Battle of Nahrawan

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Battle of Nahrawan
Part of the First Fitna
Date 659 AD
Location Nahrawan, Iraq

Rashidun Caliphate victory

Black flag.svg Islamic Imam or Rashidun Caliphate Khawarij (Kharijites)
Commanders and leaders
Black flag.svgAli ibn Abu Talib
Black flag.svgHassan 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
80000 2800
Casualties and losses
8 killed 2791 killed, 9 escaped.

The Battle of Nahrawan (Arabic: معركة النهروان‎, translit. Ma'rakat an-Nahrawān‎) was a battle between Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Shi'ah Imam and the fourth Sunni Caliph) and the Kharijites commanded by ‘Abdullah ibn Wahb al-Rasibi, near Nahrawan, twelve miles from Baghdad.[2]


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. They had started the battle while Ali was still negotiating. Many of them had also been involved in the murder of Uthman. They had started many battles fearing that if there was peace, they will be arrested for the killing of Uthman.[3]

This group, the Kharijites, were furious at the way things had ended at Siffin since they claimed that Ali had lost legitimacy by submitting himself to arbitration (which he later didn't even respect).

When the army neared Kufah, 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 Mu'awiyah 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 al-Nadr al-Harithi, 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, after 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-'As 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 Mu'awiyah, 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 Mu'awiyah.


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.[4] 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 2,800 die-hards were left out of initial force of 4000 [see Tabari, volume 3] under the command of Abdullah ibn Wahb. They had killed Uthman and Zubayr ibn al-Awam and had started many battles.[3]

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

A narration reports:

Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib 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." [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

A narration reports:

When Amir Al-Momineen (Imam Ali) showed his intention to fight the Kharijites he was told that they had crossed the bridge of Nahrawan and gone over to the other side. Amir Al-Momineen said:

"Their falling place is on this side of the river. By Allah, not even ten of them will survive while from your side not even ten will be killed."' [13][14][15][16]

This saying from Imam Ali proved to be true. The Kharijites attacked Ali's army, all except nine men were slain. Ali's army suffered only eight casualties. The battle took place on the 9th of Safar, 38 A.H.


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 Kufah. The soldiers were allowed to leave the camp for a day.[citation needed]

On the next day, hardly any men returned and at length, Ali entered Kufah 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

A few years later they re-emerged in Iraq and north of the Arabian Peninsula. They were defeated by the Umayyads.[citation needed]

Two years later, in 40 A.H Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite called Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam, who attacked him with a poisoned sword in the mosque of Kufah, on the 19th of the month of Ramadan, finally succumbing to poison on the 21st of the month of Ramadan.[citation needed]

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

A narration reports:

When Amir Al-Momineen was told that the Kharijites had been totally killed, he said:

By Allah! No, not yet. They still exist in the loins of men and wombs of women. Whenever a chief would appear from among them, he would be cut down till the last of them would turn thieves and robbers. [14][15][16][17]

This prophecy of Ali also proved true word by word. Every chief of the Khawarij (Kharijites) who rose was put to sword. A few of their chiefs who were badly put to death are mentioned here:

