Chapter 4

The Re-emergence of the 'Alid Party

The sixteen-year period beginning with the caliphate of
'Uthman (24/644) and ending with the assassination of 'Ali
(41/661) represents a marked difference from the preceding
period of the caliphate of Abu Bakr and 'Umar in the
development of Shi'ism in Islam. It was a turning point in
many ways. Firstly, this period created an atmosphere which
encouraged Shi'i tendencies to become more evident and
conspicuous. Secondly, the events which took place gave an
active and sometimes violent character to the hitherto inactive
Shi'i movement. Finally, the circumstances which prevailed
involved the Shi'i outlook, for the first time, in a number of
political, geographical, and economic considerations. The
period was therefore one in which the desire of the first Shi'is
to express their ideas on the succession of 'Ali, the religious
zeal of the Companions, personal hatreds, provincial and
economic interests, political intrigues, and the discontent of
the poor against the rich were fused together. This fusion not
only provided a new sphere of activity for the Shi'i movement,
but also widened its circle of influence to those who needed
an outlet for their political grievances, especially those against
Mu'awiya, the representative of the Umayyad aristocracy and
Syrian domination. Seeing in 'Ali a champion of the political
independence of Iraq, as opposed to this Syrian domination,
these groups supported him and were for the time being of
the same mind as the religious supporters of 'Ali, who believed
in his right to the caliphate based on the theocratic principle.
The emergence of the political Shi'a is characterized both by
the increase in its influence and its numbers and by the
sudden rapidity with which it henceforth grew. An exami-


nation of the period in which this emergence occurred Will
result in a clearer insight into the split which developed
within the main body of Islam.

Abu Bakr and 'Umar did not give their respective clansmen
any particular share in the rule of the Muslim community,
nor were their clans of much political consequence. Such was
not the case with 'Uthman. His clan wanted to regain its past
political importance after having taken second place to the
Hashimites after the victory of Muhammad. When 'Uthman
was elected, the Umayyads regarded this as a triumph for the
whole clan, not solely as 'Uthman's personal success.(1) They
considered it natural that the Caliph should give them a share
of the profits, and their demands could hardly be refused by
the new caliph, who felt that his strength lay in the support
and good will of his powerful clansmen. He did what he
could to satisfy their demands, and the people were painfully
disillusioned when they found the Caliph committed to the
improvement of the lot of his own family and clan rather than
to the welfare of the community as a whole. 'Uthman made
no secret of bestowing favours on his kinsmen, and justified
this action by saying: "The Prophet used to bestow offices on
his kinsmen, and I happen to belong to people who are poor.
So I let my hands a bit loose in regard to that with which I
have been entrusted by virtue of the care I take of it"(2)

It is an historical fact that within a few years of 'Uthman's
accession the Umayyads claimed among themselves the
governorships of Kufa, Basra (capital of a vast territory
including Iran and Central Asia and extending to Sind),
Syria, and Egypt: all the important provinces of the empire.
These Umayyad governors, in turn, relied on the support of
their own kinsmen, whom they placated and allowed to
dominate the caliphal councils.(3) The critical problem here
was not so much that the Umayyads dominated all positions
of power and advantage, but rather that they were allowed
enough latitude to use their powers arbitrarily and unfairly
for the benefit of themselves and their kinsmen, thus incurring
the dissatisfaction and hatred of many Muslims. 'Abd Allah
b. Sa'd b. Abi Sarh, 'Uthman's milk-brother, who adminis-
tered Egypt, was an extremely unpopular man, whom the
Prophet had ordered to be killed during the conquest of
Mecca.(4) Al-Walid b. 'Uqba, 'Uthman's half-brother, was even


more intensely hated by the Kufans, whom he treated in
brutal fashion. He divided lands among his favourites and
finally disgraced himself by drunkenness.(5) 'Uthman was
obliged to recall him and appointed another close relative,
Sa'id b. Al-'As, who infuriated the local notables by his high-
handed treatment of them, then alarmed them by declaring
that the Sawad of Kufa would become a "Garden of the
Quraysh". Provoked by such abuses, a group of the Qur'an
readers in Kufa, such as Malik b. Harith an-Nakha'i,
Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuza'i, Hujr b. 'Adi al-Kindi,
Shurayh b. 'Awf al-'Absi, and others, protested in vain against
Sa'id's behaviour. Instead of making proper inquiries,
'Uthman ordered the agitators to be sent to Syria for
Mu'awiya to deal with.(6)

The names of these distinguished Qur'an readers are to be
taken seriously as they afterwards appeared as the leaders of
the Shi'i movement in Ku fa. They stood at the forefront of
'Ali's army at the battles of Al-Jamal and Siffin, and even
after 'Ali's assassination they never reconciled themselves
with Mu'awiya. Similarly, the groups of the Qur'an readers
from Egypt and Basra were not less violent in their protests
against the free hand given by the Caliph to his Umayyad
governors and their highhanded treatment of the people.
This clash with the Qur'an readers set the seal on 'Uthman's
unpopularity in religious circles in the provinces. Here we
must point out that the word qurra' (Qur'an readers) used by
our sources implies those who distinguished themselves and
were recognized by the people as learned in religious matters,
and who taught the people the Qur'an and religious
observances. Naturally they carried great prestige among the
masses and were regarded as the intelligentsia of the people.

