The Battle of Siffin
TO DISSUADE MUAWIYA FROM WAGING WAR AGAINST THE
MUSLIMS, Ali used all those argument that he had used, earlier, in his appeals to Ayesha,
Talha and Zubayr for the same purpose, and the outcome in both cases was the same. In the
perception of all his enemies, peace could only compound the already complex problems of
the Dar-ul-Islam. They saw only one remedy for those problems, and that was war.
This time, however, Ali was confronted by an enemy
who was far more subtle, devious, insidious and dangerous than the "triumvirate"
of Ayesha, Talha and Zubayr had ever been. In fact, he was so subtle that in comparison,
Talha and Zubayr were little more than political backwoodsmen.
In Basra, the rebel group was a coalition of
disparate interests, and its members were held together only by their common hatred of
Ali. It lacked singleness of purpose. Ayesha was fighting to elevate her nephew, Abdullah
bin Zubayr, to the throne of khilafat. But Talha and Zubayr were not going to defer to her
in this matter; they themselves were the candidates for that prize. Thus their coalition
was far from being the one-for-all and all-for-one triumvirate that their supporters might
have liked it to be.
The triumvirate of Basra was dogged and hobbled by
their divided counsels but Muwaiya was not. He sought the advice of Amr bin Aas and others
but he himself made all the decisions.
Ali was still in quest of unity. The unity of the
umma of Muhammad was threatened by growing stresses and strains, and he was struggling to
protect it and preserve it. But unfortunately, his enemies did not share this anxiety with
him. Their only interest was to rip apart the unity of the umma, and they succeeded in
ripping it apart.
In the spring of 657, Muawiya left Damascus with his
army to carry war into Iraq. He crossed the boundary and halted at a village called Siffin
on the bank of the river Euphrates. His first act was to occupy the water-front.
Hearing the news of the advance of the Syrian army,
Ali appointed Aqaba ibn Amr Ansari as governor of Kufa, called Abdullah ibn Abbas from
Basra to accompany him, and left Kufa with his army for Siffin in April 657. "Seventy
veterans of the battle of Badr and 250 Companions of the Tree of Fealty marched under his
flag with the army along the banks of the Euphrates toward Siffin." (Mustadrak, vol.
Upon arrival in Siffin, Ali's army found its access
to the water-front barred by a strong contingent of the Syrian troops. Ali sent Sa'sa' ibn
Sauhan, a companion of the Prophet, to Muawiya, asking him to withdraw his pickets from
the river, and to allow free access to water, to everyone. Muawiya, of course, refused to
do so whereupon Ali ordered his troops to seize the water-front by force. His troops
routed the Syrians, and captured the water-front. Now there was consternation and panic in
the camp of Muawiya. He conjured up the specter of death in the desert by thirst. But Amr
bin Aas assured him that Ali would never deny water to anyone.
The Syrians had no way to reach the water. Ali's
generals were of the opinion that they should pay Muawiya back in his own coin. There was
nothing easier for them than to let the whole Syrian army perish with thirst. But Ali
gently reproved them for wishing to imitate an example which they themselves condemned,
and he declared:
"The river belongs to God. There is no embargo
on water for anyone, and whoever wishes, may take it."
Minor skirmishes began in Zilhajj 36 A.H., May 657.
(Zilhajj is the last month of the Islamic calendar) and continued sporadically for the
next few weeks. With the arrival of Moharram (the first month of the Islamic year),
fighting was suspended for one month. During this month of truce (Moharram), Ali renewed
his search for peace but his efforts to solve problems through negotiation, or to find
solutions that would obviate fighting among the Muslims, were all fruitless for the simple
reason that his adversary, Muawiya, didn't see peace as an option. He opposed dtente
because it was incompatible with his interests.
Ali should have been made cynical by duplicity,
tragedy and bitter experience yet he was ready to believe, despite all precedent,
in a prospect for peace, and was ready to work for it.
When the last day of Moharram passed, and the month
of Safar began, Ali sent Merthid ibn Harith to deliver a message to the Syrians. He stood
in front of the Syrian army, and read the message as follows:
"O Syrians! Ali, the Chief of the Believers,
informs you that he gave you every chance to verify the facts and to satisfy yourselves.
He invited you to follow the Book of God but you have paid no attention. Now there is
nothing more that he can tell you. Without a doubt, God does not befriend those who betray
Truth." (Tabari, History, vol. IV, p. 6)
When the two armies faced each other, Ali
promulgated the following ordinance to his troops just as he had done before the battle of
Basra (the battle of the Camel):
"O Muslims! wait for your enemy to open
hostilities, and defend yourselves only when he attacks you. If anyone of the enemy wishes
to escape from the battle and to save his life, let him do so. If God gives you victory,
do not plunder the camp of the enemy; do not mutilate the bodies of the dead nor rob them
of their armor and weapons, and do not molest their women. Above all things, remember God
at all times."
Ali redeployed his forces. He gave command of the
right wing to Abdullah ibn Abbas, and of the left wing to Malik ibn Ashter, while he
himself commanded the center. With him were the companions and the friends of Muhammad,
the Apostle of God, among them Ammar ibn Yasir. Presently, the Syrians attacked, and Ali
signaled his forces to repel them.
The battle of Siffin had begun.
Ammar ibn Yasir was past 70 at this time but the
flame of faith in God, and the love of His Messenger, Muhammad, burned fiercely inside his
breast, and he fought like young men. To add the dramatic touch to the battle, he carried
the same weapons with which he had fought, many years earlier, in the company of Muhammad
Mustafa, against the polytheists of Makkah in Badr.
