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The First Fitna

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Cindy Pfiffer
Final Term Paper
The First Fitna
The first Muslim civil war originated in the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs which began in 632 CE following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The main events of the civil war technically took place from 656-661 CE, however, in order to understand these events properly, it is necessary to recount the context and setting in which these events took place.
In 644, after a ten-year reign, the second caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was assassinated in Medina as he was leading a prayer in the mosque. He was reportedly killed by a Christian slave named Abu Lu’lu’a who was upset by a tax imposed by the caliph. Upon realizing that his wounds were fatal, ‘Umar did not appoint a successor but rather appointed a council, or shura, to choose the next caliph. This council consisted of a group of six Muslims which included ‘Uthman ibn Affan, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf, Zubayr ibn al-‘Awamm, Talha ibn ‘Ubaydallah, and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas. This small group was to choose a ruler amongst themselves. It was a tightly knit group, all early converts from the Quraysh tribe who had together endured a decade of persecution in Mecca, a decade of war against Mecca, and had just emerged from a decade of victorious conquests under ‘Umar’s leadership. With the hindsight of history and in an attempt to explain the later schisms within Islam, commentators would try to divide this group into competing factions. This doesn’t really work, for by 644 the interconnections between these six men had become too intimate and intricate. ‘Ali, Zubayr, and Sa’d were all cousins of the Prophet and Talha was a cousin of Abu Bakr’s while the practice of multiple marriages made for a further double-woven intimacy.
Consider for instance the marital career of one of ‘Uthman’s sisters: first she married the Prophet’s adopted son Zayd, then Zubayr, then ‘Abd al-Rahman before marrying the conqueror of Egypt, Amr. Among the many matrimonial links within this group, there was the marriage of ‘A’isha’s half-sister Asma to Zubayr, while ‘Ali had become the father-in-law of Muhammad…and so the intimate shuttle of marital alliances linked all the key figures of early Islam together.
In terms of military prestige within this group of six, Sa’d had won great fame from his victory of al-Qadisiya over the Persians, though Zubayr had shown much personal heroism in the recent conquest of Egypt, while ‘Ali had been the most conspicuous individual warrior during the lifetime of the Prophet.
They had also been called upon at various times to give advice to the caliph and some had served as his appointed judges, governors, and generals. When ‘Umar had left Medina to visit Jerusalem and Syria, he had selected ‘Ali to be his deputy – like the Prophet before him. In the intersection of all their talents, ‘Ali was the natural and obvious successor.
Eventually, by a process of elimination, only ‘Uthman and ‘Ali remained as potential candidates. The two were subsequently asked if they would follow “the sunna of the Prophet and the siras of their two predecessors,” that is, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. ‘Uthman agreed to this condition but ‘Ali did not, instead voicing his preference of following his own thinking.
‘Uthman was thereupon selected as caliph and the oath of allegiance was immediately given to him. ‘Ali’s independence would not ultimately prevent him from becoming the fourth caliph, but it was clearly perceived at this time that the third caliph should continue to build on the achievements and practices (sira) of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, which in turn was assumed to reflect the practices (sunna) of the Prophet. ‘Ali’s reaction to ‘Uthman’s nomination was significant. Far from leading an opposition group or contesting the result, he was among the first to offer his hands in allegiance to ‘Uthman. ‘Ali would have remembered the Prophet’s enormous regard for ‘Uthman, whom he considered to have the countenance of an Abraham.
‘Uthman was a prominent member of the powerful Umayyad clan within the tribe of Quraysh. From all accounts ‘Uthman was a pious, self-effacing man despite his wealthy, privileged background. He embraced Islam early at the hands of Abu Bakr and emigrated first to Abyssinia and then to Medina, all of which established his precedence in Islam. It is also proven that ‘Uthman was highly regarded amongst the companions of the Prophet. The companion Abdullah ibn ‘Umar narrated in one hadith: “During the lifetime of the Prophet we considered Abu Bakr as peerless and then ‘Umar and then ‘Uthman (coming next to him in superiority) and then we used to not differentiate between the companions of the Prophet.” In another hadith, it was narrated that the Prophet ascended the mountain of Uhud with Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. The mountain trembled and the Prophet said, “O Uhud! Be calm. For upon you there are nothing but a Prophet, a Siddiq, and two martyrs.” The siddiq (meaning “the truthful”) referring to Abu Bakr, and the two martyrs referring to ‘Umar and ‘Uthman.
