamal, prominent figures such as Talha, al-Zubayr, and A'isha, encountered Imam Ali (a). The second battle, the Battle of Siffin led to the formation of the Kharijites and to the third battle, the Battle of Nahrawan.

Background of the Revolt

Far from being a sudden incident, the revolt against Uthman was caused by factors whose cumulative force finally reached a point of no return. These factors were mostly related to the caliph himself and his conduct.

Appointing the Umayyads to Key Roles

Some scholars have called Uthman's way of appointing his Umayyad relatives to important roles an attempt at the "Umayyadization" of the state. Some of the key positions Uthman gave to his relatives were as follows:

Name Relation to Uthman Position
Al-Walid b. Uqba Maternal brother Governor of Kufa
Abd Allah b. Amir Cousin Governor of Basra
Abd Allah b. Abi Sarh Foster brother Governor of Egypt
Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan An Umayyad Governor of Syria
Marwan b. al-Hakam Cousin Scribe
Sa'id b. al-As An Umayyad Governor of Kufa

The fact that Uthman made his relatives in charge of the Muslim community's affairs and their misuse of their positions were among the main factors that led to protests. Some of these favored relatives did not have a good reputation either. For instance, Abd Allah b. Amir had once become an apostate, al-Walid b. Amir was called a fasiq (wicked) in the Quran, and Marwan b. al-Hakam was banished by the Prophet (s) from Medina together with his father.

Imam Ali (a):

“The third came to power … and his paternal kin came to his help and plundered the public treasury like a camel which eats spring plants eagerly. Consequently, he was rooted out and his actions brought about his end.”

Unjust Distribution of Public Treasuries

Unjust distribution of public treasuries was a major problem during Uthman's caliphate. He would bestow great amount of wealth from the pubic treasury on his relatives, which created wide-spread resentment among people. For instance, it is reported that he bestowed on Marwan b. al-Hakam the entire khums that he had received from Africa, and on another occasion he bestowed it upon Ibn Abi l-Sarh. He also gave huge amounts of wealth to al-Harith b. al-Hakam, al-Hakam b. Abi l-As, and Abd Allah b. Khalid, among others.

Abd Allah b. Saba'

A few Sunni historians maintain that Abd Allah b. Saba' had a major role in propagating against Uthman and encouraging the revolt against him. However, other Shiite and Sunni scholars have doubted the existence of such a person. Others also have stated that it is unlikely that the Muslim community was so weak that a new convert could have formed a revolt against the caliph.

Besieging and Murdering Uthman

When Uthman deposed Amr b. al-As from the governorship of Egypt and appointed Abd Allah b. Abi l-Sarh to the position, about six-hundred Egyptians came to Medina to protest, which was the beginning of protests against the caliph.

Uthaman's Repentance

When the protesters reached near Medina, Uthman asked Imam Ali (a) to mediate between them and and request the protesters to return. As a result of the Imam's mediation, a pact was made between Uthman and the the protesters that if they return,

  • the banished individuals would be allowed to return to their hometowns,
  • public treasuries would be distributed justly, and
  • trustworthy people would be appointed to administrational positions.

After making this pact, Uthman delivered a speech and repented from his past conduct. Eventually the protesters agreed to return to their towns.

Return of the Protesters to Medina

On their way back to Egypt, the protesters found the servant of the caliph riding on a camel and hiding a letter. They took the letter from him and saw that it was the official signed letter of the caliph ordering the execution and imprisonment of the protesters. Upon seeing this, the protesters returned to Medina where they were joined by the Kufans. They all went to Imam Ali (a) and together with him, went to Uthman. Uthman swore that he neither wrote the letter nor was he aware of it.

The explanations of Uthman did not convince the protesters; they stated that Uthman no longer was qualified to be the caliph and demanded his resignation. Uthman refused to resign and stated that he would not take off the garment that God had bestowed upon him, but he said that he was ready to repent. Referring to his last repentance which he broke, the protesters declared that they would not accept anything but his resignation and are ready to be killed to achieve this goal or to kill Uthman.

Besieging Uthman's House

When the negotiations failed, the protesters besieged Uthman's house, blocking the passage of water and food. The besiegers are said to have been from Egypt, Basra, Kufa, and Medina. The siege lasted forty days, and Uthman wrote letters to Mu'awiya and Ibn Amir asking them to help him.

During the siege, Imam Ali (a) was advised to go out of Medina in order not to be accused of Uthman's murder, but the Imam (a) did not accept this suggestion.

Uthman asked Imam Ali (a), Talha, al-Zubayr, and the wives of the Prophet (s) to bring him water. Imam Ali (a) and Umm Habiba were the first ones who tried to take water for Uthman, but both were faced with harsh reaction from the rebels and did not succeed. Imam Ali (a) rebuked the rebels and said that their conduct was neither like that of believers nor like that of non-believers. However, some managed to take water to Uthman covertly.

By the command of Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a) together with people like Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, Marwan b. al-Hakam tried to protect Uthman's house.