The enemy Ammar met in Siffin, was disguised as a
Muslim but he could not hoodwink him (Ammar). Ammar's penetrating eyes recognized the face
behind the mask. He must have been intensely amused to meet the old enemy, after a lapse
of many years, in a new encounter. For him the battle of Siffin was redolent of the battle
of Badr. Once again he was fighting, on the side of Muhammad and his vicegerent, Ali,
against their enemies. As he struck the Syrians, he kept saying:
"We are fighting against you today over the
interpretation of Quran just as in the times of our Prophet, we fought against you
over its revelation."
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal in his Musnad, and Hakim in
his Mustadrak, have reported on the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri, a companion, that
the Apostle of God said to Ali:
"O Ali! just as I am fighting against the
idolaters over the revelation of Quran, some day you will fight over its
Ammar paused for a few moments to address his
comrades-in-arms, and said to them:
"My friends! attack the enemy. There is no time
to linger and to hesitate. The doors of Heaven are wide open today but to get admission to
it, you have to dare the swords and the spears of these enemies of God and His Messenger.
Charge at them. Break their swords, their spears, and their skulls, and you will enter the
gates of bliss and eternal felicity, and there, you will be in the company of Muhammad,
the Beloved of Allah Himself."
Ammar himself led the charge, and soon he was deep
inside the ranks of the Syrians. In the midst of action, he felt thirsty, and was
oppressed by heat. He returned to his lines to slake his thirst, and asked his aides to
bring water for him. It so happened that just at that moment, they were unable to find
water anywhere, but one of them found milk, and he presented a cup to him.
When Ammar saw the cup of milk before him, he felt a
tremor of excitement run through him. His lips curled up in a broad smile, and he
exclaimed: "Allah-o-Akbar (Mighty is the Lord). The Messenger of God could speak only
the truth." The bystanders requested him to explain the meaning of his exclamation,
and he said:
"The Messenger of God had told me that my last
intake in this world would be milk. Now I know that the time for me to meet him has come.
I had awaited this moment so long, so eagerly. It's here at last. Glory to Allah."
Ammar ibn Yasir was transfigured by the love of God
and the love of His Apostle, Muhammad. He drank the milk, mounted his horse, and then
plunged into the ranks of the Syrians. Suddenly, he spotted Amr bin Aas in their midst,
"Curse on you, O flunky of Muawiya! you have
sold your Faith in exchange for Egypt. Have you forgotten the prediction of the Messenger
of God when he said that a group of evil men would kill me? Take heed and look again.
Don't you recognize me? I am Ammar, Ammar ibn Yasir, the friend of Muhammad Mustafa."
Amr bin Aas had, of course, weighed all the options,
and had decided in favor of Egypt. But he kept quiet, knowing that to open his mouth would
be to confess his guilt, and no matter what he said, he would only give himself away.
Ammar was taking his last ride on this earth. Soon
he was going to enter Heaven where his friend and beloved, Muhammad, was awaiting him,
ready to greet him, and to shake the dust of Siffin from his curly hair and radiant face
just as many years earlier, he had shaken the dust of the Trench of Medina off his curly
hair and radiant face.
Striking right and left, Ammar advanced, utterly
oblivious of all danger to himself. His head and face were caked in blood and dust so that
he could not be recognized. At that moment, a Syrian soldier, taking deadly aim, hurled a
javelin at him which caught him in his heart, and he was unhorsed. In the act of falling
from the horse, he exchanged his life for the Crown of Martyrdom and put it on his head.
Wearing this glorious and luminous crown, Ammar ibn Yasir entered the company of the
Immortals in Heaven, headed by his friend, Muhammad Mustafa, the Beloved of Allah.
Two Syrian knights came to see Muawiya. Each claimed
that he had hurled the javelin that killed Ammar, and each was a candidate for a reward
for his "exploit." Amr bin Aas was with Muawiya, and he asked them: "Why
are both of you so eager to leap into the flames of hell?"
The historians and traditionalists have recorded the
famous prediction of the Messenger of Allah that Ammar ibn Yasir would be killed by men of
Sir John Glubb
When the first Muslims in Medina were threatened by
Quraish, whom they repelled by digging a ditch, Ammar ibn Yasir had been staggering along
with a great load of earth. The Prophet himself had noticed him and came to his
assistance, relieved him of his load and dusted his head and clothes. With that kindly
paternal spirit which was one of the reasons for the devotion of his followers, he had
said, "Poor Ammar! A cruel and unjust people will certainly be the death of
you." It seems probable that the remark was made jokingly, blaming his companions for
overworking the willing disciple. But the phrase was remembered as a prophecy. Now on the
second day of the battle of Siffin, Ammar was killed fighting for Ali and calling aloud,
"O Paradise, how close thou art." Such was the veneration entertained by both
armies for the memory of the Apostle that the death of Ammar inspired as much ardor in the
Army of Ali as it induced depression in that of Muawiya. For the implication of the
prophecy was that the men who killed Ammar would be fighting in an unjust cause. (The
Great Arab Conquests, London, p. 326, 1963)
Sir John Glubb has erred in suggesting that the
Apostle made the remark "jokingly." The Apostle was not joking. There was no
occasion for a joke. He was deadly serious when he told Ammar that a cruel and unjust
people would kill him.
