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Abu Musa al-Ash'ari

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Abu Musa al-Ash'ari
Personal Information
Full Name 'Abd Allah b. Qays
Well Known As Abu Musa al-Ash'ari
Lineage Ash'ar
Well-Known Relatives Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari
Place of Birth Yemen
Place(s) of Residence Yemen • MedinaKufa
Burial Place Kufa or Mecca
Religious Information
Known for the Arbitration
Notable Roles Governor of Yemen, Basra

ʿAbd Allāh b. Qays (Arabic:عبدالله بن قيس) (d. 52/672) known as Abū Musā al-Ashʿarī (أبوموسی الأشعري) was a companion of Prophet Muhammad (s). He is mostly famous in historical sources because of the role he played in the Arbitration which took place after the Battle of Siffin. He was chosen as the arbitrator of Imam Ali's side. Imam (a) was not pleased with selecting Abu Musa as the arbitrator, but he had to accept it as he was forced by his soldiers. Consequently Abu Musa was tricked and deceived by 'Amr b. al-'As who was the arbitrator of Mu'awiya.


'Abd Allah b. Qays's originality goes back to Ash'ar tribe from Yemen, which was part of Qahtan tribe itself. Zabiyya, his mother, converted to Islam and passed away in Medina.

In Prophet Muhammad's (s) Era

Converting to Islam

The information on the time when Abu Musa converted to Islam is not accurate and confirmed. According to a number of narrations, he visited Sa'id b. 'As b. Umayya in Mecca and became allegiant (halif) of him, and he converted to Islam, afterwards he accompanied other Muslims in their second migration to Abyssinia (Habasha). However, Ibn Sa'd believed Abu Musa was never an allegiant, and he returned Yemen after converting to Islam. In addition, Musa b. 'Aqaba b. Ishaq and Abu Mash'ar and other biography writers did not mention Abu Musa's name among those who migrated to Abyssinia; which confirms the second notion.

Also Ahmad b. Hanbal quoted from the grandson of Abu Musa that, along with his tribe members, Abu Musa visited Prophet Muhammad (s) three days after the battle of Khaybar and they received loots, despite the fact that they did not attend the battle.

According to another report, Abu Musa along with fifty members of his family set out for Medina from Zubayd in Yemen by a ship in 7/628-9 They were hit by a storm that pushed them toward Abyssinia where they met Ja'far b. Abi Talib and other Muhajirun (the immigrants). Then they went to Medina together which is the reason of regarding Abu Musa among Muhajirun. Meanwhile, the Jews in Khaybar accepted to submit to Prophet Muhammad (s).


Abu Musa was once appointed as the successor of the leader of Muslims' army when Prophet Muhammad (s) sent soldiers to suppress Hawazin tribes once more in Shawwal 8/630 then after the martyrdom of their leader, Abu Musa was in charge of Muslims' army and he managed to achieve victory. In the same year, Abu Musa and Mu'adh b. Jabal were in charge of teaching Qur'an to people of Mecca. Also Abu Musa became the governor of Yemen in 10/631 before Hajjat al-Wida'.

In the Time of Caliphs

Abu Bakr

Abu Musa remained the governor of some regions of Yemen in the time of caliphate of Abu Bakr. He also fought against the apostates.

'Umar b. al-Khattab

Abu Musa became politically active in the time of the 'Umar b. al-Khattab. Mughira b. Shu'ba was replaced with Abu Musa as the governor of Basra, who was the fourth appointed governor of this city by 'Umar b. al-Khattab. Abu Musa managed to rule over Basra for over 12 years, except for a short interval, when he was sent to Kufa to replace Ammar b. Yasir; but he retuned Basra after a short time. Abu Musa was selected as the judge of Basra by 'Umar b. al-Khattab as well.

Abu Musa al-Ash'ari prepared as army and attacked Khuzistan and Fars. He managed to conquer cities after long fights and sieges. A number of the conquered cities were defensively strong and they were re-conquered at times.

Uthman b. Affan

Abu Musa remained the governor of Basra in the early years of Uthman's caliphate as it was recommended by 'Umar b. al-Khattab. Therefore, it is concluded that 'Umar b. al-Khattab regarded Abu Musa as a trustworthy person. He was also in charge of judicial system of Basra. It seems right that Abu Musa was Emir of Basra six years after the death of 'Umar b. al-Khattab as it is reported that he was dismissed due to complaints of people in 29/649-50.

When Abu Musa was removed from his position, he refused to accept financial support from the caliph and settled in Kufa. After five years, people of Kufa led by Yazid b. Qays and Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakha'i staged an uprising and forced Sa'id b. 'As out of Kufa, then Abu Musa was chosen as the governor of the city. As Sayf stated, rioters intended to throw Uthman down as well, but Abu Musa defended him and said that he would accept to be the governor under one condition: people would take oath of allegiance to Uthman again. This incident delighted Uthman in a way that Abu Musa remained as the governor of Kufa to the end of caliphate of Uthman.

In the Time of 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a)

When Imam 'Ali (a) became the caliph of Muslims, Abu Musa sent a letter to him and informed him of people's oath of allegiance to him. While Imam 'Ali (a) removed all of Uthmans' deputies and officials, despite his own will he accepted to keep Abu Musa in his position as Malik al-Ashtar recommended. However later it was revealed that Abu Musa was not willing to take oath of allegiance to Imam 'Ali (a). When Abu Musa was the governor of Kufa, he gave a comment on disagreements between Talha and Zubayr with Imam (a) as he said: "The caliph must be a person who give orders and dominate."

