THE OUTLOOK DARKENS
34-35 A.H. / 655 A.D.
THE unhappy Caliph was now hurried on, by the rapid course of events, helplessly to his end. 'Abd ar-Rahman, who, no doubt, felt himself responsible from the share he took in the nomination of 'Othman, was about this time removed by death. But even he had been dissatisfied; and one of the first open denunciations of 'Othman's unscrupulous disregard of law,small it might be, but significant,is attributed to him. A high-bred camel, part of the tithes of a Bedawi tribe, was presented by the Caliph, as a rarity, to one of his kinsfolk. 'Abd ar-Rahman, scandalised at the misappropriation of what belonged to charity, laid hands upon the animal, slaughtered it, and divided the flesh among the poor. The personal reverence attaching heretofore to the "Successor of the Prophet of the Lord," gave place to slight and disregard. In the streets, 'Othman was greeted with cries that he should depose Ibn 'Amir and the godless Ibn abi Sarh, and put away Merwan, his chief adviser and confidant. He had the countenance of none excepting his immediate kinsmen, and reliance upon them only aggravated the hostile clamour.
The conspirators had hitherto burrowed underground. Now their machinations coming to light, rumours of impending treason began to float abroad. The better affected classes throughout the Empire felt uneasy; alarm crept over all hearts. Letters were continually received at Medina asking what these ominous sounds meant, and what catastrophe was now at hand. The chief men of Medina kept coming to the Caliph's court for tidings; but,
notwithstanding sullen mutterings of approaching storm, the surface yet was still. At last, by their advice, 'Othman despatched a trusty follower to each of the great centres, Damascus, Al-Kufa, Al-Basra, and Fustat, to watch and report whether suspicious symptoms anywhere appeared. Three returned saying that they discovered nothing unusual in the aspect of affairs. The fourth, 'Ammar, was looked for in vain; for he had been gained over by the Egyptian faction. Thereupon 'Othman despatched a royal edict to all the provinces as follows:At the coming Pilgrimage the governors from abroad would, according to custom, present themselves at court; whoever had cause against them, should then come forward and substantiate their grievance, when the wrong would be redressed; else it behoved them to withdraw the baseless calumnies that now were troubling men's minds. Proclamation was made accordingly. The plaintive appeal was understood; and people in many places when they heard it wept and invoked mercy on their Caliph.
The governors repaired to Medina at the time appointed, but no malcontent came forward to make complaint. Questioned by 'Othman, his lieutenants knew not of any grievance, real and substantial. To the outward eye, everything was calm; and even the royal messengers had turned without finding anything amiss. But all knew of the dangerous sore in the body politic, and of its spreading rapidly. The wretched Caliph invoked their pity and their counsel. But they could offer nothing of which he might lay hold. One advised that the conspirators should be arrested and the ringleaders put to death; another, that the stipends of all disloyal men should be forfeited; a third, that the unquiet spirits amongst the people should be diverted by some fresh campaign; others that the governors should amend their ways. 'Othman was bewildered; one thing only he declared;to measures of severity he never would assent; the single remedy he could approve was despatch of fresh armies to fight in foreign parts.
Nothing was settled to avert the crisis, and the Governors departed as they came. When Mu'awiya made ready to leave, he entreated 'Othman to retire with him to Syria, where a loyal people would rally round him. But he
answered: "Even to save my life I will not quit the land wherein the Prophet sojourned, nor the City wherein his sacred body resteth." "Then let me send an army to stand by thee." "Nay, that I will not," responded 'Othman firmly; "I never will put force on those who dwell around the Prophet's home, or quarter bands of armed men upon them." "In that case," replied Mu'awiya, "I see naught but destruction awaiting thee." "Then the Lord be my defence," exclaimed the aged Caliph, "and that sufficeth for me."1 "Fare thee well!" said Mu'awiya, as he departed to see his face no more.
Leaving the City by the road for Syria, Mu'awiya passed warning a group of Koreish, amongst whom were 'Ali and Az-Zubeir. He stayed for a moment to drop a warning word into their ears. They were drifting back, he said, into the anarchy of "the days of the Ignorance" before Islam. The Lord was a strong Avenger of the weak and injured ones "To you"and these were his last words"to you I commit this helpless aged man. Help him, and it will be the better for you. Fare ye well." So saying he passed on his way. The company remained some time in silence. At last 'Ali spoke: "It will be best done as he hath said." "By the Lord!" added Az-Zubeir, "there never lay a burden heavier on thy breast, nor yet on ours, than this burden of 'Othman's just now."
1 Quoting from Sura xxxix. 39.
1 Quoting from Sura xxxix. 39.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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