Ammar's death had a profound effect upon both friend
and foe, and it forced a tilt in perceptions. The Iraqis now fought with new zeal being
convinced that they were fighting for Truth. At the same time, the Syrians were racked
with doubt. Many of them stopped fighting, among them Amr bin Aas himself. His son,
Abdullah, said to him:
"Today we have killed a man from whose face the
Apostle of God himself had removed dust, and had told him that a band of evil men would
Amr bin Aas quoted the tradition of the Prophet
before Muawiya, and said: "It is now obvious that we are the men who are in
Muawiya bade Amr to keep quiet, and not to let
others hear the tradition of the Prophet, and he added that Ammar had actually been killed
by Ali who had brought him into the battle.
One of the companions who was present in the
entourage of Muawiya, warily commented upon his (Muawiya's) remark that if Ali had killed
Ammar because he had brought him into the battle with him, then without a doubt, Muhammad
had killed Hamza because he had taken him into battle with him.
When Ali heard that Ammar was killed in action, he
recited the 156th verse of the 2nd chapter of Al-Quran al-Majid as follows:
We are for God, and toward Him is our return.
Ammar's death was a terrible shock to Ali. They had
been friends since the days when Ammar and his parents were tortured by the Quraysh for
accepting Islam, and their friend, Muhammad, comforted them. But Muhammad himself had,
long since, parted company with them. Now Ammar also left this world, leaving Ali alone.
Ali was overwhelmed by sorrow and by an awful feeling of "lonesomeness."
Ali and his friends said the funeral prayer for
Ammar ibn Yasir, the friend of Allah, the companion of Muhammad, and the Martyr of Siffin,
and gave him burial.
Just like his two friends, Muhammad and Ali, Ammar
had also fought the Quraysh all his life. Earlier, the Quraysh had killed his parents, and
now they killed him.
Each of the three Yasirs had won the crown of
Ali's sorrow at Ammar's death was matched by
Muawiya's exultation. The latter often said that Ammar was one of the two arms of Ali (the
other arm being Malik ibn Ashter), and he boasted that he had severed that arm.
At the resumption of fighting, the two sons of
Hudhaifa ibn al-Yaman, Saeed and Safwan, were killed in action by the Syrian troops. It
was their father's last prayer that they would die fighting for Ali.
Many days passed in desultory warfare. It was in
these skirmishes that Ali sustained two other heavy losses in the death of two companions
of the Prophet. One of them was Khuzaima ibn Thabit Ansari (he whose one witness was equal
to two witnesses of others); and Oways Qarni. The latter, as noted before, had arrived
from Yemen, and had met Ali for the first time on the eve of the battle of Basra. The
lifelong desire of Khuzaima and Oways Qarni was to win the status of martyrs in Islam.
They won it in the battle of Siffin.
The death of Khuzaima and Oways Qarni so exasperated
Ali that he sent word to Muawiya to come out and fight in person, and thereby save the
lives of thousands of Muslims who were dying on both sides. Muawiya, of course, did not
accept the invitation. It was plain to see that political sophistication and valor did not
necessarily grow on the same tree.
Men were dying in large numbers but without any
tangible results to show. Ali found this lack of progress detrimental to the morale of his
troops, and he decided to remedy the situation. That evening he called Abdullah ibn Abbas
who was his principal adviser, and Malik ibn Ashter who was his Chief of Staff, to a
conference. Together they worked out a new strategy to bring the battle to a successful
On the following day, Ali and Malik were to attack
the enemy simultaneously, one from the right and the other from the left. Maintaining
perfect coordination, synchronization and precision, they were to take the enemy in a
pincer movement, and then converging upon his center, Malik was to lead the charge that
would force him (the enemy) to surrender.
After the night prayer, Ali addressed his troops as
"O Muslims! Tomorrow you will have to fight the
decisive battle. Therefore, spend this night in devotions to your Creator. Seek His mercy,
and pray that He gives you steadfastness and victory. And tomorrow prove to everyone that
you are the champions of Justice and Truth." (Kamil ibn Athir, History, vol. III, p.
The Battle of Layla-tul-Harir
Next morning, Ali and Malik mounted their horses,
and rode in front of the Syrian army surveying its disposition. They made some minor
changes in the plan of the battle, and then, upon a signal from Ali, Malik attacked the
left wing of the enemy.
The Syrians enjoyed a numerical superiority over
Malik, and their generals tried to make the best of it. Whenever he attacked, they gave in
but somehow managed to regroup.
Malik fought all day long. Normally, the two armies
stopped fighting after sunset, and returned to the camp for prayers and for rest but that
day Malik refused to return. He also didn't let the Syrians return to their camp, and kept
them in the battlefield.
After a brief pause for his prayers, Malik launched
his blitz upon the Syrian army. This time his charge was so impetuous that the Syrians
were driven before him like sheep. After the night prayer, Ali also returned to the
battlefield, and attacked the right wing of the Syrians. Between them, they began to grind
the Syrian army. They killed hundreds of Syrian warriors and spread terror and dismay in
their ranks. The groans and screams of the Syrian wounded and the dying, the clangor of
arms, the clash of steel, Malik's double-edged sword ripping through the Syrian armor, and
his battle-cry of Allah-o-Akbar, filled the night sky of the desert.
Malik was, beyond all measure daring and intrepid.
He did indeed seem in the presence of the enemy to be the very Genius of Victory. He was a
special and a fatal instrument in the hands of the Providence. Wherever he rode, victory
charged with him.