The Battle of Jamal

When Imam 'Ali (a) set out for Basra to face the rise of Talha and Zubayr, he stopped in Dhi Qar, near Kufa and sent Muhammad b. Ja'far and Muhammad b. Abi Bakr to Kufa in order to make peace, if necessary prepare warfare and convince people to join the army. While Abu Musa was responsible to prepare soldiers for Imam's army he said: "Staying in house and refusing to attend war would be right and joining war is a mundane action; we took oath of allegiance to Uthman but those who murdered him are not punished yet. Attending a war is not a priority now." He even threatened the messenger of Imam 'Ali (a) to imprison and kill him. The second time, Imam (a) sent 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas and Malik al-Ashtar to Kufa, but Abu Musa referred to a hadith that he narrated from Prophet Muhammad (s), based on which the situation was similar to an insurrection and people should remain waiting for the truth to be revealed.

Later Imam 'Ali (a) sent a letter by his son, Imam al-Hasan (a), to remove Abu Musa from Kufa. Abu Musa delivered a speech to people of Kufa and said the disagreement between 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) with Talha and Zubayr is Quraysh-related fight and others should stay away from it. When Imam Al-Hasan (A) arrived in Kufa, people supported him to throw Abu Musa out of palace and they prevented him from plundering public properties. Based on a narration, Abu Musa fled afterwards, and he was allowed to live without punishment.

The Battle of Siffin and the Arbitration

Abu Musa is significantly famous in historical resources for the political role he played in the Arbitration after the battle of Siffin which unintentionally or intentionally led to seizure of power by Banu Umayyad. When Mu'awiya's army were facing an eminent defeat in the battle of Siffin, 'Amr b. al-'As tricked a number of Imam's soldiers to stop fighting, as a result the fate of the battle was supposed to be concluded by the Arbitration. People of Syria elected 'Amr b. al-'As as their arbitrator. Ash'ath b. Qays and some others, who later came to be called Mariqun, suggested Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as the arbitrator from Kufa. But Imam 'Ali (a) suggested 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar. Imam 'Ali (a)'s suggestions were opposed by Ash'ath and his friends; they refused Malik al-Ashtar on the grounds that he is pro-war, and they rejected Ibn 'Abbas on the grounds that 'Amr b. al-'As is from the Mudari tribes so his interlocutor should be Yemeni.

Abu Musa as the Arbitrator

There are two reasons behind selection of Abu Musa as the arbitrator: First, he was from Yemen and second, he refused to attend the battle of Siffin. Abu Musa stayed in 'Urd and advised other people not to attend the battle; but when he was informed of the cessation of fight, he thanked God for that. Then when he was told that Imam's soldiers chose him as the arbitrator, he accepted to enter Imam's camp. However, Imam (a) mentioned contradictory behavior of Abu Musa toward the battle of Siffin.

Hence, Abu Musa al-'Ash'ari and 'Amr b. al-'As were chosen to decide the fate of the battle and judge the situation which would make peace between the parties for almost a year. After days of negotiations, Abu Musa proposed to remove both Imam 'Ali (a) and Mu'awiya from caliphate and appoint 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas as the caliph of Muslims which was confirmed by 'Amr b. al-'As. However, when they decided to announce the verdict, 'Amr b. al-'As tricked Abu Musa to begin the talk. As it was agreed between both of them, Abu Musa announced the removal of 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) from caliphate, while on the other hand 'Amr b. al-'As refused to remove Mu'awiya, and he announced Mu'awiya as the caliph. When Abu Musa was deceived, he cursed 'Amr b. al-'As and went Mecca.

As it is concluded, Abu Musa was a weak-willed, narrow-minded and unwise man. Imam 'Ali (a) was forced to accept Abu Musa and the arbitrator; as Ibn 'Abbas stated Imam believed Abu Musa was never superior to any other as the arbitrator.

In the Time of Mu'awiya

In 40/661 Mu'awiya sent Busr b. Artat to take oath of allegiance from those who did not accept the result of the Arbitration, which terrified Abu Musa; however he was not harmed. Later Abu Musa took oath of allegiance to Mu'awiya and visited him in Syria occasionally, but Mu'awiya generally ignored him.


The date of the demise of Abu Musa al-'Ash'ari is mentioned 42/662-3, 44/664-5, 50/670, 52/672 and 53/673. Al-Dahabi stated that Abu Musa passed away in 44/664-5; at the age of 63. He is buried in Kufa or Mecca. Earlier sources stated that he passed away and is buried in Kufa, near his house.


Abu Burda, son of Abu Musa, was appointed as the judge of Kufa by Hajjaj b. Yusuf. Also Bilal, the son of Abu Burda was a judge in Basra. Abu l-Hasan al-'Ash'ari was the notable descendant of Abu Musa, who was a grand theologian.


Personality of Abu Musa has been described differently in historical and narrative sources of Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. According to a number of narrations, Abu Musa and his family are praised in a Quranic verse. He was regarded among the six knowledgeable companions of Prophet Muhammad (s). Hence, he was a sources of acquiring fiqh laws in the time of 'Umar b. al-Khattab.

On the other hand, Twelver Shi'ite sources condemned him and mentioned sayings from Prophet Muhammad (s) and Shi'a Imams (a) that criticized him. It is said, he was among those that Imam 'Ali (a) cursed in his prayers.

It is stated Abu Musa recited Quran beautifully and with a striking tone.

Narrating Hadiths

Abu Musa al-'Ash'ari narrated a great deal of hadiths from Prophet Muhammad (s) in different topics. Also al-Dhahabi regarded him as a Muhaddith (hadith narrator) and among few people who recited Quran for Prophet Muhammad (s). A large number of narrators have narrated hadiths from Abu Musa including Anas b. Malik, Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, Abu Imama al-Bahili, Burayda al-Aslami, Abd al-Rahman b. Nafi', Sa'id b. Musayyib, Zayd b. Wahb and others.