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
Date8 December 656 CE (15 Jumada I 36 AH)
Result Victory for Ali

Ali's forces and Banu Hashim

Aisha, Talhah, and Zubair's forces and Banu Umayya

Commanders and leaders
Ali ibn Abi Talib
Hasan ibn Ali
Husayn ibn Ali
Malik ibn al-Harith
Ammar ibn Yasir
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr
Muslim ibn Aqil
Abu Qatada al-Ansari
Jabir ibn Abd Allah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari
Qays ibn Sa'd
Qathm bin Abbas
Abd Allah ibn Abbas
Khuzaima ibn Thabit
Jundab ibn Ka'b al-Asadi

Talha ibn Ubayd Allah 
Muhammad ibn Talha 
Zubayr ibn al-Awwam 
Ka'b ibn Sur 
Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr
Marwan I (POW)
Abd Allah ibn Safwan
Yahya ibn al-Hakam (WIA)
Utba ibn Abi Sufyan
Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi
Abd al-Rahman ibn Attab ibn Asid 
~10,000[7] ~10,000[8]
Casualties and losses
>400-500[9] >2,500[10]

The Battle of the Camel (Arabic: معرکة الجمل, romanizedMaʿraka al-Jamal) was fought between the forces of fourth caliph Ali (r. 656–661) and the rebel army of Aisha, Talha and Zubayr in December 656. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, whereas Aisha was a widow of Muhammad, and Talha and Zubayr were both prominent companions of Muhammad.

Aisha's party had revolted against Ali ostensibly to avenge the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman. Both the efforts of Ali to save Uthman and the leading roles of Aisha and Talha in inciting Muslims against Uthman are well-cited. Ali emerged victorious from this battle in which Talha and Zubayr were both killed and Aisha was captured.


The reign of the third caliph, Uthman, was marked with widespread nepotism and moral degradation.[11] In 656 CE, as the public dissatisfaction with despotism and corruption came to a boiling point, Uthman was assassinated by rebels in a raid on his residence.[12] Among the vocal critics of Uthman were Talha and Zubayr, both prominent companions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as Aisha, a widow of Muhammad. The leading roles of Talha and Aisha in inciting Muslims against Uthman are well-cited.[13] Various historians have noted the ambitions of Talha and Zubayr for the title of caliph after Uthman, though they both might have lacked the necessary public support.[14]

Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, had acted as the mediator between the rebels and Uthman.[15] Though he condemned Uthman's murder, Ali likely regarded the resistance movement as a front for the just demands of the poor and the disenfranchised.[16] His son, Hasan, was injured by the enraged mobs while standing guard at Uthman's residence at the request of Ali.[17]

Shortly after Uthman's assassination, the crowds in Medina turned to Ali for leadership and were turned down initially.[18] Aslan attributes Ali's initial refusal to the polarization of the Muslim community after Uthman's murder.[19] On the other hand, Durant suggests that, "[Ali] shrank from drama in which religion had been displaced by politics, and devotion by intrigue."[20] Nevertheless, in the absence of any serious opposition and urged particularly by the Iraqi dissidents and the Ansar, Ali eventually assumed the role of caliph and Muslims filled the Prophet's Mosque in Medina and its courtyard to pledge their allegiance to him.[21] According to Shaban, the atmosphere of tumult after Uthman's murder might have compelled Ali into accepting the caliphate to prevent further chaos.[22]

Among those who pledged their allegiance to Ali were likely Talha and Zubayr.[23] While there is no record of any violence according to Madelung, they both later broke their oaths, claiming that they had pledged their allegiance to Ali under public pressure.[24] Veccia Vaglieri considers this claim to be fabricated and other reports suggest that Talha and Zubayr jumped ship after they failed to secure for themselves the governorship of Basra and Kufa and when Ali began to reverse Uthman's lavish entitlements for the ruling elite, including those of Talha and Zubayr.[25] A number of reports indicate that Ali had barred his supporters from pressing anyone to give their pledge.[26]

