Battle of the Camel

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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
Date7 November 656 CE (13 Jumada Al-Awwal 36 AH)
Result Rashidun Caliphate victory

Rashidun Caliphate

Aisha's forces and Banu Umayya

Commanders and leaders
Ali ibn Abi Talib
Hasan ibn Ali
Hussein ibn Ali
Malik al-Ashtar
Ammar ibn Yasir
Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr
Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr
Muslim ibn Aqil
Abu Qatadah ibn Rab'i al-Ansari
Jabir ibn Abd-Allah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari
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)
Abdullah ibn Safwan
Yahya ibn al-Hakam (WIA)
Utba ibn Abi Sufyan
Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi
Abd al-Rahman ibn Attab ibn Asid  
~20,000[6] ~30,000[6]
Casualties and losses





The Battle of the Camel, also known as the Battle of Jamel or the Battle of Basra, took place at Basra, Iraq on 7 November 656 (13 Jumada Al-Awwal 36 AH). The battle was fought between Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, considered the fourth Rashidun Caliph and A'isha (widow of Muhammad), Talhah and Zubayr who led the campaign against Ali aiming to avenge the death of the third caliph Uthman who had recently been killed as a result of rebellion by his opponents. Marking the second chapter of the First Fitna, the fateful battle ended with victory for Ali and the defeat of Aisha. Naturally, the view of the event and the actors differs between the two major sects, Sunnis and Shias. The Sunnis hold that it was not the intention of either primary parties, Ali and A'isha and their respective followers to initially engage in battle and that the battle was an unforeseen consequence of interference from a second party. On the other hand, the Shia believe the killing of Uthman was a pretext for Aisha and her followers to wage war against Ali.

Before the conflict[edit]

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

After the murder of Uthman ibn Affan, people in Medina paid allegiance to Ali as the new Muslim caliph. But after allegiance Talhah and Zubair asked Ali for permission to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. He granted it and they departed. The Medina people wanted to know Ali's point of view about the 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 set on getting the caliphate of Ali because Uthman had died and they wanted to "get to killers of Uthman". However, they went to Basra, and not Medina where the crime happened.

Aisha (Aisha bint Abi Bakr) (Muhammad's widow), Talhah (Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah) and Zubayr ibn al-Awam (Abu ‘Abd Allah Zubayr ibn al-Awwam) set off from Mecca on their way to Iraq to ask Ali to arrest Uthman's killers, not to fight Muawiyah.[10][11]

Preparation for battle[edit]

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.[12] Everyone then went to Basra, which was the beginning of the first civil war in Islam. Some historians put the number at around 3,000 people.[13]

Zubair and Talha then went out to meet Ali. Not all Basra was with them. Bani Bakr, the tribe once led by the second Caliph, joined the army of Ali. Bani Temim decided to remain neutral.[14]

Before the battle started, Ali reminded Talha of the sermon of Muhammad at the event of Ghadir Khumm. Ali said to Talha, "I adjure you by Allah! Didn’t you hear the Messenger of Allah (S) when he said: 'Whoever I am his MAWLA, this Ali is his MAWLA. O God, love whoever loves him, and be hostile to whoever is hostile to him'?" Talha responded "Yes" to Ali, after which Ali asked him, "Then why do you want to fight me?" This conversation is recorded by both Shia and Sunni sources.[15][16][17][18][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 agreed to negotiate.[12] He then contacted Aisha and spoke to her,[12] "It is 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 him, "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] Talha and Zubair did not want to fight and left the field. Everyone was happy except 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 launched 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 left. On seeing this, Marwan (who was 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 Talha,[20] 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]

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 prevailed as 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 led 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 piled 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; he was killed in an adjoining valley.

Aisha's brother Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who was a commander in Ali's forces, approached Aisha and seized her, who was aged 45. Alī then sent Aisha to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr. 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. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was raised by Ali alongside Hassan and Hussein. Hassan also accompanied Aisha part of the way back to Medina. Aisha started teaching in Medina and deeply resented Marwan.[28][29]

Sunni view of the event[edit]

According to Sunnis, the rebels who had been involved in the killing of Uthman, the third Caliph, were responsible for igniting the fight. These rebels had gained substantial power after the killing of Uthman and it was difficult for Ali, the fourth Caliph, to instantly punish them for their role in the killing of Uthman, so this was the main reason which led to the difference of opinion between the two groups of Muslims. Some Muslims were of the opinion that they should be punished immediately, while Ali required time to determine specifically who the assailants and instigators for the murder were.[30] This led to difference of opinion, and a group started campaigning to pressure Ali to punish the rebels.

