Battle of Jamal

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The Battle of Jamal (Arabic: معرکة الجمل, lit. Battle of the Camel), the first war during Imam Ali's (a) caliphate, took place between Nakithun (Oath-breakers) and army of Imam 'Ali (a) in 36/656. This battle was waged by 'A'isha (Prophet Muhammad's (s) widow), Talha and Zubayr in a region near Basra; which ended with the victory of Imam 'Ali's forces over Nakithun. Although Talha and Zubayr had taken oath of allegiance (Bay'a) to Imam 'Ali (a) as the fourth caliph of Muslims, after some time they both traveled Medina in order to perform Hajj pilgrimage, where they broke their oath and planned to fight against Imam 'Ali (a). As a result, this battle is also known as the battle of Nakithun (oath-breakers). Nakithun claimed to avenge the death of 'Uthman b. 'Affan, the third caliph of Muslims.

The Battle of Jamal resulted in the transition of caliphate's center from Medina to Kufa in Iraq. Since a fight had broken among a number of Sahaba and the caliph, it prepared the ground for the emergence of new theological and jurisprundential theories among Muslims concerning the politics.

The battle of Jamal (camel) is regarded as the first civil war of Muslims which started significant differences among Muslims.

Name of the Battle

Timeline of Imam 'Ali's (a) life
Mecca
599 Birth
610 The first person who believes in Islam
619 Demise of Abu Talib (Father)
622 Laylat al-Mabit: sleeping in the place of the Prophet (s)
Medina
622 Hijra to Medina
624/2 Participating in the Battle of Badr
625/3 Participating in the Battle of Uhud
626/4 Demise of Fatima bt. Asad (Mother)
627/5 Participating in the Battle of Ahzab and killing 'Amr b. 'Abd Wudkd
628/6 Writing the content of Hudaybiyya peace treaty
629/7 Victorious of Khiybar castle in the Battle of Khaybar
630/8 Participating in Conquest of Mecca and breaking idols by the order of the Prophet (s)
630/9 Successor of the Prophet (s) in Medina in the Battle of Tabuk
632/10 Participating in Hajjat al-Wida'
632/10 Event of Ghadir
632/11 Demise of the Prophet (s) and his burial by Imam 'Ali (a)
Three caliphs period
632/11 Event of Saqifa Bani Sa'ida and beginning of Caliphate of Abu Bakr
632/11 Martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a)
634/13 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Umar b. al-Khattab
644/23 Participating in Six-Member Council
644/23 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan
Caliphate
655/35 Beginning of his Caliphate
656/36 The Battle of Jamal
657/37 The Battle of Siffin
658/38 The Battle of Nahrawan
661/40 Martyrdom

Jamal in Arabic means male camel; as 'A'isha was riding a male camel in this battle called 'Askar, it became famous as the battle of the Camel.

The Reason Behind the Battle

Imam 'Ali's Perspective

According to Imam 'Ali (a), this battle started only for two reasons:

  • Talha and Zubayr were seeking power. As 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) said in his Khutba (Sermon) 148 in Nahj al-balagha: "Each of those two (Talha and Zubayr) were desperately aspiring to seize the power (caliphate) while overlooking his friend."
  • Taking revenge. Certainly there were a number of people who wanted to seek revenge against Imam 'Ali (a). As Imam mentioned several reasons for it:
  • Because Prophet Muhammad (s) regarded me superior to 'A'isha's father (Abu Bakr),
  • Prophet (s) chose me as his especial brother,
  • Prophet (s) ordered to close all the doors which opened to al-Masjid al-Nabawi from the houses around it, even the house of 'A'isha's father, except for my house (the incident is known as Sadd al-Abwab),
  • In the Battle of Khaybar, Prophet Muhammad (s) gave me the flag of Muslims' army after others' failure. Then after I won the battle, some Muslims became dejected out of jealousy.

Moreover, Talha and Zubayr were hoping that Imam 'Ali (a), as the caliph of Muslims, would consult with them in administrative affairs, as they considered themselves on an equal level to him. Also after the death of 'Uthman they hoped to achieve part of the administrative power. As they became disappointed in achieving power and position, they became hostile toward Imam 'Ali (a).