Under the pretext of pilgrimage, Talha and Zubayr left Medina for Mecca, where they found a powerful ally in Aisha, the leading Mother of the Faithful, whose enmity with Ali is well-documented.[27] Upon learning of Ali's caliphate, Aisha, who had earlier incited revolt against Uthman, now publicly accused Ali of sheltering Uthman's assassins and roused Meccans to avenge the death of Uthman, their fallen Meccan brother.[28] The three demanded Ali to be deposed and a council to appoint his successor, presumably either Talha or Zubayr.[29] These three were joined by the associates of Uthman, including Marwan, and other disgruntled former officials.[30] Mecca soon became a hotbed of rebellion against the caliph.[31]


Under the leadership of Aisha, Talha and Zubayr, 600-900 Meccan rebels marched on the garrison city of Basra in Iraq, some 1300 km away from Hejaz, where they were unable to muster much support.[32] The war efforts were funded by wealthy Meccans, such as the Umayyad Yala bin Munya, a disgruntled former governor of Uthman.[33] According to al-Tabari, at a place called Hawab on the way to Basra, Aisha was disheartened by the incessant howling of dogs which reminded her of Muhammad's ominous warning to his wives years ago, "The day will come that the dogs of Hawab will bark at one of you, and that would be the day when she would be in manifest error."[34] Nevertheless, she was dissuaded from any change of plans by Talha and Zubayr.[35] It has been noted that Aisha's camp suffered from internal strifes as Talha and Zubayr fought for dominance, e.g., in leading the prayers.[36]

The rebels found that Basrans, though divided, were largely loyal to Ali, who had earlier dismissed Uthman's corrupt governor.[37] After a fierce but inconclusive fight with many casualties, the two sides agreed to a truce until the arrival of Ali and the rebel army camped outside of Basra.[38] Waiting for Ali was evidently unfavourable for the rebels who later raided the town at night, killing dozens and eventually seizing the control of Basra. The governor was tortured and then imprisoned.[39]

When the news reached him, Ali left Medina for Basra with a small army. Ali also sent his son, Hasan, to rally the support of Kufans, who met him outside of Basra. The two armies, each with some ten thousand troops, camped across from each other.[40] A tent was pitched between them where Ali, Talha and Zubayr negotiated for three days to avoid the impending war. While the details are uncertain, multiple sources report that Ali reminded Zubayr of an incident in their childhood when Muhammad predicted that Zubayr would one day unjustly fight Ali.[41]

According to Madelung, at the negotiations, the Aisha's party demanded the removal of Ali from office and a council (shura) to elect his successor, presumably either Talha or Zubayr.[42] In response to their accusations about Uthman, Ali reminded Talha and Zubayr of his efforts to save Uthman and charged Talha and Aisha with inciting violence against Uthman.[43] Both the efforts of Ali in calling for restraint and the leading roles of Talha and Aisha in opposing Uthman are well-cited.[13]

The negotiations failed after three days and the two sides readied for battle.[44] According to Madelung, the popular story about successful negotiations is pure fiction. This story alleges that it was Uthman's murderers who sabotaged the negotiations and provoked the battle.[45]


After three days of failed negotiations, the battle began at noon on a December day in 656 CE.[46] In a last-ditch effort to avoid war, Ali ordered one of his men to raise a copy of the Quran between the battle lines and appeal to its contents.[47] When this man was shot and killed by the rebel army, Ali gave the order to advance.[47] Aisha was led onto the battle field, riding a red camel, after which the battle is named, in an armored canopy.[48] Aisha was likely the rallying point of the rebel army, urging them to fight on with the battle cry of avenging Uthman.[49]

The fighting was fierce but short. Both Talha and Zubayr were soon killed.[50] Talha was killed by the Umayyad's Marwan, another notable rebel, who later told Uthman's son that he had taken care of one of the murderers of Uthman for him.[51] While Talha had indeed led the opposition to Uthman, it has been suggested that Marwan's motive in killing Talha was to rid Muawiya of a serious contender for the caliphate. After the battle, Marwan joined the court of Muawiya in Damascus as a senior advisor.[52]

Zubayr, an experienced fighter, left shortly after the battle began.[53] Madelung and Veccia Vaglieri suggest that it was the serious misgivings of Zubayr about the justice of Aisha's cause that led Zubayr to desertion.[54] Al-Ahnaf bin Qays, a chief of the Banu Sa'd who had remained on the sidelines of the battle, learned about Zubayr's desertion.[55] Bin Qays then sent out his men to hunt down and kill Zubayr, likely for the dishonorable act of leaving his fellow Muslims behind in a civil war for which he was partly responsible.[56]

