"My eyes are sore are my legs are thing, but I'll stand by you, O Messenger of Allah!"
Thus said a young man of ten, when the Holy Prophet put his message before his own relatives. The boy was Ali, the cousin of the Holy Prophet.
Ali was born some thirty years after the birth of the Holy Prophet. His father, Abu Talib, was the Holy Prophet's real uncle. Fatima was the name of Ali's mother.
The Holy Prophet had lost his father before he was born. At a very early age he also lost his mother, Amina, and his grandfather Abdul Muttalib. Thereafter it was his uncle, Abu Talib who took care of him and brought him up. Abu Talib had a very large family. He was rather a poor man. When Ali was bron, the Holy Prophet was a grown up man. He had wife and children. So he took Ali to his own home and brought him up like his own son. He did this to take a little burden off the shoulders of his loving uncle. But this had another effect too. Ali grew up in the atmosphere of virtue and piety which no other home could provide.
This early training left a lasting effect on Ali's mind. It gave him a keen vision and a passionate love for truth. Above all, it made him a fearless fighter in the way of Allah. These qualities were later to prove a rare asset for Islam.
Acceptance of Islam
Ali was over nine years of age when the Holy Prophet was called to the Divine Mission. One day Ali saw his cousin and his wife put their foreheads on the ground. They were uttering praises of Allah, the Almighty. Ali looked on in amazement. Never before had he seen anybody say prayers in this fashion.
When the prayer was over, Ali asked his cousin what the strange act meant.
"We were worshipping Allah, the One," the Holy Prophet said, "I advise you to do the same. Never bend your head before Lat, Uzza or any other idol."
"But I have never heard of any such thing before," said Ali; "I will speak to father first and then let you know."
"You should not as yet talk to anyone about this matter. Think for yourself and make up your mind," the Holy Prophet advised his little cousin.
This advice made an irresistible appeal to Ali's good sense. He started thinking over the matter. The more he thought over it, the more convinced he grew of the truth of his good cousin's words. Next morning Ali came and accepted Islam. He was the first youth to join the fold of Islam. A rare act of independent judgement for a boy of his age, especially in a society given to idol worship! Proof of his instinctive love for truth.
Closeness to the Prophet
Ali grew up under the loving care of the Prophet. This gave him a deep insight into the basic realities of life and faith. The Holy Prophet once said of him, "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate."
Ali's love for the Holy Prophet was unbounded. The night on which the Prophet left for Medina, his house was surrounded by blood-thirsty men. Drawn swords flashed all around. They were ready to cut to pieces the man who came out of the house. The Holy Prophet asked Ali to lie in his bed while he himself left un-noticed. Ali gladly jumped in the bed and slept calmly the whole night. Death hovered around the house but Ali did not care for it. He was happy that he had helped save the Prophet's life.
In the morning when the Quraish found themselves out-witted, they were mad with fury. Some of them suggested that Ali be made to pay with his life for his part in the game. Ali faced the threat with such cool courage that the Quraish had to leave him alone.
The Holy Prophet had deposits of the people with him. With all their opposition to him, the Meccans knew of no other man whom they could trust. The Prophet had to return their deposits of the people before he left for Yathrib. He handed these to Ali, to be carefully given back to the depositors. Ali stayed at Mecca for three more days. He returned the people's deposits and then set off to Medina to join the Prophet.
Ali had a very close blood tie with the Holy Prophet. But the Prophet wanted to bring him still closer. So he gave away his daughter, Fatima, to him in marriage. She was his youngest daughter and the most dearly loved of all. Ali realised the honor done to him. He married no other wife as long as Fatima lived. Hasan and Husain were the sons of Ali and Fatima. The Holy Prophet loved them like his own sons.
In 9A.H., the Holy Prophet prepared to lead an expedition against Syria. This was the well-known expedition of Tabuk. He decided to leave Ali in charge of Medina during his absence. This gave the hypocrites an opportunity to take ill of Ali.
"The Holy Prophet does not want Ali to be with him," they said.
The report reached the Holy Prophet. He at once called Ali and said, "O Ali, do you not like that you should have the same relationship with me as Aaron had with Moses?" These words of the Prophet silenced the hypocrites.
In the year 9A.H., took place the first Haj of Islam. By this time, Allah had forbidden the idolaters to enter the Kaaba. The fact had to be made known to the people gathered for the Haj. According to Arab practice, this could be done only by the Holy Prophet himself or by some close relative of his. The Holy Prophet chose Ali for the job. He gave Ali his own she-camel, Qaswa. Ali road on Qaswa and read out to the crowd the commandment of Allah.