It is the opinion of the Sunnis that A'isha and her party had intended to peacefully reconcile between these differing views. Initially, Ali did perceive the campaign of A'isha and her party as civil disobedience, so he made an effort to emphasize the importance of unity in the Muslim community.[30] It is said that Ali appealed to the early hardships that the Muslim community had faced during Islam's inception, and referred back to the stability and peace the community experienced in the later days due to the community's unity and integration. This encounter was followed by attempts at negotiation. When the rebels saw that the negotiations may lead to their punishment, they concocted a plan to attack both the armies and disrupt the peace making process.[30]

In terms of who was deemed rightful in this encounter, the Sunnis prefer Ali as he was the rightful caliph and so his decision and approach must have been obeyed. Moreover, the hadith of Hawaab also proves that Ali's opponents were wrong in their stance. However, because A'isha and her party were deemed sincere in their intentions to bring the killers of Uthman to justice, the Sunnis do not condemn them for their participation in the event. Both Ali and Aisha resented the outcome of the battle. Ali said after the battle, "I wish I had died two decades before this incident."[31][32]

According to the Sunnis, after the battle, Ali had asked the brother of A'isha, (Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr) to take her to Basrah. She stayed there for some time until it was arranged for her to be taken to Madinah by Ali where she settled down. Before her departure, she spoke words indicating her respect for Ali and his followers that had been slain in the battle.[30]

Shia view of the event[edit]

These have been demonstrated by historical pieces of evidence collected by Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid. An example is the narration is that once she heard the news of murdering of Ali ibn Abi Talib in the mosque, she gratefully prostrated in happiness.

Shia and Sunni scholars have different views about the causes of the war mostly because Aisha is highly regarded in Sunni view. However, although Aisha is respected by Shias and insulting her has been made forbidden, she is not regarded as a high ranking sahaba (prophet's companion) and is highly criticized for her conduct especially after the passing of Muhammad towards his family and righteous companions.

The Shiite narrative is that Aisha, the daughter of Abu Baker from Bani Tamim tribe, treated Uthman differently over two periods. In the beginning, she supported him along with other Muslims. But after a while, when Uthman distributed power among his close Umayyad relatives, Muslim public went angry. During Umar’s Caliphate, Aisha used to get 12,000 Dirhams in governmental salary each month. But when Uthman succeeds Umar's conflicts grew between him and Aisha, and he finally cut her salary. Aisha among other notable Islamic figures (such as Talha and Zubair) declared Uthman as Kafir (apostate). Emboldened by the Prophet's wife open opposition to the caliph, the already dissident Muslims got together and seized Uthman’s house. Uthman access to water was prevented but Ali ibn Abi Talib and his sons protected Uthman’s home and delivered water to Uthman. Their reason for supporting Uthman at the time was that they wanted to prevent the precedent of killing of caliphs by the Ummah. But despite their efforts, Uthman was ultimately killed by revengeful muslims and his dead body remained on ground for 3 days and no one did any funeral for him. Finally Muslims left his body in rubbish wasteland outside the city where became his grave. But years later when Muaviyeh declared himself the caliph he extended the cemetery of Medina to include the grave of Uthman.

When Imam Ali (from Bani Hashim descent) accepted Caliphate in response to Medina muslims’ request, Muaviyeh, who was then the governor of Sham (Syria), sent two letters to Talha and Zubair and called them "Amir ul-Mumenin" (commander of the faithful) and told them that the people of Basra and Kufa wanted them to be their governors but they should rush before Ali’s governors take over the cities. Talha and Zubair came to Ali and asked him to give them the governments of Kufa and Basra arguing that they were the ones who helped Ali to rise to power by contributing to the fall of Uthman, which was a faulty argument for two reasons. Ali had no role in the fall of Uthman in the first place. In fact he did all he could to prevent this from happening. Second, authority over Muslims according to Ali had to be based on Islamic virtues not self-interested political alignments. Therefore Ali refused their requests telling them that he needed them the most in the capital, Medina. His refusal also implied that he didn't consider them qualified for the positions. Upset with Ali’s refusal, Talha and Zubair went to Mecca under the pretext of pilgrimage to prepare an army to occupy Kufa and Basra by the support of Muawiya’s associates.