‘Uthman was also famous for marrying two of the Prophet’s daughters, Ruqayya and Umm Kulthum. For this distinction, he earned the name Dhun-Nurayn, meaning, “Possessor of the Two Lights.” ‘Uthman is said to have been physically handsome, elegant and dapper in appearance. ‘Uthman is also remembered for his modesty and well manners. ‘A’isha recalled the time when her husband (the Prophet) had been reclining at ease in her hut while he talked freely to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar but gathered his clothes together neatly and sat up in a formal mood when the arrival of ‘Uthman was announced. When asked why he behaved differently to ‘Uthman than to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, the Prophet said that 'Uthman was modest and shy and if he had been informal with him, he would not have said what he had come there to say. As an Umayyad, ‘Uthman was related to men like Abu Sufyan and his shrewd son, Mu’awiya, who had been implacable foes of Islam until the very day Mecca fell to the Muslims in 630 CE. ‘Uthman’s family ties would prove to be a significant factor in the outcome of his reign.
‘Uthman would reign as caliph for twelve years. According to most traditions, he did so piously for the first six years. Under ‘Uthman, new frontiers were opened up in North Africa through carefully planned expeditions and the rest of the Sassanian empire fell to Muslim control. Increased revenues began to pour into Iraq and Egypt, the sites for the launching of these expeditions, and ultimately into Medina which collected one-fifth of the shares. ‘Uthman was concerned with asserting his control over the provinces which had seen fresh new waves of tribesmen emigrating from the Arabian peninsula. Part of his policy was to appoint relatives from his own clan as governors. In Kufa, he appointed a cousin, al-Walid ibn ‘Uqba, who was later replaced by another cousin, Sa’id ibn al-‘As. In Syria, yet another cousin of his, the above-mentioned Mu’awiya, son of Abu Sufyan, was already installed as governor (‘Umar had appointed him during his reign). Such appointments made ‘Uthman vulnerable to charges of nepotism and of disregarding the Qur’anic principles of precedence and moral excellence in making political appointments. Thus, an early poem accused ‘Uthman of having violated the established sunna of the Prophet, which at his commencement he had promised to follow.
‘Uthman moreover decided to assert Medinan control over the qurra’, the Qur’an reciters, many of whom had settled in the rich lands of the Sawad in Iraq. The qurra’, who in other sources are equated with the ahl al-Qur’an (“people of the Qur’an”), were from Mecca and had impeccable Islamic credentials. They were not Johnny-come-latelies to Islam like most of ‘Uthman’s Umayyad relatives, and many of the qurra’ had fought in the ridda wars against the rebellious southern and central Arabian tribes. The qurra’ were highly displeased with ‘Uthman’s attempts to bring them more firmly into the Medinan orbit and to control the disbursement of the revenues from the Sawad lands. They also resented the appointment of Sa’id ibn al-‘As, ‘Uthman’s cousin, and eventually forcibly deposed him and appointed Abu Musa al-Ash’ari as their governor, who possessed high Islamic precedence.
After six years, however, ‘Uthman was accused of impiety on a few grounds (whether justly or not). A number of traditions report that ‘Uthman’s impiety began when he lost the ring that once belonged to the Prophet, and which had been passed down to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. An early Muslim historian named at-Tabari explains,
‘Uthman b. Affan ruled and wore [the ring] for six years. He dug a well in Medina to supply water for the Muslims. He was sitting on the edge of the well and began fiddling with the ring and twisting it around his finger. The ring slipped off and fell into the well. They searched for it and [even] drained the well of its water, but without success. [‘Uthman] established a magnificent reward for anyone who could bring it [to him] and became deeply depressed.