During the last illness of the Prophet, Ali was constantly by the sick bed. When the Prophet passed away it was Ali, assisted by his uncle Abbas, who performed the last rites. Ali was one of the scribes of the Revelations. Letters sent out by the Holy Prophet were also written by him.
Ali was one of the ten men who got from the Prophet the good news of Paradise.
The three Caliphs before Ali depended much on Ali's advice. Omar used to say, "Ali is the best judge among us." More than once, when Omar had to leave Medina, he left Ali in the capital as his deputy. In fact Omar considered Ali the fittest peson to carry on his work. If he did not nominate him successor, it was because he felt sure of his election by the people.
In the early years of Othman's caliphate, Ali continued to have an effective voice in shaping state policy. It was only in the later years that the Old Caliph allowed himself to be led by his kinsmen.
Participation in Battles
Ali was the hero of many a battle fought in the lifetime of the Prophet. When the exception of Tabuk, he joined all battles and expeditions.
In the battle of Badr, Ali's sword did real wonders. According to Arab practice, three of the bravest warriors of the Quraish came out for single combat. Ali killed two of them. This struck terror in the heart of the enemy.
On the battlefield of Ohud, Ali stood bravely by the side of the Prophet. This battle was lost due to the mistake of the Muslim archers who had left the pass undefended. Disorder and panic spread in Muslim ranks. People took to flight. The rumor spread that the Messenger of Allah had been killed. In the midst of all this confusion, Ali was one of those who clung to the Prophet. The enemy had dug a deep pit and covered it with twigs and grass. The Prophet fell down in the pit. It was Ali who, with the help of Abu Bakr and Talha, pulled him out. The wounds received by the Holy Prophet were washed and dressed by Ali and Fatima. Ali himself received seventeen wounds in this battle.
In the fifth year of Hijrah, all enemies of Islam joined hands. They led a huge army against Medina. The Holy Prophet defended the city by digging a deep and wide trench around it. But one day Abdwood, a warrior of all-Arabia fame, jumped across the trench on horseback. No one dared to go near him. At last Ali came out to give him a fight.
"Remember, Ali," said the Holy Prophet, "it is Abdwood."
"Yes, Oh Messenger of Allah, I know it," replied Ali.
In a few minutes Ali threw down his huge rival and cut off his head.
The Banu Quraiza Jews of Medina forced the Holy Prophet to take police action against them. Ali played the leading role in it. He surrounded the Jewish stronghold and overpowered the Jews and said this prayer in the courtyard of the fortress.
The Jews had a chain of strong forts at Khaibar. These were a source of an ever-present threat to the Muslims. The Holy Prophet led an army to deal with this threat. The Jews put up a stiff fight. But their several forts fell one after another. However, 'Qumus' proved to be the strongest Jewish fort. Its commander, Marhab, beat back all attacks. At last the Holy Prophet said, "Tomorrow I am going to give the standard to a man who is loved by Allah and His Prophet and who loves Allah and His Prophet. Allah will grant him victory."
All were eager to know who the fortunate man would be. The next morning Ali was granted the standard. Ali slew Marhab and his brother and took the fort.
It was Ali who wrote the treaty of Hudaibiyya. The Holy Prophet dictated its terms and Ali wrote them down. The Quraish agents objected to the words "Prophet of Allah," being written with the name of the Holy Prophet. They wanted instead the words "Muhammad bin Abdullah." The Holy Prophet agreed to the change. But Ali refused to rub out the words "Prophet of Allah." The Holy Prophet had to rub off these words with his own hand.
When the Prophet marched into Mecca victoriously, Ali was holding the standard of Islam.
In the battle of Hunain, the Ohud confusion was repeated for a while. But Ali was among those who stood firm by the side of the Prophet.
There was no Caliph of Islam for three days after Othman's murder. Medina was completely in the grip of the rioters. Ghafqi, the ring leader of the Egyptian rioters, led prayers in the Prophet's Mosque. Most of the Companions had left Medina during the dark days of the holocaust. The few who remained felt absolutley helpless. They sat in their homes and allowed the rioters to have their way.
