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‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, may Allah be pleased with him

‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan

Any critical comments in the following about shi‘ism are certainly not intended as license for the increasingly barbaric atrocities committed against ordinary shi‘as across the so-called Muslim world by sectarians whose claim to ‘sunnism’ is tenuous at best. That insurgent ‘sunnism’ should justify its existence by attacks on people whose only sin is by an accident of birth when their own sunnism is also by an accident of birth, rather than engaging in reasoned, courteous and convivial conversation with them, is a tacit admission of intellectual, spiritual and human bankruptcy. It goes without saying that the same applies to shi‘a sectarians guilty of similar crimes. Whereas we have no hostility for ‘shi‘as’ or ‘sunnis’ per se, we reserve a special distaste for scholars who mislead people, of whatever confessional persuasion they may be.

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How extraordinary and how paradoxical it is when opposites meet. It is well said in the Arabic proverb “whatever increases beyond the limit is transformed into its opposite”. Thus, in the modern age we have witnessed the rise of excessive and ostentatious erudition in texts, which we most often associate with sectarian wahhabis/salafis erroneously called ‘sunnis’ by the world’s media and a sizeable contingent of academics. Yet this superficially learned but dismally ignorant cult of texts – oblivious to the dictum of the Imam of the people of hadith and the Sunnah, Malik ibn Anas, that “knowledge is a light; it is not a great deal of narration” – and which has itself been rendered obsolete by databases and search engines, has learned to play both ends of the sunni-shi’a spectrum and also produced ‘sunni’ votaries of the family of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who are in reality engaged in the covert introduction of shi’ism itself into Islam, a story with long antecedents in history.

This covert shi’ism has long had as its apparently most sensible claim that ‘the Umayyads’ were the worst thing to happen to the Muslims. Many naïve Muslims – and the believer is by definition naïve and trusting, although he is not bitten from the same snake-hole twice – have found themselves lured into the seemingly quite reasonable thesis that the Umayyads were absolutely responsible for everything that went wrong with Islam. We note here, almost in parentheses, the telling note of dualism, pitting an ultimate good against an ultimate evil, a Zoroastrianism. Let me spell that out: historical people had historical reasons for their behaviour, and history is not the place for the working out of false metaphysics, and certainly not a metaphysics based on two gods. The only metaphysics whose traces we do expect to discover in history is the action of the All-Merciful One from Whose decree both good and bad come. Thus we find extremely troubling this recidivist re-emergence within Islam of an ancient cult, whose appearance and re-appearance can, nevertheless, be detected throughout history.

The main problem with the ‘corrupt Umayyads’ thesis is, of course, the considerable number of Companions, later caliphs of the Muslims and outstanding men of right action there were among them, not least the splendid dynasty of Western Andalusian Islam. The venom directed at Mu‘awiyah, is intended really for ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, may Allah be pleased with both of them. But these superficial scholars have rarely got the nerve to attack ‘Uthman directly since, if they do that, they will be contending with the sizeable and irrefutable evidence from their own hadith literature of his outstanding merit and will thus find themselves in direct opposition to their Prophet, peace be upon him.

Although Mu‘awiya is usually blamed for it, it would be tempting to say that ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, may Allah be pleased with both of them, founded Umayyad power and dynasty, a thesis our covert shi‘a would readily endorse, except of course that it was the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who, in appointment upon appointment after the Fath (the Opening of Makka to Islam), having embraced his erstwhile enemies with a forgiveness that simply broke their hearts and left them penitent for their wrongdoing and opposition and filled with love for him, set Umayyads in positions of power and authority. The Rightly Guided Caliphs, to a man, followed him, peace be upon him, in that, since the wealth of capability that the Umayyads represented was not something to sneer at.

That ‘Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, also followed that sunnah and relied increasingly on his relatives was not nepotism but rather the inevitable result of the steady attrition of Companions, whether in battle or in death through old age. The number of capable people who had known the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was reduced considerably and ‘Uthman was forced to draw on his own clan, a wellspring of political savvy that was to benefit Islam and the Muslims greatly. And one is not glossing over the crimes and excesses of certain individuals in later times, but saying that they can only be understood as historical matters, though certainly not endorsed. But then who, aside from the prophets and messengers, is free of error and wrongdoing?

Yet here again, there is a surprising convergence of apparent opposites: kharijism and shi‘ism, one claiming to reject all traditional and dynastic authority, the other asserting the most singular and unique dynastic claim. Somehow the former has bequeathed to the latter its cardinal sin: its designation of those who do major wrong actions as disbelievers rather than believers who have erred. Historical figure after figure is thus expelled from the ranks of the believers by these paragons of self-righteousness, who seem utterly unaware that feeling secure (amn) from Allah is one of the major wrong actions along with murder, drunkenness, adultery and usury, by the agreement of the people of the Sunnah. But then self-righteous scholars have none of that most essential trait of people of knowledge: humility. Inflated with their own apparent erudition and self-assumed piety, they feel able to slander those who can no longer defend themselves.

Thus, it is timely that the major text on this issue by Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi, Defence Against Disaster, is close to publication in its second edition. This is a work which, with its author’s unerring discrimination (fiqh), guides us through the pitfalls of the superabundance of texts. It is no accident that the author was himself not only a discerning scholar of those very texts but a judge (qadi) of great integrity accustomed to sorting through conflicting and contradictory evidence in matters of property, life and death, marriage and divorce.  Just as surely, he brings clarity to an area of history that is understandably hard to comprehend for many people.

 

There is no better place to hide something than out in the open, and in this sense the Sunnah and Islam itself are perhaps the most hidden of all matters in the world today even though they daily occupy the attention of millions of people in the east and the west. Indeed, they are perhaps even more hidden when taught by celebrity masters of database information with secret agendas or when fought over by self-proclaimed jihadists, who are now responsible for reducing much of the Muslim world to rubble even if merely by providing those with greater firepower the excuse to invade and destroy.

The real hope for the world today is that the Muslims are yet to speak and the Sunnah is yet to be discovered and it is to be hoped that when that moment comes, the civilisation will be produced that they always do produce and for which it is revealed.

 

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