The Fourth of the Four: Caliph`Alib. AbiTalib (d. 40AH)


With each day passing after the infamous Battle of the Camel, Caliph `Ali b. abi Talib’s pleasure in life and its affairs would be receding, and no good was to happen after that disaster to uplift his sad soul.When a pagan empire is to go, and a spiritual and moral one had to come into place, some people had to pay the price. `Ali was one after `Uthman, as were Talha, Zubayr, `Ammar b. Yasir, Ka`b b. Su’ar and countless others, not forgetting Hussain and almost the entire progeny of the Prophet a couple of years later.

What turned out to be a major error on the part of `Ali in his early days as Khalifah was to allow Talha and Zubayr to leave Madinah. `Umar had not allowed any of the major Companions of the Prophet to leave Madinah. The force in the earliest days of Islam was spiritual; its concentration at Madinah was essential for its disciplined and controlled radiance. Already some of the Companions were dead, some were too old (so that their sons had to be appointed as governors), and some had migrated to, notably, Syria, but to other places too. This definitely weakened Madinah as the spiritual centrality, with which its temporal authority too. But `Ali perhaps thought that the problem of identifying and bringing the murderers of `Uthman to book, unresolved by him in four months’ time, could perhaps be found some solution by Talha and Zubayr, but who were actually leaving Madinah for reasons of discontentment with the situation that prevailed.

On the other hand, while on her way back from Makkah after her Hajj (along with all the rest of the wives of the Prophet), `A’isha received the news of `Uthman’s murder, and had returned to Makkah. Talha and Zubayr met her and the three decided to launch a movement demanding punishment of `Uthman’s murderers. Their statements of that time indicate that the two felt guilty that `Uthman was murdered unjustly, while they were in town but did nothing about it. Talha even believed that no verbal repentance on his part would have any value before Allah if he did not stand up and seek justice for `Uthman. If a noble man of `Uthman’s caliber was murdered, and the authorities let go the murderers, no ruler will be safe from assassins in future. They – Talha and Zubayr– were, perhaps, unable to appreciate `Ali’s point that he needed time for the restoration of law and order, for the establishment of a committee to probe the crime, arrive at some conclusion, identify the culprits, try them in court and punish them. Yes, they could be in the army of supporters that had taken shape without he ever having asked for it, but, who exactly were they among the thousands?

The three, along with quite a few Companions, but without any other wife of the Prophet decided to get active. Other wives of the Prophet refused but to go back to Madinah, except Hafsa, whose journey with `Aisha was prevented by her brother, Ibn `Umar, who himself did not join. To be sure, the rest of the wives came out of the town to say farewell to `A’isha when it was decided that they should first go to Basrah to seek their help and then move on to Kufa. When the Basri governor sent a delegation to find out from `A’isha why she had come, she said, in effect,

“A person of my kind will not launch a concealed affair. The vagabonds from distant towns raided the Prophet’s town, making unlawful blood lawful to themselves, looted wealth that was not theirs, desecrating a holy town, in a holy month and murdered the leader of the faithful, unjustly. So, I have come out to inform the Muslims about what’s been happening, and set right the affairs between them.”

As for the objection that she was violating the Ayah that says (33: 33), “Remain in your homes, do not make a dazzling display of the sort of the days of ignorance of former times,” there is consensus of opinion among the scholars that the Ayah is preventing women from wandering around, and is definitely not ordering them to not step out of the house at all.

When they arrived at Basrah, a huge number of people joined them except Ahnaf b. Qays, who decided, along with 6000 of his followers, to stay neutral. Skirmishes broke with the objective of preventing the entry of `A’isha, Talhaand Zubayr, but ultimately, at the cost of some 70 lives (quite a few of whom were actually those who had laid siege to the house of `Uthman), the resistance was broken and they entered Basrah. From there, `A’isha began to send letters to surrounding areas explaining her cause and seeking help.

