Election of Uthman

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The election of Uthman, from Balami's Tarikhnama

Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, was chosen by a council meeting in Medina, in northwestern Arabia, in AH 23 (643/644).[1]

The second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, was stabbed by an angry Persian slave named Feroz. Mindful of the tumults that had occurred after the death of Muhammad (see Succession to Muhammad), on his deathbed Umar appointed a committee of six men, to choose a new leader.


He wished this consultation, or shura, to survive the strictest criticism. The six men were:

Umar's expectation seems to have been that the group should choose one among themselves who would be acceptable to all.

Talha was absent and did not reach Medina until after the decision had been made. The choice of a new ruler for the new Islamic empire fell to five men.[2]


At his death bed, Umar ibn al-Khattab (d.644) nominated a board of six members who were required to elect one of themselves as the next caliph. The group consisted of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, Abdur Rahman bin Awf, Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, Talha ibn Ubayd Allah, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Uthman ibn Affan. To regulate the group and ensure that no single person would stop the process, Umar said that they should all agree unanimously on the next caliph and he ordered his son, Abdullah bin Umar to kill any one person whose opinion would differ from the rest of the group. Out of the six members, Zubair withdrew his candidature in favor of Ali. Sa'd ibn Abi Waqas withdrew in favor of Uthman.[2] Out of the three remaining candidates Abdur Rahman decided to withdraw, leaving Uthman and Ali. Abdur Rahman was appointed as the arbitrator to choose between the remaining two candidates. Contacting the two candidates separately, he put to them the question whether they would follow in the footsteps of the previous caliphs. Ali said that he would follow the Quran and the Sunnah of Muhammed. Uthman replied to the question in the affirmative without any reservation. Thereupon, Abdur Rahman gave his verdict in favor of the election to Uthman.[3]

Accounts of this consultation vary widely, but none of the candidates were actually killed in the process.

An accepted sunni version of this account shows a tie in votes between all three Uthman, Abdur Rahman and Ali where Uthman and Ali voted in favor of their respective partner in the elections. Then Abdur Rahman suggested to allow him to withdraw his candidature at the cost of the choice for leadership between the two remaining candidates. He was allowed to do so and he chose Uthman as the new caliph[citation needed].

Wilferd Madelung[edit]

According to the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, researcher Wilferd Madelung,[4] only Uthman and Ali were willing to take the burden of the caliphate. Each of them said that he was willing to swear allegiance to the other if not chosen. It was up to the three remaining members to make the choice. Sa'd is said to have slightly favored Ali. Al-Zubayr supported Uthman. 'Abd al-Rahman thus had the deciding vote. According to Madelung's account of the shura, 'Abd al-Rahman delayed announcing his choice until he faced a public meeting at the mosque, where he announced his choice of Uthman. Ali, who was present, was thus under pressure to immediately give his allegiance, his bay'ah, to Uthman, which he did accordingly.


The early Muslim historian Al-Tabari gives a more detailed version of Umar's supposed words setting up the consultation.[5]

A narration reports:

O group of Muhajireen! Verily, the Apostle of God died, and he was pleased with all six of you. I have, therefore, decided to make it (the selection of khalifa) a matter of consultation among you, so that you may select one of yourselves as khalifa. If five of you agree upon one man, and there is one who is opposed to the five, kill him. If four are one side and two on the other, kill the two. And if three are on one side and three on the other, then Abdur Rahman ibn Auf will have the casting vote, and the khalifa will be selected from his party. In that case, kill the three men on the opposing side. You may, if you wish, invite some of the chief men of the Ansar as observers but the khalifa must be one of you Muhajireen, and not any of them. They have no share in the khilafat. And your selection of the new khalifa must be made within three days.[6]


Suyuti quotes the following:

A narration attributed to Amr ibn Maimun reports:

(continuing from Hadith of the killing of Umar) ...When they finished burying him and had returned, that group gathered and 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Auf said, 'Delegate your authority to three among you.' Az-Zubayr said, 'I delegate my authority to 'Ali.' Sa'd said, 'I delegate my authority to 'Abd ar-Rahman.' Talhah said, 'I delegate my authority to 'Uthman.' He continued: so there remained these three. 'Abd ar-Rahman said, 'I don't want it. Which of you two will be quit of this matter and we will entrust it to him (the remaining one)? And Allah is his witness and Islam, let him consider in himself who is the best of them and let him be eager for the benefit of the ummah.' The two Shaykhs, 'Ali and 'Uthman were silent. 'Abd ar-Rahman said, 'Delegate me and, Allah is my witness, I will not fail you in choosing the best of you.' They said, 'Yes.' Then he went apart with 'Ali and said, 'You have that precedence in Islam and kinship with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which you know. Allah is your witness; if I give you authority, will you be just, and if I give authority (to 'Uthman) over you, will you hear and obey?' He said, 'Yes.' Then he went apart with the other and said to him the same thing. When he had their agreement, he pledged allegiance to 'Uthman and 'Ali pledged allegiance to him.[7]

Shia view[edit]

Shi'a Muslims argue that the election should not have happened at all. They say that Muhammad had clearly indicated that he wished Ali to succeed him (see Succession to Muhammad) and that every successive choice of a different caliph was defiance of Muhammad's wishes. Ali did not desire power; he wanted to carry out the duties he had been given by his cousin Muhammad. Shi'a also deny that Ali gave his allegiance to Uthman. Ali is quoted saying:

But good Heavens! what had I to do with this "consultation"? Where was any doubt about me with regard to the first of them (caliphs) that I was now considered akin to these ones (in this consultation)? Sermon of ash-Shiqshiqiyyah


"You (Uthman) know very well that I deserve the caliphate more than anyone else" (Nahj al Balagha sermon 77)

Sa'id Akhtar Rizvi, a 21st century Shi'a twelver Islamic scholar writes:

Aalimnetwork on Al-islam.org quotes:

A narration reports:

Abbas, Imam's uncle, came to him and said

"Ali, do not take part in this council. I know the biases of the Arab, they rule according to their kinship, everyone in the council except Zubair is a relative of Uthman, they will vote for him."

Imam (AS) said

"I know them better but if I do not go, they will have an excuse and will say 'Ali himself was not interested in the Khillafa and did not care about it'."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Earliest Dated Kufic Inscription From Qa` al-Mu`tadil, Near Al-Hijr (Saudi Arabia), 24 AH / 644 CE
  2. ^ a b Medlung, Wilferd (1997). The succession to Muhammad. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 0521561817. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  3. ^ Masudul Hasan, Hadrat Ali, Islamic Publications Ltd. Lahore
  4. ^ Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London
  5. ^ These may not be his exact words; the trustworthiness of the early oral traditions are much disputed, see Historiography of early Islam
  6. ^ History of the Prophets and Kings by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Vol 3, pp. 294-295
  7. ^ History of the Caliphs by Suyuti [1]
  8. ^ Imamate: The Vicegerency of the Prophet Al-islam.org [2]
  9. ^ Aalimnetwork on Al-islam.org

Works cited[edit]

  • Aslan, RezaNo god but God, Random House, 2005.
  • Glubb, Sir John Bagot – The Great Arab Conquests, 1967.
  • Madelung, W. – The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

External links[edit]