38 A.H.   /   658 A.D.

'Ali gives up Syrian campaign. End of 37 A.H. April 658 A.D.

HAVING dispersed the fanatics at Nahrawan and recrossed the Tigris, 'Ali turned his face again towards Syria. But the troops urged that, before so long a campaign, their armour needed refitting. "Let us return for a little to our homes," they said, "to furbish up our swords and lances, and replenish our empty quivers." 'Ali consenting, they marched back and encamped in the vicinity of Al-Kufa. The soldiers dropped off in small parties thither; and in a short time the camp was left almost empty. 'Ali, finding that none returned, became impatient, and himself entering Al-Kufa, again harangued the people on the obligation to go forth with him and make war on Syria. But exhortation and reproach fell equally on listless ears. There was no response. 'Ali lost heart. The Syrian expedition fell through and the opportunity passed.

Position of 'Ali and Mu'awiya.

Thus closed the 37th year of the Hijra. The situation was unchanged. Mu'awiya with now a colourable title to the Caliphate, remained in undisturbed possession of Syria, strong in the loyalty and affections of his subjects; while 'Ali, mortified by an indifferent and alienated people, was now to experience a severer trial in the loss of Egypt.

Egypt in revolt.

We have seen that a powerful faction in that dependency sided with those demanding satisfaction for the blood of revolt. 'Othman; and that Keis having been recalled for not suppressing the dissentients, Mohammad son of Abu Bekr had been appointed in his room. Casting aside the wise policy of his predecessor, Mohammad demanded of the recusants at once to submit, or to be gone from Egypt.


They refused, but, masking their hostile designs, watched the issue of the struggle at Siffin. When on its conclusion Mu'awiya was still left master of Syria, they gained heart and began to assume the offensive. Though repeatedly defeated, the slumbering elements of revolt were everywhere aroused, and Mu'awiya, seeing his opportunity, com­missioned 'Amr to regain the province of which he had been first conqueror.

'Amr conquers Egypt for Mu'awiya, ii. 38 A.H. July, 658 A.D.

'Ali saw, now all too late, the mistake which he had made. He would have reappointed Keis; but Keis declined again to take the post. The only other fitted for the emergency was Al-Ashtar, the regicide, who was sent off in haste to Egypt. But on the way he met with an untimely death, having being poisoned (at the instigation, it is said, of Mu'awiya) by a chief on the Egyptian border with whom he rested. There was joy at the death of the arch-regicide throughout Syria, where he was greatly feared. 'Ali was equally cast down by the untoward event. His only resource was now to bid Mohammad hold on and do what he could to retrieve his position.1 But the faction which favoured Mu'awiya gained ground daily; and when 'Amr, taking advantage of the defection of 'Ali's troops, at the head of a few thousand men crossed the border, he was joined by an overwhelming body of insurgents. Mohammad, after a vain attempt to fight, was slain, and his body ignominiously burned in an ass's skin.2 Thus Egypt was lost to 'Ali; and 'Amr, as lieutenant of the rival Caliph, again became its governor.

'Ali's mortification at loss of Egypt.

The loss of Egypt was the harder for 'Ali to bear, as immediately due to his own mistake in removing Keis; and even now it might have been retrieved if the men of Al-Kufa had not been heartless in his cause. Over and again he implored them to hasten to the defence of Mohammad.

1 According to other accounts, Keis was immediately succeeded by Al-Ashtar, after whom came the son of Abu Bekr.—Wellliausen, p. 61.

2 'Amr had offered Mohammad quarter. But he was caught in his flight by a chief so incensed against the regicides that he slew him in cold blood, and having put his body in an ass's skin, cast it into the flames. 'Aisha was inconsolable at her brother's fate, and, though her politics were all against 'Ali, she now cursed Mu'awiya and 'Amr in her daily prayers, and thenceforward ate no roasted meal or pleasant food until her death.


With difficulty two thousand men were got together, but after so long delay that they had hardly marched before news of the defeat made it necessary to return. 'Ali thereupon ascended the pulpit, and upbraided the people for their spiritless and disloyal attitude. For fifty days he had been urging them to go forth, to avenge their fallen brethren, and help those still struggling in the field. Like a restive, wayward camel, casting its burden, they had held back. "And now," he said, in grief and bitterness of spirit, "the son of Abu Bekr is fallen a martyr, and Egypt hath departed from us."

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