In the face of these developments, `Ali decided to leave for Kufa despite some – such as his own son, Hasan, and `Abdullah b. Salam – were opposed to it. They were about a hundred at Madinah but the numbers began to swell on the way to become about a thousand near Kufah. There, some 6-7000 joined them as `Ammar b. Yasir and Hassan b. `Ali spoke to them. The services of `Abdullah b. `Abbas were also employed, though not with great success. Subsequently some two thousand of the Basrans joined him. Ultimately, his forces swelled to around 12,000. Doubts still prevailed. Someone asked `Ali, “Do you think those who are seeking retribution for `Uthman’s murder, are justified?” He answered, “Yes.” The man asked, “Do you think you are justified in delaying it?” He answered, “Yes. When you think you do not have the power to enforce a certain matter, then the rule is, you take the precautionary side: one that promises greater benefit.” The perplexed man asked, “So, what will be our situation if we have to meet them (in the battlefield) tomorrow?” He answered with a clarity that tells us how well he understood the situation that has confused people for generations: “I am hopeful that none of us is killed while he had been true to his Lord, whether of us, or of them, but shall enter Paradise.” This of course was not a magnanimous or gallant answer. It was the statement of a fact.

Efforts were made for reconciliation. `Imran b. Hussain made an effort which failed. Qa`qa` b. `Amr argued with the party opposing `Ali reminding them that there were 600 Basris among them, then and there, who had participated (through siege) in the murder of `Uthman, “But you could not bring them to justice because just when you identified one of them (a man called Hurqus b. Zuhayr), he fled to his tribe BanuSa`d whose 6000 members stood as one man against you, and you couldn’t do anything about it. Now, you are demanding that `Ali should do what you failed in doing?” The logic had its appeal and `A’isha asked him to suggest a way out. He suggested that they should cool down, assemble under one flag, that of `Ali, become one body, one force, and then, when the affairs are back in control, start the efforts together, to bring the murderers of `Uthman to justice. They agreed and Qa`qa` returned to `Ali who had camped a few miles away from Kufa at a place called DhuQaar. To make sure that Qa`qa`s agreement will be honored, `Ali sent two more men to Talha and Zubayr. They reconfirmed and invited `Ali to come forward. `Ali took his forces with him to join up with those of `A’isha, Talha and Zubary. The assembling together would have given a sleepless night to the Saba’ians, hypocrites, and, of course, the rebels who had laid siege to `Uthman’s house. People of various tribes joined the camps of each other: those of Mudar lodged themselves with the people of Mudar on the other side, of Rabi`ah with the Rabi`ah, the Yemenis with the Yemenis, and so on. There was no doubt among members of the two groups that agreement had been reached and peace will prevail.

Having spent some time with Talha and Zubayr, `Ali returned to his camp, but made an announcement that proved to be fatal. He said, “Tomorrow we are marching forward to Basrah. But, let none accompany me of those who in any way had helped the people who had rebelled against `Uthman.” The Sab’ians, among whom were all classes of people that had participated in the siege against `Uthman, immediately realized the danger, and, during a secret meeting, decided that they should strike each other in the darkness during the pre-dawn hours to start off a war. They had placed their men near `Ali and Talha-Zubayr. When they heard noises and inquired what was going on, the Sabi’ans told both the parties that the other party had betrayed and had struck. Both `Ali and Talha-Zubayr ordered their commanders to assemble their men and take positions. A general fight ensued which continued until noon. Both `Ali and Talha-Zubayr seemed to be realizing that there was something wrong, tried to restrain their parties, and even coaxed them not to strike anyone who flees, not kill the injured, not go after him who is not willing to fight, but no one would listen. At that moment Ibn `Abbas happened to encounter Zubayr. He merely said, “O Zubayr the son of Safiyyah, a daughter of `Abd al-Muttalib, raises his sword against `Ali a son of Abu Talib, a son of `Abd al-Muttalib?” That struck Zubayr dumb and he immediately withdrew from the battle-field. But one of the Saba’i, Ibn Jurmooz, followed him and murdered him. As for Talha, he too received a blow that no one knows who directed against him. He fell, was carried to Basrah, where he succumbed to his injury.

