Battle of the Camel

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For other battles in the area, see Battle of Basra.
Battle of the Camel
Part of the First Fitna
Ali and Aisha at the Battle of the Camel.jpg
Ali and Aisha at the Battle of the Camel
Date 7 November 656
Location Basra, Iraq
Result Rashidun victory
Black flag.svg Rashidun Caliphate Rebel Arabs
Commanders and leaders
Black flag.svg Ali
Black flag.svg Malik al-Ashtar
Black flag.svg Hasan ibn Ali
Black flag.svg Ammar ibn Yasir
Black flag.svg Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Black flag.svg Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr
Black flag.svgMuslim ibn Aqeel
Black flag.svg Harith ibn Rab'i
Black flag.svg Jabir ibn Abd-Allah
Black flag.svg Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Black flag.svg Abu Ayyub al-Ansari
Black flag.svg Abu Qatada bin Rabyee
Black flag.svg Qays ibn Sa'd
Black flag.svg Qathm bin Abbas
Black flag.svg Abd Allah ibn Abbas
Black flag.svg 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)
~20,000[1] ~30,000[1]
Casualties and losses
~5,000[2][3] ~13,000[2][3]

The Battle of the Camel took place at Basra, Iraq on 7 November 656. The beginning of the Battle of the Camel started as Kharjites spread false[citation needed] rumors to all the companions of Muhammed including his wife A'isha. 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.[4]

Key Terms[edit]

  • Āʿishah = Āʿishah was the daughter of Abu Bakr, who was a companion of Muhammad. When she became one of Muhammad's wives, and is said to be one of his favorites. Later after her husband's death, she took up arms against Ali, the fourth caliphate, to challenge his naming as the fourth caliphate, as well as the unavenged death of the previous caliphate Uthman. Today, Āʿishah is seen as one of the first Muslim female leaders.[5]
  • Ali = Ali Ibn Abi Talib was the first Shia Imam who battled against Āʿishah in the Battle of the Camel. Furthermore he was the cousin and son in law of Muhammad himself. More specifically Sunni see Ali as the fourth caliphate, while the Shīʿīs see him as the first imam. Ali was significant in the Battle of the Camel because he was Āʿishah's opponent, and it was the naming of him as the fourth caliphate that angered her and caused her to take up arms.[6]
  • Fitna = Fitna means civil war. The Battle of the Camel was the first civil war where Muslims took up arms against other Muslims. This is significant because Muhammad warned the people and said that a fitna would be a destroyer to Islam.[4]
  • Sunni and Shīʿī Islam = Sunni Islam is a sect of Islam based on the sunnah which are the practices of Muhammad outlined in the Hadith. Sunni Islam is also the sect that is practiced by the majority of Muslims today. Shīʿī Islam is another sect of Islam who gather their religious inspiration from Muhammad and the Twelve Imams. Today this sect has less followers than Sunni Islam. Sunni Islam differs from Shīʿī Islam with their belief that Muhammad did not appoint Ali to be his successor, and that the caliphate does not need to be connected by bloodline to Muhammad. Sunni and Shīʿī Islam are important to the conversation about the Battle of the Camel because it was the naming of Ali as the next caliphate that not only instigated the battle itself, but also a divide in Islam that today is the Sunni and Shīʿī split.[7][8]
  • Talhah = His full name is Talhah ibn Ubayd Allah al-Taymi. He was a dear friend and earlier follower of Muhammad, even becoming one of the early converts to Islam and one of Muhammad's ten trusted companions. Talhah is important to the Battle of the Camel because he fought alongside Āʿishah, at the time a widow to Muhammad, against Ali and his army.[9]

A'isha: In The Battle of the Camel[edit]

The title of this battle is referring to the camel ridden by 'A'isha and once the camel had fallen, the Battle was over. Some Muslim scholars believe "The Battle of the Camel" was recorded in history to avoid linking in the memory of little Muslim girls the name of a woman with the name of a battle.[10]

The presence of Aisha during this Battle and her participation in politics, brought with it a nearly permanent shift in the view of women in Muslim society.

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, 'A'isha's political importance was not achieved, but ascribed."[11]

Before the conflict[edit]

The Rashidun Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib forgave his opponents after the Battle of the Camel.

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 Ben 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 Madina that Ali wanted to confront Muawiyah. In Madina, 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.[12] 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.[13][14]

Preparation for battle[edit]

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 Madina, on their way to Iraq, Aisha, Talha and Zubair passed a group of Umayyads leaving Madina led by Marwan who said that the people who had killed Uthman, had also been causing them trouble.[12] 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.[15]

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.[16] He sent his elder son Hasan, in company with former Kufa governor Ammar ibn Yasir, to request assistance from Kufa; their appeal[17] 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.[18]


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 vigilantly causes.[19]

Some chieftains of the Kufa tribes contacted their tribes living in Basra.[12] A Chieftain contacted Ali to settle the matter.[12] Ali did not want to fight and Ali agreed to negotiate.[12] He then contacted Aisha and spoke to her,[12] "Is it not wise to shed the blood of five thousand for the punishment of five hundred"[12] She agreed to settle the matter.[12] 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".[12] 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.[12] They thought that if a settlement was reached, they would not be safe.[12] The Qurra launches a night attack and started burning the tents.[12] 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.[12] 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 [12] saying that he had disgraced his tribe, by leaving the field.[12] According to some Shia accounts Marwan ibn al-Hakam shot [20] Talha, who became disabled in the leg by the shot, and was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound.[21][22][23] According to Shia sources Marwan said,