Murder of Uthman

There are several accounts of the murder of Uthman. According to some reports, at first, a group of people invaded his house but the people inside the house repelled them, then the second invasion took place, in which Uthman was killed. In this attack, Na'ila, Uthman's wife was injured and her fingers were cut off. Later, together with Uthman's shirt, she was used as a means by Mu'awiya to mobilize the Syrians in support of a revenge.

Uthman is said to have been murdered on Friday Dhu l-Hijja 18, 35 AH/June 17, 656. The incident came to be called "Incident of the Day of the House" (Waqi'a yawm al-dar).

Role of the Prophet's Companions

Some Sunni historians and scholars maintain that none of the Companions—whether the Immigrants or the Helpers— were involved in Uthman's murder. Some of them were against murdering him but were forced to remain silent; others did not intervene; and a third group just left Medina. These scholars believe that the reports about the involvement of the Companions in besieging and murdering Uthman are unreliable.

Other scholars, however, believe that this view is based mostly on the belief in the integrity of the Companions. There are numerous reports about the involvement of the Companions in the revolt against Uthman. Hashim b. Utba, for instance, states that, "The Companions of Muhammad [s] and their children … killed him [i.e., Uthman]". According to some historians, Talha, al-Zubayr, and A'isha were among harshest opponents of Uthman. In a letter to Mu'awiya, Uthman's wife wrote that the people of Medina were the ones who besieged Uthman in his house.

Role of Imam Ali (a)

Due to Imam Ali's (a) influence among the rebels, Uthman asked him several times for help. In the beginning of the revolt, Uthman asked the Imam (a) to mediate between him and the rebels. Also, when his house was besieged, he asked Imam Ali (a) for help. In response, the Imam (a) tasked his son al-Hasan (a) to guard Uthman's house, and al-Hasan (a) got injured while fulfilling this task. When the rebels blocked the passage of water and food to Uthman's house, he asked some Companions including Imam Ali (a) for help.

The Imam (a) reportedly said that he defended Uthman so much that he was afraid he might have committed a sin.

On the side of the rebels, although they did not obey Imam Ali (a) all the time, they accepted the Imam's mediation at the beginning. The Imam (a) rebuked the rebels vehemently when they blocked the passage of water and food to Uthman's house, and said that their action was far from the actions of believers and that even non-believers would not do such a thing.

On the one hand, Imam Ali (a) would call Uthman "carrier of mistakes" (hammal al-khataya) and did not consider him an innocent victim; however, on the other hand, he was against murdering him and denied having any role in his murder.

Role of Talha

According to Taha Husayn, the contemporary Egyptian historian, Talha would not hide his approval for the rebels. He even financially supported some of them. Imam Ali (a) is reported to have said about Talha and al-Zubayr that they demanded a right that they themselves had violated with the pretext of taking revenge on the murderers of Uthman while they participated in his murder.

Ibn al-Athir, the sixth/twelfth century historian, reports that Talha took some measures against Uthman in which he failed. According to some reports, Talha was the one who suggested blocking the passage of water and food to Uthman's house.

Role of Mu'awiya

Uthman wrote a letter to Mu'awiya and asked him for help. The latter sent an army of twelve-thousand men but commanded them to stay in the borders of Syria until further notice and thus delayed sending his help for Uthman. When the Mu'awiya's envoy arrived in Medina and met Uthman, the latter told him that you are waiting for my murder so that you declare yourselves my heirs.

The death of Uthman was in fact most beneficial for Mu'awiya, who immediately declared himself to be heir of Uthman and sought expansion of his political power through seeking revenge on his murderers.

Imam Ali (a) considered Mu'awiya to have had a role in the murder of Uthman. When Mu'awiya accused the Imam (a) of murdering Uthman, Imam Ali (a) wrote to him, "So (now tell me), which of us was more inimical towards Uthman and who did more to bring about his killing; who offered him his support but he made him sit down and stopped him and who was he whom he called for help but who turned his face from him and drew his death near him till his fate over took him?"

Other Companions too accused Mu'awiya of not helping Uthman and of looking forward to his murder.


Al-Tabari, the well-known historian of the fourth/tenth century, and some other historians have reported that A'isha would say about Uthman: "Kill Na'thal![1] Kill Uthman!, as he has become an infidel!" When the rebels were in Medina, Marwan b. al-Hakam visited A'isha and asked him to mediate between the caliph and the rebels. A'isha refused to do so by saying that she was going to hajj. At the end she said that she wished to see Uthman killed and mutilated and his body thrown to the sea.

When A'isha was informed of the murder of Uthman and allegiance of people to Imam 'Ali (a) on her return from hajj, she said that she preferred one day under the caliphate of Uthman to years of being under the rule of Ali (a). She also said that Uthman was an innocent victim and called for revenge on his murderers. In reaction to this, some people criticized her and said that she would encourage people to kill him and now she considered him an innocent victim. A'isha would accept that her position was different but she would say that what she said now was better than what she had said before.


  1. Na'thal was Jew with long beard. A'isha analogized Uthman to him and referred to him by the name