Having heard the news of the battle `A’isha came out of Basrah. She had with her Ka`b b. Su’ar, the much respected chief justice of Basrah. He raised the Qur’an and beseeched the people to stop violence. But he was targeted by the Saba`i arrows. He fell with the Qur’an in his hand. `A’isha was on a camel (Jamal in Arabic and, hence, the Jamal Battle). The Saba’is (a term which was then applied for everyone who had participated in the murder of `Uthman) targeted her. But her companions stood before her camel like an impenetrable wall whose every brick, when broken, was replaced by another human, a ready-to-die son of the Mother of Believers. This second phase of the battle lasted for quite a while, with the Basrans showing no signs of weakness in the defense of `A’isha, while the Saba’is showing no signs of letting her go back alive. `Ali could see that so long as she was there in the battle-field, the last of the Basrans with her would die for her. So he sent her brother `Abd al-Rahman b. abi Bakr and another man to gore the camel she was riding, bring down the howdah and escort `A’isha to one of their tents. That accomplished, the Basrans accepted defeat and began to retreat. With this smart move, `Ali was able to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands. He also prevented his forces from following them, looting their belongings, and chasing those retreating. The battle came to a sad end. Some shadowy persons said that all in all 20,000 fell dead that day. This is interesting to hear since the total of the two groups was hardly 18,000! A better researched figure is that the total dead were no more than a couple of hundreds but that figure too, and by his own confession, left `Ali devastated:

“I wish I was dead twenty years earlier than this. What pleasure is there in life after this, and what good can one expect after this disaster.”

True, with each day passing, `Ali’s pleasure in life and its affairs would be receding, and no good was to happen after that disaster to uplift his sad soul. When a pagan empire is to go, and a spiritual and moral one had to come into place, some people had to pay the price. `Ali was one after `Uthman, as were Talha, Zubayr, `Ammar b. Yasir, Ka`b b. Su’ar and countless others, not forgetting Hussain and almost the entire progeny of the Prophet a couple of years later.

But the scholar within `Ali was not devastated. He announced that no booty will be divided and no woman could be taken captive. Somebody remarked sarcastically: “Their blood was lawful but their women are not?” `Ali replied, “Yes. That is how the rules are. If you insist, gather together your (women) captives, and then cast your lots for `A’isha.” They jerked out, “Allah’s refuge” and retreated. However, to prevent discontentment, he ordered each fighter to be awarded 500 Dirham from the Treasury: a paltry figure, but enough numbers to receive it, and enough of a consolation. Likewise, he treated the Basrans with kindness that impressed them so much that tribe after tribe appeared to swear allegiance. `Abdullah ibn `Abbas was appointed the newest governor.

`A’isha was lodged with one of the nobles of the town. `Ali had not forgotten the prediction of the Prophet: “There will be a problem between you and `Aísha.” A surprised `Ali asked, “I?” He answered, “Yes.” He repeated, “I?” He answered, “Yes.” He asked, “And, will I be the wrongdoer?” He answered, “No. But when it is over, return her to her place of safety.” Sometime later, `Ali arranged for `A’isha to be taken to Madinah. Forty ladies of noble families were chosen to escort her right up to Madinah. Muhammad b. Hanafiyyah was in charge of the accompanying force. `Ali followed the caravan out of the town for some distance. She announced that whatever had happened, there was never any bitterness between the two even before she came out seeking retribution for `Uthman’s murder. She was referring to some people’s belief that she was not happy with `Ali over the “Ifk” affair. When she fell back during a campaign, and the hypocrites used the opportunity to sow doubts and distrust, and, when consulted, `Ali had said to the Prophet, “There is no dearth of women. Further, if you consult her maid, she will speak out the truth.” The second sentence actually vindicated her. When the maid was asked her opinion, she spoke highly of `A’isha’s character. At all events, when `A’isha said there was never any antagonism between her and `Ali, he attested the truth of her statement. “Do not forget,” he added, “she is the wife of your Prophet, in this world, and the next.” Thus she left, `A’isha, in tears that flowed out of her eyes the years she lived until the end of life: tears of regret, regret and regret; tears that wetted her head-cloth; regrets that taught her never to enter into politics again.