The rioters proposed Ali's name for the Caliphate. They requested him to become the Caliph. Ali refused at first. But someone had to bring life back to normal. Things in the capital were in a bad way. Ali had talks with those of the Companions who were still in Medina. They said that he should come forward to serve the people. So Ali agreed to take upon himself the responsibility of guiding the affairs of the Muslims. He consented to become the fourth Caliph of Islam.
All came to the Prophet's Mosque to receive the pledge of loyalty. Malik Ushtar was the first to take the pledge. He was followed by other people.
Talha and Zubair, the two noted Companions, were in Medina at the time. They were among the six electors nominated by Omar, Ali wanted to make sure that they were with him. So he sent for them.
"If either one of you wants to be the Caliph," said Ali when they came, "I am ready to pledge loyalty to him.
They both refused to carry this burden.
"Then pledge loyalty to me," said Ali.
Zubair kept quiet but Talha showed unwillingness. At this time Malik Ushtar drew his sword. "Pledge loyalty," he said, "or I will strike off your heads."
Both of them took the pledge.
Saad bin Waqaas was called next. He too, was one of the six electors.
"Have no fears about me," he assured Ali. "When other people have taken the pledge, I will also do it."
Next came the turn of Abdullah bin Omar. His answer was the same as Saad's.
"There must be someone to stand surety for you," said Ali.
"I have no surety to offer," was the reply.
Malik Ushtar stood up and shouted, "Hand him over to me. I will strike off his head."
"No, no," said Ali, "I stand surety for him."
Some of the leading Ansar also did not pledge loyalty to Ali. Members of the Omayyad family all fled to Syria. They took away with them the blood-stained shirt of the late Caliph and the chopped fingers of his wife, Naila.
The First Address
After becoming Caliph, Ali gave his first address. It was eloquent and forceful. In it Ali said: "Area around the Kaaba is sacred. Allah commands the Muslims to live as brothers. A Muslims is he who does not hurt anyone with his word or deed. Fear Allah in your dealings with other men. On the Day of Judgement you will have to answer for your dealings, even with animals. Obey Allah, the Almighty. Do not cast aside His commandments. Do good and keep away from evil."
Ali knew full well that difficult time lay ahead. The forces of lawlessness had been unleashed. It would require tireless work, great patience and much tact to restore law and order. Ali hoped to accomplish the task with the co-operation of his people.
Ali Faces a Dilemma
As soon as the address was over, a party of Companions met Ali, Talha and Zubair among them.
"You are now the Caliph," the deputation said. "Your first duty is to enforce the law of Shari'ah. So punish the murderers of Othman. It was on this understanding that we pledged loyalty to you."
"I will not let Othman's death go un-avenged," Ali assured the deputation, "but you must wait. Conditions are not normal yet. The rioters are still powerful in Medina. We are in their grip. My own position is shaky. So please wait. As soon as conditions allow, I will do my duty."
The answer did not satisfy all. Some thought that Ali was trying to evade the issue. Others thought he was sincere in what he said. Some insisted that people must take the matter in their own hands. If Ali was unable to punish the murderers of Othman, they themselves must do it.
The rioters got to know of what was going on. They felt sure that Ali would punish them if things returned to normal. They saw their only hope in a state of continued unrest. For this they had only to play off one party against the other. Immediately they started the game. They began sowing misunderstanding everywhere. Their aim was to keep the leaders of public opinion divided. In this alone lay their safety and their future.
Soon after entering upon his office, Ali began to feel the terrible weight of the difficulties that beset his path. The rioters supported his cause. They had marched on Medina to make him the Caliph. But they had used a method of which he did not approve. He felt sure that he must punish them. For this he needed the united support of the Companions and all his officers. Of that support he was not very sure. He had to wait and watch. There were people - some of them very honest - who misunderstood this policy of delay. They wanted quick action. They had seen quick action being taken in the days of Abu Bakr and Omar. They did not realize how different the conditions were now.
This was the dilemma that faced Ali. His keen sense of justice demanded firm and quick action; his shaky position forbade it. Ali saw no answer to this dilemma.
Ali Sets About His Task
Ali honestly believed that Othman's troubles were due to the men who had gathered around him. Wild ambitions of the Banu Omayya family were the real cause of what had happened. They had taken undue advantage of the honest old man, Othman. They had used him as their tool, jumped into power and misused that power. It was they who had earned a bad name for the late good Caliph. The tragic death of Othman and the prevailing un-rest could all be traced to the doings of these men. They had to go or things would not come back to normal. Ali made up his ind to strike at the root of all the trouble.