In addition to appointing many of his clansmen to lucrative
posts, 'Uthman made large gifts to others.(7) At the same time,
he treated some of the Companions of the Prophet very
harshly. 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud, then in charge of the treasury
in Kufa, was recalled after a quarrel with Al-Walid b. 'Uqba,
and the Caliph allowed him to be manhandled in his
presence.(8) Even worse was the treatment received by 'Ammar
b. Yasir, who was reviled and beaten into unconsciousness
when he arrived from Egypt with a letter of complaint against
Ibn Abi Sarh.(9)


During the last few years of 'Uthman's reign, the major
part of the population was seething with discontent over the
spectacle of Umayyad aristocrats seated in high offices,
enjoying wealth and luxury, indulging in debauchery, and
lavishly spending the immense wealth which they appropri-
ated to themselves illegitimately. The resulting disequi-
Librium in the economic and social structure naturally aroused
The jealousy of various sections of the population and provided
ample combustible material for an explosion. One outspoken
leader of the criticism against 'Uthman's regime was Abu
Dharr, a fearless and uncompromising partisan of frugality
and asceticism who violently protested against the accumu-
lation of wealth in the hands of a few and demanded the
distribution of lands among the community. 'Uthman, who
did not like the idea of Abu Dharr thundering against the
wealthy in the mosque of Medina, sent him to Syria. Before
long, the Caliph received a letter from Mu'awiya complaining
of Abu Dharr's dangerous activities and ordered that Abu
Dharr be bound to a wooden camel saddle and be sent back
to Medina under escort. He arrived in the city half dead, with
the flesh torn off his thighs, and he was shortly thereafter
exiled to Ar-Rabdha, where he soon died.(10) His misadventures
were widely related throughout the provinces, awakening an
echo of bitterness against 'Uthman and the class of the rich
concurrently with the propagation of 'Ali's claims to the

In this connection the speeches of Abu Dharr, frequently
delivered in the mosque of Medina, are of special interest.
Gathering people around himself, he used to say:
"...'Ali is the legatee (wasi) of Muhammad and the inheritor
(wraith) of his knowledge. Oh you bewildered and perplexed
community after its Prophet, if you give preference [in leadership]
to those whom God has given preference, and set aside those
whom God has set aside, and if you firmly place the succession
and inheritance in the people of the house of your Prophet, you
will certainly be prosperous and your means of subsistence will
be made ample.(11)

We must strongly dissent from the viewpoint of such
writers as have laboured to present the rebellion against
'Uthman as being due to only the evil machinations of some
mischief-mongers, and the grievances they voiced as being all


forged and artificial. Such writers ignore the fact that these
mischief-mongers-if such they were-had real grievances to
protest and the tacit support of the Sahaba to provide the
necessary sanction. For discontent to develop into open
rebellion, two things are essential: leadership, which must
come from those who command respect in society, and the
time and opportunity to organize and concert action. Both of
these prerequisites were present in the last few years of
'Uthman's caliphate.(12) The attitude of the Sahaba, prominent
among them being 'Ali, Talha, and Zubayr, is quite clear.
There is ample material to prove that almost all of them, and
especially these three, were equally loud in their opposition to
the ways of 'Uthman. Even 'Abd ar-Rahman b. 'Awf (died
32/652), who had played an all-important role in the election
of 'Uthman, is reported to have hinted long before the
outbreak of disturbances that he held 'Uthman's actions to be
a violation of the pledge given by him at the time of his
election.(13) Even if we disagree with the reports that they
wrote letters to the provincials or actually incited them in a
systematic manner, the fact remains that they made no secret
of their views and moral support for the rebels.

'Ali's attitude towards the situation in this period is clearly
illustrated by his reaction to the punishment given to Abu
Dharr. When 'Uthman ordered the latter to be exiled, he
gave strict orders that no one should see him off except
Marwan, who was to escort him out of Medina. Despite these
orders, 'Ali, accompanied by Hasan, Husayn, and his partisan
'Ammar b. Yasir, went along with Abu Dharr for quite a long
distance. When reminded of the Caliph's directive by
Marwan, 'Ali replied by cursing him and striking the head of
Marwan's beast with his stick. When it was time to part, Abu
Dharr wept and said, "By God, whenever I see you, I
remember the Prophet.(14) To console Abu Dharr, 'Ali said to

"You were annoyed for the sake of God, so entertain hope from
Him for whom you were angry. These people were afraid of you
for the sake of their world, and you feared them for the sake of
your religion. So leave in their hands that by reason of which they
were afraid of you, and flee away with that by reason of which
you feared them; for how badly do they need what you have
denied them, and how little do you need what they have denied


you. If you had accepted their world they would have loved you;
and if you had appropriated to yourself some part of it, they
would have felt more secure in your presence."(15)

Marwan reported the entire matter to 'Uthman, who
became quite indignant at such a breach of orders. When he
questioned 'Ali, the latter replied that he was not obliged to
obey orders that were not compatible with common sense
and justice. "My merits and excellences are far beyond yours;
I am far superior to you in every respect.(16) Later these points
were more commonly argued by supporters of 'Ali. The Shi'i
poet Sayyid al-Himyari availed himself of these arguments to
express his extreme Shi'i views.

