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Uthman ibn ‘Affan (Arabic عثمان بن عفان) (ca. 579 - 17 July 656) was a sahaba (companion) of Muhammad and an early Muslim, who played a major role in early Islamic history, most notably as the third caliph of the Rashidun caliphate, prophet's son-in-law and the compilation of the Quran.

Pre-Islamic life

Uthman was born in 579 C.E. (43 B.H.) presumably in the summer months, in the hill city of Ta'if into the wealthy Banu Umayyah (Umayyad) clan of the Quraysh tribe of Mecca. Uthman's father, Affan, died young while traveling abroad but left a large inheritance to Uthman. Uthman followed the same profession as his father, and his business flourished, making him one of the richest men in his tribe.

Embracing Islam

Uthman was an early Muslim and is said to have spent a great deal of his wealth on zakah (alms-giving). On returning from a business trip to Syria in 611, Uthman found out that Muhammad had declared his mission. Uthman, after a discussion with his friend Abu Bakr, decided to embrace Islam, and Abu Bakr took him to Muhammad to whom he declared his faith. Uthman thus became the fourth male to convert to Islam, after Ali, Zayd and Abu Bakr. His embracing Islam angered his clan, who strongly opposed Muhammad's teachings. The only two people who supported Uthman's decision were Saadi, a maternal aunt of Uthman, and Umm Kulthum, who was his stepsister and who had also converted to Islam. Uthman's wives deserted him as he became a Muslim, and he subsequently divorced them. Muhammad then asked Uthman to marry his daughter Ruqayyah bint Muhammad.

Migration from Mecca

To Abyssinia

Uthman and his wife Ruqayya migrated to Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) in 614-615, along with 11 men and 11 women, all Muslims. As Uthman already had some business contacts in Abyssinia, he continued to practice his profession as a trader. He worked hard, and his business soon flourished. After two years, the news spread among the Muslims in Abyssinia that the Quraysh of Mecca had accepted Islam, and that convinced Uthman, Ruqayya, and some other Muslims to return. When they reached Mecca however, it transpired that the news about the Quraysh's acceptance of Islam was false. Some of the Muslims who had come from Abyssinia returned, but Uthman and Ruqayya decided to stay. In Mecca, Uthman had to start his business afresh, but the contacts that he had already established in Abyssinia worked in his favour, and his business prospered once again.

To Medina (Hijrah)

In 622, Uthman and his wife, Ruqayya, migrated to Medina. They were amongst the third batch of Muslims who migrated to Medina. On arrival in Medina, Uthman stayed with Abu Talha ibn Thabit of the Banu Najjar. After a short while, Uthman purchased a house of his own and moved there. Being one of the richest merchants of Mecca, and having amassed a considerable fortune, Uthman did not need any financial help from his Ansar brothers, as he brought all his wealth with him to Medina. In Medina, the Muslims were generally farmers and were not very interested in trade, and thus most of the trading that took place in the town was handled by the Jews. Thus, there was considerable space for the Muslims in promoting trade and Uthman took advantage of this position, soon establishing himself as a trader in Medina. He worked hard and honestly, and his business flourished, soon becoming one of the richest men in Medina.