So Ali's first act as Caliph was to dismiss all provincial Governors. He appointed new men in their place. Ibn Abbas and Mughira bin Shaaba were among Ali's staunchest friends. They advised him against hasty action.
"Get from all the Governors the oath of loyatly first," they pleaded. "When you are firm in the saddle, then do what you want. If you dismiss them now, they may refuse to accept you as Caliph. Othman's murder can be made an easy excsue for this. Under cover of this excuse, they may take up arms against you."
Ali did not listen to this advice. He did not believe that expediency should be allowed to stay the hand of justice. Mughira bin Shaaba got displeased. He warned the new Caliph that his hasty action was likely to land him in difficulties. Then he left Medina and came to Mecca.
Cold Reception for New Governors
Ali's governors set out to take charge of their duties. But none of them had a smooth sailing. Egypt seemed to be the foremost supporter of Ali. But when the new governor reached there, he found things very different. Some of the people accepted him. But there was a strong group which demanded quick punishment for the murderers of Othman. If that was not done, they said, the would have nothing to do with the new Caliph and his governor. There was another group of people who made a counter demand. They demanded that the murderers of the late Caliph should not be punished at all.
The new governor of Basra faced a similar difficulty. One group of people stood for the rioters and the other was against them.
The Governor designate of Kufa was still on his way when he met a strong party of powerful men from that city.
"You better go back," they said. "The people of Kufa will not accept you in place of Abu Musa Ashari. Do not risk your life."
The threat so cowed down the poor governor-designate that he tamely came back to Madina.
When the governor-designate of Syria reached Tabuk, he found his way blocked by Muawia's soldiers. He showed them the letter or appointment.
"If you have been appointed by Othman," they said, "you are welcome. But if you have been sent by someone else, you better go back."
The poor governor-designate had to return to Medina.
The new governor of Yemen took over without any difficulty. But his predecessor had left the public treasury empty.
Ali Takes Action
Kufa and Syria were the two provinces which had openly flouted the new Caliph's authority. Ali sent messengers to the Governors of both the provinces. He asked them to explain things.
Abu Musa Ashari, the Governor of Kufa, sent a satisfactory reply. He assured the Caliph of his loyalty. He further said that he had got from the people the pledge of loyalty for the new Caliph.
In his letter to Muawia, Ali had said, "Pledge loyalty to me or get ready to fight."
Muawia sent a very clever outspoken man to deliver his letter of reply. Ali opened the letter. All the letter said was, "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful." This amazed Ali.
"What does Muawia mean by this?" he asked the messenger.
The man stood up and said, "Gentlemen, when I left Syria, there were fifty thousand veterans weeping for Othman. Their beards were wet with tears. They have sworn to punish the murders of the late Caliph. They will not sheathe their swords until they have taken the revenge."
One of the men sitting by Ali stood up and said, "O Syrian messenger, do you mean to overawe us with your Syrian army? By Allah, Othman's shirt is not the shirt of Propjet Joseph. Nor is Muawia's sorrow for him the sorrow of Prophet Jacob. If people mourn Othman in Syria, there are men in Iraq who speak ill of him."
The words of the messenger hurt Ali and he exclaimed, "O Allah! You well know that I have nothing to do with Othman's murder. By Allah, his murders have escaped."
Muawia's reply gave Ali a broad hint about the intentions of the Syrian Governor. He was not going to give in without a fight. So Ali started preparations for the coming fight. Hasan, Ali's eldest son, was against bloodshed. He begged his father to give up the Caliphate rather than start a civil war. "At long last," he went on, "people wiill have to accept your leadership." However, Ali did not agree with these views of his son.
The impending clash between Ali and Muawia caused un-easiness in Medina. All knew how powerful and tactful the Syrian Governor was. Bringing him to his knees was going to be a very tough job. Before long an army was ready to fight those who did not accept the authority of the Caliph.
Battle of the Camel
Before Ali could deal with Muawia, he had to face another danger. Aisha, a widow of the Holy Prophet, turned against him.
Aisha was gone for Haj when Othman was slain. On her way back, she got the horrible news of his murder. She went back to Mecca. Here she addressed a public gathering. She told people how cruel it was on the part of the rioters to have killed the Caliph in cold blood, in the holy city of the Prophet. She appealed to them to avenge the death of the late Caliph.
