The battle of Jamal: Understanding Imam Ali’s stance with the leaders who opposed him

31st Oct 2020

The death of Uthman bin Affan, the third caliph, led to civil unrest and conflict within the Muslim community. These conflicts saw the wife of the Prophet, Lady Aisha, and his close companions such as Talha ibn Ubaydallah and Zubayr ibn al-Awam engage in warfare against Ali ibn Abi Talib, the newly appointed caliph, in what would become known as the battle of Jamal (Camel)[1]. The Muslim community was in a dilemma never faced before, on the one hand the caliph, cousin, and confidante of the Prophet, and on the other hand the wife and close companions of the Prophet. The battle itself resulted in many companions of the Prophet losing their lives leading to groups adopting identities within the Muslim community. The Centre for Intra-Muslim Studies convened on 31st October 2020 to discuss ‘The Battle of Jamal and Ali’s Stance Regarding those that Opposed Him’. Qari Zahiruddin Tahir, an Imam at Newport Mosque and long standing CIMS member, presented the Sunni perspective, and Dr Liyakat Takim, Professor at McMaster University presented the Shia perspective.
Sunni Presentation
Quoting early historical historians such as al-Tabari, al-Baladhuri and others, Qari Zahiruddin outlined the events after the death of Uthman, the reluctance of Ali to take office of caliphate, and his subsequent taking of office due to insistence by the people.

Despite initially giving allegiance, Talha and Zubair defected and ended up joining Lady Aisha to muster an army rallying in the name of avenging Uthman’s blood. After outlining the events leading up to the battle of Jamal, Qari went on to describe the specifics of the battle which included the retreat of Talha & Zubayr out of remorse, and their subsequent killings.

The battle was eventually won by Ali, after which he sent off Lady Aisha back to Medina with dignity and respect. Citing narrations in Sunni hadith books such as Bukhari, and referencing Sunni Scholar’s views such as Shaykh Albani, Qari mentioned that Lady Aisha was in error, however she were remorseful and repented, and this is testified by her unwillingness to be buried next to the Prophet, in addition to her silence during the remainder of her life in respect to any opposition to Ali[2].
Shia Presentation

Professor Takim briefly recapped the historical narrative, outlined by Qari Zahiruddin, confirming that these details were largely agreed upon by both Shia and Sunni. He then went on to mention certain points raised by Shia scholars such Lady Aisha’s attack on Basra, which resulted in many lives being lost, despite the killers of Uthman being in Medina and not in Basra. 

Furthermore, he mentioned the incident of the dogs barking at a place called Hawab, at which point Lady Aisha wanted to turn back as she remembered the Prophet warning his wives of the barking dogs of Hawab. However, members from her army came together and bore witness that the place they were at was not Hawab, to which some Shia scholars point out that this was a mass false testimony if not the first one in the Muslim history.  The battle of Jamal was a dark time for the Muslim community and it is at this point in history according to Prof. Takim that a concrete notion of identity formed in the community where the label of either a follower of Ali or a follower of Uthman came into existence.

Discussion
The presentations were followed by an initial response from Shaykh Arif Abdulhussain, who after acknowledging that this was a sensitive and polarising event for the Muslims, went on to ask whether it was befitting for Lady Aisha to rise up and in the process oppose the Qur’anic commands[3], in addition to rising up against a legitimate caliph. During the discussion further questions were also raised such as whether those who rose up were considered rebels (baghi) to which Qari Zahiruddin outlined a Sunni stance that during the battle they were considered rebels, however after the battle they repented and were thus exonerated from being considered rebels. In addition to this, the question was raised as to why the fighters against the first two caliphs were considered abandoning the religion (murtad) whilst the fighters against Ali were let off so easily? Also mentioned during the discussion was how this political incident has led theological implications, and how the Sunni may have to reconcile the notion of the companions being just & right (Adool) whilst them fighting each other?

It was concluded that the event did cause tensions in the community, however the actions of Ali ibn Abi Talib in dealing with Lady Aisha showed that he did so with utmost respect despite the far-reaching consequences of her actions. This is a learning point from us in emulating his character and learning from history.

References

[1] The battle is named such due to Lady Aisha leading the army into battel whilst on a camel.

[2] Albani, Muhammad Nasir al Din, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahih Vol 1. Page 854

[3] Ref Quran 33:33

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