Policy of Reaction

Owing to the distinguished men of the Quraish being used to enjoying a whole array of privileges and advantages, it was hard for them to accept Imam Ali's (a.s.) policy of equality of rights as Allah enjoined. Al-Zubair bin Awam and Talha bin Ubaidullah disapproved of this policy of Imam Ali (a.s.), as it deviated from what so far had been customary. Imam Ali (a.s.) asked them: ''That is it that you so disapprove of in me that you seek other than me?"

They said: "you made our share of allowance the same as the others; you made us equal to those who are not like us regarding the booty bestowed upon us by Allah through our swords and spears, and which we charged our horses and men, upon which our mission was established, and which we took by force from those who reluctantly look at Islam."(135)

The Imam (a.s.) replied to them: "You complain of such minor affairs, and neglect major things [done for you]. Can you tell me of an instance of my depriving you of your rights or of a single thing that was your due, but I withheld it from you, or of a single case brought before me for judgement but I failed to give a just decision, or of a situation in which I gave an incorrect decree?

"By Allah I never craved for the caliphate or authority. All of you invited me to accept it, and when I accepted, I looked into the Book of Allah and to what we had been ordered to do, and I followed it, as well as the traditions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), and I exemplified it. In following those I never needed your opinion, nor the opinion of anybody else. Nor was there a judgement which I knew not so as to need your consultation or other Muslims. Had there been such a need I would have turned not away from you or from the others.

"As to what you say about equal distribution of wealth, I should say it is not my opinion which I follow, nor is it a desire of mine to control. It is what I and you found the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) doing. There, too, I needed no help from you, since Allah had already ordained its dividends.

Therefore, neither you nor anyone else are justified in blaming me for this. May Allah guide our hearts and yours to the truth and grant us patience. May Allah have mercy upon him who, when he sees the truth, helps it to spread, who, when he sees inequity, rejects it, and who rightly backs his companion."(136)

In this way, concepts and starting points were diverse. Imam Ali (a.s.) started from what Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger (s.a.w.) enjoin, whereas his opponents start from what their own interests revealed to them. So huge was the difference between aiming at carrying out the teachings of the Message and caring for the interests of the whole nation, and thc materialistic position which sees only private interests.

Mu'awiyah's Attitude:

No sooner had the news spread of Imam Ali's acceptance of the caliphate and of his undertaking the task of leading the nation, than Mu'awiyah bin Abi Sufyan, filled with fear, announced his opposition. Mu'awiyah had received a letter from bin Al- As, telling him about the situation in the capital of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.): From Amr bin Al-As to Mu'wiyah bin Abi Sufyan. Do whatever you want to, as Ali bin Abi Talib has peeled off you whatever you have, like a branch peeled of its bark."(137)

At the same time Imam Ali (a.s.) wrote to Mu'awiyah summoning him. But Mu'awiyah neither went to him nor replied to his letter.(138) Three months after Uthman's murder, and Imam Ali's caliphate began, Mu'awiyah raised the claim of avenging Uthman's blood to use as a pretext to rebel against his Imam.

He started with hanging Uthman's bloody shirt and a few hairs of his beard, with dried blood on them in the Damascus Mosque. He began to incite the people of Al-Sham to rise and take Uthman's revenge from his murderers. He sent an envoy to the Imam, who arrived in Madinah and started wandering through its lanes, showing the people a sealed letter with the words "From Mu'awiyah to Ali". Such unbecoming behavior by the envoy provoked thc people's surprise, revealing that the sender did not bear any reeling of respect for the Imam.

When Imam Ali (a.s.) opened the letter, he found it blank with nothing written in it. He asked the envoy about the matter. The envoy demanded to be spared if he told the truth. Assured of his safety, he said: "I left behind me people who say: We would not be contented except by revenge." Imam Ali (a.s.) asked: "Whom from?"

