36 A.H.   /   656-657 A.D.

Medina abandoned as capital of Islam.

AS 'Ali rode forth from Medina in pursuit of the insurgent army, a citizen seized his bridle "Stay!" he cried earnestly;—"if thou goest forth from hence, the government will depart from this City never more to return." He was pushed aside, as one having lost his wits; but his words were long remembered, and the prophecy was true. Medina was to be the seat of Empire no more.

'Ali's entry into Kufa, vii. 36 A.H. Jan. 657 A.D.

In the 36th year of the Hijra, seven months after the death of 'Othman, 'Ali entered Al-Kufa. The first four of these had been spent at Medina; the other three in the campaign of "the Camel" and a short stay at Al-Basra. No Caliph had as yet visited Al-Kufa. It was now to be the seat of 'Ali's government. The inhabitants were flattered by the honour thus put upon them. The city had certain advantages; for in it were many leading men, able, and some of them willing, to support the Caliph. Moreover, 'Ali might calculate on the jealousy of Al-'Irak towards Syria in the approaching struggle with Mu'awiya. But these advantages were all more than counterbalanced by the factious humour of the populace. It was the focus of Bedawi democracy; and the spirit of the Bedawin was yet untamed. What had they gained, the men of Al-Kufa asked, by the insurrection against 'Othman? The cry of vengeance on the regicides was for the moment silenced; but things, they said, were drifting back into the old Koreishite groove. The charge was, in fact, the same as the Sons of the Desert were making all round. "'Ali hath set up his cousins,


the sons of Al-Abbas, everywhere—in Medina, Mecca, the Yemen, and now again at Al-Basra, while he himself will rule at Al-Kufa.

Factious spirit there.

Of what avail that we made away with 'Othman, and have shed our own blood, fighting against Az-Zubeir and Talha?" So spoke the arch-conspirator Al-Ashtar among his friends at Al-Basra; and 'Ali fearful of such teaching, took him in his train to Al-Kufa, where, among the excitable populace, there was even greater danger. Another uneasy symptom was that the servile dregs and baser sort of Al-Basra, breaking loose from all control, went forth in a body and took possession of Sijistan on the Persian frontier. They killed the leader sent by 'Ali to suppress the rising, and were not put down till 'Abdallah ibn al-'Abbas himself attacked them with a force from Al-Basra.

Struggle in prospect with Syria.

It was in the West, however, that the sky loured most. It was but a shorn and truncated Caliphate which 'Ali enjoyed, so long as his authority was scorned in Syria. A mortal combat with Mu'aiwiya loomed in that direction. But, before resuming the Syrian thread, we must first turn to Egypt.

Keis, governor of Egypt, ii. 36 A.H., Aug. 656 A.D.

That heavy charge had been committed to Keis, the principal man of the Ansar and son of Sa'd ibn 'Obada, the citizen who was nearly elected Caliph at the Prophet's death.1 Of approved ability and judgment, and a loyal follower of 'Ali, he declined to take soldiers with him to Egypt, saying that the Caliph had more need of them than he and preferring instead the support of seven "Companions," who accompanied him. On his approach, the rebel governor fled to Syria, where he lost his life. Keis was well received by the Egyptians, who swore allegiance to him on behalf of 'Ali But a strong faction sheltered in a neighbouring district, under the leadership of Yezid ibn al-Harith of the tribe of Kinana, loudly demanded satisfaction for the death of 'Othman. Keis wisely left these alone for the present, waiving even the demand for tithe. In other respects he held Egypt with firm grasp.

In prospect of an early attack by 'Ali, Mu'awiya became uneasy at the Egyptian border being commanded by so

1 On the death of 'Othman, his governor Ibn Abi Sarh was expelled from Egypt by Mohammad ibn Abi Hodhaifa, acting for 'Ali, but he was entrapped and slain by Mu'awiya.


able a ruler as Keis whom he made every effort to detach from 'Ali.

Keis supplanted by Mu'awiya's intrigue.

Upbraiding him with having joined a party still imbued with the blood of 'Othman, he called upon Keis to repent, and promised that, if he joined in avenging the crime, he should be confirmed in the government of Egypt, and his kinsmen promoted to such office as he might desire. Keis, unwilling to precipitate hostilities, fenced his answer with well-balanced words. Of 'Ali's complicity in the foul deed there was as yet, he said, no evidence; he would wait. Meanwhile he had no intention of making attack on Syria. Again pressed by Mu'awiya, Keis frankly declared that he was, and would remain, a staunch supporter of the Caliph. Thereupon Mu'awiya sought craftily to stir up jealousy between 'Ali and his Lieutenant. He gave out that Keis was temporising, and spoke of his leniency towards the Egyptian malcontents as proving that he was one at heart with them. The report, assiduously spread, reached, as intended, the court of 'Ali, where it was taken up by those who either doubted the fidelity of Keis or envied his prosperity. To test his obedience, 'Ali ordered an advance against the malcontents; and the remonstrance of Keis against the step as premature was taken as proof of his complicity.

Mohammad son Abu Bekr, appointed to Egypt.

He was deposed, and the regicide Mohammad son of Abu Bekr, appointed in his room. Keis retired in anger to Medina, where, as on neutral ground, adherents of either side were unmolested; but finding no peace there from the taunts of Merwan and others, he at last resolved to cast himself on 'Ali's clemency; and 'Ali on the calumnies being cleared away, took him back at once into his confidence, and thenceforward kept him as his chief adviser. Mu'awiya upbraided Merwan with having driven Keis from Medina;—"If thou hadst aided 'Ali," he said, "with a hundred thousand men, it had been a lesser evil than is the gain to him of such a counselor."

Mu'awiya joined by 'Amr.

On his own side, however, Mu'awiya had a powerful and astute adviser in 'Amr, the conqueror of Egypt. During the attack on 'Othman, 'Amr had retired from Medina with his two sons to Palestine. The tidings of the tragedy, aggravated by his own unkindly treatment of the Caliph, affected him keenly. "It is I," he said, "who, by deserting


the aged man in time of trouble am responsible for his death." From his retirement he watched the struggle at Al-Basra; and when 'Ali proved victorious, repaired at once to Damascus, and presented himself before Mu'awiya. In consequence of his unfriendly attitude towards 'Othman Mu'awiya at first received him coldly. In the end, however, the past was condoned and friendship restored. Thenceforward 'Amr was the trusted counsellor of Mu'awiya.

'Ali's position at Kufa weak;

This coalition, and the false step of 'Ali in recalling Keis from Egypt, materially strengthened Mu'awiya's hands. The success of 'Ali at Al-Basra had also this advantage for Mu'awiya, that it removed Talha and Az-Zubeir, his only other competitors, from the field. The position of 'Ali, again, as one of concession to the Arab faction, was fraught with peril. While refusing ostensibly to identify himself with the murderers of 'Othman, it was virtually their cause that he had fought; and therefore equally the cause of the Arab tribes against Koreish and the aristocracy of Islam. And 'Ali might have foreseen that the socialistic element in this unnatural compromise must, sooner or later, inevitably come into collision with the interests of the Caliphate.

strength of Mu'awiya's at Damascus.

The authority of Mu'awiya rested on a firmer basis; his attitude was bolder, his position more consistent. He had from the first resisted the levelling demands of the faction hostile to 'Othman. He was, therefore, now justified in pursuing these to justice, while, at the same time, in so doing, he asserted the supremacy of Koreish. The influence of the "Companions" had always been paramount in Syria; while the Arab element there was itself largely recruited from the aristocratic tribes of the south;—the result being that the Bedawin were by Mu'awiya held thoroughly in check. The cry for vengeance, inflamed by the gory emblems still hanging from the pulpit, was taken up by high and low; while the temporising attitude of 'Ali was in every man's mouth proof of complicity with the regicides. And though many may have dreaded 'Ali's vengeance in the event of his success, the general feeling throughout Syria was a burning desire to avenge the murder of his ill-fated predecessor.

Still, whatever the motives at work elsewhere, the contest


as between 'Ali and Mu'awiya, was now virtually for the crown; and many looked to "the grey mule of Syria" as having the better chance.

'Ali and Mu'awiya in personal antagonism.

A possible solution lay, no doubt, in the erection of Syria into an independent kingdom side by side with that of Al-'Irak and Persia. But the disintegration of the Caliphate was an idea which had as yet hardly entered into the minds of the Faithful. The unity of Islam, established by the precedent of the quarter of a century, was still, and long continued to be, the ruling sentiment of the nation.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page