The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 15

The Crisis of the Early Caliphate: The Reign of ʿUthmān A.D. 644-656/A.H. 24-35

Translated by R. Stephen Humphreys

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780791401552, 312 pages, August 1987
Hardcover : 9780791401545, 312 pages, March 1990

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Table of contents



Translator's Foreword

Transliteration and Editorial Conventions

Table I. 'Uthman's Lineage

The Events of the Year 24 (644/645)
The Sermon of 'Uthman and the Salying of al-Hurmuzan by 'Ubaydallah b. Umar
The Governorship of Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas in Kufah
The Letters of 'Uthman to His Official and Governors and to the Common People
The Campaign of [al-Walid b. 'Uqbah in Adharbayjan and Armenia]
The Gathering of Byzantine Forces against the Muslims and the Muslims' Call for Aid from the Kufans
The Account of That Event

The Events of the Year 25 (645/646)

The Events of the Year 26 (646/647)
The Reason Why 'Uthman Removed Sa'd from Kufah and Named al-Walid His Governor There

The Events of the Year 27 (647/648)
The Conquest [of Ifriqiyah] and the Reason for the APpointment of 'Abdallah b. Sa'd b. Abi Sarh as Governor of Egypt and 'Uthman's Removal of 'Amr b. al-'As from [That Province]

The Events of the Year 28 (648/649)
Mu'awiyah's Attack on Cyprus

The Events of the Year 29 (649/650)
The Reason for'Uthman's Removal of Abu Musa {al-Ash'ari] from Basrah
['Uthman's Alterations to the Pilgrimage Rites]

The Events of the Year 30 (650/651)
The Campaign of Sa'id b. al-As in Tabaristan
The Reason for 'Uthman's Removal of al-Walid and His Appointment of Sa'id as Governor [in Kufah]
How the Signet Ring Fell from'Uthman's Hand into the Well of Aris
The Reports Concerning Abu Dharr [al-Ghifari]
[The Flight of Yazdagird from Fars to Khurasan]

The Events of the Year 31 (651/652)
The Account of the Battles [of the Masts and against the Blacks]
The Reason Why (Syria) Was Unified under [Mu'awiyah]
Return to al-Waqidi's Account of the Two Battles Mentioned Above
The Cause of [Yazdagird's] Murder
['Abdullah b. 'Amir's Campaign in Khurasan]

The Events of the Year32 (652/653)
[The Disaster at Balanjar]
The Account of the Death of [Abu Dharr al-Ghifari]
['Abdallah b. Amir's Conquests in Northeastern Iran]
[The Peace between al-Ahnaf and the People of Balkh]

The Events of the Year 33 (653/654)
The Exile of the Kufans Whom ['Uthman] Sent [to Syria]
'Uthman's Exile of Certain Basrans to Syria

The Events of the Year 34 (654/655)
The Character of the Meeting [to Confront 'Uthman] and [the Day of] al-Jara'ah

The Events of the Year 35 (655/656)
An Account of the Egyptians Who Went to Dhu Khushub, and the Reason Why Certain Iraqis Went to Dhu al-Marwah
The Account of the Murder [of 'Uthman]
The Conduct of 'Uthman b. 'Affan - May God Be Pleased with Him
The Reason Why 'Uthman Ordered 'Abdallah b. 'Abbas to Lead the Pilgrimage in This Year
'Uthman's Burial Place, and Those Who Led the Prayer for Him and Took Charge of His Funeral Rites
The Date of 'Uthman's Murder
'Uthman's Life Span
'Uthman's Personal Appearance
The Date of His Conversion to Islam and of His Seeking Refuge
The Kunyah of 'Uthman b. 'Affan
'Uthman's Lineage
His Children and Wives
The Names of 'Uthman's Provincial Governors during This Year
Citations from 'Uthman's Sermons
Those Who Led the People in Prayer in the Mosque of the Messenger of God while 'Uthman Was under Siege
The Threnodies Composed for "Uthman

Bibliography of Cited Works


Before the caliphate of the ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān, the Muslim community had grown from strength to strength in spite of a series of major crises--the Hirah, the death of the Prophet, the Riddah wars, the assassination of 'Umar by a Persian slave. But ʿUthmān's reign ended in catastrophe. His inability to manage the social and political conflicts that were now emerging among various factions within the community led to his death at the hands of Muslim rebels. The consequences of this tragic event were bitter: not only a century of civil war, but also political and religious schisms of such depth that they have not been entirely healed even now. Most medieval Muslim historians told this story in an overtly partisan manner, but al-Ṭabarī demands more of his readers. First of all, they must decide for themselves, on the basis of highly ambigous evidence, whether ʿUthmān's death was tyrannicide or murder. But, more than that, they must ask how such a thing could have happened at all; what had the Muslims done to bring about the near-destruction of their community?

Al-Ṭabarī presents this challenge within a broad framework. For, even while the internal crisis that issued in ʿUthmān's death was coming to a head, the wars against Byzantium and Persia continued. The first expeditions into North Africa, the conquest of Cyprus, the momentary destruction of the Byzantine fleet at the Battle of the Masts, the bloody campaigns in Armenia, the Caucasus, and Khurasan are all here, in narratives that shift constantly between hard reporting and pious legend. Muslim forces retain the offensive, but there are no more easy victories; henceforth, suffering and endurance will be the hallmarks of the hero. Most evocative in the light of ʿUthmān's fate is the moving account of the murder of the last Sāsānian king, Yazdagird III--a man betrayed by his nobles and subjects, but most of all by his own character.