The man replied: "The people say: From Ali's neck. I have left 60,000 old men weeping under Uthman's shirt, spread for them on thc pulpit of Damascus Mosque, with the fingers of his wife, Na'ilah, hung on it." Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "Do they want Uthman's blood from me [Do they accuse me of his murder]? Allah knows I am innocent of Uthman's blood..."(139) He then ordered the envoy to leave, secured in his passage. Afterwards, Imam Ali (a.s.) began gathering his army to counter plans laid by Mu'awiyah in al-Sham.

Background of Avenging Uthman:

Before going any further, it is perhaps better to establish whether the parties in Al -Sham and Basrah were truthful in their demand of avenging thc third caliph. This question, which imposes itself on both the writer and the reader, can be answered by referring to the attitudes of those parties during the period of the revolt which led to the murder of Uthman.

Mu'awiyah knew the details of what was happening against the caliph in Madinah. The caliph, himself, was sieged by the people and asked for Mu'awiyah's help who actually did not help him, but sent an army instead, headed by Yazid bin Asad al- Qasri, whom he ordered: "When you reach Dhi Khushub--a region outside Madinah--stay there and do not leave it. Do not say that the present see what the absent cannot see. It is I who am present, and it is you who are absent."(140)

Al-Qasri stayed where Mu'awiyah had told him. When Uthman was killed, Mu'awiyah summoned the army back to al-Sham.

This shows Mu'awiyah's attitude towards Uthman bin Affan during the latter's rule. So, his brandishing of the banner of avenging the murder of the caliph was but a means merely to stir up the sympathy of the people and to muster supporters. His real motive lay in his disapproval of Imam Ali's (a.s.) reformative policy which injured the interests of the social elite in one way or the other, particularly the wealth, power and authority that Mu'awiyah had gained during the reign of Uthman and his own desire for the caliphate.

On the other hand, Imam Ali (a.s.) announced his attitude toward the caliph's murder, saying:

"...By Allah, the murderers of Uthman would not have escaped if Allah had not willed it, as when He wills something, He will attain it."(141) His attitude further set out his position through a letter he sent to Mu'awiyah, in which he said:

"...You have said so much about the murderers of Caliph Uthman. Join the people in what they did [allegiance]. I, then, shall pass my judgement according to the tenets of the Book of Allah. But what you want now is but a trick..."(142)

The Imam’s Attitude During the Crisis

To give further insight, it is necessary to mention, Imam Ali's (a.s.) attitude during the crisis to which the Caliphate had been subjected ill Uthman's days. When the people revolted against Caliph Uthman, Imam Ali (a.s.) tried to convince him of the necessity of reform and there were discussions between them in this respect. Imam Ali (a.s.), among other things, told him:

"...I beseech you in the name of Allah not to let yourself be the murdered leader, because it is said that in this nation a leader will be killed, opening the door of bloodshed until the Day of Resurrection. He will cast doubts on their affairs, mislead them into trial so that they will not be able to distinguish between right and wrong, and, blame each other for these calamities. They will find themselves engulfed by sorrows and sufferings. So, fairly an old and experienced man as you are, do not become a pack animal to Marwan who drags you to where he likes."(143)

Uthman then requested: " Ask these people to give me time so that I may compensate them and undo the wrong done to them."(144) Thereupon Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "There can be no postponement for what is going on here in Madinah. As to the other places, the time for your orders to reach there will be grace enough."(145)

The caliph said: "Yes, but get me three day's...grace for what is here."

Imam Ali (a.s.) went out to the people and told them about the Caliph's promise, and wrote an agreement between them and the Caliph, and had it attested to by a number of noteables of the Muhajirin and the Ansar.(146)

But, as the Caliph could not keep his word, the situation deteriorated once again. It became even more aggravated when Egyptian Mujahidin laid their hands on a letter sent by Uthman to his agent in Egypt, ordering him to punish the leaders of the Egyptian revolutionaries by putting them to death, and to punish the discontented by putting them behind bars.(147)

The Caliph was, therefore, besieged by both the discontented and those who coveted the caliphate. They even prevented drinking water from reaching him.

Then he sought the help of Imam Ali (a.s.), who hurried to his rescue. Pushing Talha and the others aside, he brought him water to drink.(148) The siege lasted for forty days. One day the people asked Imam Ali (a.s.) to let them perform their prayers behind him as their Imam. He refused. Talha took over the lead.

