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Moawiya's defiance of Ali's authority

When Sahel returned, Ali asked Talha and Zubeir to mark the extent to which the parties were divided and which he had cautioned them against. They replied that, if they were allowed to go out of Medina, they would be answerable if the disturbance did not cease. Upon this Ali said that sedition was like fire, the more it burnt the stronger it grew and the brighter it shone; he would, however, bear it so long as it was possible, and when it became unbearable he would try to extinguish it. He resolved in the first instance, to write a letter to Moawiya and also to Abu Musa demanding their allegiance.

Abu Musa replied that he himself and the Kufians, with some exceptions, were entirely at his service; but from Moawiya no reply was forthcoming though weeks elapsed. In fact Moawiya had detained the messenger to witness the strength of his armies clamouring impatiently to revenge the blood of Osman, but, being, faithfully submissive to him, only waited for a word of command from him to march againt all concerned. After several weeks Moawiya permitted the messenger to go back to Medina, accompanied by a messenger of his own, who carried a despatch which was superscribed on the cover with the words 'from Moawiya to Ali.' According to the instructions given to him by Moawiya, when Moawiya's messenger reached Medina, he carried the despatch aloft upon a staff on purpose to be seen by the people in the streets. Being well aware of Moawiya's disaffection for Ali, the people thronged, anxious to know what the contents of the message might be. It was just three months after the murder of Osman that the despatch was presented to Ali, who read the address and breaking open the seal found all blank within, which he rightly took as a token of utmost defiance. Astonished at the effrontery of Moawiya, he asked the messenger to explain the enigma. 1

Upon this the messenger having begged and received assurance for the safety of his life answered: "Know then, I have left behind me in Syria sixty thousand warriors bewailing the murder of Osman under his blood-stained shirt by the oulpit of the great Mosque at Damascus, all bent on revenging the death of the Caliph on thee." "O me!" cried Ali in astonishment. "I call God to witness that I am not guilty of it. 0 God! I seek Thy protection against so false a charge." Ali then declared that only the sword could be the arbitrator between Moawiya and himself; and turning to Ziyad b. Hantala who sat by him, said that an expedition against Syria might be proclaimed, which Ziyad soon communicated to the people.

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1 The messenger's reply to Ali is given by Major Price thus : "Fifty thousand men are assembled about the robes of Osman' whose cheeks and beards have never been dry from tears, and whose eyes have never ceased from weeping blood, since the hour of that prince's atrocious murder. They have drawn their swords with a solemn pledge never to return them to the scabbard, nor cease from mourning, until they have extirpated all concerned in that detested transaction. This sentiment they have left as a solemn bequest to their descendants; and the earliest principle that mothers instil into the minds of their infant offspring is, to revenge the blood of Osman to the last extremity.' This insolent speech excited the anger of the attendants of the Caliph to such a degree, that, had not Ali interposed, serious consequences might have ensued. Strange to say, this magnanimity on the part of Ali operated like magic on the messenger of Moawiya, who then declared himself convinced of his error, and solemnly swore that for the future he would never voluntarily separate from the person of Ali or acknowledge the authority of any other sovereign to his prejudice." S. Ockley's History of Saracens P. 295.

Adapted from: "Ali, the Magnificent" by: "Yousuf N. Lalljee"