DANGEROUS FACTION AT AL-KUFA. GROWING DISSATISFACTION.
33-34 A.H. / 654-655 A.D.
TOWARDS the close of 'Othman's reign, the hidden ferment, which (Syria perhaps excepted) had long been everywhere at work, began to make its appearance on the surface. The Arab tribes at large were displeased at the pretensions of Koreish. Koreish themselves were divided and ill at ease, the greater part being jealous of the Umeiyad house and the Caliph's favourites. And temptation to revolt was fostered by the weakness and vacillation of 'Othman himself
Ibn 'Amir had been now three years governor of Al-Basra when Ibn Saba' (or, as he is commonly called, Ibn as-Sauda), a Jew from the south of Arabia, appeared there, and professed the desire to embrace Islam. It soon appeared that he was steeped in disaffection towards the existing government,a firebrand of sedition; as such he was expelled successively from Al-Basra, Al-Kufa, and Syria, but not before he had given a dangerous impulse to the already discontented classes there. At last he found a safe retreat in Egypt, where he became the setter forth of strange and startling doctrines. Mohammad was to come again, even as the Messiah was. Meanwhile 'Ali was his legate.1 'Othman was a usurper, and his governors a set of godless tyrants. Impiety and wrong were rampant everywhere;
1 What led Ibn as-Sauda (whose name means son of
the black woman, his mother being a negress) to entertain transcendental ideas of 'Ali does
not appear; and indeed the notices of an "Alid sect" at this period sound somewhat
anticipatory and unreal. See Ibib. i. 2942.
1 What led Ibn as-Sauda (whose name means son of the black woman, his mother being a negress) to entertain transcendental ideas of 'Ali does not appear; and indeed the notices of an "Alid sect" at this period sound somewhat anticipatory and unreal. See Ibib. i. 2942.
truth and justice could be restored no otherwise than by the overthrow of this wicked dynasty. Such was the preaching which daily gained ground in Egypt; by busy correspondence it was spread all over the Empire, and startled the minds of men already foreboding evil from the sensible heavings of a slumbering volcano.
The outbreak of turbulence was for the moment repressed at Al-Basra by Ibn 'Amir; but at Al-Kufa, Sa'id had neither power nor tact to quell the factious elements around. At his first public service he had offended even his own party by ostentatiously washing the pulpit steps before ascending a spot pretended to have been made unclean by his drunken predecessor. He was foolish enough not only to foster the arrogant assumptions of Koreish, but to contemn the claims of the Arab soldiery, to whose swords they owed the conquest of the land. He called the beautiful vale of Chaldæa The Garden of Koreish "as if forsooth," cried the offended Arabs, "without our strong arm and lances, they ever could have won it." Disaffection, stimulated by the demagogue Al-Ashtar and a knot of factious citizens, culminated at last in an outbreak. As the Governor and a company of the people, according to custom, sat in free and equal converse, the topic turned on the bravery of Talha, who had shielded the Prophet in the day of battle. "Ah!" exclaimed Sa'id, "he is a warrior, if ye choose, a real gem amongst your Bedawi counterfeits. A few more like him, and we should dwell at ease." The assembly was still nettled at this speech, when a youth incautiously gave expression to the wish, how pleasant it would be if the Governor possessed a certain property which lay invitingly by the river bank near Al-Kufa. "What!" shouted the company, "out of our good lands!" And with a torrent of abuse, they leaped upon the lad and his father, and went near to killing both.
To awe the malcontents, emboldened by this outrage, ten of the ringleaders, with Al-Ashtar (of whom more hereafter) at their head, were sent in exile to Syria, where it was hoped that the powerful rule of Mu'awiya and loyal example of the Syrians might inspire them with better feelings. Mu'awiya quartered the exiles in a church; and morning and evening, as he passed by, rated them on their folly in setting up the crude claims of the Bedawin against the
indefeasible rights of Koreish. Subdued by several weeks of such treatment, they were sent on to Hims, where the Governor subjected them for a month to like indignities. Whenever he rode forth, he showered invectives on them as traitors working to undermine the empire. Their spirit at last was broken, and they were released; but, ashamed to return to Al-Kufa, they remained in Syria, excepting Al-Ashtar, who made his way secretly to Medina.