Nakithun's Perspective

  • In the speech Talha gave to people of Basra, he mentioned the purpose of the battle against Imam 'Ali (a) as an effort to reform the Umma (community of Muslims) of Prophet Muhammad (s) and to promote obeying God's orders.
  • Taking revenge on 'Uthman b. 'Affan's death: They claimed 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) was among those who killed 'Uthman, and he is also supporting other murderers of 'Uthman, then they planned to seek revenge against them. On the other hand Imam 'Ali (a) claimed, Talha and Zubayr themselves have killed 'Uthman and they pretend taking revenge so that others would believe they were innocent of murdering him.

In most of statements gave by Imam 'Ali (a), he had criticized Talha and Zubayr; it is assumed Imam (a) was talking about the mistakes Talha and Zubayr have made, as they both started the battle of Jamal. Then 'A'isha has played a minor role of encouraging other people to attend the Battle of Jamal.

However Nakithun's reasons to start the battle do not seem justifiable, and taking revenge on 'Uthman's death was only an excuse to start the battle, as 'A'isha and 'Uthman did not have friendly relations. According to the reports, 'A'isha brought Prophet Muhammad's clothes to 'Uthman and said: Why are you changing Shari'a rules while only a few years have passed from the demise of Prophet Muhammad (s).

Mu'tazila perspective

A number of Mu'tazilite religious scholars believed 'A'isha and her supporters started the battle with intention of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.

According to Ibn Abi l-Hadid, Mu'tazila author, on the battle of Jamal: As stated by Mu'tazila scholars, those who fought against Imam 'Ali (a) are perished and doomed except for 'A'isha, Talha and Zubayr who repented of their wrong deeds. If they hadn't repented, they would have deserved hell because of their insistence on Baghy (Rejecting Imam and rebelling against him).

Oath-Breaking of Talha and Zubayr

When people of Kufa including Muhajirun and Ansar unanimously asked Imam 'Ali (a) to be the caliph of Muslims, Imam finally accepted caliphate in Dhu l-Hijja 35/656. Since Talha and Zubayr had lost the caliphate, they were both looking forward to gain power and position; therefore, they expected to become governor of a city during caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a).

They asked 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) to appoint them as governors of Basra and Kufa (or Iraq or Yemen), however Imam 'Ali (a) believed they do not deserve it.

Four months after caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a), Talha and Zubayr found out they will not gain power and position in Medina. Then they asked Imam's permission to travel to Mecca in order to perform 'Umra pilgrimage. Although Imam 'Ali (a) knew their true evil intentions, he allowed them to set out for Mecca.

Talha and Zubayr claimed they took oath of allegiance to Imam 'Ali (a) out of fear and that they were not committed to obey Amir al-Mu'minin (a).

Nakithun Became Allies with 'A'isha

Talha and Zubayr asked 'A'isha who was in Mecca, to join them in order to take revenge against those who killed 'Uthman. They believed the murderers were followers and companions of Imam 'Ali (a). She accepted their request after a while. As 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) said in sermon 172 of Nahj al-balagha: "they came out dragging Prophet's wife with themselves just like a maid-slave is dragged for sale."

Zubayr, cousin of Prophet Muhammad (s) and 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), was maternal brother in law of 'A'isha. 'Abd Allah, son of Zubayr has played a crucial role in drawing attention of 'A'isha and accompanying of her with Talha and Zubayr to start the battle. As 'A'isha held grudges against 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) she accepted to support Talha and Zubayr.

As a result, Talha and Zubayr managed to convince 'A'isha in order to accompany them in the battle. Therefore, having Prophet Muhammad's wife on their side, they could convince other people to join them to start a battle against Imam 'Ali (a).

According to sources, 'Abd Allah b. 'Amir b. Kurayz and Ya'li b. Umayya gathered a large amount of money and numerous camels before joining 'A'isha from Yemen.

Battle Started in Basra

As proposed by 'Abd Allah b. 'Amir, soldiers of 'A'isha went to Basra because they were not able to face people of Medina, even though 'A'isha believed they should go to Medina. In addition, people of Basra were supporting Talha and Zubayr and 'Abd Allah had a number of supporters there. Finally an army with 3,000 soldiers was prepared 900 of whom were from Mecca and Medina.