Aisha, who was in Mecca at the time, was delighted upon hearing the news of murder of Uthman and decided to travel to Medina to see her tribesman (from Bani Tamim tribe) succeeding Uthman. But on her way (to Medina) at Serf caravansary, she met Ibn Umm Kilab who told her that the people of Medina had pleaded allegiance to Ali as their Caliph. Aisha, furious at the news, went back to Mecca and declared that she was to take revenge on the killers of Uthman (meaning people of Medina who had pleaded allegiance to Ali). Ummu Salma another wife of the prophet refused to accompany Aisha and even tried to discourage her by reminding her of prophet’s hadiths stressing the superior status of his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib over the rest of Muslims. Other among prophet’s wives also discouraged her and supported Ali’s caliphate. But Aisha made up other excuses to carry on with the rebellion. She allied herself to Talha. He and Zubair relied on her status as prophet’s wife to legitimize and garner support for their rebellion against Ali. Thus Mecca turned into the center of those who opposed Ali Ibn Abi Talib, for various reasons. Uthman's governors financed the war against Ali. Among them were: Abdullah Ibn Rabi’ah governor of Sana, Yemen; Ya'li Ibn Umayyah, one of commanders of Uthman, and others.

On their way to Basra, The army of Mecca reached a place called Hawab where they heard dogs barking. Aisha immediately recalled a prophecy by Prophet Muhammad in which he related to them that he saw one of his wives passing over a location named Hawab while dogs barking at her, and told them lest they be the one finding themselves in the situation. Upon the recalling of the alarming prophecy, Aaisha changed her mind and decided to return to Mecca but Abdullah Ibn Zubair testified falsely that they had already passed Hawab behind long ago, and Aisha was, thus, fooled.

Ultimately the army arrived at Basra and secured it after suppressing opposing groups who had recognized the ill intentions behind the rebellion against the established Caliph. They put the governor of Basra who was faithful to Ali under arrest. Some rebels plundered the city treasury after killing the guards.

Ali Ibn Abi Talib, departed Medina to stop the rebellious army. His envoys finally managed to encourage ten thousands from Kufa to join the Medina army of four thousands. Notable figures among Ali’s army were Ibn Abbas, Ammar Yasir, Haatam Ta’ei, Malik Ashtar, Muhammad Ibn Hanafiya, Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr (Aisha’s brother) and Ali’s sons, Hassand and Hussein.

(This is a summary translated from the links in the end. If you need more details and more references for each part, let me know or ask as a separate question)

Ali sent many messengers to the three rebel leaders (Aisha, Talha and Zubair) to discourage them from war and to invite them to unity but despite the strong arguments of his messengers the rebel leaders were determined to fight as they thought they can easily win the battle.

The war started while Aisha was seated on a camel and dozens protecting her ride. She and her camel were seen by the rebelling army as a testimony to their legitimacy and also a source of morale as she was viewed as the wife of the holy Prophet. During the war Ali made many attempts to discourage the rebels and its leaders from war but to no avail. As war continued Ali ordered his men to approach the camel carrying Aisha and severe its legs. The camel collapsed and Aisha surrendered herself and the battle was over. Talha and Zubair were killed in the meantime.

Despite Aisha’s main role in agitating people against Ali Ibn Abi Talib, he treated her with utmost respect and ordered her brother and some women disguised in men’s dress to accompany her to Mecca. Aisha on numerous occasions expressed much regret and remorse at her decision to rebel against Ali.

Ali also felt much pity for the ill fate of Talha and Zubair who used to be among faithful supporters of the Holy Prophet during his life. He recited prayers for all victims of the war including those of the rebels. The popular estimate sets the total death toll of the war at 20,000.

In the aftermath, Ali ordered all properties of people of Basra taken by his army returned to them unless those with government asset marks. He also refrained from suing those involved in the rebellion.

During his lifetime, Prophet had predicted that Ali would have to fight with three groups, Nakesin, Qasetin and Mareqin. His companions were always interested to know these three groups were. “The Battle of the Camel” was the realization of Nakesin’s war against Ali.


Ali's forces overcame the rebels, and the defeated army was treated according to Islamic law. He sent Aisha 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.

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.

When the head of Zubayr ibn al-Awwam was presented to Ali by Amr ibn Jarmouz, the Caliph Ali couldn't help but to sob and condemn the murder of his cousin. This reaction caused Amr ibn Jarmouz resentment and, drawing his sword, stabbed it into his own breast.[33]

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.

Ali was later killed by a Kharijite named Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam while he was praying in the mosque of Kufa.[34]

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.[35]


The name of the battle refers to the camel ridden by Āʿisha — 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 a battle.[36]

Sunni and Shia's split[edit]

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.[37]


Soldiers of Ali's Army[edit]

Soldiers of Aisha's Army[edit]

Others involved[edit]



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External links[edit]

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

Coordinates: 30°30′00″N 47°49′00″E / 30.5000°N 47.8167°E / 30.5000; 47.8167