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The Caliphate of Imam Ali (A.S) and His Method of Rule (Part 2)

imam ali (a.s)

The first war in the caliphate of Ali, which is called the "Battle of the Camel," was caused by the unfortunate class differences created during the period of rule of the second caliph as a result of the new socioeconomic forces which caused an uneven distribution of the public treasury among members of the community.

When chosen to the caliphate, Ali divided the treasury evenly [1] as had been the method of the Holy Prophet, but this manner of dividing the wealth upset Talhah and Zubayr greatly. They began to show signs of disobedience and left Medina for Mecca with the alleged aim of making the pilgrimage. They persuaded "the mother of the Faithful" (umm al-mu'minin), A'ishah, who was not friendly with Ali, to join them and in the name of wanting to revenge the death of the third caliph they began the bloody Battle of the Camel.[2] This was done despite the fact that this same Talhah and Zubayr were in Medina when the third caliph was besieged and killed but did nothing to defend him.[3] Furthermore, after his death they were the first to pay allegiance to Ali on behalf of the immigrants (muhajirun)[4] as well as on their own.[5]

Also, the "mother of the Faithful," A'ishah, did not show any opposition to those who had killed the third caliph at the moment when she received the news of his death. [6] It must be remembered that the main instigators of the disturbances that led to the death of the third caliph were those companions who wrote letters from Medina to people near and far inviting them to rebel against the caliph, a fact which is repeated in many early Muslim histories.

As for the second war, called the Battle of Siffin, which lasted for a year and a half its cause was the covetousness of Mu'awiyah for the caliphate which for him was a worldly political instrument rather than a religious institution. But as an excuse he made the revenge of the blood of the third caliph the main issue and began a war in which more than a hundred thousand people perished without reason. Naturally, in these wars Mu'awiyah was the aggressor rather than the defender, for the protest to revenge someone's blood can never occur in the form of defense. The pretext of this war was blood revenge. During the last days of his life, the third caliph, in order to quell the uprising against him, asked Mu'awiyah for help, but the army of Mu'awiyah which set out from Damascus to Medina purposely waited on the road until the caliph was killed. Then he returned to Damascus, to begin an uprising to revenge the caliph's death.[7] After the death of Ali and his gaining the caliphate himself, Mu'awiyah forgot the question of revenging the blood of the third caliph and did not pursue the matter further.

After Siffin there occurred the battle of Nahrawan in which a number of people, among whom there could be found some of the companions, rebelled against Ali, possibly at the instigation of Mu'awiyah.[8] These people were causing rebellion throughout the lands of Islam, killing the Muslims and especially the followers of Ali. They even attacked pregnant women and killed their babies. Ali put down this uprising as well, but a short while later was himself killed in the mosque of Kufa by one of the members of this group who came to be known as the Khawarij.

The opponents of Ali claim that he was a courageous man but did not possess political acumen. They claim that at the beginning of his caliphate he could have temporarily made peace with his opponents. He could have approached them through peace and friendship, thus courting their satisfaction and approval. In this way he could have strengthened his caliphate and only then turned to their extirpation and destruction. What people who hold this view forget is that the movement of Ali was not based on political opportunism. It was a radical and revolutionary religious movement (in the true sense of revolution as a spiritual movement to reestablish the real order of things and not in its current political and social sense); therefore it could not have been accomplished through compromise or flattery and forgery. A similar situation can be seen during the apostleship of the Holy Prophet. The infidels and polythesis proposed peace to him many times and swore that if he were to abstain from protesting against their gods they would not interfere with his religious mission. But the Prophet did not accept such a proposal, although he could in those days of difficulty have made peace and used flattery to fortify his own position, and then have risen against his enemies. In fact, the Islamic message never allows a right and just cause to be abandoned for the sake of strengthening another good cause, nor a falsehood to be rejected and disproven through another falsehood. There are many Qur’anic verses concerning this matter. [9]


1. Nahj al-balaghah, the fifteenth sermon.

2. Muruj al-dhahab, vol.ll. p.362; Nahj al-balaghah, sermon 122; Ya'qubi vol.ll, p.160: Ibn Abi'l-Hadid, vol. I, p.180.

3. Ya'qubi; vol.ll, p.156: Abu'l-Fida-', vol.l, p.172; Muruj al-dhahab, vol.ll, p.366

4. Ya'qubi; vol.ll, p.152.

5. Editor's note: The muhajirun refers to the early converts to Islam who immigrated with the Prophet to Medina from Mecca.

6. Ya'qubi, vol.ll, p.154; Abu'l-Fida, vol.l, p.171.

7. Ya'qubi, vol.ll, p.152.

8. When Uthman was surrounded by those who had rebelled he wrote to Mu'awiyah asking for help. Mu'awiyah prepared an army of twelve thousand men and sent them toward Medina. But he asked them to camp around Damascus and came to Uthman himself to report on the readiness of the army. Uthman said, "You have made your army stop on purpose so that I will be killed. Then you will make the spilling of my blood an excuse to revolt yourself" Ya'qubi vol.ll, p.152; Muruj al-dhahab, vol.lll, p.25; Tabari, vol.lll, p.403.

9. Muruj al-dhahab, vol.ll, p.415.

Taken from the book: SHI'A

By Allamah Seyyed Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai

Other links:

The Origin and Growth of Shiism

The Political Method of the Selection of the Caliph by Vote and Its Disagreement with the Shia Part1

The Political Method of the Selection of the Caliph by Vote and Its Disagreement with the Shia part2

The Political Method of the Selection of the Caliph by Vote and Its Disagreement with the Shia part3

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