When the news of Zubayr's death reached Ali, he commented that Zubayr had many times fought valiantly in front of Muhammad but that he had come to an evil end. According to Madelung, the popular story of Ali cursing the killers of Zubayr is fiction.[57]

With the death Talha and Zubayr, the fate of the battle was sealed despite Aisha's refusal to leave the battlefield. One by one, Aisha's warriors stepped up to lead the camel and, one by one, they were killed. With no battle left to fight, Ali's men reportedly pleaded with Aisha's troops to surrender. The slaughter of her men stopped only when Ali's troops succeeded in killing Aisha's camel and capturing the Mother of the Faithful.[58] Surviving poems about the battle portray the tragedy:[59]

Oh Mother of ours, the most uncaring mother we know. Did you not see how many a brave man was struck down, his hand and wrist made lonely?

Our Mother brought us to drink at the pool of death. We did not leave until our thirst was quenched. When we obeyed her, we lost our senses. When we supported her, we gained nothing but pain.


According to Madelung, both Ali and his representative, ibn Abbas, severely reprimanded Aisha for the death and destruction she had caused and for leaving her home in defiance of the Quran's instructions for Muhammad's widows.[60][61] Ali ordered Aisha's half-brother, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, to escort her back to Mecca.[62] Multiple sources suggest that Aisha was remorseful for her role against Uthman and for the death of thousands of Muslims at her command.[63]

Ali announced a public pardon after the battle.[64] He had earlier forbidden his men from harming the captives, the deserters, and the wounded. The prisoners were set free and their properties were returned to them. Instead, Ali compensated his army from the treasury of Basra.[65] This pardon was also extended to high-profile rebels such as Marwan and the sons of Uthman, Talha, and Zubayr.[66] According to Madelung, Ali asked them if he was not the closest to Muhammad and the most entitled to leadership after Muhammad's death. He then let them go after they begged for pardon and pledged their allegiance. A different report holds that a defiant Marwan was still let go without pledging his allegiance to Ali.[67] Marwan immediately joined Ali's enemy, Muawiya, after the battle.[52]


Soldiers of Ali's army[edit]

Soldiers of Aisha's army[edit]

