Battle of the Camel
|Battle of the Camel|
|Part of the First Fitna|
Ali and Aisha at the Battle of the Camel
|Islamic Imam and Rashidun Caliphate||Rebel Arabs and Umayyad Caliphate|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Ali ibn Abi Talib
Hasan ibn Ali
Ammar ibn Yasir
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr
Muslim ibn Aqeel
Harith ibn Rab'i
Jabir ibn Abd-Allah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari
Abu Qatada bin Rabyee
Qays ibn Sa'd
Qathm bin Abbas
Abd Allah ibn Abbas
Khuzaima ibn Thabit
Muhammad ibn Talha †
Zubayr ibn al-Awam †
Kaab ibn Sur †
Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr
Marwan I (POW)
Waleed ibn Uqba (POW)
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of the Camel, sometimes called the Battle of Jamal or the Battle of Bassorah, took place at Basra, Iraq on 7 November 656. A'isha heard about the killing of Uthman (644-656), the third Caliph. At the time she was on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and it was on this journey that she became so angered by his unavenged death, and the naming of Ali as the fourth caliph, that she took up arms against those supporting Ali. She gained support of the big city of Basra, and for the first time, Muslims took up arms against each other. This battle is now known as the First Fitna, or Muslim civil war.
Before the conflict
Talhah and Zubeir asked Ali the permission for pilgrimage. He let them and they departed. The Medina people wanted to know Ali’s point of view about war against Muslims by asking his view about Muawiyah I and his refusal to give Ali his allegiance. So they sent Ziyad Bin Hanzalah of Tamim who was an intimate friend to Ali. He went to him and sat for a while.
He went back and told the people in Medina that Ali wanted to confront Muawiyah. In Medina, Marwan also manipulated people. In Iraq many people hated the Syrians following the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars. Some of Ali's supporters were also very extreme in their views and considered everyone to be their enemy. They also felt that if there was peace, they would be arrested for the killing of Uthman. Many of them later became the Kharijites and eventually killed Ali.
Aisha (Aisha bint Abu Bakr) (Muhammad's widow), Talhah (Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah) and Zubayr ibn al-Awam (Abu ‘Abd Allah Zubayr ibn al-Awwam) set off from Makah on their way to Iraq to ask Ali to arrest Uthman ibn Affan killers, not to fight Muawiyah.
Preparation for battle
They evidently believed that Ali was wrong to occupy himself in other tasks before finding Uthman's murderer. They challenged Ali's caliphate under the claim that Ali had been unsuccessful in finding Uthman's murderer, claiming Qisas for Uthman. While passing Medina, on their way to Iraq, Aisha, Talha and Zubair passed a group of Umayyads leaving Medina led by Marwan who said that the people who had killed Uthman, had also been causing them trouble. Everyone then went to Basra, which was the beginning of the first civil war in Islam. Some historians put the number at around 3000 people.
On learning of the advance of Aisha, Talha and Zubair, Ali set out to meet them. He had with him only 700 men. Too weak to proceed, he camped at a desert well in Nejd. He sent his elder son Hasan, in company with former Kufa governor Ammar ibn Yasir, to request assistance from Kufa; their appeal eventually had the desired effect. Several thousand men from Kufa reinforcing his army, Ali was now ready for battle, and descended upon Basra.
Zubair and Talha, then went out to meet Ali. Not all Basra was with them. Beni Bekr, the tribe once led by the second Caliph, joined the army of Ali. Beni Temeem decided to remain neutral.
Writer Leila Ahmed claims that it was during this engagement that Muslims fought Muslims for the first time. The battle was a reflection of pre-Islamic practices of bloodshed for vigilante causes.
Some chieftains of the Kufa tribes contacted their tribes living in Basra. A Chieftain contacted Ali to settle the matter. Ali did not want to fight and Ali agreed to negotiate. He then contacted Aisha and spoke to her, "Is it not wise to shed the blood of five thousand for the punishment of five hundred" She agreed to settle the matter. Ali then met Talha and Zubair and told them about the prophecy of Muhammad. Ali's cousin Zubair said to Ali "What a tragedy that the Muslims who had acquired the strength of a rock are going to be smashed by colliding with one another". Both Talha and Zubair did not want to fight and left the field. Everyone was happy, but not the people who had killed Uthman and the supporters of the Qurra, who later became the Khawarij. They thought that if a settlement was reached, they would not be safe. The Qurra launches a night attack and started burning the tents. Ali tried to restrain his men but no one was listening. Everyone thought that the other party had committed breach of trust. Confusion prevailed throughout the night. The Qurra attacked the Umayyads and the fighting started.
Talhah had also left. On seeing this, Marwan who was also manipulating everyone shot Talhah with a poisoned arrow  saying that he had disgraced his tribe, by leaving the field. According to some Shia accounts Marwan ibn al-Hakam shot  Talha, who became disabled in the leg by the shot, and was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound. According to Shia sources Marwan said,
By God, now I will not have to search for the man who murdered Uthman.
While in the Sunni sources it says that he said that Talha had disgraced his tribe, by leaving the field.