Aisha would ask the name of any region they arrived at on their path up to the waters of a place called Haw'ab where the dogs were barking. When she found out the name of the place, she decided to leave the army and return to Mecca because she had heard the Holy Prophet (s) saying: "I see a day when dogs of Haw'ab are barking for one of you women. Humayra' (Aisha)! Be careful not to be that woman!". 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr gathered fifty people who swore that the place was not Haw'ab to change Aisha's mind. This incident has been mentioned in many Sunni sources and it is even considered as sahih.

As 'A'isha requested, 'Abd Allah b. 'Amir secretly took her letter to tribe leaders of Basra, then 'A'isha moved with her army toward Hufayr or Hafr Abi Musa to settle there.

When people of Basra were informed about 'A'isha and her army, 'Uthman b. Hunayf, governor of Imam 'Ali (a) in Basra sent 'Imran b. Husayn and Abu l-Aswad al-Du'ali to 'A'isha to ask about her intentions and hostility.

She said: "rioters attacked the house of Prophet Muhammad (s) and they have killed 'Uthman, caliph of Muslims, and looted his properties. They have offended the city in a Haram month. I am here to inform other Muslims and reform the current situation.

Representatives of 'Uthman b. Hunayf reminded her: by orders of God, you as Prophet's wife must stay at your house. On the other hand, Talha and Zubayr believed their oath of allegiance to Imam 'Ali (a) meant nothing as they did it out of fear, and they planned to take revenge of 'Uthman's death.

Army of Imam 'Ali (a)

According to sources, these events took place on Rabi' I 24th and 25th (or Jumada I), 36/656 When Imam 'Ali (a) was informed about the army of 'A'isha, Talha, and Zubayr, he asked people of Medina to join him, and they set out for Basra.

Then Imam (a) appointed Sahl b. Hunayf as his deputy and hurried out of the city with an army of 700 soldiers (including 400 soldiers of Muhajirun and Ansar) so that rioters may return. When they arrived in Al-Rabada near Medina they found out that rioters had gone far toward Basra. Imam 'Ali (a) decided to stay in Al-Rabada for some days, where a number of Muslims especially the tribe of Tayy, joined Imam's army. Also a number of Muslim provided weapons for soldiers of Imam (a).

Imam 'Ali's army involved seven groups of different tribes. Other tribes such as Qays, Azd, Hanzala, 'Imran, Tamim, Dabba and Ribab joined the Nakithun. A number of tribes abandoned both sides of the battle, such as Ahnaf b. Qays who told Imam (a): If you want I myself will join your army, otherwise I could keep my tribe, Banu Sa'd, (four to ten thousand soldiers) away from the battle and prevent them from fighting against you. Finally Imam 'Ali (a) ordered him and his tribe to stay away from the battle.

According to several sources, the number of Imam 'Ali (a)'s army was nineteen to twenty thousand soldiers while his opponents' army were thirty thousand soldiers or more.

Imam 'Ali (a) Tried to Make Peace

Imam 'Ali (a) entered Basra from Taff, and settled in a place called Zawiya for some days. 'A'isha, Talha, and Zubayr set out from Furda and they met Imam 'Ali (a) in Basra. Also 'A'isha settled in Huddan Mosque near the battlefield, a region where the tribe of Azd were living.

Imam 'Ali (a) did not intend to fight; he sent messages to rioters for three days to abandon the battle and join him. Also before the start of the battle, Imam (a) invited opponents' soldiers, from morning to noon, to abandon the battle.

In his letter to Talha and Zubayr, Imam 'Ali (a) mentioned his legitimate caliphate, people's oath of allegiance to him and his innocence in the death of 'Uthman. He also believed Talha and Zubayr are not rightful to take revenge of 'Uthman and they have disobeyed Qur'an's order in taking Prophet Muhammad's wife out of her house.

Moreover, Imam 'Ali (a) sent a letter to 'A'isha and mentioned, she has left her house against Qur'an's order with excuses such as reforming society and taking revenge of 'Uthman, accompanying an army and she has committed a great sin.

Also Talha and Zubayr sent a letter to Imam 'Ali (a) insisting on their intentions of disobeying Imam's orders, while 'A'isha did not respond to Imam's letter.