If `Ali thought that the Jamal Battle was enough of a lesson, Mu`awiyyah did not seem to think so. He remained demanding justice. Nor were the Syrians placated. They were perhaps angry on another account: Na’ila, the wife of the slain `Uthman was from the Syrian territories. `Uthman’s bloody shirt was sent across to Mu`awiyyah by none other than his sister, Umm HabibahbintabiSufyan. Even before the `A’isha-Talha-Zubary affair, `Ali had written to Mu`awiyyah several times to submit. But he refused. Finally, his ambassador arrived to tell `Ali that nothing was acceptable lesser than that the criminals should be brought to justice. The ambassador said, “I have left sixty-thousand men weeping under `Uthman’s shirt placed in the mosque.” Ultimately `Ali decided to prepare a force and invade Syria although Hasan and others were definitely against the use of force. None the less, the affair of `A’isha-Talha-Zubayr arose to divert `Ali’s attention. After the Jamal Battle, he began to raise an army whose figures quickly swelled to 50,000. He marched north intending Dimashq. But, before that once again he sent his ambassador to Mu`awiyyah but once again he refused except on condition that `Ali either punishes the murderers of `Uthman or hand them over to Mu`awiyyah. Obviously, `Ali’s victory at Jamal had only increased Mu`awiyyah’s resolve and he marched out with a force of around 60,000 to camp at Siffin north of Dimashq, (Raqqa’ of today) at the bank of river Euphrates, waiting for `Ali’s forces to arrive.

The two armies faced one another for more than two months without any full-fledge battle. This was because both wished to avoid violence: the two forces had members of the same tribe on opposite sides, cousins facing cousins and fathers facing sons. In a stunning irony, Khalid b. Walid’s two sons were on opposite sides. But a greater irony was the presence of Companions on both the sides. It is said that there were several Badri Companions among `Ali’s forces. Men like Abu Darda’ and Abu Umamah al-Baahili left the two forces when their efforts at compromise failed. That did not prevent skirmishes and short clashes breaking out; some ninety of which took place before and during the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, 37 H., `Ali lost patience and announced a final war to start the next day and casting a look at the Syrians, sighed out: “My Lord. Forgive me and them.”

Next day’s battle had its ups and down for both: initial victory for the Iraqis, subsequent overturning by the Syrians. Obviously, many were half-hearted and in doubt over the fight; but not `Ammar b. Yasir, with his javelin quivering in his 94-year old hand, saying, “By Allah, even if I am chased up to Yemen, I would remain assured that we are on truth while they are unjustified.” At sunset `Ammar asked for some milk, drank, and said, “The Messenger had informed me that my last drink will be milk.” Thereafter, he returned to the battle-field never to return. His death was reported to `Amr b. al-`Aas with the Prophet’s prediction which had said, “You will be killed by the rebelling party.” It was a bombshell for him. He rushed to Mu`awiyyah and repeated what he had heard. Mu`awiyyah told him, “You will never come out of your confusion. Is it we who killed him? He was killed by `Ali and his forces. They brought him and placed him before our swords!” Another trustworthy report tells us that `Ammar’s head was brought to Mu`awiyyah by two persons, each claiming to have killed him. `Abdullah, the son of `Amr b. al-`Aas was there. He said he had heard the Prophet says that “the rebel party will kill `Ammar.” Mu`awiyyah asked him, “So what explains your being on our side?” He replied, “Because, once something had happened, and the Prophet had told me, ‘Obey your father so long as he is alive; do not disobey him.’ He had ordered me to be on his side, so I am here. But I took no part in the battle.” In fact, the hadith is widely reported. According to one version, the prediction was made at the time the Prophet’s mosque was being built. While others were carrying a brick each, `Ammar was carrying two. The Prophet cleared dust (from his shoulder) and said, “Woe unto `Ammar, he will be killed by a rebellion party. He will be inviting them to Paradise while they will be inviting him to the Fire.” Thus, there hasn’t been any other opinion that `Ali was right and Mu`awiyyah the rebel party, although, his taking that position was because of a genuine misunderstanding. Further, Mu`awiyyah’s interpretation has been summarily rejected by the scholars of the Ummah. Indeed, `Ali himself replied to the interpretation, “If that is so, then the Prophet was the killer of Hamza (at Uhud) having taken him into the battlefield.”

