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Fighting During Aliís Reign

Adil Salahi

Arab News, 3/8/04

Justice Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi moves on to discuss the Battle of Siffeen, which witnessed another episode of fighting between Muslims, many of whom belonged to the generation of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The battle was between Ali, the fourth caliph, moving from Kufah in Iraq, and Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, moving from Damascus. The two sides met at Siffeen, close to the town of Raqqah, on the Euphrates inside Syria. This means that the two armies moved along the fertile and populated area, rather than crossing the Syrian Desert, which would have been the direct route had it been easy to cross.

There are numerous misconceptions about this battle and the attitude of the two sides. In his scholarly and concise manner, Ibn Al-Arabi sums up first the false reports and accusations before refuting them. His summing up of the false statements goes as follows: ďWar broke out between the people from Syria and those from Iraq. The latter called for a unanimous pledge of loyalty to Ali as Imam and caliph, while the Syrian side were demanding that Uthmanís killers must be punished without delay. In their position they maintained that they would not pledge loyalty to the killers.

ďAli said that he would not surrender any person to anyone for punishment unless judgment had been passed on that person. Muíawiyah, on the other hand, maintained that he Ďcannot pledge allegiance to an accused person or a killer. He is one of those to be questioned: how can we make him judge or give him our allegiance? As a caliph, he has been in the wrong.í

ďThey added too many details which led to forging letters, coining statements, composing poetry and coming up with proverbs, all of which are at variance with the conduct of the early generations. Yet these are approved only by the wicked and rejected by honest people.Ē

Al-Khateeb gives us some details of the background to this encounter, stating that after the Battle of the Camel, between Ali and the group led by Aishah, Ali moved from Basrah to Kufah, which he reached on Monday, Rajab 12, in year 36. He then sent Jareer ibn Abdullah Al-Bujali to Damascus, with a message to Muawiyah calling on him to declare his subordination to him as caliph. Muawiyah called a meeting of the main figures, including a number of the Prophetís companions, army commanders and leading personalities from Syria to consult them. Their agreed view was that they would not pledge allegiance to Ali unless he punishes Uthmanís killers or hand them over to them. Jareer went back to Ali with this answer.

Ali then appointed Uqbah ibn Amir as his deputy in Kufah and marched at the head of his army and encamped at Al-Nukhaylah, which is at the beginning of his route from Iraq to Syria, where his forces gathered. Some of his advisers suggested that he should stay in Kufah, sending some other commander to meet the Syrians, but he refused. When Muawiyah heard that Ali got ready and marched at the head of his army, his advisers suggested that he, too, should be at the head of his forces. Thus, the Syrians moved toward the Euphrates aiming for Siffeen, and Ali moved toward the same area. Both marched toward the end of the month of Dul Qaada. When the two armies met, clashes started in the month of Dul Hijjah, 36 H. In the following month, Muharram 37 H, there was a truce between the two parties, then fighting broke out again. Then they both agreed arbitration on Safar 13, 37 H, which is the following month, making clear that the two arbiters were to declare their agreed verdict in Ramadan of that year at a place called Doomat Al-Jandal in the north of the Arabian Peninsula.

Ibn Al-Arabi then begins his refutation of these accusations by acknowledging that the war between the two sides was over this particular issue. He then comes clearly on Aliís side, saying that his attitude was right, because a person who claims justice against killers cannot be the one who judges in the matter. What he means is that since Muawiyah and his side demanded that justice should be done with regard to Uthmanís killing, they could not be given the killers to pass judgment on them. This was to be left to the caliph as he was the highest judge.

Ibn Al-Arabi further adds that if the claimant of justice accuses the judge of taking sides, he is not justified in staging a rebellion against him. The proper attitude is to demand that he should administer justice. If it is done, then well and good. If not, the claimant should accept the situation with resignation. Many are the cases that are judged only by God. If the judge taking sides is one who does not follow the dictates of religion, then in this case the claimant may have an excuse if he rebels.

It is a precise statement, well considered by an author who was a judge of high calibre. To Ibn Al-Arabi, the case is clear. Ali was the caliph and he could judge the situation. Those who claimed justice for Uthman could press their claim with him. It is his responsibility to look into the matter. If he did not, this is not a cause to justify rebellion against him.

Al-Khateeb explains that the problem arose because the leaders of the rebellion that led to Uthmanís assassination joined Aliís camp. He gives the example of Al-Ashtar whom he describes as the leading trouble-maker who caused war between the two camps. Al-Khateeb shows that the demand made by Muawiyah and other companions of the Prophet was justified. However, he explains that when Uthmanís assassins who joined Ali were in Iraq, they were actually in their power base. Had he put them to trial there and executed them, he might have opened the floodgate for more trouble. Hence, he needed to let matters cool down and his authority to be well established first, then he would have dealt with the matter.

Al-Khateeb also mentions that Al-Hasan, Aliís eldest son, was against his fatherís departure from Madinah to Kufah, because he feared that trouble might arise with the people in Syria, who were in the forefront of the defense of the Islamic state. Had Ali followed Al-Hasanís advice, Muawiyah would not have taken any action against him, Al-Khateeb claims.


Earth, a planet hungry for peace


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers (Ran Cohen, pmc, 5/24/03).


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, like a Python. (Alquds,10/25/03).

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