First Fitna

The First Fitna (Arabic: فتنة مقتل عثمانfitnat maqtal ʻUthmān "strife/sedition of the killing of Uthman") was a civil war within the Rashidun Caliphate which resulted in the overthrowing of the Rashidun caliphs and the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty. It began when the caliph Uthman was assassinated by rebels in 656 and continued through the four-year reign of Uthman's successor, Ali. It ended in 661 when Ali's heir Hasan ibn Ali concluded a treaty acknowledging the rule of Muawiyah, the first Umayyad caliph.[1]

First Fitna
Part of the Fitnas
First Fitna Map, Ali-Muawiya Phase.png
  Region under the control of Caliph Ali
  Region under the control of Mu'awiya
Result Rebellion successful, peace treaty signed;
Muawiyah I begins the Umayyad Caliphate
Rashidun Caliphate Aisha's forces
Muawiyah's forces
Commanders and leaders
Ammar ibn Yasir 
Malik al-Ashtar
Zubayr ibn al-Awam 
Muawiyah I
'Amr ibn al-'As[b]
  1. The Kharijites were a portion of Ali's supporters that defected and later opposed both parties.


Following Muhammad's death in 632, Abu Bakr became the new leader of the Muslim community. After reasserting Muslim control over the dissident tribes of Arabia, he sent the Muslim armies against the empires of Byzantium and Sassanian Persia initiating a wave of conquests which were continued by his successor Umar (r. 634–644) bringing about almost complete collapse of the Sassanians, and restricting the Byzantine Empire to Anatolia and North Africa.[2] The conquests brought Muslims bounteous revenue and lands.[3] Particularly in Iraq, the former crown-lands and the lands of the Persian aristocracy were now in Muslim hands. These became communal property administered by the state. The revenue was distributed among the conquering armies, who had settled in Iraq.[4] Umar also left the provincial administration to the respective governors, who ruled with considerable autonomy, and provincial surplus was spent on the settlers of the conquered territories instead of being sent to the capital.[5]

Uthman succeeded Umar after the latter's assassination in 644. His policies earned him displeasure of the Muslim elite and accusations of nepotism. He began centralizing the power by reliance on his Umayyad relatives, the clan who had long opposed Muhammad, to the exclusion of other Quraysh[a] who had enjoyed significant authority during the reign of his two predecessors. He appointed his kinsmen to all of the provincial governorships.[6][7]

Although he continued the expansion in eastern Persia and Africa west of Egypt, the conquests came to a halt in roughly the later part of his reign.[3][8] The influx of spoils ceased, and the economic issues that had previously been ignored by the conquest tribesmen due to incoming revenue started coming to the fore.[9] This was coupled with the dislike of the Arab nomads for the central authority which had hitherto been superseded by the continued war effort.[8] The continued migration of tribes from Arabia to the conquered territories also resulted in reduced payments from the revenue of the lands, which led to resentment in the old settlers.[3][10] Uthman's interference in the provincial affairs, that consisted of his declaration of the crown lands of Iraq as the state assets, and his demand that provincial surplus be forwarded to the caliph in Medina, brought about widespread opposition to his rule, especially from Iraq and Egypt, where majority of the conquest armies had settled.[11] The old settlers also saw their status threatened by the land grants in conquered territories to prominent Quraysh like Talha ibn Ubayd Allah and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam and the caliph allowing late arriving tribal chiefs, such as Ash'ath ibn Qays, to acquire lands there in exchange for their lands in Arabia.[12][10]

Encouraged by the Medinese elite including the companions like Talha, Zubayr, Amr ibn al-A's, the conqueror of Egypt whom Uthman had deposed, and Muhammad's widow A'isha, the provincial opposition subsequently precipitated into open rebellion and the people from Egypt and Iraq marched on Medina killing the caliph in June 656.[13][8]

Uthman's death had a polarizing effect in the Muslim world at the time. Questions were raised not only regarding his character and policies but also about the relationship between Muslims and the state, religious beliefs regarding rebellion and governance, and the qualifications of rulership in Islam.[14]

Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, was subsequently recognized caliph.[15]

Battle of the CamelEdit

Aisha bint Abu Bakr (Muhammad's widow), Talhah ibn Ubayd-Allah, and Zubayr ibn al-Awam opposed Ali's succession and gathered in Mecca calling for vengeance against Uthman's killers and election of new caliph through Shura. Later they moved to Basra taking it from Ali's governor, with the intention of strengthening their numbers. Ali in response sent his son Hasan and the leaders of Kufan mutineers to raise an army in Kufa. Ali himself followed them soon; with the combined army, they marched against Basra.[16]

The armies met outside Basra. After three days of failed negotiations, battle started in the afternoon of 8 December 656 and lasted till the evening. Zubayr left the field without fighting but was pursued and killed. Ali's army emerged victorious and Talha was also killed. After admonishing Ayesha, Ali sent her back to Medina, escorted by her brother Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr.[17] Marwan probably paid allegiance to Ali and the latter let him go.[17]

Battle of SiffinEdit

Combat between the forces of Ali and Muawiyah I during the Battle of Siffin, from the Tarikhnama

Ali's inability to punish the murderers of Uthman and Muawiyah's refusal to pledge allegiance eventually led Ali to move his army north to confront Muawiyah. The two armies encamped themselves at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Neither side wanted to fight. Then on 29 July 657 (11th Safar), the Mesopotamians under Ashtar's command, the Qurra in Ali's army, who had their own camp, started the fighting in earnest. The battle lasted three days. The loss of life was terrible. Suddenly one of the Syrians, Ibn Lahiya, out of fear of further civil war and unable to bear the spectacle rode forward with a copy of the Quran on the ears of his horse to call for judgement by the book of Allah, and the other Syrians followed suit. Everyone on both sides took up the cry, eager to avoid killing their fellow Muslims - except for the conspirators. The majority of Ali's followers supported arbitration. Nasr b Muzahim, in one of the earliest sources states that al-Ashath ibn Qays, one of Ali's key supporters and a Kufan, then stood up and said:

O company of Muslims! You have seen what happened in the day which has passed. In it some of the Arabs have been annihilated. By Allah, I have reached the age which Allah willed that I reach. but I have never ever seen a day like this. Let the present convey to the absent! If we fight tomorrow, it will be the annihilation of the Arabs and the loss of what is sacred. I do not make this statement out of fear of death, but I am an aged man who fears for the women and children tomorrow if we are annihilated. O Allah, I have looked to my people and the people of my deen and not empowered anyone. There is no success except by Allah. On Him I rely and to Him I return. Opinion can be both right and wrong. When Allah decides a matter, He carries it out whether His servants like it or not. I say this and I ask Allah's forgiveness for me and you.

Then, Nasr b Muzahim says people looked at Muawiya who said

He is right, by the Lord. If we meet tomorrow the Byzantines will attack our women and children and the people of Persia will attack the women and children of Mesopotamia. Those with forebearance and intelligence see this. Tie the copies of the Quran to the ends of the spears.

So the fighting stopped.[18]

Every time Ali tried to negotiate the Qurra and the Sabait started wars and launched night attacks, fearing that if there was peace, then they will be arrested.[19]


It was decided that the Syrians and the residents of Kufa should nominate an arbitrator, each to decide between 'Ali and Mu'awiya. The Syrians' choice fell on 'Amr ibn al-'As who was the rational soul and spokesman of Muawiya, and was one of the generals involved in conquering Syria and also Egypt.[20] A few years earlier 'Amr ibn al-'As with 9,000 men in Palestine had found himself confronting Heraclius' 100,000 man army until Khalid crossed the Syrian desert from Mesopotamia to assist him.[20] He was a highly skilled negotiator and had previously been used in negotiations with the Heraclius the Roman Emperor.[21] Ali wanted Malik Ashtar or Abdullah bin 'Abbas to be appointed as an arbitrator for the people of Kufa, but the Qurra strongly demurred, alleging that men like these two were responsible for the war and, therefore, ineligible for that office of trust. They nominated Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as their arbitrator (during the time of 'Uthman, they had appointed Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as the Governor of Kufa and removed 'Uthman's governor before they started fighting 'Uthman). Ali found it expedient to agree to this choice in order to ward off bloody dissension in his army. According to Usd al-G̲h̲āba, Ali therefore took care to personally explain to the arbitrators, "You are arbiters on condition that you decide according to the Book of God, and if you are not so inclined you should not deem yourselves to be arbiters."[22]

When the arbitrators assembled at Dumat al-Jandal, which lay midway between Kufa and Syria and had therefore been selected as the place for the announcement of the decision, a series of daily meetings were arranged for them to discuss the matters in hand. When the time arrived for taking a decision about the caliphate, 'Amr ibn al-'As convinced Abu Musa al-Ash'ari that they should deprive both Ali and Mu'awiya of the caliphate, and give the Muslims the right to elect the caliph. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari decided to act accordingly. As the time for announcing the verdict approached, the people belonging to both parties assembled. 'Amr ibn al-'As requested Abu Musa take the lead in announcing the decision he favoured. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari agreed to open the proceedings, and said, "We have devised a solution after a good deal of thought and it may put an end to all contention and separatist tendencies. It is this. Both of us remove 'Ali as well as Mu'awiya from the caliphate. The Muslims are given the right to elect a caliph as they think best."[23] On his turn 'Amr bin al-'As stated that he agreed with the part of Abu Musa Ash'ari's verdict that 'Ali should be deposed but he himself was in favour of retaining Mua'wiyah on his post[citation needed].

Ali refused to accept the verdict.[24][25][26] This put Ali in a weak position even amongst his own supporters.[24] The most vociferous opponents of Ali in his camp were the very same people who had forced Ali to appoint their arbitrator, the Qurra.[23] Feeling that Ali could no longer look after their interests[27] they felt that their status was being reduced and therefore started to cause trouble.[27] and that they could be arrested for the murder of 'Uthman if there were peace, they broke away from Ali's force, rallying under the slogan, "arbitration belongs to God alone."[23] The Qurra then became known as the Kharijites ("those who leave").

Conflict with KharijitesEdit

In 659 Ali's forces finally moved against the Kharijites and they finally met in the Battle of Nahrawan. Although Ali won the battle, the constant conflict had begun to affect his standing.[23] Tom Holland writes "Ali won a victory over them as crushing as it was to prove pyrrhic: for all he had done, in effect was to fertilise the soil of Mesopotamia with the blood of their martyrs. Three years later, and there came the inevitable blowback: a Kharijite assassin."[28]

While dealing with the Iraqis, Ali found it hard to build a disciplined army and effective state institutions to exert control over his areas and as a result later spent a lot of time fighting the Kharijites. As a result, on the Eastern front, Ali found it hard to expand the state.[29]

Ali was assassinated by Kharijites in 661. On the 19th of Ramadan, while Praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Ali was attacked by the Kharijite Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam. He was wounded by ibn Muljam's poison-coated sword while prostrating in the Fajr prayer.[30] When Alī was assassinated, Muawiyah had the largest and the most organized and disciplined force in the Muslim Empire.

Peace treaty with HassanEdit

Six months later in 661, in the interest of peace, Hasan ibn Ali made a peace treaty with Muawiyah. By now Hassan only ruled the area around Kufa. In the Hasan-Muawiya treaty, Hasan ibn Ali handed over power to Muawiya on the condition that he be just to the people and keep them safe and secure and after his death he does not establish a dynasty.[31]

In the year 661, Muawiyah was crowned as caliph at a ceremony in Jerusalem.[32] Ali's caliphate had lasted for four years. After the treaty with Hassan, Muawiyah ruled for nearly 20 years[1] most of which were spent expanding the state.


  1. ^ Grouping of the Meccan clans to which Muhammad and the caliphs, including Uthman, belonged.


  1. ^ a b Martin Hinds. "Muʿāwiya I". Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  2. ^ Lewis 2002, pp. 49–51.
  3. ^ a b c Donner 2010, p. 148.
  4. ^ Kennedy 2016, p. 59.
  5. ^ Kennedy 2016, pp. 60.
  6. ^ Wellhausen 1927, pp. 41–42.
  7. ^ Lewis 2002, p. 59.
  8. ^ a b c Lewis 2002, p. 60.
  9. ^ Wellhausen 1927, pp. 43.
  10. ^ a b Kennedy 2016, p. 63.
  11. ^ Kennedy 2016, pp. 61–62.
  12. ^ Donner 2010, pp. 149–150.
  13. ^ Kennedy 2016, pp. 64–65.
  14. ^ Valerie Jon Hoffman, The Essentials of Ibadi Islam, pg. 8. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780815650843
  15. ^ Kennedy 2016, p. 65.
  16. ^ Donner 2010, p. 158–160.
  17. ^ a b Madelung 1997, pp. 168–174.
  18. ^ Muawiya Restorer of the Muslim Faith By Aisha Bewley Page 22 from Ibn Hisham from Ibn Muzahim died 212 AH from Abu Mikhnaf died 170 AH
  19. ^ Hadhrat Ayesha Siddiqa her life and works by Allamah Syed Sulaiman Nadvi translated by Syed Athar Husain and published by Darul Ishaat Page 44
  20. ^ a b Islamic Conquest of Syria A translation of Fatuhusham by al-Imam al-Waqidi Translated by Mawlana Sulayman al-Kindi, Page 31 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2013-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ Islamic Conquest of Syria A translation of Futuh ash-Sham by al-Waqidi Translated by Sulayman al-Kindi "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2013-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "Usd al-G̲h̲āba", vol 3, p. 246. Name of book needed
  23. ^ a b c d H.U. Rahman, A Chronology of Islamic History 570-1000 CE, p.59
  24. ^ a b H.U. Rahman, A Chronology of Islamic History 570-1000 CE, p.60
  25. ^ Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia edited by Alexander Mikaberidze, p. 836 [1]
  26. ^ Sandler, Stanley (2002). Ground Warfare: H-Q edited by Stanley Sandler, p. 602. ISBN 9781576073445. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
  27. ^ a b Modern Intellectual Readings of the Kharijites By Hussam S. Timani Page 61-65 about the writings of M. A. Shahban, In his Islamic History A.D. 600-750 (A.H. 132): A new Interpretation (1971) [2]
  28. ^ In the shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World By Tom Holland, ISBN 978-0-349-12235-9 Abacus Page 399
  29. ^ A Chronology of Islamic History 570-1000 By H. U. Rahman
  30. ^ name="Tabatabaei 1979 192"
  31. ^ The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate By Wilferd Madelung Page 232 [3]
  32. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael (January 2001). History of Israel and the Holy Land By Michael Avi-Yonah, Shimon Peres. ISBN 9780826415264. Retrieved 2013-04-30.



External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Djaït, Hichem (2008-10-30). La Grande Discorde: Religion et politique dans l'Islam des origines. Editions Gallimard. ISBN 978-2-07-035866-3. Arabic translation by Khalil Ahmad Khalil, Beirut, 2000, Dar al-Tali'a.