The battle lasted full three days. Someone described it: “We fought until our spears broke, arrows exhausted, fought with swords until they became blunt, struck each other with their buts, fought with stones, with pebbles, and even bit each other with mouths.” By the fourth day it had become obvious that victory will be for `Ali’s forces. But, one of his commanders, Ash`ash b. Qays expressed the fear that if they continued, it will end with nothing short of destruction of both. He advised they desist. When Mu`awiyyah heard of the appeal, it appealed him as well. He said, “If we keep fighting, the victory will be for the Romans. So, raise Qur’anic copies on your spears.” `Ali immediately accepted arbitration. It was then that the so called “Qurra'” (those who recited the Qur’an much) broke away from `Ali to form a new sect henceforth referred to as the “Khawarij.” One of them came to `Ali and said, “Shall we not rather fight on?” He said, “No.” So they broke away; and `Ali ordered breaking up of the camp and return to Kufa, arbitration to take its own time, but return journey was to be immediate. The outcome of the arbitration was, to `Ali, not important. The outcome so far was damning enough. He wished no more bloodshed after thousands were picked up from the battle-field as dead. (Some reports say tens of thousands were killed, but, given the short spell of the battle: some 30 hours), it doesn’t seem likely that very great numbers were involved. Likewise, the reports of both `Ali and Mu`awiyyah cursing each other in their Prayers are untrustworthy. When someone cursed Mu`awiyyah and the Syrians in his presence, `Ali prevented him.

The result of the arbitration are unclear. Abu Musa al-Ash`ari was to represent `Ali while `Amr b. al-`Aas, Mu`awiyyah. The two were to seek the help and support of renowned men. Guiding rules were drawn. The two were to meet in Ramadan of 37 H, near Dumatu al-Jandal. But the outcome is unknown. According to Sallabi, it was over cessation of all hostilities and procedures over how to bring the assassins of `Uthman to book. It was definitely not over who was to be the Caliph, `Ali or Mu`awiyyah. Indeed, right from the start Mu`awiyyah had maintained `Ali’s greater rights to the caliphate. Reports which say that Abu Musa dismissed both `Ali and Mu`awiyyah, but after him `Amr b. al-`Aas dismissed `Ali and reconfirmed Mu`awiyyah are untrustworthy. Apart from untrustworthiness of the reports, their assignment was not to determine who was the rightful Khalifah, nor to dismiss one or both. Indeed, because the original document on which the arbiters or `Ali and Mu`wiyyah did not survive, nor its contents, it is not clear what exactly the arbitration was about, and why it bore no results. It is possible that for both the contending parties, the losses were enough of a burden, and they withdrew quickly, leaving it to the arbiters to bring about a settlement, some way or the other, as soon as possible.