After his acceptance of Abu Bakr and the subsequent
weakening of his initial party of supporters, 'Ali remained
aloof from all government activities until the end of 'Umar's
rule, as mentioned above. The protest raised after the selection
of 'Uthman demonstrated that 'Ali's candidacy still had many
partisans, but these acted only as individuals and did not
form any particular group. Once the caliphate of 'Uthman
gained widespread acceptance in the community, the spon-
taneous protests of men such as Al-Miqdad and 'Ammar
ceased, though their dissatisfaction remained. As the Caliph
gradually began to lose popularity, the old partisans of 'Ali
soon revived their grievances and gave full rein to their long-
suppressed desires to see 'Ali as caliph. Fresh support rallied
to the Hashimite candidate as discontented elements in the
empire began to crystallize into factions that needed an
effective and acceptable leader. Though Talha and Zubayr
had considerable local followings in Kufa and Basra respec-
tively, they were far less important than 'Ali and their
support was doomed to remain limited in character. 'Ali
found himself surrounded by groups of protesters arriving
from the provinces, men who called upon him to support
their cause, while at the same time 'Uthman approached 'Ali
and appealed to him to mediate with the rebels. Perhaps
compelled by the demands of justice, 'Ali had no choice but
to stand in Defence of the offended Companions and demand
punishment for the blame-worthy. He himself protested
against the rich gifts made by the Caliph to his kinsmen.
From this position, he was urged by the qurra' to act as their
spokesman, which he did to help meet the just demands of


the people on the one hand, and to extricate the Caliph from
his difficulties on the other.(17)

Two groups, different in outlook but with the same goals,
were working simultaneously and serving each other's
purposes, though not consciously. One group consisted of the
discontented provincial elements discussed above which had
been hardest hit by the disequilibrium in the economic
structure of the empire, while the other mainly comprised the
loyal partisans of 'Ali. This latter group, led by men like Abu
Dharr, Miqdad, 'Ammar, Hudhayfa, and several of the
Ansar, enlisted a number of new activist supporters such as
Ka'b b. 'Abda an-Nahdi; Malik b. Habib ath-Tha'labi and
Yazid b. Qays al-Arhabi.(18) Also included in this circle were
the Hashimites as well as 'Ali's clients and servants. Among
the latter were Qanbar b. Kadam,(19) Mitham b. Yahya at-
Tammar, and Rushayd al-Hujuri Due to their religious zeal
for and devotion to the person of 'Ali as the custodian of
Muhammad's message and the true exponent of Islam, these
men are symbolic of this stage in the growth of Shi'ism. Both
Mitham at-Tammar(20) and Rushayd al-Hujuri(21) were cruci-
fied in Kufa in 61/680 by 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad because they
refused to curse 'Ali and continued their zealous adherence to
him and to his house even after his death. Their hands, legs,
and tongues were cut off and their bodies were hanged, a
typical example of Ibn Ziyad's brutal behaviour. Besides these
supporters, later writers mention the name of 'Abd Allah b.
Wahb b. Saba, known as Ibn as-Sawda', as having become a
great supporter of 'Ali, travelling from place to place sowing
discontent against the rule of 'Uthman.(22) He is described as
a former Jewish rabbi converted to Islam; however, modern
Muslim scholars such as 'Ali al-Wardi strongly suggest that
'Abd Allah b. Saba never existed, and that the activities
attributed to him were carried out by 'Ammar b. Yasir, whose
nickname was also as-Sawda'.(23) Modern European scholars
have also expressed their doubts as to the historical personality
of Ibn as-Sawda' and tend to agree that he is a legendary

It is an interesting phenomenon that both the hatred
against 'Uthman and the numbers of the supporters of 'Ali
grew side by side. The pious opposition to the Umayyad
aristocracy became eagerly involved with the partisanship for


'Ali.(25) In addition to 'Ali's ardent supporters, Talha and
Zubayr also conducted propaganda activities against 'Uth
man. When Muhammad b. Abi Bakr and Muhammad b. Abi
Hudhayfa went to Egypt to rouse the people against the
Caliph, they met Muhammad b. Talha, sent there by his
father for the same task.(26) Even the widows of the Prophet
opposed the Caliph, and 'A'isha was especially loud in her
denunciations of "Na'thal" (of the big beard and the hairy
chest), as she nicknamed him.(27)

The simmering discontent exploded into revolt in 35/656,
when rebel contingents from Kufa, Basra, and Egypt marched
on Medina under the leadership of the qurra'. It is interesting
to note that most of the activists leading these contingents
happen to have been of Yemeni origin. These were joined by
some of the pro-'Alid Medinese Muhajirun and Ansar such
as 'Ammar and others. The situation soon became chaotic.
The events leading to the murder of 'Uthman are beyond the
scope of this study, but it seems fairly certain that his
assassination exceeded the desires of even those of the Sahaba
who were openly opposed to the Caliph. Their objectives had
been only to depose 'Uthman, not to kill him. It also seems
clear that even during these last tumultuous days 'Ali
continued to play his conciliatory. and mediatory role. He
many times did succeed in dispersing the unruly mob that
wanted to hurt the Caliph, and during the siege he appointed
his sons Hasan and Husayn to stand at the house of 'Uthman
and protect him from the angry crowd. They were, however,
jostled and pushed aside by the mob, and the Caliph was
killed. Hearing the news, 'Ali was the first to reach the scene
and was so furious at what had transpired that he slapped the
face of Husayn and hit Hasan for failing to save the life of the

In the confused atmosphere following the murder of the
Caliph, the only candidate for the caliphate that was
acceptable to the Muhajirun and the Ansar, as well as to the
rebellious qurra', was 'Ali.(29) After three previous but
unfulfilled aspirations to gain the office, however, 'Ali was
now reluctant to accept the responsibility of leading a
community so badly entangled in the question of regicide,
and thus to implicate himself in the murder. Ibn 'Abd Rabbih
has preserved for us 'Ali's own statement on the situation in


the form of an address delivered at the time of the battle of Al-
Jamal. In it, 'Ali says:

"After 'Uthman was killed, you came to me saying that you
wanted to pay homage to me. I said, 'I do not want it.' I pulled
back my hand, but you stretched it forth. I tried to snatch it [my
hand] away from you, but you seized it. You said, 'We will accept
no other than you, and we would not have gathered together
except around you.' You thronged around me like thirsty camels
on their watering day, set loose by their keeper who had
unfastened their tethers, until I thought you would kill me [by
rushing upon me] or that some one of you would kill the other [by
jumping one over the other]. In this way all of you paid me your
homage, and so did Talha and Zubayr." (30)

Pressed by the demands from almost all quarters, 'Ali
finally agreed to accept the office, but he specified that he
would rule strictly according to the Qur'an and the Sunna of
the Prophet and that he would enforce justice and law
regardless of any criticism or clash with the interests of any
group. Talha and Zubayr, though they both had some
followings from Basra and Kufa, realized that they had no
chance of mustering enough support to contest 'Ali's
candidacy, and they were the first to swear allegiance to him.
The Medinese, joined by multitudes of those from the
provinces present in the capital, acclaimed 'Ali as caliph.(31)
Through this election, 'Ali became the first and the only
caliph in whose selection a great majority of the community
took an active part. He was also the first among the caliphs
who, because of the circumstances of his birth, combined in
his person both the dynastic and the theocratic principles of

From the very start, 'Ali inherited great problems which
none of his three predecessors had had to face. Marwan b. al-
Hakam, 'Uthman's secretary, along with some other members
of the clan of Umayya, managed to escape to Syria to join
Mu'awiya, carrying 'Uthman's blood-stained shirt and the
severed fingers of Na'ila, the murdered caliph's widow, to use
for propaganda purposes. From Syria then came the call for
vengeance for 'Uthman's death and a continuous propaganda
campaign against 'Ali.

The murder of 'Uthman was not a simple assassination
committed by an individual to settle personal grievances, as


had been the case in 'Umar's death. 'Uthman's murder was
the result of a popular revolt of the poor, discontented,
suppressed, and deprived people against the economic,
political, and feudalist domination of an old aristocratic
family. The more religiously-minded people revolted to
safeguard the Islamic ideals of socio-economic justice and
equality taught by the Qur'an, enforced by the Prophet, and
jealously maintained by Abu Bakr and 'Umar. 'Ali's role as
the mediator between the rebel qurra' and the Caliph
demonstrates that, on the one hand, he himself was convinced
that the resistance movement had been based on just and
right demands (and thus asked the Caliph to redress their
grievances), while, on the other hand, he had tried his best to
save the Caliph from the hands of the unruly mob. Tempers
had flared beyond anyone's control, however, and the Caliph
was killed by extremists who escaped in the midst of the utter
confusion that followed. 'Ali found himself in a hopeless
situation. The actual murderers had fled, and it was impossible
for him to locate them for punishment; yet the fact remained
that many of the qurra' around 'Ali had been nearly as
responsible for the tragedy as the murderers themselves. 'Ali
himself repeatedly declared that:

"...the murder of 'Uthman was an act of the days of ignorance
[al-Jahiliya: the common term for the pre-Islamic period in
Arabia] I am not indifferent to the demand [of 'Uthman's blood],
but at present [the murderers] are beyond my power. As soon as
I get hold of them, I will not hesitate to punish them.(32)

Even Talha and Zubayr agreed on this point and said "the
insolent and imprudent people overcame the gentle and sober
ones and killed ['Uthman]." (33) In vain, however, did 'Ali try
to find a peaceful solution to the problem. The paradoxical
position of deploring the murder of 'Uthman while supporting
the justified demands of the qurra', and cursing the murderers
of the Caliph while surrounding himself with their associates,
would have been a serious challenge to even the shrewdest
and most cunning politician, and this was even more so in the
case of 'Ali, whose rigid adherence to principles so often
prevented him from adopting a practical political policy.

Before long, it became obvious that 'Ali's attempts to
resolve the crisis by peaceful means had failed. Challenges to


his authority included even 'A'isha, who refused to return to
Medina from the 'Umra (lesser pilgrimage) and turned back
to Mecca when informed of the nomination of 'Ali. Some
time later, Talha and Zubayr saw an opportunity to dissociate
themselves from 'Ali, and asked permission to perform the
'Umra. Though aware of their plans, 'Ali granted their
request. The two joined 'A'isha in the Holy City and then
announced that they had been compelled to swear allegiance
to 'Ali under duress.(34) Though both men were ambitious for
the caliphate, neither of them had been a real leader of the
masses with great popular support at his command; they
could never have concerted their efforts had it not been for
'A'isha, who now shifted from the position of an extreme
critic of 'Uthman to assume the role of his avenger. By
marching to Basra in 36/656, the triumvirate threatened to
cut 'Ali off from the east and compound the problem of a
rebellious Syria by creating a similar problem in Iraq. After
much hesitation, 'Ali finally marched to Kufa, where he
succeeded in gathering a force strong enough to defeat 'A'isha
and her associates in the battle of Al-Jamal. Talha and Zubayr
were slain, and 'A'isha was taken prisoner and sent safely
back to Medina.

