Battle of Nahrawan

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Battle of Nahrawan
Part of the First Fitna
Date 659 AD
Location Nahrawan, Iraq
Result Rashidun army victory
Black flag.svg Rashidun Caliphate Khawarij
Commanders and leaders
Black flag.svg Ali ibn Abu Talib
Black flag.svg Hassan ibn Ali
Black flag.svg Al-Ashath ibn Qays al-Kindi[1]
Abdullah ibn Wahb al-Rasibi
Abdullah ibn Ibad
Harqus bin Zuhair
Abdullah bin Shajara

The Battle of Nahrawan was a battle between Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Imam and the fourth Islamic Caliph) and the Kharijites, near Nahrawan, twelve miles from Baghdad.


After the unsatisfactory conclusion to the Battle of Siffin, Ali ibn Abi Talib returned with his army back to Kufa on the 13th of Safar 37 A.H. (~30 July 657 C.E.). During the march, a group of 12,000 men kept themselves at a distance from the main part of the army. People who now joined the Kharijite were instrumental in getting the Muslims to fight in the Battle of the Camel.[citation needed] They had started the battle while Ali was still negotiating. Many of them had also been involved in the murder of Uthman.[citation needed] They had started many battles fearing that if there was peace, they will be arrested for the killing of Uthman.[2]

This group, the Kharijites, were furious at the way things had ended at Siffin. They had put down their weapons on the battlefield, demanding that Ali accept the arbitration proposed by Muawiyah. They now, however, held that Ali had betrayed Islam by agreeing to the truce and should have referred judgment to the Quran alone or continued to fight. They demanded that he repent for this great sin. They were against any peace deal.

When the army neared Kufa, the Kharijites camped at a village named Harura. They began saying that all Muslims were equal and no one could rule over another, denouncing both Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muawiyah while proclaiming that their belief was in "La Hukma Illa Lillah", meaning, "No Rulership except by Allah alone."

Ali sent Sa'sa'a ibn Sauhan and Ziyad ibn Nazr al-Harisi, in the company of `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas, to treat with them; afterwards he himself went to the Kharijite encampment and tried to explain to them that they were misunderstanding the words "La Hukma Illa Lillah", and that in accepting the Arbitration (peace talks) at Siffin, he had not gone against the teachings of the Quran.

He pointed out that they themselves laid down their arms and forced him to call back Malik al-Ashtar, who was at the point of securing victory. He reminded them that they had pressed for the Arbitration and had forced him to appoint Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as his (and thus their) representative, having rejected Ali's nominees, ibn Abbas and Malik al-Ashtar. He told them that he found their present behavior very strange, considering their involvement in the army revolt at Siffin. To this they admitted that they had sinned but now they had repented for it and he should do the same.

Ali replied that he was a true believer and did not have to repent because he had not committed any sin; more discussion proved fruitless, and he dispersed the Kharijite representatives.

The Kharijites refused to accept the words of Ali and awaited the decision of Amr ibn al-Aas and Abu Musa al-Ash'ari. When they learnt of the decision they decided to revolt, setting up their headquarters at Nahrawan, twelve miles from Baghdad. A group of sympathizers from Basra came to join the rebels.

On the other side, after hearing the verdict of Arbitration Ali wrote to the Kharijites that the verdict passed by the two arbitrators in pursuance of their heart's wishes instead of the Quran and Sunnah was not acceptable to him, that he had therefore decided to fight Muawiyah, and they should now support him in crushing the Syrian. But the Kharijites replied, "When you had agreed to Arbitration in our view you had turned heretic. Now if you admit your heresy and offer repentance we will think over this matter and decide what we should do." Ali understood from their reply that their disobedience and misguidance had become very serious, and to entertain any kind of hope from them now was futile. Consequently ignoring them, he encamped in the valley of al-Nukhaylah with a view to marching towards Syria to fight against Muawiyah.