Life in Medina

In 624, some Muslims from Medina departed to assist in the capture of a Quraysh caravan. At this time, Uthman's wife Ruqayya suffered from malaria and then caught smallpox. Uthman stayed at Medina to look after the ailing Ruqayya, and did not join those who left with Muhammad. Ruqayya died during the time the Battle of Badr was being fought, and the news of the victory of Badr reached Medina as Ruqayya was being buried. Because of the battle Muhammad could not attend the funeral of his daughter. Uthman and most of the sahabas fled in the Battle of Uhud which was fought in 625. as stated in the Quran all those who fled were forgiven by God. Uthman Ibn Muhab narrated that a man come people perform the Hajj to (Allah's) house. Seeing some people sitting, he said, "Who are these sitting people?" Somebody said, "They are the people of Quraish." He said, "Who is the old man?" They said, "Ibn Umar." He went to him and said, "I want to ask you about something: will you tell me about it? I ask you with the respect due to the sanctity of this (Sacred) House, do you know that Uthman Ibn Affan fled on the day of Uhud?" Ibn Umar said, " Yes." He said. "Do you know that he was absent from the Battle of the Badr and did not join it?" Ibn Umar said, "Yes." He said, "Do you know that he failed to be present at the Ridwan pledge of allegiance (i.c., pledge of allegiance at ( Hudaibiyah ) and did not witness it?" Ibn Umar replied, "Yes" He then said, "Allahu-Akbar (Allah is the Greatest)!" Ibn Umar said, "Come along: I will inform you and explain to you what you have asked. As for the flight (of Uthman) on the day of Uhud, I testify that Allah forgave him. As regards his absence from the Badr, he was married to the daughter of Messenger of Allah and she was ill, so that Muhammad said to him, 'You will have such reward as a man who has fought the Badr battle will get, and will also have the same share of the booty.' As for his absence from the Ridwan Pledge of allegiance, if there had been anybody more respected by the people of Mecca than Uthman Ibn Affan, Muhammad would surely have sent that man instead of Uthman. So Muhammad ( i.e., Uthman to Mecca) and the Ridwan Pledge of allegiance took place after Uthman had gone to Mecca. Muhammad raised his right hand saying, "This is the hand of Uthman." and clapped it over his other hand and said, "This is for Uthman.' " Ibn Umar than said (to the man), "Go now, after taking this" After the Battle of Uhud he married Muhammad's second daughter, Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad. The next year, Uthman and Ruqayyah's son, Abd-Allah ibn Uthman died. When the Battle of the Trench was fought in 627, Uthman was in charge of a sector of Medina. After the Battle of the Trench a campaign was undertaken against the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa, and when the Jews were taken captive, the question of the disposal of the slaves became a problem. Uthman solved the issue by purchasing all the slaves, and depositing their price in the Bayt al-Mal (Treasury). Any of these slaves who accepted Islam were set free by Uthman in the name of Allah. Slaves were granted equality, given shelter and food under Islamic rule. In March of 628 C.E. (6 A.H.), Muhammad set out for Mecca to perform the ritual pilgrimage of Hajj. The Quraysh denied the Muslims entry into the city and posted themselves outside Mecca, determined to show resistance, even though the Muslims had no intention or preparation for battle. Muhammad camped outside Mecca, at Hudaybiyyah, and sent Uthman as his envoy to meet with the leaders of Quraysh and negotiate Muslim entry into the city. The Quraysh made Uthman stay longer in Mecca than he originally planned and refused to inform the Muslims of his whereabouts. This caused the Muslims to believe that Uthman had been killed by the people of Quraysh. On this occasion, Muhammad gathered his nearly 1,400 soldiers and called them to pledge to fight until death and avenge the rumoured death of Uthman, which they did by placing a hand on top of Muhammad's. It is reported that Muhammad placed one of his hands on top of the other and pledged on behalf of Uthman as well. This pledge took place under a tree and was known as the Pledge of the Tree and was successful in demonstrating to the Quraysh the determination of the Muslims. They soon released Uthman and sent down an ambassador of their own, Suhail ibn Amr to negotiate terms of a treaty that later became known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. In 629, Uthman fought in the Battle of Khaybar and later that year, he followed Muhammad to perform Umrah in Mecca. While in Mecca he visited his mother and found that his family was not as hostile to Islam as they used to be. In 630, the Quraysh broke the treaty of Hudaibiyah, and the Muslims attacked and conquered Mecca. General amnesty was granted to the people of the city, although an exception was made in the case of half a dozen people. Amongst those not granted amnesty was Abdullah ibn Saad, a foster brother of Uthman. Later, following an appeal by Abdullah's mother to Uthman, he was forgiven by Muhammad. Following the conquest of Mecca Uthman's family converted to Islam and he rejoined his mother and siblings. Two weeks later, under the command of Muhammad, he participated in the Battle of Hunayn which was followed by the Siege of Ta'if. To Uthman, the conquest of Mecca and Ta’if were of particular significance, as he had considerable property in both cities, and he could now profitably develop them. He was also able to set up sub-offices for his businesses at Mecca and Ta’if. Uthman's wife, and the daughter of Muhammad, Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad, died soon after the conquest of Mecca. In 630 Muhammad decided to lead an expedition to Tabuk on the Syrian border. In order to finance the expedition Muhammad invited contributions from his followers. Uthman made the largest contribution: 1,000 dinars in cash, 1,000 camels for transport, and horses for the cavalry, which Muhammad greatly appreciated. In 631, Uthman, along with other Muslims moved, to Mecca to perform Hajj under Abu Bakr while Muhammad stayed in Medina. In Mecca, Uthman married Umm Saeed Fatima bint Al Walid b Abd Shams, a Qurayshi lady and returned to Medina with her. In 632 Uthman, along with Muhammad, participated in the The Farewell Pilgrimage. In 632 Muhammad died, and Uthman, like other Muslims, was griefstricken.