Having secured his position in Iraq for the moment, 'Ali
then turned to deal with the much more dangerous problem
of Mu'awiya, who, as 'Uthman's kinsman, called for venge-
ance,(35) a protest which 'Ali rejected on the grounds that the
sons of 'Uthman were more entitled to this right.(36) Mu'awiya
realized that if 'Ali managed to consolidate his authority he
would dislodge the former from his position as governor of
Syria. The only way to avoid this was to question the validity
of 'Ali's title to the caliphate; given the circumstances in
which the new caliph had been installed in office, this was not
difficult. 'Ali's supporters, especially the qurra', were vigor-
ously opposed to any compromise with Mu'awiya, and Malik
al-Ashtar advised the Caliph not to enter into correspondence
with the governor of Syria. Nevertheless, 'Ali tried peaceful
means in dealing with his adversary; only when this failed
and it became obvious that Mu'awiya had resolved to fight
did 'Ali march with his forces to meet the Syrians.

The conflict of Siffin and the resulting arbitration have
been thoroughly and critically studied by a number of


scholars, and it is not our purpose here to re-cover well-
trodden ground. It will suffice to note that 'Ali's position
rapidly became critical as the emergence of the Kharijites
and the arbitration of Adhruh steadily eroded his strength.
While he was preparing for a final struggle against Syria, a
Kharijite fanatic, 'Abd ar-Rahman b. al-Muljam, struck him
with a poisoned sword in the mosque of Kufa. The fourth
caliph died on 21 Ramadan 40/25 January 661.

This entire period is discussed by 'Ali in the last part of his
speech of Shaqshiqiyya, and his own comments are useful in
examining this confused era:

"In the end, the third of them ['Uthman] stood up shrugging
his shoulders arrogantly; and there stood with him the sons of his
father, eating up the property of God as the camels eat up the
springtide verdure, until what he had twisted became untwisted.
His destruction was complete, and his greediness made him fall
to the ground. Then all of a sudden I was frightened to see a
crowd of people around myself, thick as the hyena's mane,
thronging towards me from every direction until [my sons]
Hasan and Husayn were mobbed and my two sides were split,
gathering around me like a herd of goats.

"But when I took up the government, one group broke its
pledge, another rebelled, and some others transgressed, as if they
had not heard the words of God, who says: 'That is the abode
hereafter which we allot to those who do not seek greatness and
corruption on the earth, and the end is for those who fear.' (XXVIII,
83) Nay, by God, they have heard these words arid comprehend
them, but the world is sweet in their eyes and they are pleased by
its gaudiness.

"Nay, by Him who has split the seed and created the soul, but
for the presence of those who are present and the establishment
of the arguments by the existence of the helpers, as also the fact
that God has disliked for the knowing ones to watch idly the
fullness of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would
have thrown back its [the caliphate's] rope on its shoulder and
made its last drink from the cup of the first one, and you would
have found that your world is as distasteful to me as the dripping
from the nose of a goat."(37)

With this brief summary as a foundation, we will attempt
to analyse the causes and consequences of the major events of
'Ali's short-lived caliphate. It must be remembered that his
succession was greatly resisted by some of the Companions of


the Prophet and resulted in the first civil war in Islam; but at
the same time, his so-called "failures" proved to be epoch-
making in the history of the development of Shi'ism. The
bitterness of the supporters of 'Ali created by his defeats and
disappointments provided an historical foundation for the
development of their sectarian tendencies, and the destruction
done to him gave the later Shi'a enough material for the
formation of their own discipline within the body of Islam.

An attempt to grasp the situation as a coherent whole
reveals the fact that the selection of CAll was at once a triumph
for a particular view of succession hitherto frustrated, and a
great shock to all those who had successfully adopted a
principle of leadership devoid of notions of primacy based on
hereditary sanctity after the death of the Prophet. With the
succession of CAl!, these two rival views came into genuine
conflict for the first time and crystallized into definite forms.
The former view, soon defeated again, was to find expression
in a separatist tendency towards a, so to speak, sectarian
organization; the latter re-emerged victoriously and more
vigorously, and eventually shaped itself in such a way as to
become the centre of the Islamic Umma, or Jama'a.

Ya'qużbi records for us those speeches with which 'Ali was
hailed by his enthusiastic supporters, mostly from the Ansar,
on the occasion of his installation, and which illustrate those
tendencies and sentiments with which he was viewed by this
group. For example, Malik b. al-Harith al-Ashtar pledged his
allegiance with the declaration that 'Ali was the wasi al-
awsiya', the legatee from among the legatees [of the prophets),
and the warith ilm al-anbiya', heir to the knowledge of the
prophets.(38) Hodgson doubts whether these terms were really
used in reference to 'Ali at such an early date.(39) In the first
place, we must bear in mind that MAlik b. al-Ashtar was of
Yemenite origin. South Arabia was a land of ancient
civilization where for a thousand years kings had succeeded
one another according to a dynastic principle and had been
regarded as having extraordinary qualities. Even if the
seventh-century Arabs had no personal experience of king-
ship, they must have been unconsciously influenced by this
continuing tradition.(40) In this case, the use of terms like wasi
and warith by a man of Yemenite origin occurs as a natural
and spontaneous corollary of a deep-seated cultural tradition.


In the second place, there are numerous references in
contemporary writings which reflect the same spirit. In praise
of 'Ali, Abu'l-Aswad ad-Du'ali sings:

'Thou art the noblest of the Quraysh in merit and religion.

I see God arid the ftiture state through my love for 'Ali.

'Ali is the Aaron, 'Ali is the wasi.''(41)

Still more informative is the fact that the term wanth appears
frequently in the Qur an, especially in connection with the
family of 'Imran and Isma'il, and Muhammad uses it as a
proof in his efforts to attract the "peoples of the book".(42) It is
thus very likely that some of the partisans of 'Ali could have
used the same terminology to express their views.

