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Chapter 8 : CALIPH ALI

The murder of Caliph Uthman, sparked by popular discontent, had left the community badly entangled in the question of regicide. In the confused atmosphere, the only candidate for the Caliphal office acceptable to the Muhajirun and Ansar as well as the rebellious Qurra was Ali. Hence, pressed by the demands from almost all quarters, Ali finally agreed to accept the office.

When informed of the nomination of Ali and despite his grass-root support, one of the widows of the Holy Prophet (pbh), A'isha, refused to return to Medina from the 'Umra or lesser pilgrimage and turned back instead to Mecca. Her quarrels with Fatima, the Holy Prophet's (pbh) daughter and Ali's late wife, and Ali's questioning of the election of her father Abu Bakr, had increased A'isha's dislike of the new Caliph.

A'isha was soon joined in Mecca by two other prominent figures, Talha Abdullah and Zubayr Awam. Both the men harboured political aspirations and saw A'isha as an opportunity to dissociate themselves from Ali whom they announced had compelled them to swear allegiance to under duress.

Uthman's secretary, Marwan al-Hakam along with some other members of the 'Ummayad clan meanwhile had escaped to Syria during the popular revolt that had brought down the previous Caliph, seeking refuge with Mu'awiya, the Autonomous Governor of Syria and kinsman of Uthman. Marwan took with him Uthman's blood-stained shirt and the severed fingers of Na'ila, Uthman's widow for his propagada purposes in Syria.

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The Holy Prophet's (pbh) victory and his establishment of the Islamic concept of society had meant the lost of the aristocratic ideals prevalent in the Arabian society. During the caliphate of Uthman however, the old aristocratic ideals of the Umayya, the wealthiest clan, as well as the other ruling families of Mecca, found opportunity to re-establish itself. With the election of Ali, the pious inheritor of the Prophet's Knowledge, the new found power was however once again threatened.

Mu'awiah realized that if Ali managed to consolidate his authority, Ali would dislodge him from his position. The only way Mu'awiah, as Uthman's kinsman, saw to avoid this was for him to question the validity of Ali's title to the Caliphate and implicate him in the murder of Uthman.

It was not a surprise to find Mu'awiah's clan member, Marwan bin Hakam therefore, whom the Holy Prophet (pbh) himself had externed from Medina, only to be recalled back by his uncle and father-in-law Uthman during Uthman's Caliphate, rise to support A’isha. Whether or not it was due to the instigation of Talha and Zubayr as some Historians maintain, the 'Mother of the Faithful, A'isha, marched to Basra in 36 AH ( 656 CE) to face Caliph Ali on the pretext of exacting vengeance for the murder of Uthman.

The triumvirate of A'isha, Talhah and Zubayr, threatened to cut the Caliph off from the east and compound the problem of an already rebellious Syria by creating a similar problem in Iraq. Caliph Ali marched to Kufa, which he had made his capital in 36 AH ( 656 CE ), before heading to the battlefield at Basra, with his sons Hasan and Husayn, by the Holy Prophet's daugter

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Fatima, and Muhammad Hanafiah, Ali's son by his wife Khoola Ja’far, by his side.

When further efforts of the Caliph for peaceful reconciliation bore no fruit, Ali's army of twenty thousand took on An-Nakithun or 'those who break their allegiance', who numbered thirty thousand on the 10 Jamadi-ul-Sani 36 AH. This battle, called The Battle of Al-Jamal, or Battle of the Camel, so named for the quadruped A’isha was riding, was the first Muslim civil war. While it resulted in the slaying of Talha and Zubayr, it also saw A'isha being escorted safely back to Medina.