Under the caliphates

Under Abu Bakr's reign

Uthman had a very close relationship with Abu Bakr, as it was due to him that Uthman had converted to Islam. When Abu Bakr was elected as the Caliph, Uthman was the first person after Umar to offer his allegiance. During the Ridda wars (Wars of Apostasy), Uthman remained at Medina, acting as Abu Bakr's adviser. On his death bed, Abu Bakr dictated his will to Uthman, saying that his successor was to be Umar.

Under Umar's reign

Uthman was the first person to offer his allegiance to Umar. During the reign of Umar, Uthman remained at Medina as his adwat

The election

Umar, on his death bed formed a committee of six people to choose the next Caliph from amongst themselves. This committee was:

  • ALI
  • Uthman ibn Affan
  • Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas
  • Talhah

Umar asked that, after his death, the committee reach a final decision within three days, and the next Caliph should take the oath of office on the fourth day. If Talhah joined the committee within this period, he was to take part in the deliberations, but if he did not return to Medina within this period, the other members of the committee could proceed with the decision. Abdur Rahman bin Awf withdrew his eligibility to be appointed as Caliph in order to act as a moderator and began his task by interviewing each member of the committee separately. He asked them for whom they would cast their vote. When Ali was asked, he didn't reply. When Uthman was asked, he voted for himself, Zubayr said for Ali or Uthman. and Saad said for Uthman. After Abdul Rahman consulted the other leaders of public opinion in Medina, who were in favour of Uthman, he arrived at the conclusion that the majority of the people favoured the election of Uthman. On the fourth day after the death of Umar, , 5 Muharram 24 Hijri, Uthman was elected as the third Caliph, with the title "Amir al-Mu'minin."

Taking office

On assuming office, Uthman issued a number of directives to the officials all over the dominions, ordering them to hold fast the laws made by his predecessor Umar. Uthman's realm extended in the west to Morocco, in the east to South east Pakistan, and in the north to Armenia and Azerbaijan. During his caliphate, The first Islamic naval force was established, administrative divisions of the state were revised, and many public projects were expanded and completed. Uthman sent prominent sahabas ("companions of Muhammad") as his personal deputies to various provinces to scrutinize the conduct of officials and the condition of the people. In total, Uthman ruled for twelve years. The first six years were marked by internal peace and tranquillity, and he remained the most popular Caliph among the Rashidun; but during the second half of his caliphate a rebellion arose. Uthman had the distinction of working for the expansion of Islam, and he sent the first official Muslim envoy to China in 650. The envoy, headed by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, arrived in the Tang capital, Chang'an, in 651 via the overseas route. The Hui people generally consider this date to be the official founding of Islam in China. The Ancient Record of the Tang Dynasty recorded the historic meeting, in which the envoy greeted Emperor Gaozong of Tang and tried to convert him to Islam. Although the envoy failed to convince the Emperor to embrace Islam, the Emperor allowed him to proselytize in China and ordered the establishment of the first Chinese Mosque in the capital to show his respect for the religion. Uthman also sent official Muslim envoys to Sri Lanka.



