REMAINDER OF 'ALI'S REIGN
38-40 A.H. / 658-660 A.D.
NO gleam of fortune lighted up the remaining days of 'Ali's reign. What with fanatics at home, and the rival Caliphate abroad, his life was one continual struggle. And, moreover, the daily exhibition of indifference and disloyalty in Al-Kufa, the city of his choice, was a mortification hard to bear.
The loss of Egypt and cruel death of Mohammad preyed upon his mind. He withdrew into strictest privacy. His cousin, Ibn al-'Abbas, governor of Al-Basra, fearful lest he should resign, or do something rash and unadvised, set out to visit and comfort him. Mu'awiya seized the opportunity to stir up in his absence the disaffected elements at Al-Basra. Among the various clans, he was sure of finding many there who, equally with himself, sought to avenge the blood of 'Othman; few were zealously attached to the cause of 'Ali; the remainder were mostly of the theocratic faction, now quite as hostile to 'Ali as to Mu'awiya. The Syrian emissary, carrying for this end a letter to the citizens of Al-Basra, was so well received that Ziyad, who held the city's temporary charge, was forced to retire with the treasure and pulpit of State into the stronghold of a loyal clan, from whence he wrote for help to Al-Kufa. 'Ali at once despatched a chief having influence with the local tribes, who were by his persuasion induced to rally round Ziyad. After severe fighting in the city, the rebels were at last defeated and driven for refuge to a neighbouring castle. There surrounded, the castle was set on fire, and the Syrian envoy, with seventy followers, perished in the flames. The victory was decisive for the time; but the insurrection had
brought to light the alarming spread of disaffection, and showed how precarious was 'Ali's grasp upon the Bedawi races of factious Al-Basra.
The spirit of disturbance and unrest was not confined to Egypt and to Al-Basra. In a single year, we read of some half-dozen occasions on which considerable bands of the Khawarij were impelled by their theocratic creed to raise the standard of rebellion. One after another they met the common fate of slaughter and dispersion. But though crushed, the frequent repetition of such desperate enterprises, fruit of a wild and reckless fanaticism, had a disturbing effect.
The most serious of these risings was that led by Al-Khirrit ibn Rashid of the Beni Najiya; and it is the more remarkable, because this chief had fought bravely with his tribe by 'Ali's side in the battles both of the Camel and of Siffin. He was driven, like many others, by strong conviction to rebel. The position of this fanatic was that 'Ali ought to have accepted the decision of the arbiters to refer the question of the Caliphate to a Council. 'Ali, with his usual patience, said that he would argue out the matter with him, and arranged a meeting for the purpose. But the night before, Al-Khirrit stole away from the city with his following. "Gone," said 'Ali, "to the devil; lost, like doomed Thamud!" They were pursued, but effected their escape to Al-Ahwaz. There they raised the Persians, Kurds, and Christian mountaineers, by the specious and inflammatory cry that payment of taxes to an ungodly Caliph was but to support his cause, and as such intolerable. With a band of rebel Arabs, they kindled revolt throughout Fars and put the governor to flight. A force from Al-Basra drove them to the shores of the Indian Ocean. But they broke out again in Al-Bahrein, where the tribes had been with holding the taxes, and some had returned to the Christian faith. Luring the people by delusive promises, they still gained head; and it was not till after a bloody battle in which Al-Khirrit lost his life, that the supremacy of the Caliphate was re-established in southern Persia.
The Muslim prisoners in this campaign were set at liberty on swearing fresh allegiance; but 500 Christians were marched away to be sold into captivity. The women and children, as they were torn from their protectors, wailed with loud and
bitter cry. The hearts of many were softened. Maskala, one of the captains, touched by the scene, took upon himself the cost of ransoming the Christian captives and set them free. 'Ali, hearing of it, demanded from him immediate payment at a thousand pieces for each captive; and Maskala, unable to pay down so great a sum, fled and joined Mu'awiya.
The defeat of the Khawarij did not at once restore peace to Persia; for Fars and Kirman threw off their allegiance and expelled their governors. To quell the spreading insurrection, 'Ali employed Ziyad from Al-Basra, a man, as we have seen, of conspicuous administrative ability. He carried with him a great court and retinue; but it was mainly by setting one rebellious prince against another, and by well-appointed promises and favours, that he succeeded in restoring peace; and by his success earned the government of Fars. He fixed his court at Isatakhr (Persepolis), and his administration there became so famous as even to recall to Persian memories the happy age of Anusharwan.
