Arbitration (Battle of Siffin)

Priority: aa, Quality: b
From wikishia

Al-Taḥkim (Arabic: التَحکیم) or The Arbitration is a historical event concerning the Battle of Siffin. In this event, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari was elected as the representative of the army of Kufa [army of Imam Ali (a)] and Amr b. al-As as that of the army of Syria [army of Mu'awiya], and they decided to judge according to the Qur'an. The arbitration was proposed as a solution for disputes between the two parties after the cunning of Amr b. al-As and Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan to prevent the imminent defeat of the army of Syria. Imam Ali (a) resisted the suggestion of arbitration from the beginning. Amr b. al-As, the arbitrator of Syria, managed to deceive Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, the arbitrator of Kufa, by announcing Mu'awiyya as the caliph although they had agreed on a different verdict, the arbitration failed to solve the dispute, and it only managed to save the army of Syria from its imminent defeat.


In 37/657, the Battle of Siffin broke out between the army of Kufa under the commandership of Imam Ali (a) and that of Syria under the commandership of Mu'awiya. After successive days of heavy fight, the army of Kufa was about to defeat that of Syria. At the suggestion of Amr b. al-As and Mu'awiya's proposal,[1] the people of Syria hung copies of the Qur'an on spears and chanted the slogan: "O people of Iraq! Let the Book of God be our arbiter!" Also, the army of Syria yelled: "O Arabs! Think about your wives and daughters! If you get killed, who is going to fight the Romans, the Turks, and the Persians in the future?!"[2]

Riot in Imam Ali's (a) Army

There was a division within the army of Imam 'Ali (a). Some of them said that the enemy has accepted the arbitration of the Qur'an and so we have no right to fight them. The Imam (a) opposed their views and told them that this was just a deception. However, under the pressures by some people in his army, including al-Ash'ath b. Qays and his tribe, the Imam (a) wrote a letter to Mu'awiya and officially accepted the arbitration with the qualification that Mu'awiya was not a "man of the Qur'an".[3]


People of Syria elected Amr b. al-As as their representative and arbitrator. Al-Ash'ath b. Qays and some others suggested Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as the arbitrator from Kufa. But Imam Ali (a) suggested Abd Allah b. al-Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar. Imam Ali's (a) suggestions were opposed by al-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 tribe of Mudar so his interlocutor should be from Yemen.[4]


When the representatives of the two armies were selected, Mu'awiya sent Amr b. As, Abu l-A'war al-Sulami and some others to negotiate about the arbitration and its conditions to Imam 'Ali (a). They negotiated the contents of the peace treaty with Imam Ali (a) and his companions. According to al-Ya'qubi, when there was a disagreement between the representatives of the two parties over whether Imam 'Ali's (a) name should be written with the title, Amir al-Mu'minin, in the peace treaty, al-Ash'ath agreed with the elimination of the title, but Malik al-Ashtar strongly objected to him.[5]

The date of arbitration was postponed to the end of the month of Ramadan (8 months after the negotiations) and it was agreed to hold it in Dumat al-Jandal.[6]

The terms of the agreement was:

  • Both parties should consent to the arbitration on the basis of the Quran with respect to the disputed matters.
  • 'Ali and his followers elected Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as their arbitrator, and Mu'awiya and his followers elected 'Amr b. al-'As as their arbitrator.
  • If the Quran cannot be appealed to solve some disputed matters, then the Prophet's (s) Tradition and practice should be consulted.
  • The arbitrators should not worsen the disputes and should not follow their whims.
  • The lives, properties and families of both arbitrators are respected so long as they do not trespass the boundaries of truth.
  • If one of the arbitrators dies before the arbitration, then his affiliated group should elect a righteous arbitrator in his place.
  • If one of the leaders dies before the arbitration, his followers can elect another person in his place.
  • If the arbitrators do not perform their duties, they will be averted by the people.
  • When the writing of the arbitration treaty is in progress, people's lives, properties and families are protected.
  • During the ceasefire, no weapons should be used and roads should be kept safe; this applies alike both to those who were present at the event and those who were absent.
  • Each arbitrator has to reside somewhere between Iraq and Syria, and no one should be there except those they want.
  • If both arbitrators fail to give verdicts on the basis of the Quran and the Tradition, then Muslims will have the right to continue to fight, and all their mutual commitments will be abolished.[7]

Advices of Imam Ali (a) and His Companions

Imam Ali (a) sent 400 people with Abu Musa al-Ash'ari under the commandership of Shurayh b. Hani; he also sent 'Abd Allah b. al-'Abbas as the leader of their congregational prayers. Moreover, he gave a great deal of advice to Abu Musa, informing him of Mu'awiya's evil character.[8]

