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The Arbitration: Myth and Reality

Adil Salahi

Arab News, 3/30/04

The arbitration in question is that which was agreed at the end of the Battle of Siffeen between Ali and Mu’awiyah, when it was agreed that the dispute should be referred to arbitration, with each side sending an arbiter. Ali chose Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari while Mu’awiyah chose Amr ibn Al-Aas. A flimsy report that circulated far and wide and came to be accepted by the majority of ordinary people suggests that Amr ibn Al-Aas tricked Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari into declaring that both Ali and Mu’awiyah were removed from office, but when it was time for Amr to confirm this he reneged. Justice Ibn Al-Arabi discusses this without going into the details of this flimsy report:

“People have circulated reports about the arbitration, saying what is certain to displease God. If this is considered on the basis of fairness, let alone faith, the only conclusion to be made is that it is all a myth that has found its way into books through a mixture made of a large portion of unfaith and a smaller one of absolute ignorance.

“Of all the numerous reports circulated, the true ones are those related by leading scholarly figures, such as Khaleefah ibn Khayat and Al-Daraqutni. They relate that when the Iraqi forces, numbering around 100,000 and the Syrian forces, numbering between 70,000 and 90,000, met at Siffeen, near the Euphrates, they fought on Tuesday for the first time for control of the water springs, and the Iraqis won the day.

They clashed again on Wednesday, 7 Safar 37, as well as on Thursday, Friday and the night preceding Saturday. Then the Syrians raised their copies of the Qur’an and called for a peaceful solution. They dispersed after agreeing that each side would appoint an arbiter and the two would settle the dispute in fairness. Abu Musa was chosen by Ali, while Mu’awiyah chose Amr ibn Al-Aas.

“Abu Musa was a devout person with great knowledge and insight, as we have explained in our book, Siraj Al-Mureedin. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had sent him to Yemen together with Mu’adh (who was appointed governor of Yemen by the Prophet). Umar also gave him position and praised him for his insight. Yet the unscrupulous among historians allege that he was naive, easily tricked. By contrast, they claim that Amr was very cunning, and was particularly notorious for his sleight and trickery. Some ignorant people built on this, fabricating tales of his trickery. But the fact was that some of the Prophet’s companions were sharper and more intelligent than Amr, but these tales aimed to give him such a status so as to make the story of the arbitration more plausible.

Those who circulate this story claim that when the two arbiters met at Doomat Al-Jandal and discussed the points at issue, they agreed to remove both Ali and Mu’awiyah from office. Amr said to Abu Musa, as they claim: ‘You address the people first.’ Abu Musa spoke and said: ‘I have looked into the matter and felt it is right that Ali is removed and that the Muslim community choose their leader. I, therefore, remove him as I take off this sword of mine.’ He then removed his sword and put it on the ground. Amr then came forward, putting his sword first on the ground, and then said: ‘I have considered the points at issue, and I confirm Mu’awiyah’s position in office as I hold this sword of mine to my body.’ He then took his sword and put it by its strap in his neck. Abu Musa objected, but Amr said: ‘Such is what we agreed upon.’ All those who were present dispersed.”

This is in a nutshell the story of the arbitration, as circulated down the generations, and it is this story that Ibn Al-Arabi describes as stupid fabrication. First of all, Ibn Al-Arabi makes clear that such false reports are circulated by people who lack faith. The reports then go round and round through ignorant people. Indeed, it is ignorance that allows such stupid fabrication to circulate and to be handed down from one generation to another. Ibn Al-Arabi makes clear that people should make sure whom to believe. They cannot have better sources than dedicated scholars who took pains to sort out the true from false. He cites the names of two such scholars: Khaleefah ibn Khayat (d. 240 H), a famous scholar who achieved excellence in Qur’an and Hadith studies, and a teacher of a large number of scholars in different disciplines. One of the best known of his students was Al-Bukhari.

The other is Ali ibn Umar Al-Daraqutni (d. 385 H) who was a leading Fiqh and Hadith scholar. Only reports transmitted by such meticulous scholars can be described as reliable.

Ibn Al-Arabi comments on this report and its allegations in all clarity:

“All these are blatant lies, and nothing of it took place. These are merely statements by people who resort to fabrication, invented by history writers to please kings. It was then circulated by people who have no scruples and who are not loath to disobey God in public. What reliable scholars of high repute tell us is that when the two arbiters met to discuss the matter, attended by a group of distinguished figures including Abdullah ibn Umar, Amr agreed that Mu’awiyah should step down.

“Al-Daraqutni reports that after Amr ibn Al-Aas agreed that Mu’awiyah should step down, Hudayn ibn Al-Mundhir put up his tent close to Mu’awiyah’s quarters, who, on hearing that, called him in and told him what he heard of Amr’s agreement. He requested him to check whether it was true. Al-Hudayn says: ‘I went and asked Amr: What have you and Abu Musa agreed on this question that has been left for you two to judge? He replied: ‘I asked Abu Musa what he thought about it, and he said that he preferred that it should be left to the Prophet’s companions with whom he was pleased before his death. I asked him what would be my and Mu’awiyah’s positions, and he said: ‘If you are asked to help, both of you could certainly contribute, and if your services are dispensed with, then long has been the time when neither of you was needed.’ This was what angered Mu’awiyah. I went to Mu’awiyah and told him that my conversation with Amr confirmed what he had heard. He then dispatched Abu Al-Awar Al-Dhakwani (one of his senior commanders) who marched fast, saying: ‘Where is this enemy of God?’ Amr apparently feared for his life. He mounted an unsaddled horse that was near to his tent and went speedily toward Mu’awiyah’s quarters, saying: ‘Mu’awiyah, an irritable she-camel could produce a great quantity of milk.’ Mu’awiyah replied: ‘This is true, but it could also move uncontrollably, hitting the person milking her on his nose and kicking his container upside down.’

“Al-Daraqutni also relates that Amr ibn Al-Aas said: ‘By God, had Abu Bakr and Umar refrained from taking such money when it was lawful to them, they would have had a raw deal and would have been unwise. By God, they suffered neither injustice nor lack of wisdom. If they refrained from taking it because it was forbidden and we later thought it lawful for us, we are in serious trouble. This confusion is of our own doing.’

“This is the long and short of it all. The best policy is to steer away from people with vested interests and to maintain the path of those who follow the Prophet’s guidance, speaking no ill of people who were the first to respond to the call of Islam. We should beware of being condemned on the Day of Judgment for taking a stand against some of the Prophet’s companions. A person who is opposed by the Prophet’s companions is most certainly a loser. The past should be left to rest, and we should be diligent in fulfilling our responsibilities in faith and action, without repeating what those who care little about Islam are wont to repeat. God will certainly reward those who do well. May God bestow His grace on Al-Rabie ibn Khaytham who, on hearing of the killing of Al-Husain, asked: ‘Is it true that they have killed him?’ When it was confirmed to him, he said no more than quoting the Qur’anic verse: ‘Our Lord, Originator of the heavens and the earth, who knows all that is beyond the reach of human perception, as well as all that can be witnessed by any creature! It is You who will judge between Your servants with regard to all on which they differ.’ (39: 46) Such is the attitude of the wise and religious who submit to the Lord of all the worlds.“




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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