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The Political Method of the Selection of the Caliph by Vote and Its Disagreement with the Shi'ite View (Part 2)

ghdir khom

The second caliph was killed by a Persian slave in 25/644. In accordance with the majority vote of a six-man council which had assembled by order of the second caliph before his death, the third caliph was chosen. The third caliph did not prevent his Umayyad relatives from becoming dominant over the people during his caliphate and appointed some of them as rulers in the Hijaz, Iraq, Egypt, and other Muslim lands. [1] These relatives began to be lax in applying moral principles in government. Some of them openly committed injustice and tyranny, sin and iniquity, and broke certain of the tenets of firmly established Islamic laws.

Before long, streams of protest began to flow toward the capital. But the caliph, who was under the influence of his relatives particularly Marwan ibn Hakam [2]-did not act promptly or decisively to remove the causes against which the people were protesting. Sometimes it even happened that those who protested were punished and driven away.

An incident that happened in Egypt illustrates the nature of the rule of the third caliph. A group of Muslims in Egypt rebelled against Uthman. Uthman sensed the danger and asked Ali for help, expressing his feeling of contrition. Ali told the Egyptians, You have revolted in order to bring justice and truth to life.

Uthman has repented saying, 'I shall change my ways and in three days will fulfill your wishes. I shall expel the oppressive rulers from their posts.'" Ali then wrote an agreement with them on behalf of Uthman and they started home. On the way they saw the slave of Uthman riding on his camel in the direction of Egypt.

They became suspicious of him and searched him. On him they found a letter for the governor of Egypt containing the following words: "In the name of God. When 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Addis comes to you beat him with a hundred lashes, shave his head and beard and condemn him to long imprisonment. Do the same in the case of 'Amr ibn al-Hamq, Suda ibn Hamran, and 'Urwah ibn Niba'." The Egyptians took the letter and returned with anger to Uthman, saying, "You have betrayed us!" Uthman denied the letter. They said, "Your slave was the carrier of the letter." He answered, "He has committed this act without my permission."

They said, "He rode upon your camel." He answered, "They have stolen my camel." They said, "The letter is in the handwriting of your secretary." He replied, "This has been done without my permission and knowledge." They said, "In any case you are not cempetent to be caliph and must resign, for if this has been done with your permission you are a traitor and if such important matters take place without your permission and knowledge then your incapability and incompetence is proven. In any case, either resign or dismiss the oppressive agents from office immediately."

Uthman answered, "If I wish to act according to your will, then it is you who are the rulers. Then, what is my function?" They stood up and left the gathering in anger. [3]

During his caliphate Uthman allowed the government of Damascus, at the head of which stood Mu'awiyah, to be strengthened more than ever before. In reality, the center of gravity of the caliphate as far as political power was concerned was shifting to Damascus and the organization in Medina, the capital of the Islamic world, was politically no more than a form without the necessary power and substance to support it. [4] Finally, in the year 35/656, the people rebelled and after a few days of siege and fighting the third caliph was killed.


1. Usd al-ghabah of lbn Athir, Cairo, 1280. vol. IV, p.386; aI-lsabah of lbn Hajar 'Asqalani, Cairo, 1323, vol.lll.

2. Tarikh-i Ya'qubi, vol.ll, p.150; Abu'l-Fida', vol.l, p.168; Tarikh-i Tabari, vol.lll, p.377, etc.

3. Tarikh- Ya'qubi, vol. ll;p. 150; Tarikh-i Tabari; vol.lll, p.397.

4.  Tarikh- Tabari, vol.lll; pp.402-409; Tarikh-i Ya'qubi; vol.ll, pp.150-151.

Taken from the book: SHI'A

Allamah Seyyed Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai

Other links:

The Origin and Growth of Shism

The Cause of the Separation of the Shiite Minority from the Sunni Majority

The Two Problems of Succession and Authority in Religious Sciences

Who is the Family of the Prophet?

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