In this sanguinary contest the lawful caliph
displayed a superior character of valor and humanity. His troops were strictly enjoined to
await the first onset of the enemy, to spare their flying brethren, and to respect the
bodies of the dead, and the chastity of the female captives. He generously proposed to
save the blood of the Moslems by a single combat; but his trembling rival declined the
challenge as a sentence of inevitable death. The ranks of the Syrians were broken by the
charge of a hero who was mounted on a piebald horse, and wielded with irresistible force
his ponderous and two-edged sword. As often as he smote a rebel, he shouted Allah Akbar,
God is Victorious!' and in the tumult of a nocturnal battle he was heard to repeat
four hundred times that tremendous exclamation. (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)
The hero who broke the ranks of the Syrians, was
Malik. But already he had killed so many of them the rank-and-file Syrians
that he began to lose interest in them. He searched for quarry of a higher grade. In the
battle of Basra, he had put an end to fighting by killing the camel which carried Ayesha
on its back. His aim now was to kill or to capture Muawiya, and thus to put an end to the
battle of Siffin. With the instinct of a hunter, therefore, he began to move toward his
Malik rode through pools of blood and over high
banks of the Syrian slain, irresistibly, inexorably and perhaps inevitably. Whoever
challenged him or stood in his way, was cut into pieces.
Muawiya now could see with his own eyes that the
crunch was coming. What he saw closing in on him, was not Malik, Ali's Chief of Staff, but
the Angel of Death. The solid ground under his feet appeared to him to be turning into a
quicksand. His bodyguards, though hand-picked for their bravery, strength and devotion to
him and to his house, were powerless before Malik. They could not stop him from advancing
toward his prey but they did the second best thing they got fresh horses ready for
him (for Muawiya) to mount and to escape from the battlefield under the cover of
In this dire distress, Muawiya turned to Amr bin
Aas, and said:
"Is there any hope that we can still save our
lives or this desolate plain is destined to become our graveyard? And incidentally, do you
still want Egypt? If you do, then think at once of some stratagem to check Malik or else
all of us including you, will be killed in the next few moments."
The instinct for survival was very strong in Amr bin
Aas. He could rise equal to almost any occasion, and was, in fact, ready with a stratagem
for this very moment. Amr's stratagem was going to wrest not only the prey but victory
itself out of Malik's hand!
The battle that Malik was fighting, is famous in
history as the "Battle of Layla-tul-Harir." It was the climax of the grim
contest in the plain of Siffin on the bank of the Euphrates. It was also the high point of
the political and military careers of both Ali and Malik, as events were very soon to
Ever since Ali had demanded the pledge of loyalty
from Muawiya, he (Muawiya) had opened a psychological war against him. One of the weapons,
he had used in his psychological warfare against Ali, was gold or the lure of gold. His
mother, Hinda, had used sex as a weapon in her warfare against Islam in the battle of
Uhud. With the weapon of gold, Muawiya had success fully seduced many of the senior
officers in the Iraqi army, and had dented their will-to-fight. He had not only loaded
them with gold and silver but had also promised to appoint them as governors of the
provinces and commanders in his army if they betrayed Ali at the critical moment in the
The critical moment had arrived. Malik's immense
strokes had thrown the Syrians into hopeless disorder. Their only hope for their safety
was in the darkness of the night which would or might conceal them from the sight of
Malik who figured that he was on the point of
killing or capturing Muawiya and Amr bin Aas, did not know that both of them were in
possession of a secret weapon which would save their lives and would baffle him. The
secret weapon of Muawiya was already working silently and insidiously but effectively. It
was the seed of treason that he had planted in the Iraqi army. The seed suddenly burgeoned
in the battle of Layla-tul-Harir!
Malik was still clobbering the Syrian army savagely
when Amr bin Aas ordered his soldiers to hoist copies of Quran on the points of
their lances as a gesture of their wish to refer the dispute to the Judgment of God to be
found in it.
Those officers in the Iraqi army who had been bought
by Muawiya, and were ready to act their part, were awaiting a signal. As soon as they saw
copies of Quran on the lances, they put their swords in the scabbards and stopped
fighting, to the great surprise and consternation of Ali, Abdullah ibn Abbas, and the
handful of their faithful officers. Just then, Abdullah ibn Abbas also caught sight of the
spiked copies of Quran, and he understood what was afoot. His terse comment was:
"The battle is over; treachery has begun."
And so it was. Muawiya and Amr bin Aas had appealed
to the arbitration of arms, and they had failed. They now appealed to treachery, and as
events were soon to show, they were going to succeed! The first man in the Iraqi army who
stopped fighting, was Ash'ath bin Qays, the same whose daughter, Jodah, was to kill
Hasan ibn Ali with poison some years later. He was the ringleader of the traitors in the
Iraqi army. He came to see Ali and said to him:
"The Syrians do not want to see any more
bloodshed among the Muslims. They want the Book of God to be a judge between them and us.
We, therefore, cannot fight against them any more."
The leaders of other tribes who were also in league
with Muawiya, stopped fighting in imitation of Ash'ath bin Qays. The tribesmen followed
the example of their leaders, and they too stopped fighting. Thus fighting came to a
virtual halt over most of the front. Only one squadron - the one led by Malik was
left in the field fighting and battering the Syrians.
It did not occur to the traitors in the Iraqi army
that if Muawiya and Amr bin Aas had any respect for Quran, they would have invited
it (the Iraqi army) to make the Word of God the Arbiter in their dispute before or even
during the battle but they did not. They remembered Quran only when the defeat and
the destruction of the Syrian army suddenly loomed before them over the horizon.
