Some time ago (May 2011), I read the story of Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) and how he was killed. My heart sank. I could not understand how Muslims, even some who had met Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) or had met those who had met him (ﷺ), could allow or could be part of an act that brought major Divine dissatisfaction on the Muslim community. His death just a few years after the demise of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), was perhaps one of the most despicable actions in the history of our religion. He was well over eighty at the time, and his blood spilled from his wounds onto the pages of the Qur’an he was reciting. Even up to today, one cannot understand this action against him. One cannot understand, whatever the reasons might be, that a few individuals could take it upon themselves to pass sentence of death on him and to kill him. It does not matter what his age was at that time but the fact that he was a very senior person, adds to this disgrace.
Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) was so pious that even the angels became shy in his presence, and even the Prophet (ﷺ) covered up his own thighs when Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) entered the company. Although he was the Messenger (ﷺ), he showed intense respect to a person who demonstrated the embodiment of piety to such a degree. This man was killed in the most cruel way in the presence of his wife. When the swords entered his body, a large part of Islam’s history changed, and what was left of shame had generally dissipated.
When one is able to look down the course of Islamic history, what one reads about in that history, causes one’s heart to sink further, and to intensely embarrass one, because of the actions of fellow Muslims. When Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) was killed, the destruction of the Ummah commenced. And today, all those dreams that we have of a united Ummah, with hearts linked together, lie shattered in the course of human history. Today, in fact, there is very little left in practice and commitment of the Islam that was poured into the heart of our Messenger (ﷺ). There are still some shreds and perhaps some bones, but nothing else. Why am I telling you all of this? Why has one become so concerned with the lives of some of the first generation of Muslims, especially Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.)? Sometimes one wonders about this concern with certain events in the history of our religion; mainly those events that have brought our religion to its knees. Every time there is some action of this nature, when, for example, children are blown to pieces or the lives of other innocent people are destroyed, then one thinks of the swords that entered the holy body of Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.). It all started there. Our destruction of each other, Muslims killing Muslims, is reaching proportions, even beyond our imagination. There is no more regard for what God says. And there is no more regard for what the Messenger (ﷺ) taught. We have created other heroes. In fact, we have helped to create monsters in this Ummah; people bent on destruction and devastation. I am still trying to come to why I am writing to you about this. Sometimes other ideas split one’s train of thought.
I go back to Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) and perhaps Sayyiduna Ali (r.a.) and his sons, because one sees in their deaths a further attempt to destroy aspects of piety. And today the concern of most Muslims is no more the passage of their souls, but the passage of their material lives. These khalifahs were classic examples in our history of major individual spiritual attainment; people who had reached peaks of spiritual development. In all their cases, their lives were shortened by major destruction perpetrated on them. Although spirituality suffered perhaps its most serious setback by their destruction, Allah (ﷻ) opened other doors for us, enabling us to continue the traditions carried by these men. They had brought what the Prophet (ﷺ) had brought, further forward. Their deaths could have spelled the end of religious quest by the intensely pious, but Allah (ﷻ) had decreed otherwise. History teaches us that this is not part of our Lord’s decree. Our Lord’s decree is, from what we can learn, that the stream of piety that poured forth from the heavens to the heart of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), and to their hearts, would continue to flow.
If we examine the history of Islam, we will find large numbers of Muslims walking a very strict path of spiritual purification after the period of the pious khalifahs. They walk this path despite the existence of antagonistic discourses that are pushing other Muslims away from the sciences of, and the practices for, the Hereafter. In fact those who had adopted these paths, in a sense, became the true bearers of the flags of Islam. Undaunted by the antagonism, they continue to spread and teach these sciences and practices. We were very fortunate here in the Western Cape. It is strange that our good fortune was a by-product of the spread of colonialism and slavery. It was slavery and the slave trade that brought our forefathers here. Many of them were bearers of the flags that we had mentioned, and they came to plant these flags in the shacks and on the mountain slopes where they lived in this country.
One Friday in the Goodwood masjid, somebody remarked to Imam Umar Abdullah that I keep on speaking about the “Tuangs”. He did not want people to hear about our history especially the fact that our forefathers were steeped in Tasawwuf. People like him want to live with their fingers in their ears and they want to wipe out from the historical records the discourses our forefathers adhered to. They do not want to know, and they also do not want others to know the nature of our origins in this country. Sometimes one feels pessimistic about the present generations; pessimistic in the sense that one fears the destruction of a discourse that has the achievement of piety as a central activity. Other times one is optimistic when one sits in congregational adhkar and looks at the faces of the people as they call on their Lord. I have said on many occasions that like Martin Luther King in the United States of America, many of us also have a dream; a dream that the teachings of Tasawwuf should become the dominant discourse in the Muslim community, and that wherever they live, the sounds of congregational adhkar should be heard. Although this is only a dream, I remember that as a young boy, I heard the recitation of the Ratibul Haddad from so many houses in mainly Muslim areas. It is therefore not a dream that is impossible to achieve. We ask Allah (ﷻ) for that, for ourselves, amin.