Moreover, in reading the accounts of the battles of Al-Jamal
and Siffin, one encounters a great bulk of war poetry
exchanged between combatants of both sides in which wasi
and such expressions are repeated by the partisans of 'Ali.
Extensive quotations here would be cumbersome, and it will
suffice to refer the reader to Ibn Abi'l-Hadid, who collected
the verses describing 'Ali as the wasi(43) from the Kit4b al-
Jamal of Abu Mikhnaf (44) (died i57/774). Another very early
work wherein these verses are abundantly quoted is the Kitab
Waq'at Siffin by Nasr b. Muzahim (died 212/827), who also
frequently quotes Abu Mikhnaf in addition to other early

Apart from these considerations, we have already seen that
there had been a devoted party which from the very beginning
had expressed personal enthusiasm for 'Ali largely based on
religious considerations. That this group should express its
allegiance in appropriately religious terms is only to be
expected. Later generations of Shl'l poets, best represented
by Kumayt, Kuthayyir, Sayyid al-IIimyarl, and Farazdaq,
frequently used the terms wasi and the like in reference to
'Ali, especially when describing the battles of Al-Jamal and

The purpose of the preceding discussion has been to
demonstrate that there was a party who viewed 'All's accession
to the caliphate from an angle quite different from the
viewpoint of the rest of the community. Ilis rise to power was
a great victory for his party, which held a particular
conception regarding the leadership of the community, and


thus it raised questions that had not arisen under the three
previous caliphs, therefore causing him to face serious
opposition from various quarters almost right from the start.
The initial resistance came from 'A'isha, Talha and Zubayr,
who raised the call for vengeance and offered themselves as
the agents for exacting satisfaction for the murder of 'Uthman.
But the question to be raised here is whether this was really
the reason for their revolt. How could 'Ali alone be held
responsible for the killing when Talha and Zubayr themselves
had been equally active in supporting the grievances of the
people? Was 'A'isha not an equal participant in arousing
people against 'Uthman?(46) For the highly emotional and
violent atmosphere in Medina at that time, we can do no
more and no less than hold all the dissident groups and critics
of the Caliph about equally responsible. In one of his speeches,
'Ali questions these pretenders, saying:

"By God, they have shown their dislike against me for anything
unpleasant and have not appointed an arbitrator between me and
themselves; yet they are demanding a right which they had
themselves given up and revenge for a blood for which they
themselves are responsible. Even if I had a share in it with them,
they would still have a share of it; but if they were held responsible
for it without me, the blame lies only with them: thus their
strongest argument goes only against them. They are still
suckling a mother who has already weaned them, and they are
reviving an innovation which had been made to die." (47)

In the final analysis, it would appear that the vengeance for
'Uthman was made an easy pretext both by the triumvirate
and later by Mu'awiya for efforts to check the obvious danger
of the rule of the ascetic group in Islam, supported by the
lower classes of society and by some of the Ansar of Medina,
of whom 'Ali happened to be the representative. The
emergence of these groups was a real threat to the old Meccan
aristocracy, which had been suppressed by Muhammad's
victory and his concept of society and had been kept under
strict control by Abti Bakr and 'Umar. When 'Uthman, a
member of the wealthiest clan of Umayya, came to power, the
old aristocratic ideals of his clan and other ruling families of
Mecca found an opportunity to re-establish their power and
aristocracy. Ironically enough, the impetus given to the ideas
of unity and organization by Islam were brought to the


service of this group to revitalize itself and re-emerge in
power. The revolt of the triumvirate represents Talha and
Zubayr's last struggle to protect their interests. 'A'isha served
as a symbol behind which they could unify their forces, and
it certainly was not difficult to involve her in an attack on 'Ali.
Her dislike for him is said to have been based on several
factors, one of which was 'Ali's advice to Muhammad that he
inquire with 'A 'isha's slave girl concerning an incident
wherein 'A'isha's late return after having been left behind on
a journey caused people to start talking maliciously about
her.(48) 'A'isha's quarrels with Fatima and 'Ali's questioning of
the election of Abti Bakr, 'A'isha's father, also contributed to
the hostility.(49) It is therefore clear that in the battle of Al-
Jamal the triumvirate was fighting for personal reasons rather
than for the blood of 'Uthman, which was only a convenient
pretext. Though they failed in their objectives, they made the
task of Mu'awiya, the unseating of 'Ali and the reassertion of
the ideals threatened by his succession, much easier. The fact
that the claim of Mu'awiya for the blood of 'Uthman was
only an excuse to enable him to remove 'Ali from power is
further evident from a conversation between 'Amr b. al-'As
and 'A'isha soon after the battle of Al-Jamal. 'Amr said to

"I wish you could have been killed on the day of Jamal, and
thereby you would have entered Paradise and we would have
used your death as our strongest means for reviling and defaming