Ash'ath bin Qays was suddenly gripped with love for
the lives of the Muslims. He seized a copy of Quran, stood facing his army, and
"O Muslims! Compel Ali to accept arbitration of
the Book of God, and thereby put an end to this bloodshed."
The bloodshed of the Muslims alarmed Ash'ath only
when he saw that Ali was on the point of winning the battle. Ali's victory, he knew, would
not change anything for him. But in the event of Ali's failure, he was assured of rich
rewards from Muawiya. His "anxiety" to save the lives of the Muslims, therefore,
Presently, Ali was surrounded by the leaders of the
tribes in his army, and they began to urge him to stop fighting against the Syrians, who,
they said, at that very moment, were appealing to him, in the name of the Book of God, to
stop killing the Muslims. Ali warned them that they were being duped by the enemy, and
exhorted them to press their advantage to victory. He also told them that the appeal in
the name of the Book of God was nothing but a ruse to deprive them of the fruits of their
victory, and to escape defeat and death.
But Muawiya's gold and silver proved to be much more
powerful argument than anything Ali could say. The traitors soon became insolent; they
asked Ali to recall Malik from the battlefield, and to declare a cease-fire immediately.
Ali hesitated but realized that he did not have much of a choice in the face of an
impending mutiny in his own army, and sent a messenger to Malik calling him from the
front-line. Malik had been so engrossed in grinding the remnants of the Syrian army that
he had not even noticed that his own army was not fighting any more. He, therefore, told
the messenger that it was no time for him to leave the battlefield, and to leave his job
Malik was very soon going to find out that his
ponderous and double-edged sword which had decimated the Syrian army, would become
powerless against a new weapon forged by Muawiya and Amr bin Aas the weapon of the
When Muawiya's agents and hirelings in Ali's camp
heard Malik's reply, they told him that if he (Malik) did not return from the battle
immediately, they would seize him (Ali), and would deliver him into his (Muawiya's) hands.
This time Ali had to send a signal of distress to Malik who was told that if he did not
return to the camp at that very moment, he would not see his master any more.
Malik ground his teeth in anger as he could now see
his quarry slip from his grasp. He came into the camp in a towering rage, raring to kill
the traitors but sensed the danger to his master who was in their midst, and all of them
had their hands at the hilts of their swords. When he sharply reproved them for their
stupidity and treachery, they moved menacingly toward him with their drawn swords. But Ali
interposed between them, and said to the traitors:
"You may not fight against your enemy but at
least do not kill your own greatest friend."
Ali did not want Muawiya to see the in-fighting in
his own camp.
The battle of Siffin was over. Where Muawiya's power
had failed, his craft and guile had succeeded. Victory eluded Ali's grasp, and thenceforth
he was to be on the defensive in a losing war against Muawiya. The cease-fire marked the
beginning of his political decline.
After the cessation of hostilities, it was agreed
that the civil war of the Muslims should be referred to arbitration, and the decision of
the arbitrators should be accepted by all parties. It was clearly stipulated in these
early negotiations that the arbitrators would make their decision only "in the light
of the Book of God." Muawiya designated Amr bin Aas as the arbitrator representing
his side; and the rebels in Ali's army proposed the name of Abu Musa al-Ashary to
Abu Musa was a man who combined stupidity with
questionable loyalty to Ali. He was soon to demonstrate both qualities, one of his head,
and the other of his heart, in his encounter with Amr bin Aas for whom he was no match in
anything, least of all in the subtleties of diplomacy and negotiation.
Ali instinctively rejected Abu Musa whom he had
always found repulsive. His own choice was Abdullah ibn Abbas or Malik ibn Ashter. But
both of them were acceptable neither to Muawiya nor to his agents in the Iraqi army like
Ash'ath bin Qays and others. They said that they wanted an "impartial" and a
"non-partisan" man such as Abu Musa was but Abdullah ibn Abbas and Malik ibn
Ashter were not. Ali asked them: "If that is so, then why don't you raise objection
to the designation of Amr bin Aas who is neither impartial nor non-partisan?" They
replied that they were responsible only for their own affairs, and not for the affairs of
Ali resisted the pressures of the traitors but they
were all fattening on Muawiya's gold which they were not ready to forfeit at any price. It
was, in fact, arranged beforehand that Abu Musa would represent Iraq. Eventually, the
traitors succeeded in foisting the dim-wit Abu Musa upon their master as his
When the cease-fire agreement was being drafted, an
incident occurred which harked back to Hudaybiyya. The secretary wrote the words:
"This is an agreement between Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Chief of the Believers, and
Muawiya bin Abu Sufyan..." Amr bin Aas, the representative of Muawiya, raised
objection, and said: "Delete the words, the Chief of the Believers.' If we had
acknowledged Ali as the Chief of the Believers, we would not be fighting against
him." Thereupon, Ali remarked: "How true was the Apostle of God when he foretold
this very incident. When the Treaty of Hudaybiyya was being drafted, and I had written the
words, This is a Treaty between Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and ...' the
idolaters interrupted me, and said that if they had acknowledged Muhammad as the Messenger
of God, then they would not be fighting against him, and they insisted upon the deletion
of the words, Messenger of God,' from the text of the Treaty."
At Hudaybiyya, Muhammad had deleted the words
"Messenger of God" from the draft treaty; at Siffin, Ali, walking in his
(Muhammad's) footsteps, allowed the words "the Chief of the Believers" to be
deleted from the draft treaty. The cease-fire agreement was duly signed and witnessed by
both sides, and copies were exchanged for preservation in the archives.