1) Nafi` ibn Azraq al-Hanafi: the largest group of the Kharijites namely al-Azariqah is named after him. He was killed by Salamah al-Bahili during encounter with the army of Muslim ibn `Ubays.
2) Najdah ibn `Amir: the an-Najadat al-`Adhiriyyah sect of Kharijites is named after him. Abu Fudayk al-Khariji got him killed.
3) `Abdullah ibn Ibad at-Tamimi: the sect Ibadite (Ibadiyyah) is named after him. He was killed during encounter with `Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn `Atiyyah.
4) Abu Bayhas Haysam ibn Jabir ad-Duba`i: the sect of al-Bayhasiyyah is named after him. `Uthman ibn Hayyan al-Murri the governor of Medina got his hands and feet severed and then killed him.
5) `Urwah ibn Udayyah at-Tamimi: Ziyad ibn Abih killed him during the reign of Mu`awiyah.
6) Qatari ibn al-Fuja'h al-Mazini at-Tamimi: when he encountered the army of Sufyan ibn al-Abrad al-Kalbi in Tabarastan then Sawrah ibn al-Hurr ad-Darimi killed him.
7) Abu Bilal Mirdas ibn Udayyah at-Tamimi: was killed in encounter with `Abbas ibn Akhdar al-Mazini.
8) Shawdhab al-Khariji al-Yashkuri: was killed during encounter with Sa`id ibn `Amr al-Harashi.
9) Hawtharah ibn Wada` al-Asadi: was killed at the hands of a man of Banu Tayyi'
10) al-Mustawrid ibn `Ullafah at-Taymi: was killed by Ma`qil ibn Qays ar-Riyahi in the reign of Mu`awiyah.
11) Shabib ibn Yazid ash-Shaybani: died by being drowned in river.
12) `Imran ibn al-Harith ar-Rasibi: was killed in the battle of Dulab.
13-14) Zahhaf at-Ta'i and Qurayb ibn Murrah al-Azdi: were killed in encounter with Banu Tahiyah.
15) az-Zubayr ibn `Ali as-Saliti at-Tamimi: was killed in encounter with `Attab ibn Warqa' ar-Riyahi.
16) `Ali ibn Bashir ibn al-Mahuz al-Yarbu`i: al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ath-Thaqafi got him killed.
17) `Ubaydullah ibn Bashir: was killed in encounter with al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufrah in the battle of Dulab.
18) Abu'l-Wazi` ar-Rasibi: a man in the graveyard of Banu Yashkur felled a wall on him and killed him.
19) `Abdu Rabbih as-Saghir: was killed in encounter with al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufrah.
20) Al-Walid ibn Tarif ash-Shaybani: was killed in encounter with Yazid ibn Mazyad ash-Shaybani.
21-24) `Abdullah ibn Yahya al-Kindi, al-Mukhtar ibn `Awf al-Azdi (Abu Hamzah ash-Shari), Abrahah ibn as- Sabbah and Balj ibn `Uqbah al-Asadi: were killed by `Abd al-Malik ibn `Atiyyah as-Sa`di in the reign of Marwan ibn Muhammad (the last of the Umayyad caliphs).[14][15][16][17]

The nine Kharijites that survived the battle against Imam Ali managed to flee to Basrah, Sistan, Khurasan, Oman, Yemen, Tell Mozan, and elsewhere, where they had their offspring, spread their beliefs and recruited more followers. Today Ibadis of Oman (and parts of Africa) are known as their descendants and followers.

A narration reports:

What escaped (i.e. the Khawarij from the Battle of Nahrawan) was but nine persons; two men fled to Khurasan and to the land of Sistan, and by their offspring two to the country of Oman, and by their offspring two to Yemen, and by their offspring there are Ibadis, and by their offspring two to the gulf nation. They have become subject of a known age to come to Al-Bawasij and the beach of the Euphrate, and the last to Tell Mozan (border area of Syria and Turkey).

Ref: Kashf Al-Maghmah, Vol. 1 Pg. 267 Ch. 51, About the Actions of the Khawarij, H. 267


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ludwig W. Adamec (2009), Historical Dictionary of Islam, p.235. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810861615.
  3. ^ a b Ayesha By Allamah Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, Pg. 44
  4. ^ Dakake, Maria Massi (2007). The Charismatic Community: Shi'ite Identity in Early Islam. USA: State Univ of New York Pr. ISBN 978-0-7914-7033-6. 
  5. ^ Nahj Al-Balaghah, Sermon 36
  6. ^ Al-Zubayr ibn Bakkar, al-Muwaffaqiyyat, 350
  7. ^ al-Tabari, Ta'rikh, VI, 47
  8. ^ Ibn Qutaybah, al-'Imamah, I, 147
  9. ^ Sibt, Tadhkirah, 100
  10. ^ Ibn al-'Athir, al-Nihayah, I, 97
  11. ^ al-Mas`udi, Muruj, II, 402
  12. ^ al-Baladhuri, Ansab, II, 371
  13. ^ Sermon 59
  14. ^ a b c Al-Bayhaqi, al-Mahasin, 385
  15. ^ a b c al-Mas`udi, Muruj, II, 416
  16. ^ a b c al-Mubarrad, al-Kamil, II, 120
  17. ^ a b Nahj Al-Balaghah, Sermon 60

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