The conflict at the battle of Al-Jamal brought about a
serious split in the Muslim community. All of our sources
reporting on these events use a number of particular
designations to express the position adopted henceforth by
different groups. These designations are important in that
they indicate how the religious outlook, personal loyalties,
regional interests, and politico-economic considerations be-
came involved with one another. Those who supported 'Ali
at the battle of AI-Jamal and later at Siffin were at first called
the "people of Iraq" (ahl al-'Iraq) as well as the "party of 'AIr'
(shi'at 'Ali or al-'Alawiya). Their opponents were called shi'at
'Uthman, or more commonly al-'Uthmanyya. They included
the faction of 'A'isha, Talha, and Zubayr (called the "people


of the camel," or ashab al-jamal) and the Syrians (ahi ash-
Sham), who were also known as the shi'at Mu'awiya.
According to the tendency of the epoch, their positions were
also described in more religiously oriented terms through the
use of the word din, which was used in reference to both 'Ali
and 'Uthman in expressions such as din 'Ali and din 'Uthman.
Another way of expressing this was to assert that one held the
'Alawi or 'Uthmani opinion, ra'y al-'Alawiya or ra'y al-
'Uthmaniya.(51) However, besides these general terms used to
describe opposing factions, the more precise titles of Shi'at
Ahl al-Bayt and Shi'at Al Muhammad were frequently used
from this time onwards by the religiously enthusiastic
followers of 'Ali. Occasionally the nickname at- Turab:ya was
also used. This title was derived from 'Ali's kunya Abn Turab,
Father of Dust, given to him by Muhammad.(52) More
revealing is the fact that 'Ali himself called his opponents by
names which indicated their being misled from the true
religious path. Those who fought against him at AI-Jamal he
referred to as An-Nakithun, "those who break their allegiance".
This is a derivation from the Qur'anic verse which says:
"Then anyone who violates his oath (nakatha) does so to the
harm of his soul."(53) 'Ali named his opponents at Siffin Al-
Qasitun, "those who act wrongfully", taken from the Qur'anic
verse which reads: "Those who swerve (al-qasitun) are fuel for
Hell-fire."(54) Lastly, referring to a tradition of the Prophet,
'Ali referred to the Kharijites of Nahrawan as al-Manqun,
"those who missed the truth of religion".(55) Obviously these
names became common among 'All's followers to describe
their opponents.

Throughout this period, however, the followers of 'Ali were
developing a continuously broadening base of support. Until
the battle of Al-Jamal, the Shi'at 'Ali consisted only of a small
personal following who from the very beginning regarded
him as the most worthy person for the office of the caliphate
to lead the community after the death of the Prophet. After
the battle of Al-Jamal the term Shi'at 'Ali came to include all
those who had supported 'Ali against 'A'isha, and from this
point onwards the original Shi'a group was confusingly
included with other groups and individuals who supported
'Ali for other than religious reasons. It was in this wider sense
that the term Shi'a was used in the document of arbitration


at Siffin.(56) A few decades later, when the Shi'a started to
formulate their official position, some attempts were made to
sort out the various groups of 'Ali's supporters which had
been so confusingly mixed up at that earlier stage. The ranks
of the Shi'a were divided into four categories: Al-Asfiya, the
"sincere friends"; Al-Awliya, the "devoted friends"; Al-Ashab,
the "companions"; and the Shurtat al-Khamis, the "picked
division".(57) To whom the first three terms refer is not quite
clear, though various Shi'i sources indicate the group of
earlier followers-Miqdad, Salman, 'Ammar, Hudhayfa,
Abu Hamza, Abu Sasan, and Shutayr-as belonging to the

The idea of these classes is certainly of a later date.
Nevertheless, we must make some distinction between those
followers of 'Ali who emphasized the religious factor of his
succession as the wasi and those who supported his cause
mainly on political grounds, especially after he made Kufa
his capital. In addition to a large political following, 'Ali left
behind him a zealous personal party which had sworn to him
that they would be "friends to those whom he befriended, and
enemies of those to whom he was hostile."(58) Insisting that 'Ali
was in accordance with truth and guidance" ('ala'l-haqq wa'l-
huda) and his opponents consequently in error, they main-
tamed that 'Ali, by the circumstances of his birth, was
specially qualified to bear supreme authority in the commu-
nity. The existence of this devoted band of religious supporters
largely explains how Shiism managed to survive the
multitude of decisive political defeats inflicted on the
movement over the years.


Notes to Chapter 4

(1) Aghani VI, pp.334 f.; Mas'udi, Muruj, II, pp.342 f.

(2) Tabari, I, pp. 2948 f. For other versions, see Ibn Sa'd, III, 64;
Baladhuri, V, p.25; Ya'qubi, II, pp.164 ff.; Dinawari, Akhbar,
p.139; Mas'udi, Muruj; II, pp.334 ff.; 'Iqd, IV, pp. 280ff.

(3) See Tabari, I, pp.29323; Mas'udi, Muruj, II, p.337

(4) Tabari, I, p. 2871 ; Baladhuri, V, p.49

(5) Baladhuri, V, pp.31 ff.; Tabari, I, p.2845; Mas'udi, Muruj, II,
p.335; 'Iqd, IV, p.307

(6) Baladhuri, V, pp. 40 ff.; Mas'udi, Muruj, II, p.337; Tabari, I,
pp. 2916 f.

(7) Baladhuri, V. pp.27 f.; Tabari, I, pp.2953 f.; Ash'ari, Tamhid,

(8) Baladhuri, V, pp.36 f.; Ya'qubi, II, p.170

(9) Baladhuri, V, pp. 48 f.; 'Iqd, IV, p.307. Also see Mowdudi,
Abu'lA'la, Khilafai wa Mulukiyat, pp.105 ff., 321 if, which gives
an admirable exposition of 'Uthman's weakness for his kinsmen
and of their misdeeds.

(10) Baladhuri, V, pp. 52 ff.; Tabari, I, pp. 2858 ff.; Mas'udi, Muruj,
II, pp.339 ff.; Ya'qubi, II, p.171

(11) Ya'qubi, loc. cit.