The terms of the cease-fire agreement were:
1. Both arbitrators would be subject to the rule
that their decisions would be taken in the light of the Book of God. If they are unable to
decide anything on this basis, then they would take their decision in the light of the
precedents and traditions of the Messenger of God.
2. The decision of the arbitrators, if based upon
the Book of God, would be binding on both sides.
3. The arbitrators would investigate the causes that
led to the murder of Uthman, and the civil war of the Muslims (to suggest remedial action
4. The arbitrators would publish their decisions
within six months from the date of the cease-fire.
5. The belligerents would observe a truce. They
would protect the arbitrators who would have complete freedom of movement in the country.
6. The arbitrators would meet at a place on the
frontier between Iraq and Syria.
The most important clause in this agreement was that
the arbitrators would make the Book of God their guide, and that they would not be
governed by their own lusts and desires.
The Battle of Siffin was officially over but Malik
ibn Ashter, now "the chained dragon of the Arabs," resolutely refused to witness
the document of agreement. He considered it a document of infamy and iniquity.
R. A. Nicholson
A great battle was fought at Siffin, a village on
the Euphrates. Ali had well-nigh gained the day when Muawiya bethought him of a stratagem.
He ordered his troops to fix Korans on the points of their lances and to shout, "Here
is the Book of God: Let it decide between us!" The miserable trick succeeded. In
Ali's army there were many pious fanatics to whom the proposed arbitration by the Koran
appealed with irresistible force. They now sprang forward clamorously, threatening to
betray their leader unless he would submit his cause to the Book. Vainly did Ali
remonstrate with the mutineers, and warn them of the trap into which they were driving
him, and this too at the moment when victory was within their grasp. He had no choice but
to yield and name as his umpire a man of doubtful loyalty, Abu Musa as-Ashari, one of the
oldest surviving companions of the Prophet. Muawiya on his part named Amr bin al-Aas,
whose cunning had prompted the decisive maneuver. (A Literary History of the Arabs, p.
The two arbitrators, Abu Musa Ashari and Amr bin
Aas, announced that they would meet, six months later, in Adhruh, to give their verdict in
the dispute between the two parties. Ali and Muawiya then retired from Siffin to await the
decision of the arbitrators.
When Ali returned to Kufa, he set to work to
reorganize the government, but unfortunately, he was compelled to defer his plans because
of the outbreak of a new rebellion in his army.
During the battle of Siffin, Muawiya had planted
seeds of treason in the army of Iraq, as noted before. This he had done by making presents
of gold and silver, and by making promises to grant lands, estates, and high civil and
military ranks, to the key figures in Ali's army, in exchange for their support to him.
His "investments" had paid off rich dividends to him. The recipients of his
gifts had forced Ali to stop fighting and to accept arbitration, and in this manner, he
(Muawiya) had succeeded in dodging disaster and death at Siffin. They now sat expectantly,
awaiting fulfillment, by Muawiya, of his promises.
But when Muawiya returned to Damascus, he felt that
he could now afford to dispense with the services of most of his clients in Ali's army.
He, therefore, told them that he did not promise them anything.
The clients realized that they had been tricked by
Muawiya. In sheer chagrin and frustration, they turned to Ali, and asked him to repudiate
the cease-fire agreement, and to resume fighting against Muawiya. But Ali refused to do
this, and said that he had to wait and see if the decision of the arbitrators would be in
conformity with the commandments in Quran or not before making any other move.
But the ex-clients of Muawiya did not want to wait.
They pressed Ali to fight, and when he did not agree, they and their supporters left his
army en masse, and broke their pledge of allegiance to him. There were 12,000 of these men
who repudiated their oath of loyalty to Ali after the battle of Siffin. They are called
Kharjis (Khawarij), and they gathered in a place called Harura from where they began to
plunder the surrounding country, and to kill the innocent people, and in fact, everyone
who disagreed with their views on government and politics.
Ali tried to persuade the Khawarij to return to
Kufa, and to put before him the points of their disagreement with him. He answered all
their questions and objections most satisfactorily, and some of them, being convinced that
he was right, renewed their pledge of loyalty to him but many others did not. They now
claimed that by agreeing to submit his dispute with Muawiya for arbitration by fallible
human beings, instead of the Book of God, Ali had become an "apostate," and that
his "repentance" along could bring salvation to him.
Ali tolerated the insolence and the impudence of the
Khawarij in the hope that they would realize their error but this only made them more
insolent and more impudent. Presently, their leaders decided to leave Kufa, and to set up
their headquarters in some other place. They selected a village called Nehrwan for this
purpose, and ordered all Kharjis to assemble there. From Nehrwan, the Khawarij spread
terror in the country. They committed new excesses to cover their guilt, shame and
remorse. They went around killing people indiscriminately, not sparing even women and
children. Then news came that they were planning to attack Kufa itself.
Ali had to act immediately to check Kharji
lawlessness and anarchy, and he went in person to Nehrwan to meet their leaders. He told
them that there was safe-conduct for all those among them who would leave their camp,
return to their homes, and live in peace with their neighbors. Many of them realized that
they had no reason to fight against Ali, and they left Nehrwan to go back to their homes.
But a core of 4000 die-hards remained adamant in their demand that Ali had to
"repent" before they would acknowledge him the leader of the Muslims. They, then
raised their battle-cry "No one to govern except Allah," and attacked Ali's
troops. Though they had attacked with reckless abandon, they didn't do much harm to Ali's
troops. When the latter counter-attacked, the Khawarij were defeated; most of them were
killed, and only a few escaped from the battlefield.