Uthman was a shrewd businessman and a successful trader from his youth, which contributed a lot to the Rashidun Empire. Umar had fixed the allowance of the people and on assuming office, Uthman increased it by 25%. Umar had placed a ban on the sale of lands and the purchase of agricultural lands in conquered territories. Uthman withdrew these restrictions, in view of the fact that the trade could not flourish. Uthman also permitted people to draw loans from the public treasury. Under Umar it had been laid down as a policy that the lands in conquered territories were not to be distributed among the combatants, but were to remain the property of the previous owners. The army felt dissatisfied at this decision, but Umar suppressed the opposition with a strong hand. Uthman followed the policy devised by Umar and there were more conquests, and the revenues from land increased considerably. The army once again raised the demand for the distribution of the lands in conquered territories among the fighting soldiers but Uthman turned down the demand and it favoured the Dhimmis (non-Muslims in Islamic state). In 651, the first Islamic coins were struck during the caliphate of Uthman, these were the Persian dirhams that had an image of the Persian emperor Yazdgerd III with the addition of the Arabic sentence Bismillah (بسم الله) (in the name of Allah). However the first original minting of the Islamic dirham was done in 695 during Umayyad period. Umar, the predecessor of Uthman was very strict in the use of money from the public treasury. Apart from the meagre allowance that had been sanctioned in his favour, Umar took no money from the treasury. He did not receive any gifts, nor did he allow any of his family members to accept any gift from any quarter. During the time of Uthman there was some relaxation in such strictness. Uthman did not draw any allowance from the treasury for his personal use, nor did he receive a salary, he was a wealthy man with sufficient resources of his own, but unlike Umar, Uthman accepted gifts and allowed his family members to accept gifts from certain quarters. Uthman honestly felt that he had the right to utilize the public funds according to his best judgment, and no one criticized him for that. The economic reforms introduced by Uthman had far reaching effects; Muslims as well as non-Muslims of the Rashidun Empire enjoyed an economically prosperous life during his reign..


Under Uthman the people became economically more prosperous, and they invested their money in the construction of buildings. Many new and larger buildings were constructed throughout the empire. During the caliphate of Uthman as many as five thousand new mosques were constructed. Uthman enlarged, extended, and embellished the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi at Medina and the Ka'ba as well. With the expansion of the army, the cantonments were extended and enlarged, more barracks were constructed for the soldiers and stables for the cavalry were extended. Uthman provided separate pastures for state camels. During the caliphate of Uthman, guest houses were provided in main cities to provide comfort to the merchants coming from faraway places. More and more markets were constructed and Uthman appointed Market Officers to look after them. In Iraq, Egypt and Persia numerous canals were dug, which stimulated agricultural development. In the cities, particular attention was directed towards the provision of the water supply. In Medina, a number of wells were dug to provide drinking water for the people and in Mecca the water supply was also improved. Water was brought to Kufa and Basra by canals. Shuaibia was the port for Mecca but it was inconvenient, so Uthman selected Jeddah as the site of the new seaport, and a new port was built there. Uthman also reformed the police departments in cities.


In his testament, Umar had instructed his successor not to make any change in the administrative set up for one year after his death. For one year Uthman maintained the pattern of political administration as it stood under Umar, later making some amendments. Under Umar, Egypt was divided into two provinces, Upper and Lower Egypt. Uthman made Egypt one province and created a new province for Efriqya. Under Umar, Syria was divided into two provinces but Uthman made it one province. During Uthman’s reign the empire was divided into twelve provinces. These were:

  1. Medina
  1. Mecca
  1. Yemen
  1. Kufa
  1. Basra
  1. Jazira
  1. Faris
  1. Azerbaijan
  1. Khorasan
  1. Sham (Syria)
  1. Misr (Egypt)
  1. Efriqya (lit. "Africa", signifying N. Africa)

The provinces were further divided into districts (more than 100 districts in the empire) and each district or main city had its own governor, chief judge and Amil (tax collector). The governors were appointed by Uthman and every appointment was made in writing. At the time of appointment, an instrument of instructions was issued with a view to regulating the conduct of the governors. On assuming office, the governor was required to assemble the people in the main mosque, and read the instrument of instructions before them. Uthman appointed his kinsmen as governors of four provinces: Egypt, Syria, Basra and Kufa. The kindest explanation for this reliance on his kin is that the Rashidun Empire had expanded so far, so fast, that it was becoming extremely difficult to govern, and that Uthman felt that he could trust his own kin not to revolt against him. However Shiah did not see this as prudence; they saw it as nepotism, and an attempt to rule like a king rather than as the first among equals.