(12) For these comments see S. M. Yusuf, "The Revolt Against
'Uthman", Islamic Culture, XXVI I (1953), pp.4-5

(13) Baladhuri, V, pp. 26, 57; Tabari, I, pp.2955, 2980; 'Iqd, IV,

(14) Baladhuri, V, pp. 53ff.; Mas'adi, Muruj, II, pp.34' f.; Ya'qubi,
II, pp.172 f.; Iladid, Sharh, VIII, pp.252 ff.

(15) Nahj al-Balagha, I, p.303

(16) Cf. sources in note 14 above

(17) Baladhuri; V, pp. 26, 60-6I; Tabari, I, pp. 2948 f., pp.2955 ff.;
Mas'udi, Muruj II, p.344; Ash'ari, Tamhid, p.54

(18) Baladhuri, V, p.40

(19) Kashshi, Rijal, p.72

(20) ibid., pp. 79-87

(21) ibid., pp. 75-78

(22) Tabari, I, p.2942; Ash'ari, Tamhid, pp.55 f.

(23) Wa' az as-Salat'n (Baghdad, 1954), pp.148 ff.

(24) Bernard Lewis, Origins of Isma'ilism (Cambridge, 1940), p.25;
Marshal G. S. Hodgson, "How Did the Early Shi'a Become
Sectarian ?" JAOS, LXXV (1955), p.2. For further sources, see EI2
article "Abd Allah b. Saba".

(25) Hodgson, "Early Shi'a", p.3

(26) Baladhuri, V, p.49. The son of Abu Bakr, Muhammad was a
devoted follower of 'Ali and a bitter critic of'Uthman. Cf. Hodgson,
"Early Shi'a", p.2

(27) Baladhuri, V, pp.34, 48-49; Tabari, I, p.3112; Ya'qubi, II,
p.175; Al-Imama wa's-Siyasa, I, p.30

(28) Baladhuri, V, pp.62 ff., 69; Tabari, I, pp. 2988 f.; Mas'udi,
Muruj, II, p.232; 'Iqd, IV, p.290

(29) Baladhuri, V, pp.70 f.; Tabari, I, pp.3066 ff.; 'Iqd, IV, pp.291,

(30) 'Iqd, IV, p.318

(31) Baladhuri, V, p.70; Tabari, I, p.3068; Ya'qubi, II, p. 178;
Ash'ari, Tamhid, p.107; Dinawari, Akhbar, p.140

(32) Tabari, I, p.3080

(33) Tabari, I, p.3127

(34) Tabari, I, pp. 309 I, 3112 if.; Ya'qubi, II, p. 180; Hadid, Sharh,
I, p.232

(35) Tabari, I, p.3255

(36) 'Iqd, IV, p.334. Also see Baladhuri, IVA, p. 108, where some
companions rejected Mu'awiya's right to call for the blood of
'Uthman while there were other nearer relatives of 'Uthman to
claim it.

(37) See Chapter 3, n. 8, above

(38) Ya'qu hi, II, p.179

(39) Hodgson, "How Did the Early Shi'a Become Sectarian?",
JAOS, p.2

(40) W. Montgomery Watt, "Shi'ism Under the Umayyads",
JRAS, 196o, p. 161. Cf. 3. Ryckmans, L'institution monarchique en
Arabia atant l'Islam (Louvain, 1951), pp.229 if.

(41) Mubarrad, Kamil, III, p. 205; Mas'udi; Muruj, II, p.416;
Aghani; XII, p.326. R. Strothmann agrees that there are
able religious honours accorded to 'Ali in the poetry of
ad-Du'ali (cf.
E11 article "Shl'a"). Also see similar verses composed by Kumayt
and Kuthayyir in Mubarrad, Kamil, III, pp.204 f.

(42) e.g. Qur'an, xIx, 6

(43) Hadid, Sharh, I, pp.144-9

(44) Ibn Nadim, Fihrist, p.93

(45) e.g. pp. 18,23 f., 43,49, 365, 382, 385. See also Askafi,
Naqdal- 'Uthmaniya, p.84

(46) Baladhuri, V, p. 34. Even the verses of Ibn Umm Kilb
attribute to 'A 'isha the responsibility for the murder of
'Uthman. Cf. Tabari, I, p 3112

(47) Mufid, Irshad, p.146; Nahj al-Balagha, I, p.63

(48) This incident is known as the Hadith al-Ifk, and Bukhari

records a detailed account of it (See Sahih, III, pp. 25 ff). Cf.
other hadith works under the heading "Hadith al-Ifk".

(49) 'Umar Abu Nasr, 'Ali wa 'A'isha (Baghdad, n.d.), pp.25 ff

(50) Mubarrad, Kamil, I, p.267

(51) These expressions are frequently used in the Arabic sources:
e.g. Tabari I, pp.3196, 3199; Ya'qubI, II, pp.183, 183 199; Aghanz;
XII, p.334; XIV, p.219

(52) Tabari, I, p.1272

(53) XLVIII, 10. See Iladid, Sharh, I, p.201

(54) LXXII, 15. See Iladid, loc. cit.

(55) Hadid, loc. cit.; Ya'qubi, II, p.193

(56) Minqari; Waq'at Siffin, p.504; Tabari, I, pp.3336 f.

(57) Fihrist, p.175; Tabari, II, p. 1; Kashshi, Rijal, pp.4 f.

(58) Tabari, I,pp.3350 f. Cf. W. Montgomery Watt, "Shi'ism
Under the Umayyads", JRAS (1960), pp. I60-161

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