These are some aspects of the attitude of Imam Ali (a.s.) toward Uthman. Yet, his noble positions in defending the Caliph did not mean that Imam Ali (a.s.) was pleased with the Caliph's financial and administrative policies.(149) Rather, he thought that Uthman's murder would endanger the nation, since it would result in tearing the Islamic ranks into pieces by the enemies of the Muslims. Which has actually happened!


Talha and Al-Zubair were at the head of those who disapproved of Uthman's policy. In fact, they were also at the head of the people who gave the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a.s.) after the death of Uthman. Yet they were not happy with the reformative movement led by Imam Ali (a.s.) in Islamic life. They started preparations for rebellion against the Imam (a.s.) and stirred the Muslims against him. The result was a calamity that caused the nation grave losses.

Imam Ali (a.s.) exerted great effort to avoid the conflict. Nothing was spared in offering his advice to them and he placed on their shoulders full responsibility of the war if it broke out.

He said to them:

"...you, Talha and you, Zubair, you know that I did not want the people until they wanted me, and I did not accept their allegiance till they forced me to, and you were at the head of those who hurried to pledge allegiance to me. You did not accept that by force, nor for a present purpose. O Zubair, you, champion of the Quraish; and you, Talha, the leader of the Muhajirin, it would have been easier for you both to prevent it before joining it than to avoid it after giving your allegiance. It is Banu Uthman who may avenge him, whereas you are two men of the Muhajirin, You have brought your mother Ummul Mu'minin, A'ishah, the wife of the Prophet (s.a.w.) out of her house, whereas Allah had commanded her not to leave it."(150)

In Basra, Imam Ali (a.s.) continued to give his advice to prevent bloodshed, He even sent envoys to the Nakithun [those who broke their allegiance] inviting them to peace and reconciliation.

He also met Al-Zubair and reminded him of certain incidents which had happened to them during the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.), He asked him: "What caused you to do this, O Zubair?" "To avenge Uthman," replied Zubair.

Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "If you are to be fair with yourself, it is you and your companions who killed him. I beseech you, O Zubair, do you not remember the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) asking you: 'O Zubair, do you love Ali?' and you replied: 'Why?’ He then said to you: 'Verily you will not? Isn't he my cousin. injustly go against him?’"

"O yes, this did happen," replied Zubair.

Imam Ali (a.s.) then said: "I beseech you to remember the day when the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) returned from Banu Awf, and you were accompanying him, and he was holding your hand. I received him and greeted him. He smiled at me and I smiled at him. You said: 'Ali bin Abi Talib never gives up his pride.' He (s.a.w.) said to you: 'Slow down, Zubair! Ali is not proud. Verily you will one day unfairly rise against him.'"

"O yes," replied Al-Zubair, "but I forgot it. Now that you have reminded me, I would give it up."(151) Consequently, Zubair decided to retire from public life. But his son, Abdullah, accused him of cowardice for doing so. Thus, the situation exploded and war was waged between the two camps.

*His Humanistic Attitude: * Imam Ali (a.s.), nevertheless, kept his patience, tolerance and high humane spirit. He, thus addressed his army--after all his efforts to amend the situation were unsuccessful when war broke out--asking them to adorn themselves with the high morals which Allah, the Exalted, commanded them to do while in war:

"O people, I adjure you by Allah that you may not kill the one who turns his back on the battlefield; you may not finish one wounded; you may not deem captivity lawful; and you may not seize weapons nor property."(152) Through this, he announced the Islamic regulations to be practiced against the rebels. Then he invoked his Lord, the Most High, taking refuge in Him against the trial caused by the Nakithun, declaring it to be rejected by him before Allah, the Great and Most High.