Others involved[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 168)
  2. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 166)
  3. ^ MacLean, Derryl N. (1989), Religion and Society in Arab Sind, pp. 126, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-08551-3
  4. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 176, 177)
  5. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 167, 8)
  6. ^ Crone 1980, pg. 108
  7. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 107)
  8. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 107)
  9. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 177)
  10. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 177)
  11. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 86). Bodley (1946, p. 349). Madelung (1997, pp. 81). Momen (1985, p. 21). Abbas (2021, p. 117)
  12. ^ Glassé (2001, p. 423). Abbas (2021, p. 119)
  13. ^ a b Madelung (1997, pp. 107, 118, 119). Abbas (2021, pp. 122, 123, 125, 135). Hazleton (2009, pp. 87, 89, 93, 95, 102, 103). Bodley (1946, pp. 349, 350). Jafri (1979, pp. 62, 64). Rogerson (2006, p. 289). Tabatabai (1977, pp. 52, 53). Poonawala (1982). Veccia Vaglieri (2021). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  14. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 141). Hazleton (2009, p. 104). Momen (1985, p. 24). Jafri (1979, pp. 63)
  15. ^ Poonawala (1982). Hazleton (2009, pp. 93, 95). Abbas (2021, pp. 122, 123)
  16. ^ Jafri (1979, pp. 63, 64)
  17. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 125). Hazleton (2009, p. 95). Jafri (1979, p. 62)
  18. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 142). Momen (1985, p. 22). Abbas (2021, p. 129). Gleave (2021)
  19. ^ Aslan (2011, pp. 131, 132)
  20. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 128)
  21. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 141, 142). Hazleton (2009, p. 99). Jafri (1979, p. 63). Rogerson (2006, pp. 286, 287). Gleave (2021)
  22. ^ Shaban (1971, p. 71)
  23. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 144, 145). Rogerson (2006, p. 287). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  24. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 144, 145). Abbas (2021, pp. 130, 132). Rogerson (2006, p. 289)
  25. ^ Poonawala (1982). Abbas (2021, p. 132). Hazleton (2009, p. 104). Veccia Vaglieri (2021). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  26. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 145). Abbas (2021, pp. 130, 132)
  27. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 107, 157). Abbas (2021, pp. 106, 135, 136). Hazleton (2009, pp. 25, 104). Jafri (1979, p. 27). Rogerson (2006, p. 294). Poonawala (1982)
  28. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 107, 147, 155, 156). Hazleton (2009, pp. 146, 147). Poonawala (1982). Veccia Vaglieri (2021)
  29. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 157, 158). Rogerson (2006, pp. 289, 291)
  30. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 135). Madelung (1997, p. 147). Poonawala (1982)
  31. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 155)
  32. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 157, 158). Rogerson (2006, p. 290). Poonawala (1982). Veccia Vaglieri (2021)
  33. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 155, 157). Rogerson (2006, p. 290). Poonawala (1982)
  34. ^ Veccia Vaglieri (2021b). Abbas (2021, p. 138). Hazleton (2009, pp. 101, 105)
  35. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 138)
  36. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 158, 162). Abbas (2021, p. 138). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  37. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 106). Rogerson (2006, p. 294). Abbas (2021, p. 137). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  38. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 162)
  39. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 162, 163). Hazleton (2009, p. 107). Rogerson (2006, p. 294). Abbas (2021, p. 137). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  40. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 166). Hazleton (2009, p. 107). Rogerson (2006, p. 295). Poonawala (1982). Veccia Vaglieri (2021)
  41. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 169). Abbas (2021, p. 139). Rogerson (2006, p. 295)
  42. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 169). Rogerson (2006, pp. 289, 291)
  43. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 169). Abbas (2021, p. 139)
  44. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 169). Rogerson (2006, p. 295). Poonawala (1982). Gleave (2021)
  45. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 169)
  46. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 169, 170). Rogerson (2006, p. 295). Gleave (2021)
  47. ^ a b Madelung (1997, p. 170)
  48. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 113). Abbas (2021, p. 139). Poonawala (1982). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  49. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 114)
  50. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 117). Abbas (2021, p. 140)
  51. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 171, 172). Abbas (2021, p. 140)
  52. ^ a b Madelung (1997, p. 181). Hazleton (2009, p. 118). Abbas (2021, p. 140)
  53. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 170). Hazleton (2009, p. 118). Abbas (2021, p. 140). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  54. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 171). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b). Rogerson (2006, p. 296)
  55. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 170, 171). Rogerson (2006, p. 295). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  56. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 170, 171). Rogerson (2006, p. 296). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  57. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 170, 171). Rogerson (2006, p. 296)
  58. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 172, 173). Hazleton (2009, pp. 118–121). Abbas (2021, p. 140). Rogerson (2006, pp. 296, 297). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  59. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 119)
  60. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 173). Abbas (2021, p. 140). Rogerson (2006, p. 297)
  61. ^ "(Q33:33) [O wives of the Prophet!] Stay in your houses and do not display your finery with the display of the former [days of] ignorance. Maintain the prayer and pay almsgiving and obey Allah and His Apostle..." Archived from the original on 1 January 2004.
  62. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 141). Rogerson (2006, p. 297). Veccia Vaglieri (2021). Nasr & Afsaruddin (2021)
  63. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 176). Hazleton (2009, p. 121). Abbas (2021, p. 141)
  64. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 121)
  65. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 175, 179, 180). Hazleton (2009, p. 122). Abbas (2021, p. 141). Rogerson (2006, p. 298). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  66. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 180, 181). Abbas (2021, p. 141). Veccia Vaglieri (2021b)
  67. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 181)
  68. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Razwy, Ali Asgher. A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims: 579 to 661 CE Archived 15 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Stanmore: World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities, 1997. Print. Ch. 62
  69. ^ a b c d "Islamic period". Archived from the original on 9 July 2006. Retrieved 6 July 2006.
  70. ^ a b c d Restatement of History of Islam The Battle of Basra Archived 15 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine on
  71. ^ "". Archived from the original on 1 June 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2006.
  72. ^ 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


External links[edit]

Preceded by Muslim battles
Year: 656 CE
Succeeded by

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