The Battle of the Camel

Before Ali could deal with Muawia, [another issue]he had to face another danger. Aisha, widow of the holy prophet, turned against him.

Aisha was gone for Hajj when Othman [also spelled Uthman] was slain. On her way back, she received the horrible news of his murder. She went back to Mecca and addressed a public gathering. She told the people how cruel it was on the part of the rioters to have killed the Caliph in cold blood in the holy city of the prophet. She appealed to them to avenge the death of the late Caliph.

Hundreds of men came out upon Aisha's call. The Governor of Mecca was one of them. In the meantime, Talha and Zubair also reached Mecca. They told Aisha what they had seen at Medina. They urged upon her the need for quick action against the rioters and assured her of their support.

Aisha set out to Basra to win support, at the head of a big force. More people joined her on the way. By the time she reached Basra, there were three thousand men under her flag.

The Governor of Basra sent men to find out the object of her visit. She told them she had come to tell people of their duty toward the late Caliph. Then the messengers came to Talha and Zubair and put them the same question.

"We are out to avenge the death of Othman," they replied.

"But you have pledged loyalty to Ali," the messengers added.

"All the same, we must have kept the pledge if Ali had avenged Othman's death, or even if he had allowed us to do that." The leaders added.

The Governor of Basra decided to oppose Aisha. He came out of the city with an army and got ready to fight. The two armies stood face to face. Before the fighting began, Aisha made a stirring appeal to the feelings of the opposing army. Such was the force of her speech that half the army of the Governor walked over to Aisha's side.

The fighting began. By midday the next day the two sides made peace. They agreed to send a man to Medina. The man was to find out if Talha and Zubair had pledged loyalty to Ali of their own free will, or under duress.

So Kaab bin Thaur, the Chief judge of Basra, went to Medina. He reached the city on a Friday. He made straight for the prophet's Mosque. Taking his stand before the people he said, "O people, I have been sent by the people of Basra. I have come all the way to find out if Talha and Zubair gave their pledge

Peace Talks Fail

Reaching Basra, Ali sent a man to Aisha to clear away the misunderstanding she and her supporters had.

"What is it that you people really want?" the man asked them.

"We want nothing but the well-being of Muslims," they replied, "This is not possible till the death of Othman has been avenged."

"The demand for revenge is very just," Ali's envoy went on. "But how can you lay hands on the mischief-mongers, without first making the hands of the Caliph strong? If you really want to end trouble, gather under the banner of the Caliph. Do not plunge the people into civil war. It is a question of the whole people. I hope you love peace and order rather than general suffering and bloodshed."

Aisha, Talha and Zubair were moved by the appeal.

"If Ali is really keen to avenge Othman's death," they declared, "Our differences can be easily settled."

The envoy brought back hopeful news for the Caliph. With the envoy also came some men of Basra. They wanted to make sure that Ali was not going to treat them like a fallen enemy. Ali assured them that they had nothing to fear.

The hope of peace brightened. But in the army of Ali there were Abdullah bin Saba and his henchmen. Peace was fatal to them. They were very much disturbed by what Ali had said after the envoy's return to Basra.

"O people," he said. "The greatest favour Allah did to you was give you unity. Unity made you strong and great. The enemies of Islam did not like this. They have made a bid to shatter our unity. Beware of them. Tomorrow we will march to Basra with a peaceful aim. Those who took any part in Othman's murder should part company with us."

Abdullah bin Saba and his men were taken aback at this declaration. They met in a secret council.

"Ali is going to avenge Othman's death," they whispered to one another. "He now says what Talha, Zubair and Aisha say! We must do something about it."

On the following day, Ali marched off to Basra. Talha and Zubair came out of the city with their army. The two armies lay facing each other for three days. Peace talks were going on. On the third day, the top leaders of both sides had a face-to-face talk. Ali rode forward on his horse. From the other side came Talha and Zubair on their horses. They stood face to face, the necks of their horses touching.

"Am I not your brother?" said Ali, addressing the two. "Is not the blood of a Muslim sacred to another Muslim?"

"But you took part in the rising against Othmnan," retorted Talha.