Raising his hands high in invocation, he said: "O Allah! Talha and Al-Zubair have willingly shaken hands with me. Then they openly waged war against me. O Allah! Spare me their evil by whatever means or way that You will.(153) The fight ended with a crushing victory achieved by the Imam's army. Imam Ali (a.s.) proclaimed a general amnesty to all those who fought against him:

"...No injured one may be killed; no one fleeing may be chased, and no deserter may be stabbed. Whoever drops his weapon is safe, and whoever closes his door is secure. No seizure of women and property may be regarded lawful. Whatever utensils [the enemy] brought to the war may be seized, but whatever else is for their heirs. No slave leaving the camp may be pursued. Whatever there is of animals and weapons is yours. You may not have the mother of a child--the maid who gave birth to a male or female. Heritage is to be according to the law of Allah. Any woman whose husband is killed may wait for four months and ten days, [before marrying again]."

Somebody asked him: "Their blood is lawful to us but not their women [to marry]. How is that?"

Imam Ali (a.s.) replied: "That is the way with the Muslims."(154)

But some of his soldiers wished to get more booty than those defined by the Imam (a.s.). A man stood up and said: "O Amir Al-Mu'minin, by Allah you did not divide equitably, nor did you act justly among the subjects!"

Imam Ali (a.s.) asked him: "Oh, how?" The man replied: "Because you distributed what was in the camp, but you left out the wealth, women and children." Imam Ali (a.s.), then began to explain the philosophy of his humane attitude:

"O brother of Bakr [tribe], you are a man of weak thinking. Do you not know that we do not accuse the young of the crime committed by the old? These people had their properties before separation, and they married as adults, and they were born in a natural way. So, you may only have what there is in their camp. As to what is in their houses is for the heritage of their children. If anyone of them transgressed against us, we would take him for his crime. But if he refrained, we would not burden him with someone else's guilt.

"O brother of Bakr, I judged in this respect, as the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) did in respect to the people of Mecca. He distributed what was in the camp and touched nothing else. I followed in his wake.

"O brother of Bakr, do you not know that what is on the battlefield is lawful, but what is in the distribution (emigration) land is not lawful except according to a right."(155)

These are some of the unique humane acts following the command of Allah and in accordance with His laws, which Amir al-Mu'minin Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) applied in dealing with his defeated opponents. In his attitude you will find no trace of emotion, hastiness or vengeance. It was this attitude from which Imam Ali (a.s.) embodied the rules of Allah, and no one could embody the laws of Allah among the people better than Imam Ali (a.s.).

Imam Ali (a.s.) continued his humane measures in respect to the Nakithun, at the same time showing the noblest and the truest of feelings towards those deceived. He tried his best to mend the crack and divisions by unifying the ummah and preserving its dignity.


After victory in the Battle of Basra, Imam Ali (a.s.) returned, with his army to Kufa to reinforce his troops, and then to go on to Al-Sham to liquidate the opposition led by Mu'awiyah bin Abi Sufyan.

Imam Ali (a.s.) started his march with his army heading for Al-Sham. But the enemy received news about his move, and decided to meet the Islamic advance- on the way. The two armies confronted one another near the Euphrates River. Imam Ali (a.s.) resumed his efforts to set things right through peaceful ways. He sent a three-member delegation to Mu'awiyah asking him to fear Allah, preserve the unity of the Muslim ranks and join the unanimity of the nation:

"Go to this man and call him to Allah, to obedience and to unanimity. Probably Allah may guide him, and the ranks of the nation may come together."(156)

The delegation met the head of the opposition and told him about the intentions of the Imam (a.s.), presented him the way of Allah and warned him against the consequences of his misdeeds. But Mu'awiyah stuck to his position, saying: "Go away, I have no reply except the sword."(157)

Mu'awiyah's defiant position nevertheless did not affect Imam Ali's (a.s.) tolerance and patience, nor did it cause him to be hasty in starting an attack as he wanted to prevent bloodshed and to preserve the lives of the nation.

This humanistic attitude adhered to by the Imam (a.s.) only increased the obstinacy of the opposition, and they tried to block Imam Ali's (a.s.) army from getting access to the waters of the river. They moved troops to strategic positions along the banks of the river to stop the Imam's army from reaching it.