Qadi Kaab ibn Sur of Basra held the Quran on his head and then advised Aysha to mount her camel to tell people to stop fighting, until he was killed by arrows shot by the forces of Ali. As the battle raged Ali's forces targeted their arrows to pierce the howdah of Aisha. The rebels lead by Aisha then gathered around her and about a dozen of her warriors were beheaded while holding the reins of her camel. However the warriors of Ali faced much casualties during their attempts to reach Aisha as dying corpses lay pilled in heaps. The battle only came to an end when Ali's troops as commanded attacked the camel from the rear and cut off the legs of the beast. Aisha fled from the arrow-pierced howdah and was captured by the forces of Ali.
Ali's cousin Zubair, was by then making his way to Medina and he was killed in an adjoining valley.
Aisha's brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, who was Ali's commander, then approached Aisha.
Ali then met Aisha, who was at that time aged 45, there was reconciliation between them and Ali pardoned Aisha. He then sent Aisha to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali's commanders. She subsequently retired to Medina with no more interference with the affairs of state. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was the son of Abu Bakr, the adopted son of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the great-grandfather of Ja‘far al-Sadiq. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was raised by Ali alongside Hasan and Husein. Hassan also accompanied Aisha part of the way back to Medina. Aisha then started teaching in Medina and deeply resented Marwan.
Tom Holland writes in the best selling book "The shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World "Marwan was fabulously venal and slippery. Nothing he had done had helped to improve his reputation for double dealing.
According to historian William Muir, 10,000 people lost their life in this battle, with each party bearing equal loss. In the three days after the battle, Ali performed a funeral service for all the dead from both parties.
Ali's forces overcame the rebels, and the defeated army was treated with generosity. Ali met Aisha, who was at that time aged 45, there was reconciliation between them. He sent her back to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali's commanders. She subsequently retired to Medina with no more interference with the affairs of state.
When the head of Zubayr ibn al-Awwam was presented to Ali by Ahnaf ibn Qais, the Caliph Ali couldn't help but to sob and condemn the murder of his cousin. This reaction caused Ahnaf ibn Qais resentment, and, drawing his sword, stabbed it into his own breast.
Two decades later, after years of planning and scheming and making every one else fight, Marwan came to power in Syria and the Qurra (the Kharijites) established a state in Southern Iraq.
Image and legacy of A'isha
The name of the battle refers to the camel ridden by Āʿisha and that once the camel had fallen, the battle was over. Some Muslim scholars believe the name was recorded as such in history to avoid linking the name of a woman with the name of a battle.
Although Āʿishah's role in the Battle of the Camel is very controversial, it is clear that some see her as a role model for Muslim women in politics and other roles of leadership. Fatima Mernissi is an example of a Muslim feminist and scholar who sees Āʿishah as a model for her and other women. She proves this through her works by questioning the authority of the Hadith that say women should not lead. Specifically, she states as the mission of her text that "This book is a vessel journeying back in time in order to find a fabulous wind that will swell our sails and send us gliding toward new worlds, toward a time both far away and near at beginning of the Hejira, when Muhammad could be a lover and a leader hostile to all hierarchies, when women had their place as unquestioned partners in a revolution that made the mosque an open place and the household temple of debate". By stating this as her mission she highlights that she would like people to remember the time of clear gender equality and leadership, as demonstrated by Āʿishah. A'isha's symbolic significance for believers is justified through her close proximity to the Muhammad. "Identified as part of the new Islamic female elite, the mothers of the believers, Āʿisha's political importance was not achieved, but ascribed."
Sunni and Shi'i Split
Āʿisha's depiction in regards to the first civil war in the Muslim Community reflected the molding of Islamic definition of gender and politics. Sunni Muslims recognized the tension between Āʿisha's exemplary status as the acknowledged favorite wife of Muhammad and her political actions as a widow. The Sunni task was to assess her problematic political participation without complete disapproval. Shi'i Muslims faced no such dilemma in their representation of the past. Āʿisha had opposed and fought ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Shi'i male political and spiritual ideal in the Battle of the Camel. Her involvement in the First Fitna provoked Shi'i scorn and censure, while Sunni authors had the more difficult task of defending her.
Soldiers of Caliph Ali's Army
- Malik al-Ashtar
- Hasan ibn Ali
- Hussain ibn Ali
- Ammar ibn Yasir
- Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
- Muslim ibn Aqeel
- Harith ibn Rab'i
- Jabir ibn Abd-Allah
- Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
- Abu Ayub Ansari
- Abu Qatada bin Rabyee
- Qays ibn Sa'd
- Qathm bin Abbas
Soldiers of Aisha's Army
- Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah
- Muhammad ibn Talha
- Zubayr ibn al-Awwam
- Marwan ibn al-Hakam
- Abd al-Rahman I
- Abdullah ibn al-Walid (KIA)
- Abdullah ibn Hakim (KIA)
- Abdullah ibn Saffron
- Yahya ibn Hakim ibn Safwan
- Amir ibn Mascud ibn Umayya ibn Khalaf
- Ayyiib b. Habib b. Alqama b. Rabia
- Abdullah ibn Abi Uthman ibn al-Akhnas ibn Sharlq (KIA)
- Abdullah bin Aamir Hadhrami of Makkah
- Ya'la bin Umayya
- Abdullah bin Aamir bin Kurayz of Basra
- Saeed bin Aas
- Mughira bin Shaaba
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of the Camel.|
- Ali ibn Abi Talib (1984). Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence), compiled by ash-Sharif ar-Radi. Alhoda UK. SBN 0940368439.
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