The Battle of the Camel, sometimes called the Battle of Jamal or the Battle of Bassorah, took place at Basra, Iraq on 7 November 656. A’isha heard about the killing of Uthman (644-656), the third Caliph. At the time she was on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was on this journey that she became so angered by his unavenged death, and the naming of Ali as the fourth caliph, that she took up arms against those supporting Ali. She gained support of the big city of Basra and, for the first time, Muslims took up arms against each other. This battle is now known as the First Fitna, or Muslim civil war.

Before the conflict

Talhah and Zubeir asked Ali for permission to make the pilgrimage. He granted it and they departed. The Medina people wanted to know Ali’s point of view about war against Muslims, by asking his view about Muawiyah I and his refusal to give Ali his allegiance. So they sent Ziyad Bin Hanzalah of Tamim who was set on getting he caliphate of Ali because Uthman had died and they wanted to “get to killers of Uthman”. However, they went to Basra, and not Medina where the crime happened. Ayesha did not like the fact that Ali ibn Abu Talib was named the Caliph.

He went back and told the people in Medina that Ali wanted to confront Muawiyah. In Medina, Marwan manipulated people. In Iraq many people hated the Syrians following the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars.

Aisha (Aisha bint Abu Bakr) (Muhammad’s widow), Talhah (Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah) and Zubayr ibn al-Awam(Abu ‘Abd Allah Zubayr ibn al-Awwam) set off from Makah on their way to Iraq to ask Ali to arrest Uthman ibn Affan’s killers, not to fight Muawiyah.

Preparation for battle

While passing Medina, on their way to Iraq, Aisha, Talha and Zubair passed a group of Umayyads leaving Medina, led by Marwan, who said that the people who had killed Uthman, had also been causing them trouble. Everyone then went to Basra, which was the beginning of the first civil war in Islam. Some historians put the number at around 3000 people.

Zubair and Talha then went out to meet Ali. Not all Basra was with them. Bani Bakr, the tribe once led by the second Caliph, joined the army of Ali. Bani Temim decided to remain neutral.


Some chieftains of the Kufa tribes contacted their tribes living in Basra. A chieftain contacted Ali to settle the matter. Ali did not want to fight and agreed to negotiate. He then contacted Aisha and spoke to her, “Is it not wise to shed the blood of five thousand for the punishment of five hundred. She agreed to settle the matter. Ali then met Talha and Zubair and told them about the prophecy of Muhammad. Ali’s cousin Zubair said to him, “What a tragedy that the Muslims who had acquired the strength of a rock are going to be smashed by colliding with one another.” Talha and Zubair did not want to fight and left the field.

Everyone was happy except the people who had killed Uthman and the supporters of the Qurra, who later became the Khawarij. They thought that if a settlement was reached, they would not be safe. The Qurra launched a night attack and started burning the tents. Ali tried to restrain his men but no one was listening. Everyone thought that the other party had committed breach of trust. Confusion prevailed throughout the night. The Qurra attacked the Umayyads and the fighting started.

Talhah had left. On seeing this, Marwan (who was manipulating everyone) shot Talhah with a poisoned arrow saying that he had disgraced his tribe by leaving the field. According to some Shia accounts Marwan ibn al-Hakam shot Talha, who became disabled in the leg by the shot and was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound. According to Shia sources Marwan said,

By God, now I will not have to search for the man who murdered Uthman.

In the Sunni sources it says that he said that Talha had disgraced his tribe by leaving the field.

With the two generals Zubair and Talhah gone, confusion prevailed as the Qurra and the Umayyads fought.

Qadi Kaab ibn Sur of Basra held the Quran on his head and then advised Aysha to mount her camel to tell people to stop fighting, until he was killed by arrows shot by the forces of Ali. As the battle raged Ayesha’s forces targeted their arrows to pierce the howdah of Aisha. The rebels led by Aisha then gathered around her and about a dozen of her warriors were beheaded while holding the reins of her camel. However the warriors of Ali faced much casualties during their attempts to reach Aisha as dying corpses lay pilled in heaps. The battle only came to an end when Ali’s troops as commanded attacked the camel from the rear and cut off the legs of the beast. Aisha fled from the arrow-pierced howdah and was captured by the forces of Ali.

Ali’s cousin Zubair was by then making his way to Medina; he was killed in an adjoining valley.

Aisha’s brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, who was Ali’s commander, approached Aisha, who was age 45. There was reconciliation between them and Ali pardoned her. He then sent Aisha to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali’s commanders. She subsequently retired to Medina with no more interference with the affairs of state. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was the son of Abu Bakr, the adopted son of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the great-grandfather of Ja‘far al-Sadiq. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was raised by Ali alongside Hasan and Husein. Hassan also accompanied Aisha part of the way back to Medina. Aisha started teaching in Medina and deeply resented Marwan.

Tom Holland writes in the best selling book In The Shadow of the Sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World: “Marwan was fabulously venal and slippery. Nothing he had done had helped to improve his reputation for double dealing.


Ali’s forces overcame the rebels, and the defeated army was treated with generosity. Ali met Aisha and there was reconciliation between them. He sent her back to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali’s commanders. She subsequently retired to Medina with no more interference with the affairs of state.

Talha, who became disabled in the leg by the shot and fled the battlefield was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound.

When the head of Zubayr ibn al-Awwam was presented to Ali by Ahnaf ibn Qais, the Caliph Ali couldn’t help but to sob and condemn the murder of his cousin. This reaction caused Ahnaf ibn Qais resentment and, drawing his sword, stabbed it into his own breast.

Marwan I and the Qurra (who later became the Khawarij) manipulated every one and created conflict. Marwan was arrested but he later asked Hassan and Hussein for assistance and was released.