After a while, 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr encouraged people to act against Imam. Imam al-Hasan (a) answered his claims.

Then Imam 'Ali (a) sent Sa'sa'a b. Sawhan and 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas to negotiate with Talha, Zubayr, and 'A'isha, but they did not reach an agreement; 'A'isha was stubbornly insisting on her opinions.

Negotiation with Oppositions

Imam 'Ali (a) privately talked to Talha and Zubayr, he also recited a hadith from Prophet Muhammad (s) to Zubayr who seemed more probable to accept his mistakes. Zubayr accepted the Hadith and said if I remembered this hadith, by God I would not have come to fight against you.

Then Zubayr intended to abandon the battle and informed 'A'isha. But his son, 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr said: You have prepared this battle and brought soldiers against each other, now you want to leave? You have seen flags of 'Ali's army in the hands of brave young men, and you became frightened.

According to al-Tabari, 'Abd Allah convinced Zubayr to stay, and finally Zubayr prepared to start the battle.

Battle

On Thursday, Jumada II 15 or 10, or Jumada I 10, 36/656 the battle started in al-Khurayba, a region near Basra.

Before the start of the battle, Imam 'Ali (a), gave the Holy Qur'an to one of his companions and ordered him to invite rioters to follow Qur'an and try to keep Muslims united together. However they martyred him as well as a number of Imam's companions. Then Imam (a) ordered his soldiers to commence the battle. Imam had ordered his soldiers not to start the battle, not to kill the injured nor mutilate anybody, and not to enter any house without permission nor curse anybody and do not loot opponents' properties except from their camps.

Malik al-Ashtar was commander of the right wing and 'Ammar b. Yasir was commander of the left wing of Imam's army. Also the flag of Muslims' army was in the hands of Muhammad al-Hanafiyya, Imam's son. Imam al-Hasan (a) was fighting in the right wing and Imam al-Husayn (a) was fighting in the left wing of Imam's army.

Jamal's army was prepared to fight, while 'A'isha was riding on a camel, which was covered with armors, ahead of the army.

Outcome

After hours of fight, Jamal army lost numerous soldiers and finally they were defeated at night. When they were retreating, Marwan b. Hakam shot Talha with an arrow in his foot. Talha was moved to a house in Basra, he died there after heavy bleeding. According to sources, Marwan b. Hakam told Aban b. 'Uthman: I have killed one of those people who killed your father.

According to a number of sources, Zubayr was regretful, and he left the battle before the battle commence. Other sources mentioned that Zubayr ran away to Medina after the battle.

However, when Zubayr ran away from the battle, 'Amr b. Jurmuz followed him with several soldiers, and finally killed him in Wadi al-Siba' in an ambush.

Imam 'Ali (a) was displeased with the death of Zubayr; as he saw the sword of Zubayr, Imam remembered his courageous efforts in early Islam battles. Imam (a) said: "This sword had taken away the grief from the face of Prophet Muhammad (s) several times".

Fate of 'A'isha

After the battle, 'A'isha came off the camel and settled in a tent. Then Imam 'Ali (a) denounced her actions which led to the Battle of Jamal. And told her brother, Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, to take her to Basra.

'A'isha stayed in Basra for some days in order to return to Medina. However after she delayed her return to Medina, Imam 'Ali (a) sent 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas to warn her to go back to Medina soon.

As a result, by the order of Imam 'Ali (a), a number of his soldiers along with a number of women of Basra while wearing men's clothes accompanied 'A'isha respectfully escorting her back to Medina. Also Muhammad (or 'Abd al-Rahman) b. Abi Bakr came back to Medina with 'A'isha.

Later, when 'A'isha remembered the Battle of Jamal, she wished she had died before attending it. Whenever she recited the verse "Wa Qarna Fi Buyutikun" (And abide in your house) (Al-Ahzab, 33) she cried bitterly.

Number of Casualties

The number of casualties of the Battle of Jamal was mentioned diversely in different sources. According to Abu Khaythama from Wahb b. Jarir, 2500 soldiers were killed from Nakithun forces. In other sources the number of Nakithun losses were mentioned as 6000 to 25000.

According to sources 400 to 5000 soldiers have martyred from Imam 'Ali's army.

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from جنگ جمل in Farsi Wikishia.