Although it was accident, some Muslims saw this incident as the beginning of ‘Uthman’s unrighteous actions as caliph. Nevertheless, it shows how deeply committed the former companions were to the Prophet even after his death. An important element of ‘Uthman’s prestige was his family connection. Ironically, ‘Uthman’s family connections played a role in his ascension to power as well as his demise. Complaints arose that ‘Uthman was appointing his own relatives to administrative posts regardless of their religious merits, and that he put aside war booty for his own family, depriving in part the Muslim fighters who had risked their lives to win it. Many of ‘Uthman’s relatives quite cynically and openly exploited their appointments to their own advantage. This would prove to be a major source of discontent towards the end of ‘Uthman’s rule. Another significant aspect of ‘Uthman’s reign was the compilation of the Qur’an during the last half of his reign. According to the standard account, he did so to address conflicts among his soldiers over how the Qur’an was to be pronounced (one of his generals, Hudhyafa, is said to have implored him, “Save this nation before they differ about the Book as Jews and Christians did before them!”). Although Sunni Muslims today regard the compilation of the Qur’an as an uncontroversial act, at the time this act angered some of the elder companions of the Prophet because ‘Uthman had all competing versions of the Qur’an burned, while the official version was compiled. This was despite the fact that the collection of Qur’anic verses began in the caliphate of Abu Bakr, when a large number of Qur’an reciters died during the ridda wars. Thus, opposition to ‘Uthman spread due to the compilation of the Qur’an as well as alleged preferential treatment to family members. Finally, in the year 656 CE, a large group of protesters arrived in Medina from Egypt with a list of demands. ‘Uthman dealt with them amiably, agreeing to their demands, but as the protesters made their way back to Egypt, they intercepted a messenger of the caliph who was carrying orders for the execution of their leaders. Immediately they returned to Medina and laid siege to the caliph’s palace. ‘Uthman claimed the orders were forged, but he couldn’t assuage the rebels. One historian notes that the population of Medina was sympathetic to the rebels, but preferred to leave it to the outsiders to handle the dirty work. Significantly, ‘Uthman would not even allow his supporters to fight the opposition because he did not want Muslims killing Muslims. Thus, the mob surrounded ‘Uthman as he sat defenseless his residence. At the moment when he was attacked, ‘Uthman – the caliph accused of impiety – was piously reading the Qur’an, and his blood poured out onto the holy text. The picture of the aged ‘Uthman receiving the death blow as he was bending over the Qur’an was one which remained indelibly imprinted on the memory of the ummah. He was buried three days later in Jannat al-Baqi, a cemetery in Medina. Thereafter, the Muslim ummah would never be the same. ‘Uthman’s killing ushered in a period of internal dissension known as the fitna (meaning test or trial) which would not be resolved for generations. From the perspective of Sunni Muslims, the murders of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman were deplorable. The killing of ‘Uthman was especially so, for it was not the act of a disgruntled Christian but rather the act of Muslims. To Shi’a Muslims, however, a greater tragedy had already taken place when ‘Ali was not made the ruler after Muhammad’s death. To the Shi’a, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman were not the legitimate rulers of the Muslims. After the death of ‘Uthman, at-Tabari reports, the Meccan clan that had supported him – the Umayyads – fell into disarray, unsure how to react to the assassination of their relative. Meanwhile, the ansar (the “supporters” who had welcomed the Prophet in Medina) and a majority of Meccans agreed to support ‘Ali as the next caliph, but not all of the Meccans did so willingly. Talha, a highly regarded companion of the Prophet, is reported to have said: “I gave allegiance with a sword at my head” (Tabari, 16:9). Another elder companion, Zubayr, is reported to have said: “I gave allegiance with a sword at my neck” (Tabari, 16:15). The number of conflicting accounts of this time however makes it difficult to ascertain what exactly happened at this time. This is especially the case when considering the political motivations of ‘Ali. Nevertheless, ‘Ali was widely presumed to be the next caliph in the aftermath of the death of ‘Uthman. ‘Ali, for his part, was certainly qualified for the position as caliph. Apart from being the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, he was the first male to accept Islam and was one of the Prophet’s closest companions. Islamic tradition also makes much of ‘Ali’s prowess and courage in war, as well as his piety in religion. ‘Ali is remembered as heroically slaying his opponent Walid ibn ‘Utba in individual combat before the larger battle at Badr. He is also remembered for having risked his life by staying behind in the Prophet’s bed while he and Abu Bakr made the hijra to Medina. In one hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said, on the eve of the Battle of Khaibar: “Tomorrow I will give this flag to a man through whose hands Allah will give us victory. He loves Allah and His Apostle, and he is loved by Allah and His Apostle.” The hadith mentions that ‘Ali was given the flag the next day. Despite ‘Ali’s recognized virtue, support for him as the fourth Sunni caliph was contested. ‘A’isha, the Prophet’s favorite wife and the daughter of the first caliph Abu Bakr, was outraged upon hearing that ‘Ali had succeeded ‘Uthman. One historian makes the argument that ‘A’isha and ‘Ali already had a bitter relationship when the Prophet was alive, and the bitterness between them had only intensified when ‘Ali hesitated to accept the election of her father Abu Bakr as the first caliph. Regardless of their relationship in the past, ‘A’isha was now clearly in opposition to ‘Ali. So ‘A’isha went to Mecca, along with Talha and Zubayr, and began to organize resistance to the new caliph. The three of them rallied a small group of followers and set out across the desert toward Iraq, where they hoped to garner further support. ‘Ali, however, had no intention of letting them proceed peacefully. The Meccan resistance was intercepted and ‘Ali’s forces prepared for battle.
In the conflict that ensued, known as the Battle of the Camel (as ‘A’isha is said to have observed the fighting from the back of a camel), ‘Ali’s forces killed Talha and Zubayr and routed their followers. For his part, ‘Ali was magnanimous in victory; he mourned their death and treated ‘A’isha with honor.