Ali was later killed by a Kharijite named Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam while he was praying in the mosque of Kufa.

Two decades later, after years of planning and scheming and making every one else fight, Marwan came to power in Syria and the Qurra (the Kharijites) established a state in southern Iraq.
Image and legacy of A’isha

The name of the battle refers to the camel ridden by Āʿisha — once the camel had fallen, the battle was over. Some Muslim scholars believe the name was recorded as such in history to avoid linking the name of a woman with a battle.

Although Āʿishah’s role in the Battle of the Camel is very controversial, it is clear that some see her as a role model for Muslim women in politics and other roles of leadership. Fatima Mernissi is an example of a Muslim feminist and scholar who sees Āʿishah as a model for her and other women. She proves this through her works by questioning the authority of the Hadith that say women should not lead. Specifically, she states as the mission of her text that “This book is a vessel journeying back in time in order to find a fabulous wind that will swell our sails and send us gliding toward new worlds, toward a time both far away and near at beginning of the Hejira, when Muhammad could be a lover and a leader hostile to all hierarchies, when women had their place as unquestioned partners in a revolution that made the mosque an open place and the household temple of debate.” By stating this as her mission she highlights that she would like people to remember the time of clear gender equality and leadership, as demonstrated by Āʿishah. A’isha’s symbolic significance for believers is justified through her close proximity to the Muhammad. “Identified as part of the new Islamic female elite, the mothers of the believers, Āʿisha’s political importance was not achieved, but ascribed.

Sunni and Shi’i split

Āʿisha’s depiction in regards to the first civil war in the Muslim community reflected the molding of Islamic definition of gender and politics. Sunni Muslims recognized the tension between Āʿisha’s exemplary status as the acknowledged favorite wife of Muhammad and her political actions as a widow. The Sunni task was to assess her problematic political participation without complete disapproval. Shi’i Muslims faced no such dilemma in their representation of the past. Āʿisha had opposed and fought ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Shi’i male political and spiritual ideal in the Battle of the Camel. Her involvement in the First Fitna provoked Shi’i scorn and censure, while Sunni authors had the more difficult task of defending her.

Moreover, Shias regard Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib as the successor to the Muhammad, as such, they see the following verse- in Surah At-Tahrim where it begins with condemning ‘Aisha- as Ali carrying out divine duties against the hypocrites,

“O Prophet! Strive hard against the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed).


The Shi’a frown upon her role in the Battle of the Camel. The Battle of the Camel took place in Basra on December 4 656 CE. This battle is regarded as the first time Muslims, particularly Muslims who ranked among Muhammad’s sahaba, clashed and fought against one another in open warfare. The Battle of the Camel has been considered to be the first fitna and is also referred to as a “rebellion that leads to schism”, “violent factional strife”, or even “the temptation to turn upon one’s fellow Muslims”. The name of the battle reflects the centrality of Aisha’s role in the conflict, as she was seated on her camel in the middle of the battlefield. Aisha led a force of 13,000 soldiers against Ali after he failed to punish the murder of ‘Uthman. During the Battle of the Camel, Aisha mobilized military opposition with two male allies, Zubayr ibn al-Awam and Talhah, in order to challenge the legitimacy of ‘Ali. ‘Alis forces defeated their opponents; Talhah and Zubayr inb al-Awam were killed, and Aisha was sent home.

Shi’a find this battle to be controversial because they believe that she launched her army on Ali out of her personal hatred towards him and his family. They use the following narration in their argument:

“Aisha was informed about the opinion of the women, but there was some thing inside her boiling like a cooking pot against Ali”.

The Shi’a also usually refer to the Qur’anic verse:

O wives of the Prophet! you are not like any other of the women; If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a good word. And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore; and keep up prayer, and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying.
(Surah al-Ahzab, Ayat 32-33)

They state that the verse clearly instructs Muhammad’s wives to stay in their homes. They say that Aisha’s role in the battle cleary transgresses Allah’s commandment. The Shi’a also quote ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib to back up their stance on this verse:

‘He (‘Ali) said: ‘Go to that woman and tell her to return to her home wherein Allah had ordered her to remain’. He (Ibn Abbas) said: ‘I therefore went to her and asked permission to enter, but she didn’t grant it. I therefore entered the house without her permission and sat on a cushion. She (Aisha) said: ‘O Ibn Abbas, by Allah I have never witnessed anyone like you! You entered our house without permission and sat on our cushion without our permission’. I said: ‘By Allah this is not your house, your only house is the one wherein Allah ordered you to remain, but you didn’t obey. The Commander of the Faithful orders you to return to that homeland from which you had left.’

They also quote Shaykh Sibt Jauzi al-Hanafi, Shaykh Ibn Talha Shafiyi and Ibn Sabagh Maliki. Who all record that prior to the battle of Jamal:

“He Ali wrote a letter to Aisha: ‘By leaving your home you have disobeyed Allah(swt) and his Rasul(messenger)”

They reject Aisha’s reason for the battle that she was demanding Qisas for ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. They don’t believe that it was her place to demand Qisas and assert that only the Imam(Head of State) can implement Shari’ah (including Qisas). The Shi’a website comments:

‘What they fail to point out is the fact that Aisha’s demands for Qisas i.e. that the killers of Uthman be handed over, was also contrary to the Sharia since Islamic penalties are implemented by the Head of State not the public, as and when they feel like it. Moreover Aisha was not the heir of Uthman to demand Qisas, he was survived by sons who were adult. It was their right to demand, but even if they did, that is all that they could do, they could NOT incite and rebel against Imam ‘Ali (as) if they did not get their way, as Aisha did. You cannot hold the State to ransom, insisting that your demands are met through methods such as propaganda, incitement, and seizing control of administrative provinces.’

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