Uthman (r.a) was born in Mecca 47 years before the Hijra (Migration to Medina). His father Affan b. Abi’l-As was one of the leading men of the Banu Umayya clan of the Quraysh tribe, and he also counted among the wealthiest men of the city. A merchant by profession like his father, Uthman (r.a.) became one of the wealthy men of his tribe at a young age. Uthman (r.a.) became Muslim thanks to the special efforts of Abu Bakr (r.a). His acceptance of Islam led to pressure and persecution from his own family and the polytheist members of other tribes. In this period, he married Ruqaiyya (r.a), the daughter of the Prophet (s.a.w), and thus became one of the close relatives of the Prophet (s.a.w). Upon the death of Ruqaiyya (r.a.) in the Medinan period, Uthman would later marry the Prophet’s (s.a.w) other daughter Umm Kulthum (r.a.), becoming a son-in-law to the Prophet (s.a.w) for the second time.
When Meccan polytheists increased their persecution of fellow tribesmen who became Muslim, Uthman (r.a.) migrated to Abyssinia with his wife. After staying there for a while, he returned to Mecca, only to immigrate later to Medina and become one of the first Immigrants (Muhajirun). Uthman (r.a.) was a close companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) during the many events that took place in the wake of the Hijra. Because he was attending to his seriously sick wife Ruqaiyya (r.a.), and with the permission of the Prophet (s.a.w), he did not participate in the Battle of Badr. However, he was an active combatant in the later battles of Uhud, Khaybar, Conquest of Mecca, Hunayn, and the Tabuk Expedition. Before the Treaty of Hudaybiya, he went to Mecca as the representative of the Muslims.
Acting as an intimate consultant to both Caliph Abu Bakr (r.a.) and Caliph Umar (r.a.), Uthman (r.a.) penned the statement in which Abu Bakr (r.a.) names Umar (r.a.) as the succeeding caliph. After Umar (r.a.) was assassinated, the Muslim community chose Uthman (r.a.) as their next caliph. Two years after Uthman (r.a.) became caliph, he started to change the governors of such big provinces as Kufa, Egypt, and Basra, generally appointing administrators in these posts from his own family, the Banu Umayya. As a result of these appointments, all the top administrative posts of the state came under the control of the Umayyad clan. This policy caused irritation and resentment in the public directed towards the government.
During the reign of Uthman (r.a), Muslims embarked on the fastest and largest movement of conquest that was ever attempted up until that point. As a result of these military expeditions, the borders of the state went over Khurasan in the East, and they enveloped North Africa in the West. During his reign, the strategic Mediterranean island of Cyprus was conquered by the governor of Damascus, Muawiya. In addition, other governors like Abdullah b. Sa’d, Abdullah b. Amir, Walid b. Uqba, and Said b. al-As ran very successful conquests, bringing the lands of Islam to its largest surface area in the Period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs.
Despite these successful expeditions, Uthman (r.a) encountered great difficulties in the interior affairs of the state, especially in the last five years of his reign. Classical sources of Islamic history claim that the interior strife that took place in the last years of Uthman’s (r.a.) rule stemmed from the personal shortcomings of the Caliph and his administrators, as well as the disruptive propaganda of people like Ibn Saba, who spread discord and discontent. However, the events we encounter in this period cannot be explained with one all-encompassing cause, nor can the responsibility be assigned to a couple of individuals. The interior strife came about due to the religious, political, social, and economic changes that took place in that period. Above all, this period witnessed the moment when military exhibitions were completed and the state borders reached their widest limits: the hostile inhabitants and high plateau of Iran in the East, Anatolia in the North, and the Mediterranean in the West. With the conquests at an end, people got the chance to sit together, think about the events, and make judgments the situation. Some people in this process started to spread anti-state propaganda and take a personal interest in political affairs. Another factor that played a destabilizing role in society was the decreasing number of Companions who had gone through an ethical education under the personal tutelage of the Prophet (s.a.w); with the number of Companions diminishing, people who were devoid of this education came to play a dominant role in society. In addition to all this, certain groups became the natural supporters of the interior strife that beleaguered the rule of Uthman (r.a.), such as: the Christian community, who had to formally submit to the Muslims during the spread of Islam but who nevertheless harbored hostility towards the Muslims; Persians who had formerly been subjects of the Sasanid Empire, which was brought to an end by Umar (r.a); and finally the Jewish community, who showed enmity towards the Muslims since the Prophet’s (s.a.w) emigration to Medina in 622. These groups ran covert operations to provoke the dissenters against the state. For all these reasons, the general discontent in society evolved into active protests and insurgencies against the government. Soon after, insurgents embarking from Kufa, Basra, and Egypt came to Medina, besieging the Caliph’s house. When the siege lasted for longer than a month, they attacked in unison in Dhu’l-Hijja 35 A.H. (June 656 A.D.) and martyred Uthman (r.a).
Uthman (r.a.) was docile, compassionate, and well-intentioned. He was especially renowned for his modesty. The sources also mention that he was extremely fond of his close kin, granting all their requests. Another quality that Uthman (r.a.) is known for is his generosity. Whenever Muslims needed financial support, he would often make the greatest contribution. After the immigration to Medina, he paid a very high sum to purchase a share in the Ruma well, which was owned by a Jew, and he offered the well to the service of the Muslims. During the preparations for the Expedition of Tabuk, he took on the equipment expenses of one third of the Muslim army. For these great services, Uthman (r.a.) became one of the Companions whom the Prophet (s.a.w) said would enter Paradise. Uthman (r.a) was also one of the Companions who committed the Quran into writing. One of the greatest services he rendered to the Muslim community was his involvement with the dissemination of the written Quran: he took the previously recorded copy of the Quran, reproduced a number of master copies, and distributed them to important Islamic centers throughout the state. In addition, Uthman (r.a.) narrated 146 hadith from the Prophet (s.a.w). From his descendants, Aban b. Uthman was one of the first scholars of Islamic history and prophetic biography.