Though the Khawarij had adopted as their slogan the
Quranic verse No one is to govern except Allah, they had neither the intention nor
the ability to set up the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. They only wanted power for
themselves They were an explosive mixture of terrorism, politics and religious fanaticism.
In the event of their success, they would only have revived the tribal particularism of
the pre-Islamic Arabs. To this day, they remain peculiarly unassimilated in the history of
the Muslim people.
The Kharjis prevented people from enlisting in Ali's
army. And if anyone disagreed with their beliefs, they killed him on the spot. In this
way, many Muslims were killed. Ali sent an emissary to dissuade them from committing
crimes against innocent people but they killed him also.
The Kharji camp was at Nehrwan. Ali also led his
army to Nehrwan. He asked the Khawarij to give up those men for trial and justice who had
killed innocent Muslims. But they shouted with one voice that all of them had killed them,
and that they considered the killing of such people (those Muslims who did not share their
beliefs) a sacred duty. Ali once again pointed out their errors to them, and appealed to
them to return to their homes but their response was negative.
At last, Ali sent Abu Ayub Ansari with the banner of
Islam in the middle of the two opposing forces. Abu Ayub unfurled the banner, and
announced that whoever from the Kharji camp would come beneath it, would be safe.
Many Kharjis realizing their error, came under the
banner planted by Abu Ayub. But 4000 of their warriors still refused to leave their camp.
They were determined to fight against Ali. They shouted, "No one to command except
Allah," and then they attacked Ali's army. They fought with the courage of fanatics
but were surrounded and defeated, and nearly all of them perished. (History of Islam,
Lahore, Pakistan, p. 202, 1971)
The battle-cry of the Kharjis, "No one to
command except Allah," was only a gimmick, designed to take political power into
their own hands, and to deny it to everyone else.
In the meantime, Amr bin Aas and Abu Musa al-Ashari,
the two arbitrators, had completed their secret negotiations, and were ready to make an
announcement. Both of them had agreed that it was in the interests of the Dar-ul-Islam
that Ali and Muawiya both should abdicate or should be deposed, and the Muslim umma should
select a new ruler for itself.
The arbitrators and their staff met in Adhruh. Four
hundred men of each side also arrived at the scene, as per the terms of the cease-fire
agreement. The Syrian delegation was led by Abul Awar Salmi, and the Iraqi delegation was
led by Abdullah ibn Abbas and Shurayh ibn Hani.
Many other people also came to Adhruh to hear the
verdict of the arbitrators on the fate of the Dar-ul-Islam. Among them were Abdullah bin
Umar, Abdullah by Zubayr, Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr, Saad bin Abi Waqqas, and Mughira bin
Amr bin Aas told Abu Musa that he held him in very
high esteem since he (Abu Musa) was not only a companion of the Apostle of God but also
was a great scholar, and for this reason, he deferred to him in everything, and also for
this reason, he (Abu Musa) ought to be the first to make the announcement of their joint
decision, which he (Amr) would confirm later.
Abdullah ibn Abbas warned Abu Musa that Amr might
try to outwit and outmaneuver him, and suggested that he should let him (Amr) be the first
to make the announcement. But Abu Musa did not pay heed to this advice of sagacity, and
"The case is airtight and there is no room in
it for Amr bin Aas to maneuver or to score."
Abu Musa had been utterly carried away by the show
of "deference" made by Amr bin Aas to him. He then went into the pulpit to make
the historic announcement, and said:
"O Muslims! Much sorrow and travail have been
visited upon the umma of Muhammad by the wars of Ali and Muawiya. Therefore, both of us
have decided to depose both of them, and we have agreed that the right of choosing a new
khalifa should be given to the Muslim umma itself - to all of you."
The Iraqi delegation was mortified to hear this
announcement but decided, nevertheless, to hear what the other arbitrator had to say.
Abu Musa sat down after making his announcement, and
then Amr bin Aas rose to make his announcement. He said:
"O Muslims! All of you have just heard what Abu
Musa said regarding the deposition of Ali. He has deposed Ali as khalifa. I uphold his
decision, and declare that Ali is desposed as khalifa. And in Ali's place, I appoint
Muawiya as your new khalifa..."
Amr bin Aas had not concluded his remarks yet when
there was an uproar of outrage. Abu Musa screamed in confusion and fury: "Liar! I
never said this. You are the most brazen liar. You are a dog which is loaded with books
and which pants and puts out its tongue when under the load." Amr rose equal to the
occasion, and returned the compliments by saying: "You are a donkey which is loaded
with books, and which brays aloud when under a heavy load."
The "dog" and the "donkey"
snapped, snarled and glowered for a few moments, and then attacked each other fiercely.
They bit and kicked each other, and they "barked" and "brayed" in the
midst of pandemonium until they were hoarse. There was laughter too, though at the expense
of Abu Musa alone.
After six months of in camera deliberations, the
only "fare" that the arbitrators Amr bin Aas and Abu Musa had prepared
for the "edification" of the hundreds of Muslims who had flocked to Adhruh for
the "feast," was "music" which was provided by the first of them by
"barking," and by the second, by "braying."
The "concert" was, at last, over, and the
Muslims who had come from distant places, left Adhruh to return to their homes.