Hundreds of men came out at Aisha's call. The Governor of Mecca was one of them. In the meantime, Talha and Zubair also reached Medina. They told Aisha what they had seen at Medina. They urged upon her the need for quick action against the rioters and assured her of their support. They also advised her to go to Basra, to win more support for her couse. Abdullah bin Omar was also in Mecca at the time. People tried to win him over for Aisha's cause. But the pious Abdullah refused to be dragged into the civil war.
Aisha set out to Basra at the head of a big force. More people joined her on the way. By the time she reached Basra, there were three thousand men under her flag.
The Governor of Basra sent men to find out the object of her visit. She told them she had come to tell people of their duty toward the late Caliph. Then the messengers came to Talha and Zubair and put them the same question.
"We are out to avenge the death of Othman," they replied.
"But you have pledged loyalty to Ali," the messengers added.
"The pledge was taken at the point of the sword," the two leaders said. "All the same, we must have kept the pledge if Ali had avenged Othman's death, or even if he had allowed us to do that."
The Governor of Basra decided to oppose Aisha, till help came from Ali. He came out of the city with an army and got ready to fight. The two armies stood face to face. Before the fighting began, Aisha made a stirring appeal to the feelings of the opposing army. She spoke of Othman's cold-blooded murder and explained the need for revenge. Such was the force of her speech that half the army of the Governor walked over to Aisha's side.
The fighting began. It went on till evening and restarted the next day. By midday the two sides made peace. They agreed to send a man to Medina. The man was to find out if Talha and Zubair had pledged loyalty to Ali of their own free-will, or under duress. In the former case, Aisha's army was to go back. In the latter case, the governor was to give up Basra. The Chief Judge of Basra was the person chosen to go to Medina and find out true facts. His report was to be accepted by the parties.
So Kaab bin Thaur, the Chief Judge of Basra, went to Medina. He reached the city on a Friday. He made straight for the Prophet's Mosque. Taking his stand before the people he said, "O People, I have been sent by the people of Basra. I have come all the way to find out if Talha and Zubair gave their pledge of their own free-will or whether it was taken by force."
"By Allah!" replied Usama bin Zaid, "it was taken at the point of the sword."
Usama's statement was supported by a number of other notable Companions. The Chief Judge of Basra was satisfied that the statement of Talha and Zubair was correct.
Aisha Occupies Basra
Ali came to know of the happenings in Basra. He wrote to the Governor not to give in.
"Even if Talha and Zubaid were forced to pledge loyalty," he said in his letter, "force was used to sow differences among them."
In the meantime the Chief Judge of Basra had come back. He confirmed what Talha and Zubair had said. The Governor ws asked by Talha and Zubair to honour his word and give up the city. But by now the Governor had received orders to the contrary. He put his duty to the Caliph above his word and fought to defend the city. However, he was defeated and taken prisoner.
Basra was occupied on the 4th of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 36 A.H.. Immediately Talha and Zubair began a search for people who had taken part in the rising against Othman. Hundreds of men were rounded up and interrogated. Scores of them were arrested and tried. Many were found guilty and killed. Basra found itself in the grip of a virtual reign of terror.
After occupying Basra, Aisha, Talha and Zubair addressed a long letter to different parts of the Muslim world. The letter described how heavily Allah's hand had fallen on the murderers of Othman in Basra.
Companions Speak Back to Ali
Happenings at Basra disturbed Ali. For the time being, he had to leave Muawia alone. He had to set things right in Iraq first. A clash with Aisha could not be helped. He called upon the people of Medina to gather under his flag, but the response was poor. For most of the Companions the very thought was unbearable. How could they cross swords with the Prophet's widow? Saad bin Waqqas, the conqueror of Iran, said, "O Commander of the Faithful, I want a sword that may separate Muslims from non-Muslims. If you give me that sword, I will fight by your side. If you do not have that sword, please excuse me."
"I request you in the name of Allah," said Abdullah bin Omar, "not to force on me a thing which my heart dislikes."
"The Prophet of Allah ordered me," spoke back Muhammad bin Muslima, "to use my sword as long as the battle was against non-believers. He bade me break it to pieces when the fight against Muslims began. I have alreday broken my sword to pieces."
"Please excuse me from this duty" exclaimed Usama bin Zaid. "I have taken an oath not to fight against a man who says 'There is no diety except Allah.'"
When Ushtar came to know of what these Companions had said, he asked Ali to put them in prison.
"No," replied Ali, "I do not want to force them against their will."
