Battle of Siffin
Then, there was the Battle of Siffin. Regarding its details, it is mentioned that it was a battle that took place between Hazrat Ali (ra) and Hazrat Amir Muawiyah (ra) in 37 AH.
Siffin is the name of an area located between Syria and Iraq.
Hazrat Ali (ra) left Kufa along with his army and when they reached Siffin, they saw that the Syrian army under the command of Amir Muawiyah (ra) had already setup camp and one section of the army had taken over a valley near the Euphrates River. Hazrat Ali (ra) assured them that they had not come to fight but instead, had come to reconcile their differences; however, Amir Muawiyah (ra) was not willing to reconcile. The Syrian army stopped the army of Hazrat Ali (ra) from accessing the water from the Euphrates River. Upon this, Hazrat Ali (ra) ordered his army to launch an attack and they succeeded in pushing the Syrian army to retreat and thus establishing their access to the river. Hazrat Ali (ra), however, allowed the Syrian army to access the water from the Euphrates River. The Syrian army had prevented Hazrat Ali (ra) [and his army] from accessing water from the Euphrates River, but when Hazrat Ali (ra) took control of the river, he permitted them to access its water.
Amir Muawiyah (ra) insisted that Hazrat Ali (ra) should hand over those who had carried out the killing of Hazrat Uthman (ra). At one point there was a potential danger that a battle was going to break out; however, some of the peacekeepers prevented this from happening and established calm.
The battle took place in the month of Safar 37 AH, but prior to the actual battle commencing, small skirmishes broke out. Yet still, both parties abstained from engaging in a full battle considering its dangerous consequences. Both parties ensured to utilise all means possible in order to bring about reconciliation and thus both agreed that they should enter a temporary agreement of peace during the sacred months. However, this effort of theirs also proved unsuccessful. And so, at the beginning of the month of Safar, the actual battle was formally declared once again.
For quite some time, the fighting continued without any conclusive victory and Amir Muawiyah’s (ra) resolve began to weaken. In such precarious circumstances, Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas advised that they should tie the copies of the Quran on the tip of their spears and announce that they should settle the matter in accordance with the Quran. Thus, they did exactly that and as a result a disagreement arose between Hazrat Ali’s (ra) men. A large party among them stated that their plea to adjudicate the matter by the Book of Allah should not be rejected. Subsequently, Hazrat Ali (ra) commanded the vanguard of the army to return and thus the battle stopped. The majority of the army of Hazrat Ali (ra) accepted the suggestion presented by Amir Muawiyah (ra) which was that each party should appoint an arbitrator and they should both reach a verdict based on the Holy Quran. According to the books of history, this incident is known as “Tahkim” [arbitration]. In any case, the Syrians appointed Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas as their representative and Hazrat Ali (ra) appointed Hazrat Abu Musa Ashari (ra). After signing this declaration, both armies dispersed.
This is a reference from the historical accounts by Ibn Athir.
(Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, Vol. 3 [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2003], 161-201) (Lughat al-Hadith, Vol. 2, p. 608, Zair-e-Lafz Siffin)
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II (ra) has explained this incident in the following manner:
“During this battle, Hazrat Mu‘awiyah’s (ra) men very cleverly placed the Quran on their spears and stated that they would accept the verdict of the Quran and for this they should each appoint an arbitrator. The rebels – who were behind the killing of Hazrat Uthman (ra) and after his martyrdom had immediately joined Hazrat Ali (ra) in order to save themselves – began to insist that this was the right decision and urged him to appoint an arbitrator. Hazrat Ali (ra) continuously disagreed to this suggestion but they, along with some other weak natured people who came under influence of their deception, compelled Hazrat Ali (ra) to appoint a representative. And so, Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas was appointed from Mu‘awiyah’s (ra) side and Hazrat Abu Musa Ashari (ra) was appointed from Hazrat Ali’s (ra) side.
“This tahkim was essentially to settle the matter relating to how to avenge the killing of Hazrat Uthman (ra) and the condition they had stipulated was that they would seek the verdict of this matter from the Holy Quran. Therefore, these representatives had been appointed so that they could decide the matter based on the Holy Quran as to how they should punish those who were behind the killing of Hazrat Uthman (ra). However, Amr (ra) bin Aas and Abu Musa Ashari (ra) mutually consulted and decided that it would be better for Hazrat Ali (ra) and Hazrat Mu‘awiyah (ra) to step down from their roles of leadership.