Abu Musa realized that he had become the laughing
stock of all Arabs, and he fled to Yemen to hide his shame. He was a man of rather modest
abilities but a coincidence of events had put him in a position where he perhaps assumed
that he was in control of the destiny of the Muslim umma. His conceit was in conflict with
prudence, and conceit won. The job he was called upon to handle, was just too big for
someone so handicapped by lack of ability as he was, and he botched it. He was one of the
confidantes of Umar bin al-Khattab who had appointed him governor, first of Basra and then
The threat to Muawiya had passed forever, and in his
struggle to seize the khilafat, the initiative had now passed to him. His claim to
khilafat rested upon the judgment that Amr bin Aas, the "king-maker," gave in
Amr's judgment was a piece of political legerdemain
that would have thrilled Machiavelli; but for the Syrians, it had the authority of a fiat
from heaven itself, and was, therefore, irreversible.
R. A. Nicholson
It is characteristic of Arabian notions of morality
that this impudent fraud was hailed by Muawiya's adherents as a diplomatic triumph which
gave him a colorable pretext for assuming the title of caliph. (A Literary History of the
Arabs, p.192-193, 1969)
The arbitration turned out to be a farce and a
fiasco. Its decision, at any rate, had been ultra vires. No one had given the arbitrators
a mandate to pronounce judgment upon the caliphate or to depose or to appoint a caliph.
Muawiya's supporters were seeking vengeance for the murder of Uthman. Muawiya had
convinced them that Ali was responsible for the death of Uthman, and it was for this
reason that they had fought at Siffin. They did not wage a war against Ali to enthrone
But the arbitrators did not investigate the origins
of the civil war. They talked only about the caliphate even though it was not the matter
in dispute. Their only duty was to find out who had killed Uthman, and if Muawiya had the
right to seek vengeance for the crime.
Abu Musa gave his "Jovian" verdict by
"deposing" Muawiya. What did the "deposition" of Muawiya mean anyway?
And what did he (Abu Musa) depose him (Muawiya) from? Muawiya was not the khalifa, nor had
anyone proposed his name for khilafat. On the other hand, Ali was the lawful khalifa of
the Muslims. He was elected by consensus of the Muhajireen and the Ansar, and all parts of
the empire, with the solitary exception of Syria, had acknowledged him their sovereign.
As arbitrators, or rather, as king-makers, Amr bin
Aas and Abu Musa had engaged in long discussions on politics and war, and perhaps on the
future of the Muslim umma but one thing they had not done was to consult Al-Quran
al-Majid. They had kept Quran out of their deliberations in Adhruh just as, many
years earlier, their forerunners in king-making, had kept Quran out of their
deliberations in the outhouse of Saqifa in Medina.
By a strange "coincidence," all the
king-makers of the Arabs, whether in Saqifa, or in the Electoral Committee of Abdur Rahman
bin Auf, or in Adhruh, showed themselves "allergic" to Al-Quran al-Majid.
Or, was it the other way round Al-Quran al-Majid showing itself
"allergic" to the king-makers? The king-makers kept Quran out of their
deliberations or Quran itself stayed out of them either way, it was truly one
of the most fantastic "coincidences" in the history of the Muslims. For some
mysterious reason, all the king-makers on the one hand, and Al-Quran al-Majid on the
other, remained apart and distant from each other.
Amr bin Aas and Abu Musa had to make Quran
their guide in arbitration. They had a commitment to formulate their decisions in the
light of the commandments of the Book of God. The commandment of God in this regard is
O you who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle,
and those charged with authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves,
refer it to Allah and His Apostle, if you do believe in Allah and the last day: that is
best, and most suitable for final determination. (Chapter 4; verse 59)
The arbitrators, it appears, forgot both the
commandment of God quoted in the foregoing verse, and their own commitment. But
Quran did not forget them, and pointed out what they had done or what they had
failed to do, in the following verse:
They are invited to the Book of God, to settle their
disputes, but a party of them turns back and declines. (Chapter 3; verse 23)
Amr bin Aas and Abu Musa the arbitrators made
themselves a party of those who turn back from the Book of God. They had preferred to be
guided by their own lusts, and for this reason, they invited the judgment of Quran
And if any do fail to judge by (the light of) what
God hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers. (Chapter 5; verse 47)
In the battle of Siffin, the armies of Iraq and
Syria faced each other for 110 days. There were 90 engagements between them in which
25,000 Iraqis and 45,000 Syrians were killed.
This ghastly battle was the product of the ambition
and the lust for power of Muawiya and Amr bin Aas. Muawiya was the governor of Syria, and
was averse to nothing so much as to losing that position. Amr bin Aas was governor of
Egypt but had been sacked by Uthman, and was dying to regain his old position. To retain
or to regain their positions, both of them were willing to do anything and to pay any
price Truth and Justice did not mean anything to them. They could deluge the Dar-ul-Islam
with falsehood, and with the blood of the Muslims to realize their own wishes and
The "triumvirs" of Basra (the Companions
of the Camel), and Muawiya and Amr bin Aas recognized their great opportunity in the
murder of Uthman, and they seized it. Vengeance for his blood was the thin veneer which
imparted respectability to their naked lust for power. Uthman dead was far more
valuable to them than Uthman alive. Therefore, they gave him all the assistance
they could to be dead. But once he was dead, it became lawful, in fact, it became a
duty, for them to commit mass murder in the name of seeking vengeance for his
The battles of Basra and Siffin were the mass murder
of the Muslims dictated by the logic of "Realpolitik."
Toynbee says that Muhammad and Ali were no match for
the merchant princes of Makkah (the Umayyads) in realpolitik. In a sense, he may be right.
Muhammad and Ali hesitated to kill even an idolater, not to speak of killing a Muslim.
They could not kill anyone for the sake of material power. They were, therefore,
handicapped in their "competition" with the Umayyads.