Although water was vital for the army, Imam Ali (a.s.) did not lose his patience. He sent a message to Mu'awiyah telling him: "We came here for something other than water. Had we got to it before you, we would not have forbidden it to you." Mu'awiyah's reply was: "By God, not even a drop till you die of thirst!"(158)

This compelled Imam Ali (a.s.) to resort to force to get water for his army, as the only alternative left before him. Consequently, he moved a division of soldiers to break the blockade and Mu'awiyah's army received a crushing defeat. The river came under the control of the Imam's army, yet, he allowed Mu'awiyah's army access to the river whenever they liked. In doing so he incarnated one of the fundamental moralities of Islam in this respect.

How great and noble a warrier Imam Ali (a.s.) was, and what a big heart he had!

As the Imam (a.s.) was greatly concerned about preventing the shedding of Muslim blood, guarding dissension and avoiding disunity, he challenged Mu'awiyah to fight him in single combat, where the winner would be regarded as the leader of the nation: "O Mu'awiyah! What should the people kill each other for? Come, fight me and leave the people alone. The victor will have the rule."(159)

Mu'awiyah, fearing defeat, resorted to start the battle with all his forces. The tactics of Imam Ali (a.s.) were not to lose his self-control, and trying to keep the fight within the range of individual combat.(160)

But his attempts at limiting the conflict could not repair the damage of Mu'awiyah, and full scale war broke out that lasted two weeks.

Just when there appeared signs of victory in favor of Imam Ali's side, the enemy, realizing that they were on the verge of defeat, resorted to stave off their inevitable tute and raised copies of the Holy Qur'an on top of their spears and swords [denoting that they were Muslims and ready to accept the judgement of the Qur'an]. This proved to be a deceitful trick to essentially change the general trend of the battle, as the raising of the Qur'an by Mu'awiyah's soldiers had an effective impact on the Imam's camp and presently, many groups of his army came to him demanding a halt to the fighting. There was much gossip and thousands indicated they wanted an amnesty.

Imam Ali (a.s.) immediately knew it was a trick, and tried to explain its purpose to the people, telling them it was only meant to stop victory coming. But many were fooled by the move and did not lend a responsive ear to the Imam's repeated calls to come to their senses. Some of them even used a threatening tone with the Imam (a.s.).(161)

At last it was decided to send Ash'ath bin Qais to Mu'awiyah to ask him what he meant by raising the Qur'an. The enemy sent Mu'awiyah's demand for an arbitrated settlement.

This only brought about Act Two of the tragedy as one of the mob chose Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari to represent the camp of Imam Ali (a.s.), while Mu'awiyah chose bin Al-As, The Imam (a.s.) did not accept the selection of Al-Ash'ari for such an errand, as Al-Ash'ari had argued against Imam Ali (a.s.) being a caliph after Uthman (162) --sharing the opinion of some others who kept away from the Imam (a.s.). Instead he used to en courage the people not to support Imam Ali (a.s.), which had forced the Imam to depose him from his post as governor of Kufa.(163)

Imam Ali (a.s.) preferred Abdullah bin Abbas to be the representative of his camp in the arbitration, but was pressed by the mob's insistence on their choice of Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari. The Imam (a.s.) told them about his weak-mindedness, in addition to his ideological trends and attitude toward the Imam's government.

"You disobeyed me at the beginning [referring to their demand to stop the fight and accept arbitration], so, do not disobey me now. I do not see that you should appoint Abu Musa to arbitrate. He is too feebleminded to be able to face Amr and his tricks."(164) However, they refused to listen.

The development of events suggest they did not happen unintentionally. The raising of the Qur'an was no coincidence and its timing meant there was coordination between Mu'awiyah and his agents inside the Imam's army, with whom he must have had close connections. No sooner had the Qur'an been raised, than those agents in Imam Ali's (a.s.) army responded by raising their voices demanding a cease-fire, playing on people's tiredness of fighting and desire for peace. Then they imposed arbitration on him, as well as choosing their own representative.

It is impossible not to think that that rebellious movement within the Imam's army, as described by the historians, was a plot preplanned by Mu'awiyah.

