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Imam Ali (as) and the battle of Siffeen

Mu’awiyah made preparations for the war and set off towards Imam Ali's area with forty thousand soldiers. They got at a place called Siffeen between Syria and Iraq. Mu’awiyah arrived there earlier than Imam Ali (s) and occupied the bank of the river. He closed the way to the watering place that no one else could get water except his followers.

Imam Ali's army reached the place and they were badly thirsty. They found that there was no any drinking place for them to get water. The enemy controlled the water carefully that getting water was not possible easily.

Imam Ali (s) sent word to Mu’awiyah but he refused to open the way to the watering place. Imam Ali (s) was obliged to say to his men: “Get up and get water by sword.” Those thirsty soldiers attacked the guards, dispersed them away and occupied the watering place.

Now the Iraqis wanted to pay the Syrians in their own coin but Imam Ali (s) did not want to requite evil with evil and said: “Do not prevent any one from getting water.” Hence every one could take water freely.

Then Imam Ali (s) sent some persons to warn Mu’awiyah of the consequences of the war and to reason with him the homage. Some other groups also acted as intermediary to prevent bloodshed but Mu’awiyah used every excuse to declare the war. He pretended that he would not let Uthman's blood be lost. He had hung the bloodstained shirt of Uthman on the pulpit of the great mosque of Damascus, around which thousands of Syrians used to weep for Uthman's innocence and then they had sworn to avenge his blood.

Since Mu’awiyah had accused Imam Ali of Uthman’s murder, the Syrians were in favor of Mu’awiyah to fight against the Iraqis.

Mu’awiyah was really an autocrat in Syria since the reign of the second caliph Umar and he would never submit to Imam Ali (s) to lose the position. Hereon he involved the Muslims in a war that its bad effect has still remained till the present time.

At last the battle raged and Imam Ali's army of ninety thousand soldiers confronted the Syrian army of one hundred thousand soldiers. During the first week some fighters of both parties came forward day after day and fought each other. Some of both sides were killed. In this manner the battle became more widespread and bloodshed increased.

In the eighth day ibn Abbas (the Prophet's cousin) and Malik al-Ashtar, the two courageous men, attacked the enemy's right and left flanks that Mu’awiyah’s forces had to retreat from the field several times. In the ninth day Imam Ali (s) himself came forward with his men and made such an attack that the whole battlefield rocked and the enemy’s rows broke off under storms of arrows and spears. Imam Ali came and stood where Mu’awiyah could be seen. Imam Ali challenged him saying: “Come towards me. Let the winner of the fight be the ruler.”

Although Amr ibn al-Aass, Mu’awiyah’s counselor, encouraged Mu’awiyah but he began to go back.

The historians mentioned that Imam Ali (s) had showed such bravery in Siffeen, that you seldom see its like in the history. Everywhere he appeared, the enemy's lines were confused and they scattered before his sword like ants and locusts. No one dared to face him unless he was killed in the first rush. Therefore he occasionally changed his dress and horse.

Suddenly, in the thick of the fight, a man leaped forward and assaulted Imam Ali (s), who evaded the danger. Then Imam Ali hit the man upon his back with his sword. The man was split into two halves. The people thought that Imam Ali’s hit had missed the man but when his horse jumped two separated halves fell down on the ground. The enemy knew later that he was Imam Ali (s) in disguise.

Some days passed in this manner and the Iraqi army had the advantage over the enemy many times because of the continuous and break-neck attacks. At the night of al-Hareer 37 when the successive rushes of Imam Ali's men reached the highest point and continued till the morning, the killed were more than thirty thousand ones.

In the tenth day Malik al-Ashtar and Ibn Abbas again assaulted the enemy severely and their men showed a high spirit of sacrifice. The spirit of the Syrians was broken and signs of defeat appeared among them.

While the battle was still raging the, enemy found that winning a victory by sword was impossible. Amr ibn al-Aass, who was prone to mischief and was famed for shrewdness, planned to play a trick. He suggested to Mu’awiyah by saying: “Let us raise some copies of the Qur’an on the spears and then the armies of the two sides are to be called to make the Qur’an as arbitrator. This act will create separation among them. Consequently many soldiers will stop fighting and many others will like to keep on it. The result will be to our privilege because, in this way, we can put off the war for a while to get rid of this distress.

Some pages of the Holy Qur’an were raised on the spears and consequently the form of the war was changed.

When Imam Ali (s) saw that the Holy Qur’an had become the device of their trickery, he said: “Be careful and do not be deceived. They invented this trickery just to get rid of defeat. They are neither interested in the Holy Qur’an nor connected with the religion. We are fighting against them to follow the Holy Qur’an's principles. Keep on the war to obtain the victory over the dying enemy.”

But unfortunately a large number of his army began to shout and cry. They said to Imam Ali: “We prefer the verdict of the Qur’an and if you do not respond to the call of Qur’an, we will deal with you as we did with Uthman. You have to stop the war at once.”