The Khawarij claimed it was wrong of `Ali to agree to arbitration. He should have continued to fight until a decisive victory or death. Gradually, as usual, they turned into a sect with an understanding of Islam, peculiar to them. Their appearance was foretold by the Prophet. A man called DhuKhuwaysarah, unhappy over how the Prophet was distributing some wealth, had remarked, “Be just, Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet told him, “Woe unto you man, if I do not do justice, who will.” `Umar sought permission to behead him. But the Prophet said, “Let him alone for he has companions against whose Prayers you will belittle your Prayers and against whose fasts you will belittle your fasts. They will recite the Qur’an (much) but it will not go beyond their throats. They would pass through religion as an arrow passes through an animal.” He added, “Their identity mark is a man among them whose one upper arm would be as large as a woman’s breast or like a piece of flesh swinging (back and forth). They will appear at the time of the differences among the people.”

They were anything between 5-10,000 when they broke away and camped at a place called Harurah (hence “haruriyyun”) some distance away from Kufah during `Ali’s journey back. More than their numbers, `Ali was alarmed by the fact that they had organized themselves appointing an Imam for Prayers, another to lead the army in battles, and considering themselves on an oath given to Allah, swearing to enjoin the virtuous and prevent the vice. These were signs that they meant to break away altogether from the mainstream. He sent Ibn `Abbas to talk them out. They presented three reasons for breaking away: First, `Ali appointed human arbiters while Allah has said (13: 31), “Surely, the command is for Allah alone.” Second, why did he not take prisoners and booty? And third, `Ali did not mind his name be written down without the title, “Amir al-Mu’minin.” If he was not the leader of the believers, then he became leader of the unbelievers, didn’t he?

Ibn `Abbas first obtained their promise that if he answered them with the Qur’an, they will abandon their new position. The promise obtained, he explained each point with a Qur’anic verse. With that, one thousand of them broke from their ranks, but the rest remained adamant. Subsequently, `Ali himself tried to convince them of their error but in vain. He gave them the opportunity to remain in the mainstream by announcing: (a) We shall not disallow you from offering Prayers in this mosque, (b) We shall not deny you your share in the common booty, and (c) We shall not fight you unless you attack us. This too had no effect on most of them. They returned the gesture by saying that by appointing human arbiters and ignoring the Qur’an, he had become an apostate and must therefore repent and re-enter into Islam. Nevertheless, `Ali entered into a sort of unwritten treaty that they’d not kill, loot or capture people and, if they did, `Ali will declare war against them.

They kept preaching their faith secretly and netting new converts. Their leaders and followers were never tired of quoting the Qur’an, preaching piety, enjoining the good and virtuous and prohibiting the vice and vicious. They also encouraged their followers to Jihad against those who had become unbelievers after their Islam. They exhorted each other to be wary of this world, keep an eye fixed on the Hereafter, and fear not death, for the Afterlife was better than the present one. As a group, and as individuals, they were highly devotional, prayed much, and fasted a lot. Then they decided to physically break away from the mainstream and, under an agreed plan, began to secretly leave Basra in one’s and two’s to gather together in Nahrawan about 100 miles in the north of Kufa. Many young men left their families. When some of them were caught by their families and brought back to town, they escaped again.

Since they considered anyone who disagreed with their creed as an unbeliever, they had no problem killing any Muslim. One of their groups captured Khabbab’s son `Abdullah and took him along as a prisoner. They knew who he was. On the way one of them picked up a fallen date and put it in his mouth. He was reproached by one of them for putting into mouth what belonged to the party they had entered into peace-deal. He threw it out. When one of them gored a pig, he was also reminded that that was unlawful. So Khabbab’s son told them, “May I not tell you a crime greater than this: my murder.” But they murdered him all the same. This and their other transgressions reached `Ali and he started out with an army to confront them. Arriving at Nahrawan, he sent Bara’ b. `Aazib to win their submission. They refused. He continued to send messengers inviting them to the true path for three consecutive days but they refused, killing the final messenger. Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, Abu Qatadah and a few other notable ones were in `Ali’s force. Before attacking them, he ordered Abu Ayyub al-Ansari to take a flag and stand out away from his soldiers and then announce that whoever went under Abu Ayyub’s flag was in peace, whoever went back to his town at this point, was in peace, whoever broke away from them and betook to the valleys and mountains was in peace. “We have nothing against anyone,” announced `Ali, “except those who killed our brothers.” A large number responded and broke away leaving behind them a thousand or so from the original four thousand. Not all the Khawarij were with them. Many had never started out from Basrah.

