SHAFAQNA- Even though Ali (AS) was chosen as Caliph in a massive gathering in the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque, this added nothing to his status, since he had already been appointed to this position by God. However, it remains true that without a popular consensus even a divinely appointed Caliph could not be influential in society.
Unfortunately, after Ali’s (AS) election, whispers of dissent could be heard from many quarters. These came mostly from those who stood to lose materially from Ali’s (AS) accession, whether by being removed from their current posts or, due to not being qualified in terms of faith and moral virtue, saw opportunities being closed to them. During his caliphate, the Imam confronted three groups of opponents, all of whom he overpowered and suppressed. However, in the end, he was assassinated and became a martyr.
In a famous sermon, known as the sermon of Al-Shaqshaqiyya, Ali (AS) refers to these groups:
‘When I took up the reins of government one party broke away and another turned disobedient while the rest began acting wrongfully as if they had not heard the word of Allah (SWT) saying: This is the abode of the Hereafter which We shall grant to those who do not desire to domineer in the earth nor to cause corruption, and the outcome will be in favour of the Godwary (Q28:83). Yes, by Allah (SWT), they had heard it and understood it but the world appeared glittering in their eyes and its embellishments seduced them’ (Nahjul-Balaghah, Sermon 3).
In the above passage, the Imam describes these three groups. In what follows we refer to their story.
Those who ‘broke away’
Those who ‘broke away’ (Nākithīn) are Halha, Zubayr and their followers, who after publicly making the pledge of allegiance, because they feared that this pledge would go against them, broke their pledge and claimed that it had not been given in earnest. the Imam said in response to such a claim:
‘He claims that he swore allegiance to me with his hand but did not swear with his heart. So he does admit pledging allegiance! As regards his claiming it otherwise than with his heart he should come forward with a clear argument for it. Otherwise, he should return to wherefrom he has gone out.’ (Nahjul-Balaghah, Sermon 8).
On one occasion they claimed; ‘We are prepared to swear allegiance to you on condition that we have a share with you in this matter,’ but the Imam rejected their claim saying: ‘No, but you will have a share in strengthening it and in affording assistance, and you will both be helping me at the time of need and hardship.’ (Nahjul-Balaghah, Aphorism 198).
In reality, they had assumed that the Imam would appoint Zubayr to govern Iraq and Halha to govern Yemen. But what he did instead, with regards to distributing the public wealth (Baytul-Maal) and appointing people other than them, added to their opposition and antagonism. Accordingly, they left Medina in secret and went to Mecca. Then, in a public meeting in Quraysh, Zubayr stated: ‘Is this what we deserve? We revolted against Uthman and paved the way for his ruin, while Ali was sitting at home and doing nothing; but now that he is in the position of power and the Caliph, he gives all the executive and administrative jobs to others!’
Halha and Zubayr did not enjoy sufficient popularity to gather a large group of people to revolt against Ali, the chosen Caliph of the Muslims. Therefore, inevitably they attempted to use Ayisha’s popularity and reputation to build up an army. On her return from Mecca to Medina, Ayisha stopped at Sarf, a stopping place and met a man called Ibn Umm Kallab. She asked him about the state of affairs in Medina. He said, ‘The Caliph’s house was besieged for eighty two days, then he was killed and people took oaths of allegiance to Ali (AS).’ Upon hearing this, she became so anxious and disturbed that she exclaimed: ‘May the sky fall down on me!’ then immediately turned back to Mecca.
Ayisha was among those who were constantly critical of Uthman; she called him Naʿthal (Na‘thal was a long-bearded Jew who resembled Uthman) and used to say: ‘Kill that Na‘thal’ (Amini, 9/81). But when she learned that Imam Ali (AS) had been elected Caliph, she changed her mind and said: ‘I swear to God that Uthman was killed unjustly and I will avenge him.’ At this moment, the one who gave her news of Ali’s (AS) election questioned her: ‘You were the first person to call Uthman a disbeliever! What has become of you now that you have changed your opinion?’ She hastily replied: ‘The murderers of Uthman made him repent and then killed him. Previously, all the people used to talk about Uthman, just as I did, but my recent comment is better than the previous ones.’