Ali had already set out for Syria when he received the news that the Kharijites had butchered the governor of Nahrawan, Abdullah ibn Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, and his maid, reportedly tearing a child from her womb, and had killed three women of Banu Tayyi and Umm Sinan as-Saydawiyyah. Ali ibn Abi Talib sent al-Harith ibn Murrah al-Abdi to investigate but he too was killed by the Kharijites.[3] With their rebellion at this stage it was obvious that Ali would have to deal with them; there was a danger that the Kharijites might attack Kufa while he and his men were marching to Syria, and so he decided to prevent this possibility. Ali changed his course eastward, crossed the river Tigris, and approached Nahrawan.

On reaching their stronghold Ali sent a messenger to the Kharijites demanding that those people who had murdered innocent muslims around their camp should surrender. The Kharijites replied that they were all equally responsible for killing these sinners.

There was some reluctance amongst Ali's army to fight the Kharijites. Ali himself did not desire the bloodshed of these misguided fanatics, so he sent Abu Ayyub al-Ansari with an offer of amnesty. Abu Ayyub al-Ansari declared "Whoever comes under this banner or separates from that party and goes to Kufa or al-Mada'in would get amnesty and he would not be questioned." Subsequently Farwah ibn Nawfal al-Ashja'i said that he did not know why they were at war with the Caliph, and he separated along with five hundred men. Similarly group after group began to defect---some of them joining Ali; eventually, only a core force of 1,800 die-hards were left under the command of Abdullah ibn Wahab. They had killed Uthman and Zubayr ibn al-Awam and had started many battles.[2]

These Kharijites swore that they would fight Ali ibn Abi Talib at any cost.

Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 36/Warning the people of Nahrawan of their fate:

"I am warning you that you will be killed on the bend of this canal and on the level of this low area while you will have no clear excuse before Allah nor any open authority with you. You have come out of your houses and then divine decree entangled you. I had advised you against this arbitration but you rejected my advice like adversaries and opponents till I turned my ideas in the direction of your wishes. You are a group whose heads are devoid of wit and intelligence. May you have no father! (Allah's woe be to you!) I have not put you in any calamity nor wished you harm."

The Kharijites attacked Ali's army with courage, but all except nine men were slain. These nine managed to flee to Basra and elsewhere, where they spread their beliefs and recruited more followers. Ali's army suffered only eight casualties. The battle took place on the 9th Safar, 38 A.H.


Two years later, in 40 A.H Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite called Abdul Rahman ibn Muljam, who attacked him with a poisoned sword in the mosque of Kufa, on the 19th of the month of Ramadan, finally succumbing to poison on the 21st of the month of Ramadan.

Having disposed of the Kharijites at Nahrawan, According to some Shia sources Ali resumed his march to Syria. However, the chiefs of his followers urged him to stop at Kufa to let the men rest before the long journey and to enable the army to repair their weapons and armor. Ali agreed to this request and camped at al-Nukhaylah outside Kufa. The soldiers were allowed to leave the camp for a day.

On the next day, hardly any men returned and at length, Ali entered Kufa and gave a stern sermon to the people. However, nobody came forward and no one wanted to fight and finally, Ali turned away from them in disappointment. The Syrian expedition was abandoned, never to be resumed.

Others argue that the Kharijites had been making every one fight and after they separated, Ali himself also did not want to fight the Syrians.

According to both the Sunnis and the Shias Ali said: With regard to me, two categories of people will be ruined, namely he who loves me too much and the love takes him away from rightfulness, and he who hates me too much and the hatred takes him away from rightfulness. The best man with regard to me is he who is on the middle course. So be with him and be with the great majority of Muslims because Allah’s hand of protection is on keeping unity. You should beware of division because the one isolated from the group is a prey to Satan just as the one isolated from the flock of sheep is a prey to the wolf. Beware! Whoever calls to this course of sectarianism, even though he may be under this headband of mine.[4]

A few years later they re-emerged in Iraq and north of the Arabian Peninsula. They were defeated by the Umayyads. Some of the Kharijite ideas lived on.

In Syria Muawiyah I had a more professional army and was not reliant of volunteers and therefore no sects developed.

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Coordinates: 34°31′17″N 43°47′03″E / 34.521389°N 43.784167°E / 34.521389; 43.784167