By God, now I will not have to search for the man who murdered Uthman.[24]

While in the Sunni sources it says that he said that Talha had disgraced his tribe, by leaving the field.[12]

With the two generals Zubair and Talhah gone, confusion prevailing and the Qurra and the Umayyads fought.[12][25]

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.[12] 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.[26]

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.[12][27] 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 Madina. Aisha then started teaching in Medina and deeply resented Marwan.[28][29]

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.[29][30]


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.[27]


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.[27]

Talha, who became disabled in the leg by the shot and fled the battlefield was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound.[21]

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 resenting, drawing his sword, and stabbing it into his own breast.[31]

Marwan I and the Qurra (who later became the Khawarij) manipulated every one and created conflict. Marwan was arrested but he later asked Hassan and Hussein for assistance and was released.[13]

Ali was later killed by a Kharijite Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam while he was praying in the mosque of Kufa.[32]

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.[33]

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 an 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.[34]

Sunni and Shi'i Split[edit]

A’isha’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 A’isha’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. ‘A’isha 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.[35]


Soldiers of Caliph Ali's Army[edit]

Soldiers of Aisha's Army[edit]

Others involved[edit]


See also[edit]

Preceded by
Muslim conquest of the Levant
Muslim battles
Year: 656 CE
Succeeded by
Battle of Siffin


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  6. ^ Sachedina, Abdulaziz. [<> "Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib"]. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Retrieved 4/30/14. 
  7. ^ Marmura, Michael. [<> "Sunnī Islam"]. InThe Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Retrieved 5/2/14. 
  8. ^ Jafri, Syed Husain. [<> "Shīʿī Islam"]. 
  9. ^ [<> "Talhah ibn Ubayd Allah al-Taymi"]. In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Retrieved 5/2/14. 
  10. ^ Mernissi, Fatima (1987). The Veil and the Male Elite. New York: Basic Books. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-201-63221-7. 
  11. ^ Spellberg, D.A. (1994). Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-231-07999-0. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Nadvi, Sulaimān. Hadhrat Ayesha Siddiqa: Her Life and Works. Safat, Kuwait: Islamic Book, 1986. Print. Pg. 44
  13. ^ a b Nahj al Balagha Sermon 72
  14. ^ Medieval Islamic civilization By Josef W. Meri Page 131
  15. ^ Dr. Mohammad Ishaque in Journal of Pakistan Historical Society, Vol 3, Part 1
  16. ^ The Great Arab Conquests by Sir John Glubb, p. 318, 1967
  17. ^ Narrated Abu Maryam Abdullah bin Ziyad Al-Aasadi: "When Talha, AzZubair and 'Aisha moved to Basra, 'Ali sent 'Ammar bin Yasir and Hasan bin 'Ali who came to us at Kufa and ascended the pulpit. Al-Hasan bin 'Ali was at the top of the pulpit and 'Ammar was below Al-Hasan. We all gathered before him. I heard 'Ammar saying, 'Aisha has moved to Al-Busra. By Allah! She is the wife of your Prophet in this world and in the Hereafter. But Allah has put you to test whether you obey Him (Allah) or her ('Aisha).'" Sahih Bukhari, 088.219-223>
  18. ^ Sir John Glubb, The Great Arab Conquests, 1967, p. 320
  19. ^ Goodwin, Jan. Price of Honour: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. UK: Little, Brown Book Group, 1994
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  21. ^ a b
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  24. ^ Ibn Saad, Tabaqat, vol. III, p. 223
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  26. ^
  27. ^ a b c William Muir, The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline and Fall from Original Sources. Chapter XXXV: "Battle of the Camel". London: 1891. p. 261.
  28. ^ Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 352
  29. ^ a b The shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World By Tom Holland, ISBN 9780349122359 Abacus Page 409
  30. ^ See:
  31. ^
  32. ^ Tabatabae (1979), page 192
  33. ^ Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 9, Book 88, Number 228:[1] Narrated by Abu Al-Minhal When Ibn Ziyad and Marwan were in Sham and Ibn Az-zubair took over the authority in Mecca and Qurra' (the Kharijites) revolted in Basra, I went out with my father to Abu Barza Al-Aslami till we entered upon him in his house while he was sitting in the shade of a room built of cane. So we sat with him and my father started talking to him saying, "O Abu Barza! Don't you see in what dilemma the people has fallen?" The first thing heard him saying "I seek reward from Allah for myself because of being angry and scornful at the Quraish tribe. O you Arabs! You know very well that you were in misery and were few in number and misguided, and that Allah has brought you out of all that with Islam and with Muhammad till He brought you to this state (of prosperity and happiness) which you see now; and it is this worldly wealth and pleasures which has caused mischief to appear among you. The one who is in Sham (i.e., Marwan), by Allah, is not fighting except for the sake of worldly gain
  34. ^ Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite. Basic Books. ISBN 0-201-52321-3. 
  35. ^ Spellberg, D.A. (1994). Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past. Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-231-07999-0. 
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Razwy, Ali Asgher. A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims: 579 to 661 CE. Stanmore: World Federation of KSI Muslin Communities, 1997. Print. Ch. 62
  37. ^ a b c d Islamic period
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i Madelung, Wilferd. The Succession to Muḥammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print. ISBN 0521646960 Pg. 18

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