Having secured his position in Iraq for the moment, Ali turned to deal with the more dangerous problem of Mu'awiya. The blood stained shirt of Uthman and the amputated fingers of Na’ila Farafesa had been hung at the pulpit of the Central Mosque of Damascus to incite revolt among the Syrians against Caliph Ali

Although at first Caliph Ali had tried through peaceful means to deal with his adversary, it became clear that Mu'awiya had resolved to fight leaving the Caliph no alternative but to march, in the month of Zul-Hijjah, 36 AH, with his forces to meet the Syrians in the Battle of Siffin. In Ali's army were seventy Companions who had fought for the Prophet in Badr, seven hundred of those who renewed their allegiance to Prophet Muhammad (pbh) at the time of the treaty of Hudaybiyyah and another four hundred from other Muhajirun and Ansar.

When the month of Muharram, during which war is prohibited arrived, both parties laid down their arms until the 1st of Safar. Then, by the 10th day, when the Syrians were feeling demoralized

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and faced defeat, Amr A'as suggested to Mu’awiya to tell his men to raise copies of the Qur'an on their spears. This cunning deceit spread its' chaos to Ali's camp. The Caliph ordered his men to continue fighting, ensuring them that Mu’awiya was merely using the Qur'an as a ploy, yet a substantial section of his men non-the-less rebelled, demanding an arbitration.

Forced to conceded, the Caliph urged them to at least obey him in either choosing Abdullah bin Abbas or Malik bin Ashtar as arbitrator. Again they refused and insisted that Abu Musa Ash'ari arbitrate instead.

Mu’awiya sent Am'r A'as. After mutual consultation, the two arbitrators decided that both Ali and Mu’awiya be removed from their positions and that the Muslims now be let to choose a new Caliph. At Douma-tul-Jadal located between Iraq and Syria, Abu Musa Ash'ari proceeded to make this announcement. When it was the turn of Am'r A's to reaffirm it, he cunningly declared that while Abu Musa had removed Ali, there was no question about removing Mu’awiya.

Those foremost in demanding Ali for arbitration, now began to say that to let other than God to arbitrate is heresy and by accepting arbitration, Ali had turned heretic. At Kufa, the insurgents, called Kharijites or deviators, spread claims that Ali had broken the agreement of the Arbitration. They then proceeded to a place called Nahrwan, near Baghdad.

Caliph Ali meanwhile, would not accept a verdict not based on the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah and was ready to fight the deceitful Syrians. Heading towards Syria, Ali learnt that the Kharijites had massacred the governor of Nahrwan as well as local

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civilians.The Caliph's army was thus diverted to crush the rebellion. Despite last-minute calls for peace, the Kharijites were adamant for war so on the 9th Safar 38 AH, the Battle of Nahrwan broke out. Except for nine persons who fled, not a single person of the more than 2,000 Kharijites survived.

After Nahrwan, instead of advancing to confront Mu’awiya, Ali had to return to Kufa due to the lack of enthusiasm of his army. while Mu’awiya on the other hand, continued to send troops to create discord in the territories, to which the Caliph was finding more and more difficult to arouse the people to retaliate against.

In the tradition called Hadith Manzila, quoted among others in Sahih Bukhari Vol3 Book of Ghazawa, Sahih Bukhari hadith nos. 5.56 and 5.700, Sahih Muslim Vol 2 under 'Merits of 'Ali', Ahmad Hanbal in Musnad Vol1 and Tirmidi in his 'Jami, the Holy Prophet of Allah (pbh) had liken Ali's position to him as Aaron was to Moses, but that there would be no more Prophet after Muhammad (pbh)'. Ironically it seems, the obstinacy of the people toward Ali was reminiscent of the disobedience shown to Aaron when Moses was absent.

Finally, in the morning of the 19th Ramadan 40 AH, while praying in the mosque in Kufa, Ali was stabbed by a Kharijite named Ibn Muljam. Born in the House of Allah, the Ka'bah and killed in the House of Allah, the Mosque of Kufa, the Lion of Allah, Ali ibn Abu Talib returned to his Lord on the 21st. Ramadan 40 AH and was buried in an-Najaf al-Ashraf which is now part of Iraq.

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