Right in front of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, Ayisha came out of her litter and went toward the Stone of Ismail and draped a veil over it. People gathered around and Ayisha addressed them: ‘People! The murder of Uthman was unfair and I will avenge him’ (Tabari, 3/172). No doubt the mustering of an army from Mecca to fight against Ali (AS) or to take Basra so as to prevent any help from its governor to the Caliph required substantial funding, which was provided by the former governors of Uthman. At last, after a series of secret communications with Ayisha via Abdullah the son of Zubayr, Ayisha, together with Talha and Zubayr, departed for Basra. At the time of their departure from Mecca, they proclaimed:
‘Behold! The Mother of the Believers, Talha, and Zubayr are setting off for Basra. Anyone who desires to support Islam, to fight against permit the blood of Muslims to be shed and to revenge the murder of Uthman, come with us and you need not be worried as to the financial requirements of this journey’ (Tabari 3/167).
The army of Talha and Zubayr, accompanied with Ayisha, quickly left Mecca for Iraq. On their way, people were bewildered by Ayisha’s presence in the army. They criticized Talha and Zubayr, and probably her as well. Now we refer to one instance of such criticisms.
When the army stopped at a place which was the territory of Banu Saʿd tribe, a man of the tribe addressed Ayisha: ‘O’ Mother of the Believers! The Killing of Uthman was easier and more endurable for us than your leaving the house and sitting on this cursed camel. Are you not aware that you have been granted the veil of sanctity and respect by God?’ (This alludes to the verse directed to the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives:
‘Stay in your houses and do not display your finery with the display of the former ignorance.’ (Quran 33:33)
A young man from the same tribe addressed Talha and Zubayr and said: ‘Zubayr, you were the Prophet’s (PBUH) disciple, and you Talha, who protected the Prophet (PBUH) from dangers, I can see your mother (meaning Ayisha) is with you. Have you brought your wives with you as well?’ They retorted: ‘no.’ Then he continued, ‘At this moment, I will leave your camp.’ Then he composed some verses: ‘You have left your wives at your houses, but brought your mother; this is among the most unfair deeds’ (Tabari 3/482 and Al-Kamil 3/213-14).
Ultimately they pitched their tents at Basra and besieged the city. After a series of negotiations and conversations, they decided to attack by night and capture the mosque and the governor’s office. This resulted in them killing the guards stationed at the mosque and the office. At first, they had in mind to kill Ali’s (AS) governor, Uthman bin Hanif but they sufficed with torturing him, fearing his brother, Sahl ibn Hanif, who lived in Medina. Afterward, when they broke into the treasury and were surprised by the huge wealth of the city. Zubayr recited the following verse:
‘Allah (SWT) has promised you abundant spoils which you will capture. He has expedited this one for you…’ (Quran 48:20)
Having been informed of the coup, Ali dispatched Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, Imam Hassan (AS), and Ammar to Kufa, and set off for Basra with a well-equipped force. Before the battle began, Imam Ali (AS) gave them an ultimatum to the rebels. He told his men: ‘Do not hasten to fight before the ultimatum is delivered.’ Then he gave a copy of the Quran to Ibn Abbas and instructed him:
‘With this Quran in your hands, go to the leaders of the oath-breakers and invite them to the refer to the Quran. Moreover, ask Talha and Zubayr: “Have you not taken an oath of loyalty to me? Why did you break it? May the Quran be our judge.”’
However, the Imam’s (AS) message fell on deaf ears and it had no effect on those blinded by greed and power. At last, a bloody battle began. It culminated in Ali’s victory and the deaths of both Talha and Zubayr, the decimation of their army, and needless slaughter of 14,000 people as the result of their ambition and lust for power (Al-Jamal, 223). After the battle, the Imam (AS) decided it was best to make his capital in Kufa since he enjoyed strong support in the city.