Help from Kufa
Toward the end of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 36 A.H., Ali set out to Iraq. He hoped to be in Basra before his rivals reached that city. But the journey was too long and the time was too short to permit this. At Dhi Qar, he learnt that Basra has been occupied by Aisha. So he halted there.
Ali had sent several messages to Abu Musa Ashari, the Governor of Kufa, asking for help. Abu Musa had a strong dread of civil war. He hated the sight of Muslims flying at another's throats. He wanted to stay out of the quarrel. The people of Kufa also listened to his advice. They decided not to take sides in the battle between Aisha and Ali.
At last Ali sent his eldest son, Hasan, to Kufa. When he reached there, Abu Musa was addressing a gathering in the Jami mosque. He was making a strong plea for keeping out of the civil war. After he had finished, Hasan jumped onto the stage. He explained to the people how his father was the rightful Caliph, how Talha and Zubair had gone back on their word, and how it was the duty of the people to help their Caliph fight against injustice.
The speech had an immediate effect. A leading man of Kufa stood up and said, "O people of Kufa, our Governor is right in what he says. But the integrity of the State is also a necessity. Without it, there can be no surety of peace and justice. Ali has been elected Caliph. He calls upon you to help him fight injustice. You must help him as best as you can."
The appeal was followed by similar appeals by other leading men of Kufa. There was a stir among the people. Soon about nine thousand men marched off to join Ali. Ali assured these men that he would do all in his power to avoid bloodshed. Even if fighting became unavoidable, he would limit it as much as he could.
The assurance went a long way toward winning over the people of Kufa for the Caliph's cause. This greatly added to his power and prestige. Ali could not look to the coming trial of strength with confidence.
Peace Talks Fail
Reaching Basra, Ali sent a man to Aisha to clear away the misunderstanding she and her supporters had.
"What is it that you people really want?" the man asked them.
"We want nothing but the well-being of Muslims," they rplied. "This is not possible until the death of Othman has been avenged."
"The demangd for revenge is very just," Ali's envoy went on. "But how can you lay hands on the mischief-mongers, without first making the hands of the Caliph strong? You have had experience of this. You began punishing the rioters of Basra. But you found yourselfs helpeless in the case of Harqus bin Zubair. You wanted to slay him, but six thousand men rose to defend the culprit. You had to let him go. If necessity can drive you to overlook the crime of one man, how can you blame anything on Ali? If you really want to end trouble, gather under the banner of the Caliph. Do not plunge the people into civil war. It is a question for the whole people. I hope you love peace and order rather then general suffering and bloodshed."
Aisha, Talha and Zubair were moved by the appeal.
"If Ali is really keen to avenge Othman's death," they declared, "our differences can be easily settled."
They envoy brought back hopeful news for the Caliph. With the envoy also came some men of Basra. They wanted to make sure that Ali was not going to treat them like a fallen enemy. Ali assured them that they had nothing to fear.
The hope of peace brightened. But in the army of Ali there were Abdullah bin Saba and his henchmen. Peace was fatal to them. They were very much disturbed by what Ali had said after the envoy's return to Basra.
"O people," he had said, "the greatest favour Allah did to you was unity. Unity made you strong and great. The enemies of Islam did not like this. They have made a bid to shatter out unity. Beware of them. Tomorrow we will march to Basra with a peaceful aim. Those who took any part in Othman's murder should part company with us."
Abdullah bin Saba and his men were taken aback at this declaration. They met in secret council.
"Ali is going to avenge Othman's death," they whispered to one another. "He now says what Talha, Zubair and Aisha say. We must do something about it."
On the following day, Ali marched off to Basra. Talha and Zubair came out of the city with their army. The two armies lay facing each other for three days. Peace talks were going on. On the third day, the top leaders of both sides had a face-to-face talk. Ali rode forward on his horce. From the other side came Talha and Zubair on their horses. They stood face to face, the necks of their horses touching.
"Am I not your brother?" said Ali, addressing the two. "Is not the blood of a Muslim sacred to another Muslim?"
"But you took part in the rising against Othman," retorted Talha.
"I curse the murderers of Othman," went on Ali. "O Talha! did you not pledge loyalty to me?"
"Yes, but at the point of the sword," Talha spoke back.
"Do you remember, O Zubair," said Ali, now addressing the second man, "that the Prophet of Allah, one day asked you if you loved me. You said 'Yes'. Thereupon the Prophet of Allah fortold that one day you would fight me for nothing."