“The purpose of tahkim and appointing the arbitrators were to decide the matter in relation to how to avenge the killing of Hazrat Uthman (ra). However, the arbitrators mutually decided that both of them [i.e. Hazrat Ali (ra) and Hazrat Mu‘awiyah (ra)] should first step down and thereafter they would discuss the matter because they felt that it was owing to the differences between the two that the Muslims were having to endure so much affliction.
“This was the belief of the two arbitrators. They further decided that the Muslims should then independently appoint the Khalifa of their choice. However, neither of these arbitrators had been appointed for this purpose and this line of thinking by both arbitrators was completely incorrect. They had not been appointed to decide on this matter.
“But in any case, they arranged a gathering for everyone to attend so that they could formally announce their decision. Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas asked Hazrat Abu Musa Ashari (ra) to make his announcement first and that he would do it after him. Hazrat Abu Musara made the announcement that he absolved Hazrat Ali (ra) from his Caliphate. Thereafter, Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas stood up and announced, ‘Abu Musa has absolved Hazrat Ali (ra) from the office of Caliphate and I also agree with this decision of his and also remove him from this office. However, I will not remove Muawiyah (ra); in fact, I declare that he ought to continue in his role as the Amir.’”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud (ra) further states:
“Hazrat Amr (ra) bin Aas was a pious man … However, I will not delve into this debate as to why he made this decision. Despite his piety, he perhaps came under the influence of the people, but leaving this discussion aside, this decision of his was not correct.
“Upon the announcement of this decision, those who were on the side of Hazrat Mu‘awiyah (ra) began to say that the arbitrators who had been appointed had passed their decision in favour of Mu‘awiyah (ra) and this was the right decision. However, Hazrat Ali (ra) refused to accept this decision. He stated that the arbitrators were not appointed for this purpose, nor was their decision based on any Quranic injunction. The same hypocrites who had initially insisted that Hazrat Ali (ra) should appoint an arbitrator began to raise a hue and cry, asking why these arbitrators were appointed in the first place as there could not be an arbitrator in regard to religious matters.
“Hazrat Ali (ra) replied, ‘Firstly, it was stipulated in the initial agreement that their decision would be based on the Quran, which they did not fulfil as this decision was not in accordance to the Quran. Secondly, these arbitrators’”, or the arbitrator, “‘was appointed owing to your continuous persistence and now you are asking me why I appointed him?’ To this they”, i.e. the rebels and the hypocrites, “replied, ‘We had spoken foolishly and whatever we had said was a mistake but why did you accept what we said?” The rebels and hypocrites said “‘This means that we committed a sin and you also did the same. We erred and so did you. However, we seek repentance for our mistake and you ought to repent as well. Moreover you should admit that whatever you did was wrong.’
“Their intention behind this was that if Hazrat Ali (ra) had refused, they would have abandoned their pledge of allegiance to him saying that he acted contrary to the teachings of Islam and they would therefore no longer uphold their pledge. And if he acknowledged an error on his part saying he repents, his Caliphate would have been rendered false, for how can one who commits a grave sin be the Caliph? When Hazrat Ali (ra) heard all of this he said, ‘I have committed no error. As for the matter in which I appointed an arbitrator, this is permissible in light of the Shariah of Islam. Furthermore, when I was appointing the arbitrator, I made it clear that I shall accept any decision made in accordance with the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (sa), and if not, then I shall not accept it under any circumstance. As they did not pay any regard to this instruction, nor did they give their verdict in accordance with the purpose with which they were appointed, therefore their decision was not binding upon me.’
“However, they did not accept this explanation of Hazrat Ali (ra) and rescinded their pledge of allegiance to him. These people became known as the Khawarij and began propagating the ideology that a Khalifa need not be obeyed; instead, they would be ruled by accepting the verdict of the Muslim majority, for having to obey one person as the Caliph would go against the principle of:
لَاحُكْمَ اِلَّا لِله “‘The decision rests with none but Allah.’”
(Khilafat-e-Rashidah, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 15, pp. 485-486)