The result of the arbitration, needless to say, and as Imam Ali (a.s.) had predicted, was in favor of Mu'awiyah, with the resulting situation gradually moving to his interest.


After the arbitration incident, Imam Ali (a.s.) returned with his army to Kufa. There he, surprisingly, heard that a group of his army, numbering some 4,000 had announced their rebellion against him. They refused to enter the town with him and went onto "Haroura" where they took their positions.

It may be noted that the majority of those who rose against Imam Ali (a.s.) were the very same group which forced him to accept arbitration in the Siffin Battle.(165)

This group justified its uprising against the Imam Ali (a.s.) by saying: "No authority except Allah's," and "We do not accept to have men rule in the religion of Allah. Allah had sentenced Mu'awiyah and his followers to death, unless they accept our judgement against them. It had been a slip and a sin on our part to accept the two arbitrators. We hereby repented to our Lord and set back. You too, [O Ali], do as we did, or else we shall repudiate you."(166)

Imam Ali (a.s.) explained to them that Islamic ethics demand that when one gives one's word one should keep it. He had given his word for a one-year truce as agreed between the two camps. He said to them: "Woe to you! Do you want me to break my word after having given consent and pledge? Do you not know that Allah says: 'Fulfill the covenent of Allah when you have covenented, and break not your oaths after the assertion of them, and you have made Allah surety over you. Lo! Allah knows what you do.'"(167)

The opposition, however, disregarded Imam Ali's (a.s.) directions and stuck to their stance. The danger aggravated even more when further discontented people joined them. They started overtly accusing all those who followed Imam Ali (a.s.), and indeed the Imam (a.s.) himself, of polytheism, and deemed the shedding of their blood as lawful.

Imam Ali (a.s.) initially did not intend to encounter them, so as to grant them a chance to consider seriously what they were doing and possibly to come back to the right path so that he could completely devote himself to resuming the fight against the rebels in Al-Sham. The arbitration had failed after the second meeting between the arbitors, as Amr bin Al-As had tricked Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari.

However, a real internal danger to the Imam's government began to form. The dissenters started to kill innocent people and threaten security. They even killed the respected companion of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), Abdullah bin Khabab and ripped open his wife's stomach, though she was pregnant and about to deliver her child. They also killed women of the Tay tribe.

On hearing these developments, Amir Al Mu'minin (a.s.) sent Al-Harith bin Murra Al-Abdi to them on a fact-finding mission, but they killed him, too.(168)

Hearing this, the Imam (a.s.) returned from Al-Anbar-where he was massing his troops for a second combat with Mu'awiyah in Al-Sham. When he and his troops neared their place, he again tried whatever he could to amend the situation without shedding blood. To this end, he requested them to hand over to him the killers of Abdullah bin Khabab, Al-Harith Al-Abdi and others, in which case he would leave them alone. They answered: "We all killed them.'" Imam Ali (a.s.) then sent the notable companion of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), Qais bin Sa'd, to advise them and warn them against their foolish attitude. He asked them to give up the unlawful belief that they had the right to shed the blood of Muslims and accuse them of infidelity.(169)

The Imam (a.s.) continued his rational argument and humane attitude. He sent to them Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, who, after finishing his advice to them, raised his voice, saying:

"Whoever is not guilty of murder and joins this banner will be safe. Whoever goes to Kufa, or to Mada'in, will be safe. No one of you is wanted, except those who killed our brothers."(170)

This appeal largely succeeded and they began to leave, until their numbers fell from twelve thousand to only four thousand.

But those who remained attacked the Imam's army. Imam Ali (a.s.) had ordered his men not to start the fight unless they were set upon. So, when the "Khawarij" began the conflict, the army of Imam Ali (a.s.) surrounded them and the banner of truth was victorious.

This was the Battle of Nahrawan, which exterminated the movement of those whom the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had formerly described as "al-Mariqun". According to Abu Sa'id al-Khidri: "I heard the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) saying: 'There will rise from this nation a group who will dart from the religion as an arrow darts from a bow."'(171)