`Ali’s instruction was not to attack unless they did. And they did; to their loss. The Muslims began to cut them down. Most of their diehard leaders died. When one of them was struck, he said, “To Paradise.” But a leader gasped, “To Paradise, or to Fire?” This was heard by another Khariji. He said, “I joined in because of this man, and now he is in doubt.” So he broke away with his men. Initially they fought hard but soon the majority fled. After the battle `Ali ordered that the man predicted in the hadith be looked for, but he could not be found. But he insisted that he has to be there. Ultimately, his corpse was found under others. Some of `Ali’s companions, who bore doubt about the legality of the battle, took a deep sigh of relief. The numbers that got killed was apparently not high, going by `Ali’s losses of less than ten men. `Ali’s deep understanding of Islam allowed him to guide others with regard to them. He was asked, “Were they unbelievers?” He answered, “From disbelief they had fled.” He was asked, “Were they hypocrites?” He replied, “Hypocrites do not remember Allah, but little.” They asked, “So what were they?” He answered, “A people who rebelled against us and so we fought them.” According to another report, “A people struck by trial and so they became deaf and blind.” Hence, Sallabi points out, most scholars have declared them Muslims: thanks to `Ali

History does not reveal in definite terms about what happened to Ibn Saba’. Some reports, not very trustworthy, say that he had declared `Ali an incarnation of God, and was spreading this creed when he was caught, tried by `Ali, asked to repent, refused, and so he got him and his hardcore followers burnt. But it is possible that Ibn Saba’ was not among the people that `Ali got burnt. When Ibn `Abbas came to know about the burning he said that he had heard the Prophet that no human should ever be burnt. When informed, `Ali responded with two syllables, “Woe unto Ibn `Abbas.” Trustworthy reports merely confirm that `Ali had encountered him and knew about his strange beliefs. Yet other reports suggest that he was alive after `Ali and that he used to say that `Ali was raised to the heavens, and will return. At all events, it appears the man spread other bizarre ideas about `Ali, which spread among the ignorant, of whom there is never any shortage in any populace, and that, it was perhaps he who sowed the seeds of Shi`aism. It is obvious from the sermons of `Ali that there were people around him who spoke ill of the first two caliphs, who held strange beliefs, who over-esteemed him, who thought that he was the one the Prophet wished to appoint Caliph after him. He was repeatedly asked whether there had been any special instructions from the Prophet (about succession) and he repeatedly said that all that they would like to call as special instruction was in the sheath of the sword: a piece of writing that dealt with Zakah rules, which he displayed when he saw disbelief in their faces. So, it is likely that although Ibn Saba’ was dead and gone, the beliefs he had spread about `Ali were received well by a section of the masses whose predisposition to everything mysterious, that defies logic is well known.

Strangely, and strange are the ways of this world, `Ali was left weakened after the battle with the Khawarij. Many people were unhappy about it. The Khawarij went underground but could not be rooted out. While he was leading in the morning Prayer, one of them shouted out the Qur’anic verse (39: 65), “Surely, it was revealed to you and to those before you that if you commit (the sin of) association, surely, your deeds will go in vain and surely you will be among the losers.” `Ali immediately answered with another verse, right from within the Prayer (30: 60), “So, be patient, surely, Allah’s promise is true. Therefore let not weaken you those who do not believe.”