"Yes, but at the point of the sword," Talha spoke back.

"Do you remember, O Zubair," said Ali, now addressing the second man, "that the Prophet of Allah, one day asked you if you loved me. You said 'Yes', Thereupon the Prophet of Allah foretold that one day you would fight me for nothing.'

"Certainly!" replied Zubair, "I now recall the words of the Prophet of Allah."

After this conversation the three men went back to their camps. The conversation had brought their hearts closer to one another. Each one had been set thinking seriously about the grim outcome of the civil war. The general feeling was that peace was now clearly in sight.

Ali went back to his camp very satisfied. He felt almost sure that bloodshed had been averted. At night he prayed to Allah to save the Muslims the horrors of a civil war.

The Battle at Last

The night came on. The armies lay in sound sleep. But Abdullah bin Saba and his henchmen set up the whole night. This was their last chance. They must not let it slip by.

It was still dark when the clang of steel rent the air. There was a sudden uproar. Saba and his men had made a sudden attack on Aisha's army! Soon a full-dress battle was in full swing.

Talha and Zubair were started by the uproar.

"What is this all about?" they asked.

"Ali's army has made a night attack," they said.

"Alas!" they exclaimed, "Ali could not be stopped from shedding the blood of Muslims. We had this fear all the time."

Ali became equally startled by the sudden outburst.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Talha and Zubair have taken us by surprise," replied the followers of Saba.

"Alas!" said Ali, "these gentlemen could not be stopped from killing Muslims, I had this fear all the time.'

The fighting soon grew fierce. Hundreds fell on each side. Talha fell fighting. Zubair fled from the battlefield. The main army of Aisha melted away but stiff fighting still raged round her camel. She sat in a howdah on the camel and directed the fight. A huge crowd of devoted Muslims fought desperately for the honour of the Master's widow. One after another seventy men held the nose string of the camel and laid down their lives.

Ali's heart bled at the sight. Precious lives of Muslims were being lost for nothing. At last the Caliph ordered one of his men to cut the hind legs of the camel. He did it. The beast fell on the forelegs and down came the howdah, with this ended the fighting.

Aisha was taken out of the howdah, with all the respect due to her. She was unhurt. Ali went to her and said, "How do you do, mother!"

"Perfectly all right," replied Aisha. "May Allah forgive your mistake!"

"And may he forgive your mistake too!" said Ali.

Ali made a round of the battlefield. About ten thousand men from both sides had lost their lives. Ali felt deeply moved. He said prayers for them all and buried them. He did not allow his men to take possession of the booty. The whole of it was collected and was handed over to the people of Basra.

After fleeing the field of battle Zubair was on his way to Mecca. He stopped in a valley to say his prayer. When busy in prayer, he was slain by a man named Amr bin Jarmoz. Jarmoz brought Zubair's arms to Ali. He hoped to get a reward for slaying the caliph's rival. But in place of a reward, he got a stern rebuke.

"I saw the owner of this sword fight for the Prophet of Allah several times," said Ali "I give his murderer the news of hell-fire,'

When Aisha had rested in Basra some days, Ali sent her to Medina. He sent her brother, Muhammad Abu Bakr, with her. As she was about to leave, a number of men gathered round her camel. She addressed them and said, "My children, do not blame one another. By Allah, there was no enmity between Ali and me. It was a mere family squabble. I consider Ali a good man."

To this Ali replied, "she is perfectly right. Our differences were just a family affair. She occupies a very high place in the faith. Both here and in the world to come, she is the honoured wife of the Prophet of Allah," Ali went many miles to see off Aisha.

Ali now said about restoring order in Basra. The city had been up in arms against the caliph. But Ali declared a general amnesty. He gave a stirring address in the Jamia Mosque telling people to be mindful of their duty to Allah. He took the pledge of loyalty from the people and appointed Abdullah Bin Abbas as Governor of Basra.

Some leading men of the Banu Omayya were in Basra when the city fell. The ill-famed Marwan was also among them. These men went in to the bidding. The caliph came to know about them but he gave them the benefit for the general amnesty. In time they escaped to Syria and joined Muawia.