Months passed, and things did not mend at Al-Kufa. Most of the leading men, whose influence could have kept the populace in check, were away on military command in Persia; and the malcontents, in treasonable correspondence with the Egyptian faction, gained head daily. In an unlucky moment, Sa'id planned a visit to Medina, there to lay his troubles before the Caliph. No sooner had he gone than the conspirators came to the front, and recalled the exiles from Syria. Al-Ashtar, too, was soon upon the scene. Taking his stand at the door of the Mosque, he stirred up the people against Sa'id. "He had himself just left that despot," he said, "at Medina, plotting their ruin, counselling the Caliph to cut down their stipends, even the women's; and calling the broad fields which they had conquered The Garden of Koreish." The deputy of Sa'id, with the better class of the inhabitants, sought in vain to still the rising storm. He enjoined patience. "Patience!" cried the warrior Al Ka'ka', in scorn; "ye might as well roll back the great river when in flood, as quell the people's uproar till they have the thing they want." Yezid, brother of one of the exiles, then raised a standard, and called upon the enemies of the tyrant, who was then on his way back, to bar his entry into Al-Kufa. So they marched out as far as Al-Kadisiya, and sent forward to tell Sa'id that "they did not need him any more." Little anticipating such reception, Sa'id remonstrated with them. "It had sufficed," he said, "to have sent a delegate with your complaint to the Caliph; but now ye come forth a thousand strong against a single man!" They were deaf to his expostulations. His servant, endeavouring to push on, was slain by Al-Ashtar; and Sa'id himself fled back to Medina, where he found 'Othman terrified by tidings of the outbreak, and prepared to yield whatever the insurgents might demand. At their desire he appointed Abu Musa, late Governor of
Al-Basra, in place of Sa'id. To welcome him the officers in command of garrisons came from all quarters into Al-Kufa; and Abu Musa received them in the crowded Mosque. He first exacted from the inhabitants a pledge of loyalty to the Caliph, and then installed himself by leading the prayers of the great assembly.
If, instead of thus giving way, 'Othman had inflicted on the ringleaders of Al-Kufa condign punishment, he might haply have weathered the storm. It is true that thus he would in all likelihood have precipitated rebellion, not only in that turbulent City, but in Al-Basra and Egypt also. Yet, sooner or later, that was unavoidable; and in the struggle he would now have had a strong support. For here the contention was between Koreish with all the nobility of Islam on the one hand, and the Arab tribes and city rabble on the other; and in this question the great leaders would to a man have rallied round the throne. By his pitiable weakness in yielding to the insurgents, 'Othman not only courted contempt, but lost the opportunity of placing the great controversy about to convulse the Muslim world upon its proper issue. It fell, instead, to the level of a quarrel obscured by personal interests, and embittered by charges of tyranny and nepotism against himself. The crisis was now inevitable. Men saw that 'Othman lacked the wisdom and strength to meet it, and each looked to his own concern. Seditious letters circulated freely everywhere; and the claims even began to be canvassed of candidates to succeed 'Othman, who, it was foreseen, could not long hold the reins of empire in his feeble grasp.
Thus, even at Medina, sedition spread, and from thence messages reached the provinces far and near that the sword would soon be needed at home, rather than in foreign parts. So general was the contagion that, besides his immediate kindred, but two or three men are named as still faithful to the throne. Moved by the leading Citizens, 'Ali repaired to 'Othman and said:"The people bid me expostulate with thee. Yet what can I say to thee, who art the son-in-law of the Prophet, as thou wast his bosom friend? The way lieth plain before thee; but thine eyes are blinded that thou canst not see. Blood once shed, will not cease to flow until the Judgment Day. Right blotted out, treason will rage like foaming waves of the sea." 'Othman complained,
and not without reason, of the unfriendly attitude of 'Ali himself. "For my own part," he said, "I have done my best; and as for the men ye blame me for, did not 'Omar himself appoint Al-Moghira to Al-Kufa; and if Ibn 'Amir be my kinsman, is he the worse for that?" "No," replied 'Ali; "but 'Omar kept his lieutenants in order, and when they did wrong he punished them; whereas thou treatest them softly because they are thy kinsmen." "And Mu'awiya, too," continued the Caliph; "it was 'Omar who appointed him to Syria." "Yes," answered 'Ali; "yet I swear that even 'Omar's slaves did not stand so much in awe of him as did Mu'awiya. And now he doth whatever he pleaseth, saying, It is 'Othman. And thou, knowing it all, leavest him alone!" So saying, 'Ali turned and went his way.
As 'Ali's message professed to come from the people, 'Othman went straightway to the pulpit and addressed the assemblage met for prayer. He reproached them for intemperate speech and subserviency to evil leaders, whose object it was to blacken his name, exaggerate his faults, and hide his virtues. "Ye blame me," he said, "for things ye bore cheerfully from 'Omar. He trampled on you, beat you with his whip, and abused you. And ye took it patiently from him, both in what ye liked and what ye disliked. I have been gentle with you; bended my back unto you; withheld my tongue from reviling, and my hand from smiting. And now ye rise up against me!" Then, after dwelling on the prosperity of his reign at home and abroad and the many benefits accruing therefrom, he ended"Wherefore, refrain, I entreat of you, from abuse of me and of my governors, lest ye kindle the flames of sedition and revolt throughout the empire." The appeal was marred by his cousin Merwan, who at its close exclaimed, "If ye will oppose the Caliph, we shall soon bring it to the issue of the sword." "Be silent!" cried 'Othman; "leave me with my fellows alone. Did I not tell thee not to speak?" 'Othman then descended from the pulpit. The harangue had no effect. The discontent spread, and the gatherings against the Caliph multiplied.1
1 Merwan is always represented by 'Abbasid tradition as the
evil genius of 'Othman. But the rôle he played in this character is no doubt exaggerated.
1 Merwan is always represented by 'Abbasid tradition as the evil genius of 'Othman. But the rôle he played in this character is no doubt exaggerated.
Thus ended the 11th year of 'Othman's reign. Near its close was held a memorable council, of which account will be given in the chapter following. The Caliph performed the Pilgrimage as usual. He had done so every year; this was to be his last.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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