"Certainly!" replied Zubair, "I now recall the words of the Prophet of Allah."
After this conversation the three men went back to their camps. The conversation had brought their hearts closer to one another. Each one had been set thinking seriously about the grim outcome of the civil war. The general feeling was the peace was not clearly in sight.
Ali went back to his camp very satisfied. He felt almost sure that bloodshed had been averted. He gave strict orders that no one should shoot even a single arrow. At night he prayed to Allah to save the Muslims the horrors of the civil war.
Battle at Last
The night came on. The two armies lay in sound sleep. But Abdullah bin Saba and his henchmen set up the whole night. This was their last chance. They must not let it slip by.
It was still dark when the clang of steel rent the air. There was a sudden uproar. Saba and his men had made a sudden attack on Aisha's army! Soon a full-dress batte was in full swing.
Talha and Zubair were startled by the uproar.
"What is this all about?" they asked.
"Ali's army had made a night attack," came the reply.
"Alas!" they exclaimed, "Ali could not be stopped from shedding the blood of Muslims. We had this fear all the time."
Ali got equally startled by the suddin outburst of din.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Talha and Zubair have taken us by surprise," replied the followers of Saba.
"Alas!" said Ali, "these gentlemen could not be stopped from killing Muslims, I had this fear all the time."
The fighting soon grew fierce. Muslims flew at the throats of Muslims. Hundreds fell on each side. Talha fell fighting. Zubair fled from the battlefield. The main army of Aisha melted away but stiff fighting still raged round her camel. She sat in a howdah on the camel and directed the fight. A huge crowd of devoted Muslims fought desparately for the honour of the Prophet's widow. One after another seventy men held the nose-string of the camel and laid down their lives.
Ali's heart bled at the sight. Precious lives of Muslims were being lost for nothing. At last the Caliph ordered one of his men to cut the hind legs of the camel. He did it. The beast fell on the forelegs and down came the howdah. With this ended the fighting.
Aisha was taken out of the howday, with all the respect due to her. She was unhurt. Ali went to her and said, "How do you do, mother!"
"Perfectly all right," replied Aisha. "May Allah forgive your mistake!"
"And may He forgive your mistake too!" said Ali.
Ali made a round of the battlefield. Scores of well-known Companions lay in the dust. About ten thousand men from both sides had lost their lives. Among the killed were some of the best sons of Islam. Ali felt deeply moved. He did not allow his men to take possession of the booty. The whole of it was collected. The people of Basra were told to take back their belongings from the Caliph.
After fleeing the field of battle Zubair was on his way to Mecca. He stopped in a valley to say his prayer. When busy in prayer, he was slain by a man named Amr bin Jarmoz. Jarmoz brought Zubair's arms to Ali. He hoped to get a reward for slaying the Caliph's rival. But, in place of reward, he got a stern rebuke.
"I saw the owner of this sword fight for the Prophet of Allah several times," said Ali. "I give his murderer the news of hellfire."
When Aisha had rested in Basra some days, Ali sent her to Medina. He sent her brother, Muhammad Abu Bakr, with her. As she was about to leave, a number of men gathered around her camel. She addressed them and said, "My children, do not blame one another. By Allah, there is no enmity between me and Ali. It was a mere family squabble. I consider ali a good man."
To this Ali replied, "She is perfectly right. Our differences were just a family affair. She occupies a very high place in the Faith. Both here and in the world to come, she is the honoured wife of the Prophet of Allah." Ali went many miles to see of Aisha.
Ali now set about restoring order in Basra. The city had been up in arms against the Caliph. But Ali declared a genearl amnesty. He gave a stirring address in the Jami mosque telling people to be mindful of their duty to Allah. He took the pledge of loyalty from the people and appointed Abdullah bin Abbas as Governor of Basra.
Some leading men of Banu Omayya were in Basra when the city fell. The ill-famed Marwan was also among them. These men went int hiding. The Caliph came to know about them but he gave them the benefit of the general amnesty. In time they escaped to Syria and joined Muawia.
The Battle of Siffin
Ali turned his attention to Muawia. With the exception of Syria, the whole empire had now accepted Ali as Caliph. But the fourth Caliph did not go back to Medina. In place of Medina, he made Kufa his capital. He did this for two reasons. In the first place, he had here a very large following. Secondly, the public treasuries of Iraq were over-flowing with revenues. They could easily supply the means of war against a rich provice like Syria.