But ‘A’isha’s resistance was not the end of his troubles. Mu’awiya remained stubbornly opposed to ‘Ali’s election. How, Mu’awiya complained, could ‘Ali be elected caliph when he had failed to punish those responsible for the murder of (Mu’awiya’s relative) ‘Uthman? ‘Ali, for his part, was not going to back down (as doing so presumably would have been a fatal show of weakness). In fact, the brewing conflict involved more than a proper investigation of ‘Uthman’s killing. In part, it was a conflict between the Medinan supporters of ‘Ali and the Meccan Umayyad clan (a strange echo of the Prophet’s own struggles with the Meccans when they were led by Mu’awiya’s father, Abu Sufyan). It was also a conflict between Iraq, from which ‘Ali drew most of his support, and Syria, for Iraq and Syria had previously been enemies under the Sassanian and Byzantine empires. And of course, according to later Islamic sources, this was a conflict between those who recognized ‘Ali as the first Imam, the Shi’ites, and those who did not.
Whatever the reasons for their rivalry, the forces of ‘Ali and Mu’awiya finally met in 657 on a battlefield near the Syrian plain of Siffin, on the banks of the Euphrates. There they fought for three days. When, on the third day, the tide finally began to turn against Mu’awiya, his followers attached manuscripts of the Qur’an to their spears and shouted, “The law of God shall decide between us!” ‘Ali, distressed by the killing of Muslims on both sides, agreed to submit to an arbitration. In doing so, however, ‘Ali estranged his most fervent supporters. Insisting that ‘Ali’s election was an act of God, which could not be left to human arbitration, a large contingent of them (by some accounts twelve thousand men) left the battlefield. This group subsequently became known as the Khawarij, meaning “Those who depart.”
According to the historian at-Tabari, the arbitration eventually took place some months later in the Arabian Peninsula, but the arbiters were themselves divided. In the end, nothing changed, but ‘Ali had lost much of his prestige. Moreover, he was now faced with the opposition of the Khawarij, whom he was forced to confront in Iraq, at a site named Nahrawan, the following year. The battle ended in a slaughter of the Khawarij, but it was a pyrrhic victory, for ‘Ali had slaughtered his former followers. In fact, this battle would lead to ‘Ali’s demise.
One of the Khawarij who had survived the battle of Nahrawan, named Ibn Muljam, sought out ‘Ali at the entrance to the Great Mosque in the Iraqi city of Kufa two years later, in early 661. Seeking revenge for his fellow soldiers at Nahrawan, Ibn Muljam attacked the caliph with a poisoned sword. Two days later, ‘Ali – the cousin of the Prophet and his son-in-law, who had once lay down in the Prophet’s bed when Muhammad fled to Medina – now lay dead.
Mu’awiya seized the opportunity. He moved his forces into Iraq and compelled ‘Ali’s eldest son, Hasan, to acknowledge him as the caliph. Thereafter he succeeded in winning almost universal acknowledgement of his rule. But Mu’awiya never moved to Medina – the city of the Prophet – where the caliphs before him had ruled. Instead, he remained in Damascus, a city by now familiar to him. A new era of Islam, the Umayyad dynasty, had begun. The fourth Rightly Guided Caliph, or the first Imam, was dead. Ruling in his place was the son of Abu Sufyan.
The significance of the first Muslim civil war is immense. For one, it created permanent divisions within the Muslim community. Henceforth, Muslims were divided over who had the legitimate right to occupy the Caliphate. Muslims who accepted the succession of Mu’awiya and the historical sequence of Caliphs after him are called the Sunnis. The Shia became those who believed ‘Ali and his descendants are the only rightful heirs of the Caliphate. The Khawarij held that the Caliphate should not be determined by descent, but that the Caliph should be elected by the community of Muslims at large and hold his position only so long as he was sinless in the conduct of his office. The fitna proved to be an historic and momentous occasion in classical Islamic history.


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...Feminism in Multicultural Societies An analysis of Dutch Multicultural and Postsecular Developments and their Implications for Feminist Debates Eva Midden A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements of the degree of PhD at the University of Central Lancashire May 2010       Student Declaration Concurrent registration for two or more academic awards I declare that while registered as a candidate for the research degree, I have not been registered candidate or enrolled student for another award of the University or other academic or professional institution Material submitted for another award I declare that no material contained in the thesis has been used in any other submission for an academic award and is solely my own work Signature of Candidate Type of Award School ___PhD_________________________________ ___Centre for Professional Ethics___________ 1   Abstract It was long assumed that both multiculturalism and feminism are connected to progressive movements and hence have comparable and compatible goals. However, both in academia and in popular media the critique on multiculturalism has grown and is often accompanied with arguments related to gender equality and/or feminism. According to political scientist Susan Moller Okin for example there are fundamental conflicts between our commitment to gender equality and the desire to respect the customs of minority cultures or religions. If we agree that......

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