On the previous occasion, since the rebels returned expressing their satisfaction and they had no remaining complaints, the companions were surprised as to the real cause of their return. Most did not have the courage to speak before the rebels. A few prominent companions, in whose names the rebels sought refuge and whom they professed to love, enquired of them, “After all, what is the reason for your return?” Hence, Hazrat ‘Ali(ra), Hazrat Talhah(ra) and Hazrat Zubair(ra) were the ones to enquire from these people as to reason for their return. They all unanimously replied:
“We were returning to our homes with complete satisfaction and assurance when we noticed a person who was mounted on a camel given as sadaqah.1 At times he would come in front of us and at times he would fall back. When some of our men noticed him, they became suspicious and apprehended him. When he was questioned as to whether he had a letter, he declined. Furthermore, when it was inquired of him as to the purpose of his journey, he said that he was unaware. This made them even more suspicious. Finally, when he was searched, a letter was found to be in his possession, which was written by Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra). In it the governor of Egypt had been instructed, ‘When the rebels return to Madinah kill so and so, lash so and so and shave their heads and beards, and consider the letter which they are carrying with respect to your dismissal as being invalid.’ When we saw this letter we were extremely surprised and returned at once.”
Upon hearing this story, Hazrat ‘Ali(ra) instantly retorted:
“This tale has been fabricated in Madinah. O people of Kufah and O people of Basrah! How did you learn that the people of Egypt had seized such a letter despite being at a distance of many manzils from each other? Moreover, how then was it possible for you to return so soon?”
Neither could they respond to this objection, nor was there an answer. So the only reply they could give was, “Say whatever you like and think of us as you wish. We dislike the Khilafat of this person. He should resign from his post.”2 Ka‘b bin Ashraf, who held the position of a king among the Jews, was a bitter enemy of the Holy Prophet(sa) and Islam. When his mischief crossed all bounds and the suffering of the Muslims knew no limits Muhammad bin Maslamah(ra), who was from among the prominent companions and the community of the ansar, had done a great service to Islam by killing him under the instruction of the Holy Prophet(sa). He made the same argument when he heard of this incident raised the same objection and plainly said, “This is nothing more than a self-concocted lie.”
Hazrat Uthman Clears Himself of the Allegations Levelled by the Rebels
Even though the companions had logically dismissed their tale, the audacity of the rebels had now crossed all limits. Despite the humiliation they had faced, the rebels presented this matter before Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) and demanded an answer from him. At the time, many prominent companions were also present in his company. Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) responded:
“According to the Islamic shariah there are only two ways to decide a matter. Either the claimant must present two witnesses or an oath must be taken by the defendant. It is obligatory upon you, therefore, to present two witnesses in support of your claim. If not, I swear by that God, beside Whom there is none worthy of worship, that neither have I written this letter, nor has it been written with my consent, nor have I instructed someone to write it, nor am I aware as to who has written this letter.”
He further added, “You are aware that at times, letters can be forged and stamps may be replicated.” When the companions heard this reply by Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra), they testified to his truth and declared him innocent of the charges. However, this had no effect on the rebels and why would it; for it was they, who had themselves forged the letter. One can wake a person who is asleep, but how can such a person be awakened who pretends to be asleep, while he is actually awake. The leaders of the rebels understood very well that this was their own deceit. How could they contemplate the validity and logic of these answers? Their followers had become their slaves, they would listen and obey, and accept whatever they were told.
Reality Behind the Rebel Scheme
It was neither possible for the rebels to be affected, nor were they effected. However, as for those gifted with insight, this response of Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) was so replete of the exemplary attributes of humility and modesty that the audacity and shamelessness of these rebels becomes even more evident. The rebels forged a letter and accused Hazrat ‘Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, of deception and lies. Furthermore, Hazrat ‘Ali(ra) and Muhammad bin Maslamah(ra) deduced [the true state of affairs] from the events and openly charged the rebels of deceit. Even Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) himself, who was being accused and against whom this conspiracy was being hatched, cleared himself of the charges, but never said, ‘You have forged this letter.’ In fact, he actually covered their mistake by merely stating, “You are aware that a letter can resemble another, a stamp can be replicated, and even a camel can be stolen.”
Some people, who believe Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) to be absolved of this allegation but are also inclined to think positively about the rebels, believe that perhaps Marwan wrote this letter and sent it on his own accord. However, in my view this notion is absolutely false. The events clearly show that this letter was forged by the rebels themselves, and was not written by Marwan or any other person. Furthermore, it is also wrong to object that if the rebels had forged this letter, how then did the servant of Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra) and a camel given in sadaqah come into their custody; how did they forge the letter of a scribe of Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra); and how was it stamped by the ring of Hazrat ‘Uthman(ra)? For many reasons exist, which suggest that it was the rebels who had forged this letter. It appears, however, from the events and seems most likely that this deception was the work of a few leaders alone. It would not be surprising if this was the doing of ‘Abdullah bin Saba alone and a few of his intimate accomplices; and that the other rebels, even if they were army chiefs, had no knowledge of this.