Most of the area east of Iraq as well as in its north, rebelled against his governors or the governors rebelled, refusing to send the Kharaj money to him. This weakened his government. His efforts to raise an army to subdue Syria, when arbiters failed, also failed. His severity, especially his sternness with his governors from whom he demanded full accountability and full account of every little money that came to the government, was helping him lose friends. When he gave an equal amount to an Arab and to a non-Arab woman, the Arab woman complained: “Do I get the same as this non-Arab?” `Ali picked up a twig and said, “By Allah, I shall not give you in excess to the extent of this twig because you are an Arab.” Those were not golden words for some of the Arabs who thought that Islam was an Arab. On the other hand, Mu`awiyyah had money, and spent it generously. Not only had he refused to submit, but sent `Amr b. al-`Aas to attack Egypt and bring it to his hegemony, which was accomplished. Some of `Ali’s governors from other areas were also broken away by Mu`awiyyah, who carried away the wealth in the Treasuries forcing `Ali to say bitterly, “O Allah, they hate me and I hate them. So give them peace from me and give me peace from them (meaning death).” Ultimately, `Ali had to give in and sign a truce with Mu`awiyyah in 40 H, that said that Syria would remain under Mu`awiyyah while Iraq would be for `Ali, with neither intruding into the other’s territory. His failure to establish the kind of Khilafah Abu Bakr and `Umar had established, seemed to have disheartened him. Although respected, loved and admired, by the kind of people whose opinion matters, he did not wish to burden the world with his idealistic rule. He said in a public sermon, “My Lord. I am tired of them and they are tired of me. Grant them peace from me and me from them,” and then, with his beard in his fist, he added, “What prevents the worst of you to make my blood flow on this?”

While he was saying such things, a few of the Kharijis met together and decided that the root of all troubles were `Ali, Mu`awiyyah and `Amr b. al-`Aas. The three must go. They were specially disturbed by the death of their compatriots and leaders at Nahrawan. Three men volunteered to take up the task. They divided the work among themselves and agreed on attacking the three on a particular day with poisoned swords. The one who undertook to attack `Ali in Kufa, was called Ibn Muljam, a former Qur’an student of Mu`adh ibn Jabal. Originally from Yemen, he was otherwise considered pious and knowledgeable. It seems `Ali had recognized him as his murderer and could see death coming. When he fell ill and somebody visited him he remarked, “I will not die by this illness. The Prophet has told me that I’ll die from a stroke that will make blood flow (pointing to his beard) into this.” Ibn Muljam took the help of several others, including a woman by pleading, “Is it not `Ali who killed the best of us at Nahrawan?” He and his associates attacked `Ali as he emerged from his house for Prayers. Ibn Muljam’s sword did not fail, while those of his accomplices did, and they fled. Either he or his associate shouted before striking `Ali: “The command is for Allah alone, O `Ali, and not for you or your companions.”

The other two of the assassins assigned to murder Mu`awiyyah and `Amr b. al-`Aas failed: In Egypt `Amr b. al-`Aas never came out of his house for Prayers because of an illness, while in Syria Mu`awiyyah escaped with minor injury.

Three days later, 21st Ramadan, 40 H., at the age of sixty-three, `Ali succumbed to the injuries and closed his eyes. A new world was opening its eyes. It would be a world of changed priorities. It was a world `Ali did not wish to be part of.

His burial place is unknown. Several tombs have been identified, but to no certainty. The most likely narrative is that Hasan buried him early in the morning, in an unfamiliar place somewhere in Kufa and kept secret (for reasons of security). Early scholars, including Kufans, have said that the first time they heard about `Ali’s burial place as being in Najaf was in the fourth century!

`Ali having been picked up by the Shi`ah for devotion bordering with divinity, hundreds of saying are attributed to him. But the following few could be trustworthy.

• Speak to the people according to their understanding. Do you wish that Allah and His Messenger be denied?

• Lo! Let not any of you desire but for his Lord, fear not any but his sins, and shy not from saying ‘I do not know’ if he does not know; and when asked what he does not know, say, ‘I do not know.’

• No one concealed anything but it comes out by the slip of his tongue, and lines on his face.

• Do not enslave yourself to anybody when Allah has created you free.

• People hate that which they are ignorant of.

• Anyone who knows his worth will not be self-destroyed.


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