Imam Ali (s) did his best to make them understand the trick but they were impervious to his arguments. They had forgotten the Prophet's saying: “Ali is always with the Qur’an and the Qur’an is with Ali. They will never separate until they come to me at Kawthar River (a river in paradise).” 38

The battle still raged but they made Imam Ali (s) send a word to Malik al-Ashtar 39 asking him to come back from the field. When Malik received the order, he was surprised. He said: “This is not the time to leave the battle. Tell Imam Ali (s) to wait a little until I come back with the tidings of victory.” The message was delivered to Imam Ali (s) but many soldiers shouted and urged upon him that Malik must come back as soon as possible. The messenger came back to Malik and said:

“They are all in chaos. If Imam Ali's life is dear to you, go back to him at once.”

Malik was obliged to go back to Imam Ali (s). After scolding the rebellious soldiers he said: “According to the homage you paid to him, obeying him would be obligatory for you.” But regretfully they paid no attention to his saying. Then it was agreed that each party should nominate an arbitrator to decide the matter of the caliphate according to the Holy Qur’an. Amr ibn al-Aass was nominated by Mu’awiyah’s followers and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari was chosen by Imam Ali’s followers as arbitrators. Imam Ali (s) had in mind to appoint ibn Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar as his agent but army did not listen to him and they stuck to Abu Musa.

Some spies of Mu’awiyah were in rapport with a few heads of Imam Ali's army. They used to aggravate the condition.

The historians mentioned that Abu Musa was a stupid man and that he had not shown confidence and trust in Imam Ali (s). He even prevented the people from joining Imam Ali’s army.

When the rebels insisted on that Abu Musa should be the arbitrator, Imam Ali (s) said: “Now you do not listen to me. Well, choose your own way! It is not far when you will bite your fingers regretting your misdeed.”

Finally Abu Musa and Amr were chosen as arbiters. They put their heads together and decided to depose Mu’awiyah and Ali (s) from the seat of the caliphate and then to let the people choose an adequate person for that rule. They were to announce their decision to the people.

After some formalities, Amr said to Abu Musa: “It is impolite that I precede you. You are older than me. You announce first.” Abu Musa became proud after this flattery and came before the crowed and saying: “We both determined on deposing Mu’awiyah and Ali ibn Abu-Talib and hereupon the Muslims have the right to choose a caliph as they like.” Then it was Amr's turn. He said: “O people, you heard just now that Abu Musa deposed Ali (s) from his position and I approve it. But there is no reason that makes me depose Mu’awiyah so I appoint him as the caliph.”

As soon as Amr ended his words, the Muslims made a protest against the verdict of the arbitrators but no attention was paid to their protest.

Abu Musa cried hoarsely and said to Amr: “You deceived me. You are like a dog. If you attack it, it will bark and if you leave it alone, it will bark.” Amr said to him: “You are like the ass, which bears books.”

However Amr's trick firmed the authority of Mu’awiyah to some extent more than before.

The simple-minded people, who forced Imam Ali to accept the arbitration, thought highly of the two arbitrators and thought that their verdict would be according to the Holy Qur’an but they had not paid attention to the Holy Qur’an, whereas some verses of the Holy Qur’an had praised Imam Ali and had urged the Muslims to follow him. The Holy Qur’an says: (O you, who believe! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and be with the true ones) 9:119.

Many of the great Sunni commentators mentioned that “the true ones” were Mohammad (s) and Ali (s) and “be with them” meant that the Muslims should follow them. 40

Could this short sketch of arbitration be a guide to the Muslims or the Qur’an and the Prophet's Sunnah in order not to be trapped by the enemy’s tricks and not to go after the worldly transient desires?

It is much regrettable that some authorities make use of deceitful devices to exploit the poor nations unfairly under the name of humanism.

Imam Ali (s) believed that both science and religion should be adopted to serve the human beings. He said: “Allah has not made it obligatory for the ignorant to learn until He has made it obligatory for the learned to teach.” He also said: “Whoever trades and does not know the rules of religion, will fall in usury.”


37. Hareer is an Arabic word. It means "to howl" and "to whine". The fallen and wounded soldiers were howling in that livelong night.

38. Refer to ibn Mardwayh's Manaqib, al-Haythami's Majma'a, vol.1 p.p.236, al-Hakim's Mustadrak, vol.3 p.p.134 and al-Fakhr ar-Razi's Tafseer, vol.1 p.p.111.

39. Malik was a very close companion of Imam Ali because of his sincerity and steadfastness in faith. Imam Ali showed great confidence and trust in him. He was Imam Ali's right hand in all the difficulties. In addition to his bravery, he had a great ability to organize and to administer the state affairs. Suffice it to say that Imam Ali had said about Malik: "He was to me as I was to the prophet."

40. Ath-Tha'labi in his book Kashful Bayan, Jalaluddeen as-Sayooti in his ad-Durr al-Mathoor, Abu Na'eem al-Isfahani in his Hilyatul Awliya', Sheikh Sulayman al-Hanafi in his The arbitrators had forgotten the Prophet's words: “Ali (s) is the wisest, the best judge and the most superior to all of you. Opposing his sayings and judgments is opposing me and opposing me is opposing Allah and that is blasphemy.”

Adopted from the book : "Imam Ali (a.s.); Sunshine of Civilized Islam" by : "Muhammad Huseyn Tahmasebi"

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