Shurayh warned Abu Musa for his lack of sagacity. He told him that if the outcome of the arbitration is the caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a), then people of Syria would be safe, but if it is the dominance of Mu'awiya over Iraq, then people of Iraq would be in danger.[9] Shurayh said: "O Abu Musa! You are facing the worst rival. Do not let Iraq down! Never entitle Syria [in this dispute] and never take their side! Do not let 'Amr deceive you! He has various tricks in his hand that is astonishing and he has gilded them all with decorations. So, do not treat Mu'awiya as a senior, and an unrivaled, flawless leader!"[10] Ahnaf b. Qays took Abu Musa's hand and told him: "O Abu Musa! Be aware of the significance of this task and its consequences. If you destroy Iraq, there will never be any Iraq." He even suggested Abu Musa not to begin greetings, handshakes, and the like in his encounters with 'Amr b. al-'As. Ahnaf told him: "Do not let 'Amr have you seated in the top place in meetings, because it is a trick. And never meet him alone."[11]


Abu Musa al-Ash'ari's negotiations led to the arbitration that both rulers, Mu'awiya and 'Ali (a), should be dismissed from power. 'Amr b. al-'As pretended that he accepted the arbitration. However, in order to execute his trick, he asked Abu Musa to announce the arbitration ahead of him. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas made a lot of efforts to make Amr b. al-As announce the arbitration sooner than Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, but Abu Musa did not take Ibn al-Abbas's warnings seriously, telling him that he and Amr b al-As had made an agreement, and there would be no problem.[12]

Abu Musa went on minbar and said: "O people! In order for Muslims to live in peace and unity, 'Amr b. al-'As and I have agreed to dismiss Mu'awiya and 'Ali from caliphate so that Muslims can elect a council for selecting the next caliph. So as a representative of people in Hijaz and Iraq, I hereby dismiss 'Ali from caliphate, just as I take out this ring from my finger".[13] Then Amr b. al-As went on minbar and said: "You heard what Abu Musa said. He had the right to dismiss 'Ali and he did it. I agree with him on that. But as I put this ring on my finger, I assign the caliphate to Mu'awiya. For he deserves this position, and he has to avenge 'Uthman's murder.

The meeting turned into a turmoil. Abu Musa was strongly upset by Amr b. al-As's cunning and told him: "You have deceived, and you are vice. You are like a dog that barks if hit and barks if left alone"[14]. Amr b. al-As replied: "And you are like a donkey that carries books"[15].[16]

Thus the arbitration was not based on the Quran and the Prophet's (s) Tradition. Instead of making peace, it gave rise to more hostility between Iraq and Syria.[17] And its most important upshot for people of Syria was that they gave Mu'awiya the title of Amir al-Mu'minin since then.

Formation of Khawarij

After the ceasefire for the sake of arbitration, another group of Imam 'Ali's (a) army chanted the slogan, "There is no verdict except for God", and thereby they expressed their will to continue the battle and considered arbitration to amount to infidelity, calling the Imam to repent to God. However, the Imam (a) appealed to the Quranic verse, "Fulfill your indentures",[18] and thus he refused to violate his agreement with Mu'awiya. When Imam 'Ali (a) returned to Kufa and Mu'awiya returned to Syria, opponents of the arbitration left Imam 'Ali (a) and resided in the village, Harura', near Kufa.[19] Thus, a group called Khawarij emerged.

See Also


  1. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 2, p. 210.
  2. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 478.
  3. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 490.
  4. Ibn Aʿtham, al-Futūḥ, vol. 3, p. 163-165.
  5. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 189.
  6. See: Shahīdī, Tārīkh-i taḥlīlī-yi Islām, p. 142.
  7. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 103-104.
  8. Abū Saʿd, Nathr al-durr, vol. 1, p. 421.
  9. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 534.
  10. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 534-535.
  11. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 536-537.
  12. See: Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 2, p. 255.
  13. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 2, p. 256.
  14. Referring to the verse of the Quran: فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ الْكَلْبِ إِنْ تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَثْ Quran 7:176
  15. Referring to the verse of the Quran: كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا Quran 62:5
  16. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 2, p. 256.
  17. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 545.
  18. Qur'an, 5:1.
  19. Naṣr b. Muzāḥim, Waqʿat ṣiffīn, p. 513-514; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 5, p. 63, 72, 78.


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  • Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. Hibat Allāh. Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha. Edited by Muḥammad Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm. Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabīyya, 1385 AH.
  • Ibn Aʿtham, Aḥmad. Al-Futūḥ. Edited by ʿAlī Shīrī. Beirut: Dār al-Aḍwāʾ, 1411 AH.
  • Naṣr b. Muzāḥim al-Minqarī. Waqʿat ṣiffīn. Cairo: Muʾassisat al-ʿArabīyya al-Ḥadītha, 1382 AH.
  • Shahīdī, Sayyid Jaʿfar. Tārīkh-i taḥlīlī-yi Islām. Forty sixth edition. Tehran: Markaz-i Nashr-i Dānishgāhī, 1390 Sh.
  • Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-. Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk. Beirut: Muʾassisat al-Aʿlamī li-l-Maṭbūʿāt, 1403 AH.
  • Yaʿqūbī, Aḥmad b. Abī Yaʿqūb al-. Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī. Beirut: Dār al-Ṣādir, [n.d].