In the first part, we have talked about the background of the Hanafiya Way, or the way of oneness of God. This is the way of Prophet Abraham. We have also introduced the four Hunafa who lived during Muhammad’s time. In this part, let’s talk about the first of the four, Uthman bin Huwarith.
Uthman bin Huwarith was probably the most senior among them, and the most ambitious of all. It is said that he was rich as well. While living as a Hanif, he changed his way after one of his journeys to Sham (Syria).
In that particular journey, he went to see the Roman Emperor there. The place was most likely Caesarea, the capital of Judea, also the second headquarters of the Roman Empire after Constantinople. He embraced the Trinitarian Christianity, the official religion of the Roman Empire, and promised the emperor to bring Christianity to Arabia.
There was already a Christian community in the Arabian Peninsula, located in Najran, to the north of Yemen and far south of Makkah, but their number was small. The ambitious Uthman promised the Roman Emperor that he could turn the paganistic Arabs into Christians if the Emperor made him the king of Arabs.
The Arabs of the North (Sham, Iraq, etc) were already Christianized. By Christianizing the Arabian Peninsula, not only that this region would pay homage to the Roman Empire, but the whole Arabs would become Christians. All he needed was a letter from the Emperor anointing him as the King of Arab.
Whatever went on in the mind of the Emperor is difficult to gauge, but putting his name on that piece of paper was no big deal. So the Emperor gave him the letter, anointing him as the King of Arabian Peninsula.
Upon his return to Makkah, Uthman boastfully showed the Emperor’s letter to his friends, the elders of Makkah. He demanded them to pay homage to him as their king, for he was officially anointed by the Roman Emperor, he said. They just laughed to his face.
He said the Roman army was behind him. If they did not accept him as their king, and help him in Christianizing the Arabia, the mighty Roman army will come crushing. And this army was not going to be like the Elephant army of Abrahah.
The episode with Uthman Huwarith most likely took place when Muhammad was a teenager, or perhaps in his early twenties, before his marriage. The Abrahah army, which consisted of many elephants, commemorated the birth of the Prophet. The Makkans were helpless when Abrahah came to demolish the Kaabah. Thus, some degree of fear must have entered the hearts of the Quraysh leaders, for the Roman army was much bigger than the army of Abrahah. A short surah (chapter) in the Quran talks about this Elephant army and what happened to them.
The fiercely independent outlook of the Arabs, of which the Quraysh was their leading tribes, however, rejected Uthman’s proposal outright. One of the Quraysh leaders at that time was Abu Talib, the Prophet’s uncle. He was also the Prophet’s custodian, for the Prophet’s father, mother and grandfather had already died.
Cursing him for selling his soul to the Romans, they kicked him out of Makkah. Uthman threatened them, saying that they had just signed a death warrant to the Arabs. The Quraysh leaders replied that they would rather die than being subservient to anyone, including the mighty Romans. Feeling desperate, Uthman went back to Syria, asking the Romans to invade the Arabian Peninsula.
The Roman Empire was big at that time. It was the second of the two superpowers, with the Persian Empire its worthy rival. They were co-equal. They fought against each other from time to time. Sometimes the Roman had the upper hand, sometimes the Persians. But none could actually deal a fatal blow to another.
Included in their empire was Egypt, the fertile country rich with agriculture produce. Egypt was the rice bowl for the Roman Empire. Also included in their Empire was Judea and Greater Syria (Sham). These areas were also rich. The Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of Yemen and a few small regions here and there, was a barren desert. Yemen was already under the influence of Persia. The other regions were independent.
Both the Persian and the Roman empires were eyeing for Arabia. Neither felt that the region was worth conquering, on account of its barren land, scarce in resources. But should one empire make the move, the other will not sit still, for strategic and military reasons. Seeing that Uthman had failed in his bid to convince his people to accept him as their king, in spite of the Emperor’s letter, the Roman Emperor decided that the venture was not worth taking. He refused to help Uthman.
Rejected by his own people and neglected by his patron, Uthman died broken hearted. Some said he was poisoned by the Romans, probably to keep him from pestering them to help him. He was a Hanif who died a Christian.
Zayd bin Amr, Uthman’s colleague, led a different course. He was a true Hanif through and through. We shall talk about him in Part 3. Stay tune.