The causes which led to the Battle of Siffin

The impressions of Rasulullah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and the Sahabah
February 23, 2015
The rebels secretly incite the fighting
February 23, 2015

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The causes which led to the Battle of Siffin


On account of Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the cousin of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu with whom ‘Uthman’s son had also taken refuge, stipulating that he would only pledge his allegiance to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu if the rebels were brought to justice; preparations were already underway to march on Syria before the Battle of Jamal occurred. The Battle of Jamal only strengthened the resolve of the rebels. Ashtar Nakha’i was unable to sway the people of Kufah and it was only after Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu delivered his speech – and due to his family ties with Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – did they manage to get nine thousand five hundred people to join them. Yet we find that historical narrations claim that within a month or two later, they were able to muster an army of about ninety thousand? Jafar Hussain (a Shia scholar and translator of Nahj al Balaghah into Urdu) writes:


So the people of Kufah and its surroundings began arriving in droves and the number of the army began swelling, till it surpassed eighty thousand.[1]


Nevertheless, this army camped on the eastern side of Aleppo, close to the Euphrates River. Their mission: to render a lesson of obedience to all those who do not pledge their allegiance, to those who do not step down after being dismissed, to those who still demanded qisas.

It is reported in Tarikh al Tabri that the following people proceeded to meet Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu: ‘Adi ibn Hatim, Yazid ibn Qais Arhabi, Shabith ibn Rab’i, Ziyad ibn Hafsah. They mentioned to Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu the virtues of ‘Ali and implored him to unite the Jama’ah by pledging allegiance, but at the same time issued him with a threat:


يا معاوية لا يصبك الله وأصحابك بيوم مثل يوم الجمل

O Muawiyah! It should not happen that Allah sends upon you and your followers a day similar to the Day of Jamal.


Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu replied:


كأنك إنما جئت متهددا لم تأت مصلحا

It seems as if you have come here only to threaten me and not with the intention of reconciliation.


Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu then said: “You are the same people who attacked ‘Uthman.”

If only the envoy that met with Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu had not comprised of the very rebels who had incited all this turmoil but rather one of the senior Sahabah, such as Ibn ‘Abbas or Abu Ayub al Ansari, then perhaps they would have convinced Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu to unite with ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. On the contrary, the threats issued by the envoy was met with increased conviction:


You are inviting me to obey and join the Jama’ah? We also have a Jama’ah on our side. As for obedience to your leader (‘Ali), we cannot submit to him, since he had killed our Khalifah ‘Uthman (this was based on a misunderstanding, Nahj al Balaghah reports ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu saying: “I had no hand in the murder of ‘Uthman), he has split the Jama’ah, he has given refuge to the murderers of ‘Uthman and those who wish to attack us. If he claims he is not the murderer of ‘Uthman then we will also regard it to be such. But tell me, are the murderers of ‘Uthman amongst you? You know who they are, since they are your companions and they form part of your army. Hand them over to me so that we may execute them in lieu of their crime, then we will obey him and join the Jama’ah.


In reply to this, Shabith said to Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu: “O Muawiyah! Are you then prepared to execute ‘Ammar as well in retaliation for ‘Uthman?”[2]


The rebels portrayed ‘Ammar radiya Llahu ‘anhu to be one of the murderers of ‘Uthman

It is glaringly apparent the manner in which these rebels – who were the true enemies of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and Islam – were attempting to shift blame off themselves by claiming that ‘Ammar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was one of the killers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, whereas he played no part in the murder of ‘Uthman. Those responsible for his murder were the Saba’iyyah and no one else.

If the demands of Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu were to have been met and qisas taken, then these rebels would have been brought to justice and executed, and this was something the army of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not prepared to accede to. On the other hand, Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not able to change his stance and submit, since just a few months previously he had been threatened by these same rebels: “If you do not give us free reign to carry out our mission (to muster support against the Khalifah) in Syria, then our authority is coming soon, and we will deal with you.”[3]

In summary, those who apply the verse of baghawah (rebellion) to Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, should first apply it to these rebels, since they were the first to do so, and it was they who prevented the command of Allah (qisas) to be implemented.


وَ اِنْ طَآئِفَتٰنِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِیْنَ اقْتَتَلُوْا فَاَصْلِحُوْا بَیْنهُمَاۚ   فَاِنْۢ بَغَتْ اِحْدٰهُمَا عَلَی الْاُخْرٰی فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِیْ تَبْغِیْ حَتّٰی تَفِیْٓءَ اِلٰی اَمْرِ اللّٰهِۚ   فَاِنْ فَآءَتْ فَاَصْلِحُوْا بَیْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَ اَقْسِطُوْآ ؕ   اِنَّ اللّٰهَ یُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِیْنَ

And if two factions among the believers should fight, then reconcile between the two. But if one of them rebels against the other, then fight against those who rebel until they return to the ordinance of Allah . And if they return, then reconcile between them with fairness and act justly. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.


This verse in no way applies to Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, since he did not embark on and march towards any group to attack them. He remained in his area, protecting himself. Furthermore, those people who are the true implications of the verse above – the murderers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu – they now threaten to attack the people of Syria. Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not forget the threats they had made previously and now they to threaten to kill him in his own land. Also now playing on his mind was what had happened to Talhah, Zubair and the other innocents who lost their lives at Jamal. Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu felt he should not make the mistake of bowing before these rebels. This was Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu’s ‘crime’, due to which those historians who supported the true rebels declared him to be the “rebel”. Thereafter, other historians and authors borrowed this incorrect attribution (of him being a baghi – rebel) and included it in their books.


A critical question: If the ruler of Syria had submitted, would it have brought about peace?

Ponder for a moment, if Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu had acceded to his dismissal as the ruler of Syria, and pledged his allegiance to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu would this have satisfied the rebels? Would they then hand over the killers of ‘Uthman to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhuma? Would the murderers then be executed, resulting in the unification of the ummah?

Or would the rebels then cause dissension and disunity amongst the ranks of ‘Ali’s army, as they did on the occasion of tahkim (arbitration)? Is this not a known fact that whether there was submission or not, the objective of these rebels was to cause disunity amongst the Muslims, resulting in endless civil war? According to historical narrations, whichever delegation went from Iraq to Syria did not speak in an amicable fashion, rather they spoke harshly, brandishing their swords. Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu also too brandished his sword to meet their threats, and they were allowed to return safely, with their dignity, to Iraq. Whenever exhorted by the senior Sahabah, his answer was one: “I am prepared to pledge allegiance. You convince them to bring the killers to justice.” When Sahabah such as Abu al Dardaʼ, Abu Umamah al Bahili and Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah al Bajalii radiya Llahu ‘anhum returned with this message of Muawiyah, ten to twenty thousand from the army of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu stood and shouted: “We are all the killers of ‘Uthman. Muawiyah should bring us all to justice.” It was due to this attitude that these Sahabah did not join any side.[4]

It is reported in Tarikh al Tabri, ibn al ’Athir, ibn al Khaldun and Siyar al Sahabah that Ashtar al Nakha’i repeatedly rebuked Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah and disrespected him to such an extent that Jarir radiya Llahu ‘anhu – who was one of the governors of ‘Ali – eventually left the army.

Due to these conflicting viewpoints and the plotting of the rebels, no reconciliation could be reached, and battle was unavoidable. Five months the Muslims honoured each other’s blood and life, with only a few minor skirmishes taking place or someone deciding to show-off his bravery, other than that they performed salat al Janazah together, partook of meals together, performed salah behind one Imam. It was only in Muharram 37 A.H. that preparations for battle began and the battle itself in Safar 37 A.H. ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu gathered his army on this night – known as layl al harir ­ and exhorted his army to prepare for battle. The battle began but here the Syrians were not unprepared like those at Jamal. They too were prepared for an attack, and they retaliated in kind. It is sad to note that many Muslims lost their lives in this battle.[5]

[6]Allamah ibn al Kathir writes that Imam Ahmed ibn Hambal rahimahu Llah narrates from Muhammad ibn Sirin rahimahu Llah that when this trial began during the reign of ‘Ali, there were tens of thousands of Sahabah alive, but not even one hundred participated in those Battles. In fact there numbers do not even reach thirty.[7]

According to ibn Battah, who narrated from Bukayr ibn al Ashajj, those Sahabah who had participated in the Battle of Badr remained in their homes after the martyrdom of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu and all them (except for a handful) only left their homes when proceeding to their graves (i.e. they stayed aloof from participating until death).[8]


NEXT The impressions of Rasulullah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and the Sahabah

[1] Nahj al Balaghah pg 356

[2] Tarikh al Tabri vol. 4 pg. 2, 3

[3] Tarikh al Tabri – events of the year 35 A.H.

[4] Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg. 254

[5] The number of participants in Siffin and the number of those slain

Amir al Muʼminin ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu prepared to go on the campaign to Syria, and he sent word to mobilise the people.(al lsbah, 1/123, 124) He prepared a ‘huge army’; the reports differ concerning the size, but they are all weak reports (Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, 7/260; al M’arifah wa al Tarikh, 3/13, Tarikh Khalifah ibn Khayyt, p. 193) apart from one with a reliable chain of narration, which states that he set out with fifty thousand men. (Tarikh Khalifah, pg. 193) Also shedding light on the size of Amir al Muʼminin ‘Ali’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu army is the following exhortation from ‘Amr ibn al ’As radiya Llahu ‘anhu when preparing the Syrians for battle. He stood up to address and encourage the army, saying: “The people of Iraq are divided and weak. The people of Basra are opposed to ‘Ali because he killed some of them, and the strongest of the people of Kufah were killed in the Battle of the Camel. ‘Ali is marching with a small group, among whom are those who killed your Khalifah, so do not fail in your duty to bring them to justice.” (Tarikh al Tabari, 5/601)

A few points should be noted:

  1. The Iraqi people were divided in their allegiance to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and all of them did not join the army of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
  2. The army of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was referred to as a small group, whereas an army of fifty thousand would be considered to be a large force, especially when considering the numbers with which the Muslims had faced the mighty Roman and Persian armies.
  3. ‘Amr ibn al ’As did not refer to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu as the killer of ‘Uthman but clearly stated that the killers were present in his army.

As for the number of the Syrian army, Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu also set out with an army, and here too reports differ on the number, but they all have interrupted chains of narration; they are the same reports that estimated the size of ‘Ali’s army. The number was put at one hundred and twenty thousand, (Khilafat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, p. 194; al Ma’rifah wa al Tarikh, 3/313) or seventy thousand, or much more than that.(Khilfat ‘Ali, p. 194; Tarikh Khalifah; p. 193) The closest to the truth is a report that they numbered sixty thousand. Although

the chain of narration of this report as well is interrupted, its narrator is Safwan ibn ‘Amr al Saksi, a Homsi from Syria who was born in 72 A.H and is proven to be trustworthy. He met a number of those who had been present at Siffin, as is clear from studying his biography. (Siyar ‘Alm al Nubal, 6/380) The chain of narration to him is sound (Khilfat ‘Ali ibn Abi Tlib, p. 194).

On account of the uncertainty or obscurity of the number of participants in this Battle, the reports regarding the number slain are even more incongruous and obscure. Thus, the scholars have conflicting views concerning the number of people slain at Siffin. Ibn Abi Khaythamah said that it was seventy thousand: twenty-five thousand of the people of Iraq and forty-five thousand of the people of Syria. Ibn al Qayyim said that it was seventy thousand or more.(al Saw’iq al Mursalah, 1/377) Undoubtedly these numbers are not accurate; they are wildly inflated. The real fighting and all-out battle lasted for three days, during which the fighting was stopped at night except for the Friday evening, so the total period of fighting was approximately thirty hours. (al Dawlah al Umawiyyah, p. 360-362) No matter how violent the fighting was, it could not have been more intense than Qadisiyyah, where the number of martyrs was 8500. (Tarikh al Tabari, 4/388) Logically, it is difficult to accept the reports that mention these huge figures and there are no distinct reliable reports in this regard. Adapted from Sirah Amir al Mu’minin ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib by ‘Ali Muhammad al Sallabi

[7] Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg. 252

[8] Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah vol. 7 pg .254