Khalifa Uthman bin Affan - Pubic Treasury

Khalifa Uthman bin Affan - Pubic Treasury

Public treasury in the tune of the Holy Prophet
In the time of the Holy Prophet there was no public treasury. Whatever revenues or other amounts were received these were distributed immediately. There were no salaries to be paid, and there was no State expenditure. As such the need of a treasury to keep a reserve at public level was not felt.

Public treasury in the time of Abu Bakr
In the time of Abu Bakr as well there was no treasury. A separate building was kept aside as treasury, but as all money was distributed immediately on receipt, the treasury generally remained locked up. At the time of the death of Abu Bakr, there was only one dirham in the public treasury.

Public treasury during the caliphate of Umar
In the time of Umar things changed. With the extension in conquests, money was received in larger quantities and heavy surplus was left even after distribution among the people. Umar also allowed salaries to men fighting in the armed forces. That necessitated the maintenance of a full fledged treasury to meet the State needs. A public treasury was accordingly established at Madina. Similarly treasuries were established at the provincial levels. Separate Accounts Departments were set up to maintain accounts.

Public treasury under Uthman
Uthman maintained the system set up under Umar. Umar was very strict in the use of money from the public treasury. Apart from the meager allowance that had been sanctioned in his favor Umar took no money from the treasury. He did not receive any gifts, nor did he allow any of his family members to accept any gift from any quarter. It appears that during the time of Uthman there was some relaxation in such strictness. In Kufa a dispute arose between Sa'ad b Abi Waqas and the treasurer Abdullah b. Masud over a certain amount which Sa'ad b. Waqas as Governor had taken as a loan from the treasury, and which he was not able to repay within the stipulated period. A similar dispute arose between Walid b Uqba the successor of Sa'ad b Abi Waqas and Abdullah b Mas'l.

Uthman did not draw any allowance from the treasury for performing the functions of the caliphate. He was a wealthy man with sufficient resources of his own, and he had no need to draw any allowance from the treasury. There were, however, some complaints that Uthman was not as strict as his predecessor about the use of public funds. It was alleged that out of the public treasury Uthman made liberal grants to certain favorites. It was also alleged that unlike Umar, Uthman accepted gifts and allowed his family members to accept gifts from certain quarters. Abdullah b Arqam was in charge of the treasury at Madina, and according to some accounts that have come down to us, it is alleged that he resigned from his office as a protest against Uthman's policies with regard to the utilization of public funds.

The various accounts that have come down to us are prejudiced and biased. Uthman was a very rich man; he was most religious and pious. We cannot therefore, imagine that Uthman was corrupt in any way. He always acted, in a bona fide way. What appears to have happened is that Uthman had his own concept about the public funds, while his critics held an entirely different view on the subject.

Companions like Abu Dhar Ghaffari sponsored the theory that the funds in the public treasury were the property of the Muslims and as such had to be distributed equally among the Muslims. Under the circumstances the Caliph had no authority to make any grant to any person at the cost of the Muslims.

Uthman's view on the other hand was that the amount in the treasury was not the property of the Muslims. After the Muslims had received their due share, all that was in the treasury was the property of God and not of the Muslims. As the Caliph was in charge of the affairs of the State, he was a trustee of such property and he could utilize the funds on his own authority in public interest according to his best judgment. Uthman honestly felt that he had the right to utilize the public funds according to his best judgment, and no one had the right to criticize him for that. Uthman's argument was that if he could not spend the fund at the disposal of the State at his discretion, then what was the fun in being the Caliph?

As all the facts pertaining to the allegations are not available, it is not possible to say with any degree of certainty as to how far Uthman was right, or how far his critics were right. The view of the critics that the funds in the public treasury were the property of the Muslims and not of God does not appear to be correct. As in an Islamic State the State sovereignty vests in God, it follows as a matter of basic principle that all property vests in God. As the Caliph was the Head of Government he obviously had the authority to disburse funds for such purposes as he thought necessary. A Caliph is however not an absolute ruler, and if there is anything wrong with his exercise of discretion he can certainly be called in question. Thus while we can hold that the Caliph had the right to spend the money on his own authority it has also to be conceded that the people had the right to criticize the Caliph in case he had not exercised his discretion properly. At that stage of Islamic polity no machinery had been evolved to take cognizance of such criticism, and give its verdict which should be binding both on the Caliph as well as the people. Thus my personal view is that whatever difficulties arose during the caliphate of Uthman about the administration of the public funds were due more to procedural defects than because of any lapse on the part of Uthman.