Though successful thus in Persia, Ali was subject to trouble and molestation nearer home. Mu'awiya, relieved now from apprehension on the side of Egypt, began to annoy his rival by frequent raids on Arabia and the cities beyond the Syrian desert. The object was variousnow to ravage a Province or surprise a citadel, now to exact the tithe from Bedawi tribes, or secure allegiance to himself. Such inroads, though not always successful, inspired a sense of insecurity; and worse, betrayed the lukewarmness of the people in the cause of 'Ali. These would stir neither hand nor foot to repel the Syrians invading villages close even at their door. To show his displeasure at their listlessness and disobedience, 'Ali went forth himself into the field almost unattended. On this, the men of Al-Kufa, partly from shame, partly lured by promise of increased stipends, marched to the defence of their frontier. In the year 39 A.H. there were nearly a dozen inroads of the kind. Though eventually repelled, it was not always without loss in prisoners, plunder, and prestige. On one occasion 'Ali's commander, with a flying column, pursued the raiders back into the heart of Syria as far as Baalbek; and thence, turning northward, escaped by Ar-Rakka again into Al-'Irak. On the other hand, Mu'awiya,
to show his contempt for the power of 'Ali, made an incursion right across Mesopotamia, and for some days remained encamped on the banks of the Tigris.
After leisurely inspecting, which he had never seen before, he made his way back to Damascus unmolested.
The 40th year of the Hijra opened with a new grief for 'Ali. When the time of pilgrimage came round, Mu'awiya sent Busr, a brave but cruel captain of his host, with 3000 men into Arabia, to secure for him the allegiance of the Holy Places. As he drew nigh to Medina, the governor fled and Busr entered unopposed. Proceeding to the Mosque, he mounted the sacred steps of the Prophet's pulpit, and recalling 'Othman to mind, addressed the people thus: "O citizens of Medina! The aged man! Where is the grey-haired aged man whom, but as yesterday, and on this very spot, I swore allegiance to? Verily, but for my promise to Mu'awiya, who bade me stay the sword, I had not left here a single soul alive!" Then he threatened the leading citizens with death if they refused to acknowledge Mu'awiya as their Caliph; and so, fearing for their lives, all took the oath of allegiance to the Umeiyad ruler. Passing on to Mecca, the same scene was enacted by the imperious envoy there, and with the same result.1 Then marching south to the Yemen, he committed great atrocities there upon the adherents of 'Ali. The governor, a son of Al-'Abbas, escaped to his cousin 'Ali at Al-Kufa.
But two of his little children, falling into the tyrant's hands, were put to death in cold blood, with their Bedawi attendant, who in vain protested against the cruel act. An army of 4000 men was despatched in haste from Al-Kufa, but too late to stop these outrages; and Busr made good his escape to Syria. The wretched Peninsula fared no better at the hands of the relieving army. Many of the inhabitants of Nejran were put to death because they had belonged to 'Othman's party. The men of Mecca were forced to recall the oath they had just taken, and again do homage to 'Ali. Similarly, the citizens of Medina swore allegiance to Al-Hasan, son of 'Ali, at the point of the sword; but no sooner were the troops gone, than the leader of the
1 On Busr's approach, Abu Musa (the umpire) fled from
Mecca for his life. The unfortunate man had been living there ever since the arbitration,
equally obnoxious to both sides.
1 On Busr's approach, Abu Musa (the umpire) fled from Mecca for his life. The unfortunate man had been living there ever since the arbitration, equally obnoxious to both sides.
opposite faction resumed his functions. Thus bitterly was the Peninsula rent in two. The cruel death of his cousin's infant children preyed on 'Ali more, perhaps, than all his other troubles; and he cursed Busr in the daily service with a new and bitter imprecation. The disconsolate mother poured forth her sorrow in plaintive verse, some touching couplets of which are still preserved.1
Yet another grief was in store for 'Ali. He had promoted his cousins, the sons of Al-'Abbas, to great dignity, giving the command of the Yemen to one, of Mecca to another, of Medina to a third; while 'Abdallah, the eldest, held the government of Al-Basra, the second city in the Empire. Complaints having reached the court of irregularities at Al-Basra, 'Ali called upon his cousin to render an account. Scorning the demand, 'Abdallah threw up the office, and, carrying his treasures with him, retired to Mecca. 'Ali was much mortified at this unfriendly act; and still more by the desertion of his brother 'Akil to Mu'awiya.
These troubles, crowding rapidly one upon another, at last broke 'Ali's spirit. He had no longer heart to carry on hostilities with Syria. If he might but secure the eastern provinces in peaceful subjection to himself, it was all he could hope for now. Accordingly, after a lengthened correspondence, an armistice was concluded between 'Ali and Mu'awiya, by which they agreed to lay aside their arms, respect the territory of each other, and maintain, in time to come, a friendly attitude. Mu'awiya, however, assumed the title of Caliph at Jerusalem in July 660 A.D. (ii. 40 A.H.); and it is said that 'Ali gathered an army of 40,000 men, when the events narrated in the next chapter occurred.
1 For example:
As grandchildren of Al-'Abbas, their fate naturally occupies a conspicuous place in 'Abbassid
tradition. 'Ali cursed Busr, praying that he might lose his senses, and in answer to the prayer
he became, we are told, a hopeless, drivelling idiot.
Darlings hidden, like pearls within their shell?"
1 For example:
As grandchildren of Al-'Abbas, their fate naturally occupies a conspicuous place in 'Abbassid tradition. 'Ali cursed Busr, praying that he might lose his senses, and in answer to